Should We Extend? Au Pair is Great, but also Boring

by cv harquail on January 20, 2016

I laughed out loud at the subject line of the email that sent this issue to Au Pair Mom.

It’s almost — but not quite– a luxury to imagine being bothered by a “boring” Au Pair, if this Au Pair comes on the heels of a “Flameout”, a “Party Girl”, or a “Couch Potato”.  Not to mention, an “Accident Waiting To Happened”. 6a00e54fdb9f7e883301bb07eef2bd970d-450wi

But I completely got it.

My perfect Au Pair is someone who’s so interested in life that s/he can’t help but be interesting to have around the house. Even if her or his interests are far from my own, a person who’s full of life brings positive energy that I really love to have around me.

I suspect I’m a lot like the Host Mom who wrote this:

We have an Au Pair who wants to extend. She is a very good Au Pair. The kids LOVE her, in their affections she is in the top 2 and maybe the top 1 out of the 7 we have had. She is playful and good with them and loves them, helps out on her off time with homework or playing and seems to do so genuinely.

I definitely would count her in the top 2 for off-the-job/family-member stuff. She drives kids around a LOT, which we told in matching was a big part of the job, and does so patiently and safely. She is pleasant, reliable, a team-player who pitches in and absolutely a good family-member type of Au Pair.

She is so-so with kid-related chores; sheet-changing is for her a long task, toy pickup doesn’t happen much, laundry seems a bit challenging but gets done eventually. She is, to be fair, no worse than our other weak-on-chores Au Pairs have been.

Here is my hesitation about extending, and it seems absurd to me and I can’t decide if or how to let it go:

DH and I find her painfully boring, annoyingly so. (The kids totally do not find her boring.) Or just annoying, I can’t tell. She has no conversation to offer that is interesting, apart from the occasional non-story about the gym or a tv show. She reads nothing, goes out maybe twice a week. She is totally pleasant at dinner but is just without anything to contribute.

I can’t figure out what bugs me so much but she is just DULL.   

Our higher-drama Au Pairs at least were entertaining to me, with their heartbreaks and family stories. I remember when we finished our year with the last high-drama Au Pair I said I wanted a great Au Pair with kids, with no drama–and that is what I have. And the dullness is painful!

Still, if kids are SO happy with this Au Pair, and the job performance is quite good (apart from chores it’s outstanding), what is my problem??

I’m debating trying to ramp up the chore performance to see if that would make me like the Au Pair better. But frankly I wouldn’t extend with this one mainly for the annoying-boring quality. Which seems like a silly reason!!

Last note: With each Au Pair, by February I was noting that it is with good reason that we only keep them for 1 year. Each one has gotten on my nerves for different reasons–laziness, grumpiness, drama. So maybe it’s “just that time of year”??


AuPair Paris January 20, 2016 at 5:37 am

Ah man! How long has she been there? It’s *so* hard to make conversation with your employers with whom you live. For some people… It was for me anyway. There’s a constant self-censorship going on – even when you’re at ease and no longer nervous around the family. I think I probably came across as boring at first, because my interests are like… Politics, social justice, literature (in *English*) etc. The first two, we wouldn’t have agreed on, and the last one, they wouldn’t have read, or really been interested in. So I was silent a lot.

Still, I don’t have a solution, and understanding doesn’t help much if it’s grating on you. But just, if you choose not to extend, please, please, please don’t tell AP that it’s because she’s boring. I know it’s tempting to be honest for the sake of improvement, but it would just torment her and make her more nervous.

As for whether to extend… There’s no answering that really. You can only weigh up how much this bothers you with how much the kids love her. Could you make it more of an employee relationship for this one AP, so that she’s often with the kids but not so often with you? Would that be a deal-breaker situation?

massmom January 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

If your general policy is to stick with one year, then just explain that to her, and listen to your own intuition!

Personally, if she was great with the kids and generally pleasant, I would be tempted to extend, but I guess that depends on how often she is hanging out with you outside of dinner. If you can gracefully head upstairs after dinner and minimize the time you spend with her on weekends, then it wouldn’t be a deal breaker to me. But if she’s always around the house, then yes, a conversational wet noodle would be hard to deal with! My kids would probably prefer a less interesting au pair, simply because we often end up hanging out talking after dinner so I’m talking to her instead of playing with them!

WarmStateMomma January 20, 2016 at 1:19 pm

The dinnertime issue sounds so familiar!

I don’t have much to discuss with my AP other than the kids, family calendar and her plans. We are passionately interested in very different topics, so dinner conversations are pretty boring. We ask her questions but she doesn’t ask us about much. Our last AP was extremely funny and outgoing, which made up for not having much in common to discuss.

It’s an acceptable trade off for us but I sometimes wish we had more in common to build a more personal friendship. She doesn’t annoy us, though. Of all my college roommates, past APs, and others I’ve lived with – she is the only person I can say this about.

I’d weigh the annoyance against the level of annoyance of other people you’ve hosted or lived with. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your no-extension policy and saving yourself a year of frustration, especially if she isn’t meeting your AP-related expectations.

Seattle Mom January 20, 2016 at 5:21 pm

I can relate to this. And I think it’s not just different interests- it can also be personality style. Because we had one AP whose interests could not have been further from our own, but we found her fascinating anyway.

My husband is an intellectual and has a hard time relating to people who don’t have a lively inner life, or who won’t share their inner life. That’s the situation with our current au pair- he finds her boring. I admit she’s not a bundle of fun, but I am not exactly bored by her. I enjoy her company in smallish doses (eg I like having her come along on an excursion with the kids). And luckily neither of us find her annoying because she doesn’t talk a lot- if she talked a lot about boring things my husband could not have lived in the same house with her (we had one of those, and we rematched- though being boring was only a small part of the problem with her- that one was also lacking empathy). Also luckily, she has an active social life and so we don’t find ourselves sitting with her staring at the walls a lot. She hasn’t had dinner with us in ages, and I feel bad admitting it but I kind of prefer it that way… in the past we’ve had au pairs who had dinner with us every night and it was great, so it’s not that we don’t want our au pair at the table with us. By the way this au pair is extending with us. She’s reliable, does a better than average job in general, is extremely patient, and the kids love her. For the most part- I worry a bit about how things will go now that we’re rounding the corner after year 1, she seems to be losing a bit of patience and my older daughter is less charmed by her. But this could be a side effect of becoming closer with the children, and they are all trusting each other more.

If I had the OP’s problem with an au pair who ate dinner with us every weeknight and was always around, my husband would probably not allow an extension.

Seattle Mom January 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm

One other thing- I strongly suspect that my au pair has a rich inner life but doesn’t share it for (mainly) cultural reasons. She is intelligent and has had interesting life experiences. She also seems to have some social anxieties.. I don’t know.. So I think the fact that I can at least imagine that she’s not *really* a boring person helps.

FrankFurt AP Boy January 20, 2016 at 7:48 pm

I am not so sure that any of the parents I have worked for has found me particularly interesting as a person. I have never made incredibly strong friendships with the parents. It is a little sad thinking of that I suppose! Saying that though I have always got on fairly well despite me not being the most interesting person to them. In my experience the parents have been okay with that.. In fact despite it they would still describe me as a very good au pair and I know I can visit them whenever I want.

It is absolutely crucial for the au pair and the parents to get on but at the end of the day I am there for the kids really. Ultimately it is them that experience the benefit of a good au pair (or the detriment of a bad one).

Taking a Computer Lunch January 20, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Sometimes “boring” is an intense introvert who is not particularly good at explaining her interests and feelings in her native language, but who nevertheless bonds with our family. You might not recognize it until it’s over. AP #7 was extremely quiet and hard to engage in conversation. I know now that her introverted nature got in the way of her practicing and improving her English in a way that let her communicate feelings and interests with us. She was fantastic with the kids – doting to The Camel (including spending an hour holding her so my 90-year-old grandmother could touch her and talk to her at a big party) She also engaged my then tween with stick fighting and his made-up ball games every day after school while waiting for the Camel’s bus. I did not appreciate the intensity of her love for my family, because she never vocalized it, but saw it the day she left and the weeks that followed her return home.

When I matched with another intense introvert, I knew what to expect, and went out of my way to include her in family activities – especially after her besties abandoned her for boyfriends and she decided that hanging out with drunk APs bored her. Having seen it once, there were less surprises the next time around – so the intensity of her goodbye did not shock me.

Boring is always better than drama that gets in the way of your AP doing her job well. Just saying.

That being said, I’ve written on this Blog before that there are things for which I look before I’m willing to extend with an AP:

1) Does she have a reason for staying beyond one or two best AP friends or having “nothing better to do” if she returns home? This must be a “yes.”

2) Is she staying only because she has a boyfriend? “This must be a “no.”

3) Does she have an extensive network of friends that include recently arrived APs or Americans or AP friends who are extending? This must be a “yes”

4) Does she want to extend because she still wishes to improve her English or she engages in volunteer activities or she has a goal that can only be obtained by remaining in the U.S.? It will work out better if this is a “yes”

To engage a “boring” AP, surprise her at the dinner table with such questions as, “Tell me about something interesting you did today.” After a few months, the question could be, “Tell me what most surprised you about the United States.” Notice, these are not “yes/no” questions. In order to make her practice describing feelings, interests and desires, avoid them.

Oh, and knowing her favorite television program is not a bad thing. It can be useful at Christmas/birthday when you want to buy a boxed set of her favorite program as a gift. Even if her interests are not yours, get to know them – the information can be useful when it’s time for a gift or reward that she’ll appreciate because you cared enough to pay attention.

Mimi January 20, 2016 at 11:34 pm

We are not extenders, so this is a no brainer for me to say don’t extend with someone you’re not thrilled with. However, I think it’s important to understand that the cultural divide/individual AP personality/age gap can often lead to situations where an AP often doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to the HF enough to be considered interesting.

Our APs usually eats all meals with us and we spend a lot of time at the dinner table with our AP (and HK) practicing conversation and manners. We have had some mildly introverted APs who balk at first, but once they realize we won’t skip them with the questions and that everyone is genuinely interested in their answers, they usually open up more and we learn more about them than we would have if we weren’t actively asking the kinds of questions TACL talks about above. Our conversations have included politics, how insurance works in the US, work-life balance, you name it. (The questions the kids ask them are often funny and charming, but also very disarming…”Do your toilets in Austria look like ours do?” “What kinds of songs do you hear on the radio at home?” … and lead to great conversations.)

Give yourself a specific amount of time to try engaging her more in specifically structured conversations and see where it takes you. “AP, I came across X book the other day that is required reading for HS here in the US. Have you read X? Did you have books like these that you were required to read? Tell me about your favorite? What kinds of books/reading interest you?” If you don’t think anything has changed after that amount of time, then know that you have made an effort and cutting her loose will allow her to seek new opportunities without the potential danger of ending your time on a sour note down the road.

Seattle Mom January 21, 2016 at 6:45 pm

These are really great ideas for engaging a reticent AP.. thanks!

2 kids and a cat January 21, 2016 at 8:01 am

First, I would use the potential if extension as leverage to improve the chores.
Could you order a weekly magazine tat might give you shared topics to talk about? The Week is a good one for au pairs.

massmom January 21, 2016 at 11:02 am

Thinking it about it more, I guess “interesting” isn’t necessarily what I expect from my au pairs — I wasn’t particularly interesting at 18 either, with very little life experience under my belt. I do look for “curious” however — somebody who asks a lot of questions and makes observations about their experience and cultural differences is interesting to me. We also make a habit of going around the table and asking everyone questions to help get the kids used to making conversation, so we always have some conversation starters in our back pocket.

PacNWHostMom January 21, 2016 at 1:09 pm

I can completely relate to having a boring AuPair in the house. Our first two were so lively and always sharing about what was going on. It was fun, and we bonded over those things.
Our new AP shares nothing, and rarely speaks to us but to say she’s leaving so I feel your pain. It’s boring to the point of annoyance. We try with her, but nothing has worked so far. I agree with open-ended questions during dinner or a time when you’re all together. I try and get excited about things our AP has done to draw out her personality. Mine is a total dud (even in the chore, kid duty department) but it sounds like yours has a special relationship with your children and works very hard. I think that’s one of the most important factors when they’re here. I often have to remind myself (and my husband) they aren’t here for us, it’s all about the kids. Even though we’d prefer someone who also wants to converse with us!
If you’ve got an AP who makes your children a priority and even spends extra time with them, even if they are weak on chores, I would go for the extension. That bond and that devotion to the kids is ultimately what it’s all about!

hostmama in CA January 21, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I agree with PacNWHostMom that it is all about the relationship with the kids. If she does a great job with them, I would extend – reviewing chore expectations of course. Our last au pair was fine with my daughter, but an extreme introvert – painfully so. Conversation from her, even with open-ended questions, was non-existent. But my daughter liked her well-enough (not love – but fine) that I didn’t have a problem with it. She just left yesterday and we will be picking up our new au pair today and I will say I looked for someone a little more outgoing and interesting. But having had a great au pair in the past as well as two really poor ones that I ended up re-matching over – I would take a good but boring one any day if my kid was happy.

NJ Mom February 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

Personally, I would take a boring AP over a drama-filled AP any day (all else being equal) but both HD and I are introverts. If OP is an extrovert, I can see how there is a personality miss-match between HP and AP where they find her boring. Keep in mind though that since the kids absolutely love her, she may be a great personality/skills match for the kids.

If the thought of spending another year grasping at straws for conversation topics is painful, then extension may not be the right option. The end of the AP year is a natural transition to find a different match. If you go that route, explain you don’t extend as a HF policy, then write her a good recommendation to help her find a family looking for a drama-free AP!

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