What to do when your Au Pair’s job performance starts to slide

by cv harquail on March 31, 2012

In the seasons of the Au Pair year, there often comes a time after The Honeymoon and All Systems Go, but before On the Way Out, when some au pairs hit The Minimum Viable Performance.

(Sometimes, though not always, this is paired with The Slough of Not Giving a Shit  Not Caring Anymore.)

During The Minimum Viable Performance phase, your au pair stops trying to improve, stops trying to grown, stops taking pride in her or his work, stops even keeping up the appearance of doing a good job, and only does just enough that you don’t send her/him into rematch.

The Minimum Viable Performance  period is a dangerous time for host parents– we aren’t sure what to do, and we are often tempted to settle for less than what we’d hoped.

What can you do when your au pair stops doing a good job?

Host parents usually take one of two paths to respond to the MVP. They either (1) start picking up all the slack themselves, or (2) they start working on the performance issues of the au pair.

erik s flickr pony.jpegPick up the Slack

If you start by picking up the slack yourself, or by lowering your standards, you usually build up a huge amount of resentment. Then, you erupt at an inappropriate moment, getting pissed at your au pair, and feeling so resentful that it’s hard to repair the relationship. And, on the way to this eruption, you’re probably grumped to your partner and all your friends. This is not a great way to go.

Work on Performance Issues

The other path takes steps to address the au pair’s performance.

First, Host Parents respond to the Minimum Viable Performance by treating the performance issue as though it stems from the au pair not knowing what s/he is supposed to do. Often, s/he and the HP’s describe this as ‘forgetting’ what’s expected.

What we do:  HPs remind the au pair, retrain the au pair, leave lists of things that need to get done, and so on. They take a logical, information-based approach to the problem.

This seems to be a fair way to go, since it is technically possible that s/he forgot or doesn’t know. And, sometimes simply making it clear that the performance isn’t up to par and that you have noticed will embarrass the au pair into doing a better job. Plus, when in doubt, it works best to assume that your au pair wants to do a good job and wants to be appreciated.

When this doesn’t work, some Host Parents shift to focus on the emotions that they think might be behind the au pair’s behavior.

Host parents try to diagnose the MVP as something that stems from not being appreciated, having ‘short timers’ syndrome’, being distracted by their social life, and so on.

What we do:  Host parents have a heart-to-heart talk about the poor performance, and try to draw the au pair out. They focus on (emotional) motivations like taking pride in her or his work or doing a good job as a role model for the kids. They appeal to the au pair’s highest personal expectations, and sometimes they can get the au pair back on track.

There are additional steps to take next, but I’m going to leave it up to you readers to unfold these in your comments, below.

And, to help you out, here are not one but two examples of Host parents with this issue: Newbie Host Mom and Host Mom of Lazy AP...

From Newbie Host Mom:

I’ve been a reader of AuPairMom for a while and I am a first time host mom to a 21 yr old. She’s been here almost 5 months now and for the most part it’s going well, at least in terms of everyone getting along.

My question, I guess, is how to deal with her increasing laziness. When she first arrived she was very into the job, gung-ho, and would do things that she has let slide now. For example, the kids beds and their rooms. She used to make them nice and neat and make sure the rooms were tidied up. Or be up promptly at 7AM to help me get them ready for school.

Now, I see the bedsheets thrown sloppily together (i.e. today she didn’t notice there were no sheets on my younger son’s bed due to a mid-night accident, and did not replace the sheets, but merely put the spread back over a mattress pad).

She gets up at 7:15-7:20ish, goes gets lunches ready and doesn’t bother to come upstairs to help me get them ready any more. Many times I’ll find her dishes all around the house (cups, plates, etc.) from her meals not put away in the dishwasher. She minimally cleans up after them after they eat (i.e. crumbs and food everywhere), and doesn’t put a real effort into my son’s lunchbox like she used to. I have to remind her a lot to do things or put things away, or the like. It’s tiring.

Often I will find her watching a lot of TV, surfing the web, Netflix or shows streaming from her laptop. My children state that sometimes when they are downstairs playing, she’ll accompany them down there, and be with them, but spend the time on her laptop and not be interacting with them. A few months ago, I did confront her because she was letting them go down there and then spending the time upstairs on her computer. I asked her to not use the computer during working time, and so, according to my 6 year old, she now takes her laptop with her down there. The router is out in the open, and I’m not sure how to lock it down during the day.

She does a lot of playdates with other German au pairs, and their children. Particularly with my younger son during the time before she picks up the older son. From what I gather, the kids play while the two au pairs chat (one time they were playing in the yard while the au pairs watched from the deck). I’ve watched her when she is at the playground with my children (from afar) and she sits down at a bench while my children run around and play. I am disappointed that she doesn’t interact as much with my children.

I guess I’ve seen a slide in effort and more and more laziness and lack of caring in taking care of stuff. I’m not sure how to approach it. I’ve asked her to do certain things, and she does fix those certain things LITERALLY. She doesn’t make the jump connection to related issues.

I really don’t want to rematch with her, but I would like some times to try to get the spark back / reduce the laziness. Perhaps she feels things can slide…or perhaps I need to speak up more. I do say things when I know she’s supposed to do things and doesn’t or correct things, but perhaps I should be doing more. She has mentioned that she loves it here and how great it is, and how she’s thinking of extending, but more and more, I’m thinking of not extending with her.

From Host Mom of Lazy AP:

Our au pair just gets lazier and lazier.

She no longer cleans up the playroom or puts the kids laundry away. I think she thinks that clothes and toys put themselves on shelves and in drawers?

She has complained that she doesn’t like how I talk with her when I bring up her tasks, but honestly I’m pretty annoyed. She also tells me she thinks that the children should be responsible for cleaning their rooms and putting their laundry away. This is fine, but someone has to take responsibility for letting it done. That should be her and not me.

There are many other things she’s not doing, including not washing her dishes, cooking only the most simple meals for the kids, and letting them watch too much tv. What should I do to get her to care? Is there anything that works?

See also:

 

Almost-done Au Pair Refuses to Work Weekends!

R.T.F.M.: Making Sure Your Au Pair Reads the Family Manual


{ 94 comments }

HRHM April 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I think the phrase “reset conversation” has been used here before and applies well to these situations. Her change in behavior (in both cases) could be for multiple reasons. It is human nature to work less…most of us would quit our jobs and do leisure type activities if we won the powerball. :) So, it may be that she has gradually let things slide and when no one calls her on it, she figures if no one notices it isn’t that important. The cure for that is to make sure to notice IMMEDIATELY when work starts to fall off and bring it up in a calm matter-of-fact way with the clear expectation that it was just a momentary slip and things will now go back to the way the were/should be. A decent AP will recognize that the criticism/critique was warranted and will resume her previous good work. The worse thing to do (been there, done that) is to wait, watching in irritation as she gets worse and worse until you just can’t stand it any longer, and then explode on her with a huge list of everything she is doing wrong at once. Most of us do not want to confront our AP ever, so we wait too long and it doesn’t improve the situation.
In the event that the reset conversation does not have the desired effect, then you may have a “princess” on your hands, or someone who has just retired early without notice. In that event, the next step is to make it clear that you really weren’t kidding around that you expect her to do her job and that there is a quid pro quo involved here. If she isn’t making your life better, there is no reason for her presence in your life. Things like wifi/computer access, paid cell phone, car access, extra days off, shorter hours are all percs that are not requirements of the program. I think if she isn’t doing her job willingly without being nagged/reminded then loss of these priveleges may remind her. Although, once you have to go down that road, it is a rare match that ends well and I would be quick to start rematch if she didn’t immediately turn around and start doing her job.

Just remember, your AP is not a mind reader. Tell her what you expect, thank her when she does a great job and correct her right away when something needs correcting.

Hula Gal April 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Schedule a meeting with the au pair (my husband and I conducted these meetings together but I took the lead) and let her know in advance that you are setting this meeting so that you and she can discuss how things are going. I’ve also provided a “performance evaluation” for her to complete to evaluate herself. I included questions that she could ask us and also asked her to fill out her top three goals for the year (personal or au pair related). She comes to the meeting with her “performance evaluation” filled out with how she thinks she is doing and we present ours to her through discussion of each item so she knows how we think she is doing. I’ve mentioned this approach in a past thread on a related topic.

Setting up a formal meeting with a pre-written list of topics helps to reiterate that you are paying attention, you have expectations, she’s not meeting them and she is being put on notice that if she doesn’t improve there will be consequences (you should explicitly tell her what the consequences are). Our consequence was rematch in one case. And in fact we did end up rematching so she was put on notice, given an opportunity to improve and chose not to.

Little reminders here and there sound like nagging and also don’t stress the importance of the situation. You need to formalize your approach so she is clear about the expectations and knows what the consequences are if she doesn’t meet them.

In other words think like a boss and not a mom. ;-)

CAmom22 April 3, 2012 at 7:27 am

HG – would you mind sharing what one of these “performance evaluations” looks like or the sort of questions you ask on it? Thx!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I, too, have a reset conversation – usually more frequently in the first weeks after arrival. Usually, by month 2 or 3 the AP is no longer new and has fallen into a routine – always different from her predecessors, and DH and I learn to live with it. I have found, based on past experience, that if I need to have a reset conversation after month 3 (and I did several times one year), then I should have gone into rematch for my own sanity. I have found it necessary to have a reset conversation when we enter the home stretch – usually the last 6-8 weeks. In the past few years, I’ve pre-empted the home stretch blues, by having a calendar conversation, where I point out how the schedule will change and how hard I’ll need the AP to work.

Your AP is not a mind reader. If you didn’t comment when the bedrooms weren’t tidied up, then she probably figured you didn’t care. Don’t let your list of her wrongs pile up until you explode. A shopping list will overwhelm both of you.

Your AP learns from her friends. If they get away with watching their HK play, she’ll learn that she can do it, too. (Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to learn to play on their own. Some of my kids best friends before preschool were the HK of other APs – so much so that the relationship was passed along from AP to AP.) If you want more interaction, then you’ve got to comment on it – out of hearing of your kids.

Your AP learns from you. If you don’t want your AP to have the same interaction with the kids as you do, then point out to her how your expectations of her differ.

Don’t undermine your AP’s position in the household. Don’t make negative comments about her to your children or in front of them. Save your reset conversation until after they’ve gone to bed.

Take time to talk about the week’s schedule during a quiet time in the morning or afternoon during shift change (on her clock, not yours). Gently point out things, like “Oh, now it’s getting warmer. X is playing soccer on a team. It would be great if you could practice moves with her and encourage her.” Or, “You know the best way to get a ‘tween boy to talk is to play a sport with him – throw a ball, play some soccer, and then ask him how is day went.” That way, you gently retool her thinking.

Reward great work with praise, “I really appreciate how tidy the rooms are, they look great and the kids can find their belongings,” but also flexibility. “You do such a great job of taking care of the kids, I appreciate how active you are with them, of course I’ll let you have next weekend off.” For work above and beyond, I buy an expensive by thoughtful token – something I know my AP loves or is practical – for one AP it was a can of cashews.

All of my APs had real work experience, but for young women who have only had babysitting experience (and many of the friends of my APs fit that bill), they need some gentle reminders. I have found that being proactive works a lot better than being retroactive (if only for my own mental health!)

Seattle Mom April 3, 2012 at 12:38 am

Thank you, you have given me some excellent ideas! I wouldn’t say that our AP’s performance has slid as much as the OPs, but I can see that we could be somewhere on the slippery slope. I really like the idea of using praise and talking specifically about how things are going. I think that like parenting, it helps to show a real interest in how things are going every day, and comment on things that you think the AP is doing well (or give pointers when things are not going so well).

I personally agree with you about the need for kids to play together.. and if my kids need something they are pretty good about asking for it. Plus when I’m home with my kids I’m not interacting with them every moment, and I don’t expect too much more from the AP (although they have fewer responsibilities and get more sleep, so it is fair).

Taking a Computer Lunch April 3, 2012 at 7:05 am

Whoops, I meant inexpensive but thoughtful token! I’m not a wealthy parent, but I try to pay attention to what the APs’ enjoy and respond appropriately. I’m not a “I’ve given her everything…” sorta parent, it’s just not in my budget (even my kids are more likely to get my personal attention than the latest and greatest thing from me and know better than to ask for it).

Tristatemom April 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm

If the AP in the first scenario used to be a good worker but has now slacked off, I would wonder if there is something else going on? Is she homesick, problems with friends etc.? APs also can get bored/burned out with their duties, is there a way you could change her routine a bit? We signed my son up for a new music class and other things to provide the AP with a change of daily life. If you had a good relatioship previously, it might also help to take her out for coffee/ice cream etc. and give her a chance to pour her heart out?

DCMomof3 April 2, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I am admittedly a wimp when it comes to confrontation about work slacking off. I do a terrible job of it and tend to come off either too passive agressive or just like a straight-up bitch. So, to soften the blow, I try to just write things down. For example, my AP is supposed to make sure the kids get ready in the morning, including brushing their teeth. The older two will do it if she tells them, but the littlest one hates brushing and hates having his teeth brushed. So, the AP just stopped doing it. Unacceptable. So, now on her daily list of chores it says “brush x’s teeth.” She usually puts a check mark next to everything that she does, so if there is no check mark next to the teeth brushing, I just ask her what happened (usually something like he threw a huge fit, I had to hold him down and he still would not open his mouth). I also tend to write extra chores on the list if it seems like she is not doing a lot during the day when kids are napping/at school. If she cannot find work to do on her own (and there always is some) I just put it on the list for her.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 3, 2012 at 7:14 am

When my typically developing child acts out, we take him aside and tell him his behavior is not acceptable. We also build in non-food rewards into better behavior. When he could not get to school on time, we told him that if he wanted to enroll in that karate class he was itching to try, he had to make it to school on time. By putting the onus on him and not the AP, it was amazing how quickly his tardies disappeared. (It also gave her leverage too – all she had to say was “karate”.) Recently he has been refusing to eat lunch. We have put pressure on both of them to insure that he does. We want the AP to be the adult in the house, but we also want him to understand the value of good nutrition. We also give the AP permission to take away privileges from our son when he misbehaves. I have come home to find that TV has been taken away, hanging out with a friend, etc.

Personally, if your son’s teeth aren’t getting brushed because he’s violent, then it’s time for you and your AP to sit down and come of with some strategies for success. What motivates him? Try a carrot first, then withdrawal of privileges. (The Camel hates having her teeth brushed, too. We have to put arm splints on her and still have to use a lot of brute force to get her teeth clean, but all the adults in the house do it.)

DCMomof3 April 6, 2012 at 8:49 am

I think I wrote the tooth brushing anecdote more as an example of work falling off rather than being addressed with me – i.e. she could have come to me and said, I can’t brush the 3 year old’s teeth in the morning because he throws a tantrum and will not let me do it. And we could have worked on a solution. Instead, she just stopped doing it because it was hard. Once I figured out that it wasn’t getting done, I talked to her about it and also now write it on the daily log to make sure that it is at least addressed every day. I try to participate in the tooth brushing mayhem as well but the bottom line is that it needs to get done and avoiding what is hard is not the right answer.
I think this goes to some of the points above that if the AP thinks you aren’t noticing when work falls off, or if she stops doing something that you want done because she has some legitimate reason (its too hard, nobody eats what she cooks anyway, etc) then its time to find a solution to move forward in a way that’s acceptable to you, rather than to continue to allow the slide to occur.

toobusy April 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm

We have something similar going on, but, in a way, I feel like it’s me who’s going through MVP. (Warning, because I’ve let it build up, all of this is going to come across as VERY petty. I’m counting on au pair moms to understand where I am psychologically. That point where every little thing bugs you – you’re in a constant state of combined irritation and guilt. And, warning, this is basically a long rant.)

Our German au pair is very, very sweet, but she forgets so many little things though we’ve reminded her several times. Also, there are about a thousand little things she does that irk me. Seriously, they’re tiny, like lighting the candles we have on our kitchen table after the babies are in bed and we’re out because she likes the ambience. I didn’t care when she first started, but now she’s burning through my candles (I didn’t expect her to fish new ones out of the drawer each time she’d burned them down). She also turns all the little kitchen task lights on also for ambience and leaves them along with all the other lights, though I’ve explained about turning lights off – and she says “oh, of course, I’m always the one who does it at home, my dad is the same way as you… etc” – but they stay on. She uses gargantuan amounts of dish soap and laundry detergent. She eats food that, to me, would be clearly something I’m going to fix for dinner (like the brand new pork chops that she just fried up for her lunch). She puts huge pots and pans into the dishwasher along with our good knives and wooden salad bowls and runs the thing twice a day (though I’ve told her not to). She feeds my kids sweets (we’re not too uptight about that, but have limits) even when I’ve told her not to – I think she uses them as ways to get the kids to behave. but I’m not sure because she tells me that only when I’ve found out (btw, she is heavy and I worry she’s transferring some food issues here). And she can’t for the life of her put my kids’ pants away with their pants and their shirts a way with their shirts, etc. And toys get tossed willy nilly into bins.

I’ve reminded her or told her about so many of these things, but then she kind of “forgets” again – or, like someone above said, she’s so literal that I have to think of every single wooden item in my kitchen and tell her not to put exactly that one in the dishwasher – because when I show her the salad bowl explain that wooden things crack if they go in the dishwasher, she looks so miserable and apologetic, but then two days later puts, say, a cutting board in there… It didn’t even occur to me she’d use that cutting board! We never use it. It’s way in the back of some cupboard – a wedding present (she likes to dig things out that we don’t use – she’s not being sneaky – like when she dug out an old table cloth and put it on our table and it looked really nice and she was proud, but it’s one of my grandmother’s old tablecloths, both sentimental and fragile, which is why we don’t use it – but if I said something about that it would crush her.). What do you do? and I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly correcting her. She’s very sweet, as I said, and sensitive and I know her feelings would get hurt. So, I’m doing that thing of holding it in, kvetching with my husband, and getting hypersensitive to every little thing she does “wrong.” Bad, bad host mom.

But… I just feel like she might not be able to “get it.” She’s, as I said, very sweet, but kind of dopey. She was so full of vim in our phone interviews, but it turns out that she’s a great talker (I mean that in a good way – chatting vivaciously is a talent of hers). But, in real life, she’s sluggish, sleeps all day or until the last minute before she has to start work, has very little social life, is hard pressed to think of things to do with my 3.5 year olds – she told me on the phone of all the marvelous games and crafts she did with her other charges, but she actually has NO idea what to do with them other than just sort of silly play, like chase (it took them a long time to warm up to her:(. So I have to lay out every plan for a craft, or a cooking project, or an outing. Once I’ve shown her something, she’ll do it again, but only that exact thing – and then that peters out. She seems to lack a certain basic sense – like calling me from the tattoo parlor (do all au pair’s get tattoos? mind do) and asking if this nice girl she just met there could come sleep over because she’d missed the last bus to her home town. Umm.

So, I know I must need a “reset” conversation, or whatever that is, but this is our third and last au pair and I’m just tired. Our first two were cracker jack – never superstars, so I am used to handling things – but, as per what I was explicitly seeking, they didn’t require such a huge amount of “mothering” from me – in all senses of the word. This girl does and I just don’t want to have to do it any more. I have four kids. The other au pairs lightened my load. This au pair allows me to go to work, but I feel her presence as this weight in my life. I know she must feel this from me too and I feel bad.

By the way, I am very nice to her (always am to my au pairs – I respect them and give them freedom and I’m flexible – this is true, they all say I’m a great host mom – even this girl – I always have honest talks with them about this). I give her little tokens of appreciation, tips, I thank her, I take time to talk with her – about her family problems, her weight issues, her boyfriends, I ask her about her day with the kids, I commiserate about their behavior, share strategies, etc… But I’m starting to shut down. I hear myself saying, okay, only… 6 (!!) more months. That can’t be good.

Has anyone ever just grit their teeth and gotten through it? I can imagine doing that for two or three months, but six? What do you do when it’s like this – nice girl but frustrating/exhausting/not as advertised?

PS. I just looked at this again and hate that I sound like such picky, picky witch!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Yup, I’ve gritted my teeth and born it, but mainly because when I had had it (at month 5) the venn diagram of APs in rematch who were special needs willing who had driver’s licenses (at all) was two. I’m with one of the bigger agencies, so the LCC and I had a long talk about how to get through (the AP was brilliant with special needs child – with limitations like not being able to drive her if there were any ice or snow on the road, okay with the typically developing one, and lousy with us HP). One was to stop pushing her to get her driver’s license, so when it came time to extend we could use it as an excuse.

When things are going well the one overlooks the petty little things. When they are going badly, it’s very easy to let one of those petty things be the issue that makes one blow one’s stack. BTDT. I barely kept my sanity – to the point that my DH was tired of listening to me complain (even though he liked that particular AP no better).

Yes, it’s time to have the reset conversation, and to invoke the word rematch. Set aside the little issues – the candles are cheap enough to replace. Concentrate on the big ones. She needs to come up with a plan for the day and present it to you. The kids are old enough for you to ask at bedtime innocent questions. “How did you like going to…? How did you like playing…? I didn’t see any of the cake you made, did you get to eat it all?” Give her two weeks to turn it around, and have another reset conversation. You want your kids to be active and engaged.

And if she is actively damaging your belongings because she can’t listen, then she needs to replace them. So have that be part of your reset conversation. The next time a cutting board, salad bowl, etc. is damage, then you will be a replacement item and discount it from her salary, or you will tell her which store to go to to purchase a replacement (that way she doesn’t go to Walmart to replace an item from Macys).

Don’t let her long face get in the way of resetting her behavior.

JJ Host Mom April 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Yep, BTDT with a spacey au pair (which seems to be your bigger issue.) Held out until 8 months, at which point she did something really stupid – had my infant son out in 90+ degree heat all afternoon while he had a 104 degree fever, he was bawling the whole time, and she took his temp and knew how high it was, and didn’t think to call me. At that point we sent her home on the spot. But I wished I’d done it sooner before she endangered my kid.

Au pairing takes a certain amount of intelligence and pro-activeness. If she’s needing to be explicitly fed every single bit of information, then you’d have to wonder how she’ll do in an emergency, and whether she’s able to provide safe, reliable childcare in all situations.

Forget the candles, I think you have bigger issues here. (Which, of course, is what the candles represent.)

Seattle Mom April 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I’m not that experienced as an HM (only 4 months in with my first AP), but I think you have legitimate concerns and 6 months is a looong time to grin and bear it. You may need to have that “I don’t things are going well” conversation, and tell AP honestly what needs to improve in order for you to be happy… although it sounds like she may not be capable of improving, so maybe it will just be a prelude to transition.

My AP does some things that annoy me too, but so does my husband. The thing is, both of them are overall good people who I like, and I trust in both of their intelligence and common sense. So I can let the small things slide.

BoysMama April 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I’ll say it again – been there, done that. Some Au Pairs never should have been Au Pairs, and it’s very difficult to weed this type (lazy, no common sense) out in the interview process. It’s tricky because until something blatantly dangerous happens we wait with our teeth gritted together for many months… it’s probably (hopefully) acceptable childcare but certainly not quality. Of our four APs, we’ve had good, bad, awful and excellent. I am not confident that we could roll the dice and get another good one, even with everything we’ve learned. Our current excellent AP was from rematch, but our awful one went back into the rematch pool against our advice as well… only to make another family miserable. My advice is this… in hindsight I wish we’d rematched the lazy unsmart one as soon as it became obvious that the problems would never improve because they were just part of who she is. Maybe she would work out with another family, but you will never be happy with her. And the day will come that your baby with the 104 fever is left crying in the sun as another mom wrote here, or that you come home to find a very sharp kitchen knife dangling over the edge of your kitchen table while your preschoolers are parked in front of lewd cartoons on YouTube, the toddler in the AP’s lap as she is busily texting. As I write this I can’t believe we let that slide, but we kept her for 6 more months. You can’t be happy with this AP. If you still believe in the program, roll the dice again. You aren’t being petty, you are waiting for bad things to happen and they probably will because she can’t think clearly.

toobusy April 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks for the advice and for not making me feel like a horrible person.

I just don’t think it’s a re-match situation because she really is so nice and she tries and she thinks she’s working really hard. And she’s pretty good with the kids, despite the lack of imagination and pro-activeness thing – she’s very loving, though she’s no child-whisperer. And I’ve got her, finally, on a regular outings plan. She meets up with another nanny I know so the kids can play together – but I did set these things up. I mean, she tries, she’s just, like I said, kind of dopey (which, I tell you, did not come across AT ALL in the phone interviews).

I’ve talked with her about dangerous situations and she’s so afraid of anything happening that she’s super careful. So that’s good. I don’t feel my children are at risk with her – though I’m not overflowing with confidence either.

The main thing is it’s just so. much. work. My other au pairs’ idiosyncrasies didn’t get to me because, overall, they made my life so fantastically much easier/better (and they were both excellent with the kids). They made friends quickly, they always remembered to sign up for their classes on time, didn’t lose/break stuff all the time, figured out things to do with little twins that I couldn’t even do, they were independent and generally happy…. They just “got it” in way she just doesn’t. Poor thing, though, to have me comparing her.

After posting, I started writing very detailed daily instructions again – spelling everything out. It helps. I know she feels better when she has that level of direction – even though she told me she was a total self-starter. I’m not sure she knew what that meant:) Six months is a long time, but I think, with a commitment to resetting as much as it takes, sticking it out is probably better than the disruption of a rematch. Probably.

Thanks again HMs!

PS. The candles were some of those super wonderful pricey handmade things that someone had given me (I wouldn’t pay for those) and I save for special occasions. I was just surprised that she would find my stash and burn them without asking (no candles in her room of course tho!). So – yeah, the candle thing is small beer, but totally connected to the main issue at the same time.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

This is the time when you start framing next year’s handbook (I assume for your own sanity that extension will not be an option). “You are welcome to use anything in cupboard x. I keep my items to use for special occasions in cupboard y. I ask you not to use them.” I have found that each AP frames the telephone/skype questionnaire of her successor as well as the handbook. A good question to ask is not, “Are you a self-starter?” But “Give two examples of times that show your ability to work as a self-starter.” That way you figure out not only a candidate’s temperament, but English comprehension as well.

angie April 10, 2012 at 12:32 am

Been there, done that.

The total truth is that you have really no idea what you are going to get before the au pair enters your house – and they have less of an idea than you.

You have an au pair who is spacey (had that!) and you just have to decide if she is better than what is behind door #2. If not, rematch now and get it over with. If she is, then figure out how to cope through the next 6 months or whatever.

We’ve never rematched, but we have definitely employed coping mechanisms, like scheduling classes/activities during au pair time instead of on weekends when au pair couldn’t come up with anything better to do than watch tv and eat cheetos. Or like scheduling my day so I could drive the kids when au pair was a bad driver. Or like me taking the kids for surprise weeks when au pair was having a particularly bad week because of issues with the boyfriend. All in all, we’ve made them all work. They are none of them perfect, and neither am I, but by focusing on what you are willing to live with and what you aren’t you can decide on if you are ready to go for, what is essentially, door #2.

Anon this time April 10, 2012 at 12:30 am

I realize I’m jumping onto an existing thread on this one – sorry – but we’ve had a new au pair (our second) for about two months. I guess our last one must have been fabulous in a way we didn’t appreciate at the time – we didn’t have this problem with her!

We’ve had a few issues and already a talk with the LCC about a few things – the main one in this case about LOCKING THE DOORS. She can’t seem to consistently lock the house doors.

She’ll lock the doors – we think, since we’re not home at all times during the day or we wouldn’t have an au pair – for a week or so, then we’ll come home to an unlocked door. Or worse- a sliding glass door that’s open an inch – and has been for hours (which, granted, has only happened once).

Or I’ll be in the kitchen in the evening and notice that the sliding glass door is unlocked. The sliding glass door leads to our backyard, where my husband and I go roughly once a month – but our au pair likes to sunbathe and skype daily while our toddlers nap. (Our toddlers – and only children – are twin 18 month olds, incapable of reaching the lock or moving the locking mechanism. Since my husband and I aren’t leaving the doors unlocked, we know it’s her.)

We understand that the door needs to be unlocked while loading/unloading the twins and their gear into the car – which often requires more than one trip – but we then expect her to lock the door immediately afterward. We want the doors locked both when they’re out of the house and when they’re home – basically whenever the doors aren’t in use. The slider can, of course, be unlocked when she’s sunbathing next to it – but not from then until we get home and find it.

Here’s what we’ve done so far: pointed it out when we’ve found unlocked doors, made her come lock the door if we’ve discovered it unlocked, even if she’s off-duty (in an effort to reinforce the importance of the action), and mentioned in our “big meeting” that this is nonnegotiable and could lead to rematch. We’ve explained that things can be replaced, but we’d never forgive ourselves if something happened to her or our kids because the doors were unlocked.

We’ve asked what she thinks the problem is- she says she just forgets. She says the doors “back home” in Western Europe (there’s no language barrier) just lock automatically, you don’t have to turn the deadbolt or lock the knob.

In a last ditch effort to show her just how important this is to me, I even shared press coverage of when a close family member of mine was killed by an intruder in her home – and shared that given the location and year of the crime, the house was most likely unlocked. Then stated that the only way we know to keep “bad” people out of the house is to lock.the.door.

LCC states she doesn’t know how to make a young adult lock house doors – she can’t get her own kids to do so. But she understands it’s an issue serious enough that we could consider rematch. She took a quick look at the rematch pool – no infant-qualified drivers. Our kids won’t be 24 months for another six months – so we need an infant-qualified au pair, which is greatly constraining the rematch pool. We want a driver. LCC says this means we’d need an out of country au pair – which would be at least 6 weeks from match to her arrival. We can’t cover over 6 weeks without an au pair… and really don’t want to pay new program fees for an out of country au pair (we haven’t asked, but I imagine we’d have to sign a new 12 month contract?)

So before we move to rematch – does anyone have any suggestions of how to make her remember to LOCK THE DOORS? Tomorrow we’ll be asking if she has any suggestions of her own to help her change the behavior. I’m not against huge signs saying to LOCK THE DOOR, I just don’t want them to be visible from the outside!

Alternatively, I suppose, has anyone hosted a “short term” rematch au pair to “bridge the gap” until a new one could come in from outside the country? Basically, someone in rematch with only a few months left on their contract so they can’t find a family to take them for the rest of their year, they don’t want to go home yet so they’ll agree to less than their remaining term? A friend of our previous au pair did this for a few weeks last year (she had only two months or so left in her year when she requested rematch), but I’m not sure how it worked – I wanted to hear any experiences or thoughts on the idea before I bring it up with the LCC. I *might* be willing to look at a nondriver if it were for a short period of time and not the next 10 months.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm

We have the opposite problem – we tend to leave all of our doors unlocked until bedtime. DH and I do have housekeys (most of the time), but we’re so used to simply opening the door and shouting “Hello!”, that we have to dig out our keys when we come home and the door is locked. On of our kids keeps on getting locked out when he’s used to pressing on the door and barging in. My handbook reads, “Please unlock the door at 3:00 so x can enter the house when he returns home.” Usually by week 2 or 3 our APs relax enough to keep one or two of the doors unlocked in the late afternoon when we’re all coming home and the kids are running in and out of the house.

Every one of my APs has locked the door to their bedroom and forgotten their key. Every one of my APs has locked themselves out of the house (one more than others). Fortunately my neighbors all have keys to our house (and when an AP repeatedly locks herself out we hear about it).

If you want your doors locked, then the AP has to obey your wishes. You might make it easier on your front door if you get a self-locking door and give her a key on one of those wrist keychains (and give a key to a neighbor while she works it out). Maybe make a large sign for inside the house (and post it on your fridge or someplace else noticeable), to remind her to lock the doors will help? The next time she leaves the sliding door unlocked, ask her if forbidding her to sunbathe or use the back garden will help the door stay locked and that you’re tired of treating her like a child because she cannot remember to lock it.

SingleHostMom April 11, 2012 at 1:22 am

I have the same issue…with my slider. I found it ajar once and called the AP on it.

I took a big piece of clear/white duct tape and put it on the door and wrote, in Sharpie, “LOCK DOOR WHEN DONE”. This has helped.

angie April 10, 2012 at 12:35 am

Just buy a handle that locks automatically when closed – they sell them at home depot. A lot cheaper than rematch.

anon this time April 10, 2012 at 6:35 am

That’s one thought – but:

1) as I pointed out, there are a few legitimate times that the door needs to be unlocked, (loading/unloading babies);

2) that won’t work on the sliding glass door, which doesn’t have a traditional knob (or a way to put in a traditional knob); and

3) I feel like this isn’t an unreasonable request, so she should be able to do this if we can just get it to stick in her head.

If she comes up with that idea as a solution, though, we may let her explore it. She’ll have to figure out something else for the slider though.

NonCoastHostMom July 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I second the advice to post a something. As ridiculous as it sounds . . . when I was a teenager I used to throw my clothes onto a certain spot on the bathroom floor before showering. I would leave them there – multiple times a day. My mom put a flourescent post it on the floor with the word “no” one day. I had broken the habit in a few weeks.

Tristatemom April 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

We have had this issue too with every AP, especially the German ones, the doors/locks are different in Europe. Sometimes we discovered in the mornings that the house was unlocked all night with us sleeping blissfully unaware. :(

But every AP got it eventually after we nagged them about it again and again. If your AP does not get it ever I would really question her intelligence/common sense. Just keep bugging her and really show your anger over this. If she does not get it then she must be an idiot in other ways? (Sorry about the offensive language).

Re gap AP, a friend of mine had to get an AP for 3 months and looked on Great AP. There are a lot of former APs on there that are willing to do a shorter stint because they would like to stay a bit longer but are not willing to commit to a whole year.

DCMomof3 April 11, 2012 at 9:33 am

I too have had lock issues. First, it was coming in at 3 am and failing to properly re-set the house alarm system. It requires about 30 more seconds of effort to do a total house alarm, rather than just the doors. A few late-night confrontations from me solved that one. I am now working on getting her to take her own key when she goes out at night, rather than creep around in the bushes when she gets home looking for my spare (which inevitably does not get put back until days later). The excuse there is not wanting a large key ring in her going out purse. Again, 30 seconds of efffort to remove her house key from the larger key ring would solve this problem. I try to overlook these little things when I have an otherwise excellent au pair, but after 6 years of hosting, I think that I am just getting worn down!

Anon this time April 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

Glad we’re not alone in this problem – and yes, we’re starting to wonder about her overall common sense. She seems to be a little ditzy sometimes.

Thanks for the Great AuPair tip – I’ll take a look.

MommyMia April 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Another option worth considering for short-term is Care.com, which has a lower registration fee (enabling you to get the contact information). You can localize it to your zip code or a “xx-mile range” and right now is a great time to get college students who want to work just for the summer before returning to university. Then you have more leisure to select a new au pair wihout the pressure and possibly a larger pool of applicants when you’re ready for the long-term commitment.

anonamomma April 10, 2012 at 11:36 am

Another suggestion is have a meeting with your AP with the LCC present and tell her it’s now become a deal breaker. Either get it or get out. Sorry to be so blunt but I find that bluntness often works better in situations like this than nicey nicey suggestions/conversations.

If your AP is very dizzy then a blunt conversation like this might be “strong” enough to break through.

I would make the conversation solely about locking the doors – leave any other issues you might have for a “normal” meeting (i.e. non LCC) and say that you have the LCC there to impress upon the AP that it has reached this stage – that there is no more room for discussions on this point either learn to lock the doors or be prepared to move on – and it won’t hurt to mention that there would not be very many (if in fact any) families who would take on a AP with this issue – and the LCC would be negligent/reckless in their duty if they were to move this AP on to another HF.

What would have if she rematched into another family – left a door unlocked and a child was kidnapped or killed (or worse – and yes we all know that there is worse) – spell it out – leave it absolutely clear in her mind that as much as you are concerned for her safety – that realistically she is endangering your children and you are no longer prepared to accept it.

Hopefully a good scare will work – but be prepared to follow through.

And make sure she & your LCC know that you mean it. If you need a bit of encouragement – look up the net for missing children in your area – that should be enough to spur you on.

And if you want to really scare her – show her the page and tell her this is what she is risking.

It doesn’t matter if it’s intentional, reckless, or plain stupidity – it’s negligence pure and simple.

And not all doors in Europe lock when you close them – this might be a valid excuse once, twice at most after that negligence.

Should be working April 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I like the idea of forbidding her to use the backyard. It’s just ridiculous enough to get it into her head.

I lived in Germany 3 yrs, never had a self-locking door. And German sliding doors do exist, and they are surely not self-locking.

Maybe you can propose even more ridiculous-but-effective ideas, like she needs to set her phone to beep every 15 minutes, and the beep is the reminder to check that the doors are locked.

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 9:27 am

Thanks for all of the advice – this resolved a little differently than we expected, but I think it’s for the best.

Our au pair requested a meeting last evening and told us that – despite liking us personally and loving our girls – our family doesn’t have enough “structure” for her and she wants to rematch. She’s unhappy in a way we’re not going to be able to fix – we were upfront during matching that we don’t have sit-down dinners in the evening due to schedules and feeding toddlers, and that is exactly what she misses about home. Also, she’s exhausted at the end of the day of chasing after 18 month old twins and doesn’t think she can maintain the right level of energy to continue caring for them for the next 10 months, as they’ll only become more active.

I can’t word the decision we came to any better than that, but the end result is that we mutually agreed to go into rematch. Because we’re still on good terms, she is caring for our girls for the two weeks while we both look for new matches. We said we’d give her a reference with her potential host families – an honest one, we’ll say that she addresses everything we bring up to her (she made an effort with the doors, and my husband sheepishly admitted he might have left the sliding door unlocked the last time), and that she’ll likely do well with a family that doesn’t have multiple toddlers. A nice long break in the middle of the day would be great with her – and she’ll need to be able to attend family dinner. :) If the family asks for details, we’ll share the type of things we needed to address – like the unlocked doors.

She agreed to talk to potential au pair matches to tell them “the real scoop” – and to pass along her tricks for getting both girls to sleep at the same time. We’ll decide later when to offer that information to potential au pairs – we need to know more about what she’ll say.

We’ve lined up backup child care that can come in from out of state for a few weeks if necessary (if we need to get someone from outside the country), and we’re ready to look at rematch and extension au pairs now (though we’ll have almost as much “lag time” before an extension au pair can start as we would with a new au pair from their home country.)

I’ve read posts here about the decision to rematch – and people are right, it’s like all the stress flows out of the house once the decision is made. I think this is going to be good – and one advantage to our girls being so young is that they don’t know what is going on – they’ll just change playmates in a few weeks.

Anyone know of a friend of their au pair rematching through APIA that is infant qualified? Because we’re interested in talking to them…

Taking a Computer Lunch April 11, 2012 at 9:43 am

A lot of APs can wait until the last minute to extend (BTDT), so your lag time might not be so long. The first thing to do is call your LCC and ask her to help you find a rematch that fits your bill. If she’s not on the stick, then call Stamford and ask for help! The only issue in getting an out-of-country AP is not only the processing time, but that fact that many might still be enrolled in education programs that don’t end until June or July. (You should be able to see when they submitted their application – anyone who submitted theirs in the Fall who hasn’t matched yet is worthy of further digging.)

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

We’ve talked to the LCC, we heard from her (and she’s great) within about two hours of telling her of the rematch decision – but the pool of infant-qualified drivers is tiny. Of that tiny pool, the LCC hadn’t looked yet to see how many if any were in rematch due to car accidents, so the pool may be smaller yet. Of course, someone can enter the rematch pool at any time, so we’ll keep looking.

I’m looking at extension au pairs now, my (current) criteria is driver, experience with multiple young children. All other factors are much lower on the importance scale. Other than a stated desire to join us for family dinner – and quite frankly, someone that needs their household to be very organized – isn’t going to be a good match. :)

And since we’re only 2 months into our year, I recognize a few names/profiles from when we were searching the last time. I’m staying aware of which profiles I remember or seem to have been there for a while.

JJ Host Mom April 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I have 3 year old twins, and I’ve learned to screen for fulltime work experience. Young twins are hard work, and the job is completely contrary to the travel vacation idea that agencies sell to au pairs. We’ve had better success with people who have held real fulltime jobs and know what it’s really like to work.

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

At the moment I’m not only looking for full time work experience, I’m also looking for 10 hour days in a “child care center” with a roomful of infants/toddlers under 2. We’ll see if I find anyone willing to talk to me…

I agree, this isn’t exactly what the agencies highlight, but on the other hand, our au pair gets every single evening and weekend off (we’re out of hours). And so far, we’ve never run over 10 hours in a day. So the experience balances out OK, we just need someone willing to work HARD – which I know can be found.

JJ Host Mom April 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Oh believe me, I’m not defending your au pair. :-) I’m just so sick of having au pairs arrive and act offended when they realize that they are expected to work. Would rather choose someone who gets it already than have to get stuck rematching because someone wants an easier gig.

And yes – someone with fulltime childcare experience would be ideal. That’s what I’m looking for next too.

HRHM April 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Just out of curiosity, with two 18 month olds at home all day, could you do with a non-driver? This might open up your options quite a bit and I know I’ve heard that Thai APs are great with the little ones but have questionable driving skills. Just a thought.

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I thought about that – but the girls go stir crazy if they’re in the house all day. It’s actually easier to handle them if they get out at least once a day – and the library and county rec centers have little programs for kids their age that they love! Plus, they sleep better at night if they’ve been more active during the day. And we ALL need them to sleep well at night.

I am looking at Thai candidates because the ones I’m seeing tend to have experience with lots of little kids at once. I’m finding a few with what looks like decent amounts of driving experience – mentioning daily, hour long car trips – but I’ll be reviewing the advice on here about quizzing candidates on driving experience before we talk to them.

Anna April 11, 2012 at 9:58 am

If you are going to get a decent refund (I don’t know how APIA does it), you can look for rematch and extension au pairs in several different agencies.

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

Right now – largely because we’re just shy of two months into our year – we’re not going to be out much out of pocket – in fact, our installment payments will stop when she leaves and not start again until we have a new au pair. For the next couple of days, I want to work within the current agency – but then I may expand my search…

Tristatemom April 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Trust me – this is a huge blessing for you! Sorry, but I think the family dinner and structure is BS, she found the job too much work. We had an AP like that once – never again! Please don’t chicken out with potential HF that make the effort to call, we have to watch out for each other :)

Taking a Computer Lunch April 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I agree, there are ways of damning a candidate with faint praise. Yes, she was the one who initiated the rematch, but you had reservations. I’m not sure she’s appropriate for older children, either. She might perceive that as “babysitting” and that’s not what HP of older children want at all! As a parent of teens and tweens I know my kids are capable of amusing themselves, but that is not why I’ve invested in an AP!

Anon this time April 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

We’re seeing it as a blessing – this year would have only gotten worse. And I do plan to be honest in my “faint praise” when prospective host families call.

I just hope that they DO call – and that they listen “between the lines”. Because so far we haven’t been asked to fill out any information about why we “mutually agreed to rematch” – our term, not the company’s – so I wonder if the LCC filled it in because the au pair technically requested the rematch.

I have a feeling that the structure/family dinner reason will be the only information on our soon-to-be-former au pair’s rematch information. So if anyone out there is lurking and goes into rematch in the next week or so, remember this conversation if you see that phrasing! :)

And TACL – there’s no “reply” link under your post, just above it – thanks for reminding me that we were heading this way. Something about the way you phrased it (or maybe I just needed to hear it right then) reminded me that darn it, this isn’t all our fault!

As to your other point – I don’t know if she’d do better with older children – well, I know SHE’D to better with older kids, I don’t know how they’d do together over time. After our talk last night, she mentioned that older kids would be in school during the day – I reminded her that they’ll be home all day during the summer! She clearly hadn’t thought of that.

I do know that if anyone asks about toddlers, she might be OK with one and an older sibling that goes to school all day – but she shouldn’t have more than one kid at home all day. And that thought will be clearly communicated.

anonamomma April 12, 2012 at 3:25 am

Just wanted to say that I hope you find an AP that totally suits your family’s needs and it all works out.

kat April 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

just trying to understand the us doors /beeing europian myself/ – your front doors have handles/knob on both sides and can be open from both side unless they are locked with a key or a bolt??
this is very unusual where i come from, only really old houses with old doors would have a door like this, newer front doors can only be open with a key from the outside, whether the door is locked or unlocked.

HRHM April 14, 2012 at 5:09 am

The possibilities of types in the US are endless. I think the most common type of exterior door lock has a keyhole on the outside and a turn knob or button on the inside that must be turned/pushed in order for the door to be locked/unlocked. So when a person returns home and enters, pulls the unlocked door closed behind them, they must then make the concious (or unconcious for some of us) decision to reach back and turn the little knobby on the handle. Same thing when leaving, you must turn the knob thingy before you pull the door closed behind you on the way out, or lock it with a key once it is closed. In addition, many main entry doors may also have a deadbolt which is separate from the handle and requires a key from both sides or a key from the outside and a knob on the inside. And of course, the sliding glass doors usually have a latch that slides up and down and almost all that I have ever encountered have had to be locked from the inside (so you can’t depart via that door without leaving the house unlocked)
Some people depending on what type of personality or what type of neighborhood, lock all locks, all the time, while they are inside the house, or while they are away.
In our house, we don’t lock the doors while we are home, except at night. When we go out, we lock the handles but not the deadbolt. We really only use the deadbolt when we go on vacation. If we are outside in the neighborhood (walk with the kids, at the pool) we often leave the front door unlocked so we don’t have to take keys along. So it really is a personal culture thing and each family needs to make their preferences known immediately so each AP can honor those preferences.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

I agree – you will also find that there is no one way to turn a key to unlock/lock a door! The trick is to understand how the locks work in your HF’s home, and to understand their customs. There is no “American” custom – each family has their own traditions, and depending on the age of the house, the door locks have their own idiosyncrasies.

kat April 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

i understand that each family has different habits and customs, thats perfectly normal. i was just surprised that front door locks/handles can be opened from outside unless locked.

kat April 14, 2012 at 10:47 am

i worked for a number of different families and obv. all of them have different approach to locking the house. working in other peoples home can often be quite eye opening ;)

Returning HM April 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

There are, as others have pointed out, loads of different kinds of locks in the US, but even if all of them were totally different from the kinds of locks used in an AP’s home country, I would still consider it reasonable to expect her to learn to use our locks within a short time. It’s understandable to make a mistake once or even twice — as it is when an AP makes a mistake about something else that is different here. But when a HF has explained about the locks, demonstrated about the locks, and even badgered about the locks, if the AP isn’t getting on board, there’s something else going on.

We had one AP who couldn’t or wouldn’t get a handle on simple things — for example, that when it was sunny outside, it still meant it could be cool enough for a jacket. It was understandable for her to make this mistake once, and we had a good laugh about it, but after we stopped laughing and talked about it, talked about looking at the weather, SHOWED her about the weather, and demonstrated about going outside and FEELING the weather before dressing our then-three year old for school, if she couldn’t grasp after a couple of weeks that in sunny weather, it still might be cold enough for a coat, she either was too ditsy to learn this or didn’t WANT to learn it. In either case, she could not be trusted to send our child to school appropriately (and that was just the start – don’t ask about the lunches she never sent in backpacks or the breakfasts for the children she forgot to make before dropping them at school).

I don’t buy the “locks are different at home so it’s excusable to not lock the door after weeks of being in the US” thing. On-the-ball APs adapt to all sorts of new things when they come, just as those of us who have lived abroad have had to adapt to differences where we lived. Mistakes can happen and yes, we can forget something on occasion, but when it’s happening over and over, despite conversations about it, there’s either a lack of capacity or some measure of disinterest at stake, and neither bodes well for the match.

LuvCheetos April 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

I think the lock thing is a sign that the AP doesn’t care — or is incredibly immature. We have the same issue with a variety of other things with our AP. They are simple little things that we’ve told her over and over, yet she never remembers them or gets them right (for example, leave the door of the washer open so it doesn’t get musty — despite us actually putting a sticker on the washer to remind her, she constantly forgets). Our issues are not safety issues like locking the door, though, so we live with them. I chaulk our issues up to the fact that AP is leaving in a few months and her performance is really sliding and that she was probably a litle spoiled at home, where I suspect mommy did everything for her. I think she also thinks that she is not the children’s maid (which she is not, but it is her responsibility to do their laundry and to get them to tidy their things or to tidy them herself if she’s not smart enough to figure out a way to motivate the children).

I need to have a conversation about not letting the performance slip these last couple of months.

HRHM April 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

I’m certain that there are APs reading this who have been in a position where they are constantly harped on for “forgetting” to do certain things or something of that sort. I would love to hear from them (anonomously if preferred) about what is going on in their heads while this is occuring. Is it that you think if you keep failing to do/not do something that we will eventually give up? Is that thing so unpalatable or nonsensical to you that you just can’t be bothered to comply? Are you thinking “Hell no” but saying yes? I’ve had this experience with APs repeatedly and I can’t quite figure out what it is that leads to this behavior. If you really AREN’T going to do/not do something just “man up” and say so. Don’t shine me on. If you aren’t interested in doing your job as it’s required, there’s a long line of girls who would be happy to take your place.
Let’s hear it APs, what do you think?

Taking a Computer Lunch April 16, 2012 at 11:06 am

My first AP asked me what lip service was. I told her “It’s when I ask you to do something and you say ‘yes’ even though what you mean is ‘no’. You are telling me what I want to hear, not what you intend to do.”

aupair April 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm

i’m an au pair and i will try to answer your questions. i’m here since almost 2 years with the same family.i never had issues like that. but there are 2 kinds of au pairs. the ones who want to make it work and the ones who don’t. it seems you got the second kind. what i don’t understand is,why in the world do you guys keep au pairs like them? its not good for you,and especially very bad for the kids! like you said, there are lots of other girls who are way better then the one you have. i knew an au pair who had the same issues with her hostfamily.and she only said, you know,as long she doesn’t really cares or tells me if things are not getting better i have to go into rematch, i don’t do a sh***! the hm never said something, and she endet her year there. but i’m sure things could have worked out better!! tell her and set an ultimatum!!

Anon this time April 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Aupair -

We agree – there are two kinds of au pairs. We try as hard as we can – and every way we know how – to find the ones that will “make it work”. However, all au pairs, regardless of which kind they will be, can answer interview questions as if they will be the kind that will “make it work.” I’ll even go as far as to say that before they get here and start working, all au pairs think that they WILL be the kind to “make it work.”

I’m not sure what happens to change some of them into the ones that won’t make it work. You ask why we keep them? In most cases (though there are exceptions), all au pairs start out looking like the kind that will make it work. In their first weeks here, they want to do a good job, and know what we want to hear – so they tell us what we want to hear. It’s only after a few weeks, or sometimes months, that it becomes apparent that the au pair no longer wants to make it work.

Then what – as CV asks at the top of this question, do we make it work by nagging, do their work for them, or rematch?

Most of us will at least start with nagging, because fixing the problem without changing au pairs is the least disruptive path. We spent a lot of time and effort finding the au pair that’s living with us. Our kids have met her and have been told that she wants to take care of them for a year – how will they react to a change in au pairs? At least we know what her weaknesses are – we don’t know if someone else we bring in will be worse.

After nagging, some families move on to doing her work for her if they only have a few months left with her. Rematch is ugly – hard feelings on both sides, lots of crying and mistrust on both sides, and in the end, the families still need someone to watch their kids, which means they have to choose a new au pair, but this time with a shorter deadline. And the au pair needs to find a new family or go home – with an even stricter deadline of two weeks.

So the short answer to your question is that we don’t look for the kind of au pair that doesn’t “make things work” – we gradually realize that despite what our au pair said and what we thought we found, that the au pair we already have is that type. Then we have to fix the problem the best way we know how – which sometimes means keeping her, at least until we know for sure the situation is never going to change for the better.

JJ Host Mom April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm

aupair, thanks for responding. What I hear you saying is “If the au pair is the kind of person who doesn’t care, until you make it her problem, she’s not going to do anything to change the situation.” Which is great insight, and definitely seems to be true based on what we read over and over again on this site.

A year and a half ago, I picked two bad matches in a row, and we went through 2 quick rematches. It was incredibly difficult on all of us; my kids were confused and tired from bouncing around from au pair to temporary care to au pair to a different temporary care in a fiasco that ultimately dragged on for months. My husband and I both were working stressful fulltime jobs and didn’t have much wiggle room for childcare. The agency even kicked us out and made us re-apply. But after all of that, we got lucky the third time with a local au pair in rematch, and have been living blissfully with her ever since. No, it’s not perfect, but when there are problems on either side, we work together to resolve them and both make an effort. Our current au pair been a wonderful addition to our lives and, as hard as those rematches were, I look back and am SO GLAD that we didn’t stick with either of the au pairs we had before. (Since then one has posted multiple partying pictures, including of her smoking, to her public Facebook profile, and the other is apparently still lurking in town because he left a creepy note on our porch last Christmas. So my instincts were right on.)

We’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again – don’t stick with a situation that isn’t working. However hard it is to go through rematch (and believe me, I get it) it’s worse to put the whole family through day after day with an au pair who just doesn’t give a shit.

Tristatemom April 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Wow JJ Host Mom,
one thing you said struck a cord with me: the agency kicked you out and you reapplied to the same agency? Can I ask why? Are you in a market that is only served by that agency?
When we had a very bad AP rematch situation and the LLC and corporate harrassed me I said ‘thank you and good by.’ I will not go back to that agency because the treatment I got was undeserved and appalling. This experience also taught me to never pay upfront :) However, I did know beforehand that we have multiple bigger agencies to chose from. I am happy with our current agency but we also have a great AP now so I don’t really have to deal with the agency.

JJ Host Mom April 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

It was AuPairCare. They have a 2 rematch limit, but while we were going through rematch, my LCC was telling me that they would waive that because she knew what a series of disastrous au pairs we’d had. Based on that, we decided to look for an in-country au pair, and found one. This au pair turned down other families in our favor, and would have had to leave the country if we hadn’t taken her. We went to sign the final paperwork and corporate picked that moment to say “Well, we decided we’re enforcing the two rematch limit after all, so you have to re-apply.” We do live in an area with many agency choices, and I would have walked then but we were too far in it at that point. Needless to say, we won’t be using AuPairCare again.

JJ Host Mom April 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm

And that’s an excellent point about not paying upfront. Looking back, I probably would have had a much easier time of it if I’d had some financial leverage.

LuvCheetos April 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Interesting, Tristatemom. I was considering paying up front this year becuase our agency’s billing is a confusing disaster, but ultimately decided not to. Now, I’m glad. I think it’s good to have some financial leverage.

hOstCDmom April 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm

The problem with the installment payment plans is that if you run the numbers (fees etc.) they are effectively charging a pretty usurious rate of interest for paying by installments…..I too would prefer to keep the money in hand for leverage it would give me, but I cringe at the thought of paying an effective rate of 12-15% (or more at one agency) to pay the ~$7k agency fee over six months (the time from first payment to the last one at which time you are paid in full).

I’m wondering if others have had success getting their agency to waive the installment plan fees…?

NoVA Twin Mom/"Anon this time" in this string May 21, 2012 at 10:25 am

I’ve gotten APIA to waive individual fees but haven’t asked about waiving the whole fee structure. Twice they’ve done it in response to a mistake they’ve made – twice they’ve tried to run my payment before they were “supposed” to – once in the midst of this rematch when I’d been told we wouldn’t be billed until we had a new au pair in the house!

Both times I complained about bank fees that I would be incurring due to a nearly $1000 charge I hadn’t been expecting – both times (about a year apart) they refunded the $50 monthly “installment plan fee” for that month “due to my inconvenience.” Both times they blamed the “new computer system” they have. On a side note, they’ve had that very “new computer system” for a year now, and don’t seem to be able to get it to do some very basic things.

My lessons learned? (1) Complaining about billing problems will likely get one “installment plan fee” waived. (2) Don’t let them blame the “new computer system” for their problems – the blasted thing isn’t “new”, it’s over a year old. If they’d been working with the manufacturer/reseller in a productive way, they’d at least have been able to put together workarounds to prevent their largest problems. They need to get it to work or get a new one.

A Host Mom April 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Speaking of slipping performance, my au pairs have 1 household chore: empty the dishwasher. With all 3 of my au pairs, in the 2nd half of their year, the dishwasher is running when we get home from work. Thus, their one stinkin’ chore is now done by us. This has already happened twice this week and it is only Wednesday. Does this happen to anyone else? How do you address it without calling her lazy?

HRHM April 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I start the dishwasher at bedtime every night, so the dishes are clean and waiting for her to put away while the girls eat breakfast! :) Then, our house rule is, ALL dirty dishes must go into the empty dishwasher IMMEDIATELY all day long, so at the end of the day, it is full and all I have to do is add soap and push the button. Of course this only works and is only fair if HD and Hkids are expected to comply as well (and in my house they are/do, even on weekends).

Taking a Computer Lunch April 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

While you might think lazy, calling an AP lazy to her face is grounds for battle and a disintegrating relationship. I once had an AP who did all the dish washing just before I came home – and didn’t run the dishwasher if there were 4 slots left for plates (never mind that we had 4 people eating dinner and 2 clean plates). Having her pull out the dirty dishes and wash them by hand a couple of times insured that the dishwasher was run and ready for use at dinner time.

While our dishwasher tends to get run at night (and the AP tends to get stuck emptying it in the morning), 6 out of 7 APs have not had a problem dealing with it without it being identified as “their chore.”

The bottom line – if you’re stewing in your juices and not confronting the AP, then you need to find a quiet time to have a chat. If she’s home with your kids all day, then she might run it after she cleans up after lunch while the children nap. While you might perceive it as a power struggle, for her it might simply be a matter of the rhythm of the day. Telling her nicely, “I would really appreciate it if you could run and empty the dishwasher before I get home, so DH and I can load it up quickly after dinner and spend more time with the children,” then she might see your reasoning, too.

JJ Host Mom April 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Start the dishwasher when you leave for work, whether it’s full or not. You’ll quickly get onto a new dishwasher schedule.

Anonamomma April 19, 2012 at 4:37 am

Love the idea of asking her to wash the dishes by hand – I would imagine that one or two times doing this would be the end of “forgetting” to put it on earlier in the day.

Happy Au Pair April 23, 2012 at 11:11 am

There might be different reasons why AP are “forgetting” to do things

1.) AP does not recognize the problems – she might think you’re okay with reminding her to keep the washing mashine door open sometimes (while you’re thinking you have to tell her constantly)

2.) AP might really forget some things (my 3y old only wears diapers for nap and nighttime and her diaper can is hidden in the corner of her room so I often forget to clean it out before it starts smelling (if my hm doesn’t remind me, the smell does…)) but then stickers or other reminders should really help. She’ll probably feel bad about keeping to forget something.

3.) AP doesn’t care. She likes to do things her way and will tell you “yes” and “I’ll do what you want” so you will leave her alone and then she’ll just go on doing what she always does – or does not do. She probably thinks that you need her and won’t send her home or into Rematch because she knows how stressful it would be for you. There’s no way you can change her (or him)…

4.) AP doesn’t understand English very well and doesn’t get what you want from her.

But no matter what is going on with her if she forgets something important like locking the doors, buckling the children in the car, etc you should go into Rematch.

SingleHM July 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I only have three months left on my contract with my AP…and I’m not sure how I’m going to get through them.

Yesterday there was a minor accident with my son and she didn’t tell me until after I was notified by my son’s father that there was a problem (can you say blind-sided!) and wasn’t watching him the whole time, since she was talking with her AP friend who was over with her kids. I had to remind her that her first priority was the children, not chatting and how I could be SUED if it were someone else’s children that got hurt in my home.

And then two weeks ago, she forgot to tell me that the car she drives needed an oil change, as we are driving to the beach…(I see it’s over 4000 miles since the last one). Big oops.

She’s flighty and entitled…and I’m not sure how I’m going to muddle through.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Time to have that “I need you to continue to work and be reliable” chat. The car is less of an issue – it won’t be wrecked by being driven 4000 miles instead of 3000 miles. Putting your child in danger is another issue.

Book a meeting when your son is asleep, and talk to her seriously about the need to maintain quality care during her time left. Tell her that failing to acknowledge an error and your son’s injury is the first strike against her and that you are paying her to keep your child safe and healthy.

Have you informed your LCC about the incident? If she is proactive and a good LCC, you should ask her to chat with your AP about keeping active kids healthy and safe in the summer.

While you stand to lose money if she heads home early, she has more at stake – she’ll have to pay for her flight home.

hOstCDmom July 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm

TACL – don’t the AP’s always have to pay for their flight home? Our AP is with APIA, which is the agency I believe you use, and I was surprised to learn that they pay for their flight home *even when they successfully complete their year*. Our AP is from Latin America, had a great year, no problems, no rematch, and will be going home at the end of the summer….and she has to pay for her own ticket, as do all her other AP friends, I asked her to inquire, because I was surprised to learn this, and I thought it might be a country specific policy. But, it seems it is part of the materials she received…However, I see that you have mentioned a few times on this site that the AP will have to pay for her own ticket home if she goes into rematch and doesn’t find a family and/or if she is sent home for cause….Has something changed with APIA recently? Just curious as you’ve been with APIA for a long time, and we’ve only been with them for 2 years….

Taking a Computer Lunch July 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm

No, she shouldn’t be paying for her flight home. She may have to pay a city-adjustment fee if she’s not flying out of New York. Call your LCC.

I do know that APIA’s policy is changing. Incoming APs will not receive a bonus at the end of their year, which I think is too bad, as it provides a little leverage for an AP to complete her coursework and attend meetings.

LuvCheetos July 9, 2012 at 8:55 am

Honestly, the bonus wasn’t much leverage anyway. Our outgoing AP had one credit left to ocmplete. the bonus was only $200. She had already used her entire education stipend (stupidly because she didn’t bother to find out she could have gotten a discount at Georgetown, where she took a class, so she wasted some money). The one credit class was going to cost her $200, so she really had no incentive to complete it until I reminded her that she would be out of compliance wither her visa, which in theory, could come back to bite her later. She decided to do the class but the money ended up being a wash, I think.

Gianna July 9, 2012 at 9:05 am

I have heard that agencies which required a deposit that was returned at the end of a successful year will no longer be a practice. I , too, am wondering what motivation these young women will have to attend meetings and enroll in school programs. Maybe that is the same bonus you refer to

Taking a Computer Lunch July 9, 2012 at 11:44 am

How much the APs I have hosted have invested in the education varied by goals (several had wanted to stay in the U.S. even though only one ultimately did – and those invested more time & energy into taking classes), but all ended up completing the requirement – in part because the bonus was money in their pockets at the end of the year and not all were good about saving.

My handbook says that I expect them to attend the free meetings that the LCC organizes (she usually does one free and one paid activity meeting every month) because I had a couple who didn’t attend very many. I also state that they must tell me if they are not intending to attend the meetings that involve fees so I may have the option to schedule them to work. (That way I also know how active they are in participating in the cluster. And can use the LCC as a tool to ask questions of those who I think are exceptionally homesick, uncommunicative, or otherwise having trouble. I have found that the more face time my LCC has with APs the more willing she is to assist them.)

hOstCDmom July 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I contacted our LCC and got additional information.

APIA doesn’t require them to buy the air ticket home, BUT (large but) the AP must pay a “flight supplement” depending on her destination — not merely departing city, although the supplement is smaller from major gateways like NYC. Our APs leave from NYC.

Thus, an AP in good standing, who has successfully completed her year, who departs from NYC, flying to *ANY/ALL* destination city options, in all countries in Latin America, must pay a “supplement” of at least $200, but more often $350-$400.

That’s a pretty big “supplement”, and as my AP noted, she can buy a one way ticket to her destination city of her home country from NYC for less than her $350 “supplement”…

DCMomof3 July 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Maybe I am in the minority, but I am of the opinion that it all matters. If she is forgetting to take care of the car because she is pre-occupied with her social life, boyfriend, leaving soon, etc. then it causes you to question her overall judgement and reliability with regard to her care for your kids. I agree that it is time to have the chat about staying focused. I would emphasize connecting all the dots – part of being a grown up and having a real job is being responsible for everything that is entrusted to her – kids, car, your house, etc. In my opinion, performance in all areas needs to stay high – its part of growing into a more mature and responsible person during the time abroad.

Dorsi July 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Last year was my first with APIA and I was quite surprised, too. I actually told my AP that she had her info wrong — OF COURSE you wouldn’t have to buy your own ticket home. However, her supplement (~$300) from the West Coast via the East Coast to South America was far less than what she would have paid to buy the ticket on her own. I feel like it is pretty crummy of APIA to do this to there APs.

hOstCDmom – why doesn’t your Au Pair just buy her own ticket, if that is the case?

hOstCDmom July 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm

She plans to :)

I agree that it is pretty crummy…

Taking a Computer Lunch July 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I have a better one. One of my current APs was routed home from our city to NYC to Reykjavik to Frankfurt to the airport nearest her home city. The total travel time 38 hours! I told our AP to tell her friend to call the home office and demand a trip with no more than one flight change. The odds of luggage being lost increase enormously from 2 to 4 flights! Her friends looked the return home on the Internet, and sure enough it was the cheapest one.

My guess is that APIA is able to purchase blocks of tickets of NY (just the way they do into NY), but must purchase the out of NY tickets separately. Still, I’ve always assumed my AP fees pay for the incoming and outgoing flights – they have no reason to charge more than a modest booking fee (which I guess after 7 au pairs I’ve taken for granted).

However, before your AP books a flight she should a) complain to APIA to get the fee reduced and b) make sure she can really get one more cheaply than APIA.

Returning HM July 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Our AP’s year is up in early August, and she was told by APIA that she would have to pay a $350 surcharge to route her from here through NYC. Instead, she booked a $62 flight from our home to NYC, and had APIA simply book her from NYC back to her home country. I can’t believe that APIA tries to rip APs off like this. It’s ridiculous.

Anna July 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Au Pair Care does the same thing to host families, only they don’t allow you to book your au pair’s trip from the training school to your home yourself for cheaper. They have a special bus driving au pairs to the airport, a “special” phone support line, and that’s the procedure.
I also priced the trip to our home between $60 and $70 online, and was forced to pay $350 to the agency instead. I told them that for that price they can fly five live escorts with her, but no dice. They just comb money from you whenever they can (other agencies are better at those “hidden costs”)

Taking a Computer Lunch July 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm

APIA requires HF to pay and book the transportation from the orientation, so at least we have control over THAT!

OP July 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm

So, I’ve had multiple correction conversations and things still haven’t changed much. She still sits down and doesn’t interact with them, still plays on the computer during work time, still texting while driving or with them. Her latest lazy trick is to sit in a chair right outside the pool while my kids swim. “the water is freezing” she says. I’ve told her twice now to get in the pool with them. When she has a playdate, she sits with the other AP and chats and “lets the kids play independently”…even watching TV with the other AP or sitting inside watching my kids thru a window outside.

It’s too late for rematch. My new AP is coming in Sept. My LCC told me that I can send her home “early” if she doesn’t shape up & I’m considering it…an moving up the start date of the other AP.

Anyone do this?

I’m just so done with her and her antics!!

Thanks!!!

Amelia July 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Your au pair does not sound very good…but one thing about letting the kids play independently, I think is not a bad thing. Of course don’t supervise them throu a window, but I think it is important for kids to learn how to play. And they don’t learn that from adults. I think this is one negative thing of having an au pair or nanny, your kids always get entertained and have trouble playing by themselves. But I understand your point. It’s about the kids safety, and she is not doing a good job. Not going into the water with them? No go.! What if the kid drowns or something like that and she didn’t see it because she was to far away..if you have an other option for child care, I would send her home. Those are your kids, and she does not take care of them good enough. Good luck..

Taking a Computer Lunch July 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm

One trick, when you know things are not going well, is to run a spot check (or perhaps you are a SAHM or work from home and see it anyway?). I found that an unannounced visit did wonders – for me. (As in, okay I’m done, you can leave now.) It only happened with AP #1, whom we tried to sponsor as an employer, and lived with us for too long.

Before you go into rematch, have a chat with her, and make your disappointment explicit. I am seriously considering rematch because you expect the children to play alone, when I see you you are chatting with your friends and watching them through the window. Are you going to give her another chance (as in, you don’t want to come up with childcare for 6 weeks?!), then spell out what she must do, and spot check again. Call your LCC immediately after your first conversation and explain your concerns.

I assume this AP is headed home in September and is not extending. If so, then you have to have the I-know-you’re-ready-to-be-done-but-I-still-need-you-to-work conversation. Managing a mediocre au pair is a pain in the butt. Do tell her not to ask you for a reference because you won’t be able to give her a good one based on her performance.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm

AP #1 crashed and burned with 3 weeks to go to AP #2. I think she was itching to leave, and a family conversation turned into an immediate good-bye.

The Camel was in school at the time, and child #2 was in half-day preschool. For the 3 weeks DH put The Camel on the school bus, then took child #2 to preschool (we paid extra for him to say into nap time) and went to work. I left work early, picked up child #2 and met The Camel’s school bus. I took a hit in my vacation time, but I made it work. My boss was not so forgiving, but he didn’t have a choice. DH worked late so he could save his vacation time.

That experience taught me to have the rallying chat three months before the end of the year to keep things going, to be a little more flexible about honoring requests for extra time off to say goodbye to friends when I was able, and to speak openly about the difficulty of departure. However, the successors to AP #1 have put in 100% effort and were great caregivers. AP #1 was done long before we said goodbye.

So, in my experience, having the goodbye chat means an immediate goodbye – be prepared.

OP July 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm

She is not extending (thank god) and I have a new AP lined up for the end of September. My LCC knows and she was the one who suggested letting her go. The LCC also suggested moving up the date of the incoming AP if I do do this.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 26, 2012 at 7:00 am

If your LCC is supportive, then invite her to the goodbye conversation. Be prepared for your current AP to “be done” the minute you have the conversation, so have a plan in place that will see you through her successor’s arrival.

hm2 July 26, 2012 at 3:41 am

If the new AP is able to come earlier I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute. You have had a number of serious conversations by the sound of it and all to no avail – so why have someone stick around, who isn’t following the most basic rules?

Penn AP Mom July 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

texting or talking on the phone while driving is an absolute no go in my household! the first time that happened we would have rematched – it’s not safe to be driving my children while distracted, let alone safe for the other drivers on the road. i’d be sending her home early with no regrets, AND taking the phone!

Seattle Mom July 27, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I agree with this- texting while driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated!! If she were drinking & driving you would already be in re-match…

Taking a Computer Lunch August 4, 2012 at 9:12 pm

I want to share a success story. My AP has exactly 6 working days left with us (she’s getting weekdays off before her last six days, though). She is fantastic! She is wonderful! I must say, this is the first time I haven’t experienced the sliding performance.

Today, while I took the Camel out shopping, a thug attempted to break into my house. My AP, skyping with a friend, heard a sound. First, she bothered to get up from her chair, and check to see whether the Camelmobile was there. It wasn’t. Then, she headed upstairs to see what was up. She got to the stairs in time to see an arm come through the windowpane of a door. She screamed, he fled. She called 911 and by the time I got home, the cops were there.

AP 1, crook 0. I can’t tell you how many of my previous APs would have just sat there, assuming it was me, without checking to see if the Camelmobile was there. I’ve decided that she will get an extra reward for going the extra mile.

Au Pairs in Australia November 12, 2012 at 1:01 am

when there is an issue with the au pair, is important to speak with her and mention that the chores you are requesting to be done are really important for you and serious, that you were unhappy with several things that you had previously requested
Sometimes au pairs don’t completely understand the severity and the level of seriousness that we placed on those issues, so is important to let them know that it could affect her employment, and mention to her that you want her to make a commitment to work much harder, let her know that you will need to have a review in two weeks time to see if there has been the significant improvement that you require

Comments on this entry are closed.