When & Why Do You Really Need an Au Pair Who Can Swim?

by cv harquail on June 25, 2016

A new host mom sent a long email about several challenges she’s experiencing with her Au Pair (and we’ll get to them in the next week or two).

7181614291_038595db8a_mHer concern about her new Au Pair’s swimming skills stood out to me, maybe because my neighbors down the street — with a new au pair– have just opened their backyard swimming pool. Walking by their house with my dog, I could hear all kinds of shrieking as the three boys splashed about, and I wondered how their Au Pair was holding up.

My own family spends a lot of time in the water– in granny’s pool, splashing with the dog in the river, out on my sister’s boat (sometimes jumping into the river from the boat), and boogie boarding on the ocean waves.

Every single one of our au pairs was a capable swimmer. This was something we insisted on.

NOT because I thought an Au Pair could ever stand in for a life guard, at the beach, the town pool, or in the river.
NOT because I thought having an Au Pair on the boat meant that any one of us could go without a life jacket. We swim in the river in life jackets– adults and kids.

We insisted on a Au Pair who could swim because we wanted someone who was comfortable in the water– who could be safe *herself*.

We wanted someone who’d happily wade into the water with the kids to play. We wanted someone who wouldn’t be scared to come out with us on the boat or on a jet ski. We wanted someone who’d see Granny’s pool as a treat and a chance to relax when she was off duty. We wanted her to be able to enjoy being out by the water, on the water, or in the water.

We asked our Au Pairs to sit on the edge of the town pool as the kids played, serving as an extra pair of eyes. We expected that — god forbid there was an emergency —  she’d scream for the certified professionals to rescue anyone. (Now, I wish I’d asked her to wear a whistle…just for that reason.)

See Swim Safely, by following my sister’s pool rules

All this said, I was wondering what the new Host Mom of Swimmer was hoping for from her Au Pair.

We’re surprised by our new Au Pair’s swimming skills. While we were interviewing her, she told us that she had just recently learned to swim. She was actively taking swim lessons and continued her lessons until she arrived.

Now that she’s here, it turns out she really can’t swim. She can basically just not drown. For the most part. While holding on.

And we need a swimmer. My kid is a fish and her swimming level is well beyond what you would expect for her age. We don’t need a star swimmer for AP, but if she can’t assist my child at the pool without drowning herself, then that’s a big deal.

Our neighborhood pool has a very deep end (9+ feet). Once summer is over she will be using an indoor pool that is only 5 feet deep. So we could bend over backwards and just white knuckle until the end of summer. But I’m not sure. Going to the pool will be a big part of their activities during the day.

For reasons other than the swimming thing, I’m suggesting that this host mom prepare for a rematch (you’ll see why, in the next set of posts).

What do you expect when you ask for an Au Pair who knows how to swim? What do you want that Au Pair to be able to do?


See also: Swimming, Personal Choices and Cultural Norms


Host Mom X June 26, 2016 at 12:45 am

We’ve never specifically asked for our APs to be swimmers, but if part of the job were taking my kids swimming, and we HAD asked in the interviews if the AP could swim and she said yes, we’d probably consider rematch if the AP turned out to be someone who couldn’t keep the kids safe in the pool, unless the au pair was otherwise absolutely perfect. Which it sounds like this one is not.

All of our APs, especially our current one, have been great about taking our kids swimming at the neighborhood pool, even though it wasn’t something we specifically asked for as part of the job, and it’s been terrific for them. I would absolutely not feel comfortable with having my kids accompanied to the pool with someone who wasn’t a swimmer herself/himself. That’s also because my youngest is not old enough yet to be in the pool without an adult anyway.)

Aupair Paris June 26, 2016 at 3:31 am

It sounds like you really need a swimmer, and it seems like a reason for rematch that would give your AP a good chance elsewhere, and leave you with an AP more suited to your family.

Would AP understand a rematch/swap explained in those terms? Not that it should change your decisions, but it seems like a chance for rematch which would leave you on good terms with your current AP, if you wanted that…

Multitasking Host Mom June 26, 2016 at 9:12 am

I think it depends on the child if an AP not being a strong swimmer is a deal breaker or not.

My kids are older now (and taller) so deep ends are not as big an issue in our family. But I am trying to think back to when my kids were younger and we first started hosting APs….For my oldest, this AP described by the OP would have been fine…as long as the AP was willing to be near him in the swimming pool, even if it was just hanging on to the side, and would keep an eye on him. My oldest was a strong swimmer even at an early age, so I just needed an AP who would make sure to alert a lifeguard if something would ever happen.

Now my youngest is a different story. He never has gotten the hang of swimming and even though he loves going to the pool, he can’t do much more than doggy paddle. (We tried many swim lessons over the years, and finally stopped when the instructor told me, “At least he won’t drown.”) When he was younger, I insisted that the APs be right there in the water with him…no more than arms length away… (I also insisted that they wear a modestly bathing suit when they were with my child to avoid him reaching out when he was flailing around and cause any wardrobe malfunctions…which lead to some interesting conversations between myself and our APs in regards to what is truly modest…but that is for another post;) Even then though, the AP really didn’t need to actually swim since my child with his poor swimming skills was not going anywhere near the deep end..

I would have been fine if the AP remained in water that they could still stand in with their head about the surface. So I guess after typing this out, I am circling back to what I really needed in an AP was not really a good swimmer, but really one that was willing and happily able to get in the water. So as long as the AP had the right attitude, I could have made it work with the above mentioned AP. But I get that every family is different, and has different comfort levels, and it seems like there was more going on with this AP, so I could understand why this OP might ask for a rematch.

HRHM June 27, 2016 at 11:33 am

I have to say, the reason I look for a “great” “strong” swimmer, preferably lifeguard certified at this point, is because I want someone who LOVES being in the water. The attitude is everything. I don’t want the girl who wants to lay by the side of the pool, working on her tan, reading her magazine and ignoring my kids. (that’s my job! LOL) I want someone who will drag them to the pool, play marco polo, push them around in the floaty, etc.

Multitasking Host Mom June 26, 2016 at 9:27 am

And one other comment…and this is a general statement, so I hope the OP does not take this the wrong way…
The AP did tell you that she was just learning to swim, yet you seem surprised that she is a beginning level swimmer.
And I could totally see this type of situation happening to me. I always try to see the best in people, and also, sometime rely on wishful thinking a little too much hoping everything will just work out. But looking back, every time I had an AP who was unable to perform a task, they had kind of told me in so many words, I just hadn’t focused on it enough. (Of course, hind site is twenty twenty!) I have many examples, but I am thinking about our second AP who told me during our interviews that it was more convenient in her city to take the bus to work, so she only drove a car about once a week. It did surprise me at first when she arrived exactly how bad she was at driving…luckily with alot of practice (and a few lessons) she improved enough to drive the few times we needed her to. But it did teach me that I need to be better sometimes at unpacking statements, since what our AP was telling me was, “I don’t have alot of actual real world experience driving, so I will struggle when driving your car.”

Former AP Now HM June 26, 2016 at 9:33 am

I’m confused about why, if this family really needs a swimmer, they matched with an AP who had only recently learned to swim. It’s a skill that takes time (my husband has been swimming all his life and still isn’t what I would call a strong swimmer) and if swimming is non-negotiable then I really think they should have looked for a water baby rather than a learner.

If she was a good au pair I’d suggest working around it, particularly as it doesn’t seem like she misrepresented her skills, but in this case it sounds like there are other issues so rematch might be the way to go

Quirky June 26, 2016 at 10:12 am

I would rematch. As the original post said — you need to be concerned about this AP’s safety, first – if she lets go of the edge and is in 9′ of water, she may drown. Second, no matter how well your kids swim, and no matter whether there is a lifeguard or not, you need a competent, strong swimmer of an AP to be the first line of defense for saving your child should she get into trouble. Her job needs to be paying attention to your child in the pool, not worrying about her own life and safety and secondarily practicing her own swimming skills.

This is a good time to post this link about why drowning doesn’t look like drowning (and why absolute vigilance is necessary at all times regardless of whether a lifeguard is present):


People drown silently, in plain sight, with no struggle and with no screaming all. the. time. I don’t accept that it’s safe to have your AP hanging on to the edge so she can alert the lifeguard if necessary — because a) she may not recognize drowning herself and b) seconds count, and how do you know she will notice and alert the lifeguard at a busy, noisy pool in time?

I think the responsibility for this part at least is on you — you should not have matched with someone who was a beginning swimmer. Even with lessons, she is not going to be a safe and competent adult to guard your children in the pool. Assuming she is a competent and not unsafe AP in other ways (driving? attentiveness?) I think you need to do everything possible to give her a soft landing and help her to rematch with a family that does not need a swimmer.

spanishaupair June 26, 2016 at 11:25 am

I second this poster. Drowning happens and people dont see and seconds are a big matter.

Last summer i was with friends in a boat and we were swimming and suddenly one of the kids started to drown her sibling because panicked. We were 5 adults and I was the first notice and when started to swim like mad in their direction the others started to notice and jump in and swim. But if noone noticed could have been another story

OP-HM of a Swimmer June 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

HI everyone! I’m the OP. First of all thank you so much for the comments so far. I’ll address only the swimming stuff for now. If I was responding to this post, I would say we need someone who is very comfortable in the water, enjoys the pool, and can assist my PRESCHOOLER in the pool. The ideal would be a very experienced swimmer who can continue to help our child to learn how to manage the water safely.

Initially, we were looking only at very competent swimmers as water is kinda of a big part of our lives. But when each swimmer candidate seemed to lack in other important criteria, and this AP SEEMED to check all the boxes except for strong swimming, we thought it would be fine. She has been taking lessons for a year (so not a total beginner, we thought), and included a clip of her swimming in her AP video where she says she enjoys going to the pool in her free time. When she arrived the story came out. She had never been to a pool until she decided to apply to the program, at which point she began swim lessons. She’s been slow to learn to swim.

The pool was not deep and she had never been in a body of water where she could not stand. The pool in her AP video is only 4 feet deep (and doesn’t look like it was a place she went to other than that one instance to make the video). I honestly don’t think she was trying to lie (I’m a benefit of the doubt kinda person). I don’t think she imagined she would find herself in such a deep pool with a preschooler who can double as a fish. But I also have many other reasons to believe that she was just saying what other APs told her to say to secure a “good match”. Bad strategy, of course.

Part of the issue is that we moved to a new house and this pool is new to us. We didn’t know it had such a deep end until it opened days before AP arrived. I would not have matched with her had I known, so that was (a part) of my mistake. Our old pool had a not so deep end, which was shallow enough for an adult to stand, and given that she literally needs to be at arm’s length, if not with her hand on our child at all times, I thought her swimming skills would do. So this isn’t a situation where she can sit by the pool and watch. She has to be in the water holding our child and assisting her as she swims. And she swims non-stop! So we thought that our swimming compromise would be that she just needed to be able to keep my child under control in the shallow end and be comfortable to jump in the deep end for a brief moment if there was ever a need for it (there is a life guard but I think AP must be able to manage first and LG is for a backup/emergency).

That would be my good enough compromise in swimming ability.

I think CV’s point is very important: you must be safe in the water yourself before you can supervise anyone else. And we thought she was at least safe based on the interview and video. Yes, we talked about it a lot and AP assured us she could handle it. But she clearly panicked when we went to the pool.

After a week of (MUCH) practice she can now tread water for 5 seconds near the edge. She’s afraid of the deep end. She will not let go of the edge (nor should she at this point). She cannot safely be beyond the 5 feet mark herself. If our child was in floaties only and never left the shallow end, this could maybe work. But that’s not the our reality.

On this issue, I am really trying to work it out. I would be willing to send my child with floaties and tell her to not allow her to go anywhere near the deep end AT ALL. I’ll also send AP to more swim lessons (which she is willing to do). But the more I think about it (and write this) the more I realize that isn’t feasible or safe.

Also, things happen and that terrifies me. Given her age, our child is not independent in the water and will not be this year and even when she does become independent, her age alone is reason enough to still require AP in the water, at arm’s length distance at all times. Since our child loves the water and is learning so quickly, we really care that she continues to develop these skills and feel comfortable in the water while learning to be safe and respect it.

OP-HM of a Swimmer June 26, 2016 at 11:31 am

Let me just say too that taking advantage of the pool (indoor and outdoor, year round) is a new thing for us now that we are close to an indoor pool. So we were hoping this would be something AP could do with our child, but it wasn’t something we had before. So potentially, we could just go to the pool with her on evenings and weekends and that would still be more pool time than we’ve ever had, but that would take away from something we were hoping for as a benefit of hosting an AP. But not an absolutely essential piece. Or am I already compromising too much of the pros of APs for us to make this work? I’m seriously not sure right now.

Anna June 27, 2016 at 8:19 am

I would be mad that the au pair misrepresented her swimming ability to you. If someone takes swimming lessons for a YEAR, and included a video of her presumably swimming for real, and she is still afraid of deep water – WTH????
If she swims, she shouldn’t be still afraid of deep water after a year of swim lessons. After a year of swim lessons I would assume a reasonable adult would have a mastery of all the major strokes. So lets make it clear – she doesn’t swim, and she is terrified of deep water. She won’t drown if she is thrown in deep water after a few seconds, but after that – no guarantees. That’s not a swimmer by any name.

FullCircle June 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm

She did misrepresent her skills but I don’t think it was malicious (at least I am choosing to believe it wasn’t, at the very least for my sanity’s sake). I filtered the search for “strong swimmers” and she listed herself as a strong swimmer in her application. We knew to ask questions to assess the swimming ability and we did. All the info we gathered about her less than strong abilities happened during interview and that is when we made the compromise in our minds: not a strong swimmer, but a swimmer that checks all other boxes on our list, and that was good enough, we thought. The video plus her report convinced us it would be good enough. So that’s where the surprise is coming from.

My husband makes a good point that she turned in her application nearly a year ago, so when she listed herself as a “strong swimmer” and “experienced driver” (which is a whole other story), she was neither of those things and I guess she was just hoping she would gain enough skill between submitting her application and getting on the plane. But regardless, this has been a huge learning experience for us and we will for sure be way more detailed in our screening and information we provide the next time around. We are still deciding on whether this match is workable.

FullCircle June 27, 2016 at 1:12 pm

I’m the OP BTW. I was replying with the OP name to make it easier (and more private) but I guess my computer decided to use the name I usually use on this site. Oh well. haha

LuckyHM#3 June 27, 2016 at 1:53 pm

I respectfully disagree. Learning to swim as an adult for just a year in my book would not make you a strong swimmer. As a HM, I would not select an AP who has been swimming for just a year if i needed a swimmer just like I wouldnt select an AP who has been driving for a year if I needed a driver. She’s an adult with other stuff to do so I imagine that she wasnt having daily swim lessons talkless of the cost of these lessons. Yes, she can swim enough to be videotaped, just like all APs show themselves driving but then arrive and some of them cant drive

NBHostMom June 26, 2016 at 1:05 pm

I honestly think this was a mistake made during matching. You really do need a swimmer and your AP is a new swimmer, and is certainly not capable of monitoring a child. It’s a safety concern. Rematch unless you’re 100% willing to not ever have your child near water under APs supervision, and be content with the decision. I’d also go so far as to “forbid” the AP to swim in a pool without certified lifeguards.

A short story….. recently in our city, a family was visiting a friend’s house with a pool. Their nanny took the 3 year old to the backyard swing set. The child fell in the pool, the non swimming nanny jumped in after. The three year old was able to get to the side and scream for help. The nanny drowned and passed away. It was a horrible outcome, but the nanny, being a non-swimmer, had zero water safety sense.

We have a back yard pool, 2 of our APs have been certified life’s gaurds (German) and the remainder have been extrememly strong swimmers (swim team members). For us, it’s basic safety. Our au pair does need to supervise our very capable, school age kids swimming, it’s part of the job therefore it is a mandatory skill. We’ve never had trouble locating a high swimming skilled AP, it takes a bit longer, but we’ve had better luck with swimming skills than driving skills.

2 kids and a cat June 27, 2016 at 9:44 am

A lifelong swimmer raising water babies, I concur not to leave your child – even with swimmies – under the supervision of this AP. Even I’ve had some scary moments with my kids in water. Hire someone
As an analogy – we need a driver, took someone with a license, but less than a year of having one and not her own car. On a rainy day, she ran a red light and totaled our car and the one she hit. Thankfully everyone, including our children, walked away unharmed. She was totally fine driving the short distance to school but couldn’t think straight in less than ideal conditions. What we thought would be fine wasn’t at all, and we upped our minimum requirements for the next one.

LuckyHM#3 June 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

OP – I dont think its safe to leave your child with this AP in a pool. She’s simply not a swimmer. A swimming AP is also very important to us as we live in a city where it feels like there’s a pool in every few houses. We dont have a pool and probably will never but when we moved here a couple of years ago, I was totally freaked out by how many pools were everywhere so my kids started more intensive swim lessons. They are still learning as they are definitely not water babies. Oldest ones are fair enough swimmer, my youngest is really taking his time. As a result, I match for driving as well as swimming abilities. Just last week, my 6 year old who can swim okay was in new community pool that she had never been with some of her friends on playdate. Deepest end probably 4.5 ft but it was her first time there.. AP was at the edge watching her (AP doesnt get in the pool during her period :-) ) and all of a sudden she figured out she was getting to the deeper end and started panicking and forgot all she learnt.. So AP dived in with all her clothes and got DD out. Yeah, we laughed at the story when AP and DD told it when they got home but imagine if AP couldnt swim!

Jennc June 27, 2016 at 7:51 pm

I have a Pool and it is a requirement my Aupair can swim and swim well because she is expected to keep my kids safe in my pool and if she goes to a club pool with the kids. Years back when interviewing I came across this situation , an Aupair telling me she could swim , just not great but that she was taking lessons to improve. I had a hard time pinpointing her ability , emailing, talking, asking direct questions but her answers were vague…. Like , yes I go to the beach and I go in the water I can swim. So I asked her in scenario ” right now my kid fell in the pool, the deep end , can you jump in and get her right now” her answer NO …. Never except a non swimmer or even someone learning to swim if u have a pool or have kids who must be supervised at a pool , children can drown in the presence of anyone even a lifeguard…. But your Aupair if she has pool responsibilities with kids is one more person to safeguard against that…. If I’m not home that is her job.,,. it’s just as important as driving to me.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 27, 2016 at 9:58 pm

BTDT – we have a small above-ground pool that’s 3 1/2 feet deep – Make-a-Wish installed it for The Camel who has several life-threatening medical conditions on top of being a functional infant/toddler as a teenager. The pool is not deep, but I feel that APs have to have basic water safety in the event of an emergency. The Camel floats happily in an inflatable swim ring (totally not kosher, I know, but she’s an older teenager and has never slipped through). She can float on her back for up to 45 minutes at a time in an indoor pool (and is figuring out how to get herself into that position). The sun is too bright (most of the time) in our backyard pool, hence the ring. All but one of my APs have been swimmers. One year we hosted a Chinese AP who told us she was learning to swim (truth was she “intended” to learn to swim). I know that no one learns to swim in 6 weeks, but this AP was convinced that she could become water safe. Instead, we paid for her to take a 14-week 1-credit class at the university to learn to swim. In the end, she could not dive into the pool – bottom line – The Camel went to extended day at her school during the summer, and the AP was not permitted to go into the pool alone unless another adult was in the pool (fortunately that summer a neighbor’s niece was caring for her children and came to use the pool every afternoon). [As an aside, we are currently hosting a Chinese foreign exchange student who does not know how to swim. While our AP is permitted to swim alone in our pool, we’ve told the student she may not swim unless either DH or I are in the pool.]

OP – it’s summer. Your AP, no matter how wonderful she is, cannot watch your child in the pool. Because she is a beginner swimmer, she is at greater risk for a water fatality than perhaps your preschooler “fish.” You didn’t know your backyard pool was deep. I think the right thing to do is to fence off the pool and make it off-limits to your AP and child when there is no one else around to supervise them. You get to decide if inability to swim outweighs all of your AP’s other assets. You get to decide if that it’s not worth going into rematch how to give your child summer fun.

One suggestion, however. If you don’t go into rematch, make it clear to your AP that under no circumstances will you extend if she hasn’t became a safe swimmer by month 8 in her year. Tell her it’s on her to figure out how she will achieve it. Our county pool will do a free swimming assessment and yours might as well (or for a small fee). Make a swimming assessment part of the extension benchmark. If she’s a wonderful AP give her a bye for one summer, but not two.

Mimi June 27, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Driving and swimming are singled out for specific skill levels for a reason because negligence with either can be fatal so both are very valid reasons to rematch, unless you are willing to change to accommodate an AP. For drivers who cannot be brought up to a specific skill level, you take the car away. If you can’t do that, you need to find another AP. Ditto for swimming.

I’m not clear if this pool is in your yard or nearby, but for this swimming situation, your child doesn’t go to the pool unless it’s with you. Preschoolers are even more dangerous around pools in my experience. Accidents happen, but preventable ones are the tragedies that haunt people. Rematch.

WarmStateMomma June 28, 2016 at 10:00 pm

We have trouble finding swimmers since we host from China. If a candidate says she can swim, that may well mean that she’s not afraid of being in calm, shallow water where she can stand up – if she is also wearing a life jacket. They may not mean to be dishonest – but being able to swim is less common there and they don’t really get what we’re asking. Many of them also avoid the sun and tampons, so finding someone willing to go in the water ever day is tricky and involves overly personal questions.

However, we have a pool and I wouldn’t consider someone who couldn’t swim. I wouldn’t let my kids ride in a car with no car seats because someone didn’t know how to use them….

HostMomOverandOver July 15, 2016 at 4:41 pm

I’m joining the conversation late…but have to add my 2 cents. Trust your gut. If you are more than a month or two into the match, you’re not seeing it shape into everything (or nearly) that you anticipated, and you predict that your AP will need a lot of backup for the things that are important to you, then consider rematch earlier than later.

I posted here some months ago about my AP who just couldn’t get it together – time management and staying organized eluded her for months, in spite of all our efforts: meeting nightly to go over the next day, giving everything in writing, rehashing what needed tightening up for the future. We even had to shore up her driving skills with lots of practice and professional lessons. I didn’t foresee any of it because I thought I had been thorough in my interview and in explaining our expectations, before and after matching.

At any rate, it got tedious and we/I ended up micromanaging everything. She resented it and so have I. On this board, I was advised to go into rematch – AP was late to work on several occasions, she’d forget important details of the day (like not feeding kids or late arrival for lessons), and my growing frustration with it all. I was resistant to going into transition, because we had a spate of them over the last 2 years.

In the end, I wish I had requested a rematch, because the behaviors have really been just a manifestation of a significant difference in personalities and perspectives. I have realized quite late that my AP would never “get it”; being on time (or even a little early!), staying organized, using foresight, and my idea of being “conscientious” do not resonate with her, therefore, cannot be priorities to her. She’s a lovely person who operates on a completely different wavelength than I.

Here’s the cliff notes: If the AP-HM relationship feels like a struggle, and it is taking a lot of effort for you to trust the AP to provide safe, responsible, loving care for your child, then rematch.

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