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.