When Au Pair Candor Hurts Your Host Parent Feelings

by cv harquail on May 18, 2015

We Host Parents want our Au Pairs to be truthful with us.

Whether the topic is homesickness, feelings of depression, concerns about children’s behavior, or even our own emotional situations, we want our au pairs to tell us how they see things.  As Americans, we believe that candor (being forthcoming) and honesty (telling the truth) make strong relationships possible.  9220257665_51fdb9aaa3_m

When Au Pairs are candid about how they see a situation, they often reveal to us that their perspectives are not the same as ours. This is fine, most of the time, because bridging the gap between what they see and what we see is the very process that helps us resolve problems.

What’s sad, though, is when an au pair’s candor tells us something we don’t want to hear, such as that our toddler behaves badly, our house smells, or our relatives are meddling too much.

What’s absolutely the worst? When an au pair’s candor tells us that s/he doesn’t appreciate what we do to make their situations as good as possible.  

Host Mom JJP just found this out, and now she’s wondering–

Should she pursue the extension she’d originally proposed to this au pair, or find someone new?

We’re at that point in our Au Pair’s stay to decide whether we’d like to rematch for another year. Our AP has been pretty good (I wouldn’t say “great”), and for the most part, we’ve been happy with our decision to hire her. She’s trustworthy and likable, but not great at helping run an organized household.

My husband is a busy executive, who frequently travels. I am a part-time freelancer and can do part of my job from home. We have three boys, ages three, five and ten, and don’t have family that live nearby. We decided to hire an au pair, like most families, to have extra help and the everyday consistency of an additional family member.

Our AP recently expressed her interest in extending, and my husband and I agreed that we’d be happy to host her again. I figured I can overlook, or fine-tune the ‘small stuff’. We felt good about the decision up until yesterday. That’s when the trouble began.

She told me the night before she had a “terrible nightmare” about being locked in a room and felt like she was in jail. Outside that jail she could hear children running around, screaming, and being naughty. When she woke up, she called her mom who told her that she had a psychological dream and advised her to not rematch; just to come home after her year was up. She went on to tell me that she is now she’s not sure about staying because of this dream. Also, her closest AP friends are leaving. However, she doesn’t necessarily want to go home because she doesn’t want to live with her parents, and can’t find a job in her home country.

While it’s great to have an AP who feels so comfortable with expressing her thoughts, I felt offended by the suggestion that she feels imprisoned, or that she’d leave simply because her friends are gone.

Never in this conversation did I hear, “This is a really great job, I’m appreciative of you, and I adore the kids, and these are great reasons to stay.”

It was just way too much self-centered, immature information. Her standing in my eyes just plummeted.

Our AP works probably thirty hours a week, has time to work out at the gym every day, her own car, most weekends off, iPhone, etc. I’d like to think of ourselves as an easy-going and giving family, in which any AP would be not just comfortable with, but feel fortunate to have such a great gig. Our Au Pair has had many, many days of vacation time due to my flexible schedule (she’s been to Vegas, L.A. Miami, and Seattle for 4 to 5 day weekends). We also hosted her family for a week, while giving her the time off while they were here.

Since our rematch conversation, I’ve feel disappointed, to say the least. So the questions is:
Do I start all over again and hire a new AP that is more experienced, gracious and appreciative?
Or should I be a bit more understanding of this age/life phase and keep her?

(I’m sure she’ll decide to stay, due to lack of other options) I’d love to hear the insight from seasoned Host Moms!


Image: Maureen Barlin on Flickr


Anon for this one May 18, 2015 at 8:09 am

Could you try to have the “we feel” conversation with her..

I.e. we feel that you [the AP] might not be staying for the right reasons and spell out what the right reasons are..

Instead we feel that you are staying because she doesn’t have a better offer and this should not make your family the fallback choice rather than wanting to stay because this is a great experience that she’s not finished with.

Based on the limited information, I would not extend.. obviously she is having major doubts about extending and your next AP could be that rockstar that we all know is out there.. just waiting for a chance.. and you’re stuck with someone who regards you as no other option.. that’s a bad way to start anything.. and maybe she will lean on you to support her choice.. why bother with that .. when there would be someone who would really appreciate the chance to spend a year with you..

WestMom May 18, 2015 at 9:50 am

You should be thankful that she had this dream now and it is raising questions about whether or not she should stay. Personally, no matter the dream… you had me at ‘she is not great’. I would never consider extending with a ‘not great’ AP, knowing that I have to bite my lip one more year on the little nitpicky things that drive me crazy.

The few times I have discussed extensions with APs, I made it clear that the only reason I would extend is if AP had productive reasons to stay: want to continue her travels, get better in English, take some special classes, etc… Not because of friends or boyfriends, or because she has nothing better waiting for her when she goes back home. I don’t want my family to be the ‘status quo’ option because AP is not ready to face adulthood.

Dorsi May 18, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Exactly. We have offered rematch to our first few APs — all of which who returned home at the end of their 12 months. With 3 of them, I was so grateful at the airport — they had been good enough, not great. The idea of another year was not at all appealing once we hit the 12 month mark. Also, when you are having the “extend” conversation, you may feel overwhelmed by the fact that you have to find a new AP. At the end of the year, you have a new AP that you are excited about – so it is easier to send Ms. Good Enough home.

Staying because you can’t find a job at home is a terrible idea, in my opinion. What if things change at month 15?

TexasHM May 18, 2015 at 10:09 am

+1 Based on this limited perspective I would definitely NOT extend. PLEASE trust the awesome, experienced regulars on this board and read some of the threads about when to and when not to extend. As someone who has had several extensions or attempted extensions I cannot stress enough that if there is ANY doubt in her or your mind about extending please don’t do it!

The second year is much harder and don’t discredit her comment about her friends leaving or write that off as immaturity. As expats that do not have the wide social support system that we do, having any close friend leave (AP or otherwise) is a major blow. In fact we had a great AP fall apart after her best AP friend decided not to extend and then her parents who had committed to visit year one then pushed to year two then admitted that they weren’t coming at all. We were in big trouble in less than a month and she was an awesome AP that loved us very much and was very appreciative. I know there are several other regular posters on here that have posted on previous threads the same story (great year one AP lost steam and gone within 3 months into second year).

Which brings me to the next point – if she is “good not great” I would never consider an extension anyway. There are just way too many great APs out there (especially the ones in rematch at risk of losing their entire experience) to muddle through with a mediocre AP and I promise you, mediocre year one will decline year two. She is not suddenly going to wake up and become a rockstar after this long. Just my humble opinion but I have never seen that happen.

I would not take her feedback personally at all and I would THANK her for saving you a year with a miserable mediocre AP! She is doing you a HUGE favor cutting bait now! As an aside, I believe it was TACL that had some great criteria on when to extend though it escapes me at the moment (hopefully she will chime in and share again) but it was something along the lines of having concrete reasons for extension and those goals need to be things she can’t accomplish in her home country. Saying she doesn’t want to go home because she doesn’t want to live with her parents and doesn’t think she can find a job tells me everything. Nothing in there said anything about needing to be in the US (vs any other country other than her home country) or her bond with your family or unfinished business in your area or the US in general.

Our first AP extended but her english was so weak and driving so bad that she felt like it took her a good 3-4 months to get her year started (true) so she wanted to extend because she loved my kids and wanted to become fluent in English and had been taking extra credit hours so we knew she was serious and making the effort.

AP2 was great and just loved us and here and wanted to stay (she stalked us until we signed her extension 4 months before her year was up!). Her English was strong and she didn’t have any concrete goals but she was loving it so we didn’t have reason to worry. This is the one that went south quickly at her years end.

AP3 was a rockstar rematch AP and wanted to extend. Before we submitted the paperwork she found out her long time boyfriend had the opportunity to work in NZ and take her along 6 months later (she’d have to leave 5 mos into year 2). Since that wasn’t a traditional option anyway we pushed her to take that opportunity and not extend. This is the only one that I second guess and a PSA to those that match way early – had we waited two more months we would have found out his work trip got bumped another 6 months (giving her time to extend with us) but we had already matched with a new AP (that was our only burnout rematch AP). Keep in mind though – we would have extended with this AP because she didn’t have any close friends leaving year two, because she had only been with us 9 months and hadn’t done everything she wanted yet in our area and because she was the only AP we’ve had that had a detailed bucket list and defined goals for her entire term and was a go-getter and not afraid to travel and plan alone.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 18, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Where was that thread about when not to rematch? As TexasHM said, I do have criteria for considering extension:

1) AP has goals that cannot be accomplished in one year (IME most of these have been educational goals – completing ESOL credits, passing the TOEFL before returning home to do an international studies degree, becoming accomplished in something unrelated to her home degree because outside the U.S. degrees are so much more focused). Staying for a man is not good enough, IMO, and I have told more than one AP so.

2) AP has friends that will be staying into her second year (not necessarily APs – can be Americans she has met, friends from a church, a sports team, people from her country living and working in the area). IME, an extension AP with only AP friends will be left high and dry during the course of her 2nd year unless she’s good at welcoming new APs

Both of these criteria must be met before I go further down the list

3) Great AP. Not a “good enough” AP, but someone you’d recommend for AP of the Year in your cluster. Because even if her #1 priority during her year isn’t taking care of your kids – she has to behave like it is while she’s caring for them and doing the tasks that you ask of her. Don’t take it personally if she feels a little trapped – especially if this is her first real job. (I remember when I realized that there wouldn’t be a two-month vacation coming at the end of the “semester”, and chafed a bit – didn’t you?! Of course I was in university for nearly a decade before I started working full-time in one job.)

4) Willing to accept your instruction. Because if she’s not listening to you know, she definitely won’t in year 2.

5) Actually likes your kids.

Don’t settle for a good-enough AP, because the hand-writing will be on the wall. IMO, it’s time to sit this young woman down, and say, “You know, I think that dream was right. Even if you don’t feel like you have a future at home, I don’t think staying here is a good enough reason not to move forward with your life.”

WarmStateMomma May 18, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Our second AP was great and I would have extended with her 9 or 10 months into her year, but by the time she only had 6 weeks left, her departure just felt “right.” We all still miss her and think the world of her, but it was time for her to move forward with her life.

It’s hard not to feel offended that your AP feels trapped but she may not have much real world experience to compare her AP year to. Looking back, my 20s were so much more fun and carefree than I realized at the time. I agree with TexasHM that she did you a solid by letting you know how she feels in time for you to avoid a sticky situation. I’d repay the favor by encouraging her to plan the next chapter in her life. If there are no jobs in her home country now, the situation is not likely to improve in the next year.

Vanila Ex Au Pair May 18, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Don’t extend.
I don’t underestimate other people’s beliefs and faith, But if someone trusts 100% in premonitory dreams; I won’t rely on her/his maturity and capability to commit with a job.
I don’t know what extending means for hostparents, but for an au pair it means to be away from home for more time than first planned. This means: the au pair needs strongest convictions to stay and have a succesfull second year because magic is gone and the simple things that were awesome at begining are not anymore. If she or he is missing her/his goals or having doubts, then should not consider extend. So, for the hostmom: no, do not extend with this au pair. As others already said: lots of au pair are out there waiting for an oportunity. You don’t need an au pair who needs constant motivation to go on, or someone who maybe is gonna leave at the middle of the second year.

German Au-Pair May 18, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Honestly, I think if you’re doing it right the little things can stay pretty magical. I would actually say my second year was almost better than my first year. If you make it count, the second year can be just as exciting…you just have to be commited to making it awesome.

I wouldn’t necessarily call someone dealing with their fears self-centered or immature. This situation was about her expressing her fears and talking about how other people are trying to influence her. That’s not the same as not being appreciative -it may simply not have been the time for words of appreciation.

That said, doubt has developed in both of you now, so an extension is probably not the best idea. I do think that sometimes a dream is really just a dream but I will say that while I was trying to make a decision about staying, I also had such “pychological dreams” (which I never have about anything. ever.) They were clearly telling me to stay and that going home was something I would regret, even though rationally it would have been “better”. Those dreams were a HUGE factor in my decision because it did feel like my subconcious was trying to tell me something. If she feels the same about her dream (adding her parents who emphasize that) she’s likely going to keep having doubts. It’s not that hard to talk yourself into feeling a certain (negative) way.

Mimi May 18, 2015 at 9:03 pm

We don’t extend. We did with our second AP and it was a mediocre year. If our APs want a second year, we help them find families in different locations where they can build on their first year, not just repeat it.

To the OP, don’t extend. I do believe that dreams show us things that our subconscious mind are trying to work out and hers could mean that she’s trapped by her situation at home, and not just by the idea of extending. Don’t take it personally. Few people have the grace to express gratitude when facing life altering circumstances and are more concerned about themselves until they have a reason like marriage or children to affect them. Think of this as an opportunity to impart some wisdom and guidance and help her move to the next phase in her life.

CA Host Mom May 19, 2015 at 10:23 am

Just chiming in to echo the sentiments that many have already posted … I’d pass on the extension for sure. Good luck!

momo4 May 19, 2015 at 10:35 am

I agree with all the comments above: don’t extend if there is any doubt. Her reasons for staying are understandable given her age and situation, but I do not think they are good enough to warrant your commitment to another year if she is only “good”.

Given how entwined your AP becomes in your family life, it is hard not to take their opinions personally, and perhaps even harder not to be hurt by them; and even if you “work through it” they can continue cast shadows and undermine your relationship in the future.

Your family situation sounds a lot like mine (husband works long hours, you work from home or part time and are therefore physically at home a lot, multiple kids) so given how much you will be around your AP it is really important that you enjoy the time you do spend around your AP. The longer they are with you, the larger any small irritations will loom. Over time their enthusiasm for being an AP tends to diminish, but your need for their help, your commitment to your work, children and life over all does not diminish and this difference can cause an ever widening rift between you.

You sound like you are providing a really nice experience/opportunity for an AP. Many APs work much longer hours, do not have as flexible or friendly a HM and do not have the privileges you have listed. Let this girl go home or match with another family and make room in your life for someone new.

Speaking of AP candor that hurts the family, the only AP we had leave early never really talked to me about anything until 2 months in when she sat down and basically talked for 30 minutes straight about everything she was dissatisfied with or didn’t like about our home/family/situation. Our house was too small, we didn’t have a housekeeper so it was too dirty, especially the bathroom, our kitchen grossed her out, we weren’t rich enough, we didn’t have a newspaper delivered (never mind we had internet and a computer for her), she didn’t feel we were strict enough with our one (incredibly mellow, sweet) 3 year old daughter whom she thought we totally spoiled… The list went on. And on. I was stunned, hurt, and unprepared.
At the time my husband and I were overwhelmed medical residents and worked 60-80 hour weeks and our daughter was in daycare during the day. My initial instinct was to try and “fix” the problems she identified, but I almost immediately realized that it would be impossible (we couldn’t “fix” how rich/posh we weren’t, we certainly couldn’t afford a housekeeper), and that this AP just wasn’t going to work out. She ultimately decided just to go back to her home country and not to try to find another family to match with. I think she realized that being an AP just wasn’t for her.
But many years, and many happy APs later there is still some sting to that memory. And it was really hard not to take it personally.

CAmom22 May 19, 2015 at 11:25 am

I wouldn’t extend. Not because of the dreams (I think everyone has doubts and that can come through in dreams), but because of the “she’s not great” comment. I’ve extended twice with au pairs who were “pretty good” and both times I have found that those little things that were tolerable in the first year drove me absolutely crazy in the second. I just always dread the change and training involved with a new au pair and think it will be easier to stick with what I know. But I’m in the last 2 months of my latest extension and I’m now very much a believer in the “don’t extend unless s/he is great” point of view…

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