Should a former Au Pair step in to mediate a Host Family – Host Kid “situation”?

by cv harquail on March 30, 2009

Active Contributor Franzi, former au pair and now Host Mom, has shared a lot of advice seasoned with the perspective of both sides of the Au Pair- Host Parent relationship.

Now, she’s in uncharted territory–wondering how to respond as a "former" au pair and current Host Kid Confidant. While I’m so happy to see au pairs stay connected to their host families, I’m so sad to hear what Franzi is worried about. Please read her request for advice, and then think about what could help you if you were the host parent in question.Picture 077.jpg

From Franzi:
Aaaah, who would have thought, now it’s me needing some advice from you host moms!

Here’s the deal. When I was an au pair, my kids were 10 and 5. Now the girl is 17 and she is apparently really acting out. She’s my "friend" on Facebook, so I randomly check in on her. When her status message sounded troubled, i got in touch with her (via Facebook as she is now cell phone-less) and asked what’s going on.

She told me some of the issues (I don’t even assume I know the full picture)… but it involves bad grades, skipping school, deliberately lying to her parents about her whereabouts, alcohol -a lot if you ask me-, piercings, driving to places she is not allowed to go to, taking things from her parents (I’m assuming she was talking about money and valuables) etc.benji halsh.jpg

Especially the alcohol and the money thing, this is certainly not happening for the first time. She mentioned several times that her parents don’t even know a lot of what’s really going on.

She’s now grounded, with no cell (but apparently internet). They all got into a big argument.

Now my problem is: should I get in touch with the parents?

If this was you, would you want your former au pair to mediate?

Then there’s the fact that they don’t even assume the full extend of the problem. I think they think this is happening for the first time which it certainly isn’t.

I am torn between letting the parents know the extend of the problem and the loyalty to the kid who sees me as a big sister and certainly does not expect me to go tell her parents.

i love the kids, and the family, but I feel like i can’t stay out of this (now that i partly know what my little girl is doing…)

thanks for your help!

Bride photo by Benj Haisch.


cynthia March 30, 2009 at 5:45 am

Wow! That’s a difficult situation to be in. My thought as a parent is that I would want to know the extent of the situation if my daughter was placing herself in harms way. If this kid is really getting involved in life threatening behaviors you really should let the parents know. If something were to happen where she was injured or even worse killed, I don’t think you’d be able to live with yourself knowing you possibly could have intervened and let the parents know. At the same time, you really are going to be risking the open relationship you have with this girl. She will likely be very angry and upset about the situation if she is to find out that you are the one who “spilled the beans”. I would speak to the parents and explain the difficult situation that you are in and would appreciate them not letting her know you were in fact the one who gave her the information and that you are in a special position to be able to keep an eye out for her because she does trust you and gives you specific information. You could also just let the parents know they need to look into her behaviors better or something general and just explain you really are concerned for the welfare. That way you are not giving them specifics. Hope that helps!

hostmomtobe March 30, 2009 at 5:46 am

Hi Franzi,
I have been thinking about your post all day and I feel that this family is so fortunate to have you in their lives. I am a physician that often works with adolescents and young adults. There are times when sensitive information is shared with me and these young people ask if I will keep it confidential. I clearly express that I care deeply about them but if I feel that they are in danger I need to tell their parents. This young girl that you describe is in danger. Her under age drinking and stealing are likely only the tip of the iceberg. She may very well be engaged in drug use and be involved unsafe sexual behavior. You may also be the only adult that is aware of this behavior. Clearly express to her your concern and inform her that you will to speak with her parents because you care deeply about her. Speak with her parents about what you know and express that you want to continue to be a confidant with this young girl. This girl may be relieved that someone is finally paying attention to her cries for help and attention. But also be prepared for a bumpy ride. She may become extremely angry with you but don’t give up on her even if she tells you to get lost. I know that you want her to feel that she has your trust but if she tells you about risky or dangerous behavior you should tell her parents, you could be saving her life. This may the most important au pair job that you do for this family. God speed Franzi.

mom2many March 30, 2009 at 7:02 am

We are expecting our first au pair to arrive in 2 weeks and I have been reading wonderful information from this site. This situation I have first hand experience in.

We have had live-out nannies for the past six years. My oldest became quite friendly with a previous nanny–a little too much. My oldest daughter thought she was also in her “20’s”. This young woman had a hard time being the nanny and not the “best friend”. About two years after she was no longer working for us, our daughter was getting herself into some trouble and being extremely difficult. She would call this nanny and share things about what she was doing and also lying about us (her parents).

What did happen though, was this nanny now had a child of her own and had matured a bit. She had worked for us for two years and knew my husband and I very well. She knew what type of parents we are, what are family is like and she saw through our daughter’s rantings. (spoiled teen that wants her way all the time–I am sure we are the only ones with one of them;))) Anyways, I received a call from her one evening to share with me what she had called her about. What this nanny told my daughter was — her behavior was inappropriate and could become dangerous, she was scared and concerned for her, that she would not listen to her tell lies about her parents, if she made a decision to be responsible and respect her family that she would be more than willing to help her in any way.

This message was huge coming from this young woman to my daughter. We were now not the only ones giving the same message. It is one thing to have a united parental front–but, my gosh, having a 20-something that a teen looks up to tow the same line, makes a tremendous impression. I appreciated that phone call that evening more than she can imagine. Her validation that she knew we were good parents and did everything in our power for our children made us feel better, too. I knew the stuff our daughter was doing. The phone call didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. It did make me feel better, though. What her conversation did do was to validate to my daughter that the problem was rooted in her behavior and the blaming and accepting no responsibility for her actions was seen by others, not just her parents.

This happened in the fall, we are well on our way out of that mess. My oldest has grown a bit. She seems to learn life’s lessons the hard way, always has. So from a parent that has lived it–talk with this young lady. You don’t need to tell her that you are going to talk to her parents if that makes you uncomfortable. But, make the call to her parents. It sounds like they already know some of this already. If your conversation with them is not criticizing or blaming them for their daughter’s bad behavior but letting them know that because you care for them as a family and know that they want the best for their children you just want to share some information that you learned. Place no tone of judgement on this information.

I am sure that you will have a conversation with her mother that she will appreciate for years to come and, I truly believe, so won’t this young 17 year-old woman. Also, please know that my daughter has continued her relationship with this nanny and I think that here is now a deeper level of respect for it.

D March 30, 2009 at 7:29 am

Franzi….you are so sweet to have a special relationship to the kids. How amazing.

My opinion is that based upon my own friends whom have teenagers. Where the teens are my friend too, whom we love with total heart :) Actually family friend. Here is the approach I take:

I love my friends as family & parents, of course. I respect their wishes & always follow their beliefs. So their children….whom are our friends too (we only listen), so we be a friendly, loving voice. Always offering the “entire” open-minded approach.

We feel nobody is ever wrong in a situation. However, with a teen, listening is key. To intervene may jeopardize the valuable friendship. Listening is sometimes all they need. :) Teens need to make their own decisions though. Life is so hard at age.

So with that I say. Be a friend to the teen. Respect the confidentiality & be that. Listen to the parents if they ask. Family situations are tough, its hard to gauge the right moment to intervene. But always the best is to be a friend. :) Listen & support.

Love ya – Franzi….you sound like an amazing au pair.!!! How sweet are you

With families that are close, you have to be carefuly & loving at the same time.

TMK March 30, 2009 at 10:11 am

Hi Franzi,
I would call on the main home line if there is one and speak verbally with the girl instead of via email or facebook. I would advise her that because you love and care for her you cannot keep a secret that about behavior that could end up getting her hurt or worse. Tell her you are on her side and will continue to help her work things out, but you need to bring her parents in on this so that she can began to resolve all of the issues, with the help of ALL the people who love and support her. Best wishes with this, it’s a tough one. Just remember the ultimate goal is her safety, and that will help guide your decisions.

sunnyvah March 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Hi Franzi,
I´ m not a host mum- but I´ m a big sister (8years age difference) and I see myself as a big sister for my former host kids as well.
I think it´´ s really great that you have such a good relationship after all this time and I feel for you in this situation. Maybe it helps if you think as a “Big” sister. This isn´ t always fun. Very often my little sister is not happy with me and my opinions especially if she does stuff she´ s not supposed to do, and I tell her to stop. When my sister (with 14!) tried an alcopop on a party and told me about it I felt really horrible. On the one hand I was sooo happy she trusted me and told me about it, on the other hand I HAD to tell my parents as she is just WAY to young for that. Of course she was/is mad of me and didn´t want to talk to me for a few weeks but eventually she realized that I did it for her and because I love her (a so-called friend of her had to go to the hospital because she drank wodka and that made her realize how dangerous alcohol is).
Of course it´ s different as the former au pair (because you´re not her real sister) but still: your far away and maybe her parents don´t know everything they need to know. They have to help her to solve her issues and for that they need to know about everything. I wish you luck with this whole thing and that your girl can see quickly how much you love her.
*Big Hug*

Franzi March 31, 2009 at 12:08 am

hello ladies, thank you SO MUCH for your feedback! *and in order to set things straight, i’m not a host mom, i’m “just” a former au pair worried about her little ones* and a big thank you to cvh for posting my problem. i really appreciate every comment!

reading your suggestions has assured me to call the mom (i tried several times now but didn’t get through yet). i want to hear their side of the story and i hope the mom will be honest enough to tell me when i am stepping in too much. all i can wish for is that she is willing to listen and doesn’t feel betrayed because i have the connection to her girl that she might like to have. i plan to find out what she knows first in order not to spill the beans and make things worse. and then, i guess i have to take it from there.

i cannot contact the girl via phone because the family does not have a land line installed yet (they moved recently – part of the problem? i don’t know). and because i don’t call often, she would see the call as a treat. not the signal i intend to send.

cynthia and hostmomtobe, mentioning her welfare struck a chord. this is not the time to be a friend, this is the time to be the adult. she is endangering herself, possibly others if she is drinking and driving…

@hostmomtobe, would you tell her to get a hepatitis and HIV test considering the sketchy place she got pierced at? i don’t want to sound like a spinster when i talk to her about this, then again, she knows i have piercings (good lord, now i feel like it’s my fault too)

thanks for your feedback! keep it coming

NoVA HostMom March 31, 2009 at 4:19 am

Frankly, I do not think this is a “mediate” type of situation. This is a “I need to let her parents know the full scope of the problems and let them in on her Facebook things” situation. It is great you are concerned about her, but if her parents wish to ground her and take away the cell phone (and choose not to let her try to present mitigating circumstances as evidence to reduce the severity of her punishments), that is well within their rights.

It is great that you have that kind of relationship with her, and as a parent (and someone who has to deal with “issues” in both adults and juvies for my job) I can tell you that if my daughter chooses to not use me as her source for the facts of things, I hope that she will at least tell another adult the whole story. And I hope that adult will either address any problems with her directly, or come to me when her safety and welfare are in danger. It still does not mean that you need to be trying to tell her parents about her side of things. They already have an idea, I am guessing. However, I do agree that you need to talk to her parents and tell them just how big the scope of things really are and just how bad it has gotten. She is lying to them, and frankly I have yet to deal with a teenager who does not lie (or really distort the truth) to their advantage (woe is me, how misunderstood I am, no one listens to me, my parents are really hard on me…yada yada yada).

Yes, it is great that you are her friend, and except for the idea that she is drinking and ditching school and lying (and I am guessing experimenting with other things), I think that D is wrong. Keeping secrets among friends is one thing, but you were her caregiver to begin with (and a friend at the same time). The risks to her well being right now are too great to keep these secrets, even if you were her age and a schoolmate.

Franzi April 1, 2009 at 1:29 am

little update – i got hold of the mom. she assumed things but didn’t know. i didn’t tell her everything, but asked her to have an honest conversation with her daughter. hopefully, i have a chance to follow up after they had time to talk.

the bigger issue seems to be the father though…apparently family dynamics have changed in the past year (dad is being very unhappy with life and the choices he made – midlife crisis if you ask me) and that puts a strain on everyone. there wasn’t much time to really talk though.

i am in touch with the girl on facebook and it seems like she appreciates that. any input from moms facing terrible teens is welcome!

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