Is our Au Pair committed?: Verify, but trust.

by cv harquail on September 17, 2010

Dear AuPairMom, I’m hoping to get some input from your readers on a problem I have about trust and commitment to our family:


Our AP (our second) has been with us for a few weeks. Last weekend, she traveled outside the country to see a male friend. (He’s in a country nearer to the US than her home country.) Our Au Pair has told us that her family knows this guy and that she was visiting him.

We had a meeting about this, to explain that it looks poor in our eyes for her to be traveling extensively so soon after arriving here, and for a guy to boot. We also told her that we weren’t going to stop her from going.

The details surrounding this friend are very vague and she couldn’t/wouldn’t explain why she has to visit him so soon etc. We think that this is possibly her boyfriend and she planned all this long before she even joined our family. I didn’t ask about boyfriends prematch and she has not identified him as such, it is only our feeling.

What is bothering us mostly is the secrecy around this.

Our au pair’s attitude seems to be that this is her private life and no concern to us. I have tried to obtain more information about this from her, albeit in a subtle way, and have gotten few, sometimes inconsistent, pieces from her. At this point we feel uncomfortable and talking with her again seems fruitless since we feel that she didn’t put all cards on the table the first time when we had the meeting

For us, it comes down to trust: what is up with this guy, what are her real plans for being an au pair, what other things will she keep from us that are more directly related to the kids and us etc.?

I should also mention that I had a few days to marinate this issue now and spoke to another host mom. She thought that we were being intrusive of our AP’s personal life and she wouldn’t expect her au pair to open up about love life so soon in the relationship (with the host family).

Lastly, she is a nice person, we and the kids like her and she is starting to be more competent in her tasks. I think we are most afraid of a ‘what if our kids are not her 1st priority’ situation.

What do you all think? UnansweredQuestions

Dear UnansweredQuestions,

I can see why you might be concerned — immediate travel suggests that getting settled with your family many not be your AP’s top priority. And, whenever there’s a fellow (or galpal) in the mix, we wonder if social life is more important than the AP’s commitment to work with our family.

It’s hard to know how much of your AP’s reticence to talk things over is due to:

  1. cultural differences in what feels right to disclose,
  2. her personal threshold for privacy,
  3. the depth of your very new relationship with her,
  4. the simply awkwardness about discussing differences, or
  5. that she’s trying to hide some kind of alternative agenda for her au pair year.


I’ll bet that #1-4 are just as likely as #5.

Keep in mind that — in your perception of this situation — her reluctance to talk seems like secrecy. But, it may be something else entirely.

Open yourself up to the possibility that there are other explanations.

Verify, but trust

If your top concern is whether or not your Au Pair is committed to your kids, their happiness and their safety, I think that this is what you should talk about with her. Depending on how direct or indirect your think you need to be, you can discuss this priority with her.

It is still so early in your year, and the other signs seem positive, so I’d give this one a little bit more time. Give her a sense of the behaviors you’ll look for (and/ or what you saw done by your previous au pair) that demonstrate commitment. If she behaves in ways that look to you to signal too little commitment, talk about these behaviors– but stay on the lookout for good behaviors too.

When we’ve talked on the blog about BBFs and GBFs, and well as romantic and close platonic friendships that Au Pairs have, we’ve realized that au pairs can have involving relationships and still do a great job with our kids. What seems to be diminished is the hang around, family time (which not everyone wants anyway). Even if this fellow is an important dude in your au pair’s social world, she can still have a great year with your as your au pair.

Parents and APs, what do you think?

See Also:

Images from Flickr:
Trust from
Trust from MiikaS


ExAP September 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Did you ask her “Is he your boyfriend?”. In my opinion, this question is toally ok.

Gianna September 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm

In the past year or so, I have seen and heard more of this than ever before. I have had aupairs who had friends who had boyfriends or signed up for the program following some young man who may or may not have known she was on her way to his town.
This is a little different scenario from the young woman who comes her to meet a husband and stay. This new situation ( in my experience ) involves young women who met American boys on some college program in her home country. He comes home and she sings up as an aupair. The girls I’ve met have been lovely young women and not one of these fantasy relationships has ever come to anything but grief. In one case, I had an aupair who had an American boyfriend. She was gone every weekend and out the door after work but that was fine. She was a great aupair in every other way. In this case, the year ended and she went home ( no engagement ring, no plans, etc. )
He was a 19 year college student ! He was happy to see her when she was here but that was all it was. Now , back in the day, I had friends who hung out, doing there homework at law school libraries and I had a friend who sat in the college dining hall every evening from 3 until 7 waiting for a boy in her Shakespeare class to show up and I think this is just the global, upscale version of tht kind of thing. I feel for these nice girls. The clues are often on Facebook. If she has numerous friends who are clearly Americans and she is still overseas, ask questions. If she is very, very interested in coming to one particular part of the US, ask questions. If she spent time in the US on some sort of high school or college exchange tour, ask questions. Does she know how far your town is from the spot she visited ? What is she going to do on weekends ? Does she already have her holidays planned ? It is very sad when these things don’t work out and mothering a heartsick kid is a big item to put on your TO DO list.

MommyMia September 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

The bigger issue here to me is the travelling outside the US (for a weekend!) so soon after arrival. If she made it back successfully and had no problems with the INS coming back into the US, breathe a huge sigh of relief. If it’s Canada, OK, probably won’t be a problem, but Mexican border crossings are well-known for delays, especially on Sunday nights coming back to the US, and it wouldn’t be fun if she were detained for any reason or late getting back to you to start work.

I’m with those who say her personal life is her own, but the minute it begins to affect her work or relationship with her new family (you), then it becomes part of your life, too. I agree, ask her point blank if he’s her boyfriend. If not, then I’d be concerned about other issues (drug smuggling comes to mind immediately, for some reason, and maybe I’m way off base assuming she’s from Central or South America and is visiting Mexico). The secrecy factor is worrisome, and would have me seriously considering whether it’s worth investing a year of my precious life into dealing with her. Gianna’s questions, and others in areas of this site referenced at the beginning by cv, are always good ones to ask before making an offer.

My 2 cents September 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

It is quite amazing and shocking how the younger generation finds friends and lovers these days and the distances they travel with ease to meet up with them. We have had some very unsettling experiences with au pairs wanting to meet young men that they’d met on Facebook. Then developing relationships from there, one of which became intensly romantic (at least for her) and guess what? she found out he was cheating on her with guess what? another au pair he met on Facebook! Then we as the host family deal with the fall out of that, which of course is being a “family” but nevertheless very difficult and uncomfortable all around.

Getting back to the OP’s issue, no you are not being intrusive or inappropriate. You are a “host parent” and should be concerned with international travel at all to meet men, let alone within weeks of arrival. You should and can insist on basic details like names, addresses, dates and times of arrival and departure, emergency contacts, etc. I would expect the same of my daughter’s potential host parents. I think you are right there is something going on here that she’s not comfortable sharing. However, I’m not sure what at this point you can do except insist she provide information, explain why she needs to provide it (her safety, your peace of mind), and if she doesn’t then rematch because she obviously is willing to risk her relationship with you and her job and stay in country all over whatever secret it is she feels she must keep. You don’t need that from someone whom you not only need to trust, but someone who is supposed to, especially now, be trying to develop a relationship with you, but is not.

First Time HP September 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I agree that basic information such as names, numbers, and details on where she is staying is acceptable from a safety standpoint. I think its crossing into another area to start asking very personal questions such as their relationship. I believe its fine to ask but I also think you have to respect the AP’s privacy if she chooses not to tell you. I also think its fair to tell her about the risks, like getting back over the border.
I’d also make it clear that she needs to be back for work and if something happens it will be a big issue. I know the fact that she is leaving so early into her stay bothers you but I’d let that pass and see if the behavior continues. You’re probably right that she already had this planned but I know I’ve started jobs and had to leave weeks after starting just due to the circumstances.

Amanda September 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I traveled almost every weekend, including the first month I was with my host family. And yes, also to visit friends throughout Europe. You mentioned that her family knows him, so I doubt he’s someone she has just met on facebook, though he could be her boyfriend, and she is afraid to tell you because it looks bad (i.e. she came just to be with him, etc.) She may have been afraid that you would think she really didn’t want to be an aupair, etc. But it could be that she is a fantastic aupair who happens to have the desire to travel/has a boyfriend/etc and wants to make the most out of her day. You could just ask her if it’s a boyfriend, and if she knows that perhaps she would wait until her vacation time to make longer trips/out of state trips? I personally believe that if your AP is doing a great job and is making an effort to get to know you outside of “work hours”, then the time when she is off is hers, and she can make the decisions regarding it so long as nothing illegal is taking place and she is getting home well-rested and ready to work. Just my two cents. Good luck and please keep us updated!

Amanda September 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Oops! I meant she wants to make the most out of her YEAR, not her day! :)

Taking a Computer Lunch September 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm

In most cases we keep our noses out of our AP’s business, unless they reveal things to us that make us worry (like the AP whose best friend wanted to go home with men she met in clubs and dragged my AP along with her because she had the car). The only time I ever demanded contact information for an AP was when my non-driving AP transitioned to advanced beginner – while we wouldn’t let her drive out of the area in the book of maps (our greater metro area) we gave her, we did give her permission to go to a friend’s house overnight with the car. However, I demanded the phone number of the friend, in the event something happened (this AP wasn’t security-minded – and once drove home during powerful winds that left many trees down in our community).

My question to you is: Are your nape hairs going up because she’s not bounding with you and seems to be using you as a jumping off point to visit this fellow? Is her childcare inadequate?

My personal preference is to stay out of AP’s travel plans as much as possible. They’re adults and have to learn to make adult choices. When my AP’s plans for return push against the morning schedule, I do warn them that failure to show up on time will mean that I will charge a half-day against them, and they will work extra because DH and I will need to make up the work we miss covering their shift. If their return doesn’t cause a potential conflict, I say nothing. If it’s convenient, we offer a lift to the plane, bus or train, otherwise, we give advice on getting there inexpensively.

Aupairgal September 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I would like to first say that I pretty much always agree with Taking a Computer Lunch’s comments and always find them very productive and realistic. I cannot stress how much the respect of privacy is in an Aupair-Host Parent relationship. You are already living together, but that doesn’t mean you have to know every intimate detail about each other. I told my host mom superficial information about my relationship as I felt it was none of her business. She did the same with when herself and HD. As long as it doesn’t interfere with her work I don’t see why it is a problem.

Deb Schwarz September 18, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I completely agree with Computer Lunch – so many times I get calls from host families that are concerned about their au pair’s life after work. They are adults – and unless what they are doing is getting in the way of their work with the kids (or your family life), I always remind host families that they are adults and not to hover. For instance, I once had an au pair that had an eating disorder and I really wanted to call her mother, but didn’t because she was 26 and I felt that I would be stepping over the line.

It does seem strange so early in her year to be traveling for a mystery man – so I’d keep my ear to the ground – but if you like her, then it really sounds like a cultural thing. Although having said that, one of our Australian au pairs (Australians are usually very open) had a boyfriend most of the year with us that we never even knew about until the week before she left.

Calif Mom September 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Agreed with the above; privacy is paramount. Many other posts have discussed this.

BUT, she is only 2 weeks in, and you probably haven’t even finished with the agency’s paperwork! I absolutely felt red flags when I read this: it reminded me of our very first AP who started asking about how to get to her friend who happened to be a guy and who happened to live in another big city. Yep, Pointy Boots. We were just a convenient motel on her journey away from her home country.

IMHO, this is a girl who sees her role as more an employee than family member. That can work, just be aware of it. And realign your expectations.

Calif Mom September 18, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Sorry; not sure where I got 2 weeks from. OP said a few weeks. That could be 3-6, or more, and how long she’s been here does affect how some of us may interpret the situation.

Really great advice, CV, to first start breathing, and then do a little “most generous possible interpretation” brainstorming of other factors that could be at play. We also don’t know how old she is or whether she had been living away from her parents; that makes a BIG difference in how au pairs tend to spend their off time, and how much they share with you.

OTF September 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm

We are on our first au pair, too, so I don’t have the benefit of experience. BUT….

I personally think you are being intrusive. She is an adult, who agreed to come and work and live with you for a year, take care of your kids, and do errands. She did not agree to have her entire life be an open book. It also matters, I guess, how old she is. I would feel more protective over a 19 yo than a 25 yo. But in either case, IMO it is her right to see whomever and go whereever she wants on her weekend off, provided that 1) she tells you where she will be, and is reachable (in case of emergencies), and 2) it does not affect the job she does or her relationship with your children.

I wonder if she does not want to tell you this is her boyfriend for another reason – she is afraid of being judged. It may be that her standard for “acceptable” behavior for a single woman – premartial sex, drinking, going out by herself – is different from yours, or even if it is not, she is afraid that it MIGHT be. She may not want to divulge too much, for fear of being judged.

Put another way, what if she were forthright about it, and said, “I am going to see my boyfriend for a romantic weekend in Tiajuana/Toronto”? Would that make it better or worse? And if the answer is worse, then maybe she is right to be secretive!

Should be working September 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I don’t see this as a red flag, but it might be a lack of info in your post. I can also, however, understand that you are a little unsettled, but there are a lot of easily explained elements here that to me suggest that ‘watch and wait’ is a good approach. For instance, if the foreign country she visited is pretty close by and she could go there for just a weekend, well then it just happens to be a foreign country, but could be in terms of distance not a big deal (e.g. analogous to taking a train from NYC to D.C. for a weekend trip). I can also imagine that a teenage-ish young woman could have a platonic relationship with a family friend but also be wishing for more, or have rebuffed him, or who knows what, which might make her seem tentative or secretive in her discussion of the matter with you. And if it is a boyfriend, that doesn’t mean she won’t be a good au pair. Even if your kids are not her absolute priority in life, she could still be a loving, safety-conscious, good au pair (this is my view, at least).

OFT September 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

One final thought: Could some of this be due to a subconscious comparison to your first au pair? If your first one was great, and a bit more of a homebody, then this girl may be suffering in the comparison. I read somewhere that being the second au pair in a family is harder than being the first, because the family has developed certain expectations of how things should be. Just a thought.

Aupairgal September 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I am curious, I hear quite a few parents here on this blog in general being concerned with their aupairs’ number one priority being the children, but what do most of you mean by that? Personally when I was working that was my number one priority, but when I was not working I had other things that I had to get done. My main purpose of becomming an aupair was to improve my German and pass a German language test (my host mother was aware of that from the beginning) so that I could start studying at a German university. There is another post on this website that discusses why aupairs want to become aupairs and no aupair became an aupair just cause they love to look after other peoples children.

BLJ Host Mom September 21, 2010 at 12:53 am

I think that most parents on here mean that the number one priority to them is their children, and it is hers, when she is working. Meaning that so long as her personal life is not affecting her care of the kids, it’s none of our business. We, as host parents, know that most AP’s first reason for coming to the US is not only because they want to do child care. We know that this is a life experience for you and that you have a lot of other things you want to get out of this, and much of that is totally outside of our families.

Gianna September 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I have a question concerning delays and border crossings. The aupair’s safety , obviously, is the most important issue in a delay. But how about the host family ?
Suppose an aupair through 1. her own negligence or 2. no fault of her own is delayed
or prohibited from re-entry. Will any agency pro-rate for the time you are without childcare ? In the event of a delay, at what point will the agencies give you a new aupair ? I am thinking of the swine flu outbreak last year. I heard about an aupair who went to Mexico and then was stuck in quarantine in a hospital for about a week. I don’t know the particulars ; I just heard that she came home ( a week late ) and was fine. Or suppose an aupair travels out of country and just doesn’t come back ? At what point would the agency exspect a host family to stop waiting for her return ?

talliecat September 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I think you are right in being a bit suspicious in regard to what is going on with this au pair for a couple of reasons. The first one being that in my opinion au pairs are here first and foremost for childcare ( or they should be). The first few weeks should be focused on getting to know your children and family and I don’t think that travelling out of the U.S. falls into that category. As a host parent you do have some obligation of keeping track of the au pairs safety and well being as he/she is living in your home and under your roof. I would explain this to her and let her know that you understand that she has a private life but as a host parent you feel some responsibility for her and need to know where she is going and with whom.

Aupair September 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I completely disagree that “au pairs are here first and foremost for childcare (or they should be)”. This is an exchange program and is first and foremost about exchange…not cheap childcare. I think if a family wants someone whose largest concern is childcare then they might be better off hiring a professional nanny. Most aupairs did not go to a new country just to look after a someone elses children and it is equally fair to recognize the aupairs reasons and goals of becomming an aupair just as much as the host families’ is of getting an aupair.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm

That is why I only match with APs who have a record of extensive childcare and who have chosen to focus on children as part of their education. I understand that APs come here for a multitude of reasons, but if childcare is not one of them — or even in the top 5, then in my experience neither the AP or the HF is going to have a great year.

Most of the APs I have hosted would have made fantastic professional nannies and most have gone on to have careers or undergraduate studies that will make the world a better place. Personally, I don’t have the resources to pay for a professional nanny, but I have had “free” childcare in the form of Medicaid subsidized nursing, and quite frankly, I’ll take the financial hit that hosting an AP brings in exchange for having someone that truly loves my daughter care for her.

I realize that I have been very fortunate in that every AP I have hosted in the past 9 1/2 years has loved The Camel for who she is and cared for her very deeply. Did I resent them for having other interests – absolutely not. Did I want them to bring their culture to the table – absolutely. Did I understand that when they were off duty they were going to have fun away from the house – absolutely. But every single one of them has understood that when they are on they are on – and have given 100% (because keeping The Camel healthy requires no less).

BLJ Host Mom September 21, 2010 at 1:00 am

Completely agree with this. My first two APs have been opposite in this regard, although both good APs, and I will definitely continue with APs who truly love children vs. ones that don’t mind them. That was a hard distinction for me to make the first time around. And I might ask your advice the next time around! :) This isn’t to say I don’t want her to have a wonderful year in her non child care related experience, but there is nothing better than an AP who wants to be with and love your children right off the bat, one who has a heart for that.

Gianna September 18, 2010 at 9:26 am

The difference between an exchange student and an aupair is that the family is paying a considerable fee in exchange for childcare. It is a good compromise.
Many young people choose an aupair program because they cannot afford to take a year for study and travel. Many familes choose an aupair program because they
cannot afford the luxury of a foreign exchange student. With an exchange student,
the student is paying most of their own expenses. Most of us understand that
you would not have traveled around the world just to secure a job in childcare and it is understandable that most families did not choose an aupair just because of the cultural aspects. It seems to me a nice compromise.

Melissa September 18, 2010 at 2:11 am

This sounds like a potential red flag to me. I agree with others that I wouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet, but…. it does seem unusual that a new AP who has only been with you a few weeks wants to travel so quickly, and to another country. On one hand, I fully agree that an AP’s personal life is private and host parents shouldn’t be asking questions about the type and intensity of relationships she is having with those she visits. However, I think it is perfectly reasonable to want to have a good understanding of what she does with her free time and have some input regarding it, particularly during the first few months of her time with you. She is living with your family, after all, and that is very different than the typical employer-employee relationship in which you really don’t have much involvement in your employee’s personal life.
I would suggest a very honest and direct conversation with her in which you share essentially what you wrote in your post, in an open, kind way. It sounds like it will be very difficult to trust her, and build a good relationship with her, if she feels that she cannot be open with you (and I fully believe that you can be open with your host parents without having to share private details), and you should share that concern with her. Maybe there are aspects of the situation that you are unaware of, or it could be as simple as she is used to being a very private person or is apprehensive of being judged. Nonetheless, she is now a part of your household and should make an effort to integrate into your family. International travel, even if it is as close as Canada or Mexico, is a whole different ballgame to me, and has a much greater potential for impacting your family/work schedule. I typically make it clear that we don’t expect any extensive (i.e., more than a few hours away) travel from our AP, or any visitors, until they have been here a few months, and would be surprised if my AP suggested otherwise.

aussiemum September 18, 2010 at 6:44 am

I cannot believe some of the posts that I am reading…particularly that of aupairgal. If an au pair does not hold the child care aspect of the experience as a high priority, she simply does not get the position. In Australia, we have a different system here and there is no regulations regarding au pairs. I have on about 3 different occassions dismissed an aupair instantly if her work is not up to scratch…I usually like to give them a settling in period of 5 weeks….I am very fair, I give them a good orientation….but if I have to reprimand them repeatedly for example a breach of my safety standards-that’s it, she’s gone! For me, an aupair is not a fashion accessory, I am a single mum with a Chronic Medical problem and I need help running my household and assisting me caring for my daughter….the expense of a nanny is not an option for me. We must stop mollie coddling these girls. The safety and care of my child must be priority.

A September 18, 2010 at 7:57 am

Aupairgal didn’t say anything about not holding the child care aspect of the experience as a high priority. She said
1) “When I was working that was my number one priority, but when I was not working I had other things that I had to get done.”
2) “My main purpose of becomming an aupair was to improve my German and pass a German language test (my host mother was aware of that from the beginning) so that I could start studying at a German university.”
3) “There is another post on this website that discusses why aupairs want to become aupairs and no aupair became an aupair just cause they love to look after other peoples children.”

Which I think is pretty reasonable, to be fair. Most au pairs become au pairs because they like kids. Some (like the ones TACL chooses) will have a career related to children. But the program does involve international travel and cultural exchange, and it’s silly not to take that into account. Just because an au pair might have secondary motives for becoming an au pair doesn’t mean they’ll do a bad job or have a bad attitude. Most people don’t go to work just because they live to work, people also have bills to pay, need health insurance, etc, and working is a means to that end, just as au pairing for some girls is a means to an end. As long as she/he is focused on the kids and regards them as her #1 priority while she is working, I don’t see the problem.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 18, 2010 at 11:32 pm

A, your last paragraph made me laugh, because the previous head of the institution where I work, said that people come to work for the world-class access to resources and the privilege of working with them. It took a strong-willed assistant to raise his hand and pipe up, “Sir, I think they come for the paycheck.” Sure, I go for the paycheck, but I’m willing to put up with no end of nonsense for the world-class access to resources and the privilege of working with them.

I do not expect that my AP has the same motives – this is her year to figure out her priorities, her goals, and to have a bit of fun without the pressure of family. I’m not hosting to tell her what to do – I’m hosting because I prefer to have the loving attention of an AP bridge the time between the time my kids get up and go to school, and the time they come until I put dinner on the table. But that being said, if she doesn’t have the desire to work with the kids — or communicate with us — it will be a long year for everybody.

Aupairgal September 18, 2010 at 8:47 am

I completely agree that if your Aupair isn’t doing a good job while she is taking care of your children then she should be let go. I’m simply saying that all Aupairs have other goals they wish to accomplish during that year as an Aupair and those goals have a right to be recognized. Should one feel that they want an Aupair that wants the children to be their priority %100 of the time (including their off time) then you can naturally hire an Aupair that wants a future in child care. I made myself very clear to my host mother during the matching process what my goals where, which where exactly what she felt being an aupair was. Coming to Germany and learning German in exchange for being a child care provider with a healthy mixture of being a part of the family. The children where my highest priority while I was working. Of course I did stuff with the boys during my offtime. But generally when the host mother got home (except for dinner when we all ate together and talked) I went to my room to study the language. I hope this post cleared up any misunderstanding and thank you to A for assisting in that.

Aupairgal September 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Just to make clear…when I say “boys” I mean the children I looked after. That sounded a bit strange initially.

Another Aussie Mummy September 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Hi aussiemum =)

Aupairs are definately not fashion accessories for me either! It’s hard being in a society where aupairs are not common, and therefore people view us as being incredibly wealthy and posh (something we are definately not!) It has been hard a few times when we’ve had ‘issues’ with our aupairs, with no supporting agency or regulations. I have dismissed one instantly, and have warned our current one if things don’t get better than it’s “bye bye”.
I agree that the safety and caring of my children is 100% the aupair’s priority when she’s on duty. I also wish they’d go out sometimes in their ‘off time’ ;)

momof4 September 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

I believe an au pair’s priority should be the children first. Everything else comes second. Of course her goals are important as well. But some au pairs come here for the wrong reasons – like only wanting to party. If you have the right au pair, with the right priorities – then she will be able to balance it all. On schedule and off.

talliecat September 19, 2010 at 7:12 am

Thanks mom of 4, I guess I should have stressed-in my post- that for me that should be what the au pairs priority is. I am just coming off a couple of bad experiences where one au pair arrived and had was like an exchange student who could babysit ( barely ) and the next all she cared about was travelling and when she had time off.

Should be working September 18, 2010 at 3:44 pm

No one needs to go to another country, and pay a fee (which I understand APs do), to do childcare. I take it for granted that APs come for reasons other than childcare, but I look for an AP that is good at childcare, enjoys it, has experience with it, and has overall good judgment and a positive outlook. And I look for someone whose ‘other reasons’ are cultural exchange, learning language, and adventurousness and curiosity (as opposed to husband-hunting).

Another anecdote: Our first AP had early childhood education as her ultimate career goal, and we nonetheless ended up in rematch, because she was depressed, dull-witted and chaotic. After that I looked for someone with the right qualities and not just childcare-career goals. In other words, I agree that the children have to be priority during work time, plus appropriately important during off-time, but I do not expect an AP to come to my family primarily to perform childcare; her reasons for coming don’t matter to me if her work is excellent.

JJ host mom September 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I agree that childcare shouldn’t be an au pair’s first goal. If it is, then why come to another country to do it? There are plenty of children to look after at home. Our first au pair was the same as “should be working’s” – worked in a daycare by trade, but was depressed, culture shocked the whole time she was here, and had no clear reason for being here.

But why are we talking about childcare being the priority, anyway, if this trip happened on her time off? I think the bigger concern is whether it’s a priority for you that she bonds with the family, and whether you feel she isn’t doing that by leaving so immediately. If that’s your concern then that’s the conversation you need to have with her.

(As another point of view, I selfishly love it when my au pair travels over the weekend. It’s fun for me that she’s getting to see other places while she’s here. It also gives my husband and I and the kids time to ourselves. I wouldn’t want her to be gone all the time, but I’m just saying that I would have had the opposite reaction as you.)

I would say it’s potentially concerning that you did try to bring it up and she didn’t give you a good answer as to what was happening. Even “I don’t feel comfortable discussing the nature of our relationship, I intend to see this person x times a month in the future, if you’re concerned about bonding with the family, how else can we do that in order to leave me time to travel” etc would have been helpful.

Also want to point out that this point almost immediately followed a post about how to avoid being smothered by your au pair in your own house. We’re sending mixed messages, here, folks, which I think just shows that there’s a fine line between “part of the family” and “around too much”. We all know that, but just be cognizant that, from the au pair’s point of view, walking that boundary is undoubtedly confusing and fraught with land minds, and there are bound to be misunderstandings.

HostMom September 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

We had a similiar experience with AP #2 (now on #6). I did and do specifically ask about boyfriends – more in particular at home – to see if i think they will be homesick,etc. matter of fact it was a recommended question from that particular agency…..
so i did ask, answer was no and no. not there and not here. well turned out that she did very much have a boyfriend on a year abroad study program at a college in the US. she arrived end of Aug and we found out when she asked if he could stay with us over the week of Thanksgiving! taken aback and regrouping, we did let him come and stay in the guest room. Well guess what happened at Xmas time. he was back for “a week” and then well they really had almost a month over Xmas off. we did not let him stay that long, he went and got a room at an extended stay type hotel. needless to say all these weeks were not focused on our family, our children but on him and when she could not be working to be with him. and i’m sure you have guess by now, all of sudden in May she quit. yep, he was done with his year and they decided to travel over the summer before returning together. (if you are wondering why i did not rematch – now I would – at that time i thought we could work it out, i had 2 very young children and a husband who worked on the opposite side of the country.)

There are times when this can dramatically and drastically impact your family and situation. I think there is a fine line between privacy, safety and family-impacting plans. I have learned – most of the time the hard way – to be as open, honest and upfront as i can possibly be. doesn’t always work, but i think it has avoided problems and misunderstandings as well on both sides.

MOMwithTrustIssue September 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

Hi all,

I am the original poster and really appreciate all the input! I totally agree that AP has a right to privacy and I like the AP to have her own life and not be “glued” to us. That being said, life is about perception and it just doesn’t look good to me when you travel to another country on your 3rd weekend with the family to see an unidentified male. What is the rush?
The whole situation, as many of you seasoned host parents can probaly guess, does not just revolve around this issue. Our AP is not great but not terrible either. Therefore all “irritations” are so much more irritating. We wouldn’t care so much if she was doing a kick-a#$ job otherwise but, sadly, that is not the case.
I also wanted to comment that if the AP job assignment is not that person’s #1 priority, you are not the right candidate for my family. This is a job to us and we want it treated as such. Great work ethic should be applied even if this is just a temporary gig.
Lastly, I am now struggling with whether to work with a not very good or very bad = gray area AP to improve or cut my losses. But that might be a new post altogether :)

Amanda September 20, 2010 at 9:20 am

If it is a job, and you treat it as such, then your AP’s free time shouldn’t even be in question. Has she spent the other 2 weeks with you? In your mind, when it is okay to travel then?

Amanda September 20, 2010 at 9:21 am

And is it the traveling part that is the issue or the fact that it is a man and she doesn’t feel the need to tell you? If it was a female friend, would that make a difference?

BLJ Host Mom September 21, 2010 at 1:20 am

What sits bad with me here, is that if she were coming here to meet a friend of the family 3 weeks after arriving, and it was no big deal, it seems like she’d be open about it, and even ask for your help coordinating plans, transportation, etc.

I mean, in week 3, I’m happy when my AP knows where my daughter’s school is and can get to the bus stop by herself and knows how to get to the mall and back in her off time. It’s kinda weird that it was all prearranged, and if it were totally innocent, it just seems like she would have mentioned it.

After reading all of these posts, I have given a second thought about privacy. I definitely agree that APs need it during their off time. I also think it’s nice when they get to the point that they don’t need us to figure every little thing out for them. My last AP was visiting a family friend out of state in her second month and told me about it for a month before she came, and then needed my help figuring out the best way to get there before leaving. She was very familiar with our area by then, but needed to know how to go 4 hrs away. She didn’t know if she’d need to work, and wanted to make sure I’d be okay if she were gone, etc, Car/train/bus? How much would gas cost? Small/big city? She had no clue about it.

I think we need to know where our APs are for safety issues. There are some good posts about this (i.e. The walk of shame and the car curfew). Her parents are entrusting their daughter to you and it isn’t unreasonable to ask some basic questions about where she is headed out of the country and what she is doing there. Just as you would a friend or another boarder, just so someone always knows where they are. If something happened to her and her parents called you, you certainly don’t want to say, “I knew she was going out of the country to meet a boy, but I wanted to respect her privacy and days off work, so I didn’t find out who or where. I thought you guys knew him”. I think if she plans to go out of the country regularly this is another issue too. You need to know about that. It *could* greatly affect her job, IF she got swine flue, or IF she got detained (examples from previous posters). I do not have to tell my boss where I’m going on the weekend, but I were putting myself at a high risk for not coming back on Monday (or if I lived with him and he provided my room and board) that might be different.

Can you tell us which country she went to?? In the interview process was she careful or specific about wanting your city or your area, to be near this place that she visited? In the future, I highly recommend that you (and ALL host parents) ask about a boyfriend pre-match, not to rule out those AuPairs, but just so you know what you might be dealing with and can prepare for that.

My 2 cents September 21, 2010 at 9:07 am

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments in this post. Very thoughtful and well said!

Calif mom September 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm

ditto. A pre-arranged trip made tacitly is not exactly evidence of openness and trustful relationship-building skills. Or good role modeling for the kids.

And yes, I’d worry about her safety.

As for screening with the boyfriend question–that data is not reliable. Half the time, if they tell you they have one back home, they won’t when they land on your doorstep (and vice versa!) :-)

Mom23 September 21, 2010 at 10:57 am

Great post, BLT Mom, but sometimes you can ask about a boyfriend and things can change between matching and arriving. Several years ago we had an au pair who did not have a boyfriend when we matched with her. She got one right before she came. He visited over Christmas (4 months into her year) and the week after he left she gave notice that she too was returning home. Of course, other au pairs have had boyfriends and it hasn’t been a problem.

We have a paragraph in our manual that says, “because we are responsible for your safety while you are living with us, we need to know if you will not be home at night and where we can reach you in an emergency.” When we go over the manual we emphasize that this is for her safety.

cv harquail September 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm

MomwithTrustIssue —

In a previous post — Have You Ever Regretted Initiating a Rematch?? — 39 out of 42 who responded to the quick poll said “no regrets”. Most host parents have said that they waited too long to initiate a rematch. Few of our readers have felt that they ever initiated a rematch too hastily.

Our general advice is– give it a clear, candid, specific good faith effort. if you see improvement, do more. If there is no improvement, call your counselor. cv

Calif Mom September 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm

And by “a clear, candid, specific good faith effort,” CV means something along the lines of a frank discussion with a list of expected behaviors, and 1-2 weeks to achieve compliance. She needs to bring her A game if she’s going to be running off on the weekends like that. Especially as winter travel season arrives…you’d really be stuck if her plane was caught in Chicago, Boston, or wherever some weekend.

Amanda September 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Yes, how dare she use her free time and weekend to do what she likes. The nerve. Good thing aupair rules stipulate that even the worst aupairs are allotted free time after 45 hours a week.

MTR September 21, 2010 at 11:33 pm


I understand your sarcasm. I really do. I personally do interject myself into my au pairs personal life; she does what she wants during her free time. I do have a comment however regarding Calif Mom’s post.

1. As much as I don’t care (in general) what my au pair does with her free time, based on my personal experience and “hindsight is 20/20” I would really like for a new au pair not go abroad during her first few weeks with my family. In fact, I would prefer for her not to go anywhere overnight (even if in the same or neighboring state) during those first few weeks. I am only talking first may be 2-4 weeks. However, I would also never ask a new au pair for this. In my mind, it is one of those things that I would want to observe regarding the new au pair. I would want for a new au pair to want to get to get to know us as a family, get to know kids, get used to us and us get used to her. I am not suggesting that she cannot go out for a month, but I would want for her and us to spend at least some time together (just a dinner on Sat and Sunday would be enough for me). My worst au pair when she came over from transition, immediately asked for time off the following week and went away for 4 or 5 days (I don’t remember exactly now). She had no interest in getting to know us, bonding with kids, improving her English, learning things about our house and family, etc. I was an inexperience host back then, and I let her go. I did not even count those days towards her vacation. Now it would be a yellow flag to me. First I would not agree to such a request. Second it would make me observe au pair much more critically, her motivations for being an au pair, and her ability to be a good au pair for my family.

2. Note that Calif Mom’s concern is expressed in term of travel arrangements and au pair’s ability to make it back in time for her work shift on Monday morning. It is very easy to get stuck while traveling abroad or out of state via airplanes. From the original post, it was not at all clear that these travel arrangements that au pair made were discussed with the family. What would a family have done if au pair was not back by Monday morning or even Sunday night as some families have curfews? These things were not discussed and resolved. And that is the main concern. Both family and au pair got lucky that everything went well and there were no delays or anything like that. But what if there would’ve been? I have done enough flying in my life to know how common delays and cancelations are. I am not saying that I would necessarily want to know who au pair is going to see and for what reason, but I would want to know where she is going geographically, how she is getting there, is she going to be safe, how and when is she getting back, and what are her contingency plans are. You have to agree that these are much different concerns then “how dare au pair go out and have fun during her time off”.

Should be working September 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

Ah. Yes, a so-so quality on the job makes every other little or big issue with the au pair into seeming evidence that she is not ‘the one’. I sympathize. The so-so au pair is a much harder issue to deal with, in my view, than the downright BAD au pair. I wish there were standard criteria for when so-so bleeds over into bad-enough-to-get-out.

PA mama September 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

I am a little behind in reading and posting, but here is my two cents.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the au pair visiting someone in their first 3 weeks with the family. After hosting my first 2 au pairs, I too would be confused if someone was travelling internationally to see someone, when they just got to my house. The planning alone needed for an international trip leads me to believe the trip was being planned before she even arrived. My current ap traveled to New York every other weekend to see other au pairs ,with whom she arrived in America, and friends of hers, and I was saddened because she didn’t spend that time getting to know us. I was worried why she was leaving us so often, and she still hasn’t explored our city. However, things changed, she made some local friends, and she has turned out to be great so far the last 3 months.

Given the situation, I would say she may be ok, that just this is not reason enough to call it quits. But I see from the above post, everything else is not that good either, and I hope things get better.

I also think that unless you are a host parent who has been screwed over by an au pair and her boyfrind issues, then you probably don’t truly understand the anxiousness that the word “boyfriend” strikes in the heart of experienced host parents. Boyfriends don’t mean necessarily that an au pair will be a bad au pair or neglect children. Some situations are fine, it depends on the people involved. My first au pair was honest about her boyfriend, and she was great. I thought nothing of it. Until she decided she was quitting the program while I was 6 months pregnant, working nights, and just needed someone for 3 more months until I had the baby and was out of work. She was leaving to be with her boyfriend. I ended up taking a transition au pair who seemed good, but the situation turned out to be a disaster. We were clearly not au pair number 1’s priority, and I am still bitter because of the heartache she caused by leaving early, while claiming she really loved and would miss my child. Just because of the boyfriend.

OFT September 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I am likely in the minority amongst the HPs here, and this will probably draw a rebuke or two, but I must say I am struck by attitude of some of the HPs here; to echo Aussiemum; “I cannot believe some of the posts that I am reading.” To expect/demand that the AP’s foremost priority be caring for the host children, and then follow this with a statement to the effect that “I simply can’t afford a nanny,” betrays a real sense of entitlement on the hosts part. Of course, AP should make the safety of the children the first priority when caring for the children. That was not the issue here, though. It sounds to me like the AP was doing a passable job caring for the children; the issue was what she was doing with her time off. If you had a nanny, would you expect to be able to dictate how she spends her time off? If not, then why would you expect to be able to do so for an AP, when you are admitted spending less on an AP? The AP-HP contract is a two way street – foreign cultural experience and personal growth in exchange for child care and help around the house. I think some of the job expectations here sound like the hosts settled for an AP, when they really want / expect is an indentured servant.

aussiemum September 23, 2010 at 8:20 am

What planet are you on, OFT?…regardless of whether I employ an AP or a nanny, I respect that their time off is their time off….where have I stated the contrary?…If you are going to quote, please do so accurately.

Aupairgal September 23, 2010 at 9:32 am

The quotations she used of your post were used accurately.

Aupairgal September 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Forgive me, one quote was inaccurate. The accurate one was “the expense of a nanny is not an option for me”.

Calif Mom September 23, 2010 at 9:34 am

Planet Troll, I believe. Where the disgruntled put words like “can’t afford a nanny” in our mouths. :-)

Dorsi September 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

I think what OFT is describing is a live-out nanny who happens to live very, very close by. The AP program can and should be different from that.

I choose the AP program (over many other less expensive options) for a wide variety of reasons. On of those is absolute reliability — in a way that only comes when some one lives in your house (and I mean really lives there, not just stays some weeknights). I cannot have my AP be unavailable (broken down car, overslept, border crossing troubles) because of the work I do. I do not call in sick. I do not miss work. Nor do my colleagues. I don’t need to juggle caregiver problems. Out of the country weekend travel has the potential for significant delays and problems and I would not tolerate it on a regular basis (on the other hand, if my AP wants to make a trip to Canada and plans with me, I am happy to work with her if I don’t need to be at work at 6:00 am Monday morning).

I also want to get to know my AP. That doesn’t happen when she is working. While I want her to have an active social life, I also expect family dinners and family outings on the weekends. I make that clear during matching. In my opinion, I think AP childcare is superior to other types (for me, for my child, right now) because the transitions are seamless. The AP is another adult who lives in the house and is around a lot and is sometimes in charge. She is not a person who comes in and then we leave.

As many posters have stated — there are kind and genereous interpretations of what happened, and what matters is the big picture. But I disagree with the notion that HPs want an “indentured servant.” It may work for some families to have an AP who is present 45 hours per week and happens to live in the house, but that situation would not work for me. I won’t apologize for that. I invest a lot of my “off” hours (and money) in creating a happy environment for the AP and I expect her to commit to our family.

MTR September 22, 2010 at 1:03 am


These words you wrote “I choose the AP program (over many other less expensive options) for a wide variety of reasons. On of those is absolute reliability — in a way that only comes when someone lives in your house (and I mean really lives there, not just stays some weeknights). “ is the exact reason why I am sticking with the au pair program. Unfortunately last week both our au pair and us were faced with a situation where my au pairs schedule significantly changes (and not for her benefit) with no notice and no end in sight. For me, this could only have been accomplished because the au pair is already here in my house. Now, I know that my au pair is not happy with the change, but after everybody had a chance to cool down and look at things rationally, at the very least I can say that she is taking the new situation as a mature and responsible adult I knew that she is.

To relate my family situation to the original post, I can say that if my au pair and I did not have a fairly open relationship where she voluntarily tells me what is happening in her life, what her plans are, etc, and I tell her what is going on with the family that she would not be aware of unless I specially told her, it helped us to understand each other’s point of view. For the time being, my au pair will be dealing with more working hours (within the program limits) and less free evening time for going out, but the alternative is the possibility of us having to leave the au pair program completely, and neither she no I want to do that. For now we are all dealing and coping the best we can. My main concern was that changes in my work schedule did not affect my kids too much as they lost a lot of mommy-time. Having the continuity of our au pair taking care of them in the evenings, not only helps kids to cope, but gives me that piece of mind that I so desperately need right now.

OTF September 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I do appreciate your response, Dorsi, and I don’t want to get in an argument. But I have to ask: in your house, who determines when the AP is allowed to go “out”, where she can go, what she is allowed to do, and with whom? It sounds to me that all decisions are all yours, not hers. One can always provide a “worst case scenario” as an explanation for why a given excursion is not acceptable. You state that the AP is an adult in your house, but if you have control over all aspects of her life, and you retain the ability to veto her plans for time off because of “what if’s,” then that is not treating her like an adult. I am glad the arrangement works for you; I question how happy the AP is with her end of the bargain.

Chithu September 22, 2010 at 7:05 am

I used to au pair in London. I had many au pair friends who visited Berlin/Rome/Paris/Dublin on the weekends. In fact one of my friends went to Slovakia the same weekend she started work with her host family (yes to see her boyfriend). In UK, it’s considered normal to go “abroad” in weekends. Because the train/flight network is so cheap and quick, it’s possible.

I remember how free and powerful I felt when I started au pairing in UK. It was my first time abroad, away from India. I was raving to start traveling right away! I too went to Paris (we were paid weekly) on the 2nd weekend of my first au pair job. Of course, I went alone… but even if I had gone with a boyfriend, I doubt if I had been forthcoming about it to a new family, who are relatively strangers to me.

Sometimes people are private. I come from a culture where having a boyfriend is considered shameful (yes, really). So, even when I’m talking abt it to somebody from another culture, I will not be comfortable talking about it.

If your au pair is going to miss work or miss her concentration in her duties, or behave indifferently to you or your kids, then that’s when you need to be suspicious. I’m worried about the question raised somewhere in this page – what if she runs into immigration problems when returning, would she need help from you… what abt your childcare… i think you are absolutely entitled to discuss abt these questions with your au pair.

As for the fear that she might be doing a “runner”, well, if it’s gonna happen, it will. No point in worrying about it :)


Gianna September 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Another thought comes to mind concerning this question of the aupair’s right to
her own time. While it is absolutely true , that I can go out of the country any weekend
and chance getting back on Monday in time for work, my boss also has the right to terminate my employment if he is annoyed or inconvenienced due to my poor planning or bad luck. That is not the case with an aupair. If an aupair doesn’t show up on Monday morning or shows up late enough to make me late for work, I do not have the right to ” fire ‘ her. If I have a backup plan, I can relieve her of her responsibilities but I will have to continue to house her and feed her , etc according to my contract with the agency. If my work suffers because of the aupair’s lifestyle, the agency is going to ask the LCC to talk to me, to have an intervention , to try to work things out ( we all know the drill ) . The agency may even dance me around in terms of a rematch. This is one reason that I believe that the aupair owes me some more details about her life and more consideration than I owe my boss. He can end our relationship on a whim.
We are committed to our aupairs and vice versa.

Gianna September 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I want to add that I extend this same courtesy. My family can reach me or knows where to reach me at any given minute of the anyday. Sure, I would
like to disappear sometimes but I feel I owe it to my family to be available. I think that is just part of being a family. My business associates on the other are not entitled to this access ( although they would like to have it. )

Marie Therese September 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm

very well written article.. I am 20 years old and I just finished my au pair year. I made a great experience and I am very grateful for all the opportunities I had this year.
I would like to say, that I feel it is very important for the au pair to have a privat life. The fact, that you work where you live makes it sometimes not so easy. I adored my hostfamily and loved the kids to death.. no doubt.. but still on the weekends i had the feeling to get out of the house and see something different. I met a guy at the very beginning of my year (first week). We started to hang out on every other weekend and once in a while we did a weekend trip to Hawaii, Mexico or Colerado.. it was absolutely great. I had such great weekends, that I was full of motivation and power for the weekdays. My family noticed, that I did a good job with the kids and the house! It worked out just fine!
The guy I was talking about lived 5 hours by car away from the family, I worked for.

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