This query was tucked away in a previous post: Tough Topic: When your au pair steals from you. I thought it deserved its own, up-to-the-minute conversation.
From Host Mom Pippa:
I just last week caught our au pair stealing little items from us, confronted her, and then caught her the next day stealing more.
AP was preparing a package to send home for Christmas. The top of the box was open and I immediately recognized that she had taken an Amazon blue fabric gift bag to fill empty space in the box. It took a split second for me to recognize the item and AP to know I’d seen it. Before I said anything, she volunteered out of the blue that her mother had sent it to her. I was a little annoyed that she had just lied, but recognized that she was on the spot and her instinct might have been to lie to protect herself. Who hasn’t done that?
Later I went to her and explained that I regularly use (and reuse) the bag for oddly shaped presents that can’t be wrapped, said that I understood she probably didn’t know it was valuable to me, and that if she wanted to use something to ask me first. I emphasized I wasn’t upset, but wanted to be clear that she needed to ask before taking. She removed it from the box and returned it to me and then said she needed to ask about one other thing. She showed me a gift box she had taken to use for the au pair meeting gift exchange. It happened to be a family heirloom from my husband’s childhood. I thanked her for telling me, offered her three other options for packing the present, and reinforced that she can’t know what’s valuable or not and so should always ask first before taking something. I thought the issue was dealt with.
After work the next day I entered APs room to retrieve the ringing family phone. The package she was preparing to send home was wide open on her bed and I immediately recognized a number of other items that belonged to me–not high value items, but meaningful to me. A Christmas stocking my grandmother made me. A decorative box I’d placed in APs room to hold office supplies. An assortment of Christmas cards she’d taken from my collection. A selection the loveliest fabric ribbons from my ribbon box.
Since she was away for the evening at a basketball game with two other au pairs (using very pricy tickets we’d gladly given her) I left a note on the box stating she’d taken things that were valuable to me and we needed to talk. The next morning she returned the Christmas stocking, asking if that was what I’d meant, but not the box or cards or ribbons. She cried and apologized and said there was no excuse. I expressed my anger and frustration that she had stolen, had lied, and then had stolen again AFTER I talked to her about not taking things without asking. I demanded that she return everything she had not purchased with her own money, ribbons, cards and box included. She protested that since the box was in her room she thought it was ok to use. She asked if I wanted to see everything in the box. I declined and said I trusted her to fix the problem. AP said she understood that she had broken our trust, and felt awkward. I assured her that I was angry but in time I would calm down and that we clearly needed to improve our communication.
A week later, I don’t that I did the right thing. On the one hand, the items were not particularly valuable and might, in a stretch, be viewed as “consumables,” and I have made and forgiven greater mistakes. On the other hand, my trust has been violated, and I am now hyper-vigilant and somewhat uncomfortable leaving her alone in the house. I absolutely do not trust her judgment about what is community property and what is not. And I find myself being retrospectively annoyed about her purchasing personal items (mostly junk food) with family grocery money. Which just seems petty. And wondering if the toddler’s swimsuit disappearing the day AP didn’t get much sleep and then reappearing the next day in a place I had searched thoroughly was a coincidence or was deliberate. Which just seem paranoid. I thought I would forgive and forget, but so far I’m still fuming. Is the problem mine (I’m being petty and paranoid) or serious enough to send the AP packing?
First reply is from HRHM, who offers:
Having been burned on this in the worst possible way – I suggest you start the rematch now. She’s an adult who despite all possible cultural differences, knows what stealing is and knows that those things weren’t hers to take/give away. She knew what she was doing was wrong the first time and if there was any doubt, she REALLY knew it the 2nd time. It’s not kleptomania (since her thefts serve a purpose – no compulsion) but rather a sense that either a)you are rich and won’t miss what she takes or b) she deserves to take these things because of how hard she works and how little she reaps from being your AP.
In our case, my biggest mistake was not calling the police and filing charges when it came out what she was doing. If you can’t trust her not to violate your personal property, how can you trust her to be alone with your kids? (and by the way, after ours was sent home for stealing, our 5 year old told us how she was forcing them to overeat and making up stories to scare her into doing what she wanted – case in point).