Untangling and Saying Goodbye to Long-Term Au Pair

by cv harquail on February 2, 2016

Here’s a situation that’s a real outlier — this Host Family has had their same Au Pair for 8 years.

First, as an Au Pair, then as a visiting (live in) student. Even though it’s an uncommon situation, I thought you readers might enjoy the whole story and have ideas to share.

jereme wongNow it’s time for the Au Pair to go off to a job as a teacher, and leave the kids who have only known life with their Au Pair as part of the family.

What should this Host Mom be thinking about now?

We’re looking at saying goodbye to the same “AP” for the second time. I’ll explain:

AP#1 came to us when my first child was 1. She stayed 2 years…2 really wonderful years. A match made in heaven really. We did all those things in saying goodbye at the end…and definitely wasn’t even able to make it into, let alone out of, the airport without the sobbing!

I was pregnant with second child at that time. AP#2 came…lasted 2 weeks before we were ready to rematch (long, horrible story) and we wound up taking an in-country re-match out of sheer desperation. She was very nice, but not a great fit. Only had 4 mos left anyway, so we stuck it out. In the meantime, AP#1 was miserable back in her home country…we were linked on FB and saw a number of posts that gave that impression. So we were miserable, she was miserable…and I had a new colicky infant to boot!

So we brainstormed: What if she came back as a university student? Visa wasn’t a problem, evening and distance courses available. We paid tuition and all other living expenses (room, board, car, gas, phone, etc…) and gave her a monthly “allowance.” ($500) In exchange, she could help us out with the kids. I ran the idea by her and she responded with, “YES! I want to come HOME!”

A fairytale come true right? NOPE.    Life was very different with 2 kids (one a colicky baby) and the full-time course load (12 credits) required to keep her visa. I have worked from home for almost the entire 5 yrs she’s been back…but I do WORK from home…full time. As someone who worked and paid my own way through college, I certainly get the stress. But the stress caused some real issues that, admittedly, I didn’t address early enough and they mushroomed. (So if nothing else – take that as the cautionary tale to address the issues promptly y’all!)

She’s a very conscientious student. I’m all for that. I was a good student and cared about my grades. But let’s be real: we’re not paying for Harvard here, it’s a small local university. She’s studied education. A 3.5 vs a 4.0 is not going to make or break careers here. But all that wonderful energy and dedication that made her such a wonderful AP…shifted away from my children and to her studies…and then to her student teaching.

I noticed it almost immediately – reading or doing homework while my oldest (then 3) occupied herself doing arts & crafts…she was never really “ambitious” when it came to helping out around the house…but that disappeared ENTIRELY….along with no more casual socializing (as was her habit) with my husband and I after kids’ bedtimes… she’s a serious introvert and has never had many friends other than online.

Like I said, I should have addressed it at the beginning. But in the perfect storm of unfortunate events, I also lost my job at that time and as the larger of the two breadwinners in my family, with a new (did I mention colicky!) infant in the depths of the recession (2010), I was a little preoccupied trying to keep my family financially afloat; now with the extra child care expenses I didn’t really need on a full time basis. I did need help. We don’t have family or other fallbacks, and job hunts don’t happen without time and effort…but let’s be real, I didn’t need what I was paying for with one in pre-school (wasn’t going to disrupt that) and an infant that did a fair amount of sleeping between the wailing episodes! And I just kept thinking…she’ll settle in and things will get back to “normal.” The didn’t. We tried lots of things over the years…conversations (always ending with her in tears at even the mildest criticism), multiple iterations of discussions, strategies and even documents outlining expectations and responsibilities…that would be adhered to for a few weeks then gradually abandoned.

Needless to say…it’s been stressful. It never got better, resentments grew (on both sides) and I have been waiting for her graduation day like the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” And it’s here. Next weekend in fact. Hallelujah! Knowing that graduating at this time of year and trying to get a teaching job was going to be challenging, I gave her until August to find a way to support herself and a new place to live. She hasn’t been our “AP” since August since she was student teaching full time last semester and she thinks she has a long-term sub thing lined up within a few weeks…but she still here. I know…I’m nuts. But I couldn’t in any good conscience just kick her out. She really does love my kids…and this whole thing was our original idea – we knew she’d have to student teach – and we made that commitment. I picked August to line us up with the school year and matching for when the largest pool of APs are coming in.

But here’s what I need in terms of advice: Extricating someone who hasn’t just been here 1 or 2 years…but actually will be EIGHT by the time she leaves. My kids don’t know any life without her…even if she has gotten progressively more distant over the years (probably more so to me than them…but my little one has felt that a little too of late). We have talked about it, both with the AP present and in private…and I’ve tried to be upbeat about it, pointing out that AP#1 is moving on with her life…she’s an adult…that’s what grownups do and they themselves will someday (gulp) grow up and move out on their own as well. My 8 yo seems to be taking it in stride…but she’s been a little bit more emotional of late (who knows if that’s this or just being 8 though?) My little one, now 5, is the one that worries me. She states emphatically that she does NOT want her to leave and can’t understand why she can’t just be our AP forever. And that she will NEVER love another AP like this one.

Have to admit – I didn’t really think through these bigger ramifications when I came up with this idea. I know for certain that without the kids, we would definitely NOT stay in touch…we just aren’t each others’ cup of tea anymore. But my kids are a different story altogether. And I know the AP gets that too.

Any ideas on how to ease this? We’ve discussed openly that AP#1 will certainly be back to visit regularly and probably for holidays and such (expecting that she’ll stay in the area as long as she gets a job and H1 sponsorship before her visa expires.

We’ve talked (privately, with AP not present) about getting a new AP that likes to play more and would be happier to arrange more playdates with friends (something that was a big beef of mine with this one…and something my kids also wish she was more proactive about.)

I’ve also asked her to talk to the girls and try to frame it all in a positive upbeat way. I just don’t know what else to do …but sense there will be some high drama coming our way as things unfold. Any advice is welcome!

{ 16 comments }

Quirky February 2, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Wow, what a saga!

I think there will be some high drama — but having weathered changes with my drama-prone kids as well in the changeovers of long-term babysitters and APs (although long here being a couple of years, not 8!) as well as a move from one state to another — these storms pass! Your 5 year old (and possibly your 8 year old) will have strong emotions, but as a child capable of forming strong attachments, she will be able to form a strong attachment to your new AP as well. I think acknowledging her feelings and not discounting them or asking her to suppress them while continuing to stay positive about welcoming a new caregiver will strike the balance between saying good-bye but also moving forward.

WestMom February 2, 2016 at 12:23 pm

I think that as parents, it is normal to be concerned about the impact of change on our children’s emotions. This is not unlike many families who have the same nanny for years and eventually part ways. We did have the same nanny from the birth of my twins until they started school, and I can safely say that despite being an emotional transition, children are incredibly resilient and move on quickly.

Now we are used to change… We have been in the program for 7 years, 8 APs, none more than one year. I celebrate departures, and I build excitement for each new arrival. Our children understand that these young women become important parts of our lives, but people grow and move on, but we keep in touch and they say forever in our hearts. I have no doubt your children can open their heart and learn to love their next AP, and then the next one and the next one…

I thank you for sharing your story. I think many of us sort of fall blindly in love with our first AP (I know I did, she could do no harm in my eyes, and still couldn’t). But this also reminds me that one year is a good amount of time to share our lives together in the fullest way possible before people start to unconsciously take the relationship for granted. I completely understand the desire to make a good thing last, but I keep reminding myself that it’s best to leave on the upswing. It’s almost like putting our relationship in formaldehyde, frozen in time in a great place, as opposed to regret letting it go past its expiration date.

WarmStateMomma February 2, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Can you make some concrete plans with the AP for after she departs so the kids understand that she will continue to be in their lives? Something definite and symbolic, but easy. For example, AP will join the family for Thanksgiving or a family member’s birthday dinner? When the kids are sad about her departure, you can remind them that the relationship will continue and point to this specific event. My side of the family lives in Florida and it helps me to know when the next visit is planned and that we will see each other again soon(ish).

For the next AP, I’d plan some fun things you know the kids will enjoy that outgoing AP would/could not do with them. They may warm up to her faster if they see how they benefit from the new AP’s presence.

The harder part may be making sure the new AP doesn’t learn bad habits from the old AP, especially if they become friends. Maybe consider different countries/languages or hosting an AP that doesn’t have FaceBook access in her home country. I’d hope for a friendly acquaintance relationship between the APs rather than BFF status.

Midwest Au pair February 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm

It seems like you got yourself into something, and I also believe that you might not fully understand her situation. While working while taking 12 credits is hard, it’s even harder when you work where u live. It sounds like you made it sound very nice so that she would commit. Obviously things will be different if you have a full time student as a nanny. It’s hard! You might have worked during college, but it was also your first language that you studied in. It wasn’t clear from the post if English is her first language or not. Also international students are watched!!! You have one slip on an exam, you find out very fast and that this is not tolerated. International students have to maintain a higher gpa in general, can’t work off campus (which she obviously did). The working off campus gave her even more pressure. She had to lie to pretty much everyone because what you guys did here is illegal . So I understand why she wasn’t into the nannying anymore. She was probably worried! She wanted to finish her degree but on the other hand she knew she had to be VERY careful! Generally never a good idea to keep your au pair as a student. Always calls for trouble, and you never get the service you got before she became a student, simply because she couldn’t.

LuckyHM#3 February 2, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Just a point of correction, international students of which they are thousands here in the US so not have to maintain higher GPAs than US students. Of course if you have a scholarship with GPA requirements, that is different, not because you are international. Yes, you are correct that F1 visa holders are not allowed to with off-campus but if not like there since special agency that’s watching you. And an sorry, am not quite sure how the having to lie to everyone comes in. Who exactly is asking her all these questions.

While I can’t imagine doing this as a HF or even keeping it going for 6 extra years, the 2 parties here are complicit in this as either of them could have pulled the plug at any point. This in my view is not quite the ” deceived AP” situation that you are making it out to be as she would have had to go renew her I20 and F1 possibly more than once in the 6 years. She has the choice of not doing so and going home. But if someone is paying your tuition in return for providing some service, then you better provide it or break the agreement if you are no longer happy. And yes, it is illegal, but the 2 parties knew exactly what they were doing (even if AP didn’t know in the beginning, she would have been clued in within a couple of months)

Midwest Au pair February 2, 2016 at 10:58 pm

My point here was that she isn’t able to provide the care the hostfamiliy wants because she is pre-occupied. The hostfamiliy should have said something right away, not wait 6 years and than be “angry”. They should have made CLEAR expectations. Ex: if you can’t do your job, we won’t pay your tuition +$500! No school related things while on duty etc. So partially their fault. About the lying: I’m an international student here in the US and while I do not work for my host family, I have friends that do and go to school here. And they lie. All the time. International advisors are always on your case! For example my school only has 6!! International students. One of them was actually asked if she worked off campus because she didn’t seek any on campus employment which is odd if you’re offered. She works for her hostfamiliy . So she doesn’t have the time . But they can’t know that! Also research meetings or any kind of meetings where a prof is in the loop. Why can’t you meet at 4? Everyone else can, why can’t u? There is a lot of talk, and working off campus is very illegal and international students know that! Sometimes not even the closest friends of my friend know what she really does! Why would u risk that?! About the GPA, that’s actually not true. We have to maintain a 3.2 as an international student, or you’re put on academic probation. This whole thing is more complicated than you think. I’m not saying she’s an angel, but I also think it is not fair of the hostfamiliy to treat her that way. The way of being glad that she is graduating and leaving. Even if they payed her tuition, she provide 8 years of stable childcare. Isn’t that worth something?

American Host Mom in Europe February 3, 2016 at 4:47 am

Midwest AP – i wonder if you are reading more into this than is meant? The OP didn’t talk about being angry…she’s just looking for guidance on how to smooth this difficult transition for her family and children. I think the OP is frustrated at how things evolved over time, but she’s clearly continued to be supportive, pay as agreed, including even after the AP/student wasn’t really doing AP work. I didn’t read this post as a complaint about problems with an AP, but as a request for ideas for moving forward in this unusual situation.

LuckyHM#3 February 3, 2016 at 9:59 am

Totally agree with you that this is illegal and ask that. Your school must be really tough. For almost every school out there, is a 2.0 GPA requirements for F1 visa holders.. That’s honestly what most normal people can do by just turning up to school, please. But for majority of students in college with any kind of scholarship including athletes, there’s GPA requirements and going below that is probation not expulsion. All in all, I don’t see this as some kind of downtrodden AP like you do. I see faults on both sides

Midwest Au pair February 3, 2016 at 12:11 pm

I do too!:)

WestMom February 3, 2016 at 12:15 pm

I was an international student and had no GPA requirements. Perhaps this is specific to the poster’s school.

I also very much doubt that people are asking questions to trap international students who work off campus. Most people are not even aware that they can’t work. I think you might be overly sensitive and perhaps read a bit too much in what people might ask. I think most people wouldn’t even care, frankly.

I’ll add that where I went to school, there was definitely a feeling that international students were favored to non-international students. Admissions of international students were off the chart compared to locals, and I wonder if it’s because they can’t ask for financial aid!

Seattle Mom February 3, 2016 at 6:06 pm

“It is not fair of the host family to treat her that way.” How are they treating her? It doesn’t sound like they’ve done anything wrong, they aren’t punishing, or threatening.. they are giving her a place to stay while she job hunts for 6 months, while it would be much easier for them to say good bye and get an actual legal au pair. The host mom is merely recounting how challenging this relationship has been- is that unfair? I’m sure it’s been challenging for both sides, and may this serve as a cautionary tale to all who consider being involved in this sort of arrangement, either as a host family or as an au pair.

I did offer one au pair to come back on a student visa… and I’m glad she didn’t take me up on it. It would have been too hard for all of us.

Also on the scrutiny thing- that really depends on where you are. My husband teaches at a college with a lot of foreign students, and they are not under nearly as much scrutiny because there are simply too many of them. So it would be pretty easy to blend in. They do not worry about grades, but they do worry about passing classes to keep their visa- my husband teaches hard classes and he has had students on occasion try to get him to give them a passing grade they didn’t earn because they need it for their visa. Shoulda thought of that before you took an upper level math class without the prereqs, in a foreign language…

Taking a Computer Lunch February 2, 2016 at 11:33 pm

I’ve walked down this path, although AP #1 only lived with us for 3 1/2 years, child #2 did call her his “AP mama” and was terribly hurt when she left in the middle of the night. He blamed AP #2 for making AP #1 leave, because that’s how he saw it in his 4-year-old mind. We, too, paid to put AP #1 on a student visa, but while we were in the process of sponsoring her as an employer, so she could leave the country and return. The Dept. of Labor had to review her application first before it could go on to Homeland Security. She made it to the top of Labor’s list about a year after she left our family. She convinced DH that we should continue to sponsor her as a student, and under his duress, I agreed for two more years. When I asked her to produce a transcript and a statement from her counselor where she was in the degree process (she was doing an associate’s degree at a community college), she refused and I, under the employer agreement I had made with the college, terminated our sponsorship. Remember, she had not worked for us for two years by that point.

We definitely had issues with the AP’s need to study conflicting with her childcare responsibilities, although The Camel was in full-time public special-needs preschool and child #2 was in private preschool from 8-1 during her last 9 months with us. We also had issues with lip service. By the time she left, our relationship had been stressed past the breaking point several times. It was also true, that she was brilliant with the kids as infants and toddlers, but as preschoolers, she just held them back. She fed and dressed child #2 because it was easier. Within two weeks of AP #2’s arrival, child #2 could do it solo.

AP #1 had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her native country and provided the care we needed during The Camel’s preschool years when she was so medically fragile that she was constantly in and out of the hospital until two major medical conditions were diagnosed and treated. She was perfect at that time.

AP #2 rose to the challenge of dealing with child #2’s bitterness and by the time she left, 18 months later, they were very close. She had trained as a teacher of children with special needs and brought child #2 to age-appropriate independence quickly. She played with the kids much more physically and became a real member of the family. When she left, she told us that it was a testament to us, as HP, that we had only had 2 APs in 5 years. I learned a lot from my LCC about to handle a departing AP’s grief, and AP left our family on much better terms. I would have handled AP #1’s departure more maturely had I had the same LCC.

Your needs are very different now than they were 8 years ago. You will also have the luxury of having an AP with two school-aged children, which increases workplace flexibility, parental date nights, and one-on-one time with your children. Think long and hard about what you need before you start looking for your new AP. My advice, book some one-on-one time with your younger child and the new AP doing his favorite activities or taking him to a Disney movie. Encourage her to meet the needs of the children on their terms, especially if she’s only working a few hours in the morning and afternoon for most of the year. Warn her that AP #1 has lived with your family for years and that while it may be difficult to win your children’s trust at first, you are sure she is mature enough to win them over. Have regular meetings at first and really listen to her if she is having trouble. Child #2 can no longer remember AP #1 – she came to visit a few times and took child #2 to her home a few times – but eventually was so distracted by her own life that she failed to focus on child #2, who lost interest over time. She left our family angry and bitter and has rarely spoken to us, even DH with whom she remained on better terms, since. See if you can find a way to see past AP #1’s weaknesses – especially as you wind down and every little thing will bother you – to keep her as a member of the family for years to come, even as her visits may come more intermittently.

Think of it less as about her departure from your house and more about finding a good (or better) successor.

American Host Mom in Europe February 3, 2016 at 4:53 am

TACL makes a good point — the focus should be on what’s next. I find my kids adapt, even when they think they won’t. Mine are about the same age as OPs (7,5 and 6 when current AP arrived), and it definitely takes longer for them to build a connection and adapt / stop missing the previous AP, but it happens.

FWIW, I also find that even with APs who I thought we’d have a quite limited connection with after they’ve left, sometimes the distance makes things easier and we continue to have a good connection. And I completely agree with the point about giving the kids something specific to look forward to — when our beloved AP left at end of August, the kids were able to focus on knowing she’d come back to visit a month later, and spend Thanksgiving dinner with us.

TexasHM February 3, 2016 at 12:52 pm

Several things agreeing with most above. 1 – once you have selected your next AP it will be much easier to socialize with the kids so I wouldn’t even be having these conversations until your next AP is selected and in paperwork process! In fact, our first term APIA handed us a “transitioning to a new AP” document at a family cluster meeting and it harped over and over on not having these conversations with the kids until next AP selected AND within 1-2 weeks of arrival. It explained that kids don’t have the same awareness of time and it could actually create angst because they have too much time to dread it/think about it. It also said if the cat is already out of the bag then just stop bringing it up until you are much closer to switch time.

2 – I don’t know about you but my 5 year old issues all kinds of ridiculous ultimatums so I wouldn’t panic just yet about her NEVER liking another AP. My 5 year old also swears she is going to marry the boy that always wears the yellow shirt in her class at school and that she doesn’t have to wear a coat outside if it is freezing because she isn’t cold. Uh – huh. Especially since your current AP isn’t that playful, all you’d have to do is get an AP that sits down on the first day and plays with her and she will literally ignore departing AP. Not saying that’s what you want, I have just watched it happen now EVERY transition. New AP is shiny new penny, departing AP is old news. In fact I warn my departing APs about this and I remind them that it happened with them (they were the shiny penny) when they arrived and that it has no bearing on how much the kids love her. Just like when the grandparents show up we parents become invisible, the same thing happens with new APs.

3 – As far as current AP goes this is tough. I feel for you. I guess I would continue as you are and stress to her that its critical for the kids that she is positive/supportive of the transition and that you really want to have a relationship in the future and would love to end on a high note and be a reference for her in the future if she needs one (assuming all this is true of course).

4 – Why wait until August? How are you covering childcare now if she isn’t working as your AP anymore? Honestly this timing sounds like a recipe for disaster for both sides. I am not saying you boot her tomorrow but I would probably interview and match and then sit down with departing AP and tell her that you need help now and the plans are going to have to change. Sponsoring her and housing for this long is enough. Give her adequate notice, be kind but explain you can’t make it work anymore (until August) and move on with life! Sounds like you both would be much happier! Happy AP = happy home – go get one!

New to This February 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Given that the AP has been with you so long, but hasn’t been as much of a caregiver the whole time, I wonder whether a model that might match the kids’ relationship to her, beyond AP/HK, is actually the relationship between siblings with a large age gap. If so, you might pick up some useful advice by looking at how families with young children manage a big sibling’s departure for college. Thinking of it that way may also help frame the transition to a new AP for the kids — you’re not trying to replace the relationship they have with this person who’s been a part of their family for their entire lives, just introducing something different. AP #1 will always be unique and special to them, and will still be a part of their lives (with Skype dates as a supplement to the visits you’ve discussed, perhaps?), so I would focus on psyching them up for the transition in that relationship (fun things they can do with her when they visit her at her new apartment, for example), while treating the new AP’s place in your household as something else entirely, new and exciting in its own right, rather than a substitution… Accept that your little one is probably right that they won’t love a new AP as much, and make it clear no one expects them to — but it will still be fun to have a new friend, right?

hOstCDmom February 6, 2016 at 2:45 pm

+1 I think this is great advice, and a really constructive way to approach this situation.

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