Share The Fun and the Not-So-Fun with Your Au Pair

by cv harquail on November 11, 2014

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.200909282010.jpg

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.200909282008.jpg

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.


See also: Is it demeaning to ask your au pair to iron kids’ clothes?


TexasHM November 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Love this. Such a great point! I will admit though I do get in trouble with DH for sharing all the cream and worrying too much about the APs experience. Has she gotten to do everything on her bucket list? If not what can I help her with? We have changed family vacations to hit AP bucket list items and he has to remind me that balance is necessary and you’re right – at times I have gotten frustrated and exhausted trying to be all things to all people (inc AP). I joke with a HM friend that in a way hosting is training me for dealing with teenage and young adult children before our time. A pre-test of sorts for establishing boundaries, giving guidance when asked, letting go, respecting their choices, approaching akward conversations and managing conflict. I can’t believe how much we have changed and learned the last four years, I don’t know what I would have done without this site and all these awesome contributors! AP4 is in orientation right now and I am in full blown panic mode (Are we crazy? What if she’s crazy? Why do we do this again?!) and knowing this forum is here for support/advice is likely what has kept us going and doing this year after year! Thanks everyone!

cv harquail November 11, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Hey TxHM! I was just trying to figure out a clever phrase for that same dynamic- — that interacting with your au pair asks you to think about how you’d like to treat your own kids when they are older. As my girls hit high school, I’m starting to benefit from the feeling that I’ve thought about some of these things before! Yay– some additional long term benefits.

5kids=aupair November 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

I’ve started a “field trip” day with our new AP. Once a week, she gets to go somewhere fun with the pre-schooler. Today they went to a cool museum. Last week, my kids had off of school and she got to spend quality time with the older 4 at a ropes course. You get what you give. I’ve also been more generous with gifts than I have in the past. Sports tickets, bonuses, little gifts, etc. Just to let her know that we’re happy with her.

WarmStateMomma November 12, 2014 at 10:49 am

I love this idea!!

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