Au Pairs (and Host Parents) need their privacy
— that’s why there are rules about the au pair’s room having an actual door (not a curtain or a screen).
Pretty much the only time it’s okay to go into an au pair’s room without permission is when there is an “emergency”.
- A/C left on for the weekend
- Window open– and it’s storming
- Pipe burst and is flooding the room
- Can’t find the cat…maybe trapped inside?
- Alarm clock going off but s/he’s out of the house
And so on.
In each of these cases, the situation requires that the host parent go into the room to fix whatever it is, without prior approval of the au pair. And, when the host parent goes into the room, s/he should keep in mind that s/he *is* entering a private space, where the au pair may have things left out and about that are really not what s/he wants the host family to see.
When you enter the room without a search warrant — otherwise known as your au pair’s agreement — any “evidence” gained during that visit cannot be submitted to the court of your family-au pair relationship.
If you go into your au pair’s room for an emergency, and see things you don’t think s/he wants you to have seen (e.g., dirty underwear, wastebasket full of diet coke cans and candy wrappers, piles of new shoes, etc.) your job as a host parent is to pretend you have never seen it.
Yes, it may be hard not to say something about the trash, the purchases, the traces of her/his social life, or the piles of dirty laundry. Yes, it may take a lot of self-restraint. But unless it’s drugs, open flames or a safety hazard, it is NOT fair game for you to bring up in conversation.
Au Pairs, for their part, have to be understanding when a host parent goes into their room for an emergency. (All bets are off, though, if you find that your Host Mom is borrowing your shoes without asking you.)
Do Explain Why You Entered the Room
Expect your au pair to feel a little invaded, and give him or her some time to take it in. Then, after you explain your reasons, (without being defensive… just be matter of fact), ask your au pair to fix or attend to anything s/he did that might have contributed to the emergency. But as far as anything else goes, say nothing.
Remember, this young adult is the person who hears you lose your temper, who notices the empty Doritos bag under the front seat of the car, and sees lord knows what. You hope that s/he’ll pretend not to notice, and you should return the favor.
Plan ahead if you need to work in your au pair’s room.
Many tasks like fixing furniture, repairing light fixtures, and repainting the room, are things that you plan ahead of time. Yes, you want to do this while your au pair is not in the room, so your au pair’s vacation break or a long weekend away are good times for these chores. But, give your au pair plenty of advance notice so that s/he can tidy up the room and preserve some privacy by putting things away or in temporary storage.
All that to prepare for the dillema of this au pair, whose host parents emptied all her stuff out of its storage places when they redecorated her room while she was on vacation.
Anyhow, I am an au pair in a wonderful family that I truly love. I feel blessed and have decided to extend. Right now I am in my home country to visit family and friends and to renew my visa. The other day I got an email from my host family saying that they finished repainting my room plus bathroom. Very nice right? The problem is that I did not even know that they were going to do so.
I know that it is their house and so on but I do not think they have the right to go in my room among my things without even telling me before hand. Even though I have nothing to hide I still feel uncomfortable. I guess I want to know if you think I am overreacting? As host parents, would you just decide to re-paint your au pair’s bedroom while she was on vacation without asking her first? And au pairs, how would you react?
I get that they want to be nice and that it was convenient to do this while I was not there but the could have told me before I left.
Just to be clear, it is not that they have re-painted my room that bothers me. It is the fact that they have been in my room and moving around my things that I find wrong. For example, if they painted my bathroom that means that they have to take down my cabinet and in order to take it down you have to open it up because of the screws which means that they had to take all my things out of the cabinet…I do not know, but it feels like they do not respect my privacy.
They probably wanted to surprise you … my suggestion to you is to view it as a positive thing right now (there is nothing you can do about it anyway). Enjoy your new room and bathroom!
Seattle Mom weighed in:
I personally would not do that, I don’t feel comfortable going into my au pair’s room without first telling her for any reason, unless it’s very important and urgent (like when she was on vacation and my husband needed to find her car keys so he could pick up our daughter from preschool). She has been with us for 7 months and I still haven’t even been in her room.
I agree that your host family should not have done that, but I can see how not everyone would agree. I’ve lived in apartments that I was renting where the landlady/landlord would come in unannounced to do things (painting, gardening, cleaning, fixing stuff, etc), involving moving my stuff around, and I didn’t like it but I knew it was part of the deal with renting a space. I think it’s the same kind of thing with host families- it’s not really cool, but as long as they aren’t deliberately messing with your stuff they are within their rights. Still, they could at least warn you ahead of time.
Since you truly love your family and are planning to extend, it sounds like this is the first time they have really offended you. You may be right to feel some anger, but I think forgiveness should be possible too. If I were in your position I would express my unhappiness but I would also try to see it from their side. I think I would say something like, “I wish you had told me ahead of time so I could have a chance to put away my personal things. I don’t like thinking about my personal things being handled when I’m not there. But thank you for painting the room, I’m sure it looks nice.”
I hope you find a happy resolution ?
TACL added her perspective:
We sort of did this to AP #1 – she took a 2-week vacation to her native country and we noticed that the dresser that we had purchased and put together from IKEA was trashed, so we took her clothes, did our best to fix it, and put them back in. She was a clothes horse, so we bought extra skirt and trouser racks, put her clothes on them, and hung them up in her closet. Only did it once, had the best of intentions, and she never said anything. Our kids took naps in her bed half the time, and her stuff was all over our house (not a problem – we’re not tidy at all), so it didn’t seem like a big deal. APs #2-7 have had a much more private space, and so it would have felt like an intrusion to enter their rooms (AP #3 did like to leave candles burning so we did enter her room), but in general, we save deep cleaning and painting for those few days in-between APs.
And HM2 had an action suggestion:
We as a family are very spontaneous in this regard and it can certainly happen that we decide to repaint, remodel or move closets, desks, sofas etc. to another room on an afternoon off. Maybe this family didn’t plan to paint until after the APs departure? Telling them that you initially were somewhat unhappy about the idea of someone going through your personal belongings is probably the best idea. I’d go with that.
I have to admit that I go into the APs room if her window needs to be closed or her lights are on and she isn’t home. I would not open her closet or her desk but definitely go into her room. Honestly, why should I not be allowed in her room? She is allowed in every room in the house, why shouldn’t I be allowed in every room in the house?
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