My Potential Host Parents Might Be Divorcing. Should I ‘unmatch’?

by cv harquail on September 14, 2010

Dear Au Pair Mom,

For the past couple of months, I had been looking for an Au Pair job in Europe (I am American), and finally found a great family via I used your advice and evaluated the match by shared values, lifestyle, and mutual expectations. We seemed like a perfect fit, and everything went smoothly in our phone conversations and emails. I also spoke to their last AP, who had nothing but good things to say.

The family seemed excited, and I definitely was. We had formally agreed, the family had drafted a standard Au Pair contract, and I was getting ready to sign and deal with visa formalities, when I received a troubling email from the HM.

201009121459.jpgDiscomfiting News: Marital Strife

Basically, the HM and HD had been having marital problems, which I guess had unexpectedly resurfaced. She wanted to let me know not to purchase plane tickets, or invest anything more, lest their relationship got worse over the next few days. She continued on to say that she would keep me posted, and also that she “would understand if I decided against it all together.”

I’m not opposed to working for a family in crisis, but I’m confused as to whether they still want to hire an AP at all. Regardless of what happens, they will likely still need childcare. I want them to hire me as an AP, but this situation has stripped away some of the trust I had for them, so if they do come to that decision, things might have to change. I’d probably involve  an agency.

What if things went south while I was in Europe with them, and they felt uncomfortable having me in the house? That possibility scares me, and I’m not sure what to do.

What do you suggest? Sincerely, Confused Potential AP

201009121500.jpgFrom AuPairMom:

Hi Confused Potential AP —  I happened to be online so I thought I’d reply right away.

My first thought is:
Feel good that your Host Mom is thinking ahead and cares enough about you to let you know that their situation is in flux. Even though it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do with the information, you are now able to ask for more details and ultimately make an informed decision.

My second thought is about why your Host Mom might need to tell you this for her/their sake, since she’s unable to tell you (yet) what to do with the information:
Sometimes people feel they need to make a situation clear and concrete in order to address it, and they do this by publicizing the problem and telling other people. It sounds weird, but them telling you may be part of them working out that they indeed have a problem. It may have much less to do with ‘you’ than with ‘them’.

Also, about using an agency:
We all at AuPairMom know much less about how to Au Pair outside the USA than what happens inside the USA. In general, I advise Host Parents and Au Pairs to find a way to use an agency, even if they ‘pre-match’ through a reputable website. We recommend using an agency in the US since the regulations give both au pairs and host families some protection, the local counselors, give ongoing support, and the Agency helps with travel, training and emergencies (like, rematches). But I have no idea how this works outside the US, so let’s hope our non-US readers have some insight.

More soon … cv/mom@APM

From Confused Potential AP:

Thanks for your kind words and quick response! It’s been very helpful to hear your thoughts (as well as my own parents’, who said something similar), because my first reaction didn’t acknowledge any of the good things, or that this might be something the HM needs to get off her chest. I think that’s probably indicative of AP reactions on the whole; we’re young and still see things in black and white, without factoring in the complexities. So for now, I’m crossing my fingers and waiting.

Readers, now it’s your turn:

  • How much do you think CPAP should worry?
  • What should she ask her Host Parents about, as a followup?
  • How might she protect her best interests, perhaps with a formal back up plan? Or, do you think she should look for another family?

See Also:
When your personal, private challenges affect your Au Pair relationship

images: Split Heart from Bob.Fornal
Strawberry Split from ~fb~e


Taking a Computer Lunch September 14, 2010 at 8:45 am

I’m American, but it sounds to me as if the Mom were warning the AP that she might not have the finances to host. Often divorce has a huge impact on family income and discretionary spending. If I were the AP, I would ask the HM if she were considering other sources of childcare – who wants to trek to Europe, only to find out that the HF can’t support you?

Should be working September 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

I agree with TaCL; it sounds like the financing might fall through and hence you should not ‘invest’ anything, or purchase anything. But meanwhile this makes me wondering how a contract–had you all already signed it–would ever be enforced without an agency? Can you see yourself dealing with whatever legal apparatus there might be in the host country to enforce such a contract or get compensation for losing your AP position in this family? I think having an agency protects the au pair A LOT in a situation where you buy your own tickets, etc.

I suppose what you do depends on how soon you planned to begin your year and how you had imagined your timing. If you have some time before you wanted to depart, you can certainly wait ‘a few days’. And while it is indeed a great thing that the HM kept you informed (sort of), my risk-averse attitude would get me searching for a new family, but I don’t see why you then have to put this family entirely behind you. Perhaps you can keep your options open with this family and keep your application circulating at the same time. If another family wants you, you can tell this family they need to make a decision.

OTF September 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

I’m rather new here, and not an expert by any means, but here goes:

I agree that it is very considerate for the HM to think of you when there is obviously a lot of stress in her life right now. I also think it might be relevant which country we are talking about – some European countries (e.g. Scandinavian ones) have a different view of divorce than we do in the US. You could describe it as a mature, adult outlook from one perspective; or cold and blasé about the sanctity of marriage from a less sympathetic viewpoint, but when I spent time there, it seemed that both parties tended to divorce with a lot less acrimony and drama then I think is the norm in the US. It seemed like people got divorced, worked out an arrangement, and moved on, with both parents involved in their kids lives. I am not sure if that is true elsewhere in Europe. I also know that generalizing is dangerous, as there are plenty of “calm” divorces in the US, and I am sure sure there must be ugly ones everywhere – YMMV.

That said, I would advise you to strongly consider changing hosts. This is about your experience, too, and I worry that this might turn out to be a bad one. I think about: 1) if they do separate, you might get thrust into more childcare and responsibility than is reasonable; 2) the kids, depending on age, may act out, or even take their frustration out on you, the outsider coming into their lives at a hard time; 3) even if they don’t split, then there may still be a lot of tension in the household, depending on the root problems in the marriage (money woes? infidelity? simply growing apart? substance abuse? etc.). I guess I also think that if she went so far as to tell you, this is likely not a minor tiff, but significant issue in their lives. Those types of things don’t usually resolve overnight.

I think it is great that you are willing to help a family in crisis, and I could imagine scenarios in which this turned out great – you bond well with the family at a difficult time, and become even closer to them than might otherwise be true. But as someone who tends to be overly optimistic much of the time, I have learned that sometimes thinking “things will turn out for the best” leaves you unhappy and regretful when it doesn’t.

OnceAnAuPair September 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

I would recommend looking for another family. Let the mother know ASAP though. You wouldn’t want to be in europe and the be stuck without a family because they can’t afford you anymore (if they divorce). Which country is this family in?

Noga September 14, 2010 at 11:30 am

The weekly hours of work for an aupair in Europe are thirty hours (European aupair contract). Therefore I would clarify how HP plan to organize childcare which is more than 30 hours in case of living separated. I would recommend to work with an agency.
The agencies are not allowed to charge more than 150 Euro after the contract has been signed. Especially in Central European countries there are excellent agencies under the umbrella of protestant or catholic church which run local centers for aupairs in big cities. The professionals working in these agencies are professional social workers which support you in difficult situations. These agencies under the umbrella of churches don’t charge fees from the aupair.
More informations are here:

Most facts described there are the same all over Europe because of the European Aupair Contract.

In Germany you have to live one year separated before a divorce is possible. But there are different possibilities / options to organize this. Theoretically you can organize this in one household. Try to get informations how they plan to organize their and the kids lives.

kat September 14, 2010 at 12:01 pm

just to say that agencies in europe work in a different way than the us and that vast majority of them dont look after the aupairs once the family pays. they dont usually have an equivalent of the us lccs.
different countrie in europe have different regulations on aps, if they have any at all that is. uk for example, despite being by far the most popular country for aps and with biggest ap ‘market’, hasnt got any official rules in place (apart from immingration rules for bulgarian and romanian nationals). the europian treaty on aps is not signed by many countries.

are you aiming for one specific country in europe? ( germany would be my first guess?) once you get your visas, will they tie you to one family for the whole of your stay or can you change families? specially in the uk it is not uncommon for girls to actually move and sometime more than once before they find a family who is treating them well.

PA AP mom September 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm

It says a lot about the host mom’s character that she divulged this personal information to you in advance. Means she genuinely cares about your relationship.

Do you need to start APing soon or can you delay for awhile and see what happens? If you want to start sooner rather than later, I would probably suggest looking for another family.

Good luck to you!!

My 2 cents September 14, 2010 at 3:05 pm

There are just too many variables here and no matter how much you ask HM she’s not going to be able to provide answers or ones that she can guarantee won’t change over time.

Sounds to me like your instincts are telling you that you need to let this family go and the idea of a wonderful European year with them. Go with your instincts. Wait for another opportunity or find alternative ways to have your European experience.

franzi September 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

the possible hostmom was open to you, and you should be open to her and ask the tricky questions: 1) do they still want an AP? 2) in case they split, will they be able to still host you as AP? 3) was her email a nice way of saying “don’t come here”?

i have heard of an AP who worked for two divorced parents and she actually lived in 2 different households. not something everyone liked but it was well organized and did work for the families and AP. so a break up is not necessarily the cue to not host an AP.

if you feel uncomfortable about the family situation then do not match with this family but look for another one.

Catherine Davis September 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm


I was an au pair to Germany from the US. I found my host family through friends of friends. I did not have guidelines or anyone to enforce rules and guidelines and it was a very difficult experience for me. I found myself in some very questionable and scary situations. Thankfully, I had traveled a lot prior to my experience.

An Area Director or Local Coordinator is an essential part of the au pair and host family relationship. I highly recommend finding an agency to work with.

Good Luck with your au pairing experience!

AnonHM Europe September 15, 2010 at 3:05 am

It is usually no problem to find hostfamilies quickly in Europe, especially for Armerican girls. It is common that APs who want to rematch register with several agencies at one time and they are really able to pick the “best” families. Usually no cost for the AP, max. 150 Euro but only after matching. So I wouldn’t worry about that part. In Europe, there is really no need to have an agency. My experience is, that the agencies mostly stick with the family anyway, since they get paid from them and the APs who don’t like this just go to the next agency or do without. No legal way to prevent this “agency-hopping/dropping”. Since an agency is not required to get the AP-Visa in Europe any AP who doesn’t like the way she is treated has a good basis for negotiations since she is able to walk out and stay in the country legally any time. I never heard of a family to sue an AP for leaving the family ;-)
You do need to consider what a divorce will imply to the family: You will live in a single-parent household. The children will most likely be unstable (depending on their age and/or their relief/grief of the separation of their parents). It is very common that the kids stay with their mother but they see the father on a very regular basis. Meaning the kids will spend a considerable amount of time with their other parent, usually including vacations. So you might have a lot more free/unscheduled time without the children. I would ask how you are supposed to spend the time when the kids are with the other parent (cleaning? – in Europe it’s much more expected than in the US – 15 hours are considered “regular”, could be more depending on the age of the children). Or are you supposed to stay with the kids? It would really help to know which country you picked.
I think it’s very fair and considerate of your potential HM to inform you. If they seem to still wanting/needing you, I wouldn’t hesitate to try. You should be aware to not to interfere in their relationship and to be very diplomatic with the kids, too.

HostMom September 15, 2010 at 7:37 am

As a current HM in the US facing a similar situation, I would try not to jump to any conclusions. Have a very direct conversation with your potential HM about all the issues – finances, work time, potential split time between parents, etc. but that is really the best for all – get as much discussed now, up front, clear before either of you make this commitment to each other.

and in my case I will need our AP’s help more than ever, so it is very likely that the HM has no intention of changing anything you have agreed upon. But it is very difficult when the host parents are going through this. I know i have told our AP – as it is obvious something is going on when your husband moves out :-) – but i also try very hard to make sure she is not feeling drawn into it or uncomfortable in any way. It is hard….on everyone. communication right now has been even more important that ever. You may find you actually develop an even greater bond with the HM and kids during a time like this and have no doubt that you will be APPRECIATED greatly for being willing to help during such a time.

you have to do what ultimately feels right to you, but if it was good before there is no reason to think it won’t be now. good luck with whatever decision you make.

NorAupair July 2, 2011 at 3:18 am

I realize that this is an old post but I had a similar experience once. Everything was so assuring,before my arrival we were exchanging lots of emails everyday and finally I got there.Day one:Lovely parents,lovely kids,lovely day. Day two: Everything is up side down, and they tell me they’re getting a divorce. Which is of course up sets me,and makes me sad, but ok I stay calm and ask what are going to do onwards. Plans were changing day by day, nothing was certain.Finally it turned that we came with no solution after 2 months, and I had to travel back home in Denmark.

I provided a great support to my HF. It was a tough situation, especially with the boys who begun to understand that something was wrong. Dad was away, mom always somewhere and out of the blue they were with me every single day, almost every single hour of the day, and believe me we loved each other but they were missing their parents. I don’t wish to blame my HF for what happened, not even for their attitude while I was there, because their life was falling apart, and they were devastated. Finally after everything we went through, we became friends for life, 6 yrs passed since, and I see them twice a year. Yes they got a divorce.

I think that if you have a warning like that, don’t proceed to match.Situations like the above take time, the dynamics of the family changing and you will be in the middle of everything.On the other hand if you finally evolve yourself into this, certainly you will learn things about life.But your au apair year should not be a struggle, you should enjoy a happy family life and everything that come along with that,and not worry every night about what is going to happen the next day,or where you will end up.

All the best to HF’s and AP’s !! :)

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