Setting Guidelines when your Au Pair has guests

by cv harquail on April 23, 2009

When an au pair has guests come to visit, it is tempting for the Host Parents to give the au pair lots of ‘extras’– extra time off, extra flexibility, extra food and space, and basically to try to accommodate their au pair’s expected desire to spend time with the visiting friend or family member.

This willingness by host parents usually comes from two places:

(1) their affection for their au pair, and

(2) their understanding that if they don’t accommodate proactively in some way, stuff will fall apart at the edges as they try to react to things that aren’t working.

We already discussed some of the important things that you should talk about with your au pair when she has guests, in a few previous post: Your House Is Not A Youth Hostel. Remember that: your house is NOT a youth hostel. But apparently there’s still stuff to cover, and this Host Mom’s request might help us fill out our list of all that a host parent needs to anticipate when an au pair has guests visiting.bro.jpg

Before I post this host mom’s request– some caution:

  • Her au pair has only been with her a little more than 3 months… In my book, that is much too soon to be hosting that au pair’s guest.
  • Plus, the guest is coming for two weeks, again counter to best practice, where visits are just as long as you can stand (and that being probably about a week).
  • Even worse, this host mom has already had some issues with this au pair being hard to motivate and hard to satisfy, despite being lovely and nice with the kids (more on that in a future post). So, the set up here isn’t great.

Still, this host mom can make it work– if we help her out a bit more. Here’s the request, from Momof4 :

Our current au pair has been with us for 3 months and her brother is coming for a 2 week visit next month (around the 4 month mark). We are totally open to her having family visit, but since this will be our first experience, I have some concerns about how this will affect our day to day during her work week. She will have only been with us for 4 months, so she will have earned 2 vacation days and have her 2 normal weekends off while he is visiting. I know she will want to spend time with her brother on a day to day basis, show him the sites, go on day trips, etc. which is wonderful, especially since she’s been feeling homesick lately. Anyway, any advice on how to work with her schedule during these 2 weeks?

I have 4 children (2 who attend preschool 3 mornings a week & 2 infants home all day with me). Needless to say, it’s pretty much non-stop around here from 6am to 6pm with activity. I am a stay-at-home mom and don’t want to disrupt the children’s routine too much since it takes just about a week to get everyone back on track again whenever we have any type of changes in the household, but I definitely want to be as flexible as I can so she can entertain her brother!

{ 11 comments }

Dawn April 23, 2009 at 8:26 pm

As with most of these kinds of issues, it seems to me that MANAGING EXPECTATIONS is the name of the game! You need to be very clear and up-front about your expectations before your AP’s brother arrives. You should think about whether it’s okay with you for the AP’s brother to “hang out” with your AP and the kids while the AP is on duty, or if you’re going to want him to make himself scarce and have your AP spend time with him only in her off-time. A lot of this will depend on how much you trust your AP to keep the kids as her priority if her brother is around — and also maybe her thoughts (to the extent you feel you can trust them) on whether he’d be a “help” with the kids or a distraction for her. If you don’t want your AP’s brother spending time with her and the kids during her work hours, you should be very clear about that beforehand, and perhaps you could help her come up with some ideas of things he can do to keep busy while she’s working. If you do feel comfortable having him around while she’s on duty, you should talk to her about whatever expectations/limitations you have for that. (i.e., can they take the kids with them sightseeing, or to a playground, or do you want them to stay home during her work hours? Do you only want him there when the two preschoolers are in school, or can he stick around with his sister all day? etc.)

Our AP’s parents and older brother just came to visit (they stayed in a hotel), and we agreed in advance with our AP that it was fine for them to come to the house, or for her to take the kids out somewhere with them, while she was working, as long as she kept the kids as her priority. We trusted her enough to know that she would be responsible with the kids, and had enough of a “sense” about her family (even before meeting them in person) to know that they would dote on the kids as much as she did. The kids had a blast and were very sad when her family left!

Another possibility is that you could agree to give your AP some additional time off — not as an “extra,” but as part of her vacation time. It sounds like your agency has some kind of formula for how APs earn their vacation time — mine doesn’t, they just say that the AP gets 2 weeks per year and it’s up to the HF/AP to negotiate when and how that time is taken. Despite your agency’s “formula,” it seems to me that (if this would work for you), you could offer to allow your AP to take additional vacation days, with the understanding that it comes out of her 2 week total. (I guess the downside to that, and probably the reason your agency has the formula, is that if you ended up in rematch for some reason, your AP could end up having had more paid vacation days than she should have been entitled to. So you’d have to be willing to take that chance, if you think there’s any possibility at all that you could end up in rematch later.)

Franzi April 23, 2009 at 9:58 pm

i agree with dawn and would like to add that i think you should also think and discuss how her brother/both of them will be getting to the sights/bars/malls/nightlife etc he/they want to see. would they expect you to drive?

i am saying this because in 2 weeks, you can add a lot of miles on a car and if there is a car available to the AP there should be rules about him driving/not driving. make it very clear that he is not on your car insurance and that you don’t want him to drive.

also, i would suggest that the two of them cook a meal for you. they can use it as time together and them shopping for food would at least cover some of your additional expenses.

what worries me is that you mentioned, your AP is homesick right now. having family and friends come during a phase of homesickness is very detrimental to the cause. at least from my experience.

TMK April 23, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Hi Momof4,
My initial thoughts are have you asked the AP how she is planning to handle her work schedule once her brother arrives? What are her thoughts about how he will spend time while she is working? How will she handle her day to day responsibilities while he is there? Then I would listen very carefully and don’t interrupt what she is saying. This will tell you a great deal about what she is actually planning and expecting. A mistake is to believe that you have to have the solution solved before you talk to her, actually you just kinda need to have a plan A, plan B in your head , before speaking with her. Usually, but not always, people will err on the side of giving more when asked, but this may not happen in her case, she may try to give less. Anyway then you will know for sure what you are dealing with and can respond appropriately. Make sure you ask for and get agreement on the childcare coverage that will be the most disruptive to the house. If you need to have her in the morning, say so, but maybe add that she can take off after 2:00 when the kids have been picked up and fed, for instance. I can’t imagine in a four child household that there would be large blocks of time for her to take so she will have to play tour guide in smaller increments. She and her brother should be aware that she is working and will only be able to “play” after a certain amount of work is accomplished.
Ask for what you need, try to be fair, and ask for fairness in return, or this interlude will end with resentment on both sides.

Momamia April 23, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Beware – Several au pairs in our group left when a family member came to visit. They were homesick and their mother/brother/boyfriend convinced them to go home with them. The families had bent over backwards to accommodate these visits by giving the girls extra time off, more use of the car, cooking for their friends and familiy, etc. The kids were heartbroken, the host parents were left with no child care, and it was a horrible situation for everyone. In one case, the au pair’s mother yelled at the host Mom because she asked the au pair to do something. She said that the host Mom shouldn’t tell her daughter what to do. It was a mess. Don’t be too generous. It will come back to bite you. Think of your family too and your needs.

SeaMom April 24, 2009 at 12:29 am

I agree with TMK with the approach, above all listen and then give a moment to reflect on what you can offer/accept.

That being said I have had quite the reverse experience than what Momamia describes above. Of our past AP’s, 3 have had family members come over and none have gone home after the visit or been anything other than outgoing and friendly. We do have one rule though. No guests can stay longer than 1 week. This keeps all of us sane!

Marguerite April 24, 2009 at 12:51 am

One thing I have found very successful is to communicate at interview time (before the aupair arrives or even accepts the placement ) that visitors cannot come until the near end of the year.
There are lots of nice ways to say this ) : family commitments , work schedule,etc. If you sense any resistance at all, move on to someone else.
One aupair indicated that she could not come to a family if her mother could not come visit. Ok.
Then, if the issue comes up again once she arrives, you can nicely remind her of your agreement. This will not help the host mom who is exspecting a guest soon but it may help others.

Jillian April 24, 2009 at 1:36 am

I agree with Franzi that having her brother visit may make her homesickness even worse. I found this short article about things you can do to help her get over it, http://tinyurl.com/dzz7yq. We had one au pair that worked out really well but she never got over being homesick. She was fine during the week but she’d talk to her mom every Sunday and would often cry. I think if she’d had a family member visit she would have left early.

Definitely set boundaries in terms of car usage and decide if you’re comfortable with her brother helping out with the kids. I would imagine that he’ll want to get out of the house and explore though. She can spend her days off with him but as long as she’s on duty the kids definitely need to be her first priority. Being an au pair is the same as any other job. Time off is earned and not always granted. I understand that she has family visiting but if my brother came to visit I wouldn’t expect to bring him along to the office. Just my 2 cents.

Calif Mom April 24, 2009 at 2:05 am

The homesickness at 3-month mark is both to be expected, but also a red flag. But when CVH said she sounded “hard to motivate and hard to satisfy” — ooh, big red flags are snapping in this breeze to me. I really like the advice about listening first very carefully without interruption to what the AP has in mind. Then you will know a lot more than you do now. I would not hesitate to start that conversation right now, tonight. For me, sometimes I need some space to think when dealing with somethign like this, so I also want you to be okay with not necessarily responding right away with your perspective or “counter offer”, if you will, if you need more time to think. You may hear about a lot more than just the upcoming visit.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just paranoid. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean your AP isn’t already unhappy and will be easily tipped to her brother’s point of view (as some have suggested). How long has this visit been planned? Since the beginning? or just sprang up when she started having homesickness problems? He carries the weight of her parents with him when he arrives at your house, you know. Sorry if this makes you more nervous! I hope it will all work out and maybe her brother will tell her she’s being a baby and needs to snap out of it, that this is a great opportunity for her and not to blow it. Maybe! Keep us posted.

Momof4 April 24, 2009 at 6:40 am

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is exactly what I needed. Y’all have given great advice and I am definitely going to keep it all in mind. I just went over all this with my husband and it really opened his eyes. He’s more laid back than I am and usually goes with the flow, but then after a few days, he realizes his heart was too big in most situations and I end up having to be the bad guy!

I am a bit nervous about the two week stay, but I’m staying positive! :)

I’m pretty type-a when it comes to schedules and being organized, so I have a feeling even if I put the ball in her court and ask her what her “plan” is, she’s not going to have one, so I will definitely have to be very clear on my expectations for childcare coverage, duties, time off, etc. for the 2 weeks her brother is visiting.

My husband gave me a suggestion and it sounds like a good one. He told me to sit down with her, give her a copy of what I would expect her normal schedule to be for that 2 week time period and also give her a blank schedule. Have her fill out her “wish list” of any changes she would want/need on the blank schedule. Then, sit down with her again and go over both of the schedules and try to compromise on a final 2 week schedule. Then, stick to it!!! I’m thinking this would be very fair! :)

It looks like now it is going to be late June/early July before her brother is going to visit, so I’m hoping since she will have been with us for over 5 months by that time, she will be over the homesick phase and more confident with her surroundings, etc.!

CV April 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Momof4–

I really like that idea of offering your planned shedule along with an blank one for her wish list!
This is especially a great idea for an au pair who may be uncomfortable talking things out (either because shed feels challenged with language, lacks comfort with (even gentle) conflict, or may just need some time to go off and think about things).

Plus, the blank schedule gives her and you something physical to look at, experiment with, etc. so that the ideas are not all floating in the air. Good appeal to different learning styles.

Please bre sure to keep us posted on how it all unfolds!

AuPair April 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

Well, I had my cousin come stay with me for nearly two weeks after being 6 months with my current host family. I did not expect to get any extra time off since I already don’t work as much. However, my host mom was just amazing and gave me so much extra time off and also one whole day so that I could take my cousin to Disneyland! That was really surprising to me as I didn’t expect it at all and I made sure she knew how much I appreciated it.
Anyway my point is, if you TRUST your au pair, don’t be afraid to give her a little extra time off.. If she’s a good au pair, she’ll show her appreciation and you’ll get plenty back.. it’s all about give and take..

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