Our Au Pair is Headed for Heartbreak: Should we intervene?

by cv harquail on April 4, 2012

Ah, young love.

One joy of having an au pair in your home is that you get to relive (however vicariously) the drama, adventure and sometimes romance that your au pair entangles herself in.

You hear about the handsome guy/beautiful girl your au pair met, you offer your opinion on what outfit to wear for that first date, and you hope for the best, for your au pair’s sake.

But, being a parent, and likely having a bit more life experience, you can see things that your au pair does not.

For example, you can see that the wonderful guy/gal s/he met is leading her or him on. It’s not the real romance of your au pair’s dreams.

Nope, this is just some¬† American intrigued by your au pair’s accent, flirtiness, or sense of adventure.

sascalia romantic couple Etsy.jpg

So what do you do when your think that your au pair is in over her head?

Seeing things through rose-colored glasses?

Being taken in by the sweet talk and promises, when you feel pretty confident that her/his new friend is just taking advantage?

Consider the situation facing one of our longtime readers and contributors, who shall remain without her screen name to sustain her privacy.

This host mom has given lots of critical, wise advice, and how she needs the same from us. Here’s her situation:

Dear CV — File this one under “How much bubble-bursting is my responsibility as a host mom?”

I know, I know, the au pair year is supposed to be a year of phenomenal growth, but I’m torn between wanting to let this 19 year old make her own mistakes and wanting to scream:

“This guy who is 10 years older than you is just playing! He CAN’T come with you when you go back home!”

“He’s on active duty! Didn’t he tell you that he could be called on a tour of duty at any time? And where did you meet him, Facebook?

We talked with him; has no plans to go to college (unlike you)!

And your English isn’t good enough to understand me 100%, so how do you trust that you understand what he is saying (lying/leading you on)?! He doesn’t speak your language, and you don’t speak his nearly as well as you think you do.”

But I can’t say all that, at least not that way.

Yes, I get it, I totally agree that he is hunky. I imagine he seems SO mature to you, since he has traveled so many places (and seen so many ports, I might add.).

“BUT YOU’RE NOT EVEN OLD ENOUGH TO BUY A DRINK! What are you doing?!”

How do I approach this without sounding dismissive of her ability to take care of herself? In truth, I am seriously concerned — she is the single most naive au pair we’ve ever had.

How much do I hang back vs counsel?

Some important background: This Au Pair’s English is so challenging that I have not had the energy in the evening to have very many chats with her.¬† Usually she runs off to Skype anyway after dinner. Since this guy appeared she is gone all weekend, so there’s not a lot of chance to just weave this into casual conversation when my kids aren’t listening.

I appreciate the wisdom of the aupairmom blog! You can tell I’ve been slammed at work by the slide in my contributors’ ranking… :-) I really didn’t need to add mothering a teen to my bucket of worries…

But what does everyone think I should do?

Image: Love Art Print on wood, by Sascalia. For sale on Etsy.

{ 27 comments }

Au Pair in Italy April 5, 2012 at 7:14 am

This is an awkward situation. Personally I would be very offended if my host mother spoke to me about my relationship (I have been with my boyfriend for over a year.) I feel as though my personal life is none of her business, just as her personal life is none of my business. The only time that a discussion of this nature is appropriate is if it is affecting your Au Pair’s job performance. I know that she is only 19 years old, but she is still an adult and thus able to make her own choices in life. Part of being 19 is having your heart broken a few times, it is part of life and it makes us stronger in the end. If and when her relationship ends, be there for her and be sympathetic but remember that she is also an employee. As hard as it may be and as nice as it is that you care so much, you are not her mother.

I'm With Ya April 5, 2012 at 1:42 pm

@Au Pair in Italy – “au pair” means “on par” with family – in other words, the au pair is a part of the family. In what family would any member’s personal life be none of their business? No family i’d want to be in. We, as host families, see our au pairs as a family member, and it’s our job to care and help. If we felt differently, we’d have nannies or other live-out help instead. I think this host mom is well within her right to be concerned about this relationship – what she does with her concern is the issue here.

Courtj April 5, 2012 at 7:32 am

I saw this with our first AP, however the guy also had all the signs of being abusive. I was actually concerned about my family’s safety. I made a comment about it and it didn’t help. She set out to prove me wrong. Luckily, he got order to move away from our area and eventually she moved onto another guy.

My feeling is that as hard as it is to bite your tongue in the circumstance I would not say anything. As a naive 19 year old she needs to have experiences that allow her to become more worldly. We have all made mistakes and hopefully she will also learn something from this experience. As hard as it is to watch it from the sidelines just try to hang in there.

ReturnAuPair April 5, 2012 at 10:22 am

Since she is 19, i would not try to keep her away from a “bad” guy. Because she would just not listen! I dont know a lot of girls who are asking theire parents, if the boyfriend is ok (in europe).

anonamomma April 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

As one HM to another – let me just say what none of the other posts have said so far – well done you for (and sharing)

And to the other posts I will say as follows:

Yes the AP may be 19 but she is experiencing a new culture, new language, etc and it is up to us (as host parents) to look out for our au pairs – which is what the OP is trying to achieve. She is not voicing her opinion or interfering – she is looking for constructive advise as to how to approach this subject with her AP.

Sometimes as a host parent you need to protect your AP from harmful situations – and that means stepping in.

I’m afraid I don’t have an answer here – but please consider the post in the manner is was sought and a mind your own business comment is not very helpful

ARG-Au Pair to be April 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Hi, I agree with you, and I’m sorry I ask you this question: What’s the meaning of OP? Because I’ve been reading this blog for a while now and “OP” has shown up several times and it kind of freaks me out because I can’t figure out what it means. A gain, I’m sorry to ask this here, I know it has nothing to do with the subject.
As I’m a prospective Au Pair, I don’t think I can give a valuable opinion here, I’m sorry.
Thanks a lot!

anonamomma April 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm

OP means Original Poster – the one who is asking for advice

BTDT (below) means Been There & Done That

ARG-Au Pair to be April 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Oh, Thank you very much! :D

Taking a Computer Lunch April 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

As someone who has hosted 7 APs in 11 years, BTDT. The best thing you can do is ask how was the date/evening/weekend, and really listen. As long as she is not physically hurt and she is not endangering your family with her behavior, the best thing you can do is be there. Share your experiences about the time you you got taken for a ride or had your heart broken by someone who seemed to be too good to be true.

My guidelines state that the AP is to call us night or day if she is in trouble, and it is something that we state out loud when we think an AP is engaged in particularly risky behavior. We have invited every boyfriend (and girlfriend) to join us for dinner – most have said yes at least once (and one such dinner led to an immediate breakup – the young man just didn’t measure up – but it wasn’t anything that we said or did).

The answer is no, you cannot save her heart from being broken, but by being non-judgmental and supportive, you may have a stronger relationship if it does happen. A benefit, if the boyfriend is American, her English will improve rapidly.

Seattle Mom April 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I think this is beautiful advice. Also, by being nonjudgmental and supportive, you will have a better chance of learning more about the boyfriend and finding out if there are any warning signs of a potentially dangerous situation.

I think it’s the same with teenaged children, only it’s a more touchy situation because you are not actually the parent, and you are the employer.

JJ Host Mom April 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I think you have to just let her figure this one out for herself. Part of growing up is making mistakes. Your own mistakes are probably what gave you the perspective to see this situation for what it is, and se’s got to learn the same lesson for herself.

Tell her she can call you at any time if she finds herself in an unsavory situation, and be there for her if and when things crumble. But that’s really all you can do.

Having been through this, though, I’d strongly suggest that you keep an eye out for situations that might endanger your own family. Feel free to intervene in that case, preferably before things get dangerous. Once you get to the point of filing restraining orders, things can get ugly and scary.

Emerald City HM April 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I mean this in te nicest way possible, as host parents we certainly have made mothering a teen one of our worries, depending on the age and life experience of the au pair we match with. :)

I have a teenage son, so not quite the same, but he is dating now and when he comes to me for advice I really try to do my best not to tell him what to do, but rather to get him to work it out on his own. I try to be supportive, not pass judgement and only offer suggestions if he directly asks for my advice.

I like the idea of inviting him over for or out to dinner (if possible, understandably that may be difficult if you are swamped) and letting him see that you “are watching him” so to speak.

Also, make sure she understands that she can call any time of the night for you to come pick her up if she is in trouble. Like any teenager, when told not to do something, she will likely just push back. If the relationship does start interfering with her work or there is a concern over her safety or your family’s safety, then that would be a different topic.

When I was younger my mom told me stories of stuff she went through. I think it was her attempt at getting me to learn from her mistakes, well that totally backfired, we do have to all learn from our own mistakes. I noticed you mentioned he’s been to “many ports”. I’m assuming the standard implication with that and that’s a really tough spot to be in because while you aren’t her parent some mistakes are really expensive lessons to be learned.

HoH HM April 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm

We’ve been host to our amazing ap for 7 months and I am just now trying to find the right balance between being interested in her personal life, supportive, without being to be judgmental of her decisions. It’s a strange dynamic…hopefully we’ve conveyed that if here’s ever any danger we would be available but in general, kept our thoughts a out who she dates to ourselves.

DCMomof3 April 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

It seems that people this age are going to do what they are going to do. You can give some guidance or support, but in the end, they have to learn for themselves. I’ve been working on this same issue with my au pair who seems to have a very controlling bf at home. He’s pulling the strings from home to the point that he dictates who she can visit, hang out with etc. while in the US, tells her what he wants her to study when she goes back home (so it can be a good compliment to the career that he is pursuing), he hacked into her gmail account to see if she was cheating on him, he went crazy when she posted pictures on facebook of a night out at a hockey game with some guys she met here and he could not find the pictures (he accused her of blocking him out of her facebook account), etc etc. I’ve tried to guide her away from him, or at least to convince her to study what she wants and figure out things on her own, but they are still together. I’m now at the point where I realize that she is going to do what she is going to do. Beyond expressing your opinion, I’m not sure that there is much more to do in this situation.

AFHostMom April 6, 2012 at 9:37 am

Well….I’m torn. I don’t want to paint military members with too broad a brush, but having worked in overseas base legal offices and seen the sheer volume of girls/women who come in heartbroken after being left by “the one” and wanting to know if they have any rights, or if we can help them contact the guy (and sometimes it’s not just a boyfriend/girlfriend–it’s a local national spouse, with a child), I tend to trust people as far as I can throw them. However, there’s not enough info here for me to determine what’s up with this Mr. Right. The facts that he’s on active duty and has no college plans are not definitive of anything, really. People leave active duty all the time when their contract ends, and if he’s been in the military for a decade or so, he’s gotten lots of experience and may very well be successful without a degree. Depending on where she is from, maybe he *does* intend to separate from the military and go back with her, or can get an assignment in her home country if he stays on active duty. But I’d have some very pointed questions for him, and some very frank points for her.
Our current AP is also a very naive girl with very limited English, though, so I sympathize, and if this HP’s senses are tingling, I think all that can be done here is a gentle heart to heart about the HP’s concerns. Beyond that, the Au Pair has to figure things out for herself. The talk should be level-headed and address the future, and the practicalities of being with someone in the military–if the AP is making noises about settling down with this guy.
And for the record, I got married before I was old enough to buy a drink. :) To a man on active duty, no less. That was over 14 years ago. Not the same situation as my husband was the same age as me (and we both speak passable English), I know, but still.

Angie April 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I try very hard not to give advice about their love life. A lot of teenage / young 20s girls who are seeking out guys that are “bad boys” will just seek them faster and defend them if you give advice about the situation.

I listen, I tell stories, I cringe, but I don’t give advice. I do have a rule – no guys around the kids, no guys in the house. No matter what. On her own time, outside of our house, she can date who she likes. It keeps me from having to explain why this guy is ok and that one isn’t. So far, it’s worked through 5 au pairs.

If you give advice, it probably won’t be taken, anyway :-)

PhillyMom April 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Problem is when they get themselves in trouble. Like the friend of our au pair who was dating two guys at the same time. Both of them were either married or just in process of getting divorced. I am concerned about STDs in that situation. If the guys are cheating on their wives with young girls like au pairs who knows who else they have intimate contact with at the same time. Some of these au pairs don’t even know about these complications never mind pregnancy etc. I mean we are talking about men who are much older than these sometimes very naive girls.
After having worked in an adolescent clinic in the midst of Brooklyn, NY, I have seen a lot of that crap and where it leads. Maybe I am over cautious in that way, but a guy who cheats on one woman is very likely to cheat on more than one!

momto2 April 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

It is a tough sitation, and fortunately, we were there only one time with one AP. She was older in age, but pretty immature at the same time. This AP was dating a married man whose wife was pregnant and there was another child at home. This main issue for us was one of safety, since we didn’t want the drama of the love triangle to unfold near our house and kids once the wife figured out what was going on. The AP made several bad choices here, to include trying to sneak the guy into our basement one night. There were days that she laid sobbing in her room all day/night when he couldn’t sneak away from the wife and kids to meet her, which was troubling and disruptive to the kids, and just added an element of drama to our home that we didn’t appreciate. Sure we cared about her feelings and we didn’t want her to get her heart stomped on, but we were concerned that if we tried to give her advice about how avoid getting hurt, she would tell us that she was old enough to make her own decisions, and she would just continue down the same path. Instead, we took the approach that she was an adult, and she was going to make adult decisions, but she would then have to live with the consequences of those decisions. We never told her she couldn’t date guys, and we didn’t get into the ethics of dating a married man. We simply advised her that the choices she was making put our family at risk and were impacting her job performance. We advised her that we truly adored her, but we couldn’t allow her to negatively impact our family’s well being and safety, so if she continued to make high risk choices, we would have to request rematch. She ultimately made the decision to end the relationship with the guy– who then started dating another AP right away. Fortunately, this situation worked out well, and she was able to see that the guy was a real jerk, but it is definitely a delicate situation. I wish you good luck.

HRHM April 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

From my perspective, the only involvement I’ve ever had is asking if they have birth control or need help obtaining it.

I too married a military man at 21 and have been married to him for 20 years. Prior to that I was in a 5 year relationship (from 16 to 21). So I’m not a big believer in “too young”, although I know lots of folks in their 30s and 40s who are still “too immature” LOL.

Did this guy actually do something to make you so sure that he isn’t interested in a real relationship with your AP? Is he mean to her? Does he try to control her? Or do you just have a hard time understanding what he sees in her (or her in him) besides a cute accent and a romp in the hay? Before you damn him, maybe get to know him. And in the long run, if the worst thing that happens is he treats her well, then dumps her when he’s bored – well, we’ve all been there before. She’ll survive.

Aupair in Ireland April 12, 2012 at 8:31 am

I wouldn’t tell her anything unless she asks for your opinion. She might just end up being angry with you and feeling like her and the man are the victims here and that you don’t wish her happiness.

But maybe if you really feel like you need to say something, you can come up with a story about a third person.
“So I just heard about one girl who found an older American man and everybody can see that there’s no future for them, but she can’t, what would you think about that?” and see if she says something.

She is 19, she is an adult and as many people said here, broken heart is a part of being 19. As long as he is not physically hurting her I wouldn’t try to get between them in any way.

JBLV April 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Getting my heart broken (by a complete loser, I may add), was essential for my maturation. It is for lots of people. Like any good parent, you have to step aside and let her make her mistakes. Interviene only when it effects your family or you think she is in danger. She will get it – eventually.

Jay May 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I’m 28, and I’m dating a 26 year old AP, so I might have a different perspective. I have not employed her, though, she is from a separate host family and we met by chance, which is very strange, since I have had a few au pair friends in the past few years.

At any rate, from the AP I’ve seen, I’ve had a unique perspective on quite a few different families, and have seen what works and what doesn’t(for the most part). Typically, those that treat the AP as merely the oldest sibling, rather than an employee, seem to work out the best. From that perspective, if the AP was the oldest sibling, ie your child in their late teens to early twenties, what would you do? Personally, I’d just make sure they knew the communication line was open, ask things like “how was your evening” or “how was your weekend”, or if they’re getting ready to go out or have notified you of intent to do so, a simple “oh that’s nice, where are you headed, any place special?” is nice, and not to prying. Obviously if there are signs of physical abuse, it’s time to step in. Similarly, if she comes home gushing in tears, or you notice a dramatic change in mood, something like “You seem off, is there anything wrong?” as with any youth, sometimes they want to talk, but they want you to take the first step.

From the guys perspective, I know I’m a nice guy. But a lot out there aren’t, and for that reason, I think it’s a good idea to be involved, if only leaving that open line that they can come to you for advice. AP come here during prime dating/getting serious age, it’s only natural to experience them getting in a relationship of sorts. While the serious dating/marriage age in the US is now pushing late 20’s and early 30’s, there’s quite a few countries that send AP where it’s still in the late teens and early 20’s, and adapting to this culture is more than flipping a switch.

Jay May 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Also of note, I have seen and heard of a LOT of AP getting involved with married guys, let alone children and pregnant wives. You know it’s a bad situation, and absolutely nothing good can come from it. “oh but he loves me and he’s going to leave his wife” Nope, he knows if he just waits the AP out, she’ll be on her way to a new host family or back home, so it’s an “auto-out” in the event that things get ugly for him.

In this case, I would absolutely step in, for the AP’s sake, for the families sake, and for safety’s sake. Sure, everyone has their heart broken a couple times growing up, there are other guys out there to stretch her wings with.

And remind your AP, if he is married, in the US, for him to divorce cleanly will take at least 6 months and a lot of money. For a bad divorce, it’s years and a small fortune. So if it’s done in time, they’ll be starting out at a severe financial disadvantage, and if not, she’ll be back in her home country by the time it’s done and he’ll have forgotten her.

AFHostMom May 2, 2012 at 8:49 am

are you referencing HPs who treat their AP like their oldest child? If so, as a parent I wholeheartedly disagree–I would NOT simply “make sure the lines of communication were open” if my child was dating someone I didn’t approve of. I would pry. THat’s my job as a mom. That’s the heart of the matter–whether the HPs treat the AP like your own child, or like an employee, or somewhere in between.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 2, 2012 at 10:35 am

I agree with AF Mom. My AP is not the “oldest child” in my house (in fact my handbook explicitly states “I do not hire children to take care of my children. You are an adult in this house”). That doesn’t mean I don’t care about her well-being, but I’m not going to get in her face unless her choices endanger the well-being of my children or entire family.

DH and I do routinely ask our AP about her day. In fact, it’s one of the first questions we ask after we ask about the kids. I do know that many APs experience a bit of a shock that they are no longer a child in their parents house, but most rise to the occasion (the ones that don’t might well end up on the pages here).

My own children, on the other hand – I’m in their face constantly. My job is to parent them.

angie May 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm

My au pair is not my daughter, but she is like my adult niece or a young adult cousin.

I care, but it’s their issue.

OP May 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm

The denouement:

Really, this AP wanted to be treated like an eldest child. She started stopping trying to do her job with us. Got really “mean girl” with our eldest (in middle school) and then got 3 speeding tickets in less than 2 weeks from cameras by the schools. We went into rematch.

Her BF (whom she calls fattie, as if that’s cute) did not even pick her up. Made her drag her suitcases (with her stuffed bear under her arm) on the train at 9 pm. She was going to walk to the train until I told her that was crazy and I would drive her.

We did meet the guy before I queried the collective wisdom here.

Oh, and did she–who gave my kid only bread for lunch as silent retribution and got 3 (!) speeding tickets get sent home? Nope. Agency looked for a fam who didn’t need a driver. She then decided to forfeit her deposit and convert her visa. So she’s on an extended vacation, living with her BFF.

Whom I spotted in a restaurant with a girl who was the same type as her. But definitely was not her, and definitely was him. I am on FB with her, and see his photo often. No mistake there.

Nothing against servicemembers! My nephew served and is an
honorable young (married) man. This guy is a pig. She is a fool (who is not mature enough to care for children.) made for each other, I guess.

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