Getting an Au Pair can expose cracks in your marriage that you haven’t seen before.
Getting an Au Pair can also force you to pay attention to dynamics that have been there all along but that you and your spouse have “successfully” avoided before.
It’s not the Au Pair herself or himself that “causes” the problems. It’s that you and your spouse have to work together guiding the Au Pair in caring for your children, in following house/roommate expectations, and in making your Au Pair “part of the family”.
A few weeks ago we heard from NeedingEveryoneOnTheSameTeam Host Mom. She was anticipating that conflicts between her directions and her husband’s directions would end up frustrating their Au Pair, causing the Au Pair to want to rematch. ( See When Parenting Styles Conflict).
In that situation, it became clear that NeedingEveryoneOnTheSameTeam Host Mom needed to talk with her spouse to re-set expectations between them, now that her spouse would be more active around their home. She had the ‘advantage’, if you will, of having a particular event (him changing jobs) to trigger this conversation and make it seem more about the change in situations than about a conflict between the two of them.
What we knew in that case is true here:
A conflict in parenting styles is a conflict between parents.
And it’s not just when the conflict is focused on ‘how to treat the kids’. It’s also true when the conflicts are about ‘how to treat the Au Pair’.
A conflict in treatment of the Au Pair rules is a conflict between Host Parents.
This isn’t an Au Pair-ing thing, it’s a marriage thing.
(See this post: You’re right, he’s wrong. This is a problem.)
As TexasHM noted, and as we’ve discussed in other posts, once the Au Pair or other Host Parent has set an expectation for the kids in a particular situation, there is NO OVERRIDING. (Unless, of course, it’s unsafe, mean, or against some very clear family rule).
From the post 3 Easy Ways to Sabotage your Au Pair’s Authority, you never want to:
1. Reverse your Au Pair’s child-minding decisions.
2. Criticize your Au Pair in front of your children.
3. Criticize your Au Pair behind her back.
We can easily revise this into a list of Ways to Sabotage Your Host Parent Partner’s Authority.
It’s bad form for one Host Parent to reverse the decisions made by the other Host Parent, to say the least. And, it’s a significant betrayal of the spousal unit (as well as the other parent him or herself) for one host Parent to allow the Au Pair to break the rules that the Host Parents have set together.
Check out the details of the situation that TenseHost Mom shares (below). One the things I see in the handful of details that TenseHostMom shared is that she created the family’s Au Pair Guidelines (handbook) herself, without her spouse’s participation, contributions, or explicit support.
This was a big missed opportunity for these Host Parents to discover, clarify, and resolve beforehand any critical gaps between their Host Parent approaches.
We tend to think of the activity of creating the Au Pair Guidelines as something we do for our Au Pairs (which, of course, it is).
In addition, creating the Au Pair Guidelines is also — importantly — an activity that literally gets the Host Parents on the same page.
But it’s not just that the Host Parent partner is unaware of the details of the house rules that apply to the Au Pair. The Host Parent Partner is also breaking the rules, hiding the information from TenseHostMom, making decisions about the Au Pair using TenseHostMom’s personal property, and perhaps even building an alliance with the Au Pair so that the Host Parent Partner can be the “preferred Host Parent”. (That last behavior, to me, is a form of relationship cheating. But I may be over-reacting.)
Advice for Host Parents
Here’s a start at some advice:
Sit down together to go over the Au Pair Handbook and renegotiate what matters to both Host Parents.
As a parental and spousal unit, make an explicit agreement with each other about what you will do when there is a conflict between you about how to manage the Au Pair.
(For example, (1) tell the Au Pair “Let me think about it”, (2) go with Host Parent Spouse to Starbucks to discuss the issue and come to an agreement, and (3) then tell the Au Pair together.)
Don’t treat this issue as a problem you have to “fix”. Treat it as an opportunity to strengthen your marriage. As partners and as parents, you both need to find ways to connect when problems occur.
One of the most important ways that being a Host Parent adds to your life is that Au Pair Host Parenting offers you one opportunity after another to clarify your values and to put your values into practice.
Seize this particular opportunity to strengthen your relationship and your family.
We hired a FABULOUS au pair. She is older, mature, and into her hobbies. The kids ADORE her, especially the youngest. She is part of the family but also very independent. She takes advice well.
Car use: We immediately paid for a number of professional lessons. She did great and is probably as skilled as most American drivers of the same age. Zero complaints on safety.
I had one rule. No highway driving until my spouse had done a test drive with her to make sure she was safe. Let’s say I found out in December that she had been driving on the highway since August without having gone on the test drive. Annoying, but I can get over that. What I can’t get over is the fact that my spouse found out about it in September and didn’t tell me. She still has not gone for a test drive.
Further, last time I asked her where our Au Pair was going on a weekend, it was over two hours away. Had I not asked, she absolutely would not have told me.
Recently, I was sick over the weekend. I woke up from a nap (rare) and my car was gone. My spouse had given her permission to take my car. I had errands to run and was irritated. I chatted with my spouse and I made it clear that I need to be the one who gives permission to drive my vehicle. The next weekend, my spouse asks me if the au pair can borrow my car. I say, “sure”! Later, spouse discloses to me that she knew the au pair was driving somewhere I would not want my car to be taken for safety reason. Our Au Pair is so great that I feel like I can’t make a big deal out of where she drives but if something happens to that car it will seriously set us back financially.
1. After reading your blog I drafted a great guide for the au pair that included everything from schedule and discipline to car rules and groceries. My spouse failed to read it which led to multiple problems for us.
For example, au pair was told she could go pick up personal groceries. She spent $100 dollars and bought mostly junk food. Spouse wanted me to “discuss” it with her and “fix the problem”. I refused as I had not caused the problem. The guide was very clear that she does not do personal grocery shopping. If spouse gave her permission to do so but did not give her a limit on what to spend, we can’t blame her for the mistake. I told spouse to address it.
2. Within three weeks of arrival spouse and au pair end up hanging out solo all day and drinking at a whiskey bar. That’s right, I saved the best for last! You can imagine the discussion that ensued. Just recently, while I was out of town with the kids, spouse and au pair end up going out for dinner together. Spouse had plans to go solo but that didn’t end up happening. I was told in advance in an apologetic tone but the message was “I’m doing it regardless”.
So, do I keep the perfect au pair that is accidentally causing tension in my marriage? Really, the alternative is keeping the au pair and ditching the spouse. How would the other parents feel when the issues are developing with their spouse, not the au pair?
For the record, spouse would say I am not jealous or controlling person and I know spouse is not cheating.
When Host Parents Disagree, once an Au Pair has let them down
Divorce Difficulties: When Your Ex-Spouse Gets an Au Pair
Au Pairing in an UnHappy Home
Image by Tom Wachtel on Flickr