It can be so easy to misinterpret behaviors — and to take offense where none is intended.
Tone of voice, awkward choice of words, different cultural norms, and even the specifics of the ‘moment’ influence the meaning we extract from someone’s behavior.
Wait, make that “the meaning we think we extract from someone’s behavior”.
Even if you deliberately invoke #2 of the Four Agreements (Don’t take anything personally), it can be hard not to worry about how your behavior is intended. This is especially true, I think, when it comes to spending time ‘alone’ when you’re in the house and not on duty with childcare.
Whether you’re the parent at home while an au pair is on duty, or the au pair at home, off duty, while the parent is with the children, it’s important to indicate that the au pair is ‘off duty’. And, it’s important not to take anyone’s need for private time as a personal affront.
How do you manage ‘private time’ in your host family-au pair relationship?
- What’s the best way for an au pair to indicate that she’s off for some ‘alone time’?
Do you like your au pair to mention that s/he’s ‘off to her room, to relax’, or do you just assume that when s/he departs the kitchen?
- Do you have a way to let your au pair know that — yes indeed, you’d really love his/her social company, without any expectations that you’ll ask the au pair to work?
- How do you and your au pair exchange expectations about ‘off duty, but at home’ time?
An Au Pair writes for advice with a particular version of this challenge:
Dear Au Pair Moms-
First off, I’d just like to say that I love your website! It’s been so helpful for me, as an au pair, to get some insight into my host family’s expectations and perspectives (And realize what a great situation I’m in, after all those horror stories!).
My question for you, and I realize this probably differs widely by family, is how much time the family generally wants alone. My family has been really strong in emphasizing that I’m their “daughter” for the year and really treats me like part of the family. It’s been great!
But, I just get paranoid that I’m around too much or too little. We haven’t explicitly stated when my “off-hours” start or when my half-day off begins on Saturday, so I’m never quite sure if hanging around the living room on a Saturday afternoon is working, participating in family life, or infringing on their privacy.
Are host families relieved when you get out of the house for the day? Are they insulted you aren’t spending more time just hanging out with them?
Some more specifics on my situation: Even though my most important task is getting the young boy (2.5) out of bed and to kindergarten and then picking him up before mommy gets home at 1:00, the most intensive (and precisely observed) aspect of my job is cleaning the house every day while little man is at school. There is another girl who is 12 and mostly self-sufficient. When mommy gets home, she takes him for a nap roughly for the next 3 hours or so. Sometimes she spends that time downstairs, others not.
I usually take my shower during this time and hang out in my room and I never have a good feeling if that is okay or not. Should I be spending more time alone with my host mom? I get up 5:30 and when she gets home that is basically the first break I get. After that, though, my duties are light and I really just play with little man until he goes to bed. The parents are VERY involved in the caretaking of their children and other than cleaning and picking the boy up from school, I have few responsibilities.
I guess my email boils down to this:
How to host families feel about au pairs being in their rooms on off-hours (or when on/off time is not clearly defined)?
Are families more relieved or insulted when the au pair spends some time away from them?
I just want to be a better au pair and form a lasting bond with my family :) (BTW, I am an American au pair in Germany, if that matters. I have been here for 2 weeks).
Thanks so much for your advice and perspectives!!