On Duty or Off Duty: There is no third choice. Or is there?

by cv harquail on December 29, 2012

ON Duty or OFF Duty.

There are only two choices for the hours on your au pair’s schedule.

Host parents that try to establish a third choice, where an au pair is neither on duty nor off duty, are starting down the slippery slope of “taking advantage” of an au pair.

ON Duty = Paid Work

Au Pairs are here to care for our children and to earn room, board, and pocket money in exchange for up to 45 hours a week of childcare work. Hours that they are not “on duty”, they must be “off duty”. They must be able to leave the house, take a shower, get on the computer, stare out the window, or do whatever the heck they want to do in their time off. But it MUST be time “off”. Au pairs need this time “to themselves”, and most likely, you also need time when the au pair is not right there in the thick of things.

OFF Duty = Free Time, No Expectations

It’s perfectly fine to expect (and even ask) an au pair to ‘pitch in’ with light family chores, like clearing the table when (and only when) they have eaten a meal with the family. It’s also okay to ask if your au pair will pick up some milk if s/he is going to the store, or fill up the gas tank in the mini-van if she’s driving it off to an evening class. These are all small, discrete tasks that are part and parcel of her/him doing things with your family, as a family member or even as a roommate.

Where host parents get into trouble, though, is when they start to expect an au pair to “pitch in” with childcare.
Childcare is the au pair’as job, what s/he gets paid for, and what s/he gets time off from.

Sure, they can help out in an emergency, but it’s not something you can expect them to do on a regular basis, when they are at home or out with you and officially ‘off duty’.

Emergencies are different. And, Emergencies are rare.

When you expect an au pair to work (even if you call it “pitch in”) when s/he is off duty, you are obligating her to do something she hasn’t agreed to. That’s not fair.

You are setting her up to look selfish or lazy (“look, she won’t even help out”) when she actually has every right not to be working. That’s not fair, either.

And worse, you are taking away her opportunity to help you out or ‘pitch in’ as a gift– out of genuine generosity. The minute you start ‘expecting’ this extra work, you spoil it as a gift.

Possible Exception: YMMV

The only exception to this either On or Off duty concept that – in my opinion, and not officially- is fair to make is when you are traveling with your au pair. S/he is stuck in the car/plane with you and the kids and can’t be ‘free’, so technically she’s working. But if the kids are sleeping/watching a movie/being cared for by you, s/he’s not full-out working, either. I’ve sometimes counted these hours at a reduced rate (e.g., 7 hours from house to airport to hotel are 4 or 4.5 hours on duty).

Twinbabymomma writes to ask if it’s fair to expect her au pair to help around the house after hours. And, this host mom adds another tweak to the situation: She helps her au pair out during the au pair’s ‘on duty’ hours.

Quid pro quo works when two people are equals in a situation, and when the efforts exchanged are equal.  However, in a situation where one person is the employer and the other the employee, the power dynamic makes it hard for the employee to “give” freely. Also, we can reasonably expect a different kind of ‘helping out’ from the parent than we do from the au pair.

Here are Twinbabymomma’s specifics– what would you advise her?

I am a first time HM. I have twin 7 month old babies. My AP is 22 y old. She is a smart, conscientious girl who works hard during her hours. She is fantastic with the babies. I really like her a lot and I think she likes us too.

I currently work 4 days a week outside the home.We have her working 10-6 on weekdays and 4-5 hours on Saturday afternoon. After hours, she usually goes to her room to get on Facebook or Skype with her friends. She does however always clean the dishes after dinner. She has only been with us for a month now so she hasn’t yet started classes or gotten her drivers license . She has however already made a few friends that she spends time with.

Having twin babies is likely quite different then having older children. Twin babies is constant work until they sleep. My husband as wonderful as he is, can be pretty clueless when it comes to taking care of cranky babies.

Now I don’t expect her to be helping all the time, but is It is it unreasonable for me to expect that when she is downstairs with us and both kids are crying while I am trying to make dinner that she hang out with me and hold one of the babies? Or should I not expect her to ever help or hang out with us after work hours?

Anytime she is working and i am free, i am always taking care of the babies along side her. Also, because i know how much work two babies are, my mother (who my AP likes), comes over to help the whole day. I don’t want to be unfair to her but our situation can be super stressful and tiring at times.

Thanks for your thoughts– Twinbabymomma


HostMominVA January 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

I’m a single mother of twins (now in elementary school) and I’ve had au pairs since the kids were 3 months old. Unfortunately, it is not reasonable for you to expect/ask your AP to hang out with you in the evenings to assist with the twins. I know how hard it can be with two babies. You comfort one while the other cries; it is impossible to get the simplest tasks done.

IF your AP chooses on her own to lend you a hand when she is off duty, she is doing you a favor (for which you need to be appropriately thankful) and you need to be very careful to protect her off duty time. Remember that your home is now her home and she should not have to stay in her room with the door closed just so that she can not be working and not feel guilty.

You write that your AP has only been with you a month and that the babies are not yet walking. The fact is that her job is going to get harder as the year progresses and the twins are more mobile, nap less, get heavier, etc. You want her to have truly off duty time so that she is rested and motivated to come to work every morning for the next eleven months.

Hang in there and, as needed, hire an extra set of hands for the evening hours when you need support with getting through dinner, baths, and bedtime.

Host Mom in the City January 2, 2013 at 11:31 am

Agree with this. And I really like this post. An au pair’s off-duty time is completely without expectation for us. Any way she helps us, I feel grateful and tell her so. But no, unfortunately, no matter how difficult a time you’re having as a parent, it is not reasonable to expect her to hold one of the babies when she is off-duty.

Easier said than done, I get, but maybe address this: “My husband as wonderful as he is, can be pretty clueless when it comes to taking care of cranky babies” – rather than getting resentful when your au pair doesn’t step in when she’s off.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I agree with the above comments. Taking care of twins is a demanding job. If you like your AP and the work she does, then you have to respect her down time. While I am not quite in your space, my special needs child remains at the infantile level of function as a teenager, so I definitely went through a twin-like period. It’s beyond hard, but it does get better (although quite frankly, she’s my easy child).

Lesson 1) it’s okay for your husband not to treat the babies like you do. As long as he’s not willingly harming them, let him do it his way. Your kids are going to be handled be a lot of different people during the course of their lives – the sooner they learn to react to different people the better. Don’t comment on how he’s caring for the kids. My DH became a full-time SAHD when our special needs child was 3 1/2 months old (I had benefits, he didn’t). I learned to keep my mouth shut when he cared for his way (and to this day – if there is a family restroom he will change her diaper). The second thing I did was to take her for a walk as soon as I came home from work to give him down time.

Emergencies aside, we have done our best over the years to keep our APs at 45 hours or less (usually less). We know that the care of a special needs child is demanding, both physically and mentally – much as I imagine it would be to care for twins. I recommend to you that you enlist the help you need to get through the first couple of years. Your AP at one-month might be willing to dedicate her free time to you, but once she has classes, a group of friends, and travel plans, she is going to resent feeling tied down.

Host Mom in the City January 2, 2013 at 11:33 am

Also wanted to mention that we have it in our handbook that any time I expect my au pair to help with the kids at all, it counts as her hours and I will tell her so that she knows what I expect. So for travel time, if I know I would be pissed if she was sitting there reading a magazine on the plane while I struggle with the kids, then I tell her beforehand that it’s work time and count it as hours. That way, I know for myself that I can’t get resentful if she really is just sitting there not helping me – it’s on me to schedule her and otherwise she can do whatever she wants.

London Nanny Agency January 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

You’ve put together a great post here. Ensuring that you and your Au Pair are on the same page when it comes to being on duty/off-duty could help to avoid a lot of stress and confusion further down the fine.

Best wishes, Alex

emmiejane January 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm

No, you can’t expect her to help with the twins when she is not on duty. Our au pair doesn’t really “hang out” with us much when she is off duty, so I haven’t experienced this too much. If she does happent to be there while not on duty, and I am having a difficult time, she will often do something to help, but I am very careful to never ask or expect.
That said, I relate very strongly to the kids are not making it easy to make dinner, and that is by far my worst time of day. I find it stressful to try to make dinner while the kids are fighting, being wild, making a mess, whining, etc… I have never had twins, which I am sure would make it worse. What I have been trying to do to relieve some of that stress is to schedule my au pair for that dinner-fixing hour when I can work it out (between hours, her classes etc…). Could you find someone else to help out on Saturday afternoon and schedule her from 10-7 or something? so she could be there with you for that hour when you are trying to pull dinner together. Or on your day off, could you schedule her less, or make dinner earlier in the day. I know without even having twins how that dinner hour is the fussy hour, and how stressful it is to try to make dinner while the kids are unhappy, and I have found some relief when I have figured out ways to schedule my au pair during that time.

AboutToBeHD January 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Here’s what gets me:
“My husband as wonderful as he is, can be pretty clueless when it comes to taking care of cranky babies.”

As a brand new father of twins (6 days to be exact) I have found it amazing that all the baby sites I have been reading through our pregnancy set the bar so low for fathers that it pains me. “Maybe dad can help by making a cup of tea once a week!”

The “oh, he’s just clueless around kids” is so pathetic. It’s almost like most moms might as well be single moms for all the help they are expected to get from their partners.

You work, your husband works (presumably) so he should just just grow a pair and learn what it takes to be a real dad, not Ward freaking Cleaver reading his paper and smoking his pipe while mom makes dinner, feeds the babies, changes the babies, does the laundry…

You do realize that looking after fussy babies is a learned skill?

And one of the contributing factors to fatherly ineptitude is moms who refuse to let dads do the smallest thing, especially if they don’t do it “right”, so it can be a bit of a controlling/enabling thing too. (As in, “Oh, you’re doing it wrong, let me just do it…”)

Either way, the au pair is the only one whose job is NOT to take care of the babies at night.

German Au-Pair January 3, 2013 at 3:07 am

Totally OT, but your wife seems to be a very lucky one and I imagine that you will be a great father AND host dad to your au pair!
Just needed to say that ;)

DarthaStewart January 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

Amen! I agree- Dad is a parent too, and can learn to act like one, but only if you will LET him, and expect him to be a full partner in the deal. IMO, if he doesn’t get something, try, and try again until he DOES get it.
Our oldest daughter was born 3 months premature, and prior to that, he had never even held a baby. One of the nurses insisted that the baby was not allowed to go home until Dad knew how to change diapers, and do all of the general baby care, and could do it with skill. (I didn’t realize at the time, how awesome she was being for me!) This set up the expectations that my husband would care for our children the same way I do from day 1. (It created some fun moments, when he would be much faster to react with some of the kids than I was, and he’d have a bottle already in their mouth, before I could get ready to breastfeed… So I had to ask him to slow down a little…)

In this case, I think that Dad needs to step up and help with the kids while meal prep is underway.

Second observation- waiting a few minutes to eat, even for a preemie, is not the end of the world, just so long as it’s not all the time, and it’s not a LONG time. The kids will learn to be more patient if you require a bit of patience from them.

Melissa January 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I agree that you can’t expect your AP to assist with the kids while she is off duty. Caring for the kids is her job and she needs to have a clear break from that while off duty, plus I don’t want my AP to think of my kids as “work” every time she is near them. However, I think the significant distinction here is “expectation” vs “would be nice.” There are many times where it would be nice for an AP to step up and lend a hand, and sometimes where it seems borderline rude, to at least clueless, for her not to. To me, this is one of the examples of the difference between a good and great AP.

We are very careful to protect our APs free time, especially at the beginning when they are still getting to know us and may not yet feel comfortable drawing boundaries with our kids, who typically shower our APs with lots of attention. We also are very careful about scheduling our APs to be on duty during travel times because we don’t want her to feel taken advantaged of or for us to feel frustrated that she is not doing anything with the kids during those times. And there is quite a bit of light duty time in our APs schedule. So, even though I don’t fully expect our AP to help with the kids during her off time, I do get annoyed if she just sits there & does absolutely nothing while I am being pulled in different directions. While I don’t want her to feel that she has to be trapped in her room in order to have any relaxed time, I do understand if our AP goes to her room, the gym, for a run or whatever, as soon as she is done working. I think that if she wants to be truly free to do whatever she wants regardless of what is going on in our household, then she needs to be smart enough to remove herself from the situation for the time being (meal time prep & bedtimes can fall in that category). And if an AP chooses to spend a lot of free time with us, including meals, I do hope that she is generous enough to cut up a child’s food or tie a shoe if I am busy getting dinner on the table. I don’t expect her to do it every time, but I would be put off if she never lended a hand.

One of my past pet peeves was with a former AP who used to go out to dinner with us a lot. She loved food & enjoyed going out to restaurants and was usually deeply buried in her menu trying to decide what to order, or else very into eating her meal, and would never do anything to help with the kids, like take one to the bathroom, help get everyone settled with crayons, coats off, etc, or even color with one child while I helped read the menu with my other child. It got to the point where I would avoid asking her to join us because it got under my skin so much.

Host Mom in the City January 2, 2013 at 3:15 pm

This is a great point. Both of my APs have happily read a book to the kids at a restaurant or grabbed someone a cup of juice during dinner. They do on occasion do a puzzle or something when I’m making dinner if they’re downstairs and around anyway. And now that you mentioned it, I think I’d be pretty irritated if I was taking someone out to dinner and they sat there texting while I struggled with the kids or something.

Trying to define where the line is.. I think maybe it’s that I would be irritated if I’m doing something that directly benefits the AP (taking her on a cool trip, making her dinner, taking her out to a restaurant) and clearly struggling, then I would expect her to do a little assistance. But, if it’s just that I’m tired on a normal day of parenting, and not actively engaged in an activity that is benefitting the AP, then I don’t think it would be fair to expect her to do anything. So this means also that I would never resent her for being gone on her off duty while I’m struggling. Only when she’s physically there by chance, I’m engaged in something in which she will benefit, and I need a little assistance.

5kids=aupair January 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm

After having the restaurant issue with 1 au pair, I put it into my manual. I specifically put what is expected out of the APs at restaurants and while on vacation bc those always seemed to be the biggest hot spots.

HostMominVA January 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm

“There are many times where it would be nice for an AP to step up and lend a hand, and sometimes where it seems borderline rude, to at least clueless, for her not to. To me, this is one of the examples of the difference between a good and great AP.”

OMG this is such a great point! Our biggest challenges have been travel. The kids are bouncing off the walls at the airport and the au pair may be on duty but she isn’t taking the initiative to assist, let the parent(s) go to the restroom, talk uninterrupted to the airport agent, open a juice box, etc. Some APs just get it and other need constant direction. I’ve found this to be the hardest trait to interview for every time I match.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

We are now pretty explicit when we travel, “Please do X.” I have found time and time that I need to remind an AP that if she is not using up her vacation days then it’s not her vacation. And I think this is hard, even for the best, to understand. Up until this point in their lives, a family trip meant being on vacation and having less responsibility. We’ve hosted several APs who had either a) never until they came to the U.S. or b) rarely been in an airplane in their lives. For some, getting on a plane seems to to involve a decline in childcare skills because of the excitement and novelty.

Before heading out on a family trip, especially to celebrate a holiday, I have found that it’s good to have a chat. Warn your AP if you’re not headed for a city destination that she may feel trapped in the hotel or relative’s home. Be explicit about tasks. (No, you’re not going to idle away time waiting for your luggage to appear, please take the baby for a diaper change while we do that.) The more you host the more you’ll think ahead (or kick yourself like I do wishing you had). The best APs continue their holiday care-giving unabated, while those who have needed a job coach prior to travel are likely to need a higher level of supervision and direction.

But this seems to be an aside in a conversation about letting your AP step away and have a break when she’s not working…

Melissa January 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm

This is one of THE MOST important qualities for us in an au pair and travel is probably the best example & indicator of it. Not sure of the best way to label this quality — initiative, helpfulness, good manners, emotional intelligence, common sense?? I don’t know, but its one of those things that an AP either seems to instinctively have or doesn’t, and it’s painfully apparent when she doesn’t. To TACL’s point below, I find that APs that don’t have this quality have to be reminded and specifically directed, often repeatedly. I’ve come to realize over our years of hosting that I stink at doing this and even more so, I absolutely hate micromanaging these soft skills and really come to resent doing it. I’m much better at specifically directing our AP on how to do the laundry or what to pack for lunch. But I HATE when I have to tell them that they need to look up from their cell phone and stop updating their Facebook status in order to help occupy my fussy child at the airport. So, I try to screen for this quality above all else. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not, but I am so grateful when we find an AP who “gets it.”

German Au-Pair January 3, 2013 at 3:17 am

If this is something really important to you, I’d look into candidates with younger siblings.
I never use up all of my 45 hours, so it’s a little different. But I have a sibling who is a lot younger than I am and I am just used to just fix a shoe, accompany to the bathroom, cut up some meat, watch for a second while mum uses the bathroom or whatever. For me it is not part of work, but a normal part of family life.

But that normal part of family life also includes that it is not expected of me, that it is not my task. When the kid says “Can someone help me?” and you see that the parents are waiting for you to do it every time, you’ll resent it. When everyone takes turns depending on what he has on his plate right now, it’s reasonable.

But I also know that people who do not have younger siblings are not necessarily used to that and since we do work as caregivers, it can be easy to feel taken adventage of.

HRHM January 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I agree! I do think that grade school aged siblings will be on my list of characteristics. Our current AP has a little sister and is GREAT with my kids, both with helping me and with loving them. Our previous APs had sibs but they were either very close in age or the AP was the “baby” and none of them took the initiative to help unless asked.

Host Mom in the City January 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Just be careful with this though and don’t rule out any good au pairs who don’t have little sibs. I posted this below, but both of ours have been very willing to help off-duty – one was an only raised just by her mom and another only had an older brother. So it doesn’t always hold true.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I agree. We have hosted only children, eldest children, youngest children, and children who had spent nine years in boarding school/college dormitories prior to living with us. I think the best way to tease out helpfulness is to ask about their chores at home during the interview. Some of the references will talk about how the candidate behaved in their home (or place of work) while caring for children, too.

English Au Pair April 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm

This is not always true, I’m the youngest in my family with two older brothers and yet its natural for me to help out with the children if there is a shoe that needs tying etc or if there is something else child related that needs to be done and the host parents arent available to do it. Especially on our recent vacation where me, HM and the 3 HC age 14, 4 and 2 were stranded at the airport for nearly 8 hours! Technically I wasnt On Duty, but I helped every possible way whether it was helping with the luggage, helping at meal times or finding ways to keep one HC amused while HM had the other one – the 14 yr being able to generally amuse herself. But I would have felt so rude and ungrateful if I hadnt helped out when they were taking me on vacation with them. During the week we were on vacation I never had any set hours but was another pair of hands and eyes keeping an eye on the children in the car parks, in the ocean, in the pool etc or while HP cooked meals etc.

Should be working January 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm

How important is the little-siblings criterion? For me it has always been huge. Are there really GREAT APs out there with no little sibs?

Melissa January 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Even though the younger sibs line of thinking makes complete sense to me, our two BEST APs have both been the youngest in their families. One (our 1st AP) was the youngest of 4 and the other was the youngest of 3. So even though it seems like logical criteria to have, I don’t rely on sibling situation much when matching. For me, lived on their own, age & completed college (or had real work experience) are the big factors.

Host Mom in the City January 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm

This is the third time I’ve said this now, but neither of our two (who have been really solidly good, but I guess not GREAT) have had younger siblings. Our first was an only.

Posie January 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm

We had a really good AP who was an only…but she was really good in that she was a super hard worker, smart, and a good listener. If she hadn’t been those things she probably wouldn’t have been a good AP at all because she was really used to being taken care of….

Taking a Computer Lunch January 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm

It’s not that important to me. While our absolutely most favorite AP was the eldest of two (her younger sister was not that much younger) her mother lived with a man who had much younger children. However our other favorite APs have been only children, youngest children, and middle children.

For me, work experience (either as practical experience as part of the education process or separately) and any sort of special needs experience (I have a special needs child) are essential.

This year I went with a regular AP who put her best foot forward (I’m not saying she lied about her experiences but I do think she exaggerated their importance in her life. We’ve had to more than we expected to get her work performance up to an acceptable level), and I’m feeling a little burned. I will definitely favor extraordinnaire candidates in future years. Without fail, they have come with enough experience to know when to pitch in and how to work just that notch above that makes us beg them to stay another year.

But I can easily say that birth order has played no role in our loving and bonding with great au pairs.

German Au-Pair January 4, 2013 at 12:04 am

I’m not saying it’s a guarantee or that it’s a must…I know very great au pairs -and I say that with a little envy- who do not have any siblings at all.
I think another factor might be someone who has actually worked in a kindergarten (or something similar) instead of just baysitting. When you actually work with children you learn to take responsibility and do things that are not speficically asked of you. I worked in a school for a year and even though I was only paid to work with one specific child, of course I would ract to the others if they needed help.

In the short (2 weeks) internship I did in a kindergarten, I did not get to do anything indepedently. So I’d look for long running internships or jobs.
Again, not a gurantee but a big help.

For most people pitching in with the little things in everyday life is something they need to learn and I’d look for situations in which they could have learned that.

(On that note: I had to do hardly an chores at home growing up but since I have a young sibling, it is still normal for me not to ignore things I could help with. On the other hand I have a friend who had her own apartment for years and she seriously told me to just leave the cat poo I found the other day and pretend I haven’t seen it.)

5kids=aupair January 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

YES! Our best AP came from the most broken home ever.

German Au-Pair January 3, 2013 at 3:25 am

Oh and something that I have noticed on myself: you are much more likely to do something extra if you see it’s appreciated and not taken for granted.
When you’re off and you do something for your host parents that is usually part of your job, too, and you don’t hear a thank you for it, you are not likely to do it again.
When I see the clean dishwasher on my day off, full of dishes I haven’t used any of and I empty it instead of ignoring it, then I expect at least a thank you when you walk through the room. Not a written thank you card for a small thing, but an “Oh, thanks” would not be too much to ask for, right?

Tristatemom January 2, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I wanted to add something to OP’s comment that she lends a hand to the AP when she is free.
I used to do the same because I know how hard it can be to care for my children and quite frankly, I didn’t want my kids to suffer from the AP being overwhelmed.
Anyway, I have learned to “ration” myself because I cannot exhaust all my strength while the AP is working and have nothing to give when I take over from her. After all, she gets the evenings and weekends to relax, I don’t. Sometimes, AP now just has to deal and I find that they do rise to the occasion.
You also mentioned that your mother helps out, maybe she can come later in the day and then help with the evenings?
Best of luck to you!

summerx January 2, 2013 at 2:07 pm

How we have handled this in our family is to make it clear from the onset that our au pairs can either be treated as family (preferred) or as an employee. If they want to be treated like family, i.e. join us for dinners (either in or out), vacations, weekend trips to the zoo, parks, etc, then they need to act as a family member would. Therefore if a kid needs help with something, then they should be willing to help as a big sister would. We would never ask our au pairs to do something that we wouldn’t happily do ourselves. If they don’t want to be involved with helping as a family member, then those same courtesies won’t be extended to them and the invitiations for vacations, restaurants, etc. would end. So far, we have had 4 au pairs and all of them have chosen to be treated like family and as such, have acted like family.

Host Mom in the City January 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Is this something you address at matching? We sort of do, except we don’t give a “choice.” We basically say we’re looking for someone who wants to be part of the family – for good and for bad – and explain a little what that means to us.

HostMominVA January 2, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I’d love to hear more about how you you may this clear both before and after matching. Some of my APs have been pretty good about understanding the give-get relationship. Others not so much.

summerx January 3, 2013 at 8:46 am

We are very upfront in our interview regarding this. I guess if I think about it we don’t generally give a choice. We always start out asking what their relationship with their family is and what type of relationship they are looking for with their host family. I realize that most of the au pairs are trained to answer that they want to be part of the family. At which point we happily agree that it is what we want and that we are expecting our au pair to act as part of our family. We tell them that our kids look to them as a big sister (which they genuinely do) and we expect them to act as one. for example, if you are off duty and the kids are asking you something when you come upstairs, we expect that they would be polite and courteous with the kids and help them, within reason. Again, our main point is, if you expect to be treated as part of our family, then you need to return that treatment to us and our kids. We are also very adamant that when the au pair is off, they are not to go down to the au pairs room and bother them. it is their time off. We also explained to the au pairs that with young kids, they may not necessarily “understand” that it is their time off. It has never been a problem for us.

Now let me clarify this by saying our au pairs have it pretty good. We have 5 yo twins and an 8 yo, all boys. They are in school so during the school year, they work from 6-830 am and 4-6pm. Rarely any other times unless the kids are off or we have weekend plans. During the summer it is a full 45 hours. They essentially have their own apartment as we never use our finished basement which has everything they need. They have a car at their disposal at all times. We have taken to treating them as we would want someone to treat one of our own kids. In general all of our au pairs have realized that they are treated well and have been helpful in return. For us it seems that the old saying you catch more flies with honey applies. We still regularly keep in touch with our past au pairs and have even had them and their parents come back and stay with us years later.

That said, we have au pair #5 coming next Friday…so now it is time to start the process over and hope we screened well during our interview process. wish us luck!

Host Mom in the City January 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

Oh, ok – I guess that’s about what we do. We say we are looking for someone to be part of the family and go on to describe a bit about what that means. To us, that means you get the benefits of being part of a family (family meals, weekend activities, generally hanging around together in the living room having fun kind of stuff, helping each other, being flexible on the schedule, etc.) but you also have to deal with the challenges (being respectful of noise and space and bathroom use in our small house, helping with clean up, being flexible on the schedule – that one counts as both a benefit and a challenge, – being nice and polite even when you don’t really feel like it, etc.).

We spell all that out – here is the relationship we are looking for (essentially, a give and take), here are the benefits of that relationship, here are the challenges you might face.

The other interesting thing is that you would think someone from a large family would be best with this kind of relationship, but I wouldn’t rule out those with a small family. Both of our au pairs have been excellent at this give and take. Our first was an only child who lived with her mom her whole life and our second has only an older sibling.

Host Mom in the City January 3, 2013 at 10:16 am

To add, after we match, we focus hard on making sure our au pairs actually see us being flexible and dealing with some of the “challenges” of being part of the family ourselves. I think that encourages them to see that it’s give and take on both sides, not just give and take on her side and all take on ours.

For example, we set the schedule way in advance and it’s pretty set on the weekdays, but we let her know which evenings and weekends we have something to do (very few) versus when we are just scheduling a random date night (mostly). That way, she can let us know if something comes on, and we make a point of being happy to change our date night to another night. No sour faces or awkwardness when she asks – if it works, we happily switch it, if it doesn’t, we tell her why and give another option.

I feel like if I want her to be flexible with the schedule on ocassion, she needs to see that we’re happy to be flexible with our schedule on occassion too. This works best if you do lots of communicating around the schedule – we do it early, talk out every day, tell her exactly what we’re doing and when and what is flexible and what isn’t.

Another example is cleaning the kitchen – she’s done it a few times, and I always say thank you and let her know it’s appreciated. On the flip side, I frequently tell her just to put her bowl in the dishwasher and I’ll take care of the rest. Or take her plate to the sink myself when she’s running out the door to class or something. I don’t get resentful the few times she’s left her plate in the sink – she’s put our dishes away, I’m happy to put hers away when she needs me too also. Again, demonstrating helping her and appreciating when she helps us in kind.

skny January 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Question on the theme:
I spend hour cooking dinner. hubby watches the kids while i cook. Au pair just comes up at the time the meal is ready, eats, and leaves.
My pre-teen usually does the dishes all on her own (put dishes on dishwasher and washes pans). Now however my pre-teen is going to start with sports two nights a week.
Last time my pre-teen had sports, au pair would still eat, place her plate in the sink and disapear. This means that instead of getting the kids who are all under 3 into shower, or do some evening task, I have to do all the dishes and clean up after all.
Would it be wrong to ask au pair to (in case she eats with us, which she ALWAYS do) help with the dishes on the days my pre-teen has evening sports?
I almost feel like I am being taken advantage off because I am preparing a all from scratch meal, putting the table, setting all up, drinks, etc… and she eats and disappears.

HRHM January 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm

In our house, if the AP is eating with the family, she is always expected to help out in one of three ways. She can cook the meal (and I’m always psyched for this one as she is a great cook) or she can keep the kids out of my hair while I cook, or she can clean up after. If she isn’t interested in doing any of those three things, then she can make herself something after dinner is done or she can go out to eat. I’m not running a restaurant. If I had kids old enought to do dishes, they’d be on a alternating schedule with AP to do them. Fair is fair.

Seattle Mom January 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I think this is genius, because we get kind of resentful about running a restaurant at times. I wonder- do you set up this expectation in advance, during the interview? Is it in your household handbook? We’re just starting with a new AP, so it’s too late for us, but maybe next time..

My husband cooks 90% of the time, and he sometimes schedules the AP to work while he’s cooking to keep the kids out of the kitchen. But we don’t always have room for that in the schedule- we generally use all 45 hours.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm

We don’t require any help, other than the AP does what our pre-teen does, which is scrape and put away dinner dishes in the dishwasher. This started with our first AP, who really worked hard during her 45 hours – caring for an infantile special needs child and an infant.

Could you have your AP bath the kids under 3 before dinner during her scheduled work hours? Could she take on some of your evening tasks while the kids nap? It sounds as though she has been living with your family for some months – if she doesn’t have much time left, then adding another evening task (even if she’s not likely to go out) after a full day of looking at infants and toddlers will not go well. If she’s a fairly recent arrival, then you could phrase it as a request. Two nights a week doesn’t seem like a huge request.

CA Host Mom January 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm

In our home, whoever doesn’t cook is the one (or are the ones) who clean up afterward. It is not the least bit unreasonable to expect that your AP pitch in and help clean up after you have prepared and served dinner.

After having let something go on (i.e. her disappearing after dinner) for a while it can be hard to implement a change, but I would do it kindly and tell her something like, “I know we haven’t asked you to do this before, but on the nights that you have dinner with us, it would be really helpful if you stick around after dinner and help clean up.”

And I would say every night that she eats (and doesn’t cook), not just the nights that your pre-teen has practice or games.

We are on AP #3. 2 have been wonderful about this and one was a princess and it was like pulling teeth. The princess only lasted a couple months.

Good luck!

Busy Mom January 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm

skny, our handbook says “• When you eat meals with us, we expect that you will assist us with cleaning up. For example, we would all clear the table, wash dishes and put dishes in the dishwasher. ”

I, too, would feel taken advantage of if my AP just disappeared. My kids set the table and empty the dishwasher, but I expect the AP to pitch in as needed.

au pair January 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm

From an au pairs view: it is every hard for me to see the line. I work 45 h a week, and have 2 kids under 5. while of course they are not babies anymore, it is quite hard for me, to not feel guilty while off duty. My room is close to the kitchen, so i can hear everything. Sometimes, when my hm makes dinner the kids go wild. I am tired from my 10h day with them, but also feel bad about her making dinner for me, and i just relax..she loves to cook, and i am not that great at it. So usually i got get the kids and let them hang out in my room. (They love that so much,dont know why) i know my hm is grateful for this, but sometimes, i rather would not help. It is so hard to be around the kids ALL the time…i know i have the weekends, but even then, i wake up at 6.30 because they get up as well…( they are very loud) sometimes i wish i hadent started to “spoil” my hf with my help off duty so much, because now they expect me to do it… Or at least it feels that way.. So answer to your question, no you should not expect her to help you, she does a lot during the day. But maybe you can schedule her differently. Good luck!

English Au Pair April 19, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I work 10 hour days 45 hours a week and I dont think its at all unreasonable for me to clear the table after dinner. My HP have never asked me too and always thank me for it but I think it is perfectly fair for me to help out after dinner when they have cooked the meal that I eat. We even have our own routine that just evolved over time, HD bathes the kids, HM does the dish washer and I clear the table and scrape the leftovers and then spray cleans the table. I think its kinda ungrateful if the AP doesnt help, I know it may be her off duty time, but its not an Au Pair thing, its a family thing.

CA Host Mom April 21, 2013 at 8:03 pm

English AU Pair – I love your attitude! Thanks for sharing your feedback.

English Au Pair April 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm

You’re welcome CA Host Mom, sometimes it seems like some APs are so concerned about protecting their Off Duty Au Pair time that they forget that they are a member of the family as well and even though they are Off Duty as an au pair and therefore dont have to help out with the children but should help out with things like dinner, if they eat with the family or little things like that which dont take long and makes life easier and happier for everyone in the house. And being an au pair is all about being part of the family right?!

MommyMia April 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Brava, Brava! I wish more APs “got” this concept. So glad that you do, and well-written post.

CA Host Mom April 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Yep – I wish there was a way to clearly articulate (and then publish for all “to-be” APs) how far an attitude like yours gets an AP (in my household anyway). I EAGERLY went so far out of my way in consideration of our AP#1 (who could very well be you based on your comments here, except she’s Danish). Granted, there are families that might not share the same commitment to following the rules and respecting their AP’s time, so it’s not always that simple, but if more APs had the attitude that English Au Pair has above, I think it would make for many more happy matches!

Posie January 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Our former AP was great in many ways, but caused significant frustration for me on one point: dinner. She expected to be provided dinner. She retired to her room when her shift was over and would come upstairs around 7:30 (after our infant and toddler were in bed) expecting a healthy, hot, delicious meal. She never once offered to help with meal prep or clean up. When my husband started doing an evening activity a few times per week and I was putting my kids to bed AND fixing dinner AND cleaning up after dinner..by myself…I started to really feel resentful (being as I also work a full time job…)

I initially wanted to ask the AP to look after the kids while I did meal prep but my husband suggested I give her a choice instead: do you want to cook dinner tonight, watch the kids for 15-20 minutes while I get things ready, or “fend for ourselves” for dinner tonight? (I will happily eat cereal for dinner so it didn’t matter much to me). Although I only really said this to her a few times it helped a lot with my feelings if resentment. She always opted to fend for herself and made a frozen dinner or sandwich.

So if its just the dinner time/witching hour that you’re talking about I think you can give her a choice of what she wants to help with, particularly if your husband is out…at least a couple of times per week. Or get more creative with scheduling with your mom and ask her to help prep dinner 1-2x per week, you do it 1-2x per week, your husband does it 1-2x per week, and AP does it 1-2x per week. You can also get creative (or perhaps LESS creative) with dinner for a while: easy crockpot recipes, frozen pizzas, supermarket roasted chicken and salads…all take so little time to prepare.

If the question is more about in general when can you expect help, I think it’s so variable by AP and personality. Your best bet is to NEVER expect her to work with the kids when off the clock…then if she does its a bonus. (I don’t mean sullenly refusing to have anything to do with the kids when off the clock but I do mean no more than a brief, polite interaction)…

Good luck!

Tristatemom January 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Ha, one more comment from me today. I also went through feeling pressured to have dinner for the AP and was resenting that.

Here is how we solved this: We present before matching that we don’t really eat together as a family much because our kids are small (this statement is true). We also schedule AP to make easy, small dinners for kids and she can eat with them if she chooses. I only make dinner for my Husband and I and we eat later in the evening, AP has to fetch for herself (we don’t say this last part but it just happens that way). Finally, we always have enough supplies in the house that AP can cook or make sandwich etc. And we always match with an AP that loves to cook so they actually cook nice meals for themselves and share with us sometimes (1/month):)

5kids=aupair January 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

This is how we’ve always done it, too.

HRHM January 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm

To the OP:

Is your husband present during the dinner-making melee? It’s hard to tell if he is there and trying to help but unsuccessfully or if he’s still at work at that time, or if he’s upstairs playing “World of Warcraft” while you struggle. If he is in the house, then HE is who should be doing whatever he can to get you through this stretch of chaos. He doesn’t need to be Mary Freakin’ Poppins to toss them both into a stroller and head out for a walk to give you fifteen minutes of quiet to make dinner. Or alternately, he can make dinner while you quiet the precious darlings, if you are naturally better at that sort of thing. It sounds to me like AP is eating with you and then helping with post-meal clean up. This is more than many APs would do without being scheduled, so count yourself lucky. The other option is to ask her to cook dinner once or twice a week (as a flatmate, not as work) for the 3 of you and you watch the babies while she cooks. Then DH can do the cleanup instead of her.

spanishaupair January 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

You should not expect your aupair work extra, even off-duty as something general, could be that one day you are overwhelmed and you need help and is ok. This is a common and main reason for aupairs to be unhappy with their hostfamilies and sometimes finishing in rematch or going back home, because even if you ask it as a favor you are the employer so she will probably not say no even if they are really tired and the only thing they want is a bit of rest. There is a big difference between hostparents and aupairs taking care of the children: for you parents they are your kids and for us, even if we loved them soooo much, are our job, and as in any other job you need to have working hours and your free time.

About this, I’m having a little problem with my hostfamily that is getting bigger because im more and more fed up with it. It’s very simple, a couple of times a week my older kid goes to preschool in the afternoons, and when my hostmum is not working she schedules me to cover the drop offs-pick ups so she doesnt have to take the baby, the problem comes when she workes (at least one of this days usually) and she schedules me to work 10 hours to finish a bit earlier than the pick up time; at the beggining it was as it says, but one day i offered to take care of the baby because it was heavy raining and very cold outside; but now the problem is that she takes it as i will do it, so she comes at the time im finishing or even later to just say, hey im leaving you stay with the baby. what adds between 30 minutes or 1 hour to the schedule, that after 10 hours of taking care of a baby and his sister 7 of them you are only looking for to stop working, go for 10 minutes to your room and rest. any advise?

HostMominVA January 2, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I think that you have to address this situation now, and very directly because she is taking advantage of you and you are getting frustrated. Tell your HM politely that you are pleased to work ten hours at any time she chooses but that you want to be off duty at the end of your shift NOT whenever she returns from pick up.

spanishaupair January 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for the advise, that was my idea or what i was thinking but not being sure how they will take it, but some hostfamilies advise is good because is the other side of the story. I will see how this week goes and try to talk about it when arises again,.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Personally, I advise you not to wait until it happens again. Call for a family meeting after the kids go to bed and bring it up. Parents get frustrated when APs bring up issues when they’re juggling multiple activities – and may react angrily because they feel blind-sided.

spanishaupair January 3, 2013 at 6:37 am

Oh, ok, thanks. Well my idea wasnt just in the moment she asks but at night after or something like that, my common sense says not to say things in front of kids or when parents are stressed, only thought to wait for seing how goes with new year

Seattle Mom January 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

If it doesn’t go well, or if she doesn’t understand the problem, this is something I would take to your LCC.

spanishaupair January 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm

thanks, well last week nothing happened and left it, until something comes up again, I think no reason to pick up something that was last year.
Im in Ireland not USA so no LCC but thanks :)

JJ Host Mom January 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm

BTDT with twins – mine are 4 years old now. I remember 7 months as being a stressful time. Particularly evenings as you mention – it seemed they never stopped crying just as we were trying to get dinner on the table, or sit down to eat.

As others posted it’s not okay to ask your au pair to help out with the kids during her off-duty time. The way we used to do it is that my husband would get home in time for the evening crazy, and we’d each put on an Ergo baby carrier and carry a baby. Maybe give the kids a paci if necessary. That’d usually calm the kids down from crying and would leave hands free for cooking dinner.

I’ll repeat something other posters have said – it is virtually impossible to get through the first few years of twins without two parents who are willing to pitch in. Your husband does NOT get a get-out-of-jail-free card on this one. It is tempting to ask the au pair to fill in where he falls short (I unwittingly did it myself many times) but the best thing for everyone, especially the kids, is to get him to do his fair share. You learned, so he can too. The book “Getting to 50/50” is a good one for figuring out why this is important and how to make it work.

Georgiapeach January 21, 2013 at 3:37 am

I agree with the Au Pairs: Their time off is their own. HP’s should not expect or ask for extra help. If an AP chooses to help out, consider yourself lucky, do not consider this an expectation, no matter how hard things are. Believe me, I understand how hard it is with twins, mine are 1yo. Our AP tries to chip in when things are crazy and she happens to be in the same room. I don’t expect it, and appreciate it alot!

However, as JJ Host Mom pointed out, the HD needs to step it up. I know this too. I understand HD’s work hard at their jobs. HM’s do too.

I cannot speak for other HD’s but the trouble with my husband is 2 things: When AP is on duty, he expects her to manage 2 crazy twins by herself with no help from him because “he pays a small fortune for her”. Then, when our AP is off duty and the twins are going nuts, when he sees her he make no attempt to care for them because “she’s got it”. I’ve repeatedly reminded him that she is off duty.

That said, back to the emphasis of AP’s should not have to “chip in” unless they choose to out of care and respect for her HP’s Bottom line, a household with twins is crazy. I know after a long day with screaming twins who are now roaming and biting one another, she needs her down time. Otherwise, they would drive anyone to drink. (Our household joke, none of us are alcoholics)

This does not take away how much we love our twins, I am just saying what many parents, for fear of persecution by society, feel deep down inside.

Lana January 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I always schedule my au pair to work 30 minutes before dinner time on the days I plan to make something more complicated than frozen lasagne. The way I don’t feel like an unpaid chef who has to cook while nursing a baby and toddler hanging on my leg. Also I told her flat out that I’m happy to cook for her if she does the dishes, because that’s the way things work in our house everyone pitches in. We’re a family, not a restaurant. Maybe she’d prefer cooking or baby minding to doing dishes, give her the option. Or leave the dishes for the husband, who as everyone has said, will clearly work on his baby soothing skills. Get him a carrier that he loves and fits him. Not a bjorn. They make ones you can even carry a toddler with. This will become his secret weapon.

Anna January 3, 2013 at 4:36 am


As the mother of two sets of twins I feel your pain. What helps me is requiring the AP to be on duty until we physically sit down to dinner or until 6:30. Whichever comes first. If AP eats dinner with us we expect help throughout dinner (helping to serve the kids, cutting food, refilling sippy cups ect) After dinner the AP is expected to clear the table and is then free for the night.

If dinner is the stressful part of your day I suggest trying 30 Day Gourmet. It’s a recipe book that plans 30 days of great meals that you prepare in one afternoon but freeze for the next 30 days. Pinterest is a great resource for crock pot and freezer meals too. It takes DH and I about 6 hours to shop and then assemble 30 meals for 7 people. After dinner I take the next day’s meal out to defrost in the fridge and either put it in the crock pot in the morning or ask the AP to pop it in the oven at a specific time.

I hope this helps another twin mom. It does get easier I promise!!!

Seattle Au pair! January 4, 2013 at 6:58 am

After all the comments and I agree with them.
I suggest that you change her schedule, specially since you have your mom helping her. I took care of twins and I didn´t have any extra help, so I know its not that easy.
Do you really need her on saturdays?
I think is just a metter of working her schedule so she can help you while you are making dinner, that way you don´t have to expect her to be with the babies, and you are happy!

American AP in Europe January 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

As everyone else has said, speak to your husband about helping you, not your AP.

The surest way to burn your AP out is to have her feeling like an indentured servant available to you 24/7 without extra pay.

Seattle Mom January 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I don’t have time to read through all the comments right now, so this might have already been said, but here’s my 2 cents:

I think you should take some time to rest when your AP is on duty and you are not working. Not all the time, but enough so that you get the rest you need to take care of the kids when your AP is not on duty. I know it’s hard to do that, because we feel like our kids need us all the time, but they will be happier if they have a fully rested mom and AP- you both need down time. (I do not necessarily follow this advice myself, but I do not have twins and I very rarely get free time while AP is on duty).

Another reason why it would be good for you to rest while AP is on duty, is that AP will get more time alone with the twins, and she may appreciate the help you do give her at times. I don’t know if this is an issue or not. But I’m just stretching to think that maybe she doesn’t realize quite how hard it can be alone with the twins because she rarely is. When she knows how bad it is, she might be more inclined to help when she has time & energy. Not that you should expect it, necessarily, as others have pointed out. But it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

My AP worked 42-45 hours most weeks, and she was usually home when I was alone in the evenings (with our 1 & 3 year olds) getting them ready for bed. My husband worked 2 evenings per week for several months, and those were very rough evenings for me. I was tired and getting my kids into pajamas and bed could be a big battle. My AP was really great- she always went upstairs to her bedroom (and I insisted that she do that), but was willing to come downstairs and help out if things got really rough and I needed her help. That only happened maybe 3 or 4 times in the whole year that she was with us. And sometimes she was out in the evening, so she wasn’t available.

Boys Mama January 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Obviously this isn’t an option for everyone, but I always schedule our APs under 40 hours and tell them there are fewer than 5 extra hours worth of kids laundry/toy cleanup/ kid help (that s/he happens to be physically present for) as part of the job. I plan on no more than 45 hours with this cushion built in to foster the family vs employee environment.

We absolutely respect the AP’s time off, but when we had the eventual rematch AP who would ignore a hurt and sobbing child outside her bedroom door because she was off duty (I was on the other side of the house helping another child), it spoke volumes to us about her disinterest in having any relationship with us or our kids beyond clock-in employee. There is nuance here… I think it works itself out if there is mutual respect.

Georgiapeach January 21, 2013 at 3:40 am

Good point. In this example, the expectation would be on a case-by-case basis.

NoVA HD January 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Our first au pair had to leave after a few months due to medical reasons, but after that short experience, we realized that we had to re-write the rules for her replacement. More specifically, she took her work vs. free time too strictly. Before I sound like an ogre, it will make sense in my explanation below.

So, we wrote 3 types of situations into our rulebook: work time, free time, and shared time. Shared time includes meal times shared with us. Or TV time. Anything that is done together (e.g. she chooses to socialize with us), but would normally be thought of as free time. During Shared Time, the au pair is considered an equal adult, with equal responsibilities as the other adults. So, not only should she help clear the table, but if she is the closest adult to a crying child, she should be the one that takes care of the child. Or changes the diaper. Or disciplines a child. You get the idea.

The reason that we came up with Shared Time was that there was some implicit tension building (we loved her otherwise). She’d be eating with us, or watching TV with us, but she wouldn’t pitch in. Technically, she didn’t need to (according to the rules), but I always felt it was rude when she wouldn’t lift a finger.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 7, 2013 at 7:51 am

This is a good idea, and I may use the wording “shared time” in my next handbook!

cv harquail January 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

NoVA HD- I’d love to learn more about how you did ‘shared time’!

How did you account for the ‘shared time’ hours in your ap’s schedule? Were they counted as part of her 45 hr/wk limit, or at some reduced rate (like ‘travel time’)?

Approx. how many hours per week were ‘shared’?

Was she required to be there during those ‘shared’ hours (ie., required to be at dinner with you) or did the shared time concept just address when she was with you (voluntarily) during times that all adults were around and sharing family activities?

thanks in advance for telling us more about this–

NoVA HD January 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

We don’t count it as part of the AP’s schedule (she isn’t required to have shared time). Think of it as this: if, on her free time, she decides to spend it as a family member, then she needs to share responsibilities with the other members of the family. If she decides to spend her free time by herself, or with friends, that’s fine, too. The key reason for making that rule is that we wanted to get rid of the ambiguity that might cause tensions and resentment (she’s on her free time, but…).

We haven’t traveled with her, so we have not had to deal with that yet.

Seattle Mom January 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm

That is such a great idea… and mealtime is part of shared time- she is not required to be present, but she is there and benefiting from being part of a family (eating the food that was cooked for her, taking up space at the table), so she can be expected to add something to this experience- be friendly with the kids, pitch in with clearing the table, cleaning the stove, etc. If she doesn’t want to do it she can stay in her room and eat alone after we’re done.

Host Mom in the City January 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I love this. Thanks NoVA HD!

Emerald City HM January 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Excellent way to state this. I will have to rearrange my handbook a little to make it more clear. We will also be more detailed in exactly what it means to be one of the family during the matching process this next time.

We have now realized we do want an au pair that does want to really be part of the family because it doesn’t feel like a cultural exchange if the au pair doesn’t come out of her room off duty.

SM CA January 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

I will never expect my au pair to pitch in cleaning my kitchen, or taking care of my kids, just because I provide her a meal (unless that dinner takes place during her working hours). I assume providing a meal is part of being an host mom, and lets be real: I provide just one plate + one set of silver wear + a glass for my au pair, it is VERY different picking up one plate VS a bunch of plates, wipe the table, cleaning the floor, starting the dishwasher for the entire family.
Things in my household are very organized: I have a big clock and I made cards to be placed next to the clock. I write the name of the au pair on one card, and mom / dad in another one, the card is changed as soon as my au pair is off duty.
I give specific instructions to my au pair to say to the kids once she is done with work that now mom is in charge, and my daughter actually helps the au pair to change the card near the clock, and find it quite amusing to do so with me or with the au pair.
If my daughter forget who is in charge, I ask her to go to take a look at the clock (when my daughter was not able to read, I made a card with different pictures, I actually asked my daughter to help me picking up the image, I remember she once picked up a heart for the mom / dad card, and a butterfly for the au pair card, she helped me to glue the picture and laminate it, which it was a fun activity).
I leave no gray areas.
I try to make a list of the things I will be cooking during the week and I ask the au pair if she wants me to cook something extra for her (I take in consideration she might not like something I cook or she might have plans with friends to eat out a specific day of the week), knowing that also give me an idea of how much food I need to purchase at the grocery.
I explained to my au pair if she could pls give me notice if she changes her mind about eating with us or not as soon as I get home.
If my au pair is eating with us, I expect her just to put her dish in the dishwasher, that’s it.
If she wants to help cleaning up the kitchen, I do make sure to thank my au pair and that is something I will not forget, but I do not take her generosity for granted, I am never resentful if she is not helping.
If I didn’t want my au pair to feel part of the family I will not get an au pair but I would hire a live out babysitter, I can’t honestly use the fact that she is part of the family as a factor to use her help whenever I want.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

While I follow your routine – I don’t expect my AP to wash dishes or clean up the kitchen in the evenings (because I do expect her to wash up after the kids’ and her breakfast as well as any other food she prepares for herself during the day or when the kids are home to eat lunch). We expect the AP to unload the dishwasher if we run it after dinner just as we unload the dishwasher if she runs it after her lunch.

While I will purchase food for my AP to eat during the course of the week, I do not cook two meals. If she doesn’t like what we’re having for dinner she is free to prepare her own meal, eat whatever leftovers are already in the fridge, or head out the door and eat with friends. Most of our APs choose to vote with their feet when they don’t like what I’m cooking, and that’s fine with me, as it reduces kitchen craziness.

I will say, the only time I really wish my AP would pitch in, is when one parent is ill and the other is running full tilt. That’s when I would be absolutely grateful for an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.

SM CA January 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I do apologize if my previous message was unclear: I do ask my au pair if she wants to eat with us and if she likes what I am cooking, if she doesn’t, she takes charge of preparing whatever she prefers.
I am never mad if my au pair eat something that I was planning to eat, she is part of the family and there are no limits to what she can grab from the fridge. Unfortunately I hear of people getting mad for a yogurt the au pair ate, which is quite shocking. If I had that kind of pettiness I will not make it the au pair problem, but mine!
If one of us get sick and we need some extra help, I ask my au pair to change her schedule (I write that as an option in the “info book” we wrote for the au pair) and show my gratitude paying some extra cash, or I will give her more time off when we feel better, all the au pairs greatly agreed to help, as we do never overwork them and we never take for granted their help.
It is a giving and receiving relationship we develop and for us, it does always work.

Au pair January 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

You sound like a very loving hostmom! Hope your au pair appreciates you as much as you appreciate her.

SM CA January 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Thanks. I don’t want to sound cocky but knock on wood my approach always worked. It’s all about fairness and common sense.

Georgiapeach January 21, 2013 at 3:52 am

When we interviewed with our AP, I told her upfront what I really needed: an extra set of hands to hold & entertain the twins (plus changed diapers and feed them). I do not need her to clean, do dishes, laundry for anyone (including the babies). The only thing I requested is flexibility because we cannot predict when the babies will need us more or less.

I don’t mind doing all the housework because I am a stay at home mom. I was raised by in a culture where the parents dote on their children and naturally do much of the housework without any grudge. Of course, then there is the unspoken respect by children not to take advantage of their parents, rather be grateful.

I did tell her this of my expectation. Just respect me as an elder and not hold a sense of entitlement. It’s worked out very well. She’s been great to bail us out a few times when we had medical issues when she was off the clock: once when I had to make a midnight drugstore run for one of the girls and HD was at work. I knocked on her door and she said no problem. Another time when HD was sick (found out later it was pneumonia) on her off duty day. She said it was ok and for us not to worry, she’ll take the girls while I took him to the quick care. Then there was the time she was off duty and one twin had to go to the ER after slipping and falling on her face, resulting in a bleeding. As a first time mom, naturally I freaked out. She said no problem and took the other twin. All these times, she did not want extra pay either. (I tried).

Bottom line, I think communication and mutual respect is the key. It worked for us to state the unpredictability of twins up front.

aupairingermany June 18, 2013 at 6:38 pm

I want to be your aupair!!!!!! this is great! Solved the working time vs free time problem!!!!

Nikki7280 January 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Lots of great advice here but there was one thing not mentioned that I thought I would bring up. I do not have twins, but I do have 3 kids, the younger two girls only being 17 months apart and my oldest at that point only being 4 so the dinner hour was very much the witching hour for us as well. We did not join the au pair program until our youngest was 8-9 months and getting an au pair did really help us manage being outnumbered but I will share my dirty little secret as to what actually made an even bigger difference – prepared meals.
There are services out there, personal chefs, stay at home moms looking to make extra income, etc that will make meals and deliver them to your house weekly or however often you want. Many personal chefs will come cook it all one day a week in your house and clean up after – I didn’t want the stress of having someone come in the house plus our schedule is crazy and I would likely forget at some point or have to reschedule so I only looked at delivery options.
At this point we have done it for 2 years, it was the best decision I ever made and we have used 3 different services. First service was a husband with culinary experience doing it in his free time for extra money – excellent but they lost their house in a fire so couldn’t do it anymore. Pros – we could set the menu, they were super flexible and VERY cheap. Cons – Since it was extra income we had to be flexible if he got slammed at his day job, sometimes inconsistent.
Second – large service that delivered to many many families. Pros – very consistent, very affordable. Cons – couldn’t change anything about the menu (because they made it all in bulk) and inflexible on delivery times (they had routes).
Third – perfect scenario for us. Personal chef for a few families has Thursdays free, he cooks at his house (lives close to us) and drops it off sometime that afternoon/evening when he finishes. He texts me when he is on the way and I make sure I am there or our au pair lets him in to dropoff. Every once in awhile he will have an event on a Thursday so he will switch and do ours after his Wed family and deliver later that night. Flexible delivery, we allow him extra income AND flexibility to still accept higher paying events and VERY affordable. We pay $525 per MONTH and get 7 dinners per week of 6 adult servings. I can’t even buy groceries for that!! It feeds our family of 6 and we always have leftovers that become lunches for my husband or kids – saving us even more money.
Sorry for the long ramble – moral of the story – there are always containers of tasty meals in our fridge ready to go. No meal prep time, all I do is warm them. On the night he delivers we eat any meal that is better the first round (since it gets delivered hot), my au pair has food she can grab to quickly feed the girls on days that they have playdates go long or other morning activities, our au pair has quick but healthier options for dinner on nights when she has class and my hardest decision is whether or not to warm the shrimp alfredo or the boneless pork with sherry bourbon sauce for dinner. :)
My family eats better than I could cook, we can set the menu, order healthy or gluten entrees and EVERYONE loves it. We went without chef meals for a couple months in the summer while I was looking for a new arrangement and the withdrawal house-wide was painfully obvious! :)
So I agree, you can’t expect her to watch the kids, it’s nice if she does for sure and she should contribute in some way (sounds like she does with the dishes) and maybe your husband is on a learning curve and needs a little more practice but once we got outnumbered I made several decisions to “outsource” as my husband likes to say so that we could have more quality family time. We have a family friend (fellow mom) clean the house every couple weeks for a very reasonable amount, chef prepared meals and having an au pair have revolutionized our household. Everyone is happier, healthier and my kids actually think chores are fun and cool because we all aren’t doing them constantly! Best of luck, as everyone will say your time with those precious babies will FLY by so cherish every moment and for us, that was outsourcing everything we could so that we actually could cherish and enjoy our limited time with the kids.

exaupairca January 23, 2013 at 1:05 am

I think you should be really careful about the “sharing time” because this can be used in a wrong way for some people, host families.

I was an au pair, i helped my single host mom how much i could, even not on my scheduale. I cleaned the house, all common areas, feed the dogs twice per day, clean the kitchen after her everymorning the days I worked, also wash the rugs and take the recycabes and garbage out.I was happy to helped her, but I did all that because I wanted, because I feel part of the family, one of the 2 adults in the house, but if one day she would ask for it as my responsabilities I would stop doing it. i am happy to help but if i want and when i want.

I think if we are two adults and i decide to share time with her and i willill be the first one to change the diapers or take the kid while crying if i am off duty, because it is the opposite while i am working and she ia there and that is her kid. I want to share time with the family but if that equal to be the one on charge or the one watching the kida or changing the diapers, i rather not to.

Harriet June 7, 2013 at 7:54 am

I’m currently working as an au pair in Italy looking after one 6 year-old girl. She is unable to entertain herself at all. The host mother asked me today if I could watch her for a few hours while she works, but today is supposed to be my day off.

I’m only getting 150 euro’s a month, which is way under what every other Italian au pair I’ve spoken to is getting.

I know they’re not well off, and I know their work schedules are sporadic, but her asking has kind of annoyed me.

She said that ‘if I am around then she will sometimes ask me to watch her for a couple of hours while she works’ (she can sort of pick and choose when she does her work). Surely my off time is my off time, regardless of whether I’m in the house or not. I don’t want to have to feel pressured into being out of the house all the time just to avoid being roped into extra childcare.

Am I right about this? I don’t want to cause an argument, as they’re a nice family, but it’s bugging me.

Dot Swancutt June 16, 2013 at 2:53 am

Relax and no do the job!

Ruth June 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I’m responding to an older post, but it’s become relevant in our house recently. SM CA, I do expect our Au Pair to help with the dishes and clean up after dinner since I make all the meals in the house and she’s generally off at 5 or a little after and, for the next 2 hours, I am juggling a baby’s schedule of play, eat, change into pj’s, bath, make dinner, hubby comes home and pitches in with whatever needs to be done or finishing the meal, put baby to bed, hopefully, dinner is on the table right after and we call our Au Pair to dinner, who always chooses to eat with us and that is great! However, I didn’t take lightly to her just washing her own dish and then leaving the table when i have just had a 12 hour day, very inconsistent sleep and it would only take about 10 minutes for all 3 of us to pitch in and clean the kitchen, so I had to have a talk with her that, if she ate with us, please help clean up as well and that means we all pitch in to put food away, dishes in the dishwasher, pots and pans washed AND put away, counters cleaned, etc! When she was hired, I also mentioned that we would eventually be asking her to cook one meal a week. After 3 months, I have just now asked her to start cooking one meal a week. However, I notice that she uses her time off to go to the grocery store and to cook the meal. My little one sleeps a total of 3-4 hours a day++ and I am a work from home mom, so if she needs to run out to the grocery store, she knows I’m here during the day. I told her today I had thought she would make the meal during the day since she just sits around while my little one sleeps, but, again, she said she preferred to do this after her working hours. So, if it is her preference to cook the meal or grocery shop during her time off, I am not counting that toward her working hours since she has more than ample time to do it during her working hours. I suspect that is more than fair??

HRHM June 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

We are in the same boat in that our AP eats with us every night. During the school year, she is “on duty” during the dinner hour so she is occasionally asked to cook or run to the store for a missing ingredient or to distract the girls so I can do those things. Now that school is out, still ask her to make a salad while I’m getting the meal together and she is still expected to help clean up after even though I’ve used all her “work” hours for the day. I don’t think this is unreasonable and I would tell any AP who did that they were free to cook for themselves from now on and clean up after themselves as well. Even when I’m a guest in someone’s home, I ask what I can do to help and I try to assist with clean up.

LookingFowardToBeAP June 23, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I think it’s fair, and ur AP is not complaining, so don’t worry about it. You seem to be a very good HM :)

Ruth June 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

And, 9 times out of 10, I make homemade delicious meals complete with dessert! There are very little processed meals in our house! ;-)

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