When you need some time alone … with your kids, without the Au Pair

by cv harquail on May 17, 2010

‘SotaGal commented last week about, sometimes, she just wants to be with her kids, alone.

“Mommy-a-mano”, no DH, no DP, no AP. Just Mom & the kids.

There is nothing wrong with that. We all want 1 on 1/2/3 time, time when we are the only adult in the room, the only adult in the universe, with our little babies all to ourselves.

This is normal, and natural, and common. So, why does it feel so hard to say?

201005171358.jpgOne reason is that, for the host parent, mentioning that we need time alone with the kids reminds us of how precious that time can be. Some of us only really get quiet time with one kid or another when they are sick, or when they have crawled into bed with us on a Sunday morning. We are glad to have help from our au pair, and to have our au pair as part of our lives, but we don’t want that all the time.

From another perspective, suggesting that you don’t want your au pair around right now is akin to saying, out loud, that having her/him around cramps your style. It may lead your au pair to think, just for a minute, that his or her presence is an obstruction, a cross that parents have to bear, even though we need the help.

The scary thing is, there is truth in both of those reasons.  Having another caregiver around *does* change the parent-child(ren) dynamic. This is true whether than other caregiver is a teacher, an au pair, or a grand parent.

How can we deal with this need, and create some space for our private time with our kids, without hurting our au pair’s feelings or triggering concerns?

Sota Gal asks:

I have a question for the au pairs here with my gray area… As a mom who works from home, helps DH run his business and divides time caring for our 3 kids how do I handle/say that I just need some time alone with “my” kids?

Our current AP seems to get very offended when I tell her she can be done early because I want to spend some quality time (alone) with my children.

Once I did ask her to turn on the oven so I could start dinner in a bit but other than that she was done and free for the rest of the day. When I started the conversation I said that I was done working for the day, I had had a long couple of days and missed spending time with the munchkins and I would love to play with them alone now. You can have the rest of the day off!

I really think I made it sure she knew that it was nothing she was doing, just that I wanted to do something fun with them (rather than dinner, sports, errands, getting ready for bed which I do every day). And because of my schedule and the fact that we have 3 year old twins and an 8 year old, she and I often do fun things together with the kids.

Is there something I could have done differently?

Image: Mom and Daughter from VancityAllie

{ 12 comments }

PA AP mom May 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

This is a tricky one for me. To me it feels almost like I’m asking the AP to be there when I need her and vanish when I don’t. That is absolutely NOT my intention, but I always wonder if that’s what she thought.

What I do now, is build in a few hours of “mommy time” for each of the boys during the week. Example: this Thursday night, oldest son and I are going to go shopping for a father’s day gift for hubby. Friday afternoon after school, youngest son and I are going shopping for a comforter for his room.

If both boys are going to be doing something with just me or with just me and hubby, I put it in the communication log. This lets the AP know in advance so it doesn’t seem like a reaction to something she did or didn’t do.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it has helped some in our house.

Should be working May 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Agreeing with PA AP mom; if the AP is sensitive about being asked to leave you alone with kids, it would easier to have the au pair take 1-2 kids (which for her must feel like a break, as it does for me) while you take the other kid/s for one-on-one/two time. This is actually one of my favorite things about having an AP. I don’t really NEED 45 hrs a week of childcare, but I use some of her hours to schedule one-on-one with each kid for me.

If I had twins and an older kid, this would be a must! Sounds like a dream, in fact. She takes the big ones, you take the little ones, or vice versa. Have her take ‘her’ kid/s out to a park while you stay home with the other/s.

Another option might be to ‘switch’, i.e. ask her to do some kid-related grocery shopping while you take kids. And be sure to mention that she should by some dessert that SHE likes.

Calif Mom May 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm

And it’s bonus “one on one” time for the other kid, too, who will get the au pair all to themselves while you have the other kid/s.

some Au Pair May 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Hmm, maybe that sound stupid, but what about special “au-pair + parents time”. The thing is, after a day with little kids its often a reliev to talk with a grown up.

Maybe the hostparents can organise a special “au-pair + parents” – movie night once a week where they also can talk about the stuff of the week, the kids, the schedule…

If the Au Pair knows there will be a time when she can communicate with the hostparents for sure and in peace, mabye that makes it much easier for her to step back during the rest of the week.

During these weekly “meetings” its also more relaxed and maybe easier to speak about things like your problem.

JJ host mom May 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm

To be blunt, there is no way that this would be possible for me. I don’t even get alone time with my husband once a week! And let’s not even talk about time I get alone, all by myself – the last time that happened was before my kids were born. It’s all I can do to arrange a few passing minutes a week to talk with my au pair alone, but most of the time, if my kids are awake, either I’m with them, or my au pair is with them. As a working mom, I just don’t have any time to “hang out”, with the au pair, or with anyone else.

some Au Pair May 17, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Hmm, yes I can understand that and I guess that 90% of the families have the same situation.
Americans really, really work A LOT. Everyday I am impressed how much my hostparents work (even in there freetime when the kids are asleep).

AnnaAuPair May 17, 2010 at 4:05 pm

This is a tricky one indeed – for both sides.
I always tried to give my hostparents the one-on-two time they needed. I’d stay for a bit and then leave or they would take the kids upstairs (where the parents room was and where I hardly ever went because it is THEIR space) and I’d stay downstairs.
They always asked me to come with them when they went out, but whenever I had the feeling that they needed some time alone (e.g. when we had spent the last two weekends together) I would thank them, but decline.

Although I know they need this time and I honor that, it felt strange when they just left without telling me where they went. It would have been a lot easier for me to not feel left out, had they just told me they wanted to go alone.
I think that most AuPairs understand it if you tell them why you don’t want them around for a while.
In addition, the AuPair can use that time to do stuff on her own – which is important for her too.

The easiest way I think is, to have a place in the house where AuPair normally doesn’t go (ok, that doesn’t work for all houses, I know) and just take the kids there.
And maybe make it clear from the beginning, that you need some time alone. Just so she can learn to read the signs so you don’t have to say anything anymore. =)

Taking a computer lunch May 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I call it giving the AP a bonus day off. It’s one thing to say, I want the kids now, skedaddle, and another to say in advance – I’d like to give you the afternoon off or I’d like to give you the day off. Most APs, especially those working 45 hour weeks will skedaddle when it’s put to them that way (and they are given enough advance notice to find a friend who is also free – or are studying for an exam). In fact, when our first AP was going to school full-time, I would just tell her I was giving her the day off to study for her tests, and would take the kids out of the house for most of the morning, so she would have a quiet place to study).

Now that my APs rarely work more than 25 hours most weeks, here is what I do: I schedule special parent time with my typically developing son, leaving the AP with The Camel. The Camel is a great human being with a wonderful sense of humor, but she cannot sit through a movie and is not physically capable of going on a hike. We make out our AP’s calendar about 10 days before the new month starts, and as long as our son doesn’t have a birthday party or other event to attend, he has us, undivided for the afternoon. (My favorite APs have asked to take him to the movies, ice skating, or some other activity, and then DH and I take The Camel.)

We would never dream of dis-inviting APs to a family activity. This is especially important for the first 4-8 weeks, when they are homesick, haven’t quite built up a body of friends, and haven’t really started studying. In the beginning, there’s a fine line between time-off and being shunned and not every AP can handle it. Once they get going, I have found that my APs have universally loved an extra day off. My current AP is aloof (my LCC’s word for her), which is the reason why we’re not extending. Believe me, if I were to come home unannounced and say, “I’ll take care of the kids,” she’d be gone in a NY minute.

However, I think it’s fair to say it in a nice way, “You’ve been doing such a great job of taking the kids, and I really appreciate it. I’d really like to have some personal time with them and I’m giving you …. (the rest of the day, the next two hours, etc.) off. Feel free to run any errands you might have.” Only the most obtuse AP a) won’t feel grateful and b) won’t skedaddle.

Au Pair in CO May 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I don’t really think there’s anything you could have done differently. Most of the au pairs I know (and by that I mean all of them) would love to get off a little earlier, and when you say it like that, there is no reason for the au pair to be offended or think she did anything wrong:)

'sota gal May 18, 2010 at 12:21 am

I’m starting to feel a bit better. We already do a lot of what has been suggested, in fact part of our decision to get an au pair was to have another member of the family to help us “divide and conquer” with the kids. Our oldest was raised as an only child until he was 4 when we decided that we could probably handle one more. Haha! We were blessed with twins which has really rocked his world. Even nearly four years later, I know that he still misses the attention he was used to, especially his time with me. Very rarely does any one adult care for all 3 kids at the same time.

We typically only schedule for 30-35 hours each week (35 hours is only when DH travels). I have just been concerned because in the past, I have been greeting with everything from fist pumps and woo-hoo’s to a mad dash out the door to get to the pool when being cut loose early for the day. Now I have to push her out the door. Unfortunately being self employed I can’t always schedule free my free time as I have to do that for all the various lessons/sports/errands/appointments. Business dictates my extra free time, and I must embrace it when it happens. I have talked to her about my concerns and we have talked about how it makes us both feel, so we’ll see how it goes.

And for the moms that can do something either HM/AP or parents/AP I would highly recommend it. We will often go out to lunch while the kids are in school, have our weekly meeting at Starbuck’s and go see chick flicks together. We are so excited to go see Sex and the City and are sad that the school year is coming to a close, putting a hold on our weekly lunches. It has done wonders for building our relationship with almost all of our AP’s.

Jeana May 18, 2010 at 6:34 am

When each of our aupairs first arrived, I tried to address this a little bit. I told them I would be inviting them to almost all family events, but there might be times that they just need some space from us, and that was just fine. As I would invite our aupairs to join us for trips to the library, arboretum, zoo, etc., I would add, “We’d love to have you join us, but if you need a little peace and quiet, or just want some time away from us, I totally understand.” By frequently inviting our aupairs to join us, but communicating that I know there will be some times that they just want some down time, away from us, I hope I was helping them to feel comfortable choosing either way. If it had been a challenging week, it was almost like a joke to both of us when I would say this. Our aupairs that were dreams come true for us, had a great balance of spending time with us, and also having some of their own time, too.

Former Aupair in the USA June 23, 2010 at 4:30 am

Where are you wonderful families that spend one on one time with your child/ren?
My first HPs gave me the weekends off but they were filled with childrens sport /activies or the children playing at home together while the house work was being done. and my 2nd HPs ALWAYS had another person there looking after the children 24/7 -if it wasnt me it was the other nanny.
I applaud you for making time during the week/end to spend special time with just one or two children just to create experiences that your children will cherish for the rest of their lives:)

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