When Host Parents Start Working ‘At Home’: Helping your au pair make the switch

by cv harquail on April 2, 2013

Given all the work that we put into matching our family situation with just the right au pair, it can feel pretty painful when– all of a sudden– your family situation changes.  Adopting a baby, getting a divorce, moving across the country, moving to a new house  starting home renovations, getting a dog, … you get the picture.

Stuff happens, life happens, and we need to adjust.

The challenge is that each of our au pairs has come on board with a set of expectations painted for them by our conversations as we’ve matched. We’ve told them what to expect, so when unexpected things happen in can be a shock to our au pair too.

A neighbor of mine writes with a common situation for parents who are self-employed or part of the freelance economy.  Her work status has changed abruptly, albeit temporarily, and now she finds herself being an au pair’s potential nightmare– a work at home mom.

You know, the kind of host mom who is just an office door away, can hear EVERYTHING, and who all the kids know is really right there, if they only scream loudly enough.

Dear Au Pair Mom–  I’m sooooo sorry it’s taken me this long to find your blog. I’ve been desperate for this type of online community for the past 4 yrs and am so relieved to find and learn from you and your contributors.
I have a great au pair and a challenging new situation — We are currently matched with our 5th au pair. We have a 4yo daughter and 20mos old son.

Our current au pair arrived in late January from Colombia. She is 25 with *exceptional* English and a college and post-grad degree. She comes from (what I gather) is an affluent family but she is incredibly driven and responsible. She’s been our best yet – which says a lot because we have deep and lasting relationships with almost all our prior au pairs. We knew within the first month that we’d want to extend with her. Our kids adore her, and she adores them. She embodies the philosophy that “you get what you give” … she’s given us 110% and it’s come back to her 10-fold.

The problem is not our au pair…it’s me.

I am a self-employed marketing consultant and I work on long(ish) term assignments, usually at the client site 3-4 days a week with occasional work from home on smaller projects the other 2 days. My most recent assignment has been going on for 15 mos and was scheduled to last until early August. I found out this week that the budget has been cut – and so has my position. I was given 2 weeks’ notice.

Because this wasn’t anticipated, I don’t have an immediate next assignment lined up (but am actively looking).

I want to be respectful of my au pair and not “crowd” her since I expect I’ll be home a lot. Because I have younger kids, when Mommy is home, then tend to flock to me and it’s harder for her to keep them on task. I don’t want to overrule her or make her feel like I’m micromanaging. But I also want to use her so I can get some time for myself to get other things done both in and out of the house – and I don’t want to feel guilty about that.

She knew coming into the match that I work from home occasionally but she didn’t sign on to work with a full-time SAHM. I don’t want to sour what’s been a very promising and successful relationship so far. Any advice from HPs who’ve experienced a similar situation would be much appreciated – along with any best practices or things to watch out for.

I truly value this Au Pair Mom community and look forward to your thoughts.

Thanks!  ~ FreelanceJerseyHostMom

see also:  Tip for the Work-At-Home Parent with an Au Pair: Have Rules for Interruption

When you are available and your Au Pair is ‘on duty’ — how to manage?


Emerald City HM April 3, 2013 at 2:06 am

We were a little different. I was pregnant when we matched, so it was known that I would be home for at least 3 months and about what time frame.

For the first two months I pretty much exclusively took care of the baby, mostly because I just wanted to spend as much time as possible holding her. I also tried as best as I could to stay out of the au pair’s way when it came to my toddler. Even if that meant being in a different area of the house. I also made sure they kept up with their routine of going to activities just the two of them, like they did before I was home.

I would suggest maybe going somewhere else, when you can, to work, like maybe camp out at a starbucks? Other than that when I work from home, I go into the office and shut the door.

nz-AuPair April 3, 2013 at 3:42 am

Hi I am currently an Au Pair who experienced a kind of the same just to see it from the other side.
When I matched with the family they told me that my HM occasionally would work from home, but often had meetings and other stuff to do outside the house during the time I had the kids. I arrived just before the summerholidays which meant a 7 year old boy and 4 year old girl at home all day, every day. After about 3 weeks (1 week in the holiday) my hostmum got sick (nothting lifethreading, but she was extremely tired and needed a lot of rest/sleep). She decided to take 2 months off work to be able to recover.
That offcourse ment I was home with her and the kids all the time. The problem was that she couldn’t really get away as she spent most time in bed and the kids found it very hard not to disturb her when she was in her bedroom with the door closed as she wasn’t even working just doing “nothing”.
How we handled it:
We talked!
I believe you can handle everything with just talking about it. You need to tell her that you will be home more and have a chat about how you together can make the best out of this situation.
– Make a clear schedule of who is working when, and agree on when it is allright for the kids to disturb you. Are you fx having lunch together? Can they have a special ½ hour at some point where they can see what mummy is doing? Or would you prefer not to remind them that you are there?
– Let her know that when you work you are not listening to what is going on in the house (my HM wore head-phones and listened to music or watched movies).
– Give her plenty of oppotunities to get out with the kids. Come up with a list together of places to go. Give her some extra money for activities and let her have access to a car or extra money for the bus. Also extra exciting acitivities at home that the Au Pair can do with the kids if they can’t get out, but are super clingy. Baking, crafts, new toys or just new ways of presenting things.

And most of all support her and tell her she is doing a great job even when the kids are running to your office all the time. If you can see she tries that is all you can ask for, and she is NOT doing an easy job!
Imagine how you would feel if your boss watched every step you made? Don’t correct her on the small things she does differently unless they are directly bad for the kids. She feels watched enough allready.

I am sure you will get through it, and I actually think it made our relationsship closer because we spent more time together and because I could feel that she treated me as an equal adult. She didn’t micromanage we made our plans together
Good luck!

Momma Gadget April 3, 2013 at 9:40 am

NZ- Aupair
Brilliant advice!

FreelanceJerseyHostMom- it sounds like you already have a great relationship with your Au Pair.Things don’t always go as planned-I am sure If you sit her down, explain the situation, you can work out a plan together.
As NZ pointed out, it will probably make your already good relationship even better.
Good Luck !

American HM in Europe April 3, 2013 at 6:07 am

I think nz-Aupair has some great advice. I’m a work at home mom and have been all along (since returning to work), so my au pairs are prepared for that — and my kids are in daycare 9-3:30ish, so it isn’t a huge impact. But of course there are days they are home sick. I frequently tell my au pair if I can’t be interrupted, or if it is okay for the kids to come upstairs to my office, and she knows I’ll try to take a break from work when they come home from daycare. So we talk about changes in the schedule, where there is flexibility, etc.

ALSO – I talk to my KIDS about it. While you’re 1,5 year old might not quite understand, talk to him about what mummy is doing, and your 4-yo should definitely understand. Mine were 2 and 3,5 when I started working again, and they get that if momma is upstairs, she is working. (although doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes cry at the bottom of the stairs).

And if during this time you are going to want to spend extra time with your kids, there’s nothing wrong with that — they are your kids. It might be a great opportunity to reward your excellent au pair with an extra day or afternoon off. Or identify some non-child related things she can do (sorting the kids seasonal clothes? changing bedding? organising or cleaning the toys?) so that she still is working productively, but you have responsibility for the kids for a while, so you aren’t overlapping.

Good luck! Conversation is the key!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 3, 2013 at 6:55 am

If you suddenly find that you have extra time – why not divide and conquer. Children love to have special time with their parents. We still do this – book the AP to work on a Saturday afternoon or evening for a few hours so we can do something special with our typically developing child. Kids would rather have time than money lavished on them, so something like a picnic, a hike in the woods, baking, making a craft, or even an afternoon at a playground being the center of Mom’s attention is a lot of fun.

The important thing is to talk with your AP about the changes and your expectations for her work. Since you obviously adore her – why not reward her with a little extra time off? Since you’ve been working at home part-time anyway, your children shouldn’t mind if you spend more time than usual in your study. I don’t think you need to run away to give your AP space.

TexasHM April 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

You’ve gotten lots of great advice here, I second all of it! I am in field sales for a software company which means if I have appointments I am traveling but on my office/catch up days I work from home. I make a point of saying “goodbye” to my kids in the morning and telling them I’m going to work and to be good for my AP. My office is in the front room so no locked door but I make it clear they are not to come in there. If its a rough day and they aren’t respecting that I take my laptop in my bedroom or laundry room and lock the door.
I do usually come out and eat lunch with them or at least see them a few minutes while I heat something up. I make sure I’m sensitive to respecting our AP so when the kids ask for something while she’s on the clock I tell them she is the boss during the day and they have to ask her. It’s all about communicating and setting clear boundaries. I would explain the situation to your AP and tell her you want her feedback. If there’s something that’s making it difficult on her, perhaps you can tweak (the kids hear you on calls and want to go see you – take calls in another part of the house or go outside, etc).
Be strict with the kids about the boundaries and reminding them she’s the boss early on and they should quickly acclimate. My kids know if I’m in the kitchen we can chat but the minute I walk through the office door I’m off limits. Also on days where the kids want me my AP gets out of the house. Reg free activities at the library, goes to parks, etc and that gets some energy out so they can chill at home.
Check in with her regularly and ask for feedback and I think you’ll be fine. I never thought about listening in at home, I’m busy working but I would venture to say that even if you hear something little you don’t agree with or would’ve done differently resist the temptation to correct it (unless important of course). Good luck and congrats on the great AP, the fact that you’re here soliciting advice tells me you both will be just fine!

Busy Mom April 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

Conversation is key, as is discipline on your part! I have frequently worked at home over the 15 years we’ve had live-in nannies/APs. When my kids were little, they were taught that if the office door was closed, I could not be disturbed. I think that little kids have difficulty understanding that sometimes they can come in and sometimes they can’t, so we opted for a black & white rule. At the beginning, I would sometimes hear a child crying outside my office door. But my nannies knew that they needed to find some distraction for my kids. I also knew that if I opened the door once, my kids would learn that all they needed to do to get Mommy’s attention is to cry at the door.

When I had extended periods of time that I was working at home (as opposed to a day here and there), sometimes, I’d go to my inlaws and use my FIL’s home office. Sometimes, I’d go to Panera. This helped my kids stay ‘in practice’ of having me go off to work.

Now that my kids are older, I find that I distract myself when I work at home for long periods of time :-) I used to be much more self-disciplined.

CA-AuPair April 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I have a similar situation with my host-mom.
7 months are over now and now she started to work from home.
The only problem for me was, that she didn´t talked to me about that.
I mean, it´s not a big deal to have her home, it´s just a new situation and i would felt better if she just could talked to me, you know.
The first time it was a different feeling to have her home the whole time and just the feeling that you´re “monitored”.
I think if you just talk to your AuPair about the new situation it would be better for all to know whats going to happen or just to know the new situation.
I´m sure your AuPair will understand that, it´s not a big deal.
Just try to make each other comfortable with new situations, talk about it is always a good way!

Au Pair Australia April 23, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I had a similar problem when I was an au pair and cared a one year old, her mum was working from home and at that age the baby was crying every time she was showing up, the baby wanted to be with her if possible and was difficult to help him to settle down with me, so the hosting mum understood and she tried to be absent in my working hours to help me bond with the baby and since then it worked out

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