Is It This Particular Au Pair, or Is An Au Pair Just Not Right for Me?

by cv harquail on December 31, 2014

Au Pairs “as a concept” and a particular au pair in real life are two very different things to imagine in your world.

8031936764_d3d975b5bf_zAn Au Pair “as a concept” is the idea of a young adult living with you as part of the family and as an employee childcare provider, sharing your food, sharing your home, and sharing in your family dynamics.

An Au Pair as a specific person is a little different– It’s “Maria” or “Jamie” or “Bau-Yu”.

When you’re having trouble with your Au Pair, it’s important to distinguish whether you’re struggling with an au pair “as a concept” or with the specific experience of the person who is your Au Pair.

If it’s challenges with this specific person, you can usually find a way to address them, either by asking your au pair to do things differently, adjusting your own teaching strategies or expectations, or choosing to let something go.

But if it’s the concept of an au pair that your struggling with, you have a different set of responsibilities: I think then that you have to buck up until your Au Pair’s year ends, and then choose another type of childcare.

How do you tell, though, if it’s just this particular person or the very idea of an au pair, that you are struggling with?  

A/B HostMom writes to ask:

I need some advice.  I’m not sure if an au pair is right for us.  We are currently 5 months in with our first au pair.  She is a very nice girl, but there are some things that irk me.  Nearly every day I complain to my husband.

The thing is, I think that I just don’t like having someone living with us, and no matter who it is I would find something to complain about.  Before we had children I always said that I didn’t want someone living with me.

On the other hand, I think many of the little things that bother me are fixable, so it’s not like I need to put her into rematch.  I am now questioning if at the end of her year if we should try another au pair and start fresh or do something else for childcare.  I figure that now that I know all the things that bother me about this particular au pair,  I could orient our next au pair a little better.

Why we chose an Au Pair:   We went with an au pair because we wanted the flexibility.  I am in health care and we needed someone who can help with the children in the mornings and afternoons/evenings, and occasionally weekends.  The children go to daycare for half a day–if we didn’t have an au pair I would put them in all day and get a part time sitter/nanny for the occasional early morning and evenings.
Here are the things that bother me.
  • Uses her cell phone when she’s on duty.
    One evening my 6 month old was whining and stirring in her lap while she texted.  I told her to put the phone down and play with the baby.  Plus it says in the hand book not to use the phone on duty.
  • Leaves dirty pots/pans out after cooking when sink is empty and dishwasher had dirty dishes in it.
    Says in the rule book to clean up after yourself, and I’ve already had to remind her not to leave her empty tea mugs around the house.  Also doesn’t load the dishwasher properly and doesn’t wash all the baby bottles properly despite my showing her twice.  We end up reloading the dishwasher.
  • Stomps around the house.  Seriously.
    We call her bigfoot (not to her face).  And she’s not a big person.  We had to buy a white noise machine for my toddler son so he wouldn’t wake so easily.  I’ve told her before she needs to walk softly and it’s in the handbook.
  • Eats a ton and asks for expensive food.
    I’ve already told her about certain things that they are too expensive and she can buy them herself if she wants it (i.e. smoked salmon which she asked for and alternative non-dairy yogurts).  I know that we have to feed her though so I am working on myself to not get so upset over it.  I just don’t understand why she has to eat a completely different diet than we do.  Plus the extra food she buys just clutters the kitchen.
  • Doesn’t go out every weekend, stays around the house a lot, and eats with us on the weekend too when off duty, but doesn’t help with dishes or clean up and doesn’t say thank you for cooking (which even my husband says!).
    Sometimes we just want out own time alone as a family.  I feel like I’m running a restaurant when she expects dinner on the weekend.
These are just some of the things that bother me.   Part of the issue is that I hate having to go over things more than once with her.  I know they are nit-picky and that if I sat down with her I can try to make the situation better.
The thing is I’m tired enough between work and family and don’t always have the energy!  And so this is where I think that maybe having a live-in isn’t for us next year.

What do you think? Can you imagine a litmus test that helps a host parent decide whether it’s the person, or the concept of an Au Pair, that’s the challenge?


HRHM December 31, 2014 at 1:13 pm

It sounds to me like a 50/50 situation. Some of this is perfectly manageable/repairable with the proper attitude, training and time commitment. But you will find with an AP, that you will likely be repeating some or all of this every year. These are not Nannies or professional child care givers, they are young women, most of whom will need to be taught how to do things the way you want. Yes, it can be tiring to do this over and over, which is why APs are not for everyone.

And of course, you won’t know until each new AP is in your home how things will fall out. If you aren’t up to this uncertainty then perhaps an alternative method of childcare would suit you better. There’s no shame in having tried and deciding it’s not for you. For us, we’ve found the benfits far outweigh the annoyances in most cases. And when you finally get the one in a million awesome match, it’s like winning the lottery (finally with number 7!)

Taking a Computer Lunch December 31, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I agree with HRHM – you’re at 50/50. I’d like to point out that APs are not parents. While I ask mine to involve themselves as if they were – pointing out that they are the 3rd adult in the household but, in reality, they leave and I don’t.

Cell phone use – You can set the stage by saying, “the baby needs your full attention to grow and develop, so I’m going to ask that you put your cell phone aside when you play with her.” Now, if you only use texting or the AP cell phone to contact her, then you’ve given her a double edged sword – she has to look at the cell phone to make sure it’s not you or your husband contacting her. I assume you’re paying for her cell phone, so check and see how much use it’s getting, but don’t confront her directly with the evidence, or she’ll just bypass it by getting another phone.

It can be really hard to be a working AP when HP are home, and it sounds like your infant spends a lot of his or her day away from you anyway. You’ll need to be very proactive to coach a young AP how to interact with your infant while you make dinner or are otherwise around the house. I assume you have a toddler as well – that’s doubly hard, because they’re old enough to communicate that they’d prefer to have your attention. But coach your corrections with the positive first, “The kids really need X, so I want you to put your phone away until your shift ends.”

Give her the bottom line. I was rather blunt with one young AP, “I know you came to meet new people and travel to new places, and that working was just a means to that end, but I’m paying for you to work, so I need to you to stick to your tasks while your working.” But I get it, when you’re working 45 hours a week and sleeping a full night, it’s harder to work in time to communicate with family and friends than your friends who have school-aged children.

Washing the dishes. This is training. Ask questions. Why am I asking you to wash the baby bottles my way? Why am I asking you to make sure your breakfast and lunch dishes are cleaned up? Now, if your AP is working when young children are awake and need attention (for me, that’s under 4, your mileage may vary), then it may be hard for her to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. She may also be running to text or Skype with friends the minute they nap. So, you need to sort out why the dishes aren’t done, but don’t let her leave without doing them. “I’m sorry you didn’t get these done before you’re shift ended, you’ll need to do them before you head out.” Try to be gentle and not harsh when you deliver the news.

FOOD. There are many posts here about food and you can explore the variety of ways HP have reacted to the fact that APs are young women whose caloric needs are greater than older adults. We don’t need to go down that path here now.

WEEKENDS. That’s part of having another person in your household. Some HF have instituted a policy that the AP, as a member of the household can help wash dishes, set the table, or cook. Member-of-the-family chores (like loading and unloading the dishwasher) as opposed to AP chores, have been discussed pretty extensively, too. Personally, I think it would be rude to tell an AP “Don’t join the family at the table tonight” on a Saturday, but if you’re feeding the kids so you and DH may have a special dinner, then I think it’s okay to say, “Feel free to join the kids for dinner at 5:00, DH and I will be having a date night for the two of us later.” Or say, “It’s great that you want to join us, and I know you’re off-duty, but as a member of the household I’m going to ask that you dry the dishes as DH washes them tonight.” I’m blunt with my APs – “It’s just a fact of life – you’re going to be the one who runs and unloads the dishwasher more than any other member of the family.” This is also discussed at length in earlier posts.

APs need training. In my experience, Extraordinnaires need less – any AP who has two or more solid work experience under her belt working with children has the ability to learn a job and be proactive, “owning” it (some may think their way is better – and DH and I have learned lots of tricks along the way from APs – but have also had to ask several to do it “our way”). 18-year-olds fresh from their A-levels may need a lot more job coaching.

Finally, it can be hard to be a working professional with infants and toddlers. I let a lot of stuff go during that stage – I just couldn’t keep up with it all! A fantastic AP will make your job easier, one that needs constant job coaching will not. Ask your LCC to come over to discuss your AP. If she’s good at her job, she will be able to sort out what needs work and what you should let go – and whether you’re a candidate for rematch or you should tough it out.

old au pair mom December 31, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I almost agree with TACL, but the weekend dinner business leaves me cold. We provide our AP with a refrigerator for her room and a microwave and we don’t expect to see them when they are not working. We will shoot a text if we are going out to dinner with our youngest to see if she wants to join, but otherwise, we all have enough of each other during working hours, and we have loved many of our 15t APs. The food issue doesn’t bother me, give her an extra $20 per week (we also give extra $ for gas but it is expensive here) and after that she can eat what is at home. A number of my kids are older, so we do have lots of food and variety. A few APs started to make their own meals during working hours and we quickly shut that down. Anyone is welcomed to come up with a meal plan, but it has to feed the whole group and be available for warm up in the microwave for whoever comes in later from school, practice, whatever. Leftovers are strongly encouraged! Most of our APs have been delighted with our array of fruit and veggies and I always encourage taking an extra nosh for later or cookies and fruit when they are out for a day off, it helps keep their costs down. Generosity of spirit, as TACL says is good for everyone. It just lets everyone be their best selves.
Watching little kids (I have had 5 as a SAHM) is more work than you could ever believe. You get one down for a nap and then the second one pops up! Your AP could have the best of intentions and time just runs away. In our house,the dishes are just the cost of doing business, everyone gets stuck with them at some point.
Lastly, speak up! You will feel better and the AP might have some ideas or some of her own aggravation. The first time is always hard and there is a learning curve. That said, try and hire someone who is out of school and not living at home. They will be more mature and know the cost of salmon! Happy New Year to all

Should be working January 1, 2015 at 1:54 am

You don’t expect to see your AP outside her room when she is not working? With just a fridge and a microwave and $20/wk for grocery extras that sounds like a rough weekend. And not like “member of the family”. I can understand having enough of the AP but she does live in the house. I can imagine saying, “Saturday dinner is leftovers or pancakes, feel free to get your own dinner because I’m not really ‘making’ anything,” but surely she has a right to expect that she can eat dinner at home on a Saturday?

Seattle Mom January 5, 2015 at 1:23 am

Sounds harsh to me too.. we don’t generally “expect” to see our au pairs much on the weekends because they are busy socializing, but they are still welcome to join us at the table and they sometimes do.

Soon to be au pair January 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I understand that it could be expected for the au pair to maybe go out to eat with friends once in a while, but having the family not wanting to eat with me would make me feel really unwanted and not part of the family at all.

I hope you talk about this with your au pairs during interview so they are not disappointed upon arrival!

old au pair mom January 3, 2015 at 2:59 am

Should be you are right, the “member of the family thing” requires too much suspension of disbelief for me. I do treat our AP as equally as I can by valuing her opinions as to how best to help my kids, helping her pick out areas where she leads and I follow her example or her instruction. We confer often and I am in the debt of and feel much gratitude to many of our APs for teaching me how to be a better parent, to be more fun, and to listen more, plus all the language lessons! We have had APs for years, many who have happily extended and come back for holidays. Soon to be AP, please know you will find a lovely family that is right for you. For some families, mealtimes are not always a high note to the day.

Soon to be au pair January 3, 2015 at 7:00 am

I understand people have different values and as long as your au pairs are aware of yours before they arrive, that’s absolutely fine! :)

I am actually leaving for training school next monday and am very excited to meet my future host family! They really seem like the perfect match for me!

NoVA Twin Mom December 31, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I agree with HRHM – some of this is your au pair, some of it is just how having an au pair is.

Au pairs use their cell phone while on duty. They’re “teenage” girls/guys (even if they’re in their early twenties, they all seem very young to me :)) and that demographic is permanently glued to their phone. In fact, even when our au pair has been in their early 20s I did a little better when “thinking” of them as teenagers, because I found myself more forgiving of their quirks. Whether for a few seconds to make evening/weekend plans (generally OK) or to the detriment of the kids (not OK), they check their phone often. Where this particular au pair falls on the spectrum of phone use will govern what you need to do. If that quick reminder solved the problem you’re OK – otherwise this seems to be one of the most hotly-contested topics between host families and au pairs. Frankly I’m not sure that this would improve with a different child care solution, as all of society seems glued to their phone at this point. But this is something that you can definitely address with this au pair. If nothing else she’ll stop doing it when you can see it :), which may be enough to get you over this “hurdle”.

They are known to leave dirty dishes/pots/pans out even when there’s a place to put them. Again, they’re young. And sometimes they don’t “see” things the same way you do. Maybe she meant to come back after eating to clean up and got distracted, maybe she just never cleaned up after herself at home so she never got into the habit of doing so. How long had the pans been out when you found them? If she was clearly done eating and out of the house, then there’s no excuse – but some people eat, then clean up rather than clean as they go. As for the dishwasher thing, since correctly vs incorrectly loading a dishwasher is very subjective, you may just have to let that go – as long as the dishes are getting clean. I had to have many discussions with my husband over “different isn’t always worse” and “your way isn’t necessarily better, it’s just different” when our first au pair arrived, as this was one of his pet peeves too. I’ve seen our dishwasher run many times “less than full” as far as I’m concerned because I know more could have fit. But unless I want to completely take over dishwashing for the house – and I *don’t* – I have to learn to let some things go.

The baby bottles are a little different, you should be able to get her to wash them “your way” – OR at least to your standard of cleanliness even if not done exactly your way – since bottles are different than what the rest of us eat from.

Walking softly is another “hot button issue” – not just for au pairs, but apartment dwellers everywhere. Have you had your husband or someone else walk on that floor “softly” while you’re in your toddler’s room to see what the noise level is like? Is it possible that *anyone* walking – even correctly – in the room above your toddler’s would wake him and require the white noise machine, just because of how the house it put together, but that the room above wasn’t used regularly (particularly during toddler sleep time) before the au pair moved in? There are ways to dampen noise, usually involving padded carpet/rugs, but I’m not sure how to enforce walking softly.

And as for the not going out on the weekend/wanting to eat on the weekends, that’s just part of having an au pair. We’ve had six, two didn’t work out, but of the four that did, one was a real homebody. I’m not sure if she just preferred to be alone or was trying to save money, but on weekends she didn’t leave her room. Ever. We didn’t even know she was home sometimes. This too bothered my husband, who complained to the LCC, who pointed out that you can’t force your au pair to be social. And part of the program is to provide room and board, which includes the weekends. BUT – you can, as long as you have a well-stocked pantry/refrigerator, declare that everyone is on their own on the weekends. Obviously you won’t make the kids prepare their own meal, but if you don’t want to have a family meal on Saturday night, you don’t have to. What you can’t really do (and have a good relationship with your au pair) is have a family meal that she isn’t invited to.

And as for expensive food – some of it you just put up with. There is an increased cost of having an extra mouth to feed. If there’s a dietary requirement for non-dairy yogurt, then you’d get that without complaining about it. If it’s some sort of diet fad, or the smoked salmon you refer to, then you give her an “allowance” every week for “special” food reserved for her. We’ve had discussions about this in the past. You give her, for example, $20 per week to spend on this “special” food and anything beyond that she buys herself. BUT – you have to have sufficient “regular” food that she could choose not to buy “special” food and still be fed. (if the idea of handing her $20 she could pocket bothers you, then require receipts and reimburse her, but I don’t think that’s generally a problem.)

What it came down to with our less-than-social au pair was to consider our other options. She was incredibly good with our girls, so we put up with a lot of “roommate” issues in order to keep a really good child care provider. If she hadn’t been such a good child care provider, we probably would have rematched. But – we had experience with previous au pairs that told us that when the program works well, it’s incredibly good.

So – if you didn’t use an au pair, what would you do for childcare? You said “if we didn’t have an au pair I would put them in all day and get a part time sitter/nanny for the occasional early morning and evenings.” What I can’t tell is if that’s what you did before you had an au pair, or if you did something else and that’s your plan. My understanding is that finding that part time sitter to cover occasional times that you need coverage is really hard.

My suggestion to you, then, is to do “all of the above”. You can talk to your current au pair about phone use, institute the “special food allowance”, re-train about the bottle washing but put up with an occasionally poorly-loaded dishwasher, observe her habit about not washing pots/pans and talk to her about it if she’s skipping it rather than waiting until after she’s eaten to clean up, and get to the bottom of the loud walking thing, which may include increasing the padding under the carpet.

IF all of this is something you can put up with – because a lot of the complaint IS that there is an “extra” person living in your house – then you start looking for a new au pair for next year at the same time you start looking for the “part time babysitter/nanny”. If you can find the part time help, then try that for a while. If it works, go with that. If it doesn’t, then consider going back to the au pair program.

For us, the benefits of the au pair program (consistent care, in our home, available during school breaks and when kids are mildly sick and a childcare center wouldn’t take them, plus we get a young, energetic roommate for a year at at time) outweigh the “costs.” But for you, it sounds like the “costs” outweigh the benefits. And that’s a determination every family has to make on its own.

Host Mom in the City December 31, 2014 at 3:11 pm

NoVa Twin Mom – I love your post and second everything. Just wanted to add a couple other things.

To summarize, I feel like if you’re going to have au pairs, you’re committing to some annoyances. Au pairs are not machines, and they’re not adults. They’re going to do things differently, they’re going to leave little messes occasionally, they’re going to make extra noise, they’re not going to eat exactly like you do (and they’re probably going to eat a lot more than you think they should!) and they’re going to want to hang around your (their!) house. So if you can’t deal with some reasonable amount of all this stuff without getting irritated, then an au pair is not for you. Remember having a roommate? Think of it that way – it’s annoying to have someone in your living space that does things a little differently or causes you to experience discomfort in some way, but it doesn’t mean their way is wrong.

I’m not saying I love all that stuff and of course it bugs me when my au pair wakes me up when she comes home at 3am on the weekends sometimes, but the flexibility of having an au pair and the connection I have with my kid’s childcare provider makes it worthwhile to me, so I commit to sucking up my irritation with all that because it’s good for me, it’s good for my career, and it’s good for my kids.

Now that said, after five au pairs, to an instance, I can safely say that when I am not happy with my au pair’s job performance, I start being irrationally irritated with everything she does. So I would ask, how happy are you with your au pair’s job performance? Do you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth of care? If you don’t, I would suggest that much of your irritation could be related to that. When I have felt like my au pair is heavily focusing on her social needs and texting constantly while on duty, that manifested itself into an irrational irritation how much she talked about her home country (drove me crazy for some reason to hear about how great it was in her country, which is totally irrational – she was just chatting). When I have felt like my au pair doesn’t take any initiative and waits for me to tell her to do any little thing, her occasional cell phone use while on duty drove me insane.

The cell phone thing has for me been a huge issue with all of our au pairs. To me personally, I would rather our au pair not be on her phone while on duty period, other than a quick text. But I’ve come to a point, after having au pairs who were great with my kids but who also texted a fair amount, that I think that might be unrealistic. Believe me, I would much much much rather my childcare provider not be on her phone (are you reading au pairs? I would LOVE to dote on an au pair who could do this!!). But all of mine have been incessant texters, even the great ones. Now for my three that were great, I let the occasional phone use go because I knew they had my children’s best interests at heart. The other two, it was bizarre – they were so addicted to their phones that it was like they were never present with the people physically with them. The phone was constantly out, constantly checking it, even when it was in their pocket, I felt like they were just living life waiting for it to ding. Very strange. That obviously was not ok. So on the phone thing – I would suggest reiterating your expectation that she not be on the phone while on duty and explaining why. If I saw my baby sitting on my au pair’s lap while my au pair texted and ignored her, I would be pissed. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. But if she’s able to fulfill her duties for the most part and isn’t ignoring your kids, let little texting here and there go.
I’m 50/50 on the food thing.

Your comment that you don’t understand why she can’t just eat what you eat sounds really tone deaf. That makes me think you’re not a good fit for the au pair program. But on the other hand, I’m with you on the salmon – I don’t eat that stuff frequently myself because of the cost even though I love it. It would bother me (and has bothered me) if an au pair was asking me to buy her really expensive stuff that we clearly don’t eat and that she would never buy for herself. For my first bad au pair, she demanded that I buy her mineral water at almost $2 a bottle and then only drank that all day. She would drink two six-packs of this a week. But then lo and behold when I didn’t buy it for her, she would just drink tap water because she didn’t want to spend her own money on it. That bothered me. Expecting that your host family is going to provide you with salmon more frequently than occasionally is unreasonable too. You could tell her “the salmon you like costs $10 for a small package. It’s not something that’s in our budget to buy every week. If you’d like, I could give you $X per week (or per month) for special items that you would like and you can decide if you would like to use it on the salmon.”

So I’m not sure based on your description – you do sound like you need to suck some of it up if you’re going to commit to an au pair. But on the other hand, it doesn’t sound like you’re totally thrilled with the au pair you’ve got either. FWIW, my three great au pairs were APIA extraordinaires and my two terrible au pairs were regular au pairs. I know many families are doing just great with regular au pairs and don’t see the benefit for extraordinaires, but I personally will never risk not going with an extraordinaire again just based on my track record. They just seem to “get it” and need significantly less coaching, which I am terrible at. Perhaps that might be an option if you’d like someone who can hit the ground running a little better?

Au Pair in France January 3, 2015 at 2:31 pm

From an au pair’s point of view, I agree with most of what you’ve said except the assumption that ‘Au pairs use their cell phone while on duty’ I have never used my phone on duty, or laptop for more than a couple of minutes, and I think it’s reasonable to say that au pairs shouldn’t be using their phones whilst interacting with the children (time doing chores or during nap time is different) but this depends a little bit on how long you’re scheduling them for – my day is split into 3 lots of 2hr slots so if I want to make plans i have plenty of time in between.

For the food, does she know how expensive it is, and that you can’t get it at the same shop as everything else? I would never ask my HM to go to other shops for me, that would seem very unreasonable (though I generally just eat what’s in the house anyway, I don’t really have stuff specifically for me).
With the loud ‘stomping’ it might just be the way the house is built, here everyone can hear every movement, and I’m not trying to wake people, but I do occasionally forget that I’m not supposed to move my desk chair or let the door swing shut after the kids are in bed, but I didn’t mind being reminded a couple of times at the beginning before it became habit – can you hear the rest of the family moving around as well?

Seattle Mom January 4, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Thank you- I was going to agree that my au pairs seem to be pretty good about keeping the cell phone use to a minimum while they are working. Especially when dealing with a fussy child/baby- the kid needs full attention, they know it’s not the time to check instant messenger.

A/B HostMom December 31, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I’m the one who submitted the original post. Some things I know are her, i.e. the walking softly. Her room is across from the kids’ rooms, and when my husband is up there I don’t hear him. It was a guest room before we had her and when guests stayed they did not stomp around. And there’s already carpeting on the floor. Re: the diet/food stuff–I’ve read a lot of the threads on here. I know some of it is that I just need to get over feeding her and deal with it. She doesn’t need to have non-dairy, it’s a fad for her. I explained to her that certain items I’ll buy, but the expensive things I don’t even buy for myself she can pay for. She was ok with that. Some of it I’ve just decided to suck up. Also, I know I have to provide her with board, but I don’t need to cook her dinner every night! The dirty pots/pans I was referring to was both when she is on duty, but also often when she is off duty. Like on the weekend she made something for breakfast, left out the 2 pots on the stove and then went out for the day. The sink was empty and dishwasher dirty, there was no reason not to wash them. That’s just something I need to address with her.

Host Mom in the City–When I said “why can’t she eat what we eat,” what I meant is that we have plenty of food in the house, and make varied dishes for dinner, but now she started going low carb and changing how she eats compared to when she first arrived. If an applicant said they followed a dairy-free, low carb diet I wouldn’t have looked twice at them. I feel a little taken advantage of because there’s all sorts of foods here that she’s found that she doesn’t have in her country, so she asks for them all the time. And some are expensive. I think if she didn’t have to pay for it she wouldn’t eat it. When I go food shopping every week, I look at the stuff on the list, and if it’s within $20-30 I don’t get upset, but if there are pricey things beyond that, that no one else in the house will eat then I tell her it’s not in the budget. I think you hit the nail on the head though when you said if there’s some aspect of her performance that I’m unhappy with then the irritation may be related to that. And I think it comes down again to the phone use. Sometimes she does feel like she’s not present with the people there physically with them, and it drives me CRAZY. Like so crazy I think I might explode soon. I guess I should say something again to her. ;) When I sent in my email I think it was after one of those weekends where the pots were left out and the phone was glued to her hand.

Previously for childcare the children were in daycare full time and we had a college kid who would occasionally help out when we needed her to. After discussing everything with my husband, we are leaning toward another au pair, but screening much more carefully this time around and asking very specific questions to get someone who is a better fit in our household. We thought we knew what we wanted in an au pair, but after having one we realized we want someone a little different. For example, we thought we wanted someone who didn’t party, but now we want someone who will go out and do stuff! The flexibility, having someone available for sick kids, etc, is what attracted us to the program. I’ve also realized that if we get another au pair I will just have to show her exactly how things are done in our house. My husband and I are both proactive people who don’t need to be told how to do things, so I gave her too much credit at the start I think.

Host Mom in the City December 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for the follow up. Yeah, your au pair sounds just like our second, who in retrospect I should have rematched with. Essentially just inconsiderate and addicted to her phone. It might be time for a reset conversation regarding phone use, giving her a weekly stipend for good she wants beyond what you stock, and a request not to leave pots in the sink when she goes away for the day on the weekends.

I know it sucks and it’s hard (and I’m a hypocrite because I’m terrible at it myself), but your options are to suck it up and seethe through the end of the year (who his what I did with our similar au pair and will never ever do again), speak up and try to get her to correct her behavior, or rematch.

I’m now thinking based on your post that it’s more like 25% stuff you just have to suck up because that’s having an au pair and 75% related to having an au pair who’s not performing. Sorry OP. That’s another reason we like extraordinaires – I’m awful at job coaching, hate training and repeating myself after the first month or so, and expect more than just keeping my kids alive and mildly entertained for the day. My three extraordinaires have more than met that expectation.

A/B HostMom December 31, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I have to say when she does interact with the kids she’s good, and my son does enjoy playing with her. But she’s not always 100% present. I think some of it is when I’m home she’s then only half on duty because I’m around. I’m like you, I hate training and repeating myself. And I’m in a profession where people are proactive and really try to be the best they can be. I’m definitely going to have to say something more about the phone use because that’s what bothers me the most. I liked what TaCL said about putting the positive first in terms of the phone use. I’ll have to try that. Last night for example she was technically on duty and once me and my husband were both home, she spent probably a good half hour glued to her phone, then had the nerve to ask me if I could give her a list of sights to see in the nearby major city. I wanted to say, “seriously?? I’m trying to eat my dinner right now and deal with my son, are you blind?” The baby was asleep already and while she didn’t really need to be on duty any more (we weren’t sure if I’d be home when we made the schedule), it’s the principle of things.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 31, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I schedule my AP for longer in the evening than I generally need her, which permits me to stay at work later than I usually would, run errands, and cook dinner (my kids are school age). However, if I’m home, and the Camel (my teenager with special needs) has been fed and her dishes done and it’s 1/2 hour or an hour before the end of her shift, then my AP is done and free to go. Most days my AP works 5 of the 6 hours for which I’ve scheduled her. My generosity has been my luxury since both of my kids became school aged.

If you have the luxury of not needing all 45 hours, then use it to your advantage. Let her go as long as: all of her dishes are done, she dials back on the cell phone use (and it’s not just millennials – I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve seen totally ignore their children while they text, watch a video, etc.).

How do you accomplish this? Have the “reset your attitude” conversation (remember to be positive about all the things she does well first, no matter how thin the list), then monitor cell phone usage, make sure she does her dishes and wipes up the kitchen before she ends her shift and you start cooking. When she starts hitting her stride, then let her go when you’re ready to take over, even when she hasn’t worked as late as she has been scheduled. Let releasing her for the rest of her shift serve as a reward.

As for dirty dishes left at the weekend, you could warn her that in the future if she leaves dirty dishes and walks out of the house, you’ll put them on her bed. But, if you’re always leaving things for her to wash when you run out in the morning, then you’re better off saying “It really annoys me when you do that, but I know I leave things for you to wash up every morning.”

I don’t recommend giving her a food allowance. If she’s gone low carb then she has a choice, to pick those elements out of your meals that she wishes to eat or cook (and wash up) for herself. She doesn’t need to eat salmon when a chicken cutlet will do. Really. Buy whatever is on sale for her and show her how to cook and freeze it in portions.

As for the stomping, let it go or rematch. I live with a teenager who stomps. It’s just him. He’s loud and noisy, but it doesn’t make him a bad person. Just loud and noisy. If her stomping wakes YOU up, then you could say, “Did you have trouble sleeping last night? I heard you walking around at 3 am and it woke me up. I’m feeling a little tired and groggy today.” If she’s wearing high heeled shoes in her room, then buy her a nice pair of slippers and ask her to wear them in the house.

I’m now on my 11th AP, with one rematch and two others with whom I sorely wanted to rematch. I agree with the others, my Extraordinnaires were not only pro-active, they were observant. They had enough work experience to learn to be flexible. For me, the extra expense has been well worth it.

Schmetterfink January 12, 2015 at 10:31 am

“Also, I know I have to provide her with board, but I don’t need to cook her dinner every night! ”

When you say you don’t have to cook her dinner… do you mean that you don’t cook a nightly family meal in general and expect her to go with whatever the rest of the family is eating (leftovers / salad / cereal) or do you mean that you will provide your husband and children with a cooked dinner but not her?

If (a) then yes, indeed. You do not have to cook her a separate meal while the rest of the family eats a joghurt. You might still want to give her the possiblity to prepare her own cooked dinner though (e.g. have something available she can cook, such as pasta + sauce or rice or frozen pizza).
If (b) I disagree – your au pair is part of your household from Monday to Sunday and you have to provide her with food every day of the week. Just like she is living with you seven days a week, she will need to eat seven days a week and you cannot expect her to provide her own meals / go out for dinner just because you don’t feel like her eating with you. With the flexibility of a live-in au pair you sign up for the chance to end up with one who does not like to socialize or go out every night (or even if she does she might not want to pay for restaurant food), including au pair sharing family dinners every night.

If you don’t want your au pairs to share family meals I think this is something that should be very clearly communicated during matching. You cannot search for a family oriented au pair that doesn’t like to party and then mind her being around the house a lot. If you screen for a homebody you risk ending up with just that.

“but now she started going low carb and changing how she eats compared to when she first arrived.”

Did she gain weight since her arrival? If so, her friends might have advised that a low-carb diet might help (it’s actually the only way for me to lose weight, cut of carbs and add two hours of exercise).

“because there’s all sorts of foods here that she’s found that she doesn’t have in her country, so she asks for them all the time”

Which is what happes if you start liking food that you have never had before and will likely never have again (just at the moment I would kill for a simple minute maid lemonade which I cannot get in my homecountry).

If a food item is too expensive in your eyes, tell her. She might not be aware that the cereal you usually buy costs $x while the cereal she asks for costs $x + $3 because it’s brand name. Same goes for non-dairy joghurt – she might not be aware of the price difference especially if she has never lived on her own and managed her own money. Asking for smoked salmon regularly is too much. Asking for non-dairy joghurt (which I actually prefere as well) is borderline if you provide everybody else with their favorite brand / flavor of joghurt (but I have to admit that I have no idea of the price difference in the US – I pay about 1/4 more for non-dairy jogurt than I would for regular brand joghurt which is reasonable for the amount of joghurt I eat per week). There is nothing wrong about saying “AP we have a family grocery budget of $xx per month, you may add favorite items to our shopping list but please don’t break the bank. Smoked salmon costs $y already and with the family basics that is just out of budget.”

If you decide to match with a new au pair after this make sure to communicate your needs and wishes clearly and to put them down in writing (family handbook or in small bits as issues arise). Remember that you are dealing with a teenager / young adult from a foreign country. Being “proactive” or using “common sense” might be different in her culture / country / family. Even if you – in your own culture / country / family – know how to be proactive you might find that a similar approach will be “wrong” in a different environment. For a young adult it is often easier to be told what is expected from them instead of just being assumed that they will know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. There will be au pairs that just click so well with their host family that they do exactly the right thing at the right moment from day 1 but that simply cannot be assumed and not expected.

[Now the phone thing is annoying and if you don’t want her on the phone while working, tell her (again) – does she know SHE is working and in charge even though you are around? She might feel that she is just holding the baby while you are in charge, when you / your husband are with her. Make sure she understands that she is still on duty while you are having dinner. Yes, she might indeed be “blind” in that situation… meaning, not realizing that she is not yet off and just holding the baby but actively on duty providing childcare. I was always “off” as soon as a host parent walked in – but usually 10+ hours already so… – thus had that been cell phone era I might well have been on the phone starting that very minute.)

Should be working December 31, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Hard, all of it. I think it’s worth a full-fledged reset conversation before you decide whether it’s APs in general or THIS AP. Frankly it sounds like the resentments are the big problem, first over phone use and second over dishes/food. I would schedule a meeting, say the positives you have mentioned, then these resentment-producing things, in a constructive way bring up rematch, and make a point of giving concrete expectations for improvement. Also have the LCC present so that if you want this can be your “mediation” and you don’t have to do it again if things get worse.

If childcare were going well, I’d suck up the food modifications although definitely you should ideally not have to handle food needs different than what you matched with. The stomping is something we have dealt with. Try putting up signs and when it happens, go right up there and tell her.

I asked in a previous thread about turnaround situations. Maybe this is one of them, but nothing will change if you don’t initiate the change.

Kate December 31, 2014 at 9:02 pm

I would be very upset if my AP did any of the things you described. I’d give her a firm talking to. It is a shame because a great AP makes your life so much better!

DarthaStewart January 1, 2015 at 10:46 am

I think you’ve allowed some things to build. And now you’re about ready to explode. Ditto to what everyone else has said. I think if you can have a conversation with her, and set some limits, and reset expectations that will help. If it doesn’t, it’s time to cut the cord, and rematch.

DC Metro Mom January 1, 2015 at 10:49 am

I agree, wholeheartedly, with the reset conversation. I also fully concur with having the LCC involved.

I am one of those people that would not let the cell phone thing go. I start out super strict on cell phone. I do not allow them for personal use while on duty. Now, I will also say that, if I am pleased with the child care, that I become more lenient of that rule over time. My au pair that, literally, left my two year old daughter alone in another room so that she could make a phone call, not okay (of course, that was my rematch debacle); my au pair that was a total rock star who would, for about 30 seconds every couple of hours text for plans that evening, fine. What was the difference? The attention to my child.

For food, I agree with no allowance. She chose to change her diet once she got here. If she wants something that expensive and special, it comes out of her pocket. This is not a simple request for Nutella or a less expensive “indulgence.”

In our house, in our handbook, the expectation is that if you dirty it, you clean it. However, again, if I am, generally, happy and I don’t feel like it is being abused, I have been known to let that slide. But, honestly, I have been lucky enough to have just as many times that the au pair offers to clean my dishes if I am late for work, stressed about something, not feeling well, etc., which doesn’t appear to be happening here.

I don’t know how bad the stomping is, but a simple request to be mindful may be enough. Or, you may just live with it if you were happier with everything else.

Advice about a reset conversation from a person who had to have a difficult one:
1. Write down all of your points objectively and their impact upon your family (including if they are addressed in the handbook)
2. Write down the expectations for improvement, time frame, and consequences (loss of cell phone on duty to rematch, whatever you expect)
3. Practice saying it to another person (DH and I used each other)
4. Anticipate your responses and reactions to the AP’s possible (likely) reactions.

Why write them? Because these are difficult conversations, and, if you are like me, everything I wanted to say goes out the window once the nerves and emotions kick in. That is also why I recommend practicing (I am assuming you have never done these before, and when it is a member of the household it is much different than a corporate counseling). Also, depending upon your AP, she may be upset or say things about her perceptions that you may not want to hear. They may also want to get off of the topic to deflect from their behavior and then it is up to you to keep things progressing and on topic. Plus, if the LCC is there, you want it abundantly clear that you are being professional.

Just my two cents. Please let us know how it goes, if you don’t mind. And good luck.

WestMom January 1, 2015 at 1:24 pm

DC Metro mom, I think it’s a great idea to write down your points in advance of your conversation. I would also suggest that you have a ‘pre-sit down’ with AP to let her know that you will have a checkpoint with her and LCC (a good way to introduce might be that she has been here for almost 1/2 year and you want to discuss how things are going). I would also suggest that you give her the list of points you want to discuss and ask her to reflect on these before the conversation.

Then be open during your conversation… I personally prefer to ask AP how she feels things are going before asking for a change. For example- Let’s talk about the food situation in our home. Do you feel you are eating enough? Do you mostly find what you need in the food we already have? We are concerned that some of the special items you are asking for are expensive. How do you think we could address that?

Taking a Computer Lunch January 3, 2015 at 12:40 am

In addition to writing down your talking points, my advice is to follow up the meeting with notes of what was discussed and to copy the LCC (especially if she doesn’t attend the “reset your atttitude” meeting). That way, your LCC has, in writing, the issues affecting your relationship with your AP should you invoke rematch. I have also found, that many APs, especially those whose verbal English isn’t especially strong, read English better than they hear it.

Sevans January 1, 2015 at 11:59 am

One other thought about loud walking. I’m a little person… About 110 pounds, petite, and have insanely little feet. When I walk, it sounds like an elephant is in the room. It’s not intentional, just a structural consequence of how my body is built. (a combination of super – high arches, and tight tendons/calves) I’ve tried changing it, but with little success. You might consider that the loud walking might not be intentional…may help you feel a little less annoyed.

Multitasking Host Mom January 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I also have a job in health care, and switched to au pairs for our child care needs due to the flexibility. I have to leave my house for work no later than 6:00am, and it was getting impossible to find someone to show up at my house on time (5:45am) of any quality who I also didn’t have to pay a small fortune. But when I look back on our first experience with an au pair I was in much the same boat as you were OP. We had college students work for us in the past who needed very little supervision and training, so when I picked our first au pair I got someone who had only evening babysitting experience and had just finished high school. Frankly, she was in over her head as an au pair…immature and clueless about how the world worked. And I was also in over my head with the shock that I had to constantly “council and correct” her on things that I thought should be obvious. And yes, everything she did started to annoy me alot. (Ironically, we still keep in touch with this au pair, and four years later I actually think if we picked her now, she would now be a good AP…she just need a few years of life experiences.) We got through that first year as host parents, but I learned so much about what is the right person we need for our family and have done such a better job at picking the au pairs…mainly someone who has held some kind of job or internship in the past where they had to show up and be held accountable. Our last two have been awesome, and I would gladly fill my shopping cart with salmon for them since they take such good care of my children. So the big question is, as stated before, is it just this au pair or is hosting an au pair just not the right thing for your family. There is nothing wrong with looking for other child care (I feel like we tried almost all of them and some work better at certain stages of our children’s lives.) Having another person living in your house is not for everyone since you do have to let many things go. I like NoVA Twin Mom’s suggestion of looking for that part time sitter at the same time you look for your next au pair. See which one fits your family best, and go from there.

Should be working January 1, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Squeezing in off-topic matching questions here:

1. I’m looking at an AP who has no siblings but seems engaged, cheerful, and mature. But . . . no siblings? How will she deal with my eternally-squabbling kids? Our loud household? She has cousins and your typical kindergarten internships and camp counselorships, but siblings are siblings. Anyone ever have a great AP who didn’t have any siblings? All our APs had siblings thus far. Am I being prejudiced or prudent in hesitating?

2. I snoop on Facebook for candidates’ pages. Some are hard to find, using altered versions of their names to stay semi-private I guess. Most of them show photos that are sexier, vampier, “hotter” and so on than their application photos (bonus points for judgment in not putting those in the application though). Normal I guess?

WestMom January 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Happy New Year SBW!

To your questions…
1- We had one AP who was 9yrs younger than her older sister. I realize this is not a onely, but still she was treated like one. She ended up being on of our best AP. Depends on the AP, but I get the sense that only children might make very good roommates as well, used to participate in meals with parents, hold a conversation, and help out of their own will around the house… (I know, I am very much stereotyping here!)

2- I probably give more value than I should to Facebook profiles. We pool from France, and I have noticed that many candidates alter their names (Somehow all of our APs never did though). I’ll be honest with you that if I see photos/posts that I find inappropriate or in bad taste, or overly narcissistic, I will simply pass on that candidate.

hOstCDmom January 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Well, we have 6 kids, so much squabbling, bickering and “large family” issues :)

But we have primarily had onlies or only equivalents. Not from any special screening one way or the other, but just because it worked out that way. I think all of the onlies had some adjustment to our large family, but I think that for the good to great ones, that was something they were actually searching for — they saw this as an opportunity to live with a family that was quite different from their family of origin. I also think that one benefit of onlies is they don’t have in their mind a “set way” that siblings “should interact” — our one AP from a large family seemed to have more judgement about our kids. The onlies took things as they were presented, and while they definitely had to adjust, they seemed more likely to accept us for who/what we were.

Our APs have been:
1. European, female, only child, single mom; bad AP, rematch after 6mos
2. Europ, female, 13 years younger than older brother, so for all intensive purposes an only child; single mom, great AP
3. Euro, female, only child, single mom, great AP
4. Asian, female, only child, married parents, disaster AP
5. Asian, female, only child, married parents, good AP
6. LatAm, female, 11 years younger than older sister, married parents, FABULOUS AP
7. LatAm, male, brother 2 years old, married parents, good AP
8. LatAM, male, 4 siblings (2 female, 2 male, he was middle child), married parents, not good AP

hOstCDmom January 1, 2015 at 2:25 pm

*brother 2 years older (not that he had a toddler brother)

WestMom January 1, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Hi there,
I am curious why you went from Europe to Asia to now Latam? Do you think your stick to a certain region until you are ready to experience something new? Or is this purely accidental?

hOstCDmom January 1, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Language! Very intentional. I speak the East Euro language of first APs, which was super useful when kids were babies and clarity of communication and safety issues was paramount; then kids study Chinese and Spanish, so we have APs to cultivate immersion environment.

BearCo Mom January 2, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Can’t comment on the only child vs. siblings as I don’t have enough experience. What hOstCDmom says makes sense though – that an only child would probably be more comfortable around adults and not judge the way children are “supposed to” behave with each other as much. I will remember that in the future as I think I have been specifically screening out no-sibling candidates!

FB – The ‘fake’ name seems to be very common in Europe among au pairs, and I am seeing it now here also. My niece is in high school and her and all her friends have completely fabricated pseudonyms that usually don’t even incorporate their real names. I think it’s to prevent colleges from being able to look at their profile. I look at FB profiles before matching and I am very turned off by narcissistic/”sexy” photos and would have a very hard time getting past that in a candidate. I actually pay more attention to these photos than the application photos because I assume they are more ‘real’.

Seattle Mom January 5, 2015 at 1:35 am

My last au pair did not have any siblings, but she’s from Thailand and grew up around her cousins. She was very good as an au pair. I will say that I cringed a little sometimes when she would scold “be nice!” to my kids when they were fighting… but clearly they loved her, she loved them, and it actually worked when she did that. So I let it go. My current au pair has 4 older sisters and I prefer her style of fight-management: she does absolutely nothing unless it looks like someone is going to get hurt. I’m the same way :)

Schmetterfink January 12, 2015 at 10:40 am

Only child, single mom…
When I was 19, I was an au pair for a family with four children (#5 on its way). I don’t know if I was a great au pair – that is for my host parents to decide – but only children may actually enjoy a loud household and eternally-squabbling kids and in the future hope for something similar for their own life ;) I loved living with them. I loved the family life. I loved having that many kids. I loved being busy. And I loved feeling needed and appreciated. But it will depend on the person.

WestMom January 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm

It sounds to me like you have a bad roommate and average childcare worker. The bad roommate part is just back luck, and something we spend too little time screening for.

You received many good comments so far, but I wanted to mention that we did have a bad roommate that would do things I would find terribly annoying (thankfully, she did clean after herself though). She was fantastic with the children, so that’s the reason why we stuck through the year and let it slide. In your case, if you are not feeling the value on the childcare front, I could see how this would build a lot of resentment.

YES to the reset conversation, although 5 months in, it could backfire and make your AP upset to hear all this at once. One thing I would recommend in the future is to have WEEKLY MEETINGS to review upcoming schedule and discuss how things are going. If something is not on the right track, take that time to provide feedback and retrain. Be ready and open to hear feedback from AP as well.

As for FOOD, I have mixed feelings. We have had 7APs and most of them never asked for any special foods at all. The few that did asked for insignificant items such as tea, hot cocoa, or yogurt. I think the reason is because we eat dinner as a family every night, and we expect AP to help out and eat with us (she is on duty during meal times). If she were to prefer to eat something else, she would be responsible for buying and preparing her own meal. FYI- We have the same food arrangement for weekends/free time… come up and eat with us when the meal is ready, or you are on your own. I can see that a family that doesn’t have defined meal expectations (set times, menus, AP involvement) would be expected to provide AP with whatever she needs/wants for her own food consumption. If what she wants really bothers you, I would suggest you give her a flat amount per week and ask her to shop for herself. She can make her own decision about the expensive yogurt and smoked salmon.

About CELL PHONE usage, this has to be curbed, period. As some previous posters mentioned, it can be challenging with some APs, but this is critical enough to address right now, straight on. If it is that important to you (and I think it should, especially with younger children), make it a non-negotiable issue that could warrant rematch.

Lastly, I think part of your AP ROOM set up might be contributing to your general annoyance. If your AP lives on the same floor you do, you just cannot escape each other. Maybe this is part of what is getting to you, especially on weekends? I realize the options might be limited, but in our case we have our AP room and bath in the basement, which is very private. Some of our APs have spent a lot of time at home, but we still have a lot of privacy.

Julia January 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm

I’m trying to give my point of view from an au pair side.
Cell phone use I’m in the same page as everybody else here. I don’t know how old you are but I’m 28 now and would say I use my phone in a normal way but over Christmas my nephew was here who is 15 and I was shocked how much is glued to the screen. What I’m trying to say is maybe you are perspective is different here. If you are paying for her phone there is an a parent app that can control the use of cell phones.
Food totally agree with you that salmone is too expensive for the regular grocery shopping list
Stomping I can’t judge it but maybe you’re a bit stressed with the whole situation and here it even louder than it actually is.
Pot and pans in the sink talk to her about. Dishwasher hm im talking from the other side here my hostmum and I had a different view about how to load the dishwasher and whenever she had the time she would do it her way and it drove me nuts. It wasn’t like dishes wouldn’t come out clean but she wanted small stuff different. I tried very hard and even took pics her way of loading the dishwasher and she would still reload the dishes. Ask yourself the question do the dishes come out clean ? Does she run an almost full load if you answer yes to both of the question. Just let it go. Bottles not getting cleaned your way. Are they not sterile or does she just wash them different? If they are sterile let it go. If they are just put away wrong ( happened to me and I just didn’t get it). I would try to do it the right way but after being corrected over and over and I just couldn’t see it what I did I wrong i would not do it because I was upset about it.

After all you sound to me that you are really not happy with the extra person living with you. Just my point of view: think about your hubby and his not so awesomes parts? You learned to accept maybe even value them now.
Try A reset conversation with your au pair but also do a reset your own attitude towards the au pair program. You get flexible child care, no worries about the person coming to your house on time, pick up at day care and so on but you also have a young adult living the house with you.
Best luck to you

Summer B January 2, 2015 at 3:10 am

I like everyone’s use of the term “reset” conversation- but I’m wondering if there is a better phrase. Like some weekly performance conversation until things seem to come together. Then after that touch base monthly? I’m thinking somethings are just a matter of creating new habits which are hard to do— phones for example seem like a huge addiction for the younger crowds and less for older, and cost of food isn’t always something people think about until they have to feed a few mouths.

Anywho if she understands you and and you understand her you might be able to turn this one around :) I’m thinking give it more than just a conversation and then trial period. Make it consistent communication and feedback on both sides…

Ultimately when you do get a new Au Pair you can choose differently and you will also have the “communication about expectations” thing down pat.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 3, 2015 at 12:48 am

In my household, a weekly conversation means we’re sliding toward rematch – fast! However, even my favorite APs have occasionally needed a “reset” conversation (albeit at month 11, not 5)

Dorsi January 2, 2015 at 10:35 am

I know a lot of young people are glued to their phones these days — but none of my children’s preschool teachers have them out when they are working, none of my coworkers (often in the age range of APs) have them out when they are working. Maybe because AP#6 was TERRIBLE with her phone (she would have laptop open and skype while texting on her phone and or phone at the same time), I have very little patience with this. She was our first and only rematch. This is their job, and APs may not be professional child-minders, and I will forgive them their lack of pedagogic knowledge. However, (in my home) doing your job means putting your phone down.

It is likely not sufficient if you monitor your APs texts and calls from your cell phone plan. Most APs use apps like WhatsAp to send messages, which means that it is just wifi or data plan usage — it doesn’t show up on your usage as texting. I trust my AP to not be engaged with the phone (she uses it to send of a message here and there during work), but I don’t monitor her. I am around a lot when she is working and my kids are old enough to complain. But, I just want to say that this is not an area you should compromise on

I explain in our handbook that we have a varied collection of food in our house that the AP is welcome to eat and we will happily buy more of anything or more of the kind of food that we would normally eat — meaning healthy, in-season, affordable staples that are not highly-processed, etc. I spell this out in clear detail and have not had a problem with it (after AP#2 had me buying cases of full-size candy bars at Costco, I came to my senses). For example, we have 2-3 kinds of low sugar breakfast cereal at any given time. The AP can eat as much as she wants of that. I will not buy her Fruit Loops. Current AP has asked for granola. That is the kind of food we would eat so I keep the house stocked with granola. Once in awhile the kids ask for some and I can happily give them some because it fits with our general eating standards. I bought her a bag of limes at the store as a surprise last night. In my mind, providing room and board means providing a reasonably stocked pantry – which does not include smoked salmon or soy-yogurt.

The dirty pots and pans I can be more forgiving about — maybe because I am a messy person. She may not have ever lived away from a place where someone always cleans up after her. I think it is fair to expect some give and take, “You often leave breakfast pots and pans in the sink that I end of cleaning up later. I am happy to do this, as we all work together in this house to keep in running. However, that means that when you see our leftover dinner dishes when you are working, you need to put them away as well”

Abba January 2, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I love this idea of “happily buying more of the kind of the kind of food we usually eat ” and plan to spell that out in our next handbook. Our AP has also had a major change in her eating habits since she arrived after going on a diet program with an AP friend that has her eating all kinds of weird (to me) stuff instead of the local meats and produce and good-quality whole foods that we buy (and that she used to love). I got roped into footing the bill for it for a few weeks until I wised up. Interestingly, part of the issue for us seems to be a disconnect between what she and I consider healthy. While she comes from a European country that eats the Mediterranean diet, she (understandably, given age and life stage) doesn’t share my interest or concern in pesticides in food, environmental impact of how we eat, reading labels carefully to avoid dyes, etc. I get it, but I’m still not shelling out for cans of protein powder.

A/B HostMom January 2, 2015 at 12:20 pm

This sounds familiar! ;) Luckily mine didn’t expect me to pay for the protein powder, but it clutters the kitchen. Mine eats a lot of things that she thinks are “healthy” but I try to explain to her when she complains about weight gain that calories are calories.

Abba January 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Exactly! (do we have the same au pair?) :)

A/B HostMom January 2, 2015 at 11:50 am

Thanks for all the comments. To answer a few questions–some of the bottles are not getting cleaned. Some bottles have breast milk in them, and I’ve shown her twice they need to be scrubbed to remove the fat before putting them in the dishwasher, yet I find them in the dishwasher unscrubbed. Unfortunately I realized this one day when I was at work to pump and one of the storage bottles was not clean. So now I just check them all and do it myself.
I can’t really monitor the cell phone usage because when she is at home everything is via wi-fi. I suppose I could threaten to change the password if she doesn’t stop using it and shut off the data.
I think I can just remedy the situation by talking to her. It’s not such a bad situation that I need to rematch. I do think that some of it is that she’s not very smart and a bit clueless.
One question for everyone, when you pay your au pair, do you pay them the current stipend of $195 or do you round up (say $200)?

A/B HostMom January 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

Oh, I forgot to add, I feel like having an au pair should mean less work for me, right? Isn’t that the point? So if I’m doing her extra dishes, making full dinners every night (whereas we might graze sometimes), or running around to 3 different stores for groceries, then that’s more work for me and I get annoyed. I don’t think I should have to deal with the potential extra mess and clutter as a trade off for the flexible child care.

Emerald City HM January 2, 2015 at 1:40 pm

So here is what we do.

Our au pair always washed bottles by hand. The bottles and sippy cups don’t go in the dishwasher. I’ve had to explain the milk fat to each au pair (that has had to wash bottles), but only once. Ususally the very first time they don’t get clean enough.

I don’t cook (that often). We honestly just don’t have family dinners. Though I have found that is less of a problem with our Mexican au pairs since it is more common to have a big lunch and a light dinner? At least 2 out of 3 of them have been that way. We are very clear about this in our handbook. My husband and I just have so different of tastes that I don’t bother, because he’s not going to eat what I cook anyway. However, we do buy large bags of frozen chicken and frozen salmon from costco on request of the au pair. I did get annoyed once by our Japanese au pair, who asked for non-frozen chicken strips, and then promptly froze them. :/

I don’t run around to different grocery stores. If the au pair has a request and it’s at the grocery store I happen to be at, I will pick it up. We also reimburse them for groceries, but I also tell them that they are responsible for pre-made food items (like the sushi counter) and other “treat” items. So far they have also been reasonable and I don’t see a lot of wasted food either. I know other families do a credit or debit card, but I think it curbs the expensive stuff a bit more because reimbursement takes 3 days (I use direct deposit).

I also do not round up.

A/B HostMom January 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm

OMG, a few times the AP has taken fresh fruits and veggies and cut them up and froze them. If she wanted frozen stuff I could have bought that, would have been cheaper!

WestMom January 2, 2015 at 1:43 pm

I round up to 200.

hOstCDmom January 2, 2015 at 3:27 pm

I don’t round up either, for the exact reason that the extra $216.75/year = ~ ten $20 “thank you for doing a good job” gift cards. So, essentially, I can give a treat, or gift card, or gas money or something once a month for the year for the same cost as rounding up….and these extras are WAY MORE APPRECIATED by the AP than the extra $4.25/month! They are also optional for me, so if things aren’t going well I don’t do them. But if they are going well, then I have mentally budgeted in these extra “thank yous” for work well done, going above and beyond.

I pay by direct deposit, so I pay exactly $195.75/week, I don’t even round to $196. I have a small section in my handbook about pay (i.e. that we pay the State Dept mandated stipend, we pay on Fridays, we pay by DD so AP must open a bank account the first weekend with us; I also mention taxes in this section (i.e. statement of the law and the requirement that they file and that it is their responsibility, not mine.)

hOstCDmom January 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm

sorry, I meant more appreciated than the extra $4.25/WEEK, not month!

Anna January 7, 2015 at 12:15 am

My au pair also abused internet time while working. It was clear in my handbook that this is not allowed, and I kept reminding her when I was catching her repeatedly, but to no avail.
What we started doing is shutting off the internet when leaving for work (taking the power cord out of the router, and hiding it..). She didn’t complain at all about it. If I need to reach her during work hours, I call. This is why I supply the phone and pay for it.

BearCo Mom January 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Everyone is different and has different things that get under their skin – I don’t think any of your gripes are unreasonable at all. Just to compare – for me personally, everything you mention would bother me except the food requests ( For whatever reason, spending money on food doesn’t bother me. Probably something to do with equating comfort to food and enjoying seeing people eat ). Eating with us on the weekends is totally fine with us, but not helping to clean up or say thank you ever would not be.

Your story sounds so familiar to me, we went through a similar situation last year with our first AP and had the same debate throughout of whether to continue or try something else — although our list of issues was A LOT longer. In hindsight, we should have rematched very early on but we were 1st time HPs and like you, weren’t sure what was reasonable to expect. Your comment on stomping around the house made me laugh because we dealt with the same (Plus door slamming) and it drove us NUTS! It almost seemed intentional at times.

As others have said though, the most important thing – and what will make it easy or hard to overlook the small stuff – is the quality of childcare you are getting. For us, the childcare was just not good (they were safe and their basic physical needs were met, but there was no connection or natural ability/affection with children at all), so it was VERY hard for us to overlook the small stuff and we were truly miserable for the year. The only thing that got us through it was that I did believe she was a good person at heart and I kept reminding myself that it was very hard for her and to treat her as I would want my own daughter treated in similar circumstances. This meant several re-set conversations and lots and lots of sucking it up and counting down the days.

In the end we decided to give the program another shot and drastically change our interview strategy. Instead of focusing on trying to find a “non-partyier” like we did the first round, we instead looked for girls who seemed outgoing and social, had especially positive attitudes, had REAL work experience, and an obvious focus on children in their life choices and essay. We really wanted to find an extrordinaire, but didn’t manage to. Still, Our new AP has had significant experience working in a school with real responsabilities in the classroom, wants to be a teacher as her profession, and also has a school aged brother whom she had a lot day to day of responsability caring for. The moment she stepped in the door it was like a dark cloud lifted and a breath of fresh air swept through. It’s probably too early to tell and I’m sure things will come up as we go on, but so far I am very happy ! :-)

Abba January 2, 2015 at 2:29 pm

your first experience sounds so much like ours–and, like you, once we took the time to really match slowly, we found someone great. hoping the same for you.

MAhm January 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm

I’m feeling all of your pain. Our AP got her in March and announced she is on a raw food diet. Yup, I said RAW. She hadn’t told us before she came because I hink she was given advice not to tell us. I have to admit it is like living with an expensive goat. The first few weeks she was eating all of our fruits and vegetables and there weren’t any left for us. Then we told her to buy herself extra when she does the kids’ grocery shopping that ended up being an extra $120 worth of her food on my credit card. We gave her a budget a few weeks later asking her to keep it to $65 each week but she ignored that. Finally we took say the credit card and just put $65 into her bank account each week. We are healthy eaters but this diet is driving me insane. The house has constant fruit flies, smells like rotting citrus, and she spends forever in the kitchen preparing her meals even when on duty. I won’t even get started on the fact that my kids now eat badly because she can’t even reheat leftovers. Wow. It feels better getting that off my chest. But with all of these extra charges I should have kept a nanny who knew what she was doing.

A/B HostMom January 3, 2015 at 4:10 am

How have you stuck it out this long?? i couldn’t have dealt with that. I told AP on day 1 that most produce goes in the fridge so we don’t get fruit flies. Is her childcare amazing? Where is she from? Reading your situation makes me think that some of these girls are just taking advantage of the situation, and that it’s a great opportunity for them to go on a fad diet and have someone else foot the bill. Any thoughts to rematch if this girl won’t change her ways?

MAhm January 3, 2015 at 10:29 am

We are first (and potentially last) time hosts and didn’t realize what a pain this would be. I agree that in her home country she wouldn’t expect her parents to pay for these groceries and certainly wouldn’t be eating expensive and out of season fruit! But she is good with the kids and they are having a lot of fun with her so we didn’t want to go through the rematch process.

A/B HostMom January 3, 2015 at 11:20 am

We started to look a little for the next AP and I am asking detailed diet questions. One girl said she eats 5x a day, lots of fresh fruit and veg and is trying to eat gluten free. I told her good luck, she’ll be better off with a family with similar eating habits!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 3, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Trying to understand a candidate’s true eating habits is difficult. I have found that most AP’s will say “I love to eat everything” because they want to maximize their matching potential. I’m a semi-vegetarian (I eat seafood and fish but no other forms of meat), and despite warning two vegetarians that they would be trying a lot of different foods with us, was shocked that they were really “white food eaters” – pasta, potatoes, yogurt, and cheese. They ate like toddlers and were indifferent to my discussions of protein variation for vegetarians. Both of my kids ate more nutritious food than they! I have found “What did you have for dinner last night?” is a good way to suss out au pair eating habits when interviewing candidates. I also ask “What was the last meal you prepared?” (90% percent of the time it’s pasta.) I will only indulge dietary preferences when they don’t cost more than my typical teenager’s preferences.

Leaving a Comment January 3, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Totally agree, TACL. “What did you have for dinner last night?” & “What was the last meal you prepared?” are very good questions IMO. APs should ask them to families too, there would be a lot less misunderstanding regarding food.

TexasHM January 3, 2015 at 12:55 am

Lol I didn’t mean it as a euphemism I meant the literal sticking the lips out pouty face that makes wayyyy too many young ladies look like a duck! Here we go – urban dictionary:
A term used to descibe the face made if you push your lips together in a combination of a pout and a pucker, giving the impression you have larger cheekbones and bigger lips.
Seriously if I had known this AP was a duck face photo taker we never would have matched so agreed with Westmom its a deal breaker for me. (Sorry awesome pouty FB APs of the world…)

NBHostMom January 4, 2015 at 1:39 pm

@A/B HostMom: One thing I learned the hard way with our first hosting experience is not to change our lifestyle for fit our au pair. Your comment about the meals resonated with me as during our first hosting experience I planned full dinners every evening and ensured there was a ‘menu’ for breakfast and lunch. It was exhausting and not how we live!

What I learned is the share a very realistic picture of our life style during matching. I say very directly “meals are chaotic in our house, do not expect a family dinner every night”. Sometimes I don’t cook family meals, sometimes I do and there is no pattern to it. I tell the AP candidate, in our house you (au pair) will need to be able to cook for yourself fairly regularly. You will need to proactively ask me what the meal plan is and then adapt. AP cannot take over the kitchen for a separate meal prep while I’m cooking. I will buy specific grocery items for the au pair assuming they are a reasonable request (i.e. current AP has a major grapefruit addiction, not costly, but not something I’d otherwise buy), I would not entertain a request for smoked salmon or non-dairy yoghurt to support a fad diet.

Long story short, I learned to set the expectation during matching regarding how meals (and other family quirks) are in our house. We don’t change our lifestyle, AP knows clearly what is being signed up for.

Seattle Mom January 5, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I still need to learn to do this during matching, I don’t think I give an accurate enough picture of what meals are really like in our house. I am honest but I try to hard to paint a nice picture. We cook fresh meals maybe 2-3 times per week, the rest is leftovers and/or simple things like pasta with jar sauce. I don’t really know what the au pairs expect…. I do think that the ones who have lived on their own are more understanding and able to prepare one meal every other week for the family. My husband does most of the cooking & meal prep & shopping and it stresses him out.

Baconator January 4, 2015 at 4:27 pm

I’m on AP #2, with AP #3 about to arrive at the end of this week. After a somewhat rough year, I think one of my mistakes in screening AP2 was not prioritizing the work experience. As BearCo Mom said, this is now a big priority for me. If they haven’t been responsible in a job setting that was real, then they might be more like my AP2 who expected a lot of privileges and was not used to the real work world, just the academic and family world. I could list all my issues with her, but mostly they were roommate issues or non-childcare job issues like oversleeping so I had to wake her for work. She was very good with my son which is why I finally stopped trying to improve things and accepted them as they were for the last 4 months.
I almost rematched at month 2 when I discovered that she lied to me about experience and attitudes towards dogs. This was an issue because I was about to adopt a new dog and she’d be the only one home with my son and the dog during the day. She wasn’t the dog’s caregiver but I was not going to have someone in the house who was going to treat the dog poorly or wouldn’t be able to handle my son with the dog. I had a lot of resentment about this for quite a while because I was delaying the adoption because of her. But finally sat her down to hash it out and we decided she would stay and commit to working on her fears and I would go ahead with the dog. Luckily this all worked itself out once the dog was here. But my point in mentioning this was that it took someone saying to me “i think you really resent her because of this” for me to realize that it couldn’t go on and needed to be fixed or ended.
I am very happy to see her go home next week (end of her year). But I do feel a little guilty about that since she loves my son and it will be hard for her to say goodbye to him.

Seattle Mom January 4, 2015 at 11:04 pm

I don’t have time to read all the comments or give a very detailed comment. But I want to throw in my $0.02, which I think may be different than most of the above.

Everything the OP has written about her AP would bug me too. It would bug me enough to have a sit-down chat about how things are going, and how irritated I am (but I would put it nicely, I am actually a tactful and non-confrontational person in real life). If it required more effort than a sit-down chat, I would decide whether to let it go or rematch. I’m just not up for all that training!

I have had 3 au pairs for a full year, plus one quick re-match. So I know I like the program. I’ve dealt with almost all of the things the OP mentions, but never all in one person. I think that would be more than I could take. I give all my APs debit cards for groceries, and one of them spent A LOT of money on that… but she cooked Thai food for the whole family and was otherwise pretty awesome.. so it didn’t bug me too much. My current AP is a slob and it is wearing thin, but

oh gotta goo… another time

Mimi January 5, 2015 at 5:55 pm

“Can you imagine a litmus test that helps a host parent decide whether it’s the person, or the concept of an Au Pair, that’s the challenge?”

If the “little things” that bother you would be something you’d let slide with an AP you thought was doing a good job or the problems are more about her and not specific to the childcare she’s providing (like stomping or hygiene), it’s probably the AP. If you worry about any AP’s lack of training (never mind fabrication of it) and hate the idea of socializing/orienting them to anything outside your home life needs, then IMO, it’s the concept of an AP.

But A/B Host Mom, you’re doing pretty well for your first AP. It has taken some of us a few go rounds to find the filters we need to find APs that we’re happy with, and perfecting the ‘onboarding’ process takes time. Even for seasoned HMs, it can be an ongoing process!

TexasHM January 5, 2015 at 10:28 pm

Lol HMiTC I was just thinking the same thing!!

SKNY January 5, 2015 at 10:42 pm

I Guess i will give my point of view as someone who had an Au pair and has a live-out nanny now.
We had 2 great Au pairs. The third was awful and returned home. The forth was meh… Not bad enough to go, but not great. She left our family with a 2 days notice and went to a family (no agency). Not getting too much into it, she ended up kicked out of that house (not ready to give details to maintain my anonymous status. It was quite a public ordeal).
Anyway, we were lucky enough that a retired day care provider, who babysat in our church service offered to watch the kids in our home for the same amount of Au pair’a estipent. She likes the kids and wanted to do it just to do it. She is mature, caring, experienced, American, loves my kids.
What I don’t miss about the Au pair program: after the 2 bad experiences it is nice to have our house and guest room back, our grocery, cell and electric bills are lower, more privacy, no worries about mess or alikes (I was very self conscious about making sure all was right, a lot of worried about persons well being). My husband specially loves that there is no one else living in our home, that we do not have to share our car (no worry about accidents on our bad writers)… It is nice that our caregiver is responsible, mature.
We use all our hrs of caregiving during day hrs (young kids) so I can’t say I miss having someone available for date nights, weekend, etc, because we never had it. I also love that our caregiver does not mind not working when my husband (10-month job) is not working. Save us a lot of money.

What I miss about the program: language exposure. I can see already a loss of language on the kids from loosing language immersion. That is a huge loss for me. I also miss that our Au pairs drove the kids around (our current nanny does not feel comfortable driving them on winters). So they spend a lot of the time at home. Although she seems to engage them enough not to be bored.
That is it…

Ohhh on a funny/side note: I remember my husband telling me that an elderly nanny would not spend all day on the internet during work hrs. A few weeks before Christmas, I was surprised to see that she had made 1-2 posts to her Facebook page during work hours. I guessing it was nap time or such. It is not usual and I don’t see her on onternet ever. But made me believe that it is impossible to have a caregiver who will not go online ever during work hrs

NoVA Twin Mom January 6, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Off topic a bit – but today I’m immensely glad we have an au pair. Our preschool follows our public school system’s closures. Despite a winter storm that hit our area our school system didn’t close today. My husband and i left our girls in the capable hands of our Swedish au pair, who we knew could safely drive them to school. A few hours into the day the preschool cancelled our girls’ afternoon session. Our au pair could change the day’s plan to include THREE hours of playing in the snow rather than going to school, all after we’d already left for work.

WestMom January 6, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Clicking an invisible ‘like’ button.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 7, 2015 at 7:43 am

It’s the flexibility that keeps us in the program, too. I came home from work to find The Camel cuddling on the couch with the AP – both were bored from being trapped in the house all day, but they looked so cute together (The Camel lacks temperature control and is too medically fragile for sledding or snow play.)

Host Mom in the City January 7, 2015 at 10:35 am

Same! I honestly do not know what I would have done last year without our au pair. We got a ton of snow up here, resulting in many days where schools were closed or delayed, but I still had to work. Our au pair was absolutely a life (job)-saver. And of course, I took many an opportunity to reward her for her flexibility and helpfulness with extra days off, a large bonus at the end of the year, a really nice birthday gift that she adored, little Starbucks gift cards and such here and there, etc.

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