We host parents often find ourselves wishing that our au pairs could just *tell us* when something is bothering them. We can only address things we know about– and if something is wrong and you keep quiet about it, the problem keeps simmering.
This is true with bigger issues (too much texting) and smallish issues (leaving tissues on the counter). Here’s a situation many of us are familiar with — someone’s watching TV, and someone else thinks that (at 12:30 at night) the TV might be a little too loud.
A Host Mom writes:
Last night, my husband was watching a movies downstairs in the family room. It was 12:30 at night.
My aupair went downstairs and asked him to turn the volume down and he did. But this morning he complained about it to me.
While he was upset at the request, he complied because in his words ‘ she drives my kids to school in the morning and I don’t want her to have an accident and claim that she did not get enough sleep.’
I was asleep at the time and the TV did not bother me. Our bedroom is right next to the 2 story family room. Her room is further away.
I think her request is unreasonable and disrespectful.
What do you think?
Dear Host Mom,
I have completely different perspective on the situation you describe.
I think your au pair should be congratulated for recognizing that she was being bothered by something, recognizing that this could be changed, and courageously going downstairs to talk with your spouse about turning down the volume.
I also think that your spouse should be congratulated. He recognized that the au pair needed her sleep, that she was struggling with getting to sleep, and that there was something that he could do that might make a difference. He also reflected on her situation and was compassionate.
Moreover, he responded in the moment, and waited to do problem-solving or to share negative feedback, until a later time.
Both of their actions sounded like a good attempt to resolve a problem. So, why characterize the Au Pair’s behavior (and hers alone) as “unreasonable” and “disrespectful”?
Let’s look at each piece of the criticism that her request was 1) unreasonable and 2) disrespectful.
Was her request unreasonable?
Considering that it was already past midnight, it makes sense that someone would expect the house to be reasonably quiet. Also, it makes sense that if she was trying to go to sleep, audible noise from the television would be bothersome. So, taking her perspective, it seems very reasonable to me that she would have asked him to turn down the volume.
From his perspective, was her request reasonable? He might think it was not, but then again, how sure is he that the volume of the TV wasn’t too loud?
Few people sitting in front of a television have any idea how well that television can be heard in the rest of the house. Very rarely do we turn on the TV to the volume we like, and then walk to a far bedroom to see if the sound travels. Most people aren’t thinking about it– they’re just thinking about whether the TV is loud enough for *them*.
Most people have no idea how loud their television might seem to other people.
You say that you weren’t awakened by the TV, and that your room is closer to the television room, but your experience is not a fair proxy for your au pair’s experience.
Not only are you two different people with two different sensitivities, the experience of the noise is not necessarily the same. Whether that sound is loud enough to wake the sleeping person is not the same as whether sound is too loud to permit a tired person get to sleep.
Second, the physical distance from one room to another doesn’t always predict how easy it is for sound to travel from one room to another. The distance from the television room to the bedroom is not directly proportional to how much the sound carries or not. A lot of sound transmission has to do with pathways (e.g, hallways, hollow walls, air vents) and their shapes.
Also, understand that a “loud” ( or , audible in another room) television at 10 o’clock at night feels very different from a loud television after midnight. After midnight, there are fewer noises outside and inside to muffle the sound of the television. And, after midnight, the person trying to get sleep is more and more anxious about whether they’ll ever get to sleep and whether they’ll be able to get enough sleep to be to function well the next day.
So, from the perspective of the television watcher, it’s not clear whether the request to turn down the volume was unreasonable or not. You need to do some research on. (More on that later)
Was her request disrespectful?
You didn’t mention any issues with the tone, language or phrasing of her request, so assuming that she asked kindly and without showing anger or annoyance, I’d bet that she did her best to be respectful.
Indeed, she might even have been nervous about making the request, and might have had to muster up some courage to go say something to her boss/host dad that was in any way critical of him.
From your husband’s perspective, though, the sheer fact of her asking him to change his behavior might have seemed disrespectful.
Some parents don’t like to be asked to change their behavior by someone subordinate to them. Some television watchers don’t like to be made aware that their entertainment is impinging on someone else’s experience — it makes them feel bad. I think if I were your spouse, I would’ve been annoyed at being asked to change my behavior because I was probably, finally, just having a chance to relax after a hard day.
Was her request disrespectful? I wouldn’t assume so.
Here are three things I suggest going forward.
1. Conduct the “Can you hear me now?” Test
First, determine empirically what the TV volume limit should be.
One quiet evening, you and your husband should test different volume levels on your television. One of you stays in the TV room while the other stands in the au pair’s room (and other rooms). Vary the volume to find what setting is high enough that it can be heard in the room and what volume setting is low enough that it can no longer be heard. Take note of this and use that as your guideline for watching the television.
Just for the sake of reference, in my house it’s “20” for reruns of The Matrix and The 300, and “22” for the Colbert Report.
2. Conduct the “Other Person’s Shoes” Test
If your au pair had been the one with the TV that was too loud for you, how would you have responded? Would you have asked her to turn the TV down?
Would you have been annoyed or kind? Would all of your actions have been respectful and reasonable?
3. What’s the real annoyance?
Talk with your spouse about just what it was that annoyed him, and led him and you to conclude her seemingly reasonable request was “unreasonable and disrespectful”. What manner of request would have seemed more respectful? How could she have phrased things differently to seem more respectful? Once you know that, talk about this with her. You NEED to learn how to make requests of one another and accommodate to reasonable concerns– both ways.
Finally , ask “Is there more to the story, where this is just the final straw after several other annoyances you haven’t articulated?” A good host family-au pair relationship should be resilient enough to handle a situation like this one. It’s shouldn’t piss you off. If if does, you need to examine why. Is your au pair too persnickety, or are you too unyielding? Or both?
Your spouse did the kind thing by responding in the moment to your au pair’s concern. And, he did the right thing by waiting until the light of a new day to hash it out with you. Once you and he come to a deeper understanding of the issue together, then you can strategize about how to discuss this with your au pair AND how to address the real issues at play.
Host Parents and AuPairs- what do you think?
Image: Day OneHundredEight – Television from Edd Sowden