Personal Time: Do Host Parents take it personally when Au Pairs retreat to their rooms?

by cv harquail on September 16, 2013

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”.

3279449854_5ee2519831Even 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!!


See also:

When you need some alone time with your kids

How to know when to “Pull a Garbo” and take time alone

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Thirteen Of Clubs


Should be working September 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Not an answer to the question, but having lived in Germany a few yrs ago and having inquired about getting an au pair there, I am pretty sure that APs in Germany have a worktime limit of 25 or 30 hrs/wk unless you are being paid extra (which is permitted, unlike in the USA). 5:30am to 1pm weekdays already exceeds that, not to mention playing the child after parents are home (if that is obligatory).

Knowing Germans pretty well, I would say that you could ask for a clear schedule of the hours you are expected to work each week. And you could also ask fairly clearly whether your hanging around on off hours is ok with them. Germans are not usually indirect about saying what they prefer, although of course your situation might not be that way.

German Au-Pair September 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Yes, just ask. They seem to be very open and welcoming but especially then the German culture permits saying “I need my alone time now”. Nothing rude about it. Just ask for a clear schedule, ask her if she’d like you to hang out with her and do something together during those three hours and just tell her she can always feel free to approach you (if that’s how you want it) in your off-time and that retreating to your room doesn’t mean you don’t want to get involved with them as a family.

I’m already back home, so if you’d like to get in touch, feel free to do so.

AmericanAP in Germany September 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

Thanks for the advice! It’s nice to have a German voice to point out a cultural note :) I will talk to her directly about it. I hope you had a good au pair experience! I’m in the Mainz/Alzey area!

Old China Hand September 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I think that being clear and getting in writing what your schedule is will help a lot. Our AP has friends here who have similar problems with when they are on or off and how vague that can be. The more you can get in writing and cleared up now, the easier it will be down the road. Once our AP is off, she is free to do whatever she wants. She often hangs out in her room but also helps us cook meals. And we make a point of telling her that she can leave the table while we are still talking if she is done eating so that she can get on with her evening.

Host Mom X September 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

if you were an AP in America, your schedule already sounds like it violates the rules; as Should be working points out, it sounds like in Germany it does as well.

That aside, it sounds like you do have a good relationship with your host family, so you can probably get the on duty/off duty issue cleared up with a written schedule. Not that the schedule can’t change, but then you will know roughly what is expected of you in terms of actual “on duty” hours. (And if the expected on-duty hours exceed what the program allows, you can then discuss that with the family.)

As to the other questions posed by CV, which relate more to the host family-AP relationship generally during off-duty hours: We are just super-clear about our AP’s schedule first of all, so she knows exactly what her actual on-duty hours are. Then we make very clear to her that we NEVER expect her to work when she is off-duty, and that she should not fear that if she hangs out with us or emerges from her room during off-duty hours, that she will get bamboozled into working more. We reinforce this – so that she knows we are serious about it – by saying explicitly to the children (ours are pretty small) if they bug the AP on her off-duty hours to help them with, e.g., getting snacks, going to the potty, playing games, – “this is AP’s time for herself; if you need something, ask mama and daddy.” We make sure the AP hears us saying this, so that she can trust us that we mean it. We also tell our children that they may not knock on the AP’s door, go into the AP’s room, etc. (Unless we ask them to go knock on her door to invite her to dinner or something.) In the morning, before the AP’s hours start, if AP comes out to get a cup of coffee or sit down at the table to eat breakfast on her own with something to read, and the kids try to swarm her, we also say to the children – so that the AP can hear us, again, and know we are serious about protecting her private time – “it’s AP’s quiet private time. Let her enjoy her coffee by herself.” Even if the AP protests (which a new AP will do!), we emphasize to the AP that we know she means well, but that we think it is important for her to protect her quiet time, and that she must never feel that she needs to engage with the kids when she is off-duty. We do this more in the beginning, but we keep it up throughout the year. And then we follow the AP’s lead after we are sure that she understands that we really really really are serious about protecting her private time. Our best APs have always been responsive to the kids’ desire to tell them things, or show them things, or even play a short game during off-duty time. But we are pretty strict about stopping the APs from doing something more “work” like, such as helping with feeding them or taking them to the bathroom.

As to other family time – our APs have been pretty good about figuring out when me and HD need our space, and we are pretty good about figuring out when the APs need their space. We try to communicate our general approach during matching (we like family time, but not TOO much family time).

Should be working September 16, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Related question for HPs: How much do you expect your AP to join in on disciplining when s/he is off duty and you are RIGHT THERE?

I always found it annoying that our AP felt the need to “pile on” when we were in the middle of a disciplining event (like an argument over eating non-finger food with fingers at the dining room table). I felt like it made the kid feel “ganged up on” and the AP was trying to be an authority when she could just relax.

Turns out (since I just brought it up) she all along has felt like she is “supposed to” help with discipline even when I’m around, otherwise I might think she “doesn’t care” or “is lazy”. She and I were both relieved to discover that we both prefer that on her off time while I am present, I am the disciplinarian and she can just not say anything.

Host Mom X September 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm

We don’t expect it at all – and I think because of the steps we take described in my comment above, our APs sense that and don’t step in.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

It’s a non-issue with my special needs child (she functions below the level of a one-year-old). However, with my other teenager, I write in the handbook that she is looking for a friend. While I expect the AP to discipline her when needed (and we are out of the house) at her age she really needs an aunty and not another mom. It doesn’t really work (in my house) because my younger teen is really independent and has decided years ago that the AP is there for her sister (which is true). She has bonded with some of the APs in the last 5 years and certainly sides with them whenever I’m having a disagreement, but when left alone in the house with the AP she will often retreat to her room to read or head outside alone to play.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2013 at 9:41 am

I think I’m going to clarify this for our new au pair (arriving in two weeks!). My children are honestly very well-behaved generally (I got lucky). My current au pair, however, I think sees herself more as a disciplinarian than a friend and it rubbed me the wrong way to hear her ordering them around. Obviously there’s a good balance in there – I don’t want my au pair letting the kids run wild, but I’m happier being the tougher one and having her take on more of the fun role.

Au pair September 19, 2013 at 11:13 am

Well, I think there is a fine line for us au pair when we should interact and when we shouldn’t. First of all I disagree with that au pairs ( maybe its just yours) are supposed to be the fun person, the big sister etc. if we would be their big sister than we wouldn’t have to discipline them at all.. Because that’s not what a sister does. I always say, on duty I am your nanny/ supervisor whatever you want to call it. But I’m not your sister, friend, etc. oh gosh where would that go if I would be their friend, the fun person? The kids would turn out really bad. When I’m off I am the fun person, I am the sister that lets them hang out in my room and color on my notebooks. Then I am there to roll the in my big blankets and pretend that they are hot dogs;) the kids know the line. And it works beautifully! When mom is home and there is something that affects me personally, such as, please don’t kick me chair while I am eating etc then I don’t wait for mom to discipline them. But I do shut up when they have an argument or mom is disciplining them etc. even if the kids do something they know bother me. Such as putting their lips on windows. If mom thinks that’s ok, well that’s how it is. If I can’t stand what the kids do and mom doesn’t do anything, I leave if it is appropriate .( I don’t just leave the table etc.)

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Au pair, I think you’re completely right and I don’t want it to sound like I don’t want my au pair disciplining the kids AT ALL. Definitely she needs to maintain control and I completely respect her finding her own way to do that. If you’ve read my other posts, we’ve had a really bad year this year and I’m really struggling to adopt some lessons learned. One of the many things I wasn’t happy about is that she seemed to really revel in the disciplinarian but then didn’t balance with the fun stuff. Hoping for a better year this coming time around!

Momma Gadget September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I think this is also age dependent. Now that my kids are teenagers ( one a budding teenager), I don’t need a disciplinarian.I need an AP who is more of a cool friend/big brother figure whom they want to listen to. We need an AP who is a guide not a dictator. In my view it is our job as the parents to be the “heavy”.
Now that the kids are older, we have found we have had to drastically alter our methods of discipline. Things that worked when they were younger are disastrous now.They know the rules, and will challenge them. It is the APs job when on duty to remind /suggest to them that it might not be worth it to break said rule and invoke the wrath of Mom.
We give the APs the authority to give consequences for bad behavior, but we strongly recommend that they tread lightly. It has been far more effective for an AP to be a proactive “nudger” than to try to be an enforcer.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I like your post Momma Gadget – I often forget what a big difference what you want out of an au pair is when you have young children versus teenagers. Good point and a good reminder for when we read each other’s posts and experiences.

Should be working September 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

We go back and forth, with our aupair-preteen combination, about the value of discipline vs. buddy. Ultimately the kids will test the au pair like they test me. And she has to be able to handle firmness, but preferably in a calm way. The preteens want an AP they can both admire AND be buddies with. It’s really hard to keep the overview sometimes.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I agree with Momma Gadget. With teenagers, you need an AP who is willing to engage the kids, and keep a gentle eye on them when they head off on their own, so they’re not quietly spending more than their allotment of video game hours and are actually doing their homework on the computer before their parents return home. My favorite APs have offered to challenge my teen to video games if they help clean up their rooms and finish their homework first. “Ssshh! Don’t tell your Mom,” they’ll say as if it were a conspiracy. And I’m happy because my teens actually do their work. They are the ones my teens want to accompany to the airport at the end of their year, so they can give one more goodbye hug.

The most lackluster APs don’t offer a choice, “Would you rather play this game or do this activity?” and just plaintively say, “Do you want to do X?” (And are probably relieved when the answer is ‘No,’ and the teen disappears into her room.) They are the ones to whom my teen says “Meh,” when I ask if she wants to go to the airport with me.

ExAuPair September 17, 2013 at 4:23 am

I was an au pair in Germany for a year and always wondered the same thing. When I felt like I was done for the day if I felt like being in my room I would go but leave my door open. They had to pass it to get to any other room in the house and it also let them know I didn’t mind being interrupted or if they child wanted to come play he could. If I wanted some ‘me’ time I would shut the door. Something as little as this I think really helped and they rarely bothered me when my door was shut unless they needed to or were inviting me somewhere. I still have an amazing relationship with the family and I doubt they will be offended or anything with subtle actions like this. I hope our experience is as good as mine was!

Multitasking Host Mom September 17, 2013 at 8:12 am

With our current au pair we all seem to do a good job of balancing the ‘off duty time’ yet still ‘around time’. When I get home in the evening (and she is no longer working according to our written schedule), she will often hang out in the kitchen and talk when I am making dinner. But after we all eat, she normally goes to her room or out with friends. Then I get a couple hours with just my kids before they go to bed. This situation gives us both the together time and the alone time that we both need.
About once a month or so we will do a fun activity as a family like go to the beach or check out a museum. We love that are au pair will join us at these activities, but we are aware to not let her ‘work’ during these times. We clearly communicate with both her and the kids that AP is coming with us to have fun. I do find myself over compensating a little to make sure the kids do not bother her with their needs.
To the au pair who asked the questions…communication is always the way to solve most situations. Plus you are still new to this , everyone is still getting a feel for how all of this is going to work. I bet in just a few more weeks, when everyone settles in, you will have a better sense of everything.

AmericanAP in Germany September 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

I am the au pair who asked this question — just wanted to say thank you for all the helpful responses! I’m a non-confrontational type of person, so it’s been hard for me to push my family for a more formal schedule. I will try talking to them, though! We’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase, I think, and I’m trying my hardest to accommodate my lovely, but exacting German host mother’s cleaning standards! Haha :) I’m just a bit paranoid and eager to please… Thanks again!!

Host Mom in the City September 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

You sound like a very conscientious au pair! It’s smart of you not to assume that “part of the family” is taken literally with your host family and that each host family varies in terms of what they are comfortable with and expect.

For us, we are very clear from the very beginning on when our au pair is on duty and when she is off duty and what that means.

On duty time means she is in charge, even if I am there too. If the kids need something, I expect them to ask her and for her to be the one that jumps up and helps them or takes initiative to be starting them on the next thing they need to do. I will enforce this – if the kids ask me for something when she is on duty, say if I’m working from home. I will say “au pair is in charge right now, please ask her.” Similarly, if there is an issue or discipline needed, I will not jump in.

Off-duty means that I literally have no expectations of her helping in any way, even if she is sitting right there with us. If we are all home and sitting in the living room together and someone is bothering her to play with them, I make it a point to say “au pair is having some relaxation time, I’m happy to play with you.” If we are all out to dinner and someone needs to go to the bathroom and asks her, I say “mommy’s in charge now, I will take you.” The kids are not allowed to knock on her door, and I try to keep any hellos/goodbyes to a minimum when she’s coming and going.

Now in reality, I do have to admit that if I had an au pair that totally ignored my kids off-duty or acted irritated with them, that would not be ok with me. I don’t mean she has to play with them while off-duty, but I do expect that if she’s upstairs to get a drink from the kitchen and they see her and want to tell her a little story, that she take a minute to listen. And if I’m paying to take my au pair out to dinner and both kids are screaming and running around, I will be thrilled if she would engage one of them in coloring on a placemat rather than just sitting there watching me struggle.

I admit that this probably sounds somewhat unfair, but I think there’s an in-between time that comes when an au pair is taking advantage of being a member of the family and thus is not truly truly off. I feel like if you’re going to take advantage of the “part of the family” part of me buying you dinner, a minimum of helping might be nice while we’re out. It’s sort of the same as cleaning up after a family dinner. If I take the time to cook my au pair a dinner and serve it to her, I’d expect her to at least ask if she can help a bit with clean up. But I would never expect that she, for example, watch the kids while off-duty so I can cook the dinner or clean up after anyone but herself and maybe volunteer for one task.

It terms of how much I want my au pair hanging around, I truly don’t mind if she’s there or not. She could sit in the living room with us every evening if she wanted to, come on every family trip with us if we wanted to. We aren’t really a private family and don’t consider time without her to be any different than time with her. But again, that probably varies by family.

So I guess all that to say that it probably varies – it would be smart of an au pair to ask, perhaps even before matching.

Multitasking Host Mom September 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

I agree that there is a fine line when you are doing an activity that includes the au pair, but they are not working. They shouldn’t have set responsibilities, but I would be really disappointed if they didn’t engage with the children…or us, the host parents, for that matter. The term we call it is “shared time” (as opposed to “off time” and “work time”.) I got the term from someone else who mentioned it here several months ago. I have a short blurb describing it in our handbook. I can’t remember the exact wording right now, but mainly I talk about the fact that one of the reason we choose this type of child care was to welcome the au pair into the family. I state that when they are joining us on a family activity, they are not working, but I do want them to participate as a member of the family. I think of this in the same way that Host Mom in the City described above in her examples.

Jane September 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

Multitasking Host Mom, if you have a minute, would you mind posting what you have in your handbook about shared time? That sounds like something we would like to incorporate into our handbook. Thanks!

American Host Mom in Europe September 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm

” but I do want them to participate as a member of the family.”
I think this is a really important point and I’m actually surprised by many of the other posts… isn’t the whole idea of an au pair that they are a member of the family? For example, when we are with my brother, I’d have no issue asking him to sit with one kid while I take another to the toilet (or vice versa), so why wouldn’t I treat my au pair the same if she was with us (during off hours)? I think sometimes there’s a risk of overcompensating, and the au pair feeling like she’s not welcome to help be “big sisterly” with the children off hours, and that’s not a good approach either.

It is back to a point that frequently comes up in these discussions — communication is the way to address it! I make abundantly clear to my au pairs that they are NOT expected to work when they are off, but that they are WELCOME AND EXPECTED to act as a member of the family when they are with us. So if we are all eating together at the weekend, I’ll expect them to help prepare and clean up, just like I expect my 4 & 5 year olds to help with setting and clearing the table — these are responsibilities of living in our household, rather than part of the job of the au pair. I’ve actually got sections in our handbook dedicated to expected conduct 1) as an employee, 2) as a caretaker for our children, and 3) as an adult member of our family.

Host Mom in the City September 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I think the difference between your brother and your au pair is that child care is your au pair’s job and while au pairs are supposed to be treated as part of the family, there is also the absolute fact that you are their employer and also that ahe lives in her workplace and is relatively beholden to you as her host parent and provider of food and housing. It’s simple to say theyre part of the family and that’s that, but that role needs to be balanced with the other roles.

If you asked your brother to sit your kid on the toilet, the expectation of what that meant would be entirely clear. He’s standing there, he’s a guest at your house, he helps and that’s that. Also, if he was in the middle of something or just didn’t want to help, he could say no and there would be no serious repurcussions. Your au pair, on the other hand, needs clear messages about what you expect, when she is free to go. Asking or expecting her to sit your kid on the toilet when she’s off duty is confusing, she doesn’t have the ability to say no, she’ll probably just avoid spending any time with you at all if anytime she’s around, her host mom takes advantage of her presence by essentially getting her services for free.

She also lives in her workplace, so if you’re not completely respecting her off-duty time, she essentially never gets a break.

Host Mom X September 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I agree with this 100%, HMitC. Childcare is an APs job, so there is reason to overcompensate in terms of making sure they understand that you do not expect them to engage in that job during off-duty hours.

Of course, the best au pairs will probably naturally step in if they see a helping hand is needed to make a family situation more pleasant. E.g. we are all eating dinner and the AP is sitting next to the three year old, who just spilled her milk all over the table at the same time as the infant just spit up and the six year old is demanding that the skin be taken off of her cucumber. In a situation like that, HD and I will prioritize as we would when AP is not around and deal with each incident, but I think most good APs would probably jump in with a napkin to help clean up the spill, despite my protests that it’s really okay for her to just sit still.

Though I see the above example as different from other “part of the family”-type helping out, because the above is related to childcare. For instance, when that meal is over, if HD and I have prepared it, certainly an AP would help clean up after the meal as the rest of the family would be expected to. I do tend to protest that the AP not help, since we are not a family who frequently eats together (I get home from work too late on weekdays), so I sort of feel like we are “treating” the AP when we actually make a family dinner and she joins in, and I want her to feel the full effect of that by not having to clean up. But if the AP ate with us every night, a meal that HD and I worked to prepare, I would assume she’d help clean up.

And I also see why an AP might choose not to eat with a family too often simply because after a long day with kids, it might be exhausting even to just sit through another hour hearing them whine, etc., even if the AP is not “helping” with them at all. (I know our kids are much more whiny when we are around, so family dinner is not always “pleasant”; I think this is probably different with older kids.) Also – though it is of course natural, polite, and proper etiquette to help clean up after a meal that someone else has prepared – an AP might not want to join for family dinner all that often because clean-up time, helping set the table, etc. for a whole family (even with everybody pitching in equally) actually takes a lot more time than she wanted to spend on dinner that night. Maybe she just wanted to take three minutes to make a sandwich and then eat it in front of the TV and throw the plate in the dishwasher and then go out.

spanishaupair September 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I agree with you 100%. I will stop spending time with my HF if every second I’m around in my off-duty time they asked me to do some kid related thing or send them to me, yeah i have been with HF that me being around and obviouslly kids coming to say hi and asked to play for parents vanish in their rooms or whatever until i send kids to them or i simply vanish.
In the other hand if families just wellcome me and dont expect anything and even tell kids is my off-duty time, i will be more than happy (if i have the time) to spend time with the kids: play/paint/read a book or whatever they want and also not so nice things like changing nappies or feeding a baby.
I think all depends on how HF and aupairs approach it

German Au-Pair September 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I’d say that also depends on the actual amount of hours you work each day/week. I was WAY below the 45 hour limit. When my host mum was home I was not necessarily off duty, but asked if it was okay for me to go. They were very understanding of my needs (like special occasions where they bend backwards to allow me to get off early to attend that super cheap game/ the concert, whatever -occasionally of course, not every week or even month.) So since they were helping me out and I didn’t reach my limit, it was very normal for me to jump in during off hours.
After being off (and even away) for several hours, I’d still step in and help with homework if the teens were giving their parents a hard time (just like they would take over when I couldn’t get the kids to work) and I would make sure they’d go to bed on time when I was upstairs anyway.
Would have felt weird to entirely ignore the kids and make the parents come upstairs to send them to bed while I was RIGHT there.
This all might have been different if I had to work 10 hours a day and was just super glad to finally be off.

Emerald City HM September 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

I’m still really on the fence about continuing to host au pairs because of this. Our first would naturally step in when she saw that we needed a hand when we were doing something as a family. With our second we just stopped inviting her. With our third I’m quickly getting to the point of considering not inviting her anymore.

It’s becoming exhausting. I feel like doing things as a family is really just more of a hindrance for us when we take the au pair. We do have things pretty well down handling our toddler and infant, but then we have to remember to add into the mix a 3rd adult that has trouble understanding waiters, isn’t by the door an ready to go when we are (which addmitedly does tend to vary because it tends to be difficult to predict getting two ready in the morning sometimes).

I’m starting to get resentful of DH and I being the last to eat when we eat as a family either outside or inside the house.

I dislike having to give directions on how exactly to clean up after dinner.

I think I find it more frustrating when it seems like the au pair doesn’t want to talk about her home and experiences and is unwilling to speak her language to our kids when on-duty. Because her English is so terrible this also means she hardly talks to our kids at all during the day.

So yeah, I don’t feel the same way about catering to my au pair during family time as some others do. Maybe I will as the kids get older, more verbal, and more self-reliant, but for the time being I really struggle with not feeling resentful.

Hostmum in NZ September 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I’ve been wondering about the issue myself for a while and with AP#3 around the corner like to make sure we communicate expectations clearly. It’s good to get other people’s opinion esp. if there is someone out there thinking along the same lines.
I totally agree with American Hostmum… above. I feel the AP joins us as an adult which comes with responsibilities and duties and helping out with household and kids during off time is part of ‘living as a family’. If the AP wasn’t happy with that approach we’d be happy for her to spend all her off duty time away from us – in her room or out with friends etc.
One of our last AP’s annoying habits (on a side note: he recently left after just 4 – looong – months with us, mutual agreement but really initiated by us) was to spend almost all his spare time sitting in a comfy chair in the middle of our lounge reading (and we don’t have a big house). Rarely went out (it was better at the start), didn’t join in much with family activities and only ever moved from his position when there was talk about food, eating, dinner, etc… We felt heavily encroached upon and the young man didn’t have a sense for when it’s time to give us some space.

He was good to help out in the household above childcare related duties though, and we make it very clear from the start that we don’t want having another adult in the house result in more work for us. We don’t expect them to ever clean up our mess but equally I don’t want to clean up theirs. So we do require them to tidy up after themselves and contribute to housework, even if it might be outside working hours (e.g. mopping floors at weekly houseclean, taking family laundry off the line if it looks like rain – we’d do the same for them; plus one evening of cooking dinner for the family and tidying up afterwards) – as if they were a family member/ flatmate/ relative.
This might seem contrary to a lot of the opinions on here but our APs hardly ever work the full 30hrs (we’re in NZ) they get paid and we don’t go over the top with having them do their share (i.e. if AP is out for the weekend and we do a big houseclean we don’t leave a job for them).

I definitely wouldn’t expect the AP to look after the kids while off-duty but I think that they should act as a member of the family if they choose to hang out in communal areas (answer if asked a question, give a hand/ not ignoring other people in the room – after all this is how I’d want to be treated myself by anyone spending time in my house).

Abba September 17, 2013 at 10:03 am

I read this with great interest, because it was a concern that I (as a HP) had before our 1st AP started. We are now on our 2nd AP, who is great, after rematching with the first, who…wasn’t. Anyway, our current AP seems to not be interested in hanging out with us off duty at all–which is fine! Actually, I really appreciate it. I work long hours and I found it draining that our first AP needed me to be her link to society (she had a tough time making friends and became quite lonely). I am more than willing and happy to be supportive and bend over backwards to help out, but I was exhausted by the emotional demands of worrying about her and her well-being when I was already worn out from caring for two young children and a demanding career. So I find it very refreshing that our new AP is independent, social, and very interested in forging a life for herself out of our home (so much so I often wonder what she’s up to–but I want to give her plenty of space, as I imagine living where one works can be somewhat tough). I know every family is different, and that some would take offense at an AP who isn’t around much outside of work hours, but that is just perfect for us. So I guess I’m just seconding what the others have said: ask!

Host Mom in the City September 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

Abba, you raise a great point. I said above that I wouldn’t mind if our AP wanted to hang out with us at all times, but I think that’s different from what you had an issue with – an AP that was heavily relying on her host mom for her emotional needs. It will likely be the rare host parent that truly wants to have a mother/daughter/best friend relationship with her AP. I am more than happy to have our AP hanging out with us in the evenings or joining us out to dinner, but I agree with Abba that having an AP hanging around moping and needing emotional support all the time would not work for me.

Au Pair in the UK November 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I came across this thread, because I’ve been worried I might offend my HF when I retreat to my room in off duty hours (though I often wash dishes in off days, help with tidying up, cleaning etc, or help children with homework). However, I think that your attitude is bit extreme, Host Mom in the City. It seems like you forget that all these girls who are APs for you HMs are all young girls who probably never lived far away from home, sometimes never really worked a lot and suddenly they find themselves in a employer-employee relationship in which they live with their employer. It truly bugs me how you think that 1) You are paying so much the Au Pair and she should be more than happy for your charity (we all know that if you pay childminder/babysitter/cleaner it will be a lot more than you spend on an Au Pair, not to mention that there will not be as close relationship between them and the kids), 2) This is all so easy and peachy for them and they have no emotional needs, 3) some HMs here seem to be insulted by their AP wanting to be alone, even if it’s in her room and not outside in off duty hours/days. When you become an AP you leave your whole life behind, your friends, family, hobbies even. You can no longer do most of these things, see your friends, or young people at all, if you’re in smaller town and there aren’t that many APs to meet, not at start at least. If you can’t put up with your AP having emotional needs (she’s not far off your teenager kids, if you have any, and I hope you do know how fragile they are, so is she) you shouldn’t have an AP to begin with, but a qualified 25+ nanny who will charge you a lot more, but you will get the professionalism you seek in return.
I am not clinged to my HM, quite the opposite actually, but I’ve become independent before I came here, for somebody who did everything with their family and it was tight together at all times, the AP experience can be very difficult and both sides should put effort. Culture shock or the simple fact that you are surrounded by a family can be very difficult. You observe their care and love for each other everyday and there’s nobody there who feels that way for you because your family is back home? You AP is trying to do the right thing, have you at least like her (nobody is of course expecting you to treat her like a daughter) and most of the HMs get annoyed by that? Whether she does it by trying to stick with the family more or give it space, she can’t read your mind and know the kind of family you are. The more you make her feel like she’s doing the wrong thing, the least your chances are she sticks, or she’ll become depressed and a bad AP to your children.

There have been difficulties adjusting to my family and them to me, but we have sorted this out and now I am happy to be their AP. As nice and intelligent as my HM might be, it still took effort for both of us to deal with the cultural shock and in general being different. I’ve many times considered going back home in the first month and felt extremely sad and depressed. Have more understanding to your Au Pair, be gentle, caring, ask how she is feeling, don’t sulk or be passive agressive if she’s not doing something the way you like it, especially in her off time, if you feel like she’s distant to your children, approach her and talk to her. That’s if it REALLY bothers you, after all – her time is her time and you agreed upon X free days or hours a week.

Multitasking Host Mom September 17, 2013 at 10:37 am

We had one au pair who the minute we got home from work would disappear to her room. She would come out for dinner, and then go back to her room again. Even though she lived with us for a year, we never felt like we knew her very well. It would make my husband paranoid that she was mad or upset, but whenever we asked her if something was wrong, she would just answer with a short response that she was fine. Her continued lack of interaction with us made it a very long year. Then again this is just how our family responded to these actions. Everyone interprets and sees things differently.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I learned in the 11th month that one AP hated olives. She was the type who turned on her heel the minute I got home and was gone. I said to her, “This is proof of how little we know you – that it took us 11 months to learn that you don’t like olives.”

Dorsi September 21, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I had a very sweet AP last year who was gone all the time. She was good at her job and loved the children (and the feeling was mutual), so we worked around it. Her birthday and Christmas came during month 11 — and I had no idea what to get her. Did she scrapbook? Did she go to movies? Did she read books? It was kind of distressing how little I felt I knew her.

Host Mom X September 23, 2013 at 11:05 am

This was our last AP – wonderful with the kids, but no attempt at connection with us (but we didn’t push it; it was basically mutual – we just didn’t have that “click”, and she was really independent and wanted to do her own thing). We were a little sad when we couldn’t give her the same kind of really personalized parting gift that we had given our au pair prior to her, and that when her birthday came up after her year had ended, we pretty much had to just go with gift certificate, because we just didn’t know her well enough to get her something with more personal meaning.

Barbara September 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I am an au pair and I’m always asking myself that question. My host parents work long hours and I work 9 hours everyday, so when I’m finally off all I want is have some time for myself after a long day. I sometimes spend some time with them before going to my room, just talking. I usually have dinner before getting off, so I rarely eat with them (they rarely have dinner at home too).
My concern is the weekends, though. Some weekends I want to spend in my room, watching tv and resting, but I feel bad to stay at home locked in my room. I try and get out to spend some time with them, but I still feel bad spending most time alone when they are at home. I don’t want to be the au pair who’s always locked, but I’m someone who needs a lot of alone time (even from friends!).

Momma Gadget September 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Our Au Pair is always welcome to hang with us (or not) as much as they wish during their off time.We have no issue with the AP watching TV with us, joining us for outdoor games in yard, eating with us or chatting in the kitchen while we prepare.

Generally if we parents need ‘alone time’ together we retire to our own room.There has always been ample private family time when the AP has been off at cluster events, attending class or out with their friends.We haven’t had an AP yet who was too clingy or invaded our our private family time.

Like wise, we are respectful of the APs space and free time. We do not ask the AP to do work related chores on their off time. The kids don’t bother an off duty AP, accept to invite them somewhere.Often the APs do invite the kids to do things with them like the gym, the movies or go for a bike ride. Often the will go cheer the boys on at a sporting event when they don’t have other plans.

We do expect APs to be mindful of the children’s’ feelings and respectful of we HPs. If they say they’re going to do something with the kids or accept an invitation from us, we expect them to follow through regardless of whether a friend calls later with a “better offer”. This was one of the many issues that led us to rematch with our 1st AP.

Some of our APs were more involved with our family than others. We try to give them fair warning if we think that something maybe boring for them ( like visiting with relatives) and let them choose. We have never been offended if an AP prefers to retire to their room instead of joining us, after all; it’s a long day and kids can be tiresome. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the kids family birthday
celebrations are the only times we truly expect the AP to participate.

Usually it takes our APs a couple of months to realize that we don’t make idle invitations and that they are truly welcome to join us and make themselves at home.

As the other posters have stated, if an AP is unclear, then they should ask… Most HFs will appreciate it.

Caupair September 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Momma Gadget- wow, you are the kind of family I´m looking for,
My family in UK never watched tv with me or were involve with me in any kids related activities, Never went out as a family, they used to drop me off at the big city and pick me up latter when they wanted to come home.

I used to spend 99% of my off duty time at my room, and I was not happy about that, I wanted to chatt with them or plan something fun to do with the kid at the weekend. HD seemed more happy to expend some time chatting about his day with me but HM was only into buying clothes and spend money at the spa or luxury hotels..

Never became part of the family and now in USA im looking for the family who would like to host an au pair and would treat her as a member of the family.

I like to be invited to have dinner with the family, I don´t care if I have to clean up and help to set the table or help with kids to finish dinner, that´s what I would do with my family and I don´t expect them to do it for me if i want to be part of it.

Momma Gadget September 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Caupair- :-D
It sounds like you have a great positive attitude.
Sometimes even the not so great experiences serve a purpose of showing you what is really priority to you. When we switched to the AP program, after having the same live in Nanny for many years, I was looking forward to having a little more distance from our caregiver. Our first AP was very aloof, and only wanted to party with her fellow french friends. She would renege on plans she made with the HC or us the second one of her friends made a better offer… even if we had bought expensive tickets to a show for her or one time,booked her own room at a hotel for a vacation. I really resented her thoughtless disregard for my kids hurt feelings and treating us like a boarding house. We rematched, and realized that we need an AP who wants to be part of our family. Of course we don’t want an AP to spend every waking hour with us, But we prefer to have an AP who at least likes us.;-)
I’m sure there is family out there for you, who wants an “AP family member” relationship, and will appreciate your wanting to truly engage with your HF! Good luck to you!

Should be working September 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Yeah, with our first (soon to be sent to rematch) au pair 4 yrs ago I was looking forward to a businesslike relationship. Be careful what you wish for. She kept the kids safe, but gave them nary a smile nor hug. She had a boyfriend in town, as it turns out.

Ok, here’s something too tasty not to pass on: I looked up her Facebook page recently and it appears that this same former AP has become an adult film actress–or at least a wannabe. Besides the poses themselves on there, her assets have increased tremendously, if you get my drift, and also her lips are huge, and indeed there appears to be filming going on in her pics, with scant clothing. In fact after she left us (and illegally remained in the USA) we got a call from Victoria’s Secret that she had listed us for a reference!

spanishaupair September 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

wow what a first aupair!!! and poor little kids yours to not be loved or at least shared love (even if dont feel) from your caregiver.
I really love to hug and kiss my kids, yeah after 14 months they are my little brother and sister not my HK, even if that sometimes drives me mad because they fight each other because they want to hug me but not share me, they are 4 years and 21 months.
Serioussly after rematch she gives you as a reference? and apart from that to Vicoria’s Secret like being an aupair and work for Victoria’s Secret is some kind of related job.
hope the rest of your AP have been better

DarthaStewart September 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I wish I had a “like” button for these answers, and for this post. I have had au-pairs who have run the gamut. Some have disappeared the second work ended, going up to their room, running out the door, and others who have hung around for much of their leisure time, and everything in between. I think it’s a matter of individual preference. I will drag some au-pairs out for social activities after work, so they don’t spend so much time in their rooms, but it’s not to work, but to get OUT of their rooms. I think that especially when you have little ones in the house, the day can be very long, and exhausting, so it’s quite possible to be entirely touched out and just want the quiet solitude of your room. (I know I do sometimes!)

NYAPMOM September 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm

This all raises an interesting question for me which is what it means to have your AP be “part of the family.” My kids are gone all day at school – I leave to drive them at 7:30am and the AP isn’t on duty until it’s time to pick them up. She leaves between 3pm and 5pm to do so, depending on the day. Then she’s on duty until they are ready for bed. It’s a pretty cushy job I think – she maybe works 30 hours a week. That said, we interpret “part of the family” as our AP being like a big sister to the kids but definitely not a daughter to us. She lives in our home and we make much more of an effort with her then we ever did when we had a regular live-in nanny. She eats with us when we eat as a family, we include her in holidays, etc. And if I’m hanging around the house I don’t mind if she comes by to chat with me. But she is NOT my daughter, she is my employee. I like private time and I don’t want to hide in my room to get it. I also want to make sure that she understands that being an AP is a job with responsibilities and that is why she is in our home. So after the kids go off to bed (between 7:30 and 8) and I make it clear she’s off for the night to do as she pleases. I don’t want to sit with her while my husband and I catch up on our day. The kids do treat her like part of the family. I just keep more distance. I always wonder if I’m missing the spirit of the program….

Momma Gadget September 18, 2013 at 9:40 am

It is great that you are very clear on the relationship you want to have with your AP. I don’t think that you are missing the spirit of the program if you prefer a more business like attitude and match with a like minded AP.
It probably would be a lot easier (and less expensive) if I were wired that way, But I just am not.
I think another reason our APs get so involved with us is that we hire bro-pairs to look after our older boys. They do a lot of fun “guy stuff”- car shows, zip lining,fishing,drag racing,sports events etc…it seems only natural to include our bro pair in these events that we know he would enjoy.

Caupair September 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I think you´re kind of missin the spirit of the program, because you don´t want an au pair you want a nanny who does its job and then has to go. it´s not bad If you have the kind of au pair who wants the same, to have just a relationship where working and on off duty hours she desapears to go out with friends.

The problem is when you have an au pair who wants to have a “Family” life there and you don´t. just does not match.

German Au-Pair September 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm

As long as you are upfront about it, you’re totally fine. I have au pair friends who would LOVE that kind of HF and some who would probably feel horrible with that arrangement.
My HF was sort of similar to you. We hardly ever spent any time with each other. Sometimes I wished I had HP who’d watch TV with me in the evening or do family stuff in general (older kids, not much family time in general) but I also valued what I had and would totally match with them again, if I had the chance to redo.
You just need to be clear before matching to find someone who likes exactly that interpretation of family member.

Skny September 18, 2013 at 7:11 am

My first au Pair would disapear the sec she was off, come up for dinner when called, and disappear as soon as she was done eating. We would never see her off duty. Ever. I never complained but felt wrong…
The next one used to always hangout with us for a while after being off and occasionally go out with us (maybe once a month, some months mote) and we liked it a lot better. Felt like she actually enjoyed us.
One of them however spent every second she could with us. She would go everywhere. She had no personal life outside of our home for the first 3 or 4 months. And it was tiring. I actually missed the Au pair who would disappear

MidAtlantic Host Family September 18, 2013 at 10:14 am

We had an AP that would immediately shut herself in her room and Skype with family or friends back home during all off time and would eat after we were in bed or not at home. She ended up going home with home sickness. We had assumed it was a teenager thing. There was obviously more to it.

HostMominVA September 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

We like to find a healthy balance with our au pairs. Our children are school-aged, so we never come close to using our 45 hours during the school year. Our arrangement with our au pairs is very simple. She is “on duty” if she cannot reasonably feel like she can leave the house. Basically, unless I have specifically asked her to watch the children, when DH and I are in the home, she’s not technically on duty any longer. We are on our second au pair now and both she and our first au pair usually stay and help out until the kids go to bed, probably because they know they have a pretty good deal compared to most of their friends. :-) As for times when AP is not on duty, our deal is that she is free (and welcome) to hang out with us as much as she likes. She is also free to do her own thing. However, if she decides to accompany us on an outing or hang out with us around the house, she is expected to act as a member of the family, like a big sister. And yes, sometimes that will mean that she will take a child to the bathroom while DH and I are busy with the other two. To be clear, DH and I always try to take the lead when we are around, but we do expect our APs to be willing to engage with the children and tie a shoe, button a coat, take kids to the bathroom, or do whatever else needs to be done, just like a big sister would be expected to, if she chooses to come along and hang out with the family. It’s entirely her choice, and there’s no pressure. I honestly can’t imagine telling my children not to bother the AP. They respect her privacy and her alone time, but if she’s hanging out in the family room, she’s fair game for talking. As far as playing on her off time, that’s her decision. If she’s told the kids she’d rather relax, I make sure that they quit nagging.

Seattle Mom September 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I’m a little sad that we almost never see our current au pair when she is off-duty, but I’m not really offended. She’s very busy and goes out once she’s off-duty almost every single evening. I really admire her energy- she typically goes to either thai boxing class or one of her school classes, and often goes out with friends after that. And she always seems to have tons of energy in the morning!

She will occasionally sit down with us for a meal if she happens to be home, but doesn’t really eat our food unless we specifically cooked something that we tell her she should try. She cooks her own food, and often makes enough for us to have some too- she’s from Thailand, so I am not complaining about this :).

However if she’s off duty and not going anywhere, she sometimes continues to play with the children as we cook dinner and do other things around the house- clearly she loves the children so much that she’s not counting the hours until she’s off duty. She likes them more than us, and that is just great.

Our last AP spent more time with us- ate almost every meal with us, sometimes came with us to special family dinners, etc. She was much more of a family member. She often did retreat to her room when she was off-duty and we’d call her down for dinner. But she was tired, and I really understood that. I think if I asked her to help with dinner prep she would.

I’m hoping that our next AP will spend more time with us like the first one, but there has to be a balance.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 23, 2013 at 8:58 pm

We had similar issues with a Chinese AP. She hated our food and would only eat with us when she did the cooking (which she really enjoyed doing). She was amazed at how flexible we were about what we ate and eager to try new things. We watched her, over the course of the year, retreat into the familiarity of her culture.

Should be working September 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm

With our short-lived first AP I told the LCC that she ate with us four times in the four months we had her (not the reason for rematch, but a symptom of the absolute disinterest in us; a good AP who never ate with us would have been ok). She told me that we could require the AP eat dinner with us a certain number of times per week, but it wouldn’t be work hours.

This didn’t make sense to me, since if it is “required” then it has to count as work hours. Like if I require an AP to go to a kid’s dance recital, I count it as work hours–even if she totally would go in any case. She is not free to make other plans, so it is work time.

JJ Host Mom October 7, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I don’t know… I don’t see it as work time as long as you set the expectation prior to matching. Our handbook says that we’d like the au pair to eat with us at least once a week, so we can keep up with each others’ lives, but that she’s welcome to eat with us more often if she wants. That doesn’t count as work hours. I don’t think that’s unreasonable…

Taking a Computer Lunch September 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm

We have found, in the last 12 1/2 years, that APs tend to want to be with us until they develop enough friendships to take them out of the house on a regular basis. We enjoy their company, and invite them to participate in family activities (we play board games frequently, sometimes have a family movie night, and often invite neighbors over for dinner). We are not hurt when they have plans, but prefer to have them eat dinner with us at least once or twice a week (in fact, when one AP would not eat our cuisine but enjoyed cooking, we asked her to cook dinner once a week). I learned over the course of the last year, that the relationship I don’t want is the employer – job coach. It gets old pretty quickly.

SoonToBeAupairInUSA September 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

I wanted to share my matching process to you because I think you´d find it interesting, is about this topic.

1st family said they wanted someone to do right her job and that´s it.
They said her currently AP is invited to dinner just once a week and it´s opcional. they dont want the ap around the house when is off dutty, they want someone who wants to spend time out with friends or go to the GYM. while trying to avoid to be seen to the kids when coming home to not have to interact with them when I´m not working.
HM told me she was not looking for a big sister for her kids (lots of them by the way) and ofcourse nothing to do with daughter.
She just kept saying they offered many privileges for the AP.

2nd family the same they need someone who prefers to go out everyday and have her own life.

3th Family were asking me very weird questions about politics, federal laws, independence and having a working relationship.

4th Family asking me about how I feel about making more money for willing to do extra housework and childcare hours….

I don´t want anything like that, what´s wrong with these people?

On my video and letter I clearly say I would like to find a family that would like to interact with the ap and be welcome into family activities. everyone needs their own time and privacy OFCOURSE! I WANT IT TOO. but I don´t want to feel an stranger at the house and not even be able to see or say Hi to the kids on my off dutty hours…

I´m so sad, would I find a normal family? I mean, I´m not asking for the perfect one but… at least one who DONT BREAK THE RULES and like to host an ap to make her part of the family?

I´m considering to leave the AP program… can´t imagine going to USA to work with one of those families. in fact I refuse to do it.

and I have to say I have a good childcare experience and many different skills so I think I deserve to find a good family.

LondonNanny25 September 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

Hi there! I am an aupair (for 2 years in USA – VA, and now 6 month in UK – North London). I find this hard as well as my current family initially stipulated that they enjoy their own alone time as a family and expect me to respect their privacy. I look after 3 kids. (1, 5, 9) As I’m new here and not part of an agency that encourages aupair meetings and outings, I rarely go out in the evening as I know no one in my area and end work quite late to be catching trains to central and back.. So I land up making some dinner and retreating to my bedroom in the basement as soon as my HD takes the baby from me. However, the family will sometimes pass on comments under their breath about me going to my room again, and ask what on earth i do down there. However, I don’t know what they expect because if I go upstairs after work – even to grab a snack or get some water, I feel as though I am invading.
For this reason, I try to go out as much as possible on weekends, but then I feel as though they think I’m out too much – even if I just went to a market and a movie with a girl friend.

Also, sometimes when both parents are home and I should be ending work at 6pm, they don’t come and get the baby so I know I’m expected to work longer but nothing was said to me so I feel though they take me forgranted sometimes. I know I dont usually have plans in week days, but I’m tired by then and I can hear them laughing upstairs and having a good time, which is nice for them, but I sometimes feel like if they are home and it’s past my work time – even if all i do is going downstairs to shower and relax and do nothing much – they should respect the time. I understand sometimes they work late and I work much longer, but it bothers me when I don’t know.

AuPairBear September 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I am in my first week as an English au pair in Germany and I am finding it difficult to know what to do when I’m off-duty and chatting with the family but the children are misbehaving. I don’t want to completely ignore it, because that looks like I’m taking the attitude of “I’m off-duty, so I don’t want to have to “deal” with the children”. However neither do I want to suggest that I know better, or, perhaps even worse, try to do something about the misbehaviour to no avail. Any suggestions?

AmericanAP in Germany October 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

I’m beginning to think that it’s not nearly as common in Europe (or at least Germany) to have a very set schedule of what is “on time” and “off time.” To be honest, over the month or so that I’ve been here, I’ve reduced the amount of time I spent with my host family after hours, especially once the 2.5 year old is in bed. Because one way or another I get roped into playing him or caring for him (how can I just turn him away right in front of his parents? And set off a huge screaming fit?). My host parents are not at all forceful about telling the children when I am off duty. I don’t mind it that much, though. I don’t think it’s right to completely ignore them and that’s why I don’t. I always lend a helping hand when I’m around, but at the same time try to limit the time I’m around. I think me not feeling resentful is more important than being around more often on my off time.

Returnee November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm

It’s not a German thing to not have a set schedule. In fact, German employers are very strict about work times.
Maybe your HP don’t realize that you’re having difficulties to handle off-time because to them it seems to work out fine? Are you their first AP? Anyway you should talk to them. Ask them for a schedule or to at least make clear when you’re off. Tell your HP you enjoy spending time with the family but you would like to know how they expect you to behave. Talking always helped me solve the (few) issues I had with my HM ;)

dennis October 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

We recently got an au-pair and she has been great and helpful. Here are the answers to your questions from our family.

Question: 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?
The reason we get an au-pair is to assist with taking care of a child. In our case, it is to enable my wife to go to work outside the house. This brings us financial benefits, and by taking care of the kids, you are fulfilling your job and we are better off. Whether you retreat up to your room after, go out or not, is your business and we respect that. Because you are such an important person in our lives and to the safety and health of our kids, we want you to be comfortable and happy, and do what you want on your time off. We are not disappointed or relieved. If anything, we are curious and hopeful as to what experiences you are having, what you want to get out of your stay in America and what we can do to make it a great and memorable experience.

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