Seasons of the Au Pair Year: What happens with extensions?

by cv harquail on August 15, 2010

Gianna popped in with a question about seasons of the au pair year, and how these change when you decide to extend with the same au pair… I added a bit to Gianna’s initial question, to flesh out the whole picture:

It seems that the first year, for many people, the au pair relationship follows a fairly predictable pattern. There are ups, downs and periods of coasting, with a sense of beginning, middle and end.

But what happens when you au pair takes an extension? I would love to hear other folks experiences.

ranunculus chiccountrymouse.jpg Extending with the same family:

  • Do the phases of the cycle just get longer (get stretched out)?
  • Does an extension year (or 6 or 9 additional months) have its own predictable periods?
  • For a family extending with the same au pair, is it more difficult to say goodbye?

Extending with a different family:

  • Do you go through the same phases of the cycle, just more compressed?
  • Is there a cycle unique to an extension au pair with a new family?

Momto2 was quick to jump in and reply:

Our extension AP had some ups and downs the second year as well, but what made it easier was that the she was already so ingrained into our family, that we found ourselves more tolerant and forgiving. She definitely got more comfortable, and made some choices that we don’t think she would have made during her first year……(choices of friends/significant others, etc, social outings, etc.,).

Oddly, it wasn’t harder to say goodbye, b/c by the end of the second year, we knew it was time for her to go and move on with her life. At 27 years of age, and with a college degree, she was too old to be living in our basement any longer. The last couple of months of the extension year were challenging from the standpoint of getting the AP to hold the kids accountable. We could see that she was trying to make sure the kids would be fond of her after she left, and she did not want to give out any consequences.

What have your experiences been with the cycles of an extension au pair? Are there any patterns, or is each extension unique?

Image: ranunculus from citychiccountrymouse

{ 23 comments }

California Cowgirl August 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm

We’ve extended for 6 months periods with three of our au pairs. We do it because the relationship is going so smoothly, our children are so attached, and who wants to transition to a new au pair sooner than you have to.

Each time we do it, we remind ourselves that we should never extend. Although they are good kids, something always seems to happen. Bounderies that had previously been observed are ignored, the au pair car goes on unauthorized adventures, and generally there’s a boyfriend in the mix so our au pair that was once refreshed and eager in the morning now comes to work hung over and exhausted. I don’t know why this happens – maybe it’s just an increased level of comfort, maybe an sense of entitlement – I don’t know.

This slippage, if that’s what you can call it, starts to happen once the extension paperwork clears. We always delay this as long as possible (even forgoing the agency discounts for early extension…), knowing this will happen.

I have promissed myself that next time I will not extend – no matter how tempting, how perfect the relationship, and how attached my children are. One year seems to be the best time frame.

2boys2girls August 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm

We had a “no extension” policy for our first four APs (three which were great) for many reasons that were “theoretical/philosophical” (harder for kids to say goodbye, give another girl the opportunity etc…) Our 4th AP year was a disaster (should have rematched and didn’t). Our 5th AP was so great, and we were so traumatized by AP #4, that I just couldn’t bring myself to think about going through the matching process again. When she asked to extend, we changed our policy. We have only just started our second year but your post makes me nervous! She told me today that she wanted to go to Hawaii with friends over the Thanksgiving holiday because she had already experienced the “American family Thanksgiving.” I am fine with this and glad for the advanced notice as we travel back East for the holiday, but I am wondering how much more “opting out” will come…

NJMOm August 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I think some “opting out” is normal and welcome but you should continue to focus on communication, managing her in the position and giving her feedback the minute something seems “off” or you are not happy with something. This is when you can remind her that just because it’s her second year does not mean that your needs as a host family and your needs for childcare are any less. I think that if she’s fabulous she will still continue to be that person on some level. I also remind myself to continue to show the extension AP appreciation, recognize her good traits, throw a little extra cash or gift cards her way, etc. Reward the good behavior!

NJMom August 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

We have had two 9-month extensions and while there have been issues in the extension I would not say it is as bad as the above poster. I have been very clear with them when we make the decision that we don’t change the house rules in the second year and, most importantly, their job description does not change! I also make it clear that they should ONLY extend if they really still want to be an au pair, not because of a boyfriend or whatever. Then we nip any issues in the bud. My house rules are all spelled out so clearly in the handbook that I don’t think they feel there is much room for slippage. I also continue to give them a very detailed weekly schedule with my expectations. (A pain in the you know what sometimes for me!) The issues have been more around their losing energy for the job generally speaking and/or moping around the house a bit but nothing that drastically affected their on the job performance with the kids. I think extensions can be done successfully but the relationship definitely becomes more “familiar” in good and bad ways.

BlstMum August 17, 2010 at 11:57 am

NJMom…

Our first Au Pair will be here any day, and I’m in the final throes of our family handbook, which we’ll go after in detail after she arrives. I’m curious what you mean by “a very detailed weekly schedule with my expectations”. Do you mean your handbook, or do you also write specific information every week? Can you talk a bit more about how you phrase “expectations”? I’m struggling to include as much information about our family and my own “expectations”, some of which I’m sure I don’t even realize I have!
BlstMum

NJMom August 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Sure, I always write out a weekly schedule that includes where the kids need to be as well as what I want them doing (or not doing, LOL!) During the school year, this is pretty straightforward but I think the “expectations” are on my mind because during summer things can get pretty out of hand with the 10 hour days if you aren’t clear what you expect. For instance, I make it clear that I want the girls to make their beds and tidy their rooms before going out for the day. I limit the amount of TV and computer use big time (30 minutes a day); do not allow trips to the mall during work time; and I make clear timeframes for the AP to complete her child-related tasks such as laundry and vacuuming the playroom or whatever. I also ask that my kids do a few minutes of reading and/or writing every day. This doesn’t happen as much as I would like but I know if would NEVER happen if I didn’t have this schedule. Every Sunday night I spend 20 to 40 minutes updating the schedule (it’s on the computer) and I also add dinner ideas so that the AP doesn’t feed them hot dogs every night. I really think that has helped us to have successful extensions. it also helps that my kids are school age and attend 6 weeks of summer camp so the AP generally works 25 to 30 hours a week during the bulk of the year. This lessens burnout. Admittedly I am a very structured person but this lets me feel somewhat in control of what my kids are up to while I’m working and also means I’m less likely to get an AP who is trying to “get away” with stuff. They see this schedule and the handbook before they match and know I am very consistent with it. I try otherwise to be a very friendly supportive host mom so it all seems to work out. We have had very good APs but I have also put a lot of time into making the relationships work.

My 2 cents August 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Awesome ideas! I really need to get on the stick with a weekly list. Maybe now that is school is starting up again I can use that as an excuse to reaffirm what is supposed to happening (or not).

I feel so silly and picky issuing reminders and writing down the same things I want to happen (or not happen), especially with an au pair that overall is very good. It’s good to know I’m not the only one that does this and feels compelled to remind (okay, even pester) in the interest of consistently positive performance and difficult discussions over seemingly petty stuff that will drive you crazy if you total it up.

MTR August 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

NJ Mom, do you continue with the weekly schedules through out the entire year (or two)? I did weekly schedule with my prior disaster AP for the 4,5 months that she was here, but with my current AP (now in her second year with us), I only did weekly schedules the first 1-2 months until she got into the swing of things. After that, I do weekly schedules only when her schedule changes drastically like during the spring school break or when we transition from school year to summer. She is good about her chores like laundry, changing kids bedding (she makes them do it, lol), unloading dishwasher, etc. If I have special requests, I usually just text her or email her now. I will start with the weekly schedule again when we get the new AP next summer.

May be I don’t continue with the schedule b/c my current AP is very good about remembering things (sometimes better then I am).

NJMom August 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Yes, I continue it all through the year. It seems there is always something changing or shifting. It may not even be necessary but it gives me a sense of control/involvement in the kids’ lives. I admit that I am super-organized and structured person so it wouldn’t work for someone who doesn’t plan ahead. I don’t put 100% recurring things on there like dishwasher or sweep kitchen floor but I put all kids’ activities, playdates when I know of them and meals. Once you get it in the computer it’s a snap to update and it gives everyone rolling along. I guess it serves like a family calendar except that my husband is totally uninvolved in its creation!

Busy Mom August 17, 2010 at 10:42 pm

NJMom, you could be my clone!

MTR, I think some of this depends on the ages and activities of the kids. When mine were <5, I didn't feel the need to write out a blow-by-blow schedule because the weeks were really pretty much the same. Now that they're older and in tons of activities, it's essential because every week is different. There's always something that changes – no band this week, play practice every day that week, girl scout activity that's not meeting at school, doctor's appointments, playdates.

I have a separate 'checklist' for those recurring tasks that NJMom mentions (vacuuming kitchen floor (NJMom, don't tell me you have a little pink Shark Sweeper), changing beds) and tell my au pair that I don't care when they get done as long as everything on the list is done by Friday afternoon.

MommyMia August 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm

NJ Mom, I do a similar schedule, and have each child’s activities listed in different colors. Our AP actually requested that I add the activity details for her, (which is odd, since she also remembers better than I do sometimes and she’s the most organized AP we’ve had so far!) and my husband likes being able to view his copy and see where everyone is, in case he wants to drop in to view a sports practice on his way home from work, for example. I also don’t put on all the little tasks, but may consider that with our new AP, or have a separate checklist where these can be marked off as they’re done; I too don’t care when, as much as that they are.

Lunarain25 August 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

We nearly extended with our au pair and then decided against it. We had verbally agreed and then we were waiting until the last week to send in paperwork. We decided against it after reading this blog essentially and a series of events that happened that last week (including nearly burning down the house due to candles, opening a window that has a window a/c in it causing it to drop out of the window 2 floors to the ground during a wicked awful thunderstorm, a huge dent in the car, and then claiming to not be responsible for any of these things. I could really care less about the material things, but lying or making up stories of how these things happened is when I blew the whistle. If I wasn’t at home to watch her every move (I’m a teacher home for the summer) then she would have been out the door months ago. I mean seriously, the thunder caused the a/c to fall out of the window? Right.) Our new au pair arrives this week. While it was a little rocky for a little bit, our relationship has been neutral for the last several weeks. We can’t wait to get our new year started.

NY Hostmom August 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm

We decided to extend with our rematch aupair who had been with us for five months. Although she wasn’t exactly what we had been looking for, things were going fairly well and we thought it was better to have another year with the aupair we knew than to risk getting a new aupair with unknown issues. IMMEDIATELY after we signed the extension paperwork, things went downhill fast! Going out to bars with friends almost every night, speeding ticket with the car, constant internet usage while “watching” the kids, and I could go on, but you get the point. I attempted to discuss my concerns with her and she resorted to drama (yelling, crying, etc.) and vanished in the middle of the night. I don’t think I will consider extending again. (BTW we have a new au pair who so far is working out very well!)

Gianna August 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

Thank you, everyone , for sharing your experiences on this topic. This thread has been extremely helpful. Thanks , again.

Jess August 22, 2010 at 8:46 am

NJMom,

Just wondering whether you limit your au pair (or just your kids) to 30 minutes of TV/computer a day? If you are limiting your au pair, this seems a bit overpowering to me… I was an au pair earlier this year in the UK, and spent most of my free time on the internet keeping in contact with family and friends. Granted, I hated my time in the UK due to a bad family match, but still…

Taking a Computer Lunch August 22, 2010 at 11:06 pm

We have extended more times than not. AP #1 lived with us for 3 1/2 years (we tried to sponsor her as an employer), and I must say, her relationship with us deteriorated fast after she gave notice (had I learned that it was part of the separation process, I would have dealt with it better) and especially after we matched with her successor. AP #2 lived with us for 1 1/2 years, and she was every bit as fantastic in the extension period as she had been before. AP #3 lived with us for 1 1/4 years and the last quarter was summer, when she had to work hard (she left early in her extension year for family reasons). We begged AP #4 to extend, but she was firm that she only wanted to live in the US for one year. AP #5 extended with another family; we made the relationship work for one year, but neither HD nor I wanted a second year. AP #6 arrives this week, and we shall see…

I wouldn’t have any hard and fast rules about shouldn’t or wouldn’t. I do say, trust your gut. If you’re extending because it’s convenient, then in my opinion, it’s for all the wrong reasons. We have been the ones to extend the invitation, and I must say, we generally have the conversation around month 5 (we know by then) if we want to issue an extension invitation. We had the one “I’m sorry” conversation right after our paperwork arrived, on the advice of our LCC, so around month 8.

Anonymous October 15, 2010 at 11:59 am

We got an AP that had 4 months left in her 1st year. I did not know at the time that we would have to make a decision within her 1st month here if we wanted to extend or not. We talked to her about it and she said she wanted to extend for a year so I sent in the extension paperwork after month 1.

Since then… I have changed my mind. I also found out from our LCC that she is not really commited to a full year but seems to want the flexibility if she would change her mind during that time. Her year is up Dec 27. Can I “cancel” the extension?

HRHM October 16, 2010 at 7:06 am

Have you given them any money yet? If not, then you probably will be able to cancel without much trouble (especially if it’s mutual or you have cause). If you’ve already paid, you may have to finagle a compromise, such as having them apply the money to a new Au Pair for next year instead.

The only problem I would forsee is if she is set on staying, you’ve already paid and you have no real cause to want to not keep her. Then both she and the agency might have a fair amount of heartburn about you reneging (lots of work for both of them)

Either way, no one should make that decision in the first month of their year with a new AP. I strongly feel that the decision is best made after the 9th month. By then you should have a sense of her staying power and also what the coming year may bring in your own life.

Gianna October 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

My guess is that the agencies don’t care so much about the extensions. I think that if you are going to get another AP and want to cancel this extension, the agency will
be perfectly willing to play ball with you. You might lose a little money but my own feeling ( and I am not exactly rolling in money ) is that it is a cheap price to pay for the heartache you will save by extending with someone who is not so great.

Anonymous October 16, 2010 at 8:17 am

I have not paid the agency fees yet and will not until the end of November. I did pay for her visa/paperwork ($250) and realize that that will not be refunded. We are not going to get another au pair at this time and if we ever do it will not be with the same agency.

anon for this one, just in case November 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I am reviving this thread because our current, great AP has said she is thinking of asking to extend with us. It’s still fairly early (4 months into her year), but I’m looking for recommendations about how to decide and handle this.

The AP is indeed GREAT–great with our kids, responsible, fun, absolutely member of the family in all good ways, social but not crazy-party. She could do more with respect to child-related housekeeping (to be fair, I have not been good about communicating this), and there is some grumpiness (only during 6-8am, but so far all my APs have had that while they get kids ready for school). Will things really go sour in the second year? The related post on here with the poll suggested that in fact 2/3 of extending HFs were pretty satisfied, but obviously that’s just anecdotal.

Any suggestions? How do I keep things going well if extension is in the air? Is a great au pair still a great au pair when she isn’t ‘new’ anymore?

Taking a Computer Lunch November 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I would say 4 months in is still a little on the early side (and depending on where you live – getting through the winter months might be essential). For us, the benchmarks are 1) did she get a U.S. license?, 2) can she drive in snow (I might put up with it for one season, but I won’t for 2, and 3) what are her goals for staying? (Does she intend to make her residency permanent? Is there a love interest? Is she sending money home?

We had one AP live with us for 3 1/2 years (we tried to sponsor her as employers) which worked fantastic for 2 7/8 years, and was a disaster for the last few months. We had an AP extend for 6 months who was fantastic up until the end, and a third who intended to extend for a year, but who had to pull up 3 months in when a family member was hospitalized. We had one AP who wanted to extend, but when she did nothing about getting a driver’s license by month 5 (her driving was abysmal at the start), my LCC advised me to stopped pushing her unless I wanted to extend. I didn’t and she didn’t get one. We didn’t invite her to extend.

My advice – is tell your AP that you will consider her request, but not until her extension packet arrives (usually month 8) will you make a decision. See how it goes. But my advice, if you let things slide that you want done now, it won’t get any easier in the extension year.

anonamomma November 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm

We extended once and to be honest it just didn’t work out. Whilst in some ways it seemed easier than going through the whole selection/interview phase again not to mention the training/orientation – I found that extending just didn’t work.

Now before I say anymore let me just state that this AP was the best, most wonderful, pleasant girl on the planet – an all round great person and a brilliant AP.

So why didn’t it work????….well..

The second year just didn’t have the excitment – there was no new country to conquer, no new city/town/countryside to explore, etc.

In the first year our AP had a brilliant social life with all the girls – they were constanly out and about but in the second year – all the other APs went home and she failed to “bond” with all the new APs coming in plus she had already done alot of the sightseeing that the new girls wanted to see so this added a further barrier to forming those really important bonds that get the APs through their first few weeks.

I think she got lonely – and there followed homesickness – and you know what she was still willing to see the year out but four months into it we sat down and had “the talk” and she decided that she wanted to go home (heartbreaking) but what was worse was seeing her try to shake the homesickness off and just not manage to.

She was still a brilliant AP and performed her duties right up to the day she flew home but it was awful seeing her getting down so would I extend again – no – no matter how brilliant the AP is – sometimes its time for an adventure to end.

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