97% of the time that something goes wrong between an au pair and a host family, it’s because one or both parties is not following the rules.
Okay, maybe it’s not 97%. Maybe it’s just 95%. But in the vast majority of the problems we talk about here, someone isn’t following the rules.
We got an email from a BlueSkyAuPair in Canada who’s got a classic mess of problems.
We’ve seen each of these before– too many hours on her schedule, conflicts w/ parents over discipline strategies, too much work for one person, inappropriate tasks on her to-do list, confusion over who’s on duty on the holiday… You know, the usual stuff.
(Details are at the bottom of this post in BlueSkyAuPair’s email. )
Situations like the one in this email frustrate me, and not only because we’ve addressed each of these issues before (albeit with different details). These situations frustrate me because at their core, these issues are caused to a large degree by somebody not following the rules.
And folks, following the rules is the EASY stuff of being a good host parent or a good au pair. Following the rules solves chronic problems before they start.
Why don’t au pairs and host parents follow the rules?
People don’t follow the rules for a range of reasons. In order of increasing severity, these reasons are:
- No rules have been set.
- Host parents and/or au pairs don’t know the rules.
- The rules have not been communicated.
- The rules have not been adequately understood.
- The rules have not been consistently applied and so they seem arbitrary.
- One party is trying to take advantage of the other.
To solve the problem, you have to identify the correct reason(s) why the rules are not being followed. Keep in mind that when we feel particularly
pissed off aggrieved, we might assume that it’s reason #6. However, usually it’s a reason between #1 and #5. Extend a generous interpretation and start by cutting each other some slack.
Four Steps to Dealing with Problems Following the Rules
There are four steps to dealing with a situation that messed up because someone isn’t following the rules. These steps are:
Step 1. Identify and review the rules.
Step 2. Have a conversation about the rules.
Step 3. Follow the rules.
Step 4. Get support.
1. Identify and review the Au Pair Program rules.
What are the rules?
- If you are in the USA, the rules are clear.
- If you’re in a country outside the USA, you have to identify whether there are actual regulations in that country. If you have a contract, you must refer to that contract to clarify regulations, expectations and commitments.
- If you have no formal contract and/or have only a verbal agreement between the host parents and the au pair, that was a bad move on your part. Now, in advance of speaking with your au pair or host parents, you should put together a list of rules/regulations you would like to have in your contract. Use the US rules as a guideline.
2. Have a conversation about the Au Pair Program rules and how these should be followed.
Every au pair-host parent problem that is going to be resolved has to be resolved through a thoughtful, constructive conversation between the host parents and the au pair. Assume that a conversation is required, every time. The only thing that differs is which topics must be discussed.
Prepare yourself for a conversation by getting your facts straight (see above), identifying a few examples of the problem, clarifying for yourself what the desired behavior would be, and being nice.
(See this post for more specifics: Thriving despite conflicts: 9 Rules of Negotiating with Your Au Pair )
3. Follow the rules
Following the rules is pretty concrete. You can demonstrate that you are following the rules and that s/he or they are following the rules. For example, you give the au pair a schedule of 45 hours, and she works 45 hours. You get the childcare coverage you’re expecting and s/he gets the workload & time off s/he’s expecting. Or, you pay the au pair on time and the correct amount, and s/he gets the money she expects when s/he expects it.
When people start following the rules, a key source of tension is resolved, because the rules are there precisedly to prevent the kinds of overwork, exploitation, inappropriate expaectations, and disappointment that you’ve been experiencing in the bad situation.
And, when people start following the rules, this clears away the space to talk about other, more difficult issues, like disagreements/misunderstandings/ inconsistencies regarding how to discipline the children.
4. Get support
The fourth critical step is to get support from somewhere outside the au pair-host parent relationship. This can be from your LCC, your agency, other host parents in your cluster, other au pairs you know, and of course, this community here at AuPairMom.
In the example below, both the au pair and the host parent would have avoided the scheduling problem and the issue with ‘who’s on duty on the holiday?’ if they’d been reading this blog. Ahem.
Please share your specific advice for BlueSkyAuPair and your general insights about following rules (or not)–
Dear Au Pair Mom,
I am an Au Pair for a family in Canada. They are really nice but I am very frustrated because of these problems.
They do not have any proper discipline for their four year old daughter, who talks backs screams stamps her feet and demands in a way that I haven’t had any experience with. Anything can set off a screaming fit, socks, cereal and taking her out for treats all cause massive tantrums. If I cook pancakes she stamps her feet and says i’m not eating in I want Macaroni Cheese, If I decide that night to make fresh macaroni cheese for supper then she won’t eat it because she wants tinned. She can tantrum for over and hour, we are late for school and appointments everyday. I try very hard to have fun with her but I get it thrown back in my face.
I personally wish I had the power to put a stop to it but I her Mom does not work and lets her get away with things. I feel powerless and helpless.
There is also a little boy who is very sick and needs to be watched constantly and observed for signs of seizure activity.
I should point out that I work twelve hour days, five days a week, sometimes over. I start work at 7:30 am and finish at 7:30pm, I have all meals with the family.
Today has upset me beyond belief. After two weeks of dealing with hour long tantrums every day when I got screamed at punched and kicked, my host family and I went to visit their family for christmas.
I expected that having ten of their family members around meant that I could take it easy whilst they all played together and spent time together as a family. I really needed this break because I have had the flu. Just getting out of bed to be around in case of medical emergency and to not seem completely impolite was very difficult. Half the time I could not tell you what was happening because I had such a high temperature and headache.
I still tried to make time to play with the children spending and hour and a half one day playing with the girl, having a tickle fight with her on another occasion, sitting with her as she did some drawing and playing a card game with her.
But my Host Mom told me tonight that she was disappointed in me for not doing more while we were with the relatives. The Host Mom said wanted to visit with her family and I hadn’t done enough around the house to let her do that.
I must mention that I did not know she expected that, since this was my first visit to the family). I have done everything that she asked me to do right away. She pointed out that one time I had not played with her daughter when she had been playing on her own because I had been playing with another child but the other child had been seeking my attention and I do not think it unfair to pay attention to another child who is seeking it.
How do I point out that expecting me to work sixty hours a week and look after one kid with a medical condition and one kid who everybody has trouble keeping any kind of control over the other whilst making breakfast and lunch (five days a week) and dinner (twice a week) and keeping up with my housework is just too much.
I feel like they kind of expect me to be a part time cook a part time cleaner and a full time nanny. What should I do?
Your Au Pair Counselor As A Local Expert and Resource
Thriving despite conflicts: 9 Rules of Negotiating with Your Au Pair
How Should An Au Pair Bring Up A Challenging Topic? Your preferences
Best Practices: Scheduling an Au Pair with a Stay-At-Home Mom
Mixing Grandparents and Au Pairs at the Holidays