It amazes me sometimes, the stories I hear about host parents’ bad behavior.
I heard a story this week about an au pair who told her charge that he had lost the privilege of having ice cream after dinner, because he had refused to put away his toys at the end of a play date and had been mean to the other child.
Later, during dinner, the Host Dad telephoned to check in. The kid told his dad that the au pair wouldn’t let him have ice cream. How did the dad respond? He told the kid to put the au pair (back) on the phone, and he told the au pair to give the kid ice cream anyway. Even after the au pair explained why the child had lost the privilege.
I know we host parents all have our faults and failings, we all have our challenges, and we are all learning as we go. But honestly, one of the worst things that you can do to your au pair is to sabotage her authority with your kids. It’s not only disrespectful (in a big way) to the au pair– but also it teaches the kids that the au pair does not have authority and does not need to be respected. Imagine how hard that makes it for your au pair to care for your kids.
Here are 3 Easy Ways to Sabotage your Au Pair’s Authority:
1. Reverse your Au Pair’s child-minding decisions.
2. Criticize your Au Pair in front of your children.
3. Criticize your Au Pair behind her back.
One of my hard and fast rules for myself is never to reverse my au pair’s decision, as long as it has been sensible and fair in some way. I’ve sometimes had stylistic differences with decisions an au pair has made, and I have often silently questioned whether she was too strict or too lenient, but as long as her decision was sensible, kind, and respectful– I’ve rolled with it. I’ve waited until later, in private, to bring it up and to talk over what alternatives I might have preferred.
When an au pair has been doing something ‘wrong’ when I’ve been around, I have tried to intervene to adjust her behavior in a respectful way– only if it couldn’t wait until later. Like "I think I’d prefer that you cook those burgers until they’re pink, not still frozen inside. They taste better that way." But I would never explicitly criticize her or what she was doing, I’d never say "Don’t you know how to cook? That’s disgusting."
Sometimes I have discussed my au pair’s decisions with my kids, and been very aware that I need to support my au pair while being honest and respectful of my kids’ concerns. When my girls have complained about an au pair’s decisions, I’ve asked them to consider why the au pair might have chosen what she did, and show them how the decision was sensible. Once and a while I have said things like "I don’t know that I would have made the same choice, but she used good judgment and made a careful decision. Her job is not to make you happy, her job is to keep you safe and help you grow."
The next time your au pair makes a decision you disagree with, think about a way to discuss it that doesn’t include criticizing her in front of or behind your kids.