When there is more than one host parent in the household, it’s important for host parents to present a united front. Parents & Partners need to agree on household rules, behavioral expectations, and childcare preferences, and communicate in agreement to the au pair. When host parents disagree, it is impossible for an au pair to meet each both partners’ conflicting expectations and do his or her job “well”.
Host parents also need to be united in their “host parent approach” to challenges and problems with their au pair. This doesn’t mean that both parents have to act identically– one parent can be the peacemaker, the other can be the problem identifier (aka, “good cop, bad cop”). They just have to agree that the way the other parent is interacting with the au pair is (1) all right with them and (2) delivers the agreed-upon goals.
For example, one host family I know had what I thought at the time was an odd relationship when it came to the au pair. Neither parent particularly liked the au pair, but one of the host parents disliked the au pair so much that this parent refused to manage the au pair or even really interact with the au pair. Although both parents disliked the au pair, they swapped part of their feelings with the other, so that with one parent expressing the total of both their dislike, and the other parent expressing the total of both their patience. This is known in group dynamics as “splitting”, and it makes it easier for groups to handle collective ambivalence. It’s a fairly common dynamic in pairs too.
Perhaps that’s what’s going on with this host parent pair?
We’ve had a bumpy road with our 2nd au pair. She’s been with us 4 1/2 months. 6 weeks ago she stole from us and lied, then stole and lied some more. (“Au pair is stealing little items” post).
HD felt strongly that our responsibility as host parent implied a parental obligation to help AP learn from her mistake. As a manager of many hundreds of people, HD applied his considerable Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) strategies with AP. We had several lengthy discussions with AP. We put in writing the specific events and dates of theft and dishonestly, and provided specific examples of events that raised other concerns about fire safety, bossiness/ugly discipline, withholding information from us, and several other areas where she was not fulfilling her obligations as we expected. We gave concrete requirements, in writing, for improved performance.
I agreed with HD that the “right” thing to do was give her another chance, since we had not honestly made every effort to improve the situation. And AP has made a considerable effort and about half the time she meets the tangible requirements (like providing a daily written report of the children’s day and tidying the kids’ rooms). On the less easily measured requirements (don’t lie, don’t steal, ask questions rather than assume or guess, volunteer information rather than wait for us to ask for it) improvement is less straightforward to demonstrate. As I see it, by choosing to steal and lie, she broke our trust; it is now her responsibility to rebuild our trust in her by providing no reason to doubt her honesty and integrity and commitment to making it work. Her efforts at the intangibles are spotty (and I am admittedly biased).
The problem now is really between us HPs. I have no patience anymore for the little stuff (like leaving the space heater on when going out for the weekend) I would previously have corrected, forgiven and forgotten. I’m all out of good will and benefit of the doubt toward the AP and would rather rematch.
HD does not view rematch as viable option; the choice is this AP or no AP. HD is tired of the drama of the strained relationship between grumpy hostmom and AP, and rematch just perpetuates the drama of living with an AP. He faults my poor attitude toward AP, thinks my attitude undermines APs efforts (which it does), and seems to view her efforts as progress enough to keep her through the end of the contract. Until July, we have no other viable childcare options.
I feel trapped. So, where does an HM go to find a better attitude about an AP that she just doesn’t like anymore?
Here’s what I wrote back to this Host Mom–
“I really feel for you. It’s hard enough to deal with broken trust, and with an au pair you dislike. To have to manage this when you and your partner take different approaches makes it even harder.
IMHO, I don’t think you are giving yourself credit for the spot you are in… it’s not that you don’t “like” this au pair, it’s that you don’t “trust” her. It’s not a personality thing where the issue is ‘taste’, it’s a relationship thing where the issue is whether she and this relationship deserve any more effort from you. You feelings aren’t in any way unreasonable… so don’t feel guilty about having them!
I appreciate that HD might feel more attached to the idea that things are good enough– who’d want to go to all that trouble of a PIP, only to have to acknowledge that it hadn’t worked?
But what really troubles me, honestly, is the sense that you and your partner have this rift between you. Sure, you could rematch or not, suck it up or not, or push back on your au pair to improve her behavior, or not… but no matter what you do, you are left with the experience of that space between you and your spouse.
One thing that we talk about a lot is how having an au pair can make us better parents, since it challenges us to reflect on and be deliberate about “how we parent”. Having an au pair can also help us be better partners, because we have to find ways to be in this together, as a team.
You could let this particular situation go, or you could use it as a chance to learn how to build agreement with your partner. That shared skill could serve you both quite well in the future, since children– and life– will create situations where you may not agree with each other but where you still have to respond as a team. You can build that team now, or not. It’s up to you. But, in my official ‘hey, I’m not a couples’ counselor’, that’s my reaction.”
Host Parents and Partners, please weigh in…
- How might this host mom deal with her own feelings?
- How might she work with her partner so that at least she feels understood?
- How might HD and HM work together?