Realizing you aren’t ready to be Au Pair host parents? And you have an Au Pair?

by cv harquail on May 12, 2010

If we only knew then what we know now… being an Au Pair Host Parent would be really easy. Okay, easier.

As our au pair parenting experiences unfold, we learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t, what we can change and what we can’t, how we can accommodate to an au pair and when we must remain steadfast. We also discover that parts of au pair parenting are easier than we expected, and that the converse is also true.

Our preferred strategy here at AuPairMom is to try to share our hard-won wisdom and put it to good use by helping each other avoid problems. We put that strategy into action in the previous post on The Host Parent Readiness Assessment.

Sometimes, though, the mistake can’t be avoided.

au pair advice, choosing an au pair.jpgThe cow is already out of the barn. It’s too late to shut the barn door, or even ask whether you should open it in the first place. Now, you’ve got to see if you can adjust to the fact that the cow is already on the move.

This is the situation facing the host parents of SouthpawAP.

Thing is, they haven’t even realized yet what the problem is.

SouthpawAP’s host parents are in the process of discovering that they aren’t actually ready to be Host Parents. And they are taking this out on her.

SouthpawAP has to figure out how to tell them, and she has to figure out if they are going to be willing to make some changes in their expectations.

Dear AuPairMom readers,

I wanted to tell you how much your website has helped me during my time as an Au Pair in the USA. It helped me to understand the American culture a bit better and through that understand some of the “strange” things about my host family. I am now an Au Pair for about 3.5 months. I am a 22 year old girl from a German speaking country and I am taking care of an under 2 year old. She is a wonderful little girl and we connected during the first three days.

My host family was very, very welcoming and I was in heaven during the first weeks.

But, after a few weeks the pink glasses vanished.

Not my pink glasses, but theirs. I knew what I was getting into in becoming an au pair. But my host family? They were very surprised. I don’t think that they understood what they were getting in to with having an au pair.

“A Live In Au Pair? Yes, that means that I’m here, living in your house! Yes, your kid will sometimes want to play with me even WHEN mammy and daddy are there! Yes, people will sometimes think I am the mother of the little girl! Yes, I am sometimes talking with your husband when you are not there!”

(I am sorry for that “outburst”. It’s just that, especially my host mum, make me feel more and more like an intruder, and less like a part of the family.)

And the thing is, I can understand why she might feel this way!!!

I don’t think that she really knew what it means to have another female person living in her house, playing with her kid, being in contact with her husband…
(Don’t get me wrong, I don’t DO ANYTHING to get the attention of my host dad. I never ever wear clothes that show anything, move in a “special” way or flirt or anything.)

The thing is, I am not complaining about my host family or my job in general.

The thing I am frustrated about is that I think that they were not ready to be Au-Pair-host-parents.

My host family doesn’t really seem to understand what it means to welcome a young person from another country into their home, and into their lives.

I will have to talk with my host mother about the whole thing and hopefully we will work something out that makes her feel better. But I am not sure what to tell her. How can they get a sense of what is normal, and what should be expected? How can they change how they are thinking and feeling? Should I even expect that they will try to make the best of things and learn to get along with an au pair in their home?

I want to do my very best here, and I like my family… and I want them to be able to enjoy having an au pair.

Thank you!! Just writing that down helped me to see my situation more clearly. But I would still like to hear your advice. SouthpawAP

Image: Cow in door from Toby-won


JessicaLasVegas May 12, 2010 at 5:31 pm

SouthpawAP, there is definitely an adjustment that happens for both the AP and the host family in the first months. I didn’t have a problem with sharing my home with a young woman, but my husband had a very difficult time sharing one of our cars, giving up some of his privacy, and generally opening our home to another adult (who doesn’t always do her own dishes, etc). He got over it, though (after talks with the AP about doing dishes, and being careful with the car). I had a difficult time “sharing” my son. I often remind myself that the more people who love my son, the better. And the more people who show him the world, the better.

Your host family may just take longer to adjust than other host families. You can try to spend more “alone time” with your host mom, perhaps in the evenings, and try to get to know her better. Help her with the evening’s housework, etc. That may put her more at ease. Talking is always a way to build trust.

On a slight digression, there is something in your post that I find very, very interesting. You ask, “Maybe their agency did not inform them enough?… But I wonder what kind of information the host families get.” It is the case that both of the agencies I have used present very different information to host families than they do to AP’s. One of the striking things I noticed recently on the part of my current agency’s website that is intended for AP’s is that they do not mention *anywhere* that an AP is expected to work 45hrs a week. I was shocked.

With that said, SouthpawAP, I don’t think that anything the agency could have told or written your host family would have helped them adjust to your presence. If your HM is finding it difficult to share space with a young woman, it is probably her personal issue. She obviously knew she would be sharing her home with a young woman, but she may not have anticipated the feelings she is now having.

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm

I agree with Jessica. This sounds like the host mom is having a hard time.

Southpaw–are you their first childcare provider? Has the 2 year old been with mom since birth (and vice versa)? It can be hard to see your first baby fall in love and play with someone who is not you. But she needs to get over it. If she can’t, you are never going to be able to get close to her. (And that has nothing to do with you!)

Someone correct me if I am remembering wrong, but I think we have heard here on this blog before about families where one parent really wants an au pair (usually because of costs, or because they think it will be good for the mom) but the mom is just not okay with it.

Southpaw, if it makes you feel better, in my humble experience 3.5 months is about the time when many rematches occur for reasons such as this. Also, you should know that rematches are usually because of a “bad fit” between the hosts and the AP. It’s like dating–sometimes you go out on one date and marry the person. Sometimes you go on one date and know you have zero further interest in them. Sometimes you date for a few months and wake up one day and say to yourself “Oh my goodness. What was I thinking? This isn’t going anywhere.”

Any mature, neutral observer of your situation would say yes, you should talk to the host mom first of all and see if there is a misunderstanding between you. Ask if there is anything you can do anything to accommodate her needs–and find ways she can make you feel more at home. But I have a feeling from just the few words you wrote to us that this is probably not going to help. If she has not adjusted and isn’t overjoyed to have you watching her kid when she gets home at night, it does not look good for this match.

My suggestion is that you do not “just try harder” for very long before you decide to make a change and find a family who really wants their AP to be more like family.

I once spent months trying to make it work with an AP who was just not a good fit for us. It was absolutely miserable for everyone, and from what I’ve read here, it usually ends in a rematch anyway.

It is not failure to rematch (when you are doing it for the right reasons, which you would be); it’s wisdom! It’s not about YOU at all. It’s about this just not being the right chemistry. And it’s probably also right that this mom is not ready to host an AP at all.

And your time here is too precious to spend this way. The two year old will survive; you will love different kids–and maybe even their parents, too! :-)

Please call your counselor and give her a “heads up” that this is going on. She may be able to help somehow, or give you more perspective. She will probably encourage you to try harder, talk to the mom, stick it out a bit longer. That’s fine, but don’t wait too long. Ask the counselor if there are families nearby who are looking now for someone in country. You might be able to stay near your new friends.

Hope this helps!

AnnaAuPair May 13, 2010 at 5:29 am

I had more or less the same situation with my first hostfamily. The mom would NEVER admit that she was jealous or that she wasn’t able to handle the baby alone – which is hard, I know, but it makes hosting an AuPair quiet hard.
She was quiet distant from the beginning and ALWAYS stressed out. We had a few times where we talked, but she was either stressed from work or stressed because the baby wasn’t doing what she wanted him to do.
I knew that it wouldn’t work out quiet early – but tried to make it work by putting my own needs aside. I got more and more miserable and dreaded being around them.
They told me they loved the way I took care of the baby, but still I had a feeling she wasn’t quiet ok with me being around him and handling him better than her.
It’s hard to make the decision to go into rematch, if you love your hostchild. But it’s even not good for you if you are unhappy.
Like CalifMom said: you’re time in the US is precious!!!
I found a wonderful hostfamily through my rematch, which I would have never found in the normal process. So I guess it was meant to be :)

SouthpawAP May 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

Wow. Thank you for your comments.

Before they got me (there first Au Pair), the grandmother was taking care of the little one. After about a year she got problems with her back and could not lift the baby anymore.
The parents both work A LOT and travel all the time. Then I take care of the baby during the day and the grandmother during the night. (2-3 times a week)

Wow, to be honest, I have not expected that you would advice me to rematch. I thought I am not sensitive enough, that I should give them more time, should try not to be there so much when mummy comes home so she can have “special mother time” with her daughter.

I dont want to let them down. Especially now that summer is coming. They cannot send the baby to daycare and there are no other family members who could take care of the little one.

But, there is a little voice inside me (really little) that tells me that I could live with people who really want me to be with them at dinner, movie nights, trips to the zoo…, who want to talk with me about personal stuff like there family, my family, culture differencens, things they like to do…

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 11:13 am

And you could! But I agree about the letting down thing- it’s a similar problem that I’m facing :( I think you should simply give them enough time to find a new au pair. Hopefully this won’t leave them in the lurch and you can still enjoy your time with another family :)

SouthpawAP May 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm

One thing that makes me feel guilty about even thinking about rematch is: between the grandmother and me (about three months) they tried to work with nannys. One never showed up after the first three weeks and the second one lied and did not take good care of the baby. I am the 3rd caretaker in 6 months, that cannot be good for such a little kid. (or any kid)

How can I let this family down? They never did something bad and they were always fair and nice. Sure, they are not perfect, but neither am I.

Honestly, I am not afraid of rematch and I am open to experience something new, but I just cannot hurt these good people.
I dont think the even know that I have a “problem” with the situation.

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm

To be honest, and I will be, I personally think that the “damaging children with different people” idea is a load of BS. Different people actually teach a child how to be adaptable- it’s a scientific fact that the more loving people in a child’s early life, the more sociable they will become. And this child does have constants in her life- her mother, her father, her grandmother. Heck, when I was very young, my mum left me with my aunt and uncle for three weeks when she went on her (late) honeymoon. But children need to learn to find these things exciting and embrace changes rather than be dismayed by them.

And my host family are good people too- that’s why I suggested to let them find a new au pair before you leave. But before you do that, sit down and talk with them about the problem. If there really is no solution, that’s your deal breaker.

And I know it’s hard (I’m a pushover and it took me forever and many tears before I was able to tell my host family that I was leaving) but sometimes you just have to put yourself first. The person you should never let down is yourself. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should be as self-centred as Paris Hilton in her wardrobe, but it does mean that you can’t let yourself be unhappy for a prolonged period of time if there is an option that can make you feel better.

Now if only I can take my own advice and tell my host family that I want to leave in June…

MommyMia May 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I agree with you, Nicola. My two HDs have had multiple nannies/caregivers and we’re on our 4th AP now. It can be a bit stressful during the change, and adapting to a new person, but kids readily adapt if they are shown by example and taught that they have multiple special people who love them and they are very social and outgoing. Hopefully they will grow up to be more tolerant of differences and will easily make new friends, as well as appreciate the many countries’ cultures that they’ve been introduced to. (And I must admit, I was hoping for a bit more language learning, but maybe they’ll surprise me later in school with by having a greater facility to learn international languages as a result of being exposed.)

'sota gal May 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I agree. We have 3 kids – an 8 year old and 3 1/2 year old twins and we have had 5 au pairs in 2 1/2 years. Our first was here for a year, the second was in rematch and only had 6 months left in her year and we chose not to extend with her. Our third was here for 4 weeks and even that was too long for her. I wish I could find web sites that had developmental milestones for different cultures. She was from a country where 2 year olds are ALWAYS potty trained but not vocal at all. Ours were the opposite – still in diapers but they would talk your ear off! It was just too much for her. The last two decided that they weren’t comfortable in homes where the HM and HD worked from home, leaving them in charge of the kids while we were in our offices. We are now in search of AP #6.

All 3 kids talk fondly of all of the AP’s with the exception of 1 – they seem to have forgotten her. And surprisingly, it was the AP that came to us in rematch and was with us for 6 months. The others all had such an impact on them and they bring up each au pair in different situations and we are so happy to have had so many exceptional young women in our lives.

If the children were in daycare or even an in home nanny, they would probably experience a high turnover there as well. While saying good bye is hard, they usually move on pretty easily.

TX Mom May 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

I’m not sure you can meet your expectations with this family. Young parents who work alot and only have one child aren’t typically doing a lot of “fun” family stuff when they are home. My experience balancing new parenthood with a young child and a career was very isolating, stressful and exhausting. I probably would have been like your HM if we had an AP at that stage. Our household was SO quiet and orderly back then compared to now.
IMHO, if you have energy and want to be an integral part of a family, look for a family with several kids and some older ones who are big enough to participate in activities.

SouthpawAP May 13, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Thank you so much for your comment!! Yes, you are right, my family is excatly as you described it!
(plus that at least one parent is travelling for 2-4 days every week)

SouthpawAP May 13, 2010 at 11:13 am

Oh sorry, I wanted to write 2-3 times a month.

Another thing that could be a problem is: The grandmother is a great person, very nice and organised but not very warm or funny. That’s the difference between us, I hug the little one a lot, I sing and dance with her and we laugh a lot together.
Because of that the little one wants hugs even when the mother is there and then the Mother tells her: “you don’t have to go to the Au Pair, your mammy is at home.”

In a way I was (not anymore) also very angry. I thought: If you want to spend more time with your girl and be the most important person in her live, then you have to change your daily live. Find a different job or quit or work from home or whatever.

Hula Gal May 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I think that you should tread lightly here when you suggest that she should quit her job if she wants to be the most important person in her childs’ life. I do find that when I get home and my au pair is still downstairs with us that my child will cling to her. I do not say anything because my child is an independant person from me and I’m not going to force her to snuggle with me instead. But when my au pair goes upstairs right away and I have some alone time with my child before she goes to bed she does come to me and snuggle or interact. So in the spirit of goodwill, maybe you should retreat to your room after you have told your host mom about the day so she can have some time with her son before he goes to bed.

I think that some au pairs can harbor intense judgement and feelings of superiority to the host parents in the care of the host parents children. They may keep these thoughts to themselves but host parents can probably sense the attitude. This host mother may still be unsure of her role as a mother and lacking in some confidence so you may not be able to resolve the issues and may need to go into rematch.

NVMom May 13, 2010 at 11:55 am

I am a mother of 3 and I LOVED the bond my au pair formed with my kids. I love my kids but I think it is so important for them to see that they can love more than one person a lot just like I love all 3 of them. I was blessed with an amazing au pair last year and this year I have a nanny who is also amazing. My kids ask for them, tell me they miss her etc., however at the end of the day, I am their mom, they know that and I do too. Find a family that wants you to have that bond with their child, it’s important. Also, my last au pair we took everywhere with us, loved having her around. The nanny now isn’t a live in but if she were I would take her too, she is a lovely young lady to have around. I would look into rematching, you need to be happy too!!

NJMom May 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I agree with HulaGal. I cringed when I read that last paragraph about “quit your job or work at home or whatever.” Not only is that intensely judgemental it’s also supremely impractical in this current recession. Many of us are hanging on to financial stability by a thread and risk losing our jobs if we don’t put in long hours often at the expense of “family time.” It’s not ideal but I would venture that it is better than being long-term unemployed.

FormerSwissAupair May 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm

In her defense, I think she was ranting. But it is a common feeling if you are trying your hardest, and the HM or HF is clearly jealous of the time and the bond that you form with their children. It is not our fault that that jealousy lies there. And yes, we do have fleeting thoughts that range from, What I doing wrong? to Why am I here if you are clearly resentful? So yes, sometimes I wonder if parents could simplify things to try and work with one income if it means that the mother would be happier spending time with and raising her own child all the time.

SouthpawAP May 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I was just ranting!!! I had that thought once or twice but just because I was searching desperatly for a solution or possibilitie to make them feel better.

I would never ever say the “quit or work from home…” thing to my host parents because I understand why they work so hard!!! I was just frustrated.

anon HM May 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm

The issue is really much more complex than simply feeling jealous of your AP. Most mothers (regardless of whether they work outside the home or not) struggle with daily feelings of guilt and a range of other nagging feeling that you that come with managing a full-time job and the all-the-time responsibility of being mom. This is especially true for women in the US, where maternity leave, sick leave, typical work/commute times, and the current economy make it supremely difficult to maintain any sense of balance as a working mother. I am not jealous of my AP–in fact, you couldn’t pay me to be 19 years old again. In contrast, I look at this young woman and marvel at all of the things I didn’t know when I was 19–about how hard and wonderful motherhood would prove to be, what it would feel like to carry a 30 year mortgage, give birth to twins, navigate marriage, etc. etc..

FormerSwissAupair May 13, 2010 at 4:30 pm

And that is awesome Anon Mom, you sound like a great HM. And so do most of the women on this board. But, sadly, there are loads out there who aren’t as secure in their lives.

NJMom May 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Yes, I can understand a rant. I didn’t have time before to add that I agree that this is probably a mismatch situation. The mom may never have anticipated needing a caregiver outside of family (that is, grandma) and then grandma got sick and suddenly they needed an AP. So that is definitely not your fault. You should be able to find a family who will totally appreciate your love and engagement for their children. All three of my AP’s have told my girls that they love them (right in front of me!) and I think that’s awesome. I want them to send the time when I’m not there with someone who cares about them and feels a connection to them, and vice versa. You deserve better. I was just cautioning you not to be judgemental about the mother’s working but it sounds like you get it.

Calif Mom May 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm

We ALL say “Bye, love you, bye!” when heading out the door in the morning, or to our AP heading out the door with friends in the evening. We DO all love each other.

It’s very complex. We’re being armchair psychiatrists here, but I do think the AP would be a great fit for–and much better appreciated by–a family with a couple kids in elementary school who are busy, or with a family that does stuff together, outside of the house, on weekends.

And for the record, going to one income does not simplify life, believe me!!!! Been there, got back into the rat race, thank you very much!

NJMom’s insight into how the family had to turn to other options when grandma’s back went out is very useful.

HRHM May 13, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I have had 3 APs so far and am so much happier with the ones who are engaged even when I’m home, who can have a friendly relationship with DH and who my kids profess to love. I see my AP as an extension of me in a lot of ways and I want someone who will hug and kiss and tickle my girls and make them feel loved. I need an AP who can work side by side with DH because I may not always be there (I will deploy to the middle east soon). And I want someone who wants to be around us even when she’s not “forced” to (ie not on duty) I know that not all HMs feel this way, but I think it’s a necessary attitude if you want to have a good relationship with your AP. It takes a village to raise a child. And yes, it stings a little when one of the kids slips and calls AP “mommy” but it also reminds me of what a great job she’s doing! So I smile and focus on that!

MommyMia May 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I totally agree with you! Having had both types of APs, I much prefer the ones who want to be around our family on off-duty time. And it’s even funner, IMHO, when one of the kids slips and calls me by the AP’s name! I just take it to mean that they’re secure and know they have someone to help them with what they need.

Host Mommy Dearest May 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I’m not there to observe the actual interaction to make my own decision of who is acting jealous or not, but I did want to offer a different perspective that may or may not be accurate. I too like it when my kids love my APs and vice versa, and while I do wish I had more time to play with my kids, I am not at all jealous of my AP’s relationship with my kids. I have noticed over the years that some APs are more annoying at change over time (when I get home from work) than others. Some APs are either not secure with their relationships with the kids or maybe they’re just insecure, but at times I have felt they were trying to show me and really prove how awesome their relationship was with the kids. There was no need – I could tell if it was or it wasn’t. One AP seemed to enjoy when my daughter (very young at the time) showed the typical signs of separation anxiety. I was really happy that she did not cry when DH & I left for work everyday, and I absolutely knew it had nothing to do with her loving the AP more than loving mommy & daddy. Instead I did feel that she made a big deal out of her departures to bring on the desired reaction from my daughter. DH & I left matter-of-factly with a kiss, I love you and see you later. She made her departures all dramatic and acted like each departure was forever. That AP & I did not have a great relationship, and I knew if I addressed her approach to departures she would think it was all about me being jealous. I wasn’t jealous, but I was annoyed.

Also, I am not fully convinced this is a rematch situation. Do you have weekly meetings with your HPs? If not, maybe you should request them. If your issue is your relationship with your HF and you tried to work it out but can’t, then I think it’s a rematch, but if the issue is that you had high expectations for your AP year but your HF is not fun enough, I think you should enjoy your HF for what they can give you and make your AP year into what you want it to be through your own efforts.

DM May 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Yes we all have “stress” and yes life is very rough, but isn’t it a relief to know your children are loved & are loving back on a daily basis when you are not home? Thats the reason to have an au pair! If your reasons are different (money, schedules), the au pair is right “The host family didn’t realize what they were committing to”.

If you can’t be home due to a job or travel, then creating security, happiness, and love in your child’s life, should be top priority. Thus, welcoming your au pair is part of that committment. If your children are happy & loved 24/7 creating a HAPPY HOME “with balance”, thats the best reward a parent could have. Your children will love you, remember 1 au pair is only with you for 1 year, your relationship with your kids is for a lifetime.

We are a host family, hosting our 4th au pair. I LOVE IT WHEN OUR CHILDREN LOVE OUR AU PAIRS! Grandma used to care for our children.. Having an au pair in our home, has been a blessing. We check all “stress” at the doorstep and both of us work full-time.

I suggest rematch. :)

anon HM May 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

More than AP–Your situation sounds like a very difficult one for several reasons. I don’t know where you are working; I do know that in the US it would be inappropriate for you to be cleaning the floors and doing heavy housework. The lack of consistent payment is also an issue that should be addressed with your family and the LCC. Even though you have good reasons for feeling resentful and angry, I am concerned that it would be difficult for you to really perform your job (taking care of the children) with so much anger towards your host family. It may be that this family is not able or willing to create an environment where you can function as a happy, well-adjusted caregiver, and if this is the case, it might be best for all of you to address this right now and if things do not improve, move to rematch.

some Au Pair May 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Are there really no families who have experienced the problem that after the first weeks they were just totally overwhelmed with having another person living in there house, taking away a lot of privacy and spending time with there little kids?

But they need someone to take care of there kids and so they “sit it out”?
(which makes neither the family or the au pair happy)

More than 'au pair' May 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm

hey, it’s me. i just discoverd that my hm reads this blog. could you please erase my comments?
i’m sorry for this. i feel sad that i said those things…it was just a missunderstanding.

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