One piece of advice my friend Adelaide gave me when we got our first au pair was “Share the Cream.”
“Sharing the Cream” means sharing both the good parts (the cream) as well as the tough parts of a job or an experience.
I don’t know where Adelaide came up with this saying, but it’s stuck with me because it’s so appropriate to the challenges of sharing childcare. I’ve been on both sides of the equation myself.
When you have childcare help, as we do when we have au pairs, it can be tempting to give our helpers all the harder 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).
Sometimes, when an au pair ends up with the ‘skim milk’ part of the deal, we can address this concern by reapportioning who does what. The goal is to make sure that each adult (parents and au pair) gets to do something for the kids that feels like fun.
In some situations, however, the very structure of our family lives, and/or the personalities of our children, make it hard to give our au pairs childcare tasks that feel fun, feel meaningful, and feel like they matter.
Consider this request for help from an au pair, whose job caring for an independent child is structured in such a way that there is very little that she can do that feels meaningful. Any ideas for her?
“I need some advice from host parents and other APs! I am not a new AP, i have worked 6 months each for 2 families before. My first family had 4 schoolgoing kids, the second one had 2 kids under the age 5. In both the families, I had sole charge from 7am-7pm (excluding school/nursery hours) since the parents worked full time.
Now I am on my third au pair job for a wonderful family who have their business nearby, and they own the biggest house on the block.
For the past 2 months, i am taking care of 10 year girl, who is very brilliant and reclusive (not like my previous charges who were kind of average in their studies). i am used to having kids all over me, talking to me nonstop, playing with me nonstop. That was how it was in my previous 2 jobs, since the parents were not arnd much, and i loved it too as I was very close to the kids that way.
But in this child’s case, her parents work literally around the corner, so they are often home (not regularly, but they drop in several times a day), and when they are home, they take care of everything their daughter needs, and i just sit useless when that happens.
While I’m delighted that I am working with hands-on parents, a part of me is questioning what I’m getting out of this experience. Her parents are obviously rich and she has everything at home – all kinds of musical instruments, ipod, wii, a dog and parrots, swings and pool in the garden, everything. So, I’m sad to say, she just considers me to be the person who fixes her dinner and drives her to school. She has never been rude to me at all, but she never talks to me about anything! She is totally mature for her age and totally independant that I’m quite lost.
i have this sad feeling that she really doesn’t need me as a friend or even a caregiver because she gets all love from her parents and all play from her toys. Even when she is working on a craft project or homework, she is very competent and doesn’t need any one to help her out. All I do is just sit and watch mutely.
In this situation, what do I do? How do I make her play with me more? (Also her hormones are starting i think, so if i compel her to play, if i pressure her even tiniest bit she goes all huffy.)
There is already a live-in housekeeper so my job is to “keep daughter happy,” but it looks like I am unhappy if she is to be kept happy! I would love your suggestions. Chithra