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

by cv harquail on April 16, 2009

Caveat: This is NOT a post about (1) when you work at home and your au pair is on duty, [post for another day] or (2) when you are absolutely off duty and she is on duty…[post from earlier today]. This one is about:

When you both are at home and available to the kids— how do you manage who does what?

Here are the two general situations:

1. Times when it actually takes two adults to manage what has to get done.
2. Times when you are around and technically available… you could participate or you could not.

Anything She Can Do, I Can Do Better.... on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1231092697748.jpeg As Maya explains:

It is those times when I am sort of available, but AP is still working, that cause me the most trouble.
With my previous AP, who more of a take charge personality, it wasn’t so much of an issue, because she would still deal with kids and be in ‘working mode’. But, with my current AP, who even when all by herself barely manages the ‘managing the children’, when I am at home, completely withdraws from her duties. Unless, I keep telling her things she needs to be doing (i.e., please help child1 put toothpaste on the toothbrush, please unload the dishwasher, kids are hungry – give them dinner, etc), she would just sit there, or just stand in the middle of the kitchen (seriously!) and not do anything.

Unfortunately, I have that situation a few times a week, when I get home around 6pm, but have to leave again around 7:30pm to get my husband from the train station; the AP is on duty till 8pm almost daily because of this. That 1.5 hours that I am home and AP is ‘working’ are a daily struggle for me, as I am sure they are for her too.

Just as an example, yesterday, I cam home at 4pm because I needed to take my kids somewhere by 5pm. My plan was to have some time to change and clean up after work and leave the house by 4:30 with kids and AP. I asked AP to give them snacks around 3:30 pm and start kids getting into their uniforms around 4pm so that they are ready. When I got home at 4:10pm, both kids were on the couch watching TV, *starting* their snacks, and the younger child was in PJ (from the morning) and has never brushed her teeth or hair that day. Forget about my changing and cleaning up. We barely made it out of the house by 4:50pm, all the while I was dealing with kids and AP was standing by the kitchen counter watching us. OK, so this last paragraph is more of a rant that probably belongs to a different topic.

Cynthia chimes in :

… It does make it difficult if I am in the general area and expecting her to work because I either want to jump in or she will jump in and someones toes get stepped on. I find just by telling her how long I expect her to be working and giving a brief explanation seems to work for us. As a teenager I used to babysit for a woman and she’d be home the entire time, I felt really uncomfortable and felt like I was being scrutinized – I had nothing to hide and was in no way waiting to do something wrong, so I sympathize with the au pairs comment about when the parents are home. I think just saying to the au pair – if you just want to sit watching tv with your honey – “we expect you to work until 2pm today – we’d like to spend some time together catching up” is reasonable and I think is courteous to the au pair as well. I do agree that they are paid to work but I know even at my own job, I tend to like an explanation for what I have to do ….

It makes me very uncomfortable (when she just stands there in the kitchen) , because she looks uncomfortable and I can feel that she is uncomfortable, and I don’t know how to make her more comfortable, and unless I tell her to do something she just stands there, and I feel like a slave driver telling her things to do because she knows she has to do them and doesn’t – just stands there, and …well, it’s like a never ending cycle of thoughts in my brain.

Does anyone have any suggestions (other than trying to find a more ‘take charge’ AP for next year)?

[Be sure to check out an earlier post: How to get your AU Pair to be (more of) a self-starter. ]


Jillian April 17, 2009 at 3:24 am

It sounds to me like your AP isn’t really doing her job. If you’ve asked for things to be accomplished by a given time and they aren’t (and there haven’t been any extenuating circumstances that prevented her from completing the tasks) I don’t see a reasonable explanation other than she just didn’t do it. When you got home and found that the kids hadn’t snacked or gotten changed, the AP really should have snapped into action given that you also needed to change and be out the door in 30 minutes. I would suggest sitting down and having a conversation about why she hasn’t been as productive as you would like, ask if she needs additional support or information and what you can do to enable her. Does she seem unhappy? Maybe she doesn’t enjoy the job, perhaps you should talk with your LLC?

Maya April 17, 2009 at 8:28 am

Jilian, unfortunately it is not that easy. I am dealing with a faily imature individual. You can see the highlights of our strugle here http://aupairmom.com/can-this-relationship-be-savedau-pair-has-tantrums-when-given-feedback-then-doesnt-change-the-behavior/2009/03/24/celia%20harquail/

I am not sure how to make this a link. May be CV can fix it.

As far as does she seem unhappy, I am not sure. She like my kids. She seems fine when she has a good day. But, she is not a “take charge”, “make a decision kind of person”. If my 4 year old tells her that she is on vacation and wants to be in pajama all day, that’s what it is. Yes, I could’ve asked her to help me in that half hour, but to be honest, there were two thigs that prevented me from doing it. One – I was trying to avoid another hysterical outburst from AP, and two – I ended up punishing my little one for making a mess in the bathroom, throwing food in the bathroom garbage can, and then lying about and getting the older kid in trouble for it. In the end, I found out from AP that 4-year-old threw food out in the bathroom garbage during breakfast b/c did not want to eat it.

AP never said a word about to the kid or to me while I was dealing with kids trying to find out the truth of who through it out (they were blaming each other). Until I actually asked AP, she did not say a word. Forget about the possibility that she could’ve said something to the kid when it actually happenedd. In reality, my AP is lucky, I did not start yelling at her for her lack of initiative, decision making, and child minding.

Maya April 17, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Jilian, I wish I had an answer to this. Sometimes I just feel lucky when I don’t come home to the house that is not completely turned upside down, the kitchen – a disaster zone, and the laundry, clean, sitting in the dryer overnight.

TMK April 21, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I really feel for you. It cannot be pleasant to carry that feeling with you every day. I wonder if there are unexamined questions that you may need to explore. I wonder what is keeping you from ending her program early. Do you have fears about ending it early? I’m not sure if you are the mom who is moving but a new untrained au pair with a great attitude will be a greater help in a move than this one with a bad attitude and no way for you to train or teach her. In fact she will make the moving process ten times worse and more difficult.
An au pair in our cluster closely matched the discription you have provided of your au pair and after 9 months with no change and everyone walking on eggshells the host family ended her program early. Don’t know if it’s technically a rematch, but they started interviewing again and scheduled the new au pair to arrive at the beginning of the 11th month of the old au pairs year and had her released early. Honestly your au pair can’t be enjoying her year any more than you are. Stress like that is hard to hide and I would not be surprised if maybe she isn’t wishing the year was over as well. It might be the best for both of you in the long run to just end it.
Hang in there, it is good you are continuing to process this, but remember to think about your ultimate goal, which is someone who HELPS you, not hinders you. You simply cannot change someone who does not want to change.

Maya April 22, 2009 at 1:07 am

Hi TMK, thank you for your response. No, it is not me who is moving. However, I agree with everything you said.

My current situaiton is really bad and will probably get worse in the very near future. I have hopes that with the next few decision I need to make, we will have a turn around (not with the current AP).

I will post updates once I know which way is up.

Calif Mom April 22, 2009 at 1:12 am

I was just wondering how you are doing, Maya! You are in my thoughts. Just pull the plug, sweetie! you’ll feel much better when you get that mishegoss out of your house!!

Maya April 22, 2009 at 1:54 am

Calif Mom, we are very close to just that, pulling the plug, but the logistics need to be worked out first. I just hope that I will extend the situation long enough to suit me and will not end up without any AP for the in-between time.

Calif Mom April 22, 2009 at 2:49 am

We were in such a situation once; my hub and I both took time off from work, brought out Grandpa for a few days (that’s desperate!). Do whatever it takes. You really will feel relief once she is gone, and then you can think better. I wish I could loan you ours! Our two faves have been rematch girls…

Dawn April 22, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Maya, I’m emailing you. My (amazing, wonderful) AP knows another lovely AP who is going into rematch… (but crud, I can’t remember what agency you are with!)

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