What’s the cure for “Summer Fever”?

by cv harquail on May 22, 2009

When seasons change, so do family schedules. When family schedules change, so do au pair schedules. And when au pair schedules change, sometimes you uncover a problem.

For my family, there is a big difference between winter and summer. In the summer, we spend weekends and even some full weeks at my dad’s house at the NJ shore. Also, when the girls go to day camp during the week, my weekday childcare needs are reduced, so I shift the hours to cover the weekends we’re at the shore. Our au pair goes from 35 hours over 5 days with an occasional Saturday, to 45 hours across a weekend with a weekday off and two or three Saturday night per month on duty.

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To my mind, this isn’t a horrible change, after all, even the longer work week is still withing the guidelines. And, I have made sure to tell every prospective au pair just how different the winter and summer can be. They all have known what’s coming come June.

Even so, a few of our au pairs have been disgruntled by the change. And that’s understandable— after getting $174 for 35 hours and no Saturday, to do “more work” for the same about of money often doesn’t feel right.

Even when au pair “knows” that changes “will” happen, what you tell them is less important than what you do. If you have asked your au pair to work for several months only Mon-Fri, you can bet that when your family schedule changes, and her schedule changes, she’ll find the adjustment challenging.

Now that I think about it, probably each of our au pairs has found the shift challenging– but only the few less mature ones have ever complained. But, oh, when they did….

So what do you do?

Listen to the story of Momof4 —- she’s done just about everything right, and her au pair is still displaying the “summertime blues.” What do you think she should try now?

Our Au Pair has been with us for 4 months now. We have been fortunate enough to be able to give her every weekend off since she’s been with us, until this month. At the beginning of this month (May), we sat down with our au pair and reminded her about my husband’s busy travel schedule and that this month was going to be a bit different because he was going to be traveling for 20 days throughout the month. We also explained that our routine was going to be a bit off and chaotic and we would need her to work weekends.

We were only able to give her the mandatory 1 weekend off this week and she just yesterday expressed her displeasure about it. She also told me (in her words), “it is very important that I have my weekends off so I can make plans and get my rest”. Needless to say, I was floored by this statement! Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was.

We have always been very clear about our very busy lives with 4 small children (i.e. Included it in our host family letter, went over several different scenarios in e-mails back and forth before matching, etc. about how quickly things can change with 4 small children each week and the need for flexibility).

Anyway, she stated that with summer coming up, there are a lot of things she wants to do, plans she wants to make, and trips she wants to take. I explained to her that we will do our best to honor any special days off during the week or weekend, but also explained to her that just because there is a change of season, our needs for our children do not change. Husband still has to go to work each week, he still has a heavy travel schedule for work, our preschoolers will still attend preschool a few days a week, I will still need help with the babies each day, daily routines for the children will still be the same, etc. YES, we will take a fun family vacation out of the state and go on fun sightseeing outings with the children to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather, go to the swimming pool, etc., but she will still have a job to do and we will still need her to work each week.

I discussed this with our Coordinator and applied her solution. I went over the Household Handbook again (since our au pair has been with us for 4 months now) as a refresher about the guidelines & rules and established a “give us 2 weeks’ notice if there is a special day off during the week or weekend that you need off” so we can figure out if we will be able to honor it or arrange back-up childcare if we can.

After an hour of going over everything, I asked her throughout if she had any questions or input about anything. I also explained that if I am the only one doing the communicating and she doesn’t give me any input, I don’t know what she is thinking! She stated everything was very clear and she did not have any questions. Then she proceeded to go to her room, shut the door, call a friend and vent about how mad she was! What the???????

Help! Any Advice? I’m trying to figure out what I missed and how to deal with the “summer fever”?

‘puppy needs her rest’ JDM on Flickr

{ 15 comments }

Momofboys May 22, 2009 at 10:55 pm

This may not help for this time around but have you ever tried to time the start date of an au pair with the “busiest” time of the year for you? I used to think maybe starting off in the slow time of year was good, when the children were in school full time, but now I am wondering if maybe starting someone in the summer time when the weeks are 45 hours per week is better?

Momof4 May 23, 2009 at 6:42 am

Thank you so much for the suggestion! We actually are only on our 2nd au pair and haven’t tried that yet. I delivered twins last summer and went from 2 children to 4 children. We realized immediately that we would need some help and decided to go the au pair route. The program seemed really great! Our first au pair was with us for 4 months and then we rematched due to her driving skills not being what we needed and some methods of discipline she was using that we were not very happy about.

We are really hoping this is not going to be an issue this summer. It’s such a wonderful time of year and we’d hate to see her ruin her experience here by sulking whenever we are not able to grant her wish of not having the weekend off!

Hula Gal May 23, 2009 at 9:05 am

Again, this may be too late for the situation, but for those families that have such an abrupt change in their schedule from winter to summer, maybe they should have their au pair work some weekend hours on occasion over the winter so they do not get too cozy with the weekends off. I can see where the less mature au pair would be more concerned about how it impacts her routine and social opportunities. As clear as you are up front about all of the realities of your family’s dynamic and her work schedule through the year, the au pair may still be thrown by it. My au pair was upset about my husband working from home even though we were very clear in our letter and our interview that he worked from home. Go figure! Maybe she is worried that her time is starting to pass by and she has a lot of things she’d like to do and see in the US and she won’t be able to do much for the next three months. For the au pair, her cultural experience is more important than childcare for you. I suppose this is a natural struggle, the family’s priority is the childcare the au pair’s priority is the cultural exchange.

Calif Mom May 23, 2009 at 9:31 am

In journalism, the old saw is “tell ’em tell ’em tell ’em”. That is, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Sounds like you have done that with the schedule. The fact is the change is a loss for her. No way around that. Humans don’t like losses.

I wouldn’t begrudge your au pair a little venting. If I couldn’t vent to colleagues, I’d never get through my work day. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to follow the stupid bureaucratic regulations or that I’m not a top employee, it just means these stupid rules (the worst offenders being archaic rules about schedule and timekeeping, I might add!) annoy the heck out of me and, frankly, are insulting. I do a good job, I’m a senior employee who works plenty of hours including weekends, why in the world do I need to clock in and out? Maybe your au pair is sort of feeling the same way, even though she supplies a much clearer need — the kids need tending!

The good news is that most of the au pairs go through a schedule shift of some sort for the summer, so the entire cohort is or will be experiencing a change at about the same time. That may help ease her annoyance. Especially this summer, I know many summer camps are having a hard time filling slots which means people aren’t doing as many camps. That means au pairs are going to be working longer hours, and for us, the hard part is going to come in August, after a long summer of walking to the pool and hanging out with (erstwhile dreaded) siblings.

Dorsi May 23, 2009 at 11:15 am

Our AP works odd hours and has since the beginning. I work varied shifts, between 25-50 hours per week (some days, mostly evening, some nights) and my husband works a standard 8a-6p scheduled. This means our AP’s schedule is very complicated.

These may be things that you are already doing, but just in case:

*Be very explicit about scheduling. We use Google Calendars with separate calendars for me, my husband and our AP.

*Schedule days off. When your AP has a day that she is not scheduled to work, note on the calendar that this is “AP’s day off.” Emphasize that a Wednesday off is a great time to recharge and “get her rest” — I know my AP likes that the gym and the mall are uncrowded on these days.

*Be flexible when you can. I tell my AP repeatedly that my work schedule is absolutely inflexible (mostly true), but other hours can be changed sometimes if it is important to her. We are able to reward her good attitude and behavior and change things around once and awhile to give her time with her friends. I don’t hesitate to refuse her requests when they inconvenience the family, but I don’t stick to the schedule just for the sake of sticking to the schedule.

*Schedule the AP for 45 hours/week, every week. This may not be realistic with your current AP, but is something you should consider for the future. It is much easier to be generous and give extra time off than to be ‘mean’ and make the AP work more. Even if you don’t need the extra time (and as a mother of four, you must have amazing organizational skills if you don’t need the time!), you can close yourself in the office or take one child out for some special one-on-one activities.

Franzi May 24, 2009 at 3:18 pm

i like hula gal’s comment that the AP might be thinking about her own countdown until she has to go home and when you realize that the time is running out and then the family “makes” you work the amount of hours you signed up for…(ok, i’m being sarcastic, sorry, but i hope you see the point). if you have worked for 30 or 35 hours for 9 months and had all weekends off, it is difficult to suddenly be switching to a weekdays off schedule. i bet most of her AP friends have the weekends off so that would add some “missing out on the fun time” feeling.

normally i would not agree with dorsi and schedule her for the full hours and then give her off because the AP wants to plan and if she thinks she is working the schedule she was given, it is frustrating to then notice that the family is not sticking to it.
HOWEVER, with 4 little ones, i do think that you as HM have all right to have your AP work the full hours! i admire your management skills if you can make it with less hours.

Momof4 May 25, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Thank you again for all of the wonderful comments and suggestions!! It is all very helpful!
As many of you mentioned, being the mom of 4 under 4 (one set of twins!), I have to stay organized and consistent or chaos occurs very quickly and sets off a chain reaction of unhappiness with the children. I can totally relate to Jon & Kate Plus Eight and am constantly amazed at her way of keeping it all going!!
I have a very type-a personality and am probably a bit more organized and structured than most would like, but I find that is what works in our household and keeps us all sane. My husband has a very laid back personality and a crazy busy job, so I “manage” everything on the homefront. We have always been able to keep a pretty good balance with everything though.
I understand the language barrier can be frustrating on both sides of the host family/au pair relationship, so I always try to break everything down into what I call “see spot run” verbage so their isn’t any miscommunication. For some reason, we still seem to have things fall through the cracks!!
Our schedules can change at the drop of a hat, literally! For example, it changed twice within two days due to my husband’s travel schedule being changed over this holiday weekend. Flexibility is an absolute must on the au pair side (and we were super clear about this in the very beginning) and unfortunately is a luxury on my part when making schedules each week. I do try to keep it as consistant as I can though when my husband doesn’t have a busy traveling schedule. I also make sure our au pair has a 2 to 3 hour stretch of OFF time every day so she will have a break to relax, take a nap, meet w/friends, or go to the gym, etc.
I do schedule our au pair 40-45 hrs a week consistently. One, out of necessity and two, so I can get a little bit of down time for myself during the week.
I guess this month will count as our “test”. May was a super crazy month and we needed the utmost flexibility from our au pair. We soon found that the lack of maturity showed it’s true colors when we could not give her what she wanted or needed this month and for lack of a better word, we were disappointed.
I’m also a bit worried, because we are about to drop $5000 to take the entire family to Disney for a week and I am praying she appreciates the vacation with us. We are not poor, but we are not a wealthy family either. We’ve already sat down with her and gone over a mock schedule and let her know things will be a bit “off” because we will be in a different location, out of our routine, etc.
I guess this will be the next true test. If the lack of maturity continues after that trip, we will sadly have to reevaluate our situation and make the big decision on whether being a host family is the smartest move for us or if having a mother’s helper or a college student this summer would be better for our situation.

Meag;han May 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Hi
I have two children 8 and 10. This is my first au pair from Germany. She has been here 5 months. At the beginning she was homesick and wanted leave. I sort of had to be her mother figure to turn the situation around. Not exactly what I had planned for. I wasn’t looking for another child, just someone to take care of my kids and hopefully have a cultural influence. To make a very long story short, now everything is about her and not about my family. If I tell her something must be done before she finishes for the day, she either has an attitude about how I am ruining her life because she had plans, or crying, or door slamming or something. If I insist that she finishes up before leaving, then I have to go back and fix everything because it is an unacceptable job and she knows better. It is only getting worst. Today, she told me that she HAD to have the day off. I told her that my husband was away and that I had plans. I rarely get a day off from work. She cried and told me that she couldn’t possibility work because she had a bad headache. I had to make an appointment with the doctor immediately. Then her mother called yelling at me that I was making her daughter sick. Her work schedule is about 30 hours per week. She never is willing to work a weekend because she always has plans and says the kids can stay by themselves. My coordinator keeps telling me to work with her. This is a cultural experience. Am I wrong to believe that she is working for me and my needs should come first. I am a very giving person and have a very hard time saying no, but I have reached my limit. I feel like I am working for her. How should I handle this mess? I have a very high level executive position and I would never let a person that works for me do this, but this program has me very confused. Is she an employee? She doesn’t think so. Or is she a family member that can do what she pleases and I have to put up with it. How do you balance this? She is really upsetting my kids who will no longer listen to her. I really can’t blame them.

Also, is eating including in the hours works. She will get up in the morning and instead of making the kids breakfast, she will sit down and make herself breakfast and eat it. I am running around trying to get out the door and she feels I should feed the kids. I told her that she need to eat before she was on duty, but she informed me that she was told that she started the day with her having breakfast and it was included in the hours. This is same with lunch and dinner. She won’t eat with the kids and then I have to feed them when I get home from work. I told her to get up earlier, etc. but she said NO. This is the way it works and what all of her friends do. I find this very hard to believe. My kids are not being fed properly. Is this right??????
Is she allowed to work when the kids are not home? She said that she was told that she can only work when the kids are home. So she does the laundry when the kids are home from school instead of helping with homework. Is this true? I thought with the extra hours (15 hours) she could straighten up and do laundry before the kids came home from school so all the time could be devoted to kids activities. What do you all do?

Thanks so much!!

NjMom May 25, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Sorry, but you are being completely taken advantage of. Read through some of the comments on here. I have two school age children and my au pair does laundry when they are in school (as most do) and cooks their dinner, eats with them and cleans up the entire kitchen before I even get home. Oh, and gets their homework done. Yes, they are supposed to be included in family activities and you are supposed to think of them in the scheme of things but first and foremost they are here to do a job not a vacation. Your LCC doesn’t too swift if she’s not asking for more from her. I would not wait for things to improve. I’ve had three AP’s for a year and none of them ever acted this way! But I laid it all out before they got here, that it was a job and what the hours/expectations would be. Good luck!!

NjMom May 25, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Sorry, was responding to Meaghan above directly, not OP.

Anna May 26, 2009 at 12:00 am

I can’t believe that your Au Pairs actually say, that they HAVE to have a day off, or that they get angry, if they don’t get off more time than the usual one weekend per month and 1 1/2 days per week ^^
I’m an Au Pair myself, but I would never even think about being upset about having to work my 45 hours. This is what we all signed up for and what we knew would come from the beginning on.
Sure, sometimes I am a little disappointed, when I have to work on a weekend, because I mostly get the weekends off, but on the other hand I will get that time off on another day. Apart from that I know, how busy my hostparents are, so I am happy to help them if they need me – even on the weekends.
It just leaves me speechless to hear what other Au Pairs think they have the right to say / do ^^

Anonymous May 26, 2009 at 9:11 am

This is one reason I prefer 2nd yr or ext. au pairs. I know they are not homesick because they have chosen to stay another year and I have the ability to talk to their previous host family. They also seem to understand this is a job first. We have been lucky going this route so far.

I would tell your LCC and your au pair you are consdiering a rematch now!

Momof4 June 2, 2009 at 10:23 am

Just wanted to send an update. We had an emergency meeting with our Coordinator last week and ever since then it has been like we waved a magic wand. I truly believe our au pair just needed to hear everything from an impartial party, not me, the one she thinks is so bossy and unfair!!
Our Coordinator listened to both of us, offered solutions and it was amazing how the tension and attitude disappeared over night. Our Coordinator explained to our au pair that our guidelines were not unreasonable (heck, I pulled most of them off this website since I am still a bit green at this!) and how it is important for families to have guidelines and why, etc.
We also discussed why mutual respect is so important and why mutual communication is so important and how it can not just be one sided or this will never work!!
Thankfully, we are almost finished with our trial week after our meeting andd all is well. We seem to have our old au pair back (the happy one we picked up at the airport and welcomed into our family with open arms!). I’m grateful to have the tension in our home disappear and pray it will continue to be pleasant. I’m sure we will have issues that come up in the future, but I’m hopeful with some better communication, everyone’s needs can be met!! :)
I’ve realized I am in no way ready for teenagers andd am grateful mine are still in the infant, toddler & preschool stages. They are hard enough!! :)

CV June 2, 2009 at 11:56 am

Oh Momof4– It’s so great to hear that having a talk and re-setting expectations has helped to get your au pair and your relationship back on track! Hooray for all of you.
It is especially great to hear how your LCC was able to be helpful. When the LCC can help to create a comfortable situation in which to discuss the harder stuff, and make sure everyone’s expectations are reasonable, you know that you’re really getting the support you need.
Also, we all know you are neither bossy nor unfair– if you get worried, check in with us again and we’ll remind you that your a host mom, doing her best, and learning every day. cv

Miscelanea April 11, 2011 at 12:13 am

I work 45 hours every week no matter what. It can be summer, winter, fall or spring, I’m always there. Sometimes I’m sitting doing nothing for hours, just because they have hours left that can’t be wasted :) They even count the minutes, one day I had to work 2.38 min (yeah, 38. Not 30 or 40) while baby was sleeping and mom and dad where home on a sunday. Talking about sucking the last drop of blood :)

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