Struggling to Communicate With Host Dad

by cv harquail on August 5, 2011

Every host parent has his or her own approach to interacting with their au pair. Our personalities affect some of this, but even more important is who has taken which role in the host parents – au pair relationship.

When adults team up to become parents, homemakers and breadwinners, they divvy up these roles so that most of the important things get covered.

With regard to interacting with the au pair — who is part of the family and also an employee– sometimes one parent manages the ‘family’ part while the other manages the ‘employee’ part.

Or, parents might split up categories of responsibilities, with one parent doing the childcare & home management tasks while the other parent does the phone bills & car management.  Others might take a good cop- bad cop approach and have one parent deliver all the tough news so that the partner with regular direct AP contact can avoid negative blowback, and so on.

In most families with a host dad and a host mom, it is the mom who takes most of the responsibility for interacting with the au pair around kid & home related issues.

Even though this seems like the ‘typical’ gendered split of family work, and thus shouldbe predictable and conventional, this kind of split can make it hard for an au pair to connect strongly with both the host mom and the host dad.

Without things to talk about with the host dad, or projects to do together, it’s hard for them to get to know each other. Add the cross-gender dynamic and some dads’ preferences to be wary of how they connect with younger adult women, there is often a much bigger gap between a (female) au pair and a (male) host dad.

Add to this language challenges, cultural differences and generational differences between how moms and dads are supposed to act (and expected to act by the Au Pair) and you’ve got a complex situation.

Below is an email from July, who writes about challenges with her host dad.

Dear “Mom”,

I’m wondering– Is it typical for HDs to take a back-seat and leave HMs to organise everything au-pair related?

I’ve been with my Host Family for a month now, they live in Vienna, Austria, and I’m originally Irish, but came to them from the UK. Of course, they speak German, but I was originally hired with the Mother’s intentions that I speak English with the children [they don’t understand anything past “please and thank you”, but that’s another issue!!]. I do speak some German myself, I did a year-long course before I arrived for 3 months.

Fortunately, because of the Mother’s work, she speaks very good English, so there hasn’t been an issue there. The problem is the Father speaks no English whatsoever, hence I try so hard to speak German with him. But any time I do, he either calls for his wife to come and “sort what’s wrong”, or mumbles something in a strong dialect that I don’t understand.

Here’s an example of the kind of mix-up this causes:
The day that I arrived, I brought my carry-on bag and handbag inside with me from the car, HM told me I could leave my checked bag in the car for HD to carry up to the apartment later. After dinner, I went to unpack my carry-on, but I wanted to finish all my unpacking, so I waited for HD to take up my case and let me know. I waited until half past eleven that night[!!] before knocking on the door of their “private” living room. HM wasn’t there, only HD. I was so tired after my journey, but I tried my best to ask in German could I please go to the car to fetch my luggage. He didn’t understand anything, but got up from his chair and walked me to the kitchen [maybe he thought I was asking for a drink?], when I saw my case in the hallway. I pointed to it, and said “that’s what I was looking for, thank you”, and he slumped off.

Last week, HM asked me to give “us” my bank details, so HD can arrange my stipend be paid by transfer. She’s a busy woman, so when i caught HD in the kitchen after dinner, I handed him the paper, explained what it was in German, and asked him to come back to me if it was’ missing any info. He had no idea what was going on.

Sometimes he arrives home while one of the two kids are in a tantrum, and doesn’t bother asking me what happened… just goes straight into cuddling the kid who was naughty to the other, instead of the victim. I feel undermined, the victim kid is confused, and the bold kid gets away with hitting the other! grrr

I understand that he works hard to provide for his family, but it’s not fair to ignore me or to make my job harder by ignoring me. Is there anything I can do or say to make him feel more comfortable? I’m a first-time au pair, but there’s been three au pairs in this family before me, but I have no contact with any of them to find out did they have the same experiences with him.

In addition to specific advice and conversation about July’s situation, I’d love your thoughts on this:
What can a (female) au pair do to make a good, comfortable working relationship with a Host Dad?
What can a (female) au pair do to make a good, comfortable ‘part of the amily’  relationship with a Host Dad?

{ 12 comments }

azmom August 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Hello! We don’t have the language barrier, but for the most part it is I (HM) who does the interacting with our au pair. If, however, there’s an issue that my husband has an issue with or request, then I ask that he speak directly with au pair. However, now it seems that the only time HD wants to talk to the AP is if there’s an issue. Thus, we’re transitioning back to me doing the interacting.

To assist in making a better relationship, perhaps ask HM for 15 minutes with her, and tell her your concerns. Let her know that you want to be able to assist the family, but that since there’s a language barrier with the HD you feel a bit confused. She may not realize that there’s an issue, and likely HD doesn’t either, since he seemingly doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Since you indicate he speaks a different dialect, it is likely that even if he does understand words you are saying, it is unlikely that he fully comprehends.

Also, are you their first AP? They may still be getting into the groove as to what to expect from you/with you. Good luck!

franzi August 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm

i also suggest you sit down with HM (preferably in a neutral space such as a coffee shop, the park, a playground) and voice your concerns.
language barriers are not always noticed by all parties, and experienced in the same severity. you may think your german is good whereas maybe you have a strong accent. your HD may not be aware of his strong dialect at all and from what i understand this is preventing the AP to understand anything he says.

i’m not sure if i would mention the “he comes home when kids are having a tantrum” thing because that is just too circumstantial. i mean, little does he know when he is outside unlocking the door that there’s mayhem inside and it is also not always easy to notice which kid did what to whom and why. he’s had a long day at work and just wants to give his kids a hug without dealing with the conflict. “you saw what went down, you go solve the problem. i’ll just be dad.”

Carlos August 6, 2011 at 4:56 am

I have a question non-related with the topic.. well, it’s kinda related… do single host dads hire female au pairs? I’ve never asked that to my agency and I’ve never read anything… it’s simply curioisity…

German Au-Pair August 6, 2011 at 8:32 am

Yes, this is possible.

Manjari August 6, 2011 at 8:27 am

Hmm, beside everything: Austrians speak and study classic German in school. Even if your hostdad speaks an Austrian dialect (like 90% of the Austrians do) he is still able to speak and understand the standard German and should/must speak this way with you.

s August 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm

This might not be the same thing, but I know that whenever I’m around my boyfriend’s family, (who speak no English) I often play dumb and act like I have no idea what’s going on, even though I have a pretty high level of their language. They know I have some notions, but they don’t know how much I understand, and as bad as it sounds, I prefer it that way. I feel like there’s less pressure on me, and maybe Host Dad feels the same way. Just a thought.

AnonHM Europe August 8, 2011 at 2:36 am

This might be an Austrian cultural thing. One of our APs went to Austria after her year with us. She told me similar stories. In our family she felt like a true family member (and still is, after 4-5 years!) in this family she felt like a servant. Beginning that she would not be allowed to use the informal “Du” instead of “Sie” she lived in this family for more than 3 years (during university studies). They would never ask for her family back home (didn’t even know about the number of brothers/sisters etc.) and when she terminated the contract in the end they would withhold her monthly allowance until the very last day of work – she might leave the house once she has her money. What I want to say is: He might just not be interested in the AP and thus ignore it. The AP is to provide childcare, not to mess with.
As for us: My husband explained all the household-related stuff to the girls and did the training. Very unusual for all of our girls. Many of our girls found this amazing, especially the girls from South-America who were used to their “machos”. We were bad role-models culturewise for those girls, I’m afraid. They were definitely not used to fathers changing diapers, doing the washing, shopping and cooking and all girls found it desireable to have a husband to help so much in the house. But I did the family-talk – I think women are more predestinated than men for this.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

We’re a divide-and-conquer family, too, when it comes to the kids. DH quit his job and cared for our special needs child for 20 months (although I came off from six months of maternity leave with our 2nd child when our first AP arrived). My husband is still as likely as I to change our daughter’s diaper (harder now for him that she has a young woman’s body). DH does the grocery shopping, stays home in the morning to say hello to the kids.

Despite all of this, I’m the one that deals with scheduling – communicating with the APs, figuring out how to get kids from point A to point B, and dealing with scheduling conflicts between AP, HP and kids. I am also more likely to take leave from work to resolve those conflicts.

Nevertheless, DH still communicates with the APs. Since he’s home for their morning shift, he hears some of their news. I think I tend to hear more: because I ask how their day went when I get home, because I’m in charge of the calendar, because I’m the afternoon person whose home making dinner while the AP feeds our special needs child.

However, in this case, it sounds like the husband is being passive aggressive, and the AP is bearing the brunt of his unwillingness to communicate. From what this AP has written, it appears that there are issues between the HM and HD, and some of them come to bear on her. I’m not sure that speaking to the HM will resolve all of them. She might ask HM for tips on how best to communicate with HD. My guess is that if she is persistent in her attempts to communicate with the HD on his terms (to the best of her ability), that their relationship will improve over time.

However, if her letter is stating that she’ll only be there for 3 months, then my guess is that their relationship won’t improve, because he may feel she’ll be gone all too soon.

anonamomma August 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I’ve been thinking about CV’s query on what AP’s can do to make HD’s more comfortable and before the backlash please remember the topic of the post – i.e. things that might make HOST DADS feel more comfortable around APs (it’s not about the AP’s feelings, clothes, comfort level, etc, etc) so with this in mind I begin:

1. Appearance/Presentation: Some HD’s are uncomfortable just having a young lady in the house and are desperate to avoid any situation that can be deemed inappropriate – and avoiding the AP in full is the easiest way to make sure that there is never any hint of any impropriety.

Suggestion: When hanging around the house (on duty or not) do not wear inappropriate clothing: i.e. short shorts, cleavage, bikinis, or lots of make up. You are not trying to pick him up (and YES I KNOW you are not trying to pick him up and yes I agree if you got it then you should flaunt it but this is not the topic of this post). Quite simply this post is about building a relationship with a HD and you cannot do that if the poor man is afraid to look at you. He must be comfortable in your company.

Pyjamas are another hot topic – make sure they cover everything they are supposed to cover – walking around the house in a silk nightie will not endear you to your HM either! (same goes for walking around in towels)

2. Space / smothering: Some HD’s don’t like having another person in their home. They dislike the intrusion and disruption it causes. HM tend to put a lot of emotional energy into APs (especially during the first few days) so HD’s might not appreciate this added distraction.

Suggestion: Give your HF’s space – know when you make yourself scarce and to give HM & HD alone time particularly if they are doing long hours or if you’ve just arrived and your HM has spent a few days showing you around – they might need some couple time i.e. kids are in bed HM & HD are watching a movie (leave them to it)

Hint: If HD is watching tv alone late a night – do not join him unless specifically invited – you don’t know why he is there and he might need alone time. (Hint: This one goes for HM too!)

3. Common Ground: Be honest – HD’s and APs hardly ever share the same interests and because HM usually gets the daily report that chance for interaction with HD is lost. I know that all of my last APs have struggled with this one except my last AP who was crazy about basketball and HD is also a huge fan – they ended up watching the last few games of the season together and it was such a blast to see them both scream (at eachother and) the tv. But she was the only one who ever cracked HD even a little so I have no other suggestions for this one and perhaps some of the other posters might be able to share their collective knowledge.

AuPairCR August 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Hello readers, I am an AP, and right now I’m desperate for some advice… I kind of have the same problem but with my HM… its different but similar? Iwould love some input to know what to do.

Me and my HM don’t have the best relationship, it sails between polite and “barely there” kind of thing. She is a stay at home mom, and i take care of her 4 children, they are younger than 8.
PROBLEM 1:At the beginning of my year, she started changing her ways, because she was annoyed by some things i did, we talked about it, i changed things the best that i can, and I am working really hard. With all the cleaning up after the kids, their rooms, the kitchen, the laundry etc. Even though i have done all these things daily I still struggle to get a good reaction out of her, every time i start a conversation she answers with yes or no replies and then we don’t talk anymore, she only addresses me to give me stuff to do. I don’t know what to do…
PROBLEM 2: i really love her kids, they are wonderful and they are all so different, I play with them all day and we get along very well, they say the love me and we hug and it’s a pretty nice relationship, but they are misbehaved, one of them likes to throw tantrums, and the other two boys are very violent sometimes with each other and sometimes with me. I try to handle these things by myself, but it has gotten to a a point i kind off can’t handle it anymore, HM sees when they disrespect me, and hit me or pinch me and does nothing. ex: yesterday at the pool one of them throws a tantrum because he is tired, i tell him to relax he subsequently throws a ball at my face and then kicks me, he is a 5 year old… I say hey don’t do that to me that’s rude, i’m not even yelling she immediately comes to me and scolds me. In my mind i think am i just supposed to let them hit me and talk to me however they want to?

I am starting to resent my stay here… I feel like I do all the work, and trust me when i say she does nothing(she only cooks and drives them), which is fine, that’s why she is paying me for, but she will give me an attitude every time i make the smallest mistake and not even talk nice to me about it… Is it me?
Thank you in advice to anyone who answers me!

gerngirl September 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Host Dad?? I thought all of them loves to flirt with their poor au pairs :D and the hos mom don’t understand why the au pair dont like him.

Edie April 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I had kind of an odd HD as well who thought it odd that I wanted to take a nap as soon as I arrived. But, I had been traveling for well over 26 hours and really couldn’t function. My opinion is that he was very lazy. A couple of months into my au pairship I became very sick and for a litany of reasons thought it best that I take the day off. When I confronted the HD he just looked at me with a sort of scowl…and didn’t say anything. He basically made me feel guilty for being sick. I took the day off anyway, and communication between us became very uncomfortable. He worked from home several times a week…so it wasn’t the end of the world.

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