Tip: Know When to Blame the System (part 1)

by cv harquail on August 17, 2011

Tonight I couldn’t sleep (feeling anxious about not posting on APM!) and so I tried to sneak downstairs so I could read the September issue of Vogue until I felt sleepy.

Alas, no matter how softly I pressed my toes to the stairs, they groaned. They squeaked. They made so much noise that I could hear Daughter #1 turn over in her bed, mildly disturbed.

There was nothing I could do about it.

Just like when our au pairs have come in late-ish at night, doing their best to get to the third floor without awakening anyone (like me, the light sleeper) — No matter how lightly they tiptoe, we hear them.

201108171155.jpgIn our 120 year old house, there is simply no way that someone can walk up or down the steps late at night without making noise.

Just as I was ready to blame myself (or worse, my recent weight gain) for waking up my kid, I remembered:

“It’s the STAIRS, silly.”

It’s not me; it’s The System.

When it’s appropriate, blame The System, not the person. S/he is likely doing her or his best.

This is important to remember when you find yourself getting annoyed by some little thing your au pair does. S/he never puts the beach towels away? Well, is there a specific, appropriate place were they belong? Do beach towels actually fit somewhere in your linen cupboard? Or, do you need to create a real place for them, before you get annoyed at your au pair?

Can’t ever find the keys to the minivan? Do you have a place where everyone is supposed to put them? And,do you use this place yourself?

There is stuff in our house that just doesn’t work right, like the toilet on the third floor that just keeps running unless you giggle the handle. Now, I know to giggle the handle, but apparently no other person in my entire house knows to do this– and so the toilet sometimes runs all day long.

Should I get all irked at them, flash a disapproving stare, and show them once again how to giggle that handle? Or, should I just replace that ball & chain thing inside, or call a plumber?

The point being — when our au pair, or your spouse, or your child, keeps doing something that annoys you, take a moment to think about it.

Ask yourself: “Is it The System? Can I change something in The System that will fix this, once and for all?”

If the answer is “Yes”, then go ahead and get that done.

If the answer is “No” have a glass of wine, and then return to the first question.

Knowing when not to blame the person is so important, because none of us likes to be blamed for things we cannot control. We all need to remember to separate the person and the System, so that we work on the right thing to fix the annoyance.

Remember, too, that blame is something we express emotionally. We may “know” there’s nothing she can do about the squeaking, but still “feel” mad and direct our anger towards our au pair anyway.

That’s just not fair.

Better to learn how to say,

“Damn those creaky stairs. Guess that’s just what happens in a graceful old house.”

That’s what I’ll tell my DH, when I go back up.

Image: Stairs from zetson, on Flickr


AustinHostMom August 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

I love this advice! Sometimes it is easy to get irritated and blame AP when not her fault. Glass of wine and sitting back is a good alternative. Thanks :)

Victorian aupair August 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

What if the house is haunted!!…is old tho

DE Host Mom August 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Totally agree – struggling with this recently as we move from AP1 to AP2. Have to remember no au pair is a mind reader! She is new to our country, home, children, car, roads, vernacular, food, etc. Also, she isn’t our old au pair, she needs time to adjust and learn her own way to manage the kids, schedules, packing lists, etc.

A Host Mom August 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Very true. I often have to remind myself that my definition for “common sense” is not the same for everyone else (especially APs and husbands).

AuPairCR August 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I think what you say is so true, I wish my HM would see things that way sometimes…

Heather August 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

After years of feeling like the only person who knows how to manage my house (I am, right?), I have spent a great deal of time this summer establishing “systems” to make the home run more smoothly. For example, we set up much of the finances so that money transfers and bills are paid automatically. It was a big up-fonr investment but I reaped the benefits tenfold when I unexpectedly had to work day and night for the past two weeks. I did not feel the need to clone myself as urgently as I sometimes do in these situations, because things did not fall through the cracks like they normally do. We are preparing to welcome our first AP in about two weeks, so this post is useful advice.

Oh, and AuPairCR, maybe your HM would not be as receptive or maybe I am naive because I don’t actually have an AP in-home yet, but I for one would welcome it if my AP proactively (but respectfully and non-judgmentally) offered solutions to change “The System” to work better for all of us.

AuPairCR August 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I havent even tried it because frankly I’m scared that will damage the experience, like i feel it will stir the pot. Granted there are lots of issues in my situation, maybe I’m just too much of a chicken to just come up to my HM and tell her what worries me…

Busy Mom August 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

CV, I totally get where you’re coming from on this one. I periodically got irritated with our last AP because, while she did many things well, she didn’t seem to be able to motivate my kids to clean up their clutter or straighten things up herself. However, when she arrived, the house was extraordinarily cluttered and I didn’t make much progress in getting in in order during her year with us. I’m sure she assumed (logically) that we were happy in our clutter.

Now, we have month-long break in between au pairs and priority #1 has been putting things away and getting rid of things. The full family has dedicated the better part of two weekends to this chore and we’re finally making progress. Gone are the glass jars on the counter that held January’s crystal growing science project, neatly shelved are all the books, disposed of is that inherited laptop that crashed the first week we had it, packed away are cherished toys, boxed up are those intended for Goodwill. My cleaning person can actually vacuum the kids’ rooms now instead of working her way around clutter!

Our new AP will enter a neat house so hopefully the stage will be set for her to help the kids maintain it.

CAmom22 September 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

LOL Busy Mom – I also just got rid of January’s crystal growing experiment (crystals must be a popular christmas gift? :-)) that was sitting in our kitchen!! Doing same thing; preparing for new AP arrival hoping to set a better stage for maintenance :-)

NJ Host Mom August 18, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Wow! Never has an au pair mom post hit this close to home! We have just welcomed our 3rd au pair into our 100+ year old home, with our beautifully finished attic bedroom for our au pair, which just happens to be directly above our bedroom and both of our boys’ rooms. We tore up all the wall to wall carpeting when we moved in and restored the original wood floors. The result? The creakiest stairwells and hallways this side of the Hudson! Hard not to lose your patience with young women who don’t choose to go to bed at 8 pm when my boys (and a lot of the time, me too!) do! Obviously the system, not the au pair! Dare I even try to teach my au pair the “sweet spots” on the steps? Haven’t been able to explain them to DH yet, so I’m supposing not…. LOL

Comments on this entry are closed.