What Forever Au Pair Wishes Her Host Family Knew

by cv harquail on August 10, 2015

Forever AuPair offered this as a comment to the earlier post13 Things Your Au Pair Wishes Host Families Knew, by Janine Snyder (AuPairSis). I thought it would make a great post of its own!

What I Wish My Host Family Knew

1. Support your Au pair when she disciplines your kids, even if you would have done it differently:

sea-fashion-woman-water-mediumThe worst that can happen is when an Au pair tries to discipline a child because he or she wasn’t behaving well, but the parents don’t support her. She might say that the child can’t have any screen time that day only to discover that the parents said it would be ok after all when they got home at night.

I understand that there might be things you would handle differently, but please don’t put the authority of your au pair down in front of the kids. I know that kids can pout and scram and demand to get that I pad back, but think about what your au pair has to deal with the next day. “Mom said it was ok to play on the I pad even though you said no” etc. kids are great at playing you, playing us.

This is a complaint I hear almost every day from my au pair friends, and it puts them into a position of not feeling valued or appreciated for the work they do. If you do believe her judgement of disciplining your kids was wrong, you can always talk to her about approaching it in a different way, but still, respect the punishment she put in place for that one time. Your child will not die because he didn’t get screen time for one day.

2. If you have to work from home and want me to work, please let me do my job:

So many times when my host Mom decided to work from home,  she set herself up in the kitchen. Please don’t do that. There are plenty of other rooms you can work in and I can do my job the way you expect me to.

Your kids behave differently when you are around and I am on duty. Sometimes they misbehave in ways I taught them to be better, or they fall back into habits we worked so hard on to get rid of. “Au pair can you bring me a spoon, you didn’t give me one” (9 year old) If Mom would not be there, I would kindly say: “look honey, you are 9 years old, I believe you are very able to get your own spoon” but Mom might jump up before you even have the chance to say something.

It is hard for us to do our job when you are around. We feel watched and judged. We usually have a pretty good handle on your kids. (I know this does not apply to everyone, and some moms are really good about letting the au pair work while she is home) We want to do our best, but we can’t if you don’t let us.

3. Your mood actually does impact our life:

Everyone has bad days, and I do not judge you for that. But please do not come home, slam the door and let us know how bad your day was and that everything sucks. Sometimes you have to suck it up too and talk about it with a friend or your hubby later that night. You expect us to be cheery and happy when we start work because your kids deserve that, but your mood (and I mean a bad mood more than 2 times a week) does actually impact the family dynamic and sometimes I don’t want to have dinner at home after all.

4. Tell your au pair when she is off work:

Especially in the beginning you might have to actually tell us that we are off. I remember when I started, I didn’t know if I was allowed to leave when my host mom got home, or if she wanted me to stick around. It is really hard for us at first.

5. Give us privacy:

When you come home after we spent 10h with your kids, all we want is to relax, and that in our rooms, by ourselves. We understand that you worked as well, and I am not saying by any means that your work is less hard, but while you left your job to come home to your kids, we do think that this is relaxing time for you, and most of the time it is based on my Host Mom’s statements.

Don’t get angry if we don’t come up to chat until dinner, or help with prepping, I never did, but I did ask my Host Mom if it would be a fair trade if I cleaned up after dinner if she cooked, and I mean everything. I sometimes spent up to 45 min washing pots and pans and stacking dishwasher, wiping up table etc. But I loved doing that after I had a little break, and she sure did not mind. She always said this was the greatest deal for her, since she loved to cook, I on the other hand didn’t.

6. While on vacation, tell us if you want us to help you with your kids:

This is what we know and see–  you are gone most of the week, we see your kids during the day more than you do, we think that you want as much time with them as you can while you are on vacation. So if you want us to help, or play with them, we are happy to do so, but we don’t want to take that time away from you either.

7. If you have a problem with us, or something is bothering you, please let us know, don’t write it on a post it note for us to read the next morning:

We want to work with you, be loved by your kids as well as you and your hubby. We want to do a good job, and that means that you have to tell us in person if we do something the wrong way. It is really hard to start work and seeing a note saying please don’t do that, please don’t do this. Most likely we don’t do this intentionally, so please tell us in person.

8. Last but not least, understand that it is hard for us to leave :

Incoming au pairs can be a really hard and sad situation for us. We shared 1-2 years of our life with your family. Your kids have most of my heard that I will never get back, respect that this is not just someone taking my position, it is someone taking “my” kids, room and host family that I grew to love so much over the past year. If your au pair was valuable, tell her that she always will be, and you will remember her as her, and not just a number in the au pair line. This goes a long way, because we will miss you very much.
I know that some of those points don’t apply to everyone. I just gathered some info from my own experience and some of my friends. Those were the things I wish my Host Family knew before I started. This blog is great, and I loved my relationship with my family. They will always be in my heart, no matter what happens.


Host Parents, did any of these ring true for you?

I winced at #7 — I’ve done that a lot myself. ~ cvh


See also:

When Host Parents Start Working ‘At Home’: Helping your au pair make the switch
Tip for the Work-At-Home Parent with an Au Pair: Have Rules for Interruption
Invasion of Privacy: Time for rematch?



Mimi August 10, 2015 at 2:54 pm

I know #1 is hard for some parents, but we’e always done this and used it for teaching moments when needed. It helps that HD has moments where he’s had to “consult” on consequences. :) I’m acutely aware of #3 and I’ve had days where I’ve texted ahead to let folks know I had a bad day and need a few minutes to “transition” myself (I sit in the driveway in my car and veg). It’s hard to switch gears and although most of my APs have understood that, some haven’t.

Many of these boil down to clear communication and expectations. We have sections on most of these in our handbook and talk about them during matching so that APs have a chance to ask questions and really understand how our household and family works.

Host Mom DMP August 10, 2015 at 3:49 pm

There are some really great points here! As a newly minted LCC, this has given me some great ideas of things to discuss with the host families in my group!

AuPair Paris August 10, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Yes! #1 is absolutely *the* most important thing. I can deal with all kinds of bad behaviour from kids, but I lose ALL patience with even minor mischief if the parents aren’t on side. There’s just this awful sense of hopelessness when a kid is disrespectful and you *know* you’re helpless in the face of it, as far as authority goes.

(This is slightly off topic, but related to that point: I’m having this problem with food at the moment. At snack time, the rules are that the kids get a certain amount of snack cakes. The youngest is small enough that this amount will fill her up all evening. But this means she doesn’t eat dinner, because she’s picky and refuses to try almost all vegetables, or anything new. I keep just taking her plate away and saying “I’ll save this for you if you get hungry later! There’s nothing else!”. Then the parents feed her chocolate sandwiches and sweets because she says she’s hungry! I brought it up and the response was “we don’t force our kids to eat when they aren’t hungry. Or starve them when they are”. I wouldn’t say I do either..! Any thoughts on strategies to deal with this would be welcome… I do lunch, snack and dinner every day, but am meeting resistance from parents if I try to limit the smallest’s snacks or do almost anything to get her to eat healthy stuff at dinner.)

German Au-Pair August 10, 2015 at 4:46 pm

I had a similar situation in which I was supposed to limit and vary the food the kids had for snacktime and not just give them the junk they like. However, the discussion about this took forever and when a HP was home they were more focussed on getting things done than on teaching something while doing it. Eventually no one cared about it any more and the kids kept eating what they wanted to.
Honestly, my advice is to not care. If that’s what the parents do, you cannot enforce a healthier behavior. It just doesn’t work that way. I found that the only behavior I could enforce without the parents’ support (and following through) was behavior that was directly related to me. I could not get the food thing across but I could make them clean up after themselves when I was in charge because I could make a believable case that *I* felt like this was disrespctful to me. I established my own rules in the car because I could directly enforce them without any support needed.

AuPair Paris August 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm

Yeah… The rules are that I have to get the kids to eat vegetables at each meal and a fruit after at least one. But if the Host-Parents don’t enforce it, I don’t see how I can… I suppose if, at any point, my HPs express concern about the littlie’s all-cake diet, I can gently point out that I’ve mentioned this difficulty a few times… But I think that’s all I can do!

Luckily my HPs are very supportive with everything else.

German Au-Pair August 10, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Yeah, mine were awesome in other areas as well so I just learned to let things go eventually. They never complained about not enforcing that rule but I also would have pointed out the difficulty.

Mamapajama August 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I had a summer nanny to help me with my 4 year old triplets. My one son would never eat anything! The one thing he always had was chocolate milk in the morning. One day I came home at lunchtime to the non eater eating lunch!!! I was floored! Nanny told me she refused to give him the chocolate milk as he slept in rather late and wanted him to eat lunch. I was so floored I didn’t see that his sugary milk was making him full. I thanked her soo much! Problem was I was a pushover and she was not. Once I got out of the way he started eating at mealtimes!
I think sometimes people don’t like to see that someone else is doing a better job in certain areas, especially parents! I know I’m mom, but I have faults like anyone else. Getting my own ego in check has benefited my kids so much!

WarmStateMomma August 10, 2015 at 8:34 pm

I don’t think there’s much you can do if the parents aren’t on board. Maybe move snack time up a bit so she’s (a) not as hungry when snack time comes around and (b) hungrier at dinner? But the schedule might not allow for it and I’d let it go.

AlwaysHopeful HM August 10, 2015 at 11:07 pm

This is a tough one, and I wonder if maybe the parents don’t appreciate how tough a time you’re having. Maybe you can approach them for advice just on how to increase the veggie intake. You could ask if they’re sure the prescribed amount is correct, because she just doesn’t seem to have an appetite for it. Ask what they do to get her to eat veggies, and ask how important it is that she do so. You might even suggest keeping a food diary so they can see how little healthy food she eats vs. sugary junk.Once they see the entries, they may be motivated to decrease her snack or try some other tactic. Or they may decide they’re fine with it. Either way, the burden shifts to them to either solve the problem or decide that ir’s not a problem worth solving.

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 6:12 am

This is a good idea – the food diary. The thing is, with the elder two, the parents are very focused on healthy eating. I think it is a priority for them. The youngest, however, has a very strong will (will hold her breath until she passes out in a tantrum, etc), and I think they don’t want the dinner table to become a battleground that will cause bigger control problems later on. Neither do I, of course, which is why I’ve been kind of skirting around the issue, thinking of changing snack time rules or quantities, rather than trying to force veggies down the kid’s throat! I will see how things go after the summer holidays, I guess!

German Au-Pair August 10, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Another point that occured to me was the concept of “pick your battles”. Depending on how you grew up and how much experience you have with working with children, the whole concept can be confusing, hard to establish and feel unnatural.
I have learned that Americans really believe in this, whereas Germans tend to be a bit rigid when it comes to rules. I’m not sure how other cultures handle it.
No matter how you would handle it yourself, it can be super confusing when dealing with other people’s children.
When a HP tells an AP they want something done a certain way, it’s generally assumed that they expect the AP to enforce that. Again, as a German I also personally believe in that. Bending the rules for a special occasion is okay when YOU decide on that. To me it is not okay to bend the rules because the child throws a fit. No matter your personal opinion, when you are told the parents want to enforce a certain rule, you generally assume that’s the case for a reason. So when the kids throws a giant fit because of that and everything ends up in chaos and you’re later told that this is a “pick your battle” situation, you can end up pretty confused.
I said this in another comment already, but I’ll stress it again: PLEASE discuss which issues are a MUST for your and which are a should. Explain what pick your battles means to you, show them, point situations out and make sure they know what’s going on.
I just had to think of that because I remember a situation where it was firmly established, including written down in a schedule, that the kids were supposed to do their homework at time x and that ended in a disasterthat, according to my HP could have been avoided had I been more willing to compromise. Besides the fact that I think you need to earn the right to compromise (which I then established as a rule), I was sure that my HP wanted me to enforce a rule that was written down and agreed upon so it simply didn’t occur to me that doing it differently was even an option.

Mimi August 10, 2015 at 5:37 pm

I have been told I run a very German household (both as a compliment and not…) and I have had to learn to compromise with HD over the years which has led me to using a bull’s eye concept with my APs. The stuff in the center is what I really care about and needs to be done my way. I explain what they are and why I’m particular about them. Middle rings are a point of compromise for me; important that something is done safely but end result is more important. The outer ring is all about the outcome and how you do it is up to you. I think it’s important to give APs something they can have autonomy over.

Newish in NZ August 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Mimi, love the idea of this – sounds like something I could really use. When a new AP starts (our third is on day 4) I find myself so utterly full of ALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS to tell her that I don’t know when or how to start and I fear she just gets overloaded and / or doesn’t know what the most important bits are! So out of curiosity, is this something you write/print out and give to her? Or do you just discuss? If you wouldn’t mind, could you share some of the things in your ‘rings’? Thanks :)

Mimi August 11, 2015 at 11:46 am

The bull’s-eye is something we discuss in matching. (It’s also something I use in managing my staff at work.) As we go through the HHHB and training, I tell the APs where things fall in the bull’s-eye so they can get an idea of patterns/trends in them. I’ve thought about putting it on paper, but haven’t found the time. It’s also more important to me that the APs understand the concept of the bull’s-eye and not just the particulars so that they can apply individual reasoning to things on the fly and we can address them if there’s a question or problem.

My center ring is mostly about safety/health, discipline, and punishment (discipline and punishment aren’t the same thing in my HH). We tend to match with APs who understand and are used to our household structure and discipline so there’s not much adjustment. For most families, these would probably be the rematch topics. The middle ring is things like after school routines/schedules and the outer ring is things like chores and activities that involve personal preference. The center rings are spelled out very clearly in our HHHB. Other things that get a casual mention are middle and outer rings. Some examples:

Center- I require that the AP fill out a daily log so we can track any behavior problems and generally know how the day is going. No exceptions—it’s not a novel. Some examples we include are that we don’t yell at the children. We tell the AP not to give the children more than one warning about behavior before addressing it. If the kids are fighting over a toy, the toy gets taken away. If you can’t tell who is causing problems and no one will admit to it, they all get time outs. (No tattling allowed; the perp needs to admit to it.) Problems with AP compliance in the center area usually means a sit-down conversation and occasionally a follow-up with the LCC.

Middle- When the children come home from school, they need to put away their school things, have a snack, change if they’re going to play outside, and do homework/chores. Order doesn’t matter to me; what they eat is generally prescribed but can be chosen by the AP, and has to be before a certain time so they are hungry for their dinner. Reminders or problems in this area can be addressed in a casual conversation or comment in passing.

Outer- How the AP spends her day with the baby is entirely up to her. The daily routine is hers to set. Our AP chooses the toddler classes we sign up for and other activities that she wants to do with the children. The AP has very few chores to do in our house (empty/load dishwasher, tidy play areas, fold laundry, change sheets). How and when she does them is up to her. We encourage her to have the children help, but it’s her choice. Problems/issues can be put on a sticky.

We also try to give the APs tips and tricks for success with our children. If the children want to do something and it’s not a matter of health or safety, they can probably say yes. If one of the boys wants to go without a coat when we know it’s too cold, we will tell them if they can stand outside for five minutes without feeling cold then they can go without a coat. If they realize it’s too cold not to wear a coat, they’re usually very willing to put it on themselves. The alternative of an argument and tears takes much longer and puts everyone in a bad mood.

IMO, it’s easy to think you should get your AP to do everything the way you do it and like it to be done, but it’s not always realistic. I’ve had to relax some of my standards over the years for my own sanity and household harmony and the world has continued to spin and disaster hasn’t struck. :)

Schnitzelpizza August 12, 2015 at 7:25 am

I love that strategy! [Now… is that because you run a very German household? ;)]

I really need to adapt that to my family (or rather: I see where using that with DH will ease our communication a bit in some situations).

Newish in NZ August 13, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Thanks for expanding on it – really, really useful! I like the concept and will def be using it. I’ll keep your last paragraph in mind, too – very good points that I’d do well to remember… :)

German Au-Pair August 10, 2015 at 6:27 pm

That sounds awesome! I think this also helps the HP to be clear about what they expect. My HP set rules but in the end sort of expected me to get it done anyhow.

My HP were way more outcome oriented than I am so that was hard for me. For example when a HC would throw a tantrum about having to do basic things like brushing teeth, I would insist on not discussing it at all because it’s just something you do period.

MY HC was a teenage boy with special needs but I still feel that certain routines are enforceable and actually tend to be less of an issue if there simply is never room for discussion. My HM would chime in with a small incentive (he didn’t care WHAT he got, as long as he got something) after I had already had told him it wasn’t up for discussion. For her it mattered that the teeth were brushed but this small, little incident bothered me a lot because while it wasn’t ABOUT being a teaching moment, it sure did teach him that I didn’t have any authority. Of course her way worked a lot better but I personally have experienced that being consistent on small matter like this leads to fewer discussions on bigger issues.

In any case, if that is your philosophy, it would be wise to discuss that with your AP.

I didn’t enter a fight with him because it felt like a nice way to start my morning but because I thought it was the right way to handle the situation. If you disagree, please still back me up and advice me on an alternate solution later.

BTW, I’m not trying to talk badly about them. There were great parents and were really good to me. But it’s the nature of this thread to focus on the things that didn’t go too well so others can maybe think about it, right?

WarmStateMomma August 10, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Something I’ve noticed with my toddler is that she negotiates if she thinks it might work. Her tactics are crude – angry crying, going limp, etc. – but remarkably effective on HD and grandparents. We NEVER negotiate buckling car seats so she long ago gave up whining about that, but reading the 17th bedtime story invites tears way too often. There is something to be said for holding the line to avoid future meltdowns.

I tell our AP that she can resort to (otherwise forbidden) TV when she watches the kids on date nights, but I tell my toddler that it’s up to the AP to decide if her behavior warrants the treat. Honestly, the AP won’t say no (but I have) and I want to emphasize that there will be consequences if she doesn’t respect the AP. This goes back to preventing meltdowns rather than managing them.

BearCo Momma August 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

I really, really love this idea and am definitely going to start using it in some form ! Thank you!

AlwaysHopeful HM August 10, 2015 at 10:31 pm

I appreciate this list, but honestly, I struggle the with 1, 2 and 7. Starting with 7, written communication (notes, texts) just makes sense to me in so many instances. With it, I can be more clear, and can better consider my words, and AP has the chance to translate if needed, and doesn’t have to worry about forgetting what I’ve said. Also, apart from weekends, I may not have much chance to speak with AP alone, and i dont want to fill that limited time with “please remember to clean out the lint trap after drying clothes” type of banter. We do have some of those chats, but I try to have a nice balance of talk about music or politics or friends or different cultures, etc. If something really bothered me, of course i would not just leave a post it or text, but for little reminders, I have a hard time finding the offense in it.

For #2, in my view, the point of working at home is being comfortably at home. I make a point of reminding my son that the AP is in charge, for example, if he comes to ask permission for something. But, as far as being concerned that I’m watching (or listening) and judging… well, yes! I am! I want to hear how much time you spend interacting with my son, and how relaxed that interaction sounds. I want to know how you handle things if my son decides not to listen. I want this time to make me feel comfortable with my choice to leave my child with you each day.

** And for #1, the disconnect for me is that I believe sometimes APS ask that their authority be supported, when what they actually mean is, please support me when i substitute my personal child-rearing style for yours. ** (cv puts the asterisks in to highlight this great point)….

The way that I raise, discipline, interact with my child is very intentional, and so I expect our au pair to try to do what I do. I know my child well and know that some approaches, however popular and/or sensible sounding, will lead to an undesired result. I offer written and oral advice, and try to model, and explain as i model. Of course I want AP to establish his or her own relationship with my child, and I’m open to ideas, but only within the framework of my child rearing philosophy. I believe that, under stress, people naturally fall back on the patterns that are familiar to them. I get that, but to to extent it’s not how I want my son treated, I’m not going to pretend it’s okay.

I’m admittedly a little sensitive on the subject right now because my son recently told me things he had bottled up about the harsh way AP 1 disciplined him, and the way AP3 treated him when I wasn’t around. These were new and horrifying revelations. Both of those APs thought I coddled my son too much, and I regret bending over backwards to support their discipline choices, even when I thought they were too hasty to react.

Last thought– sometimes when I come in the door, my son comes running to me asking for some favor. Often, it’s totally fine, but sometimes he’s asking for something au pair has already denied. I can’t know that, unless I’m told in advance. I greatly appreciate a heads up text saying “btw, son wouldn’t finish his math homework without a struggle, so I told him no game night tonight.” I’m more than happy to back that up! Current au pair stands behind my son and shakes his head yes or no, so I can see him without looking over. That works too!

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 6:08 am

For me, this brings up an interesting question: how much is an AP expected to use the parents’ philosophy. For me, it’s not that clear cut. My host family want their children to experience a lot of different authority figures, to get used to the fact that everyone is different, but you can learn from each of them. They think it helps them in school and work later. Because of that, their first au pair was very maternal and chilled out. The second was an organisational disciplinarian who had the kids whipped right into shape. I’m relaxed and fairly permissive, except about certain topics which I find very important, and about the question of respectfulness.
Of course, we all followed the HP’s rules, and got the tasks done that were necessary, but we all managed it in a different way.

I also understand your point though – if you have an intentional system with your kids already, you’re not going to want it messed up by a temporary caregiver. So how does that work? Do you screen AP’s for similar upbringings to your ideal? Or just similar ideals on childcare? Or get very young APs and train them up? And what happens if an AP find that the system doesn’t work for her. For example, a technique I frequently use is group problem-solving (How to Talk So Kids Will Listen etc style) – but that would never have worked for me on arrival, because the kids simply didn’t trust me enough yet to engage with me in that way. If you’re anti-punishment, what if the kids don’t respond to the AP’s distraction techniques in the same way as they do with you? What if they simply don’t respect her in the same way, because they don’t know her as well?
These are genuine questions, not challenges – I guess what I really want to know is whether the system is flexible if it’s causing difficulties for the AP. Is an AP ever allowed to say “the way you behave with me is different from how you behave with your parents. So just for today, we’re going to try [new method] with me, because I think we need systems that work for all of us.”

Of course name-calling, yelling, emotional abuse etc do not come under these categories.

AlwaysHopeful HM August 11, 2015 at 8:30 am

These are all good questions, and ones I’m sorting through even now. What I would say is that I am perfectly fine with different personalities and new, creative approaches *as long as they fit my philosophy.* My son has had exposure to many different teachers, day care workers, camp counselors, coaches, etc. He understands that some grown ups are simply awesome and some not so much, and that’s okay, because at the end of the day, there’s home, a place where you are loved and respected and supported and understood. I think there are many ways to get there, and I’m open to considering and learning new systems and approaches, as long as they lean towards support, education and emotional safety. Our au pairs are definitely able to use approaches that are different than what I would do, but I would caution– if you haven’t seen me do it, talk to me about whether it’s an approach I would approve. There are some things I *know* will only make things escalate with my son, and other things I know will make him crumble internally (only to have it show up later in some way). I can help you avoid those, and perhaps suggest successful approaches other caregivers have used. The key is just not to substitute your own judgment and insist the parents back it up.

In the past, I have conveyed my parenting philosophy to our au pairs (as it evolves, because I don’t pretend to know everything, or even most things). Two situations were difficult for my son, but I didn’t realize how difficult until recently, so I haven’t screened specifically for discipline approach, but may do so in the future. In hindsight, I see that the two au pairs that had the most difficulty fitting my parenting style (and thus, bonding with my son) were ones who insisted my son “respect” them. Their styles tended to be more authoritarian, and they tended to coerce compliance, rather than calmly expect it. It’s not that respect was not important to the other two– it’s just that they weren’t afraid to also give respect to my son, and to appreciate what he may be feeling. They were able to bond quickly and obtain compliance much more easily.

futbolmom August 11, 2015 at 10:21 am

AHHM-I completely concur with everything you have said in particular: “there’s home, a place where you are loved and respected and supported and understood.” It gets a the crux of a key difference between an au pair and a babysitter that I failed to appreciate until this year. Similar to yours, my strong willed kid has been exposed to multiple authority figures and is universally described by them as hard-working, compliant, respectful, etc. At home he is a different beast, in part I think because it takes alot of his energy to be “on his game” all day long. With babysitters he would mostly hold it together until they left. The au pairs don’t leave at the end of the day, and thus are exposed to some of his more provocative behavior. Our first two were able to pick up on how to manage it. Our current one has not despite my pointing out my strategies in “real time.” I have been beating myself up for not being able to better manage their relationship but the posts on this thread have made me realize that it is a bit of a lost cause (especially with only a month to go). We are aging out of APs this year, but if I was in the hunt again, I would DEFINITELY screen better regarding candidate’s concepts of respect from children. (and stick to those who interpret “strong willed” as “passionate :)

Taking a Computer Lunch August 11, 2015 at 11:22 am

I figure my kids are going to interact with a lot of adults – teachers, therapists, coaches, instructors – who will all behave and treat them differently. I’m okay with the AP having a different style from me – I feel like I’ve been winging it for 16 years anyway. However, what I want is that they communicate with my children. I had one AP who wanted to refuse to drive my son somewhere because he didn’t come downstairs when it was time to go. However, she never communicated to him – I want you to be downstairs and ready to go at X time. It was not until she, in anger, rang the doorbell, and my husband – who had been in bed with the flu – came down to see what was up, that we realized the disconnect between her caregiving style and her willingness to communicate it. She was in rematch within a week.

DCBurbTwinMomma August 11, 2015 at 4:19 am

I will support what I know and what is in line with our discipline philosophy. I will always ask why they were in “trouble.” U

sually I find it’s a logistics problem at this toddler age. It’s natural for a toddler to be louder than reasonable at times and full of movement. I am not going to challenge the AP’s decision making until I trust that the indiscretions truly warranted discipline. Throwing toys and not sharing will get a time out but don’t put them right back into the same stressful situation. If Jake skateboard toy always creates fights–remove the toy. We do not use the word “bad” in our house. If the AP is constantly saying you are bad, I will correct her in front of the girls. That nips that in the bud. We also talk about what gets a time out v redirect with a conversation. If AP forgets they are toddlers and cannot sit still for 2 hours of book time followed by letters then the fault lies with the logistics and not the 3.5 year old.

Otherwise, if something is not allowed (in my house it’s the privilege of feeding the fish, picking the first toy in the basket or picking the book) I have to know before hand. The AP who doesn’t feel supported needs to approach the parent with concrete examples and discuss not just parent buy-in but a solution. I learned that AP2 was frustrated they didn’t eat their full breakfast and lunch. When we discussed this, it was discovered that they were getting generous adult sized portions which was too much food for me. Instead of blindly saying, “you must listen and eat all your food,” we discussed what they were eating, when and how much. So–approach the parents and talk solutions. Not just “my way is THE solution” Lastly, I’m the parent. I may need them to watch an hour of Jake and the Neverland Pirates so I can cook or finish a work call. They may have indeed been hellions that day. This will happen.

Being the AP when parents are around:
My husband and I both can work from home a few times per week. Suck it up–we will be around and we know our kids act differently around us. This is my opportunity to see how you handle interractions. I will intervene as I see fit.

We both have in-home offices, but I will be present in my home. Life is not about best environments to do maximum work. This is the job you have. I’m not going to adjust my work needs so AP can feel less pressure to perform. All three of my APs adjusted to us being around because they had confidence in their ability even when the gals were up to shenanigans. As parent, I get to be, and will be, parent when I am around and you are working.

haha! I have intense days. I have sad days. We’ve had a grandparent and aunt die in the past two years. I strive to be reasonable and present around my kids and will moderate anger. There is no yelling or disrespect allowed. However, I refuse for you to tell me that I’m not allowed to express a tough day. Kids learn that they can have rough days too and that its okay to feel. Again, the work environment is what you get. An occasional moody day is going to happen.

But, on that note–I would then expect you to be robotic and never show any homesickness, relationship angst, heart break or disappointment. Cheer up when you’re disappointed by being told this job was all vacation and not actually work. Oh, just grin through those pounds you’ve gained on American food and smile wide–no tears when you miss your cousin’s wedding or mom’s birthday bash. That would be just as unreasonable as telling me to curb my emotions so you don’t have to deal. This is why you have a door to your room and access to the world outside our home. The three APs I have had truly integrated into our home and knew that humans have human things happen. When one had a mom berate her constantly, I’d talk her through a lot of sadness for hours and buy flowers. When one got dumped–there I was. I’m not looking to AP to be my support, but this is not a sitcom–this is real.

you will get a text or note if that’s the best or most efficient way to communicate. Period. I follow up when I see you next with a conversation and bigger issues get a family meeting. However a note or text can and will happen.

I agree with privacy, hours and rules. I am up front in interviews and handbooks about how my house runs. We’re not interviewing a friend or girlfriend–you have a job to do. Similar to my job where my boss sets the ground rules and I comply even if I would rather everyone be cheery and never question me, back me up 100% and do as I wish with their own work. Sure.

Make the best of what environment you are given, communicate your challenges and work on solutions. I’ve had four years of great / good success by telling an AP that there in this with us but that they don’t work at Disneyland. Life is messy.

aupair paris August 11, 2015 at 5:54 am

Something that bothered me with this is the discipline for the AP *in front of the girls*. If she’s using the term “bad”, you tell her in private not to. then you talk to the kids saying something like “although we don’t use that term, and you both know our rules about that (clarify them, and the reasoning if necessary), the important thing is how you behave with AP”. The thing is, if you are corrected in front of the children, you feel like a child. The children won’t listen to you, and you won’t feel like an adult in a responsible job. Children from a very, very young age, are bright enough to know that Mum and AP won’t always agree on techniques, but that being respectful and following the rules is important with all care-givers. Correcting the AP in front of them transmits half your message (“we don’t use the word bad. You are not bad.”) but not the other half (“you have to listen and behave well for AP”). In fact, for me, it gets across the opposite of that. To me, it says “I don’t care what my kids were doing – the way you’ve dealt with that is the biggest problem”. That might be how you feel, but your kids are still right there hearing that the conflict is all the AP’s fault.

Communicate techniques in advance! Then correct in private. If AP is still not doing something that, to you, is vitally important, the response is not to shame her in front of the children until she does… It’s to rematch and find someone who *will* perform her job in the way you expect. (Presumably after several attempts to get the point across.)

NHM August 11, 2015 at 5:09 am

As to #1 an easy fix for an AuPari is to impose sanctions that only affect the AuPair time. It is a little tough, for example, to state “no screen time today” at the end of an AuPair shift when the parent comes home tired and beat and might need to rely on some screen time to get dinner going.

TexanadianWife August 11, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Totally agree with this point.

We include in our handbook, during the first training, and throughout the year as necessary, discussions on discipline… what’s acceptable, how to escalate if necessary, when to call the parents (the biggest disciplinary action available to the au pai for our 7 and 9 year olds for sure!), and we always, always expect that if some kind of disciplinary action needed to be taken that it be discussed at the end of our au pair’s shift if not a call before. We always inquire about the behavior of the children while we are out, and we have a discussion (away from the kids) about what our au pair saw and experienced during the time. This makes it easy to reinforce au pair discipline decisions.

If the au pair has issue with the kids’ behavior that we agree with (sometimes there’s a lost in translation moment that we clarify with the au pair and that’s the end of it), we talk to the kids about it the next time we see them (sometimes the next morning) to reinforce that we agree with the au pair that the behavior they had was not acceptable, and what would be acceptable in the future.

We screen for alignment in child discipline and include questions about the au pair’s views in the interview process, because we don’t want either the au pair or us to be undermined by the other.

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 4:46 pm

That’s pretty awkward though. I mean, i think most APs are already being the bad guys – taking care of the whole day with no screens, no TV, coming up with activities. After snack time, I don’t *have* any privileges to take away from the kids, because all their fun stuff is scheduled to be in their parents’ time anyway… Plus, it’s often the very end of the day when the kids act up, too. Sometimes parents are going to come home, just as I’ve put a child in his room to chill out and calm down a bit. If they immediately go “nope! Our time!” and get the kid back down, that’s extremely unhelpful… I guess it’s different because I do dinner for the kids, and all, but… I just don’t think that’s feasible.

WarmStateMomma August 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

If they are old enough to remember what’s happening, you can take privileges away for the next day you have them. It doesn’t help the first time because it’s just an empty threat/promise but it works after that when they remember you followed through. My nephew doesn’t try half the nonsense with me that he gets away with with his parents – because I follow through. Don’t threaten anything you won’t actually do and don’t require anything you won’t enforce.

Example of how not to handle meals: Eat everything on your plate. Ok, 10 bites. Maybe just 5. Please, eat *something* from your plate. (This will become a nightmare as the pattern for meals is established.)

Instead, try: Taste everything and finish at least one food on your plate. (More manageable expectations from the outset and you can more easily refuse to negotiate.)

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Luckily “you must taste *everything*” is a French cultural law, so I don’t have to enforce that. I usually say “eat as much as you can of each dish, and ask me again when you’ve done that”, to see if it’s just moaning out of habit (sometimes on the second or third bite it miraculously starts tasting good. Or she forgets that she’s whinging and gets distracted by something else), and then I decide how much to insist on. But eating all of one thing is good advice! I just worry that she’d always choose the carbiest bit, and ignore the veg! But then, I pretty much make sure there’s veg in every bit of the meal because of that very tendency. (Meat-free aubergine balls in tomato sauce with roasted veg on the side, or courgette fritters with grated carrot as a side etc etc.) So that advice could work really well.

WarmStateMomma August 11, 2015 at 9:13 pm

As a last resort, we arm wrestle for it. My daughter knows she has to eat her veggies/meat/whatever to “grow big and strong.” Sometimes we will arm wrestle her to determine if she’s big and strong enough to be done with her dinner. At her age, she thinks this is an objective measure. Everyone enjoys the challenge – she stretches and warms up, the AP laughs out loud, etc. Your HKs may be too old for this tactic but the weirdest stuff can work sometimes.

DCBurbTwinMomma August 11, 2015 at 7:36 am

I respect your point of view and that may work for others but no. Indeed, just like the toddlers, the corrective action happens in real time. We use the childhood discipline philosophy of “try our best.” Even mommy gets corrected for saying an “ugly” word (something four lettered) and then we brainstorm three better ways to express something. If daddy leaves his shoes out, he has to stop what he’s doing or lose one shoe to the behavior jail where only an act of kindness gets it out.

Early childhood development studies show that exhibiting on the spot problem solving teaches kids confidence to make choices and know that they are loved even when less than perfect. It helps to have a degreed Early Childhood Development educator in my family.

However, if your approach is what works in your environment then rock it. For me, there is no one size fits all and I believe the kids not seeing that the AP gets corrected too (like everyone else) isn’t going to develop the independence and skills I want them to learn. Thankfully the kiddos respect and follow the instructions of the AP in our house. Who knows if it’s from positive reinforcement, real-time correction and just luck-of-the-draw really happy well behaved twins.

The AP and preschool have stated we don’t have discipline issues but that could change as each stage brings new things. I’m also not only to threaten re-match as a tool. Heck, my latest AP wrecked the car on day3 after lying about her skill level. We worked through that to a really good children-first place. So her having to work within a problem-solving focused family and get over her preconceived authoritarian rules won’t kill her. Just like me, she can rematch if it’s not her style.

I have APs asking to switch into my family for their 2nd year who are at my house constantly visiting on play dates and socializing. They know the rules. It’s a home of transparency. I like the APs and have taken family trips to visit the last one, but I LOVE my kids and their development needs trump a temporary worker regardless of how lovely she is. So, her actions to my kids that are contrary to established rules or themes (using the word bat, calling a child fat, saying a child must give a hug or kiss, etc) get swift and real-time correction. Period.

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 7:57 am

Well, fair enough, if the AP has agreed in advance to this. While my basic rules sound the same as yours otherwise, I wouldn’t like this. I prefer to be an employee (real job = real consequences – not threats of rematch, but actually losing my job if I can’t perform it the way I have said I will). But perhaps if you are using a big sister/part of the family model these rules change.

I certainly do advocate apologising to children when you’ve done something wrong, but I prefer that it come from me, and not another authority figure. I expect there are au pairs who don’t feel as strongly about this; my rules for how I expect to be treated by a employer are the same everywhere. Respect, respect, respect. Nothing to do with whether my host parents like or love me, or prioritise me over their children..! I did, however, get absolutely blasted by a kid’s grandparent, in front of the kids, for forgetting a household task (didn’t notice the bathroom bin was full one morning). If that became the norm, I couldn’t stick it out, and as it is, I responded as politely as possible, and approached the gparents later with a request to speak to me in private when there’s a problem.

Midwest Au pair August 11, 2015 at 8:37 am

We would definitely not be a good match for each other. While I do believe it’s important to teach kids on the spot, I strongly disagree to put your au pair, or even your husband to that discipline. I would feel like I’m treated like one of your kids one minute, but then be expected to act as the adult the other. Wouldn’t last 3 seconds in that environment. But that’s why we interview right? I’m sure there are au pairs that don’t care much about that. About the mood thing, yes kids need to learn that people have bad days, but I find it very childish when you as a mom (and I’m not literally speaking to you, I don’t even know you) come home from work and put that face on that you just had the most awful day, and that now you’re entitled to act that way by showing everyone in what bad of a mood you’re in. Not fair. Not to your kids and also not to us. I had my kids come knock on my door several times because “mommy was super angry at them and they don’t know why”. I suck up my bad mood. My grandpa and my aunt died while I was here, I couldn’t go home, but I did not let that out on the kids, why would I? About you’re saying your the parent and that’s that: yes you are, but you also made the choice to give up most of your parental time with your kids to someone else. I believe lots of parents feel bad about that, because they want have a career but also time with their kids. I found because parents feel like they “lost” or “miss” time with their kids, they have to make sure we enforce their rules, even if they might not work, but that way you still feel like their in control. I get it, it’s hard. They are your kids, and I imagine it isn’t easy to see someone else raising them and maybe even putting some new rules out there. My hostfam and I actually did really great at that. I told them that I respect them so much for being a working parent, but that I found that their rule x or disciplinary action y doesn’t work well for x reasons. I made a suggestion to them and told them that it is their choice to accept or decline. They accepted most of them.

German Au-Pair August 11, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Somehow I feel like chiming in. DCB’s post seemed a bit harsh to me at first, too but now with her explanation I see it differently. I also absolutely believe authority figures should underminde each other in front of the kids. From what I gather from her second post though, that’s not what she does. Seems to me like the philosophy is that everyone makes mistakes and it’s not a big deal to discuss them infront of each other.
I also think we’re talking about minor issues, right? Would you tell your AP in front of your kids that her punishment was wrong and overrule her? THAT I would not be okay with. Saying a bad word in front of the kids happens, especially because I was surprised what many Americans consider to be a bad word, and I agree that it is best for the AP and children to be reminded of it right away. No one profits from “oh by the way, today at lunch you said x”.

As for the bad mood…I actually think that it is important that children learn that everyone is in a bad mood and actually disagree with the attitude that you always have to be cheerful around children. Especially when you consider that adults always cut them some slack when they’re tired and hungry. I think the key is self-reflection and admitting to having a bad mood. Of course it’s not okay to be angry with children and/or AP and leave everyone wondering if they’re at fault. But everyone WILL have a bad day and why shouldn’t it be okay to say “I had a terrible day, I’m not going to be too cheerful right now”?
I think one needs to make sure not to take your mood out on others -and if it happens you need to apologize- but it’s just unreasonable to expect everyone to be always happy. I also had a relative die while I was there and I told my HM what had happened so that she knows the reason if I’m a bit off that day.
One time my girl made a mistake that left me panicked the whole afternoon (I told this on some other post…essentially the failed to meet me at the discussed spot between school and gym and then went into hiding. I ended up driving around with a poloice car following me, the entire county police looking for her…it was eventful to say the least). I told her that i was not mad at her because she really didn’t think anything of it but that I was super stressed from what had happened and would appreciate not to be chatty right now. I think things like that have to be okay because this is not just a working arrangement but people sharing their place to live and moods will happen.

WarmStateMomma August 11, 2015 at 1:16 pm


People get upset for legitimate reasons. There’s a difference between being allowed to express emotions and taking them out on someone else. Yelling at the girl after she was found would be taking your emotions out on her. Asking her to give you some space to decompress sounds like a respectful way to communicate your need and emotional state. Kids have to learn that people are not sparkling every minute and you modeled a healthy way of handling your emotions for her. That’s one of the intangible benefits of having an AP instead of a babysitter – being a great role model on a deeper level.

WarmStateMomma August 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Also – the “bad word” stuff irritates me and it’s totally not intuitive to someone new to American parenting trends. My nephew is told not to say “I don’t care” (such bad words…) and corrects adults (me) who say it. But he talks all the time about “beating up” others and his parents think it’s cute. I resist the urge to point out the crazy behind this but would find it frustrating to be in an AP’s shoes in their home.

Midwest Au pair August 11, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Exactly! That’s exactly what I mean!!! Thanks warm state momma!

Midwest Au pair August 11, 2015 at 1:55 pm

I don’t expect people to be happy all the time, but don’t take your bad mood out on others, especially your kids! I lived your example about the “I don’t care” situation. It makes no sense. I have a friend who is also an au pair and she is expected to NEVER say no to the kid. There has to be another way, but she can’t say no! The kid is 2.5 years old! This might work for the mom who spends a total of 1h a day with him, but 10h? No
Way! Some parenting styles might sound great in theory, but don’t work in the real world.

AuPair Paris August 11, 2015 at 2:17 pm

I have no probs with my HPs venting their bad moods. (“What a DAY, I cannot BELIEVE my boss, and then my husband got ANOTHER speeding ticket”.) But I would mind if they *took it out* on me. (“I suppose the kids haven’t done their chores? Oh? Well I bet they haven’t done them PROPERLY. I have to do EVERYTHING myself around here, and you do NOTHING with your day!”)
That last example inspired by my own mother, not my host parents, who are lovely. :P

As for the bad word stuff – I’m cool with being corrected gently – in French I don’t always pick up the varying subtle distinctions of “harsh” or “rude”. Kids are allowed to say “I don’t care” but not “I don’t give a ****”, but they do sound remarkably similar, and adults tend to say the latter… Plus “it’s all the same to me” is supposed to be as harsh as “I don’t care”?! I imagine au pairs in the US are dealing with the same language problems too. But I still think this is something to be talked about separately with children and Au Pair. I’m pretty sure my host kids got a full sit-down talk before I arrived about my language skills, and helping, and not mocking. I expect it had a section on if I used bad words by accident… As it is, the kids have been great, with only one or two incidents of angrily mocking my language errors from the pre-teen. :P But in any case, “family rules” arbitrary as they may be, can certainly be explained to kids in the same way, surely?

AlwaysHopeful HM August 11, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Ah yes, the words! We have some words and phrases that are taboo in our home that are not obviously “bad”. I keep a list of them in the handbook, and talk about them even during matching because that section always captures prospective APs’ attention. Since the words aren’t really bad, they change over time, with notice to all affetcted. My family thinks I’m crazy, and our au pairs probably do also, but they have all taken it with good humor. :)

Schnitzelpizza August 12, 2015 at 7:19 am

What I find difficult about the “bad word” stuff is that we are talking about non-native English speakers.

It took me until my first “real” job in an English speaking office environment to grasp the difference between “I don’t care.” and “I don’t mind.” Why? Because in my native languange it’s “egal” (whatever) and can mean both. “Egal” is usually as neutral as it comes (“Do you want pizza or spaghetti for dinner?” – “Egal.”), now that is obviously not the case when it comes to “I don’t care”, “I don’t mind” or “Whatever”. But most au pairs, especially if they haven’t been in the US long might not grasp the concept on why some words / phrases are “bad” when in their native language the term they used would not be.
[I speak German with my boss’ wife and she said it was “egal” that I left after lunch on Fridays as long as I got my work done – I told my boss, in English, that his wife had said he didn’t care if left at noon and he corrected me that he cared but didn’t mind. I actually had to sleep on that and I am on a C2/C1 English level]

Now yes, some things can be obvious… especially if we are talking four letter words. But it won’t be enough to tell your AP not to use “four letter words”, you will have to tell her if you don’t want her to say “the f word” (and do not say “We do not use the f word.” you will need to say it at least that one time) or “the s word”. You will have to tell her if you want her to say “Oh my goodness” instead of “Oh my god / gosh.” Or if you family says heck instead of hell. Yes, over time she will likely mirror you and say what you say (I still secretly thank granny for introducing me to “Oh bless her poor little heart.”) but even if you get only native speakers (from the UK or Australia) you need to allow for cultural differences and differences in how language is used.

You will need to explain to her if you don’t want her to say to your child that said child was bad and teach her what to say instead (e.g. you cannot say a child is bad but you can say that doing x was bad or you cannot say a child is bad but you can say that doing y instead of x would have been better). You need to train that non-native speaker that takes care of your children on how to use her (limited) language knowledge correctly. In private, without the children present. And there is a huge difference of gently reminding her and / or redirecting her behaviour / language in front of your children and telling her off in front of the kids and undermining her authority.

Now, an au pair that has been with you for months and knows the rules and lets a f*** slip when the kids are around in her extension year… yes, do apply the same rules you’d apply to your DH or to aunty Muriell. But make sure that what she said “wrong” is not the only way she can express herself.

AuPair Paris August 12, 2015 at 7:30 am

Schnitzelpizza this is exactly my experience. As a native English speaker it is totally bizarre to me that “ça m’est égal” has the same connotations as “je m’en fiche”, and “je m’en fous” is apparently worse, but then the grandparents use it in front of the kids all the time… I asked the girls if there was a polite way to say “oh I don’t mind”, and they couldn’t come up with anything, so what do you say if someone asks you, for example, what part of the chicken you want?! “Oh thank you but I don’t give a ****”?!

Also, here the new parenting trends are different. Being naughty or badly behaved is “faire des betises” – doing naughty things. Which effectively makes the behaviour an action and not a characteristic, which is great. But then, everyone calls everything “moche” (ugly) all the time, right down to a friend’s host kid’s school picture… And no one seems to react as though that’s cruel…

So yeah. It is not intuitive. This stuff is difficult, and I have C1 French too – I’m advanced, supposedly and I still don’t get it!

German Au-Pair August 12, 2015 at 10:44 am

Oh god, I love this topic. Language is so funny. When Schnitzelpizza (I applaud the name, BTW) brought up I don’t care and I don’t mind I was like “different connotations! duh” but then her example has me confused. Now I’m obsessing about how many times I might have used I don’t care in a wrong context.

I remember how thrown off I was when my kids said “h e double hockey stick” and it took me a great while to figure out what that was supposed to mean and why on earth you wouldn’t be allowed to say hell. This definitely is something that will come natural to a native but will have to be taught to a non-native (especiall because “what the hell” seems to us like the only and better alternative to WTF).

Then there are words that just don’t have a real translation. In Germany, being “konsequent” is great quality to have with children. But there’s no real translation with the same, positive connotations. I use consistent but I’m pretty sure it’s not exactly the same. Strict would be more on the negative side.

Just the other day I was asked what “frech” means in English and I couldn’t give an answer because this word can be used with so many different connotations. When you say a child is frech in German it can mean everything from being cheeky, or sassy to actually being a brat. It can be used with the connotation of smarty pants as well and we use it quite frequently in a more positive context. I can see how there’s potential for misunderstanding if an AP looks up this word and uses any of the examples and ends up saying something pretty mean about the HC.

Should be working August 12, 2015 at 12:21 pm

We had a lovely German AP who, when our 12-yr-old daughter asked her opinion about an outfit she wanted to wear to school (one that I thought showed too much skin), told our daughter that the outfit looked “bitchy”. Tears welled up in our daughter, I was present and immediately said, “Hmmm, I think this must be a language issue, what does “bitchy” mean to you, AP?” And indeed we discovered that “bitchy” can mean “trashy/cheap”.

German Au-Pair August 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Hahaha, that’s awesome. I actually would have chosen bitchy as well for the same meaning, just not with a child. I thought trashy would be more “bad taste” and bitchy more like “too much skin”? Obviously bitchy is not appropriate for children but would it be the wrong word to discribe your best friend’s super skimpy dress?

I have already told the story about me telling everyone just how AWESOME I found their super tacky stuff, right? To this day I am mortified about how many people I must have said this to…what I meant was kitschy in the very best meaning of the word.

AuPair Paris August 12, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Nope, in English, “bitchy” is a gendered insult meaning “mean, nasty, cruel, gossipy”. I’s almost exclusively applied to women or gay men (unless a straight man is having his masculinity attacked, in which case it’s a double strike). It is on my list of gendered/misogynistic insults to never, ever use, and I think that these contributes to confusion. in a lot of languages (French, for one), the equivalent insult to bitchy is related to sex-work and usually means someone promiscuous… Which could then be applied to clothing to mean “it makes you look promiscuous”. But “bitchy” just doesn’t have those connotations!

In any case, even “trashy”, “cheap”, or (worst, worst, worst) “slutty” are not words I’d want to apply to kids or teens, no matter what they were wearing. :) “Inappropriate for school” or “inappropriate for what we’re going to do” would be my go-to phrases, to avoid shaming. :D

German Au-Pair August 12, 2015 at 7:36 pm

DANG, your right! I was actually thinking about slutty not bitchy! And again, not children appropriate but go into a high school in Germany where there are no dresscodes and unfortunately it can be super appropriate for teens.

The lessons about bitchy was still a good one because the German translation would be “zickig”, which is a very light, playful, eye-rolling version of nasty mixed in with a bit of touchyness (like talking back all the time, having an annoyed tone when responding and blowing things out of proportion….like PMS :D ) and I would never have thought this to be bad. In my language you actually say this quite often about teenage girls.

AuPair Paris August 13, 2015 at 6:06 am

I can imagine! My school didn’t have a dress code for sixth form either (that’s ages 16-18). We called each other those names all the time! I wince to remember it. As an adult, looking back, it seems so cruel! Teenagers take time to figure themselves out, I guess and it seems so unfair to judge them based on that. I mean, I “figured myself out” in jeans and a t-shirt every day, with no variation, which is probably not morally better or worse than taking risks with tight, short, low-cut dresses to see what happens. Though it must make parents *suffer* to watch! In any case, that’s one of the reasons I’d never use those words now!

All of this is one of the good things about having an AP, I think. For teenaged and pre-teen girls, having an adult who is secure and confident might not *change* their decisions about clothes and make-up and such, but having a non-judgmental young person, who’s recently been through the same confusing time and who can understand it a bit must be quite helpful! The kids I look after are too young really (and painfully, reactionarily conservative, in that way that young kids have). But when I was a teenager, I’d have LOVED to have a twenty-something around who could offer opinions on my outfits and help me accessorise!

AlwaysHopeful HM August 12, 2015 at 10:44 pm

This discussion reminds me of a daycare teacher (not a native English speaker) who referred to one of the babies as “sexy”. From the context I could guess that she meant something more like “super cute.” Still, I was mortified!

Anon for this one August 12, 2015 at 12:59 am

It’s so fascinating to read this thread since I have had the nightmare experience of the AP who is too authoritarian this past year!

I have always felt strongly that I must always support the authority of my AP because when I am not home she is the sole authority figure for my children so they need to know that I stand behind her. So even when I disagree with her decisions, I back her up so as not to undermine her authority. In 8 years this was never a problem until I ended up with an AP who set (from my perspective) the most arbitrary, rigid, unreasonable expectations and rules. (“You cannot eat any more broccoli until you eat more pasta!” ) Worse, she never deferred to me when I was there, putting me in horribly awkward position of having to decide whether to contradict her in front of the kids which would undermine her authority, or go along which would go against my own sense of what was right and appropriate. When my children asked me a question, she would answer them as if they had asked her.

It was a terrible personality and parenting style mismatch, and I should have re-matched within the first month. After a year I can see clearly that no amount of well meaning and painful “remediation” from the LCC would have helped, and all my attempts to redirect, re-educate and soften the hard edges made no difference, she genuinely didn’t see that there was a problem even when my daughter had sobbing fits and begged me to send her away because she hated the AP so much. Even telling the AP “If there is this problem, you need to do X” didn’t help, she simply said “Oh no, we worked it out!” when “worked it out” meant my daughter spent time crying in her room until she became resigned to the situation when all along the AP was in the wrong.

Live and learn, but I feel like I have Stockholm syndrome and I think I’m going to need therapy to work though the issues this past year has brought up for me. But seriously, I will quit my job and stay home before I put my kids and myself through something like that again. I’m just grateful my kids are resilient and well adjusted enough that they seem to be ok.

Returning HM August 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm

When I was 19, I was a live-in summer nanny for a very spoiled 5 year old boy. He would demand a hamburger, I would make it, and he would throw it on the floor and then demand pizza. I would try to say no, that he had asked for hamburger, and in front of him, his mother would say to me, “Don’t be ridiculous – he wants pizza so go make it.” She undermined everything I tried to do to help him learn how to behave. When he threw sand at people at the beach, and I said that if he threw again, we would leave, his mother would tell him he didn’t have to leave. If he threw a fit about waiting on line for ice cream and I said we would go home if he screamed again, she would say he could have any ice cream he wanted. I lasted about three weeks in this job and was the longest lasting nanny they had (I know because a friend of mine also worked for them after me and didn’t last long either).

After that experience, I swore I would never undermine a babysitter/nanny/au pair’s authority in front of children, and in our first three years of having a nanny and first four years of hosting au pairs, I never did. There were times I felt someone was too rigid or too lenient, but we could always talk about things after the children had gone to sleep and managed to resolve any differences.

And then in our fourth year of hosting, we got “I” as an au pair. “I” was 26 and absolutely sure she knew everything about caring for children. She was confident and assured and big, both in stature and in presence. We had just moved to a new state in a move I did not want, I had lost my mother only a few months before, and I was trying desperately to finish writing a book that had taken me more than a year past its expected deadline, and I just let “I” sweep in. Everyone who saw her with my son told me she was fantastic – amazing – wonderful, so even though I didn’t like her very much as a person, I was just grateful that she was there.

Except that my then-seven year daughter old started to be really difficult and to resist spending any time with “I.” This is the child who had adored all of our nannies and our au pairs, who was just one of those easy, flexible children who all teachers and coaches loved to have around. When I was there, my daughter was her usual compliant self, but according to “I,” when I wasn’t there, our daughter was impossible and willful and difficult. I figured the move had been hard for her and that losing her beloved grandmother had been a knock too, but still I would support “I” when she complained. And when my daughter would complain to me about “I,” I would say, “I is the adult in charge. You have to listen to her.” When “I” would stand with her hands on her hips and report how horribly my daughter had behaved, I would back her up and support her and reinforce her in her punishments even though we had never had to punish my daughter before.

But then one day “I” told me my daughter had peed in her pants. This is the child who had NEVER had an accident since the day she toilet trained at 2. Something started nagging at me, so when my daughter called me during the day shortly after that and said please come home, I came in through the back door, so no one knew I was there. And I found my daughter in the corner, where she had been told to go by “I,” with urine running down her leg because she had not been allowed to leave that corner for way too long, and I found “I” in the kitchen, screaming over her shoulder at my daughter across the room. I walked in and calmly told “I” to go pack her things and called the LCC to come pick her up.

It turns out that “I” had decided my daughter had demons in her for some reason none of us will ever understand, and she was following her mother’s (!!) instructions to exorcise the demons out of my sweet daughter. She had told our LCC a whole host of lies about my daughter (who to this day remains one of those “good girls” who does exactly as told) to try to justify treating my children so differently. She adored my son, but thought my daughter was possessed and that it was her job to get rid of the demons. Needless to say, “I” left our house that day, and we left the AP program for two years in her wake. Both my daughter and I were scarred for a while.

Never again will I trust that an AP has any idea how to “read” children’s behavior or know how to respond appropriately. We have had only excellent babysitters and APs since then (we’ve been back in the program going on five years now), but the second I see something that doesn’t gibe with how we do things in our household, I definitely step in, quietly and gently, and set the AP right – and if it’s important enough, I do it in front of the children because I won’t let something continue that doesn’t work for us (for example, an AP who tried to use food as a reward and lack of food as a punishment – I’m not going to support this for one second and now I have that in my handbook but I didn’t know before someone did it that an AP would try this).

APs care welcome to share their backgrounds and perspectives and to contribute to discussions about the children, but our child-rearing philosophy and disciplinary approach are the only ones that matter in our household. I am very clear about this – and what I mean – in matching now. We live and learn, and just because someone had something happen to him or her when she or she was little and turned out fine doesn’t mean that I will allow my children to be subjected to that kind of behavior (for example, silent treatment, withholding of food, or being sent to stand in the corner) if an AP ever tries to do that to my children.

Should be working August 12, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Scary!! Demons and exorcism, oh my. On a much smaller scale, we have had to tell APs that their discipline/reactions are totally unacceptable, like telling my then 6-yr-old that he was “being a baby” because he cried when he was upset about something. I try to emphasize in the manual “No shaming” and so on, but some APs do fall back on what their own parents did. Or, in your instance, what her own crazy mother told her to do.

German Au-Pair August 12, 2015 at 5:25 pm

See, this is what I meant on an earlier comment. “You’re not a baby, please don’t act like one” when a child is screaming to get his will is something I don’t see as shaming. The whole concept of shaming is not as heavily discussed over here so I simply wouldn’t be aware that this is viewed as shaming. Even if you had told me before that you have a no-shaming policy, it would not have occured to me that this violates it.
This is a great example of what I said before: in a situation like that, instead of assuming your AP is a bad person or defies you on purpose, give her the benefit of a doubt that this is something that would never occur to her and tell her.
That said, I don’t know the specific case. I would tell a child not to be a baby if he screamed to get what he wants but not if something happened and he cried. Not sure if both were the same in your book, but either way, things like that can be difficult.
Another thing I know I wouldn’t have known had I not learned how to deal with young animals (I’m not kidding! Such a great teacher!) is that sometimes it’s necessary to leave a situation because fighting within it will not lead to a resolution. I am 100% sure that I would not have known about this and it became so necessary working with my kids. Things like that that may seem so clear and logical to you may need to be said explicitly.

The demon story is super scary though.

AuPair Paris August 12, 2015 at 6:23 pm

The “acting like a baby” is something I would never say to an anglophone kid, but would to a francophone one. I’m trying to figure out why now, and think it’s a mixture of things. One is, again, the language struggle. In English I would say something like “I expect you to behave properly and stop throwing a fit and screaming”. In French that “what I expect of you” is a hard phrase to come up with, and I’d have to look it up… So I guess I might avoid it by statements of fact. I.e. “You are not a baby [so I expect that you act your age and] stop screaming”. With the bit between square brackets being something I’d really struggle to verbalise in French.

Other reasons are probably my knowledge of my own HKs and their levels of security – their insecurities don’t lie in their maturity, so I don’t think it would hurt them – if it did seem to, I’d apologise, explain and never say it again. I also think it’s a more common kind of thing to say in France, and maybe mainland Europe more generally.

In any case, I don’t think it’s a good thing to say, and wouldn’t say it unless I was at the end of my linguistic tether, but I do trust that the kids are clever and secure enough to understand the shorthand for “I expect you to behave properly”.

AlwaysHopeful HM August 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Anon and RHM, I have tears of recognition as I read your posts. I also thought that maybe my son was “adjusting” . With AP 1, it was his first time spending so little time with me, he was starting school, leaving old friends, and hey, there’s a new person living in our house. When Son told everyone who would listen that he hated her, I thought he was just acting out because of all of the changes, and that maybe I wasn’t being firm enough with him (as she told me) even though I hadn’t had to be so firm in the past. With AP 3, I thought Son was reacting to the heartbreak of losing AP 2, whom he loved like a brother, and just adjusting to a new, less warm personality. I found AP 3’s style to be rather stiff and unwelcoming, but thought a little different personality wouldn’t be so bad. Early on, I spoke with AP 3 about softening his tone, and he did…when I was around. With both APs, Son told me regularly that he didn’t like them, and he wanted them to leave (alternating with sometimes really enjoying being around them and wanting them to stay), but he would never say why.

Now that I know more, it breaks my heart to think that after enduring harsh discipline and threats (AP 1) and disdain and caustic insults (AP 3) my son couldn’t count on me to see what was happening and protect him at the end of the day. This is why I will no longer commit to not correcting the AP in front of my son. It’s not my preference to do so, and il avoid it where appropriate, but I’ll never leave my son feeling unsupported like that again. While the AP may feel that I’ve undermined his or her authority by correcting a harsh tone, shaming statement or inappropriate punishment, I have a different view. If my son doesn’t KNOW that I’m taking steps to protect him from these things, he will feel the need to take steps to protect himself, basically though acting out, which only feeds an escalating cycle.

(Btw, AP 1 had a ton of great qualities, which is why son loved her as much as he hated her. She was an extraordinaire, friendly, smart, responsible, creative, hard working, former teacher, had been an AP of a same-aged child previously. I think she cared about my son and simply disciplined him in a manner that she had been taught was appropriate. The only reason not to trust her would have been because I trust my son. From now on, I will!)

(Another btw: the info about the former APs came out in the context of Son explaining to me how great he thinks current AP is. I have to agree– a total rock star! So, I’m not down on all APs or the AP program… Just paying closer attention And trusting my son’s and my own instincts more.)

Janine-Au Pair Sis August 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm

#1 and #7 are so true and, as a LAR, is something that I always mention to my Host Parents. I mean, everything is true, but #1 and #7 I was kicking myself for missing in my guest post because I always bring them up during orientation! Great post!

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