It can be so hard to do better with each au pair relationship.
I know that I liked to kid myself sometimes that I was actually improving– a better handbook, a clearer understanding of our family’s needs, a nicer au pair room, a sense of the arc of the year, and so on. I actually believed this from au pair #1 all the way to au pair #8, until au pair #9 & #11 pretty much broke my spirits.
The best way to learn, of course, is to experiment, reflect and revise.
And we do. We obsess over details of this relationship, hoping to avoid similar issues with the next au pair. We host parents can only control one side of the relationship though. Every new au pair brings with him or her an entirely new set of things to adjust to, connect with, and work through.
We can make huge improvements in our own Host Parent behavior and still struggle with our next au pair.
Still, we do our best adjusting and growing how we approach our au pair relationships, becuase every improvement makes a difference in our lives, our au pairs’ lives, and our family lives.
I received a long email (after the break) from a host mom who’s moving from au pair #1 to au pair #2. She wants some help from us as she thinks about what she could/should do differently this time. She offers three specific examples of challenges she faced with her aupair, and you can also read between the lines for more information.
As always, we know only one side of the story. Let’s take this host mom at her word, and work from her perspective. (Note, identifying details have been changed. Don’t think this is that other mom in your cluster.)I
If you were in her shoes, how would you change your Host Parent approach?
Dear AuPairMom Readers–
I’d love to get your take – advice, thoughts regarding the behavior of our au pair this summer and how to address that we would like her to leave our home exactly when her year is up – we don’t want to house her a day beyond what we are obligated to do.
The following occurred in months 6-9 of our first au pair’s first year with our family 2011-2012:
We were excited to find a young woman from Europe, who used to be a champion athlete on the national level. She quit due to injury but we thought what a rich experience, she must be so motivated, energetic, etc… In many ways we were right! Additionally, she is so loving to our children, adores to play with them, draw with them, go to the park, take walks, play hopscotch, make funny faces, and sometimes cook. She is proved to be positive and energetic. Our twins will be 3 in January, and our son will be 1 next March (7 months old now) and our AP was 21 when she began and is now 22.. We have many reasons to be grateful for her in our home and lives.
We do a lot for our AP, whenever she prefers some food from the store, I add it to the list. Whenever she needs a ride to metro – I take her, if she needs the car to go to the pharmacy or bank, and if we don’t need it, she can have it, whenever she wants to have her friends over, we are happy to accommodate. She was seeking what to do for a career and expressed interest in cosmetology and I arranged an internship with my hair stylist who has his own business. In other words, we treat our AP like she is part of our family not only the person who watches our children. I wear a few hats for her – coach, mentor, Mom, employer, and maybe friend. Our desire would be to have a life-long link.
Much of our perspective probably comes from me since my parents met when my mom was an exchange student in the EU, and both my sister and my DH spent a year abroad. The most important people in my life come from this sort of cultural exchange. I am invested and committed to it and so is my husband and our children.
We went away over a weekend to visit family, and our au pair wasn’t interested incoming (approximately her 6th month here with our family).
We asked if she could be responsible for the dog, so that we didn’t have to care for him down at the lake. She agreed. This is a very easy dog, laid back, needs only to go out to take care of business about every 8-12 hours, but should not be left longer than that. He has never had an accident in the house in the over 5 years we’ve been there. He is also fed twice a day, morning and evening.
We left Friday afternoon and returned around Sunday at noon. We found he had pee’d in the children’s room twice and pooped at the basement door to the backyard. The mail was still on the floor where the mailman dropped it Saturday afternoon (through the slot in the front door). There were various clues of a lack of activity at the house for a good 24 hours, including the fact that the dog ran out the door as soon as we came home, pee’d immediately and pooped twice in quick succession. Hmmmm.
That very day we talked with her, she claimed she could not understand why this happened. I am not sure that she was totally honest about when she was home and when she took the dog out. I believe she was out partying with her friends most of the weekend and was not committed or concerned to take care of him in even the minimal way needed. She said she was sad to have breeched our trust and that she would work to improve it.
After that conversation she went out again that same Sunday and stayed out with friends, playing pool until around midnight when her purse (plus passport and VISA) were stolen.
So now we are looking for some important docs like I94, DS2019, passport and VISA and we are researching how to replace it all, etc… If she had just gone to get her state drivers license like I originally suggested, her papers would be safely at home and this would never have happened. UGH.
So , since we live near the city she was able to spend $110 and get her passport renewed. She found her I94, thus saving $320 in getting that renewed. She was able to ask the Agency to send her a new DS2019 and got it relatively quickly. When she had her passport, and the other papers, she went and got her VA DL and put her passport and other docs in our safe. Still the VISA was not solved. And we were all going to visit my mom in the EU in the au pair’s 10th month… She would need it to get back in the country…. UGH AGAIN.
We found out that there is only 1 solution – you have to go back to the original US Embassy where the AP got the VISA in the first place (Paris, for her) and sit through the VISA interview again and get a new one via re-application. You cannot get it by asking for a replacement for an existing VISA. I know this because one of our dear friends was the US Ambassador from the US to Luxembourg and he called the State Dept to confirm the process. So she booked another appt at the US Embassy in Paris. Meanwhile she figured out that she would be wanting to come back into the US at almost exactly 90-days before the end of her program. That means she could get the usual ESTA tourist VISA over the internet. She did this and was able to return from Europe with us safely.
In the meantime, we traveled as a family for a vacation with all my cousins to FLA. Our AP came with us and was on a schedule to care for the kids and otherwise was invited to be with us as if with our family at all times. And by the way, when our AP is off the schedule, we do not rely on her or take advantage of her or ask her to do almost anything regarding care for the kids. We respect that this is her time off and we simply consider it time with our family. Most of her schedule was like noon til bedtime. She also had 2 days off.
During one of her days off, she went out to the little village, stayed in touch with me via text messaging, met some people (she is very social) and they went to do a bonfire on the local beach. She did not come home at what I would call a reasonable time, she was not on the clock the next day – so no obvious curfew, and by 3 am she texted me that she was going to sleep on the beach like camping and asked if that was ok. I texted her right back (thinking of Natalie Holloway) that NO, I was not comfortable with that, that I wanted her to come home.
I did not hear back from her that night, I texted her by noon that day – that I was worried. She texted that she was fine and would be home soon.
The net net for us was we were not re-matching because we were already committed to a trip to Europe with her, she cares well for the kids and our main issue was that she was a crap roommate and communicator. She never has the kids in danger, is 90% on time, etc… We’ve talked with her before and there were no effective changes to actually win our trust back. We created a curfew of having to be home at least 8 hours before she is scheduled to watch the kids. We lowered our expectations on a whole and were certain that we would not extend. If there were any major further breaches, we would simply send her home and find other care for our kids. She would not be able to leverage anything against us. We won’t have it.
I am learning and wanting to be the best HM I can be.
We have selected our next AP who arrives Nov 16. She is older (25) and we sought someone who would be a good roommate and a great child care giver. She is personally interested in US culture, family life, and not so focused on her own social life and clubbing – though I hope and expect her to be social. We are social and reasonable and expect our AP’s to be as well, within reason. We met and interviewed her while in we were in the EU. I hope we found someone who will not have the same challenges.
Any feedback on how we could have prevented, handled it better in the moment, preventative measures or structure, etc… I welcome.