Two Kids, One Baby and a New Au Pair: Overload!

by cv harquail on August 11, 2015

Where do I start? writes 2K1BabyHM

I’ve scoured your site for advice (and found tons!). I’ve made notes of tips and things to discuss with my new AP, but I still have some questions and I wonder if AuPairMom readers can help me out…

AP3 has just started – nearly a week ago – but I feel a little like I’m hosting for the first time.

jereme wongAuPair #1 ended in rematch, and AuPair#2 was AMAZING. But AuPair#3 has the hardest job yet. In addition to looking after my 5 and 3 year-olds, we have a new baby who’s four months old!

Our previous AuPair#2 had what now looks like a massive advantage —  just the two big girls to care for. AuPair#2 had the girls’ routines down pat, was super efficient and organised. She was a neat-freak (yay). She also had whole afternoons and even days on duty with no kids at home where she could do all the child-related chores without interruption.

Our new Au Pair has two girls plus now a baby to look after! She won’t have the same kind of open time during which she can do child-related chores without needing to mind the baby.

Our new AuPair is on duty for the full 45 hours a week. She has to get the 5 year-old to and from school each day and the 3 year-old to various activities and preschool on the other days. Plus she’ll have the 4 month old in her care all of that time.

So… what can I fairly expect of our new Au Pair?

  • Is it too much to expect her to load all three kids into the car in the morning, unload them all at school to take child #1 into her classroom, then load the two little ones back in etc?

  • Is it fair to ask her to make the older two girls’ school lunches for the following day while the baby sleeps?

To add to the mix, I work from home. I am sometimes but not always able to step away from my work to help her out when she really needs a hand. For example, I might be able to help with feeding baby at an awkward time, taking eldest kid to school when it’s raining, etc. Other times I’ll need to stay focused on my work.

My AP is 19, from Germany, has a driver’s licence, speaks excellent English, seems sensible and energetic, and is an ‘au pair expert’ (she has extensive experience with disabled kids). I have high hopes for her.

I would love the advice and thoughts of any host mums (or au pairs) who have had a similar situation – two older kids and a baby, with a new AP supposedly in sole charge of all of them.

  • How did you ‘figure’ the new system out? Did it take extra time?
  • What did you allow the AP to ‘let go’ of first so that the baby was priority? – kids’ laundry, meals, general cleaning etc?
  • Did you need to spend more time than usual settling her into the family routine?
  • Was there anything you insisted the AP shouldn’t do with baby?


Thanks for your wisdom! ~ 2K1BabyHM



Supercute baby photo by Jereme Wong on Flickr


Dorsi August 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm

We came very close to rematch in the first few weeks of AP5 – our first AP that had three kids to deal with. At that time, they were 3 months, 2 and 4 years. It is a very big job. I am so glad we didn’t rematch – she turned out to be a very good AP, but it just took a longer than I expected to get her up to speed (and only one child was gone, 1/2 day to school).

In one of my emails to my husband, I remember saying: “I am probably the most sympathetic and the least sympathetic person regarding how hard her job is.” Taking care of 3 littles is really hard – I know because I do it too.

I don’t have specific instructions, but I would say that I would be patient with the process. I would also be explicit about the fact that, “Since you are getting used to things, I won’t have you make the girls’ lunches during nap time yet. Let’s work on doing that in two weeks.”

momo4 August 11, 2015 at 9:04 pm

I do not think it is too much to ask.

I have 4 children, ages 1, 3, 5 and 10 and have had APs since the oldest was 2 years old. These days, when I work my AP’s have to walk 5 blocks with the baby in the stroller to pick up the older ones from school and even my least competent AP (back when there were only 3) managed this. (Before anyone chimes in about how helpful the 10 year old must be, let me say that no, she is not always helpful. Being the bearer of XY chromosomes does not seem to endow her with some sort of automatic helpful mothering impulse.)

Every baby transition is hard for the APs, but totally doable. You’re actually lucky that your AP is coming when the baby is already 4 months old and she will be expected to look after the baby from day one. It is much harder for an AP who is used to having time off during the day while the older kids are at school/daycare to adjust to suddenly having to take care of the baby during the time she used to skype with her friends/family!

Figuring out the new system always takes time, all year really. So don’t sweat it. Take it day by day.

In my experience, there is no reason why your AP can’t manage laundry and other basic AP duties just because she is taking care of the infant while the older ones are in school. If she weren’t there you would do it, right? The baby WILL sleep, and that is a good time to get things done. Also, it is quite possible to fold laundry with the baby next to you in a bouncy seat or on a blanket when they are really little. Cooking is probably the most challenging with a baby, so that may be the one thing to be most flexible about.

All the same, I would be careful about lowering your expectations early in the year, you will regret it later and start to resent your AP for not being more helpful. It may take your AP a while to adjust, but she will manage. Also, she is not going to spontaneously start doing more later in the year than she is doing at the beginning, and asking her to do more later will meet with resistance. As far as what you “let go”, what is your lowest priority? That’s what I’d let go.

There was never really anything I insisted the AP shouldn’t so with the baby other than the obvious sorts of things. I think my APs were all more anxious that they would do something wrong with the baby than I was anxious that they would do something wrong.

Having done this 3 times now, I think the hardest part about having an AP with a baby less than one year old is how the AP has to adjust their expectations and routine through the course of the year. At the beginning the baby just lies there, and needs to be held, fed, and diapers changed. And sleeps a lot, but irregularly. But babies change so quickly! By the end of the year they need so much more interaction, stimulation and attention. They go from being totally immobile to being in danger of falling down the stairs or toddling into all sorts of danger in the blink of an eye and the AP has to adjust to the new levels of vigilance required.

I have found that the phrase “she’s been so fussy” often signals the AP’s struggle to adjust to the baby’s increased demands for attention as they get older rather than there being anything unusual going on with the baby herself. (The AP who took care of my happiest, most smiling, content, easy baby from when he was 3-9 mo old was always complaining that he was fussy. The next AP who took care of him from when he was 9 mo – 2.5 years was always asking what we did to make such a happy smiling baby!)

Being around at home during the day is challenging. For me, this has been the most challenging part of doing work while home, and I really don’t have any good methods worked out other than to be as “professional” as possible about the situation, and make it clear that you have things you need to be doing during the day other than childcare and such which is why you really do need the AP’s help. Be sure to thank her a lot for all her help and make sure she knows how essential in your home! Her work really matters to you, you value what she does, and she needs to know that.

old au pair mom August 11, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Wow! That was a totally wonderful response, especially the part about many, many thank yous. Just try not to have your littles or the AP come into your office without an invitation. The door really does serve a purpose and it is hard to get people out of the office once they are in. MyDH does not enter my office without an invite. The other day my little one was playing and designated me as “Safe” My oh so smart teenage babysitter said “let’s have the dog be safe” Oh, if only she understood that college was overrated.
Congratulations on your precious new baby and enjoy as many moments as you can.

Schmetterfink August 12, 2015 at 6:24 am

I was in a similar situation with three school-aged children and a toddler, thought the au pair that came after me might have been in a situation even closer to what you described (three school-aged children, a toddler and an infant).

I think what all of us always managed well was doing little chores while the little ones napped:

Laundry mostly can be done with a baby/toddler awake but folding can be tricky if you need to keep a two year old out of what you have folded just that very moment.

General cleaning can be done during nap time, at least you can pick up after everybody, make beds or wipe kitchen counters. We were cut some slack when it came to vacuuming but that was mostly done by the older kids anyways (yeah for school-aged house elves).

Cooking or preparing school-lunches can be done during nap time or even when the little ones are awake as long as they are happily playing close by or content in their bouncy seat. I packed lunch in the morning as the little one was mostly still sleeping when I had to get the older three up. For us that was what worked best.

Thankfully the school-aged kids all went to school by bus. If we had to take the oldest (who was in middle school and left before the little ones were awake) the parents were still home and would take over morning duty for the school run (which took about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic). With the others at elementary school it worked out well, though sometimes meant throwing the toddler in the car in her pjs and just dropping them off at the front door. If we were late-late and had to sign them in at the office… yes, it’s not impossible but might even be easier with an infant if you can just take them out of the car infant car seat included and don’t necessarily have to wake them up again, if they have just fallen asleep during the ride.

How difficult do you find it to take your oldest to school in the mornings? Or prepare lunch during nap time? There is no reason your au pair can’t do it, if you could easily do it did you have the time. If it’s something you struggle with (for whatever reason), your au pair might also struggle with it. Just like you, your au pair only has two hands and can only do so many things at the same time. If you’d appreciate an extra set of hands in the morning because you need to feed the baby, get the other two up and dressed and prepared for school then it’s likely she is in a similar position. If your two older kids are fairly easy going, can get dressed without much help, will eat breakfast while the baby is being fed and don’t need constant help, supervision and coaching – great! If you know your older two already need a lot of help in the mornings (I am a night owl, I suck at mornings and when I was young I must have been a pain! my poor mom!) and tending to the baby’s needs adds to the stress – maybe you can arrange for you or husband to help a bit with the morning routine. Or maybe you already do that.

I have seen au pairs who had to carry their infants around nine hours a day because baby couldn’t be put down, not even for napping. Yes, they did get other things done but not as much as they could have, could they have put the child down. One of my friends took care of a baby that would shriek constantly and was unsoothable until he turned six or seven months old. She couldn’t even have him in a carrier, he had to be in her arms or he would scream. scream. scream. The parents were so lovely about it, totally appreciated that she put up with it because they knew how exhausting it was (and the au pair got plenty of thank yours and extra treats, like a massage or pedicure that she could enjoy and relax during her time off). They were all so happy when he grew out of it.

You will need to see how it works with your new au pair. And your new baby. You all need to settle into this new routine. As long as you are all open to the changes that come with baby growing up and as long as you don’t stop communicating, nothing will be impossible.

PacNWHostMom August 12, 2015 at 10:22 am

When AP1 started, my kids were 4mos, 2 and 4.
We decided to scale back activities so they could be accomplished with one or two outings per week, even if the kiddos had activities at or near the same time. The ages of your kiddos can be extremely tough (even for a parent) just to get somewhere on time, let alone remembering a diaper bag, gear, the right clothes, and heaven forbid dealing with the temper tantrums that seem to occur.
My advice, do what you can to scale back activities or group them so that she’s not running all over town all week with kids in tow.
As she gets used to the routine and builds self-confidence, then add activities back in if it seems reasonable.
By grouping the activities and keeping the trips to a minimum you’re helping to mitigate burnout and potential mishaps.
Also, communicate with her as much as possible about how it’s going, and let her be honest. She’s probably going to be exhausted. Go easy on her if she forgets something once in a while. I can think of so many occasions where I was rushing out with the 3 littles and forgot the baby bottles, or swim goggles, dance shoes etc. It’s bound to happen.
Our AP1 did a great job at still getting the laundry done. She’d typically tackle that during nap time or bring the baby in a baby seat upstairs to the laundry area while the other 2 kids played in a nearby room so she could see them. It can be done, but she’ll be exhausted!
Also, knowing that things will be chaotic with 3 littles, hubs and yourself should do your best to keep routines and life as simple as you can and as easy as you can for her.
I found with kids that age that simplicity and routines were key. Best of luck!

Host Mom X August 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm

We have three and our youngest is now almost 2. Our new AP after the youngest was born arrived when the baby was 4 months old, when I was headed back to work. (We had taken a 6 month break between APs before the baby was born, since our two olders were both in school – elementary and preschool, and we used aftercare.) The good APs who can handle three (and since we’ve had 3, we rematched with one who couldn’t; though debate-able whether she could really have handled any) can handle whatever you (mom or dad) could handle on your own. And you should introduce all of those elements to the job right away, or as others have commented, you will had a lot harder time asking for these things later on. It will be a quick way to tell whether your AP is organized, cool, calm, collected and can handle things (which you absolutely need when you have 3 that include an infant and/or toddler; you cannot function if your AP isn’t completely up to the job – life is too hectic during those years).

We don’t ask our APs to drive, and our kids’ schools and activities are either walking distance or subway/bus-accessible. When the youngest was an infant (well, and through now, since the youngest is still not in school yet), our AP would watch the baby until school let out, and then pick up the two older kids from school with the infant along in the stroller or carrier. HD and/or I took care of morning school drop-off (sometimes with infant in tow so AP could then start later and end later). HD works at home, and if it’s really bad weather (rain, snow, extreme cold), he’ll pick up the older kids from school in the car. But absolutely an AP can do pick-up/drop-off from school with an infant in tow, same as you can/do. Our AP also takes the now-toddler to various activities and outings both walking distance and on the train/bus while the olders are at school or camp.

Our APs have all been able to handle the kids’ laundry, prepping school lunches, cleaning up kids’ breakfast, and sometimes prepping kids’ dinner depending on the day’s schedule during the baby’s nap times, usually with a good chunk of time leftover to have a lunch hour of their own with skyping, etc. And they have all figured out which of these tasks can be done with the baby beside them or “helping” as the baby turns into a toddler, thereby reserving even more of the baby’s naptime for their own downtime (which I absolutely and fully support!). And our APs have all been pretty good about being able to clean up after the kids from snacks, meals, etc. as the day progresses. The oldest (7 now), can be very helpful (and has always been); the middle child (5 now) not so much.

We don’t ask the AP to do any more child-related chores than those listed above, though. (Just supervising the older kids in cleaning up their toys, and helping with that as needed.) To me – that’s a pretty hefty load, and it takes care of our most-needed tasks. Our APs also have one “household chore” that they can also fit in with all this, and that’s emptying the dishwasher. On days or weeks when the AP has all three with her (school vacations, kids’ sick days, the week or two in the summer when the older kids aren’t in camps, or when they have shorter camps), we prepare ourselves to be much more flexible about letting some of the other stuff slide – since we prefer our AP to focus on having fun with the kids on those days, engaging them in activities, taking them out and about, etc. (Unless it’s a sick day for one of the olders.) And yet the two APs we’ve had since we’ve had three kids (not counting the rematch interlude) are usually still pretty well able to cover everything, and I almost always still come home to a pretty clean-looking house (maybe a few more toys will be strewn about than usual, or the stroller not put away, or some clothing or shoes piled where they shouldn’t be).

And yes, lots of empathy, thank yous, gratefulness, little treats, flexibility when you can manage it. We make sure our APs know that we know exactly what it’s like, and that it is the hardest, most tiring job, and that we are super-super grateful to have these wonderful APs in our life and taking care of our children. I truly admire these young women who have stepped in to help us raise our little ones with such competence, grace, enthusiasm and love.

cv harquail August 12, 2015 at 5:20 pm

quick note– I moved Dorsi’s comment and the followup replies to be its own post tomorrow… ~ TheThreadHijackingPoliceLady ;-)

TexasHM August 13, 2015 at 9:02 am

I agreed with the advice above not to trim anything down. You are currently doing it so an AP can too. Also, something will likely slide over time as the AP settles in so you want to start with as close to possible to ideal and then you settle in close to that vs dumbing it down and then the standard slips below that and have to manage/reset.

We had this situation (3 under 5) and our AP got everything done. Outings, laundry, cleanup, she did it. On some days did something not get done? Sure. But that’s why we told her we were not the laundry police and she could do it whatever day as long as it got done. So she shot for Mondays but if it didn’t get finished she had 4 more days to catch it up.

Our first AP used to talk about how she liked being busy and how the days flew by vs her friends with one HK or older host kids struggling to find activities for them. It is absolutely reasonable to ask AP to get kids out of car for school dropoff and make lunches while baby is sleeping. In fact do it now while that baby is little before they nap less! :)

Things we did not have AP do when they were little that we do now off the top of my head: organize the kids closets/donations, cook (I had ready meals in the fridge so she could microwave something quickly while on duty), run additional kid related errands (something needed for school for example), clean her room/bathroom (she had to keep things picked up but housekeeper cleaned – we still do this but AP with school aged kids would have plenty of time to clean/vacuum her room and bathroom on her own), and assist with school projects/homework.

Newish in NZ August 13, 2015 at 8:27 pm

I’m the OP. Thanks all of you for great advice and especially different perspectives; much appreciated. There are some great tips here and it’s really useful to hear about your experiences especially. Going from two kids to three has thrown our routines out of sync (of course) and I’ve just been doubting myself when it comes to what I think the AP can handle. She’s just a teenager!

I’ve felt torn between feeling if I’m asking too much or setting my eventual expectations too low (for info, I haven’t yet asked her to make lunches, or take all kids on the school run – we live in easy walking distance of school and preschool, so sometimes I take the kids / a kid and baby in a pram, and sometimes I’ll ask AP to – or to clean etc)…

We have a great advantage in that she’s come from a year working full time (and long) hours in a special school, so she does know what a normal working week is like and is used to it taking extra time to round up kids / prepare / clean up / get out the door etc.

Someone mentioned my expectations being more in line with what you’d expect from a veteran nanny, but I think your comment was moved to a newer post… The working from home thing can be difficult – of course I can (and do) always drop what I’m doing and help out, but again I want to start with clear expectations/hopes! By the time I’ve taken child/ren to school once a day, I’m already nearly an hour behind in my work… if I stop again to help feed baby or whatever, I really can’t get a full day’s work in. I’m sure that’ll improve though! As you’ve all mentioned, we’ll have to adapt as baby’s routine changes…

Yes, I guess prioritising is key! I’ve just felt overwhelmed and full of self-doubt and trying to remember all those tiny but important things to tell her… but I think we have a great AP, and she claims to have enjoyed her first week. Phew! The girls love her. Thanks again everyone :)

NoVA Twin Mom August 14, 2015 at 8:51 am

We didn’t have the older kids, but two infants at once. We did have low expectations – we expected no kid chores that year. But your “kid chores” don’t seem unreasonable, so maybe try introducing them, with the idea that you can always reduce them later if they become a problem.

One thing I did was if our au pair had any reasonable suggestion, I’d try it. For instance, you say you live within walking distance of school. For me, it would be easier to walk to school – even with all three kids – than to drive, get everyone out of the car, in the building, drop the oldest off, get everyone back into the car, and drive home. If my au pair wanted to try walking instead of driving, I’d let her try. If she wanted to try “wearing” the baby in a carrier instead of using a pram, if we could find a reasonably priced carrier (or a used one!) we’d get it so she could try it. It would give her some ownership over the process and feel more in control. Maybe see if she has any similar ideas with regard to the laundry or lunches.

For that year in our house, if our au pair came up with reasonably priced suggestions of things she thought would make her life easier, we’d get them for her. We knew her job was harder than her friends’ jobs. We’re still open to suggestions, but that year in particular we were very vocal about how much we appreciated any ideas she wanted to contribute.

Mimi August 14, 2015 at 9:26 am

This was also something we have done. We also have twins and knew that it’s an extra challenge for the AP. Part of this was also allowing the AP to choose the baby classes/activities and has been something we’ve continued to do even as they’ve gotten older. I also now gradually introduce chores in the second and third week so that the AP has a chance to get comfortable with the child routines and environment which I think helps them not feel so overwhelmed.

hOstCDmom August 14, 2015 at 10:26 am

I had 6 kids under 8yrs at one point, no twins; walking anywhere was DEFINITELY easier than driving — I would have lost my mind getting everyone in and out of car/car seats! at least with walking, all I needed to do was have coats, hats and boots for all (in winter, obv. nothing in spring summer)– and a 3+ year old can get on their own coat, hat boots etc. safely, reliably, whereas a 3 year old likely can’t get themselves safely buckled into a car seat, in and out of car, easily, safely etc. I basically never drove for 5 years! (We live in the center of town, walk to school, library, café, restaurant, park, playground, grocery, pharmacy etc.). We didn’t even let our APs drive our kids (although they could drive for personal use). Most Americans view walking a 1/2 mile or mile as “FAR”; most Europeans and other regions of the world do not. A hard core double baby jogger, + expectation that anyone 3yrs or over walks themselves, was our saving grace. And, as an added bonus, we had super healthy kids who could walk miles and miles a day…which meant they were very tired when at home (and thus less likely to be running around the house like banshees!) :)

WarmStateMomma August 14, 2015 at 11:02 am

I am so impressed!

Host Mom X August 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Seriously impressed! But we too live in a walk-able area, public transportation accessible, we only have one car that our au pairs do not have use of. I definitely often find it easier to walk places with our three (not 6!) than to drive, deal with parking, in out, back in, etc. Our kids’ school doesn’t have a parking lot, and street parking is quite difficult to find, especially at pick-up/drop-off times. Funny, though, the only AP we had who truly complained about all the walking and stroller pushing (a rematch) was from a European city / country where we expected walking a lot was the norm (certainly this AP told us that before we matched).

We also introduce our APs early and often to the various baby carriers. They realize, as we moms and dads do, that it is usually a lot easier to get things done with your baby in a carrier. Great for the subway, too.

UKaupair August 21, 2015 at 8:55 pm

I think you can ask her to do all the things you want her to do, she signed up for it and shell know she has things to do aswell as look after the kids!

I am currently an aupair for triplets they were 7 months old when I arrived now they are 19! I do laundry, prepare all meals, vacuum, sort the dishwasher. There is plenty of time during naps and she can get the older to to ‘help’ her mine certainly love to ‘help’ me mop the floor! I spent my first year indoors 5 days a week so im sure you aupair will love getting out for the school run!

Your expectations are not unreasonable im sure its hard throwing a new baby in the mix and hopefully your aupair understands, being an aupair is definetly about being adaptable!

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