Wanted: Good (and Kind) Comebacks to Unsolicited Advice

by cv harquail on November 28, 2010

Dear AuPairMom Readers-

I am a 40 year old mother of three wonderful and well mannered boys. I have a great marriage and love my professional life. As a younger woman I have had many adventures. I have traveled to many countries and even lived abroad. I have no complaints.

So why, why, why do my young APs love to give me advice on how to live a more fulfilling life?


I have had comments like:

  • “you shouldn’t work so hard”,
  • “you need to be more adventurous”,
  • “embrace life before it gets away from you”.

I bite my tongue so often it’s raw!!

I know it’s probably just that they are feeling invincible and worldly-wise since they themselves are actually on an adventure. (I’ve wondered if it’s the nationality, since my AP’s have been from Germany.) But regardless of the explanation, their judgment of me gets irritating.

I don’t want to be unkind to my au pair but I do want to find a way to put an end to this idea that I ‘need to do’ something other than what I’m doing, which by the way is making me quite happy.

Do you have any good comebacks???

Thanks, ContentedHM

201011271903.jpg Note: A “comeback” is a quick reply to a question or remark (especially a question or remark that is either witty or critical); a rejoinder.

See also:
Since she’s temporarily returned to the nest– can I still give my (former) Au Pair advice?
Au Pairs and Your Privacy: My Au Pair’s kindof nosy!
“Mama Needs Her Space”

Images: munch from JKönig
I believe in dinosaurs from PhotoDu.de


2boys2girls November 28, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Did I write this?!?
My favorite is when my APs tell me how I could rearrange my life so I would not need an au pair!
I have no gentle “comebacks” for you but I am looking forward to others’ suggestions!

OhPleaseNotCaliforniaOrFlorida August 7, 2011 at 1:04 am

This made me laugh really hard. I can not understand why an au pair would say a thing like that. I love my host family and their lifestyle. I am so gratefull that they need an au pair!

Taking a Computer Lunch November 28, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Unfortunately, a snappy comeback won’t work unless your AP really understands the nuances of English. My favorite snappy comeback was spoken by a bartender, who went a customer who had not been in for a while started to leave after paying for his drinks, who said, “Glad to see you’re back!” It’s an insult that I’ve about many times over the years, but never uttered.

As for your young APs — it is youth. I once said to a 19-year-old AP whose mother was visiting, “When you are sixteen you know everything,” and when you leave home you realize your parents know something.” She nodded agreement in front of her mother, who was bemused.

The AP who gives exuberant youthful advice doesn’t need a snappy comeback, because it will put a wedge in your relationship — she’ll end up hurt and confused. Instead, think of ways to let her gently know that you’ve been around the block and she doesn’t have all the answers.

AnonHM-Europe November 29, 2010 at 4:55 am

As for German APs I would say that it’s due to the way people in Germany sometimes communicate: The proper answer would be: “Yes, you’re right, I should/shouldn’t…” In the German culture, this could be a way to start a conversation, just like the talk about the wheather. (which nobody can change either – but isn’t it wonderfull to make plans for the weekend if there’s supposed to be a nice and sunny day?…)

It could also be a way to show you how much they care about you, your wellbeing, your life. Maybe it’s just thinking aloud, not really giving you an advice. If they really expect you to think about whatever they suggested to you, you could either be frank and tell them that it’s none of their business, you could explain why this concept of life is yours by choice (and they will probably try to find out more about it).

While writing and rewriting this post, I was constantly trying to find out, why the girls behaviour annoyed you. Even though I read the word “advice” in your posting, I didn’t realize how you must feel by these statements of the girls. Because I would never believe, the girls gave me an “advice”. I therefore think it’s a cultural thing: You think it’s an advice but it could be many things.

When I was in the US as an exchange-student (more than 20 yrs. ago) I remember giving such “advices” to my host-family as well. But most of the times it was an indirect way to ask, why they handled things a certain way. I felt it impolite to ask directly about certain issues, but hoped to get an explanation about how things in the US-culture and my hostfamily worked.

Does this make any sense?

Should be working November 29, 2010 at 5:49 am

I consider the kind of know-it-all advice-giving of my APs to be practice for my daughter’s teen years, when she will likely have all kinds of criticisms of me and will present them even more rudely. If it is a German AP, I would consider telling her very directly that you find her advice-giving annoying. In my experience, Germans don’t get easily offended and she likely has NO IDEA that she is annoying you. So if you ask her directly to stop, she really might. Or if that’s too direct for you to handle, you could bring it up as a cultural issue: “It’s funny how you like to give me advice. In the US it is considered intrusive and some people would think ‘this is none of your business’.”

PerfectHostMom November 29, 2010 at 5:52 am

I haven’t gotten personal type of advice from our au pairs (or if I have I’ve been oblivious), but I have received all sorts of random unsolicited (and sometimes judgmental) “advice” about child rearing. One of my favorites was a recent comment that french fries make children cough, as my au pair disapprovingly watched my four-year-old son eat a few fries off his Dad’s plate. Most of the time I try to at least listen for the purpose of understanding what they might be suggesting (determine: is it a legit idea, is a cross-cultural wive’s tale, or is there a chance that she might try to apply this weird theory to my child while I’m not home?). In the great majority of situations, it is some sort of cross-cultural belief/wive’s tale, so I just nod, comment “oh, that’s interesting, we don’t do that” and blow off their “advice.” If it’s really weird, I’m a little more emphatic that “we don’t do that.” Once in a while I have had an older au pair who truly has some child care experience and proffered a legitimate suggestion – like I said, I do listen. I’m just too old and too busy to worry about what a 21-year old thinks about my child-rearing techniques. If I were getting personal advice, I think I’d feel the same way. You might just remind her that everyone makes different choices based on their values and upbringing, and it is good for her to be here visiting the US (and living in your house) so she can see that we are a country based on the principle that all kinds of people make all kinds of different choices based on what they want and value – I’d point out it is up to her to find her own way – she doesn’t need to make the same choices or have the same beliefs as you.

Calif Mom November 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Maybe the french fry belief is about “choking” not coughing. It’s about the right shape for a youngster to choke on. Maybe that first aid training at Orientation really clicked.

I agree with blowing it off, and chalking most things up to cultural differences. “Oh, isn’t that funny…it reminds me of how my Grandma always said a kid had to wear a kid or it would catch a cold, and we now know by doing many scientific studies that this isn’t true”.

Haven’t really been told I’m “doing my life wrong” by an AP. If someone presented their opinion as better, I think I would engage them in a long conversation in which I present the nuances and complexities of my role as person, wife, mother, professional, etc and economics. They’d probably only start such a conversation once.

If APs have given me more direct advice, it’s more about how I need to take some time off for just myself. Which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Aupairgal November 29, 2010 at 7:47 am

I find that very strange coming from German APs because most Germans are critical when they think someone isn’t doing enough work or being efficient enough. I have never heard a German tell someone to relax and work less.

Gianna November 29, 2010 at 9:15 am

I can remember telling my mother that she should go places, do things, spend more money enjoying herself, etc. because I really did feel that she was missing out on life.
She would sigh , roll her eyes and act hurt. I was , at that time of life, hell bent on adventure. Now, when someone ” suggests ” something , I remember how anxious I was to educate my mother and I smile and say ” I am very happy with my life . This is who I am right now “. I don’t take it personally. Sometimes the advise givers really mean well ( like I did with my parents ). And someday, the advise givers are going to remember the things they said with fondness or chagrin for their younger selves. I sure wish my mother had not taken things so personally.

Host Mom in VA November 29, 2010 at 11:48 am

I tend not to get any advice from my au pairs, though several have commented ‘you work too hard’ or made similar statements. (I tend to get up early to respond to work emails and I hold conference calls after my kids go to bed a few nights a week. My AP witnesses the late-night work.)

I think that these comments from your au pair are appropriate if you have established a friend or peer relationship – something more than the standard HM-AP relationship. While I’m friendly with my APs, we are decidely not friends in the traditional sense of the word. I don’t ask for their advice or opinions on personal matters (other than childcare on occasion), so we don’t have the kind of relationship where it would be appropriate to offer unsolicited advice (as I have with my sibling, parents, and friends). I do give my APs personal advice ONLY WHEN THEY ASK. I give a lot of childcare advice and directions, but there is a bright line between what I consider the personal and the professional.

This is a long way of saying that your AP’s comments may be less cultural and more a result of the type of relationship that you have together. If not, I’d offer a firm reply that you don’t welcome such comments rather than looking for a snappy yet kind comeback.

PA AP mom November 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Our first AP was an “expert” at everything. She had advice on disciplining, homework routines, tv time and especially bedtime.

I tried telling her nicely that we had our own “routines” and that they were to be adhered to. Finally I had to tell her, in no uncertain terms, that when she has her own children, she may raise them however she sees fit, but when she is caring for my kids, then my rules apply, whether she agrees with them or not.

After that she cooled it with all the “if I was you” comments. This is also the same AP who told me she hopes she never has kids of her own because she “hates children” the last week with our family.

hOstCDmom November 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm

“Wow, you know it is really interesting how one’s perspective changes as we get older and our life circumstances change, we get married, have children etc. When I was [X yrs old, insert AP’s age] I felt similarly to what you are suggesting. But now that I’m in the place in life that I’m in my perspective is quite different. [In fact it would be quite irresponsible of me to do X][I have no interest in Y at this point in my life]’.”

Said quite firmly, but with a smile.

Shana Medah November 29, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Odd as it may sound, sometimes “advice” or criticism is a manifestation of culture shock. It’s cultural identity defending itself against new (and threatening) ways of viewing the world by denigrating or minimizing the value of other ways of seeing, being and doing. After all, if we take seriously the value of something that is strange or “wrong” on the surface, what does it say about the values that we ourselves hold so deeply? What about ourselves will we have to change if what is strange or wrong is as true as what we have believed up until now? It’s much easier to say and believe that the new things are inferior than to have to do the work of examining our beliefs.

Try to distance yourself a bit from the remarks. Assume good intentions and the inexperience of youth. If you feel up to it, use them as a point of departure for a conversation on cultural differences and what the value is of “being more adventurous” versus being the way you are now. Maybe your au pair will be able to see a things from your point a view, maybe she won’t. If you’re feeling really brave, ask yourself if there is any truth in what she’s saying to you and see where that leads you.

Shana Medah

cv harquail November 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Shana, this is the best line of my entire day:

Assume good intentions and the inexperience of youth.

cv ;-)

Taking a Computer Lunch November 30, 2010 at 12:01 am

Over the years, many of our APs have been shocked by the differences, and not just in the big things, but in the little things, too. Some have grilled me, and others have made comments.

I am a member of a professional labor union, and we once had a serious and long discussion about why we functioned differently than European labor unions. The bottom line came down to expectations from the government – in the United States we don’t assume a pension, a university education for the qualified, and inexpensive health care. In the United States these must be purchased. And so we work harder – but it is also true that those of us who truly love what we do are constantly torn between the desire to be with our families and the desire to do what we love. (Last night my son accused me of loving my job more than him — because I had to work late today — and in jest I said, “You’re right!” To which he yelled, “Hey!” But you better believe I won’t be working late the rest of the week — even if he ignores me while he reads or rides his bike.)

As for Europeans, the other difference, I have come to realize, is that there is lip-service to paid leave for working women. In reality, for middle class and upper middle class women, there is a lot of social pressure to stay home and raise children. (Most of my European APs have come from working-class homes, and although they were afforded what would be a middle-class lifestyle here, both parents worked outside the home full-time. What is different to them, is the lack of extended family offering childcare. However, when I lived in Europe all the women I knew who had APs did not work outside the home.)

The bottom line – no matter how American reality chafes against our APs’ world-view, those comments, while seemingly impolite, are often a check as they internalize the differences. At first, everything is too much, and then, slowly, they see another way that is not necessarily better or worse, but just different even if they continue to prefer their own culture and society. When my AP’s comment on my work, I do reply, “My wish for you someday is to have a career you absolutely love so that you, too, are torn between staying at work and coming home.”

Aupairgal November 30, 2010 at 6:49 am

I find that many people on this blog lump all of Europe together. I think that all the countries within Europe are extremely different. The cultures, the lifestyles, and the laws vary greatly. I very much disagree with some of these statements as facts rather than opinions in the previous post especially if referring to all of Europe. I am not convinced that Americans work harder…they may work more hours.

Dorsi November 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I think I might just use the advice I have seen here given to APs who hear inappropriate comments: “Why would you say such a thing?” It might turn out that your AP does not realize you find your work fulfilling, that your value the stability you provide your family, etc.

I do think the Europeans in general have a hard time understanding that well-off Americans need to spend a lot of time and money providing things for their families that they take for granted. I have gigantic paychecks each month (especially, I am sure, in the eyes of my AP who I think has a ball park idea of what I make). I put money aside for retirement, college for kiddos, health care, taxes, school loans, savings for maternity leave, etc. [things that many Europeans have covered through their government] and my paycheck is suddenly much smaller. The responsibilities that I have to my family and their financial well-being preclude me from “having an adventure” right now — a situation I am satisfied with, but would have had a hard time understanding 15 years ago.

Nicola aupair November 29, 2010 at 5:06 pm

This definitely works both ways! There are all sorts of unwanted advice being thrown around in a HF/AP relationship- on my side, my HM often would give me a heap of advice (complete with veiled and sometimes not-so-veiled insults about how my family raised me) and, although I would have loved to give a witty comeback, I didn’t want to offend her so I just took it with a smile and a nod, let her think she was saving my life or whatever, and ignored the advice completely. Because more than being annoyed or offended at these comments, it’s better to keep the relationship between the HF and AP good, especially where the HM is concerned.

One reason why the au-pairs feel like they should suggest you stop working so hard might be because you talk about your job a lot (I know a lot of adults do this. They’re just blowing off steam but maybe the AP takes it seriously and thinks you’re not happy).

Shana Medah November 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Nicola au pair,

You’re right that it goes both ways. Host families get culture shock, too, when they are confronted with the new ways of seeing the world that their au pair brings. I think this can be especially true if the family has not had much experience with foreign cultures, which is not uncommon in the U.S. Here, many people can spend their entire life, if they so choose, surrounded by people who are very much like themselves. It’s true that you need to keep a good relationship with your HM, but do you think you might find a tactful, gentle, non-threatening way of exploring her assumptions about the way you “should have” been raised? You have a lot to offer and a lot that your HF can learn from you. It would be a shame if all they got was a babysitter and missed such a great opportunity to see the world through new eyes.

Anne Marie Segal November 29, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Hi, I would take it as a compliment that your au pair feels comfortable enough to talk to you about your life. That said, I know that if it were me on the receiving end, I couldn’t help but also feel insulted – and I have received some comments about my life/work choices in the past.

I don’t think you need a comeback per se. You just need to set the record straight. I might answer with, “You know, that sounds great when you say it, but that isn’t really my life right now….” Then move on to the next topic.

iMom November 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Last week my AP informed me that Americans give their kids too many antibiotics. While I agree, I still felt the criticism, having just finished two rounds of antibiotics with my son. After agreeing with the idea on a general scale I told her that she might have a harder time with such an opinion when it is her own sick child and this is what the doctor is recommending.

We also get a lot of “I don’t understand why Americans do X. In Germany, we do X, which is much better.” My standard comeback these days is “It’s because Americans are idiots and Germans do everything better.” I have the sort of teasing relationship with my au pair that she understands the sarcasm and good-naturedly gets the point. Having lived abroad I understand how easy it is to compare your home to where you are and pick out the faults, so I don’t get offended. I am just looking forward to her return to Germany after two years in the U.S. where she starts complaining about why Germans do X because in America they do X, which is much better.

Aupairgal November 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I would take that as an opportunity to actually try and think why do Americans do a certain something. And ask her the same thing. I would definitely challenge her to think about why Germans do things the way the do. It would be a great culture examination excerise for both people involved.

franzi November 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

how about “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” with a little smirk on your face?

i really don’t think the comments were meant to strike a very personal note. germans talk frank, often without even realizing, even more so without realizing that in other cultures this frankness could be seen as rude.

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