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.
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?