Starting out on the right foot, when you’re on maternity leave

by cv harquail on June 2, 2009

We’ve talked a bit about how to start out with an au pair, and it seems that in general, we think that the best strategy is to get her working right away. This helps your au pair feel needed, distracts her from homesickenss, helps with training, and ramps all of the family up fairly quickly.

Sometimes this strategy is a little harder to execute. … Especially when you have a baby under 3 months (and thus can’t leave alone with the Au Pair) and when you are temporarily at home on maternity leave.

200906022003.jpg Megan sent us this question:

Our first Au Pair is arriving on June 12th and I’m on maternity leave until July 20th. I had planned to spend the month plus acclimating her to our house, kids, the city, etc. We also plan to take her to our cabin at the end of June (provided she wants to come) for a week long vacation. Now I’m really worried. Any tips on how I can still make this work? I’m not a very authoritative person…this may be really tough. Also, our new baby won’t be 12 weeks until the end of June so she cannot be left alone with him until then anyway.

I checked in with Megan and she not only has her new baby son (2 months old) but also a daughter who is 3 1/2. Megan  has a terrific maternity leave– the kind all parents should have IMHO, a full 16 weeks.

How can Megan use her time at home, with her new au pair and kids, to the best advantage?

Let me jump in by saying– See this as an opportunity! You’ll have someone to watch the baby (even with you around somewhere) while you attend to the ‘big sister’, you’ll have an extra set of hands while things are the most crazy, you can show, tell, show, show and watch, rather than tell and run out the door to work, and even more!

Some ideas:


— Tell your AP that the challenge is for all of you to learn how to work together and to ease into the situation of you going back to work full time. I remember how hard it was to leave my babies that first week back at work, and it helped me to be able to go in for a few hours, get a bit organized, then go back home, and just ease into full time. (I had a lot of flexibility).

— Ask your AP to take special charge of your daughter , and help your daughter establish herself as a big sister. I bet that she has been enjoying having you home, and will struggle a bit when you go back to work. Plus, your daughter now has to share you with her brother. Your au pair can make the effort to connect warmly with your daughter and be "her" special new thing for a while.

— Ask your au pair to become an ‘infant expert’- – to do a little reading or Howcast video watching on baby development, to share these tips with you.


Practice "leaving" the baby with your Au Pair while you and your daughter go off and do things together around your house. Give your au pair chances to be ‘in charge’ while you are around but not watching.

Give your au pair a mix of fun work and regular work (e.g., playing with baby and doing laundry) — make sure that you balance things out so that neither one of you gets all the diaper changing. Draw on what you learned when your daughter was born and you and your partner and caregiver(s) were learning how to share responsibility.

— Use the fact that you have au pair care right now to take some time for yourself. Yes, really. Take the time to sort clothes in your closet so you have things to wear to work. Take the time to write in his baby book. Take the time to take videos of him and his big sister. Take the time to have a glass of wine with your partner, on the back steps, while the au pair tucks the kids in upstairs.

— Think of this extra help as a luxury that you and your family deserve … it’s a precious time (heck, it’s all precious time).

Moms, dads, au pairs — what would you suggest for Megan?


Amy June 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I think this is a great opportunity for a couple of reasons. You’ll be able to observe the aupair’s interactions with the children while you are still at home. You’ll also be able to spend time with your older child who may be feeling a little lost with a new sibling. You’ll even have the ability to take a shower without small children coming into the bathroom with you! I would, however, caution you to not do all the work, as it will give the aupair the wrong idea about what her work day will be like. As you get closer to going to work, you could transition more of “running things” to the aupair. It sounds like a nice transition.

new HM June 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I also wish I had found this website before scheduling our new AP to be here with us for FOUR WEEKS before I start back to work. My intention was to be ultra conservative about this transition period but after teaching her the basics and making sure the kids were safe I’m really just getting in the way of her doing her job. When I’m home the children naturally run to me to problem solve and the new AP isn’t sure where her authority begins. I’ve tried hiding out in my bedroom but the kids always find me! I have found that I need to schedule her week like I would do if I was actually working but that means that I need to get out of the house. I have been spent many hours reading in coffee shops, window shopping, and doing senseless errands!

Calif Mom June 4, 2009 at 9:59 am

I have found myself sharing the house during the workday with APs twice — once between freelance assignments, while on a job search, and again while recovering from a medical problem. It’s not dissimilar to the new baby situation, but has key differences.

new HM — you made me LOL. While I love nothing more than eavesdropping at a coffee house, I’ve spent many more hours there than I really needed to, or even could afford to, simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of going into the house, interrupting the flow there, and then getting sucked into Mommy role. My other trick is to take the laptop out to the car, b/c I can catch my home’s wifi from the street without being seen and catch up on email or do other house management tasks. You can also usually find free wifi spots near public libraries.

I have always found it helpful to kindly but clearly tell the kids– during those times when they run to me for conflict resolution or to lobby for something– that “AP is in charge right now. Mom is working. Go ask AP.” With repetition, and if you do not engage in the issue at hand, it really does work to extinguish that playing off of one adult against another.

I would say relish that time you have free from kid duty as well as free from working duty! Schedule coffee and lunch dates with your friends. I’m not a planner, but I’d seriously get gift buying out of the way for the next winter. Stock up on wardrobe staples for your job. I would go to the library and just sit and read all the things I know I won’t be able to later. Fiction, parenting, the New Yorker, whatever. I would also do a lot of cooking ahead and freezing meal-size portions (wow, that sounds pathetic, but it’s seriously what I do on my days off, to save myself the stress during the week of figuring out dinner).

Because when you go back to work, it’s right back onto that hamster wheel of schedule.

Remembering what it was like for my eldest when the baby finally arrived, I’d like to seriously second the advice about Mom spending extra time with her. You’re going to need to figure out how to do this from now on, so getting into the habit of it now will make it much easier in the long run. Actually, the baby’s arrival and first several months were fine — but oh, when that baby starts to become his own person! It’s very hard on the older kid, no matter how sympathetic a child she is. Tune into that and carve out special rituals and routines.

Dorsi June 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I went through similar, though I only have one child. My AP came when the baby was 8 weeks and I went back to work at 10 weeks. (I worked evenings, so while the AP did a lot of on duty, my DH was home when I was working).

1. MAKE A CALENDER. Be religious about it. APs want predictability. Tell them exactly what hours they must be fully available to you and what hours they can watch tv and surf the internet. I love google calendars.

2. SCHEDULE TIME OFF. I wasn’t good about this at first, because I felt like my AP had lots of time off. About 2 weeks in, when I wrote on the calender, “AP’s day off” my AP was so excited and planned a trip to the mall. I realized she wasn’t bold enough to schedule her own activities during downtime unless I was explicit about it.

3. SCHEDULE TIME ON. Schedule her for a lot of hours, at least as many as you will expect her to use when you go back to work. You don’t want a variation of the summer AP problems that have been discussed on this site — when APs are resentful of suddenly having to work more.

There are lots of good ways you can use the AP when you have an infant less than 3 months of age. I found that my AP was anxious to work without me hovering over her. We have a office in our attic, and I spent good blocks of time down there. I napped. I prepared nice dinners while AP entertained the baby. I made it clear that when she was scheduled to be on, diapers and everything else were her responsibility. I was breastfeeding, so she would interrupt me to feed the baby. I would also leave the AP with your toddler and take the baby out. Much easier to lunch with friends, dinner with husband with only an infant in tow. I also would run errands — those 5 stop days where you are in and out of the car and leave AP in the car with the baby. No struggle in and out of the car seat, no waking the sleeping baby. Made my life so much easier.

I will try to think of how else we transitioned, but it was worked really well for us.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }