Prompted by our conversation over the weekend about the au pair who was unhappy with the ratio of chores-to-child interaction in his work week, I’m reposting something from 2009:
One super-helpful piece of advice my friend Adelaide gave me when we got our first au pair was
“Be Sure to Share the Cream.”
Share both the good parts (the cream) as well as the tough parts of the job of caring for children.
Adelaide’s advice has stuck with me because it’s so appropriate to the challenges of sharing childcare.
When you have childcare help, as we do when we have au pairs, it can be tempting to give our helpers all the yucky or boring work (changing diapers, doing laundry, sitting at home watching the child sleep, cleaning up after meals) — while we take all the cream (going to the park, a fun play date, snuggling in the glide rocker with a book, interacting with the darling child).
The balance can also go the other way, where the host parent manages all the drudgery while the au pair does crafts, sports, and sing-alongs.
I’ve been on both sides of the equation myself, where I’ve found myself feeling grumpy and put upon as I cooked while the au pair and kids played, or feeling sheepish when I realized that our au pair was doing more housekeeping than I seemed to be.
Certainly, when an au pair ends up with the ‘skim milk’ part of the deal, we can address this concern by reapportioning who does what. If we’re lucky, some of what’s drudgery to us (e.g., ironing) feels relaxing and calm for our au pair, while the things s/he loves to help with (organizing toys) we’re happy not to do ourselves.
Either way, the goal is to make sure that each adult (parents and au pair) gets to do something for the kids or with the kids that feels like fun.
Au pairs — like anyone else– need to feel like their work is meaningful and that their presence in our families makes a positive difference. Making sure that you au pair has some childcare tasks that help them connect with and care directly for your kids (yes, along with the laundry) will go a long way towards creating real meaning.