Newbie Host Mom Totally Not Sure She Needs Help (She Does)

by Frances Scher on June 22, 2016

 

Hi! I am Frances Scher, and I am taking a turn at the APMom mailbox. 

owl mailbox

First up is a letter from a new host mom.

Her previous expectations of the au pair program don’t seem to be lining up with the current reality.

The au pair is not doing her job and following the guidelines like it was thought she would. This host mom also expected more support from her agency. She does seem to be getting a little bit, but in the end it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Dear AuPairMom,

I think I need help/advice?

I am brand new to the host parent thing. I would say for the most part after reading your blog we have done everything wrong. I really expected that she would “own” the au pair role. What that meant for me was, she would understand what was laid out in the contract as far as her role and would do it to the best of her capabilities and of course ask questions when she didn’t understand something. Of course, I walked her through her tasks and showed her how to do each thing but where I failed was if it didn’t get done, I didn’t follow up on it. For example, one of her tasks is to do the children’s laundry. If it wasn’t done, I would do it on the weekend #HPFail, or if I got home and their toys were all over the living room, I wouldn’t say anything (though I’ll admit on the weekends we don’t pick up their toys either).

Where I would have wanted help from the agency was around school schedules. How it was explained to me was AP would attend the required education courses on her off time as long as it did not interfere with the HF schedule. When our LCC came to review the rules during the first week of our AP stay, I asked the question about schooling. I assumed the schooling schedule would have to be mutually agreed upon. My AP signed up for classes that would be 4 days a week (without talking to us first). When I told her that two days a week would be more acceptable, she said she would get rides for the other two days. Then AP agreed to use the bus, but later changed her mind. My husband and I work 50-60 hours a week and taking AP back and forth to school 4 days a week for half a year was a huge inconvenience, especially because she doesn’t get out of class until after 9 pm.

Then vacation conflicts arose. We go over her hours weekly. What she worked, any vacation taken, how many days off she had and of course impending/desired vacation is talked about as well. When she requested an additional 2 weeks off after already having taken her all of her vacation, I said I would give her an additional week, but I wasn’t going to do 2 weeks. All hell broke loose. I contacted my LCC. The LCC supported me during this conflict and called and talked to her and followed up with me by text later. But I feel like I might need more support from an Au Pair agency.

When my AP told me she suffers from clinical depression and used to take medication for it, I reached out to my LCC for support and questions (don’t they screen for this?). My AP was/is extremely home sick and always tells me that she’s sad. I don’t know what I can do for her. I try to talk to her and reach out but it is also (I hate to say it) very draining and I really want to spend time with my children when I get home. We have taken her on excursions and vacations to try and cheer her up, but it’s not working. My LCC did check in with her and told me she’s not sad anymore. But she is and because it is clinical depression, it’s not just going to go away.

I was really hoping to meet and connect with other HF in my area. I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US. Though when we have attended the events hosted by our LCC, there are no other families present. (We have met their Au Pairs though.)

Really my husband and I had no idea what to expect from our au pair or even what was expected from us. When it comes to what is expected from the agency, I also have no idea.

So all of this to say/ask, is it me? Is my family not cut out for hosting? Should we re-matched? Or should we go with a new company next time?

 

Image from Spkn Words

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

massmom June 22, 2016 at 10:58 am

I hope you won’t give up on au pairs because of one bad experience. It’s hard as a first-time host parent to know what to expect, and I’m glad you’ve found this site so you can get a sense of what might work and how awesome it can be when it goes well.

A few thoughts…definitely a rookie mistake on not reinforcing job expectations early on. It’s really important to have a weekly checkin meeting for the first few weeks where you can talk about how things are going and review what you need done. “It’s really important to us after a long day of work to come home to a clean house. Please start asking the kids to pick up their toys at 5 PM so everything is organized when we come home.” Or — “hey, I’ve noticed the laundry isn’t getting done. Perhaps it would be easier for you to pick a day each week to do it, and we can write it into the schedule.” Offer suggestions as to how they might do it, but insist that it gets done. That being said, au pairs do have different strengths, and over time, you may be willing to let things slide. Our current au pair doesn’t keep the common areas as clean as the last one, but her own room is tidy and she also never lets the kids have screen time and is always outside and active with them, so I’m happy to make that tradeoff.

The classes are supposed to fit into the au pair’s work schedule, and while you are responsible for paying for/arranging transportation to the class, I think any LCC would agree that 4 times a week is overly onerous for the host family, especially for an au pair that it sounds like doesn’t drive? Your LCC should support you on this, and work with the au pair to find something that works for both parties. Did you bring this up to the LCC when your au pair initially signed up for the class? I probably wouldn’t have agreed to pay for that class if she didn’t check with me before signing up for it.

The depression issue is a much harder thing to gauge, and one that would probably lead me to consider rematch, especially if she wasn’t performing duties adequately. An au pair should make your life easier, not harder, and it sounds like this one has done nothing but complicate your life.

If you do consider switching agencies, I would caution that the level of support you receive seems to vary widely by individual LCCs. When we decided to switch agencies, I met with the LCCs of two different agencies while we were looking at candidates, and also asked other host parents and au pairs in town what their experience was with their counselors. Between the opinion I formed myself and those I heard, it was easy to determine which of the local agencies/counselors would be the best fit for our family. We’ve been thrilled so far with our counselor’s approach and level of support, and just as importantly, our au pair loves her, goes to her willingly for advice on things like selecting classes, and wants to attend the cluster events she puts together. Good luck!

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Aupair Paris June 22, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Your au pair needs to be able to do her job, which she is not doing. That is the bottom line.

I am very touchy when it comes to people saying things like “shouldn’t they screen for clinical depression”. I have had clinical depression, for which I am still on medication (with it, I am happy and have no relapses. Without it, I am depressed and in semi-permanent relapse) and now I work in mental health, offering work and homelife support to people struggling to cope with their diagnoses (among other things). Honestly, given the number of people in the world with mental health disorders, if agencies screened for clinical depression, all that would happen would be that prospective au pairs would not get officially diagnosed and helped (yay! More stigma), and would therefore be even sicker on their AP years.

So, I guess it’s a bit off topic, but since you brought it up – “is my AP depressed?” is an issue. “Am I able/prepared to get this AP the help she needs for her depression?” is an issue. “Shouldn’t they screen for this?” is misguided at best and outright damaging at worst.

As for the rest, it sounds like it’s the AP and not you, to be honest. You can only tell her what you need from her. As long as it’s not a question of info overload – say, if she has it all written down somewhere – she should be fulfilling those duties and it doesn’t seem like she is.

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MarHostMom June 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm

My agency seems to screen for all medical issues and they are disclosed to the host families. I think mental health issues should be included in this screening, if they are not already, so that families know about them ahead of time and have all the information when matching.

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IndianaAdventure June 22, 2016 at 5:51 pm

I think that you are totally cut out for being a host family! You’ve put up with a lot from a not-great au pair and would be wonderful for good au pair. You sound super caring and really trying hard on the family aspect of the program.

The schooling schedule should have been mutually agreed upon. Sounds like she’s already well into the class so maybe not worth it to make a big deal about it now as long as she’s able to work when you need her. If there is a bus available for her classes and you pay for the bus fare, I don’t think there is anything wrong with making her take the bus every day for class. Both au pairs that I’ve had would have preferred taking the bus just for freedom of doing something else after or whatnot. We drove our au pairs to class the first few times because they both started only a couple weeks after they came, but after that, they were ready to go on their own.

If I were you, I’d draft a handbook, if you haven’t already, that includes dates/times for her chores (kid laundry on day x, help the kids pick up their toys at 4:50pm, etc), rules around vacation, note about taking the bus to class, etc. If you have one, then maybe a document with the items that need to change. Get with the LCC, give the au pair the handbook/document and basically say in nicer words that these are your expectations and if she can’t do these things then it’s time for a rematch. And if you do go into rematch, you’ll have your handbook ready for the next one!

I hope you stay with the program. We’ve had two super awesome au pairs who will always be part of our family. It’s the best option when it works out.

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HRHM June 22, 2016 at 6:11 pm

I think your experience is not uncommon for first time host families. If you’ve never had an AP, it’s hard, if not impossible to know how to choose, train and manage an AP. I too had issues that first go round and when I found this site, quickly realized all the rookie mistakes I had made. I’m sure there are some first time HFs that accidently pick the perfect, self-starting, Mary Poppins AP out of the gate, but they are the exception, not the rule.

I can’t tell how long you’ve had your current AP, but regardless, I think you need to act now to start to actively manage her to be the AP you need. There are quite a few posts here about having “reset” conversations and then follow ups on a weekly basis with the intention of helping her meet expectations or rematching quickly if she can’t.

It’s more difficult to do, but not too late to make a handbook, sit down with her and enforce it. You have the right to expect her to accomplish the tasks you’ve set out for her in a timely fashion. You have the right to not offer her extra time off (we reserve this as a bonus for our best and brightest APs) and you have the right to expect her to alter her schedule to accommodate your needs, not the other way around.

Although rematch sounds daunting, you will hear from all of us, it is WAY better than living with a poor match.

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HRHM June 22, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Also forgot to mention – consider culture.

A lot of APs come from very direct communication styles and really think that if you say, “If you get a chance, can you make sure the kids laundry is done today”, you actually mean that. And if they don’t do it, they just didn’t “get a chance”!

When what you really mean is “the kids laundry needs to be washed, dried, folded and put away before I get home from work” then you need to actually say just that.

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FirstTimeHM June 23, 2016 at 4:45 am

First of all, you sound like a really good and caring host family so you are cut out for hosting an au pair.
Your au pair sounds a bit immature. She doesn’t own her job, all hell breaks loose when she doesn’t get all the vacation she wants (and doesn’t have), she omitted to tell you she was clinically depressed before she came and she omitted to take her medication with her.
Most au pairs have never lived on their own and were a child in their parent’s home. The fact that she signed up for classes without even considering to talk to you about the schedule and how it would impact your life probably reflects her upbringing. There are quite a lot of stay-at-home moms that will rearrange their own schedule immediately/without mentioning it if their daughter wants to take a course/do a different type of sport/etc. She behaves like she expects to be taken care of, like she’s still a child in your house as well and you have to rearrange your schedule to her liking.
Your AP isn’t an adolescent any more, she’s an adult in charge of children. She needs to start acting her age.

I think you need a reset-meeting, possibly with your LCC present, and to line up backup care.
It’s very realistic for an AP to take care of the children plus laundry plus making sure the toys are picked up before you come home from work.
It’s also very normal to give your AP money for the bus and some assistance in working out how to get to and from classes. It’s very uncommon to drive her 4 days a week, that simply costs you way too much time and energy.
She absolutely needs to take care of her health, a clinical depression is something serious and I would expect her to be mature enough to make sure she’s got medication. And I would expect her to get (and pay for) that medication herself.
Please be very direct with her. Most cultures have a (way) more direct style in communication than americans. It may feel very uncomfortable to you, but in a lot of cultures things that aren’t communicated directly are conceived as minor details.

If you can get your LCC to be present, it will mean that it is an official meeting and that she may end up in rematch if she doesn’t improve a lot in the next few weeks.
It is possible she’s shocked and doesn’t want to improve, in that case she may leave you without notice or with just the minimum of two weeks in which she doesn’t want to work. Please try to have a backup childcare plan just in case.

If she doesn’t improve, please don’t be afraid to rematch. Since you don’t need a driver you’ve got so much choice in excellent girls. There are a lot of rematches over driving. When the previous host family has a lot of good things to say about their AP, good childcare, lovely personality, good roommate, just not a good driver, you’re probably in for a much better experience.

Our first AP ended up in rematch (initiated by her) after less than a week. She changed her mind about working 4 days a week (she wanted 3), her bedroom (should be bigger and have a sitting room and a bathroom) and she wanted to eat what she liked whenever she liked it and not be part of any family meals (that was essential to us and communicated extensively during matching). She omitted telling about her epilepsia and didn’t have any medication for that on her. Our second AP is a lovely girl, she has run her own business to pay for college, she’s very mature and independent. She can redirect tantrums with a smile and is lovely with the kids and a good roommate. She came from rematch from a family that has been kicked out of the program. She’s got a boyfriend here and they hope to get married soon.

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WarmStateMomma June 23, 2016 at 5:54 am

I can relate to this!! Having hosted for 3 years in one of the biggest cities in the US, I know zero host families here. We just went to the host family day for 3 clusters and there were no other host families present.
I also burned way too much energy driving that first AP to everything.
And I resented her not lifting a finger – after we failed to set firm expectations in place from the beginning.
And I was frustrated with the LCC.
And I questioned whether we were cut out for hosting.
And endured months with a very unhappy au pair.

I learned to screen better, to manage expectations from Day 1, and that LCCs present a wildcard factor. My experience has been that the agency, LCC and other host families are about 1% of the experience and the relationship you have with the AP is the other 99%. We have hosted two wonderful APs since that trying first year and it’s been amazing. Here’s my advice:

I’d tell the AP and LCC at a joint meeting that the clinical depression cannot be ignored as it now affects the family. She needs to take responsibility for her own care or rematch. Tell them you will pay for the bus pass for her to attend class, but driving her has become unsustainable. Present a checklist of daily and weekly tasks that you want the AP to check off and leave for you when you come home at the end of her shift.

If these three things drive her off, so be it. Go into the meeting prepared to put your Plan B in place if she bails on you, but listen hard to what she has to say. There may be some opportunities to improve your methods (with her or with her successor).

Screen for someone more mature next time – there are lots of discussions on this site to help you do that. Maintain a businesslike – but friendly – relationship in the beginning until the next AP is consistently meeting your expectations. Then ease into the family role, but think of her as a niece rather than your child. You help each other out like family – but she has the responsibilities and freedom of not being your child.

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IndianaAdventure June 23, 2016 at 11:25 am

We were new to our area at the start of this au pair year (we moved between au pairs) and I had pretty good luck with meeting a couple of other host moms. One way was via NextDoor, a neighborhood app. A family considering having an au pair posted something asking about it and a couple of us replied and have since gotten together (and that family now has a wonderful au pair that came a couple months ago).

My au pair is really great about scheduling play dates with other au pairs and their kids. My son has a couple of favorite friends and I gave a note to my au pair to give to the other au pair to take the the other host parents. I figure if my kid talks about their kid surely theirs talks about mine. The note basically said that I was Z’s mom and that he loved playing with their children and I thought that it would be nice to get the families together sometime to play. It was a bit circuitous, but worked out.

I’ve found it helpful to have a couple other moms dealing with the same joys and challenges of hosting to bounce ideas off of.

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HMAdvice June 23, 2016 at 12:48 pm

So I am right there with you as a rookie parent so I can definitely relate. I didn’t want to say anything in the beginning either because I truly did want my AP to have a good time and I was worried about being “too hard” on her. But, I found that communication is a big part of this program.

I do have weekly meetings with my au pair (less often if things are going well) but we go over things she is doing well and things she needs to improve. If there is an issue we work through the scenario together and brainstorm other ways she can handle it. It is also a time for her to talk to me about things that are on her mind. She has asked me to schedule meetings before too. With my next AP I am thinking about creating some sort of performance measure. If anyone has experience with this, I would love to hear your thoughts. But for the most part the meetings work well.

My family uses an online calendar(like google) that our AP has access and since we provide her a phone that she can access this on there is really no excuse for her scheduling on top of an event. She is told that if we have something on the calendar she needs to check with us before assuming that she has the time off. My AP puts her events on our calendar as well. My LCC has specifically stated that the AP has to work with us for scheduling classes. My AP didn’t really do this but she did schedule at an appropriate time and since we have the calendar it wasn’t a big deal.

I have learned that the AP/HF relationship is complicated. Pick your battles but if something is really bothering you or interfering with the level of care your kids are getting then it is time to make changes. It can be hard to speak your mind but once you do you will feel better about it.

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NoVA Twin Mom June 26, 2016 at 10:05 am

What online calendar do you use that isn’t Google? I’m interested in options for when our new (eighth – WOW!) au pair starts in a few weeks.

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2 kids and a cat June 23, 2016 at 1:47 pm

We ended our first year in rematch after a car accident, but honestly the totaled car was the least of our problems. We learned a lot and are so excited about our second match to arrive later the summer.
The first part if my handbook reads like my own contract at work: summary of responsibilities, minimum qualifications necessary, and summary of benefits. There’s then small piece on what we don’t provide/do. A a minimum you shoul prepare nd present this as a reminder to your au pair.
When you meet, with or without the LCC, make a list of 5 things that were off the mark. Choose three you need her to improve upon NOW, but show her the whole list and let her know that you’re scaling back expectations until she can get the basics under control.
Looking forward, be unapologetic about who you are as a family and your needs. Don’t compromise in your search!

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HRHM June 23, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I think the worst mistake a HF can make is to treat the AP like a guest when they arrive. As soon as she sees that you are worried about making her happy, she will begin to think that this is not an actual job, but rather a year long vacation. It may seem harsh, but I approach my new APs (now, didn’t do this in the first couple years) in a very businesslike manner. Once they are doing a great job and are consistently making my life easier, it’s easy to relax the rules, add benefits, give gifts etc. But if you start off soft with lots of benefits, you’ll have a very tough time restricting when she’s not living up to expectations.

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Exaupair June 23, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Just a few opinions…
I don’t see a problem with her arranging to study four nights a week as long as it doesn’t interfere with her work schedule, as that is her priority reason for being an aupair. However, expecting you to drive her for all four nights is unreasonable – could you do two and she gets the bus for the other two?
About depression…as someone who has depression and is being successfully medicated for it, and who is holding down a teaching post in a private school, I would urge you not to discriminate against people with mental illnesses. They can’t help it, any more than someone with a physical illness can help it. However, she should be responsible for ensuring that she is in a fit state to work, and that means that she needs to organise taking her medication.
One thing though, about the toys on the floor… I might be unpopular saying this, but you have admitted that you leave the toys in a mess when you’re in charge. If you want to model good behaviour for your child and au pair, then you really should be tidying up after yourself. Surely it annoys you as much when you have left the toys lying around as when the aupair has? She is part of the family rather than hired help as such, and she should follow family rhythms of tidiness etc, not be held to a higher standard than the rest of the family (i.e. you). Model the sort of attitude you want her to have towards tidiness and she will learn what your family standards are. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t help motivation!

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2 kids and a cat June 24, 2016 at 8:05 am

I admit, with mixed feelings, that sometimes on the weekend we run out the door with toys out in the playroom, but we ask that the AP make sure the kids straighten it up before dinner every day. I explain to the AP that I have a job and want to spend as much time with my kids as possible outside of that, so may leave certain things until after bedtime when I’m with them. It’s part of her job, and she doesn’t work at 9pm to pick up odds and ends while I can easily do that. Similarly, sometimes I leave my coffee cup next to the sink. I’m not asking the AP to wash it, but cleaning up after the kids’ breakfast is part of her job, so she can’t look at my cup and decide to stack all their dishes. — we do have everything back in order by Monday morning, so we’re not leaving the mess for her.

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Exaupair June 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

I see your point to a degree. However, I think I would agree more if she was a housekeeper or nanny. Au pairs in my mind are very much “part of the family”, and it seems a little unfair to hold her to a higher standard than you hold yourself. When I was an aupair (years ago – I loved every minute!), I felt like I was treated like a niece, and I fitted in with the family rules and wasn’t held to a higher standard. Would it really take long to tidy up the toys before going out? It sounds like I’m being petty, but things like that could cause resentment as she could feel that you are treating her like hired help rather than “au pair”, which after all, means “on a par with”

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Fortysomething HM June 24, 2016 at 1:46 pm

I’m not the above poster, but as a HM who doesn’t always tidy up myself (but reasonably expects my AP to do so since that is part of her job), I thought I’d chime in a bit.

I don’t think the question is whether it would “take that long” for the HM to tidy up. As a working mom, my goal in life is to structure my day to spend as many minutes with my child as possible. So if that means that I save my tidying up until she’s in bed or until the next morning when my daughter not going to be home for whatever reason , then that’s what I do. I don’t fail to tidy up b/c I’d rather read a magazine, or watch TV. I do it because I’m spending the time with my daughter (or if not, I’m usually doing something else family related, like grocery shopping or filling out school/camp forms). Or maybe I’m exhausted for being a working mom and I go to bed early.

This is not a double standard and hardly suggests that I don’t consider my APs part of my family – it’s the harsh reality that (a) there are only so many hours in a day; (b) I spend so many of those hours working (more than I’d like) and (c) time spent with my child is invaluable. I don’t need to model certain behavior for my AP in order to expect that she will do her job – we are not the same people with the same roles in my house.

My APs are very much part of our family — we bring them on vacation, and weekend outings and even shopping and errands (if/when they want to come). But I have an AP to make my life (and DH’s life) easier and to allow us to spend time with our child as much as we can. It’s not the same thing at all when I tell my APs to tidy up during their shift, but maybe I don’t get to tidy up during my child/APs waking hours.

Thankfully so far all my APs have understood this dynamic. If they didn’t, yes, I would consider it petty, especially given how much we do for our APs otherwise (including extra days off and relieving them early for fun AP events when we can swing it). It would be different if I (or OP) were leaving the mess for the AP, but that’s not what is happening.

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IntellectualMom June 27, 2016 at 9:34 pm

I absolutely agree with your comments, FortysomethingHM and feel I share the same view of the AP job. I don’t leave my workplace untidy at the end of a day, nor do I feel an AP should. I too want to spend every free minute with my kids and totally resent it when an AP has flaked on laundry or left kids’ coats and winter gear all over our entryway. But I can also identify with the OP’s situation as I too have found it very, very hard to get the knack of managing an employee at home. In the beginning, I felt it was enough to lay out the guidelines and expectations and that the AP would rise to the occasion. Well, like many of you, I’ve had to learn that the AP is like any employee and benefits a lot from a weekly performance review conversation – telling the AP what parts of her work have been done well and appreciated, what needs to improve, etc. has helped a lot. We also use Google calendar and I wrote in the chores with a time for them as well. One more thing I found helpful: scheduling an extra 1/2 hour at the end of her shift explicitly for helping put away toys wherever they may be – in the garden, play room, etc. and helping get ready for the next day! We’re now on our 3rd AP and soon will be welcoming our 4th. I find the program has lots of challenges as well as rewards – we’ve also had 4 LLCs in 2 years so it has been a bit bumpy in terms of support, but this website and all of these amazing HM contributors have helped a lot!
Good luck!

Seattle Mom June 30, 2016 at 7:51 pm

Chiming in to agree- I have the same approach. And it would be the same even if I had a niece or a young cousin living with me to take care of the children. In fact, I did that for a summer when I was 16- I stayed with my older cousin and helped with her children. I had certain chores and tasks that my cousin did not do- I had to tidy the children’s play room and do all the dishes. She worked part time as a lawyer, and her time at home was for other things. I don’t see how you can’t be “on par” as a family member and only do exactly the same chores that the parents have time to do. Now, if I were asked to mop all the floors and do all the cleaning, there would be a problem, but picking up the kids toys at a certain time every day is not an outrageous thing to ask of an au pair or a helpful family member.

momo4 July 4, 2016 at 11:56 pm

+1!

momo4 July 5, 2016 at 1:11 am

I would also add that my husband and I have different roles and responsibilities at home, but no one would ever suggest that we are treating each other as less than family just because one of us does something that the other doesn’t want to do, have time to do, etc. Neither of us is holding the other to a higher standard than ourselves, we just each have our agreed upon roles with different expectations and responsibilities.

I am not my AP, and she is not me. At the end of the day, I am responsible for the whole house, including the AP, 24 hours a day. Groceries, meal planning, clothes for the kids, birthday presents, events, sick children, AP locked herself out of the car/is homesick/needs something, flat tires, broken appliances, pet accidents… It never ends. I am never off duty. And I have a job outside the home to worry about as well, during which I still have to worry about everything at home. So no matter what I ask my AP to do, I am never holding her to a higher standard than I hold myself.

APs are usually young and inexperienced, so it is understandable that they do not understand what it is like to be a HP. But they should at least understand that they have a different role to play in the family.

2 kids and a cat June 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm

I do my job when I go to work, and so does my AP. Her job includes the play room and kids’ meals. As a family member, she empties the dishwasher at a time of her choosing, and I do my chores likewise. I don’t think expecting her to go her job is not treating her as part of our family. I explain this in clear terms so there is no misunderstanding or hard feelings.

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Anna June 27, 2016 at 8:38 am

I felt it was petty and I resented one of my au pairs for cleaning up after hers and kids’ breakfast, but demonstratively leaving my (or my husband’s) tea cup dirty near the sink. Yes, I know it is not your duty to clean up my cup, but sticking it up to me like that is not member of the family-ish. I am expected to treat her like a member of the family, i.e. she can have her friends over, etc.; but that relationship is give-and-take, not only take-. I.e. if I treat you like a member of the family and open my house to your friends, you can treat this house like yours and clean my cup too. If this was your house and your mom left a cup near the sink, and you were washing your cup, would you leave your mom’s cup dirty so she can do it herself when she comes home tired from work in the evening? I didn’t think so. Yet you expect me to be your advocate like a mom, feed you like a mom, forgive you like a mom, but at the same time are careful to not dirty your hands with any shred of effort that you deem “extra” or “not your job”. I find that most au pairs I had want to be a “member of the family” when it comes to benefits – i.e. trips, extra time off, treats and gifts…. but when it comes to taking out the trash and doing things that show ownership of the house – they want to stick to the “my job/ not my job” part.

But I think it may be cultural. Au pairs (great au pairs by the way) with this attitude were from Latin America, where economic divisions are deep, and they were sensitive to feeling like a servant. My culture (eastern Europe) is such that no job is a dirty job, all jobs are honorable, and all people are equal, and you just do your part. My next au pair is from Ukraine, I hope in the 20 years I haven’t been there the culture didn’t change and that she will have a different attitude and won’t resent making a cup of coffee for a host parent when she is making one for herself (hey, I always ask my au pair if I should make omelet for her when I am making one for me…)

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TiredAuPair June 28, 2016 at 12:16 am

I have to chime in… HF’s call it give and take, but most HF’s take more than they give. So be honest, don’t you get upset when your au pair leaves stuff in the sink, when it would have taken her 1 minute to put it in the dishwasher? We feel the same! If it’s once a week, okay it happens. But everyday? Not okay. I do also think it is not right to always leave kids toys out but expect her to always keep it clean. Yes you have a job too, but after 10 hours of running after small kids, you are exhausted. Honestly, it is petty of a HF to expect an AP to always have clean house IF you did not leave it clean for her to start with. Or leaving the entire weekends of toys for her on Monday, also not okay. I do not think in any WAY that this is petty. Imagine your boss putting their dirty cup on your desk everyday. OR you make sure your work space is clean and come to work to find out your boss messed up your work space.

LatinAmericanAuPair July 4, 2016 at 2:27 am

I have to disagree with you on the cultural thing. I’m from latinamerica and when I think of an au pair being a member of the family I see it as a two sides role. I expect family to include me in their routine, and I respond to that desire of mine by getting myself involved with the family as if it were my own. That being said, I’d never leave my mother’s cup dirty if I was cleaning mine, so why would I do that to my “american family”?
I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here out of nowhere, but I wanted you to let you know not every au pair from this part pf the world is like that :)

Anon for this one July 4, 2016 at 11:44 pm

TiredAuPair – I would be very careful about generalizing your experience with your HF to “most host families”. Many AP’s do not spend 10 hours running after small kids, and different different families have different expectations of their APs.

I’m sorry that you are apparently having a hard time in your situation, and I would not argue that your particular HF is not taking more than they give. I am not in your situation so I could not possibly judge that. But I will say, that if you are so unhappy with your situation you should rematch or go home. Letting this kind of resentment build up is not good for you or your HF. Talk to them, and if they aren’t the kind of family you can talk to, maybe you shouldn’t continue with them.

As many other HP posters have observed, the roles of HP and AP are not the same. It is ridiculous to compare a HP leaving a dirty coffee cup next to the sink as “your boss putting their dirty cup on your desk every day”.

HPs and APs have different roles and different expectations and none of my APs have ever expressed any unhappiness about washing a few extra dishes after breakfast just as I do not make a deal out of washing an extra pot here and there. None of them have ever complained about tidying up the kids rooms even when it is Monday morning and they are cleaning up some of the results of Sunday’s play. Nor do they complain about washing the clothes that the kids wore on the weekend when the AP was off duty. That’s part of their job. That’s what they signed up for when they became APs. Do you really think that HPs don’t know how it feels to run after small kids for 10 hours? Do you really assume that their 10 hours at work were any less exhausting?

My APs’ seem to understand that being provided with a safe, comfortable place to live in a country they might otherwise not get to spend time in, a car to use whenever they want to go hang out with friends, a warm friendly family with children who love them and parents who are always there to help them out when they need it is nothing to scoff at. If your HF is not holding up their end of the HF-AP agreement, or if they are abusing you, at least talk to your LCC about it.

Jennc June 23, 2016 at 6:37 pm

Im definately in aggreance not to discriminate , however when you interview an Aupair and the agency and no one mentions any issues , then you’ve been lied to. I understand s person not wanting to say I deal with depression , because of stigma , but when they don’t and come and aren’t on meds it’s pretty obvious pretty quick someone lied. My recent Aupair did great on Skype interview , cheerful sweet happy energetic . No red flags. Her mom lost her job about a month before she came which I knew was a concern but parents are adults . As soon as she got here and realized how nice we were she became very open about her life , about dealing with depression , etc lots of family issues, leading me to believe abuse had occurred , I knew right then that I potentially had an Aupair that I might have issues with in the future. She did a great job with kids , did tasks was motivated , but ultimately she left after a short time because of her families instability , I would have been high and dry but I got lucky with a rematch . My point is that there are alot of factors , not just psychological that can impact an aupsircand their performance . It’s important to know about their family life , their role in the home and how stable their families are . In my situation she left to go home to work to bail out her parents . I understood but left me in a lurch, hence now I will look for “stability issues” when interviewing.

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momo4 June 24, 2016 at 3:44 pm

It’s the AP, not you.

We’ve hosted for 9 years and are welcoming our 10th AP this summer, and I can tell you that nothing you are expecting of the AP is in the least bit unreasonable, and you sound like you are definitely cut out to be a host family. Every AP will have strengths and weaknesses, but there are an infinite number of reasons why it may not be a good match. It sounds to me that your AP isn’t happy overall, but I don’t think this is your fault.

Any decision your AP makes that affects your family should be made only after consulting you. Your family is the reason she is here, and she is here to make your like easier, not to make it more complicated and unpredictable. Yes, the AP is here for an experience, education, etc. But in reality, if all you wanted was an extra child from another country you could just take part in an exchange program and host a high school student, right? Your AP is acting more like an exchange student than an AP, and this is not what you signed up for.

I am a very accommodating HM, and go far out of my way to help my APs, but I would never agree to dive my AP to classes 4 nights per week if there were any other option. That is just way too much work and inconvenience, and none of the AP’s I’ve hosted would ever have expected me to drive them 4 nights per week. Most of my APs share rides with friends, take Uber, taxis, the bus… There are a lot of options that don’t involve major inconvenience to you. You’re not her mom.

As far as the depression goes, I don’t think the whole disclosure thing is as simple as it might seem. Someone could have struggled with it in the past and not feel it is a problem any more, so when they fill out the form they don’t mention it and it doesn’t seem dishonest to them. Of course there is the stigma issue. But I would also point out that just because someone has never suffered from it before doesn’t mean that it couldn’t come up as a problem for the first time once they become an AP since the stresses of the situation could act as triggers. At this point, it is what it is. The question is, do you want to live with it? I have suffered from clinical depression myself so I am quite sympathetic to the APs suffering, but as a HM I would rematch in the situation you describe. Given the AP’s intimate association with your family, her constant sadness affects you all profoundly. If she were otherwise an outstanding AP who really connected with your family, it would be reasonable to try to get her the help she needs and find a way to help her through the year. But she clearly isn’t even a competent AP and she is making your life harder. I would give her the option to rematch or go home.

I agree with everyone who says the LCC is more important than the agency when it comes to support. But LCC turnover is also worth considering since you can find yourself in the position where you love the LCC only to have her replaced a month into your year. Regardless of the LCC or agency, you will have to clearly advocate for yourself. Going forward, if there are problems or concerns, be sure always to communicate early and clearly. And consider sending an email since it acts as a paper trail in the event that things ever really go south. It is better to talk to the LCC about a concern when it first pops up only to have it resolve on its own, than to put up with something until it gets to a crisis point. Also, open communication with your LCC allows you to get to know each other and establish a level of trust before any big issues arise. If you tend to be accommodating and conflict averse (as I am) remember to listen to your gut and stand firm when you feel something is a problem for you. Many LCCs will tend to want to smooth over problems as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of time they have to spend dealing with them. (Remember, LCCs are usually not well paid, and are often paid per family, not per the amount of time they spend dealing with issues!)

Don’t give up, the program is really great when it works. You got a dud. It happens to everyone at some point, and as you get better at knowing what to look for, and what you really need, it will happen less often. Management strategies are important, communication is essential, but sometimes the match just isn’t good. Get someone who fits better.

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NoVA Twin Mom June 26, 2016 at 10:31 am

I want to note an important distinction I’m seeing in the comments – I agree we shouldn’t discriminate against au pair candidates with a mental (or physical) illness. I do think, though, that it is not only permissible but perhaps SMART to choose not to match with a candidate that has ongoing (physical or mental) health issues but does not have a plan for treating that issue during their au pair year, particularly if they seem to have simply stopped treatment the minute they stepped on the plane to the US.

We just matched over the weekend with our eighth au pair, so I’ve seen recent au pair applications with a remarkable number of au pairs with thyroid conditions that “are fine as long as I take daily medication”. We initiated conversations with some (none responded, which is a separate complaint), but one of my planned interview questions was how they intended to obtain that daily medication while here in the US (as we all know, the “travel insurance” provided by the agency would be unlikely to cover daily medication for an existing condition). As far as I’m concerned, either bringing a year’s supply with them or having mom send a month’s worth at a time from home would be acceptable – as well as something else they could come up with – I just want to hear that there’s a (reasonably workable) plan.

I think that the problem with depression is two-fold. First, while the agencies don’t screen for current problems, they also don’t screen well for past problems. Our past au pairs have described going to the local equivalent of an urgent care to get the health form filled out – if that doctor asked if they had a history of ________ and they neglected to mention one, the form would say that there is no history of _____. The catch is that the candidates are incentivized to do this – they know from talking to past candidates that the agencies will not accept candidates with a history of “mental illness.” Surprisingly, I did see a few candidates that admitted to past problems involving visits to a therapist, but they were tied to specific events well in the past, such as the death of a parent five years ago. But I haven’t seen a candidate whose profile says they’re depressed but treated with daily medication.

There also doesn’t seem to be a procedure in place for if problems develop (or only become apparent) once they’re here. The only response seems to be to send the au pair home – again incentivizing the au pairs to keep quiet rather than seeking help.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I personally would be willing to consider a candidate that was clinically depressed but maintaining on medication – but would initiate rematch with an au pair if I found out that she WAS on a treatment regimen at home and dropped it (without doctor’s agreement) when she came here. I would also (regrettably) likely initiate rematch with a candidate that needs to BEGIN treatment for depression while here because the supports and medical insurance here are so poor for au pairs.

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Aupair Paris June 26, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I should note – I think I was the first person to comment on the mental illness situation.
I think people should not be obliged to disclose a mental illness. I also think that people need to manage their own illnesses and seek advice from the specialist that knows them best (in my case, my psychologist) before making a big life change.

I know it’s blue sky thinking to imagine that any AP with mental health issues will be 100% responsible about how they’re going to manage it before matching, but for me, the assumption that an AP won’t, and therefore won’t be fit for work is *more* dangerous. The former assumption leads to some illness and rematch, but the latter leads to systemic discrimination.

That is to say, this current situation sucks for the OP, but I don’t think the answer is to insist on more disclosure, which could really only lead to stigma and discrimination for those who are responsible and have medication plans, and have sought advice about their ability to manage their illness before going abroad. But saying that to the very group of people who suffer the consequences of not discriminating is possibly not the most politic of moves.

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Seattle Mom June 30, 2016 at 8:01 pm

I basically agree with you. I think there is one thing to add though. If an AP chooses to come to the US with a mental illness and not disclose it- because, let’s be honest, it’s going to be hard to get hired if she discloses it- then she has to own it and take care of herself to the best of her abilities. And in the end, if the mental illness becomes an issue and she can’t do her job, it’s not fair of her to use it as an excuse to not do her job. She needs to work with her family to figure out how to get it done, get the help she needs, or go home.

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