She extended, and left her enthusiasm behind…

by cv harquail on October 9, 2010

Readers, we got this request from one of our regular contributors, who needs our advice this time…  Her situation is long, and the story is complex, but I’m posting it all because (it seems to me) that the context matters.

There are issues of schedule change, trauma in the Host Mom’s life, efforts to work one parent against the other, an engagement!, and overall lack of enthusiasm to get the job done. All this, with an au pair who was great before – but no longer.

Our au pair extended with us for the second year.  This is her 17th months with us.  We had a really good first year.  No conflicts.  No arguments.  Good communication.  Great relationship with kids.  Helping each other when needed (i.e. she would work some odd extra hours when we had something going on, I would leave work early if she had some plans, etc.)

I was laid off my job in July of this year.  The temp job I was able to find so far is a nighttime job (evening work hours from 6pm to 2am).  This of course resulted in the change of au pairs schedule.  Whereas before she would regularly work until 6pm with some days until 8pm, now she is working till 8pm with some days till 11pm.  Even with the increase in her work hours, she is still working only 41 hours per week, and on days when she works till 11pm, it is only 10 hours a day.

Unfortunately, the week I started this crazy work schedule was the same week when my grandmother passed away.   I did forewarned au pair about my new job situation and she knew that my grandmother passed.  Because of my general mental state that week, I did not have a conversation with the au pair where we would sit down and I would explain the situation and give her new schedule.  Frankly, au pair’s schedule was the last thing on my mind that week.  Also, a week before I knew whether or not I will even get this temp job, she asked me for money to register for evening classes.  That was the first time I told her that I have a possibility of getting an evening job, and if I get it she won’t be able to take evening classes.  She complained about not being able to take her class on her Facebook.

Au pair threw a hissy fit that week over her new schedule being convinced that she was overworking and that she was exhausted and only had 8 hours of rest on those days when she works until 11pm before she has to start working the next morning at 7am.  This too was all over her Facebook (she friended both HD and myself on Facebook some time ago).

So that first week when I was dealing with the death of my grandmother and working nights (not seeing my kids at all short for about 1 hour in the morning, when I am half asleep after only 3-4 hours of nighttime sleep) the au pair was flooding my phone with text messages about what time HD would be getting home (that is when she stops working).

It also so happened that one of the days when HD was supposed to get home at 8pm, he got stuck at work in a meeting and did not get home until 10pm that day.  I did speak with HD while he was on his way home and told him that at that moment I was not capable of handling unhappy au pair and asked him to speak with her.  HD told me that they had an hour long conversation about sensitivity and letting me deal with the loss of my grandma and to get used to the new job and work hours.

According to HD, au pair was not happy that she did not have a firm schedule. So the next day, we put together a schedule for her which clearly showed that she was working 2 10-hour days and 3 7-hour days for a total of 41 hours and free weekends.  HD also explained to her that there will be days when he will be late (later then 8pm, never later then 11pm) due to his work and that he will do his best to let her know when he is running late, but that he may not know about it until he is almost out the door of his office and gets slammed with something.  However, it is not an often occurrence, may be once every 3 weeks or so, and we do have at least 4 more hours in au pairs schedule for this occurrence.  HD also told her that for any foreseeable future she will not be able to take any evening classes and she should look for day time classes (she is free from 9am until 3pm every day while kids are in school).

I contacted my LLC later that week explaining everything that is going on with us and au pair.  My LLC’s main concern was that we do not break any of the program rules, but after I explained to her au pairs new schedule, she did not have any problems with it.  She did suggest that I speak with her, which I did the following week.  That was the earliest time I was able to handle a conversation with the au pair.  Au pair said that now that she has a schedule she was fine with it and it was not a problem.

I am hard pressed to say that things are back to normal. They are not.  I find that all the little things that either did not bother me about her for over a year or I did not think were a big deal now bother me; a lot.  I don’t like it that these things bother me, but not sure how to deal with these feelings either.  I think I just feel very resentful that one week when I needed support the most, she regressed into a complaining whining person only adding aggravation to my state of mind.

I should add that the weekend before my horrible week, my au pair got engaged.  She is now planning a June 2011 wedding.

The things that now bother me about the au pair that haven’t bothered me before are things like her being half asleep at the kitchen table sitting for 30-40 minutes of her morning work hours (7am to 9am) doing absolutely nothing;  granted my kids are 6 and 8 and are capable of getting ready for school by themselves.  Only around 7:45am does she start making coffee for herself, packing lunches for kids, checking that they are dressed weather appropriately, getting them breakfast, etc.

My kids’ rooms are very messy.  Partially because my kids are messy and partially because I never insisted for au pair to make sure they are regularly cleaned.  Generally she makes kids pick up their stuff off the floor, but rooms very rarely get really cleaned; drawers organized, shelves organized, clothes folded, floors swept, etc.  In the past that was only done less then monthly when I clearly pointed out that rooms got way too messy.

However, there was an episode this morning that I still do know how to react to it.  My older daughter’s room got really messed up over the last week.  Both HD and I have told her over the weekend to clean it, but she refused.  This morning, while being half asleep, au pair asked me to speak to the kids because she said she told her several times to clean her room with no result.  I went to look at my daughter’s room and came back to au pair saying that I will speak with my daughter again, but that the room got so messy that she simply cannot clean it by herself, she would not know where to start, and I asked au pair to help her after I speak with her.  I did not get a chance to speak with my daughter when I hear her crying hysterically in her room.  I went to look at what is going on.  Au pair was sweeping with the broom everything that was on the floor in the room into a big pile (clothes, books, school stuff, toys, art supplies) saying that now everything will get thrown out.

[note: This display of anger and just plain meanness towards a child from an au pair would have sealed the deal for me.  cv  ]

Granted, I have been known to do this myself on occasion when kids refuse to pick up their stuff, but I did not expect this from the au pair.  To be honest, I did not know how to react to this.  I just made sure that my kid was ok, although upset, and left the room.  I have not been in that room since.  I know that whatever was on the floor was picked up and put away, but I also know that room was not “cleaned”.  If I go in there and look under the bed, I will probably find 3 outfits, 5 toys, and a dozen books, in addition to dust bunnies.  Now I cannot get this episode out of my head.  I feel that au pair had not right to do what she did this morning, but at the same time I don’t know if she has done that before or not.  I have never explicitly told her not to use that tactic, etc.

There are other things. Like when I go to the kitchen in the morning and find a sink full of dishes after the au pair was on the clock the night before until 11pm, but kids went to bed at 8pm, and she was in he room doing nothing for 3 hours.  There is a stain of ruined wood polish on my dining room table where au pair spilled nail polish remover on it, but I never said a word to her about it because it’s not like either she or I were going to be refinishing the table.  And then there is the whole slew of perks that she has that although appreciated are taken for granted.  Like a car that she uses exclusively 95% of the time and frowns when we need to use it for half day on occasional Saturday.  A paid for cell phone with text plan that was is supposed to pay for, but I never charged her for it.  Free weekends, except for very rare exceptions and only when absolutely necessary.   A week off that I gave her at the beginning of the summer because I thought she was tired after the school year with kids and did not count that week towards her vacation time.  There are other things too.  Like never keeping track of library books and I end up paying fines for the books that kids lose or forget to return on time.  Generally, these things all seem too petty to me when taken separately, but when looked at together and in the light of my current resentment issues they seem like a big deal.

I am not sure how to deal with my resentment issues and not ruin this year with this au pair.  I know that she was looking forward to a fairly simple year with about 30-35 hour weeks, but what she got is a very different schedule and a tired upset resentful hostmom.

One of the things my LLC suggested is that I take full advantage of the allowed 45-hour work week and use that time even if I just need to catch up on my sleep.  However, my philosophy is not to schedule au pairs just for sake of using up their hours.  Besides, I want to spend some time with my kids too.

Anyway, this came out way too long.  One thing I have learned from all of this is not to extend in the future, even with a great au pair.  I think it would always be better to get a fresh start after 12 months.

My goal here is not to ruin the relationship with au pair and finish her year with as little damage as possible.


franzi October 9, 2010 at 11:21 am

here’s what i see: you’ve given your ap perks (cell phone, car use, week off) and it wasn’t a problem for you to offer her these perks. you were satisfied with her work enough to have her extend with your family.

after being with her for such a long time you should feel comfortable enough to sit down with her and tell her how you see it. tell her you think she is slacking, make her aware that you are understanding that the change in schedule is upsetting but also point out that you are following the rules and that all of this was not forseeable when the extention was finalized .
however, i think you have the upper hand in this because your ap wants to stay in the states until her marriage. so it is in her interest as well to make things work with you. and that should kick her butt back into gear.

when you sit down with her, ask her if she thinks her motivation to get the job done is less. and what can be done to turn this around.

regarding cleaning the room: if you’ve done this before i’m not surprised the ap is using the same “clean your room now” technique. she’s seen you do it and it worked. so she’s copying it. if you do not want your ap to behave like that tell her that this is appropriate for you but not for her, period.

Gianna October 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm

You may not be able to finish the year with her. I had an experience with an aupair who was not on an extension but also became engaged and then started demanding specific days off for personal wedding errands ( get a marriage license, order invitations, etc. ) without any regard for anyone else’s schedule. Her response was
” if you won’t give me the day, off, I just won’t come back on Monday morning. ”
It doesn’t sound like this young lady cares too much about preserving the relationship.
You can stand on your head but if the other person doesn’t care about the relationship,
nothing you do will help. Can she get another family now that she is on an extension ?
Or will she have to go home if things do not work out with you ? Would she perhaps find herself in another part of the country if you went into rematch ? That sounds harsh but it may be the only leverage you have with her.

The Original Poster October 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Hi, thankfully we are not at the point where she demands time off, but she did refuse to have a meeting with us today, the only day in a week when both HD and I can meet with her. Now the next time we can all have a face to face meeting is next Sunday. There is literally not time before that for all three of us to meet.

If we were to go into rematch (which I am not there yet), she would not look for another family. I think she would head straight for City Hall. Although it would be inconvenient for her as she and her fiancee don’t have a place to live yet and haven’t figured out other logistics, I do think they will just get married. So threatening her with rematch and the possibility of her moving to another part of the country, or going home is not really a good tactic. Although I think the word “rematch” will need to be mentioned one way or another and fairly soon.

Anna October 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Does she know you are unhappy with her now?

Can you just give her a list of things to do while she is working but on her “downtime” (when kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied)? Like “wash the dishes when kids are asleep at night every day” or “make sure their rooms are cleaned every week”

Alison P October 10, 2010 at 3:11 am

Wow, you have been through a really tricky and very stressful time and it sounds like you are under loads of pressure – poor you! I would also feel let down and quite hurt that she was not able to go the extra mile in your hour of need especially given how long she has been with you. Personally I think leaving it another week would be a big mistake and really make you fester on your concerns. Could you met with her without your husband? I know it is not ideal but would be a better option than letting another week go by. Good luck, I really hope things work out for you, you sound like a really caring host mum.

HRHM October 10, 2010 at 7:22 am

Correct me if I’m wrong but the way I read this, all the things that are irking you right now ARE NOT a change from pre-extension or pre-hours change? So what you are saying is that you extended with a girl who was sleepy and useless in the am for 30-40 minutes, never really cleaned unless directly told to do it, took her perks for granted (I’m assuming the entitlement to the car was firmly entrenched early) etc. And now, after she extended with you on the basis of how the first year went, YOU have changed the “unwritten contract” by altering her hours and lengthening her day.

First of all, you didn’t extend with a “great Au Pair”, she sounds pretty mediocre – almost like having an extra kid, albeit older teenage one. So that was definitely your first mistake. In addition, you can’t possible be surprised that she’s upset about the hours change (after all, I bet you’re pretty unhappy about yours, and you had a choice). As far as asking her to do her job now, after 17 months of letting her slack, you can try but you are probably fighting a loosing battle. SHe has no incentive to do it and really who can blame her? She already feels like you screwed her by messing up her hours and making her work 25% longer for the same money (I know it’s allowed, but seriously, wouldn’t you be mad?)

I thnk you have 2 choices – either learn to ignore ALL the stuff you ignored the first year (did she do dishes then?) or go into rematch now. I know this sounds harsh, but the reality is, if you try to force her into being something that she wasn’t (cleaning, doing dishes, appreciating the perks) at the time you exended with her, you will end up in an epic battle and all will be miserable. She won’t just turn into Marry Poppins overnight and be happy about it.

As far as the incident with your daughters room/stuff – if she’s seen YOU use this tactic in the past and you haven’t explicitly told her to never use it herself, you have no right to be angry. You modeled this as an acceptable behaviour for dealing with your little girl. I make a comment in my HFHB that states “I may occasionally raise my voice with my children, that does not mean that it’s ok for you to do so”. I know that I act like my Mom sometimes :) and am not proud of it – I sure don’t want her doing it.

Amy October 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

I am not surprised at all that your au pair is upset by her new schedule. Who would want to work until 11:00pm and then start work again at 7:00am? That is not what she signed up for and I can’t blame her at all if she doesn’t like her new schedule. It is only common courtesy to give an au pair a fixed schedule and not expect to drop things on her at the last minute. How is she going to make any plans? The problem is not the rematching. The problem is the way you are treating her. And by the way, I am not an AP, I’m a HM.

NewAPMama October 19, 2010 at 10:26 am

I was afraid of saying that outloud, Amy. While she has time off during the day, I doubt many of her friends do as well. I am sure she was used to meeting with friends/fiance, etc after she got off work, and now she is not able to. I am also a HM, and I’d be angry if I had a job that required me to be up until 11, and then turn around and report at 7am. If you have one of those jobs, then good for you. But this AP did not choose those hours. Her schedule was drastically changed. Yes, schedule changes happen. But this AP came to the US to experience more than just the HF’s children, and I think the HM is being extremely insensitive to this fact. I am sure we will get flammed for having these minority opinions, but oh well…I think you (the OP) need to look at the situation from her perspective.

NewAPMama October 19, 2010 at 10:30 am

Who cares that she got engaged? Most people are working adults when they get engaged/married. It’s how life goes. Don’t use that as an excuse to be upset with her. You do not know that she will drop your family or lose interest in the kids. However, she does not owe you loyalty 24/7. She is allowed to plan for her future because after she leaves your family, you are no longer a part of it.

Anonymous October 19, 2010 at 11:35 am

NewAPMama – my thoughts exactly! “She is allowed to plan for her future becasue after she leaves your family, you are no longer a part of it.”

OP – Take care of yourself and your family FIRST! After she’s gone it will be a short snippet of your life and your family deserves the best.

NewAPMama October 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I think you missed my point. My point is that so long as the AP is doing the job she was hired to do, then it shouldn’t matter that she is engaged, etc. She is allowed to plan for her future while still working for the family.

kitty August 18, 2011 at 5:50 am

I don’t see anything wrong with having an au pair work — two weeknights a week, pre-arranged – until 11 p.m. — in my case as HM I go on date nights with my husband. The kids are asleep by 8, and I’m fine with the au pair going to bed before her shift ends. Shift picks up at 7 a.m. again, when we all get ready to go to work. Honestly, we’ve had many au pairs go out clubbing after 11 p.m., and then report to work fine at 7 a.m., we’re pretty fine about all of this…..

Jennifer October 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I’m getting ready to have a conversation with my AP (who’s been here for 2 months) about “contributing”. She lives here and I expect that when the trash is overflowing that she takes it out. When she sees all the newspapers in the driveway to pick them up on her way back in from the bus stop. If the kids don’t pick their shoes up then she needs to pick them up. It is not an “assinged” duty but there are many common courtesies with living in a shared space. I hear your pain as I feel very frustrated with the laziness and lack of contribution from our AP’s. I don’t want to have to micro-manage them but if I don’t nothing gets done.

Vija Williams October 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Hi there:

I’ve been a lurker but am a seasoned host mom, we’re on our 7th year and soon to be getting our 5th au pair (we had an interim one at one point). I live for extensions and do not think you should throw the baby out with the bathwater! In other words, extending au pairs takes so, so much stress off of everyone and it can be a fantastic thing. I match purposefully with criteria that will enhance the au pairs chances of extending! If you get another au pair, I don’t think you should automatically say no to extending because of your current experience.

This is a completely different schedule and lifestyle than she signed up for, and that she had had for the majority of her time here. It is not surprising to me that when the relationship broke down because of the schedule, other things have suddenly started to bother you both. I see culpability on both sides. Because she is now engaged, her focus is automatically going to switch from you, her host family, to her fiance’s family/her new American family. In my opinion it is time to begin looking for your new au pair online. Time to match and end it early with the current one. It will stalemate at best and never really “repair.” If you end it now, you can have a nice long-term relationship, especially if she stays in your area with her future husband.

I’m not going to lie, I think you might have a little bit of a tougher time matching with your current schedule, which is why I think you should start looking immediately. I just matched again after not going through the process in 3 years (our last au pair extended, then we took a year off after having our third child). The caliber of applicants right now is excellent–I’m thinking because of the world economy? So that is great news for you. Lots of awesome girls out there who will bring fresh air to your home.

Good luck!

Off the Record October 10, 2010 at 4:35 pm

A couple of sentences jump out at me:

I find that all the little things that either did not bother me about her for over a year or I did not think were a big deal now bother me; a lot. . . I think I just feel very resentful that one week when I needed support the most, she regressed into a complaining whining person only adding aggravation to my state of mind.

Sometimes when we experience great stress, it finds an outlet in seemingly unrelated places. Several years ago, I was involved in a very serious car accident – While I was on my way to work, a young man fleeing police in a stolen car crashed into my car. The scene ended with his car on top of mine, with his back wheels going through my windshield and spinning as he revved the engine to escape – less than arm’s length from my face. The police shot him only a few feet in front of me (he ended up with non-life-threatening injuries). The car of course was totaled.

Over the next month, I had to make a LOT of personal calls from work. Although my boss and colleagues were really understanding, it made me really mad that I had to do that, but instead of feeling mad at the guy that ran into me, I felt mad at the people at work. I dont’ know why – that’s just where it came out. And I had to drive over the exact spot of the accident every time I went to work, which literally caused my heart to race and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

Once I realized that my anger was misdirected, I made a decision to let go of it, and to let the accident just be a part of history. Once I did that, my colleagues magically became much easier to deal with and I stopped hyperventilating when I drove over the site.

Although this isn’t an au pair related story, I wanted to tell it to you because it sounds like you may experiencing something similar in regards to your au pair. Of course, it would be helpful for her to have pitched in a bit in your time of need, and the fact that you resent things now that didn’t bother you before sounds like unresolved stress from your bad week and the loss of your grandmother. Not to excuse your au pair for seeming insensitive, but in the end, everyone lives in their own private world. She can’t feel your pain, and obviously has her own “stresses” that are different from yours (and many people would say not nearly as serious), but a big part of her reality. You may have to consiously decide to let the resentment go if you find that it’s the source of your discontent with her and you aren’t up for a rematch.

Jeana October 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm

My awesome aupairs stepped up to the plate every time with unexpected circumstances that changed their work schedule. There were several times when medical issues with family members absolutely affected their work schedule. My younger daughter has had seven surgeries in the past four years. They had extra responsibilities and extra hours, and helped with kindness and understanding. They always sent me out the door with good wishes, and assurances that they would hold down the fort while I cared for my younger daughter at the hospital. One aupair was willing to go stay at my sister’s house, when I flew out of state to take my older daughter to a China Camp with her baby friends from the orphanage where she lived prior to her adoption. I couldn’t leave my younger daughter and aupair at home for four days, so my aupair stayed with my sister and her family, along with my daughter. I had two aupairs that were removed from the program (not rematched, removed). From those experiences, I learned that I need to struggle through being more assertive than I find comfortable. After two situations, back to back, with aupairs removed from the program, I asked our LCC what experienced families knew that newbies didn’t. I didn’t want to go through the stress of having two aupairs sent home again. Our LCC said that experienced families recognize the behaviors that will not work in their family, and cut their losses faster than what I had done. I bent over backwards in the two difficult situations, to make things work. There are some issues and concerns that can be negotiated, and some that can’t. I don’t think it is possible to impart empathy in the heart of your aupair; you had the loss of a job, and the loss of a family member. If she couldn’t show empathy and a desire to be helpful to your family in this moment, how might she react in another unexpected crisis? I had an aupair that wouldn’t talk to me for several days because I refused to take my children out of bed to take her to the mall, shopping. It was 35 degrees below zero, one child had pneumonia, and the other one was sick, too. They were in bed sleeping!!! It was past their bedtime!

I agree that scheduling your aupair for the full 45 hours might be helpful at this point. I think you’re dealing with some entitlement issues. If she can’t get to the rooms, kids dishes, etc., let her know that you’ll be scheduling those tasks into her schedule. I have found written schedules with specific tasks for each day helpful; consider making a template so that you’re just cutting and pasting. During the years we’ve had aupairs, I’ve known that one of the most important tasks I have is to be the family organizer. For me, this required time each week, to make sure there was a written plan for each day. This was very detailed for the two problem situations, and just helped the other aupairs get started into our routine, and then it wasn’t necessary.

I am very concerned that your aupair “refused” to meet with you and your husband. Refused? Absolutely unacceptable.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I think your aupair has shown that your family is not a priority for her. I totally understand that she has goals and a life outside of caring for your children. I would have a very difficult time with an aupair who responded in the way that yours did.

I’m hoping you have a supportive LCC. It might be time to make a contact and ask for a visit, and assistance. The closer your aupair gets to the end, the less likely she’ll be concerned with your needs. There are absolutely lovely aupairs just waiting to find the right host family. Good luck, and hope you find peace with whatever decision you make.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 10, 2010 at 11:07 pm

The Original Poster – perhaps you were less concerned with your AP’s negative behaviors in the past because you were physically able to pick up the slack. If you’re only sleeping 3-4 hours per night, something’s gonna have to give before you collapse. While I wouldn’t expect an AP working 41 hours per work to do housework in her “free” time, she will need to productively help your children maintain their spaces during her work time.

If you want to make this relationship work, then you can’t wait for all three of you to sit down at the table. Sit down with her for one hour when the kids aren’t around – and make it clear to her that it’s part of her 45-hour week. In my opinion, play to her sympathy – how great she has been in the past, and how difficult it must be for her to suddenly have her schedule shift because your work hours have changed. Then, make it clear to her that you need her to pick up the slack, that it’s not babysitting, and that if she the adult in charge the following items must be done: 1) the kids and her dishes, 2) the children’s rooms and 3) peace kept in the house. Tell her how upset you are at your own schedule shift and how you need an AP who is mature enough to understand that you would not choose to work those hours if you could.

If her behavior doesn’t change, then find someone else. There are plenty of APs who would be happy to have a long midday to work out in the gym, take courses, tour your city – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In my experience, no AP wants their schedule changed, but a mature AP will understand that it’s not about her. While you are right, your AP could just get married – she won’t be able to work “just because,” and if she and her finance need two incomes, she might rather stay with you and keep her expenses down.

Oh, and there was already a lengthy discussion about how APs emulate HP parent behavior – so if you’ve angrily swept up a child’s belongings, don’t be surprised if your AP does too. “Do as I tell and not as I say” is hard after the fact (as if kids weren’t enough of an instant replay button to begin with).

Dorsi October 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I totally get what the Original Poster is saying. I think that goodwill is the glue that holds the whole AP-HF relationship together; when you lose that it all falls a part.

I had an event last week that really shook my belief that my AP has our best interests at heart and is not a selfish little princess. I really question her “goodwill.” Which makes all of the accomodations I have made, all of the things I have let slide seem like manipulation rather than a give-and-take relationship. I, too, am in the awkward position of “too far in this to rematch” — we are in our 9th month and until last week, I felt like I could live with the compromises I was making. (Specifically, our AP is an excellent housemate, and does the chores she is responsible for; I have sensed a real disengagement and lack of enthusiasm for child care, not in a way that is directly neglectful for our 2 kids, but not optimal). I want to sit down and have a real “come-to-Jesus” discussion with her, but I feel I have no leverage at all at this point.

So, I wish I had some great advice, but all I have is a lot of sympathy. And a vow to never let things go like this in the future.

Gianna October 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm

You know, we all talk about how important it is to make the aupairs feel like part of our family and I believe that most host parents try and often succeed at that. Granted every family is different with different lifestyles and values. So the question I have now is this: if this young lady, the aupair, were at home with her own family and her mom lost a job and needed support within reasonable limits, would the same young woman be acting out this way , with or without a fiance ? And, at this point in her relationship with her fiance, if he ( or one of his parents ) were in a tight spot, would she respond this way ? And most poignantly, if she were still hoping to get her extension papers signed by the host family, would she respond a little more diplomatically. Unlikely. The unfortunate reality is that she no longer needs the host family. As the original poster has shared, a terminated placement would cause minor inconvenience but not major upset for this young lady and her young man. There is no feeling in the world to compare with the knowledge or suspician that we have been used by another person to further their own agenda. It is especially painful when we
feel that we have always been there for them. There is pain that occurs when someone who has felt very comfortable asking us for small and large favors is simply
uninterested in us the first time we need help. I am beginning to think that it was just a coincidence that she got engaged just before your sad week. Most likely, the minute
she got engaged, her relationship toward you and your children would have deteriorated, regardless of what was going on in your life. Of course, you don’t want to continue to do all of the extras for her that you once did and her attitude is a constant slap in the face. This too shall pass but it takes time. I hear you when you say that rematch will not motivate her and I know you are overtaxed to the hilt right now, but honestly, I would start making alternate arrangements and if at all possible end the placement early. She will do just fine for herself.

anonmom October 11, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Dorsi- I do believe you have leverage at this point- you are not too ‘far in’ to rematch. If she can’t rematch, your au pair faces the possibility of losing her deposit money, and having to possibly pay her own ticket home. So, yes- you do have leverage. Say exactly what you need to tell her, and exactly what she needs to hear. Be literal- don’t beat around the bush. That goes for the Original Poster, as well. Most Americans are not very literal and do not come out and say exactly what we mean- that is very important, especially when we are dealing with people of different cultures. There are so many nuances in the language, etc that it is hard enough for someone who does speak the same language to understand.

As for Original Poster- yes- DONT WAIT to talk to her. Tell her your view, and be empathetic to hers. Yes, it sucks the schedule changed, but that is life and it is something we all have to deal with. If you rematch, so be it. Obviously, she is not that vested in your family and you have let too much go for far too long. Next au pair- do yourself a favor, make them pay that extra amount for the phone, etc. I find the ones that just get it without paying take it for granted and just expect it and/or abuse it, vs the ones that have toa pay, truly appreciate it. Instead, do some small other favors such as a starbucks card, etc. Good luck, and I am sorry for your loss.

Melissa October 12, 2010 at 12:44 am

I completely agree. You need to have a direct discussion with her. Not confrontational or accusatory, but sharing your concerns head on. As Anonmom said above, acknowledge that the schedule change is very inconvenient and not what she had in mind when extending, but that is what it is. You feel like you’ve been very flexible and accomodating with her up to this point, and expect the same, and were disappointed when you feel you did not get that courtesy from her during a time that you needed it (chances are, I bet, that she didn’t view it in the same way). It sounds like you let a lot go that you are now frustrated with or resentful about. It’s difficult to go back and suddenly dump a whole bunch of new expectations on her that you didn’t enforce before (keeping kids’ room clean, etc). However, I would talk very directly about your situation (new job, less than ideal hours, stress on you and your family, etc) and explain that you need her to be present and positive for her remaining time. Explain that all of those ‘annoyances’ weren’t a big deal when you felt that you were both on the same page and helping each other out, but now that you feel left in the cold, it is more difficult. Share your thoughts and concerns and ask her how she would like to proceed. That will put the onus on her to determine whether she would really like to complete her AP year on a successful note, or whether she is ready to throw in the towel and move on with her life.

Mom23 October 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

OP– I have been there on the letting little issues slide and then letting them build up. It sounds like a perfect storm — your schedule changing, an emotional death, and the au pair’s life changing. When you talk to her, I would acknowledge all of these things and talk about how this got you all off track.

I think I would take a deep breath, schedule a meeting with the au pair and have a heart to heart about things that have been bothering you. I would give her a detailed schedule of all the things you need her to do in the day which includes cleaning up dinner dishes and ensuring that the children’s rooms are cleaned (really cleaned) in a way that does not punish your daughter. I have a rotating list — kids rooms on Mon, fold kids laundry on Tuesday, etc. If she is tired at the end of the day, I might compromise on this. Could you say, if the kids are asleep and the chores finished for the night, at 9:30 she could take a baby monitor to her room?

I think I have mentioned this before, I give a generous bonus to the au pair at the end of her year with us, but I do ask that our au pair pay for parking tickets that she gets, cell phone overages, etc. It probably all works out in the end, but it prevents me from feeling like I am being taken advantage of. Also, I once had an au pair who thought our car was only for her use, so every au pair since has had to ask to take the car for evening and weekend use. It usually is not a problem, but car use is not taken for granted. I think it is too late to change these things now, but something to consider for your next au pair.

I hope it works out and you can both get back onto the same page. Good luck.

NJMom October 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Off topic a bit, but could you elaborate on that bonus please? Our AP is leaving in Dec and her b’day is in a couple of weeks. I was planning on giving her a generous b’day gift, i.e., cash bonus, so that she can use it here for the gifts for her family/self that she wants to bring home. But I’m concerned that she may also be expecting a end of program bonus. She’s done a great job, even through an extension, but we live in an expensive area of the country and we do not have endless resources so I don’t think we can do two monetary gifts, especially at the holidays when I have to tip even my assistant at work!
The question is: Would it be a mistake to give her an “early” bonus and no departing gift; and how much is going to “wow” her. Last year I gave her one week’s stipend on her b’day. Two weeks’ stipend? Perhaps this is another topic … if so,sorry CV!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm

As I have discussed elsewhere here, I don’t give a bonus, a give a big, empty box and tell the AP to fill it. Some of them are disquieted by the gift of an empty box, but as they pack to go home, they quickly realize its benefits and are very grateful. I have found that it works best for European APs, not so well for Latin American & Asian APs. I send the box air mail, insured for the cost of the mailing (that way, the APs get the cash if the box doesn’t arrive).

For Christmas, we give $150, plus small, appropriate gifts. For birthdays – it depends on the season, but we have either 1) taken the AP and a friend to the restaurant of her choice or 2) vacated our home for the evening to let her have a dinner party with friends. It depends on the AP, her friends, and cooking skills.

Finally – I don’t think you need to spend money to “Wow!” her. Time, attention, and memories are as much a “wow!” gift as money.

Chev October 15, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I think she’d probably be disappointed if you didn’t give her a goodbye gift. I don’t think it needs to be a monetary gift though, i like TACL’s idea of a box to send home, i’m getting ready to leave and know how expensive it is to send stuff home. Maybe a photobook would be a nice idea for a goodbye gift? You can make them at most camera shops, walmart, Target for around $25. It’ll show you care, and it’s light and small to pack.

PA AP mom October 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm

We also have done the “end bonus”.

I put $10 each week into a savings account. At the end of the year, there is around $500 in the account and we give that as the bonus. I don’t miss the $10/week and it turns into a nice amount for the au pair at the end of our year. It’s always discretionary though, so if I didn’t want to give the full amount, I wouldn’t have to.

Busy Mom October 14, 2010 at 6:32 am

Do you tell them in advance that they will get a bonus for successfully completing their year? We used to give “stay bonuses” to our nannies equivalent to a week’s pay every 6 months just for staying with us and doing a good job. They knew in advance so it was motivational.

I never considered giving an au pair a cash bonus and would probably opt for a gift. I guess that we did in effect give AP2 a bonus b/c we allowed her to leave a month early. Our LCC made sure that the AP knew that we were forfeiting a month’s agency fee and that the AP should consider that a gift. We really liked the AP and wanted to support her continuation of her studies.

lauren October 14, 2010 at 8:30 am

Don’t you think you’re being a bit demanding with 41 hours a week?! That’s even more than full time hours for CALIFORNIA! If I were your au pair, I would pack my bags and get the hell out of there.. DOesn’t sound like you’re trying to put yourself in her situation at all! It’s a really hard job and you’re expecting to her magically adapt because you cant keep a job!

HRHM October 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Lauren, you are obviously neither a host parent or an AP and have little to no knowledge of how the program works. My advice would be to do a little research and know what you’re talking about before you start taking that tone and make a fool of yourself. I’m not quite sure what axe you have to grind, but you won’t find much sympathy here.

BTW, my AP gets scheduled for 45 from the get go, whether I need it or not. I then feel free to “gift” her time off which she is generally grateful for. I know that some HMs don’t like to do this, but I found that when I had to ask for more instead, I ALWAYS met resistance. This just eliminates that.

cv harquail October 15, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Sorry I missed lauren’s comment— I might have edited it out. Thanks to you all (below) for responding in a constructive way. cv

Anna October 14, 2010 at 9:12 am

Lauren, I don’t know which planet you are from, but the au pair program intends for the au pairs to work up to 45 hours a week. They know it when they apply, they know it when they arrive here. They don’t sign a contract with a family specifying a smaller amount of hours, so the original poster didn’t break any rules. Maybe an unwritten expectation, but no more than that.
In the original poster’s case, when the au pair works until 11, the last 3 hours she is just being in the house while kids are sleeping. Her job doesn’t sound hard at all, supervising mostly independent and typical, and well behaved 8 and 6 year olds, and driving them around in her own dedicated car.
My au pair works much harder, with 3 kids, one of them a baby, and lots of problems coming up along the way.

ANna October 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Lauren, the poster said she is working until 11 twice a week, not every day.

And yes, I work 40 hours a week at my job, and then I come home and work a second shift cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, food shopping, putting my kids to sleep etc. I am not done after 45 hours, I don’t have evenings to go out with my friends, I work 18 hour days in all, sleep 6 hours most weekdays.
I am not complaining. I chose this life, at least for a few years until kids are older.
And I really, truly appreciate the piece of mind my au pair gives when she is minding my kids when I am at work; and the help she gives by helping out with their laundry etc.
I love my au pair and very grateful for all the work she does.

Been There October 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

I’m a long-time host mom and have been an LCC for almost three years. I’ve seen mixed results with extension au pairs and some of them really do lose interest during the second year. This does not happen 100% of the time – some of the girls in my group have been amazing throughout, some seemed to operate at 50%. I think it does matter why the girl is staying. If it is because she loves the family and doesn’t want to leave the family, that’s one thing. If it is because of a boy, school or travel opportunities, think seriously before extending.

I’m not sure how your meeting went on Sunday, but if you are still working with her, here are my thoughts. Your au pair has done some things that are completely unacceptable – pouting, ranting on Facebook, being mean to your child are all behaviors that show a complete lack of respect for you and your family. With regard to the cleaning, etc., I don’t think that you will be able to tighten up any standards without some resentment. You could tell her that the job has changed and while you were able to do (xyz) last year, with your new work schedule and job demands, you need help in different areas and (abc) needs to change. That makes it less of an attack on her and more about the circumstances. As a note for the future, it is always easier to start strict than it is to tighten up rules later.

The other big red flag here is the engagement.

This au pair seems to be struggling with wanting to move on with her personal life and she probably just doesn’t want to be an au pair anymore. When the itch to have their own home and full independence hits, some au pairs start to resent au pair life and living in a home that is not their own with someone else’s rules. If that is what is going on, this behavior could all be a symptom of her ambivalence with the idea of being an au pair and a growing resentment toward living with a family. This theme will probably continue to become more prominent as her excitement about the wedding grows and it sounds like you are in for a long year.
If that is what comes out, you may consider working out an exit strategy with her. See if she’ll agree to a long transition where she continues to work with you until your new au pair arrives. She could be very relieved by this opportunity and you’ll get a fresh start.

With the next au pair, update your host family handbook to reflect your thoughts about the kids’ rooms and any other duties that you’d like them to do and provide a schedule for when you’d like them to be done. I would not have the old au pair train the new au pair because you are changing the job duties and it sounds like you need a fresh start. Good luck!

HRHM October 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I smell a troll. CV?

2 year Au Pair October 19, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I read your post and I think your house is a paradise!! Since “we” had a new baby, 10 hours per day/45 a week are an illusion. I do agree to work 60 hours per week (for more money, wich at the end is way less if they hire a nanny) but sometimes (very few) they ask me to stay at home because they wanna go out and “if” I had plans I change them, and yes I stay at home and kids are sleeping, but what happend if I am not there, they need to get a nanny and pay $10/hour for do the same than me: nothing! and I dont get extra money for that. I also “help” my HM with a proyect she has and did not get the 2 hours off by day because she needed the time, she is a stay home mom. I am also the “chofer” when the grandparents need to go to doctors appoitments. Now I work around 73 hours per week, am I tired? yes! I think they are taking somehow advantages of me? of course they do!! But do I have a cellphone with unlimited phone calls, txting and internet? Do I have a car for myself?? YES, so as “part of the family” and I know I get beneficts than other AP dont (and other do without even be a good AP) I do it, and help them in that way.
I think is not about extend with your current AP or not, but on this particular young women.

Aupairgal October 20, 2010 at 7:18 am

I find it very hard to believe that this is an authentic post. I can’t even begin to say how misguided and horrible your situation is. You are basically letting this family know it is ok to have a “slave” and not even get compensation for it. This is not “being a part of the family” this is slavery.

My biggest problem with this situation and with situations like this that other aupairs let familes get away with, is that it teaches many families that it is ok to expect this from aupairs and to do such under the table. Eventually this will be considered the norm and while still against the law will be done anyways. Aupairs will then be expected to work such hours without compensation and risk being sent back home or being put with another family of the same caliber if they do not agree to the conditions.

Unfortunately being an Aupair is not a career so there are no unions for such but there are reasons that we have workers rights and laws regarding them. Worker rights (though sadly still not very strong in the US) came about by a majority of workers in a field deciding to work for certain acceptable and agreed upon conditions. Through cooperation of the workers these conditions are maintained. Allowing this situation to go on is just allowing for worse and worse conditions for future aupairs.

I also can’t imagine how you can take part in an educational course, study, and participate in cultural exchange with those hours.

Let this be a note to all aupairs. It is your responsibility and very important to not allow such work conditions no matter how nice the family seems. You are not doing yourself, the family, or other aupairs a favor be letting these types of conditions continue.

CV, feel free to delete my comment should you find it offensive and accusatory, but like every person on this blog, there is often at least one post that really hits ones emotions hard.

(AuPairGal– the comment looks authentic. I agree with you that au pairs need to draw an appropriate line between being ‘part of the family’ and ‘treated like a slave’, so I appreciate your point and think it needs to be made. BOTH au pairs and host parents need to be vigilant– neither should exploit the other or take the other for granted. Let’s do our best to support both the au pairs and the host parents who feel they are being taken advantage of, and counsel the ones who are expecting too much. cv)

2 years Au Pair October 20, 2010 at 7:44 am

I have classes Mon and Wed from 6 – 9 and I have no problem going. Yes I know I work more than I should, but is what it is and I have 3 months left and I dont feel like complainning now when I am almost done. BTW, my Coordinator has a “deal” with her AP as well!

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