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