When your Au Pair becomes more religious and observant

by cv harquail on June 25, 2010

Dear AuPairMom,

I’m writing on behalf of my friend, who is a nanny. I think that the situation she’s in might also be relevant to au pairs, and so I’d like to share it with you for consideration.

201006251939.jpgMy friend is an awesome nanny. She has worked for her non-religious family for the past 2 years. The children are older (10 and 12), so please keep this mind. When she started, she was a non-denominational Christian, and they knew/respected this. She keeps her religious views to herself, and it had never been a problem.

About 6 months ago, she began attending a very conservative church. I will refrain from naming the denomination, but basically the doctrines consist of women not wearing pants (so dresses and skirts only, etc), no drinking, dancing, etc. Of course the drinking, dancing, etc do not really relate to her job, but the change in clothing seems to be a bit of a problem.

My friend is still the same great nanny, and still keeps her religious beliefs to herself (meaning, she does not talk about them and she does not prostheletize).

But, it seems to be a problem for the family that she only wears skirts and dresses in public. Because of this restriction, she cannot go swimming in public. The children are excellent swimmers, and in previous summers my au pair never has gotten into the pool with them when she takes them to the local pool. They normally meet friends, and she monitors the activities from the sidelines, by sitting close to the pool. Of course she is and has always been ready to jump in if something happened. Nothing has changed in the way she does her job or relates to the children.

Another, more subtle concern is whether her host family feels that her new behaviors suggest that she thinks they aren’t good people. (She loves the family and respects them.) I notice that the Host Mom doesn’t really dress in a conservative, modest manner herself, and I wonder if this creates a problem.

In the end, the parents say she is no longer the nanny she was when they hired her, and are letting her go. She has accepted it, and found another family. It has been very sad all around.


Here is what I think the issue boils down to: In the event your AP changes religions, would you work with it? Or let her go?.

A change in religion or in level of religious observance might change her diet, appearance, etc. But if it does not effect her job performance, should it matter?

Anyways, I would love to hear all of your thoughts on this.

Images: Skirt, Socks, Shoes, Cement, and Poolside Glamor from Orin Zebest


2boys2girls June 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I have written about three responses and then deleted them all…
In all honesty I would not keep an AP/nanny who suddenly “stepped up” her religious practices (of any religion). This is not because of what would change in her (I am sure that a previously wonderful AP would retain her level of commitment, her love of the children etc.). I just know that this would create a change in ME. Both my husband and I had very intense, negative childhood experiences connected to “conservative” religious practices and I think it would be hard for me to not react (both consciously and unconsciously). While certainly these are issues that I could work on to resolve, I am not sure my interactions with my childcare provider is the right place to start this “therapy.”
My husband and I are very clear in matching that we have a completely non-practicing of any kind household. We did have an experience with a previous AP that understood this, said she did not attend any church/temple/mosque, and was comfortable living in a house where religion played zero role in the family life. This was not the case and she actively worked to “save” our children and created quite a bit of turmoil in our household.
So while intellectually I agree with you that your friend is the same loving wonderful nanny and it “shouldn’t matter”, and certainly believe that she could perform her job without bringing her religion into her workplace, sometimes these issues “matter” in ways that are deeply symbolic and emotionally complicated.

BLJ Host Mom June 26, 2010 at 2:04 am

2b2g – I’m glad you were able to bring yourself to posting this, after deleting twice. It is a perspective that is very interesting and one that will resonate with others. It isn’t something that I would have thought of, but you are very articulate in your answer, and I really respect your point of view here.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

First, I want to say that my moniker is completely true – I skipped lunch while writing to this blog and then had to rush and meet a researcher earlier (and had a blast of an afternoon before coming home to play in the pool with the Camel while my son obsessed with getting his fair share of Monkey Box (TV) time).

We’re a secular Jewish family (we belong to a humanistic congregation that doesn’t have a building) and while the Jewish culture is important to us, the trappings of religion (keeping Kosher and observing Shabbat), we choose to ignore. We have only booked an AP to work on Sunday once in 9 years (it was our wedding anniversary).

So far non of our Christian APs have been particularly observant. Two Brazilian APs were not Catholic but observed an Indian religion, and we gave them time off to observe their religion.

Our current AP has converted to Buddhism and spends her Sundays in her temple. As a result, she has become a vegan, a non-issue for me, since I’m a vegeterian who is allergic to beef products (including cheese, butter, whey, and lactose), so I cook vegan meals 3-4 times a week (also to accommodate my non-dairy eating son who also refuses to eat eggs. The AP has no problem cooking meat for my children and feeding cheese and eggs to The Camel who thinks cheese omelets were invented for her. This particular AP never breaks bread with us, unless she does the cooking. So we adjusted and so did she.

HD and I try to be open, but I must admit, in attempting to match for next year we communicated with a good Jewish candidate, but her insistance on keeping Shabbat would have put a severe crimp in our style (I work many Saturdays – often as a volunteer). That, and trying to maintain a kosher home for her, were too much for us.

We chose not to extend with our current AP, not because she is a vegan Buddhist, but because it seemed as though we had pushed her as far as she could go, and after 8 months she had not obtained a US driver’s license, was aloof, and we had to pry information out of her. (A Philippina friend recently told me it was culturally typical, but it turns out I eat passive people for lunch. So I added new questions to my interview to make sure I match with go-getters in the future.)

For me, if an AP told me that she would not swim, that would be a deal-breaker because The Camel does not swim independently and it is so hot that anyone who sat on the sidelines and watched her might give her short shrift. Water is extremely important to her, and we paid for our current AP to take a 1-credit college course to learn to swim (because we thought she would be more comfortable in the water after taking a 14-week course that met for 2 hours a week than a six-week course that met for 30 minutes a week).

Skirts wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if the AP was willing to get outdoors and run. But if she used her religious observance not to play soccer with my son, that would be a deal-breaker.

My bottom line – I’m sure all my APs have had opinions of us that we’re happy they’ve kept to themselves. I’m not worried about anything they don’t explicitly share out loud. However, we make it clear that The Camel’s above-ground pool is to be used, and that our son needs attention, too. To me, religion can be used as a tool to say “won’t,” and that’s not on, in my book. (So far no AP with whom we have matched has done that.)

Anna June 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Where, oh where did you find an observant Jewish candidate? Send her my way for next year!
I have only seen one Jewish candidate (not observant) through 4-5 matching rounds… and we are an observant Jewish family, she’d be a perfect fit.

NoVA Host Mom June 26, 2010 at 12:03 am

The thought that occurred to me was that while she may not think anything has changed in regards to her attitude towards her job or the family, it is entirely possible that the family has perceived a change. Where they might have expected the AP to join the kids in the pool when their friends were not around, this nanny may have now changed a previous agreement (even if it was just an unstated expectation, regardless of the children’s swimming ability) and said it won’t happen. And it is likely her behaviors have changed, no matter how subtlely, possibly making the family uncomfortable.

Frequently the person who has undergone the transformation of whatever kind is the last to notice the changes they are demonstrating. And as you are not present for all of her interactions, you are only able to attest to the ones you do see.

For our family, we have had a non-religious AP (the one we put into rematch in under 4 months) and a religious AP (the one we are now in our 2nd year with). While we knew the second one was church-going, not being familiar with her religion left us unaware just how often services or meeting were and unaware of particular things about her religion (like not celebrating or recognizing holidays we think of as common and expected). However, we happily work around these things as we genuinely like our AP as a person and think quite highly of her as our AP. Yes, DH and I are practicing in our faith, we do not expect nor do we require our AP to share our faith.

As far as one who suddenly experiences a conversion during her time with us? Well, that one would need to be on a case-by-case basis. It would depend on the change she goes through and how she presents herself to our family, the children and how the changes she undergoes impacts everything about having another person living in our house. After all, as an AP or live-in nanny, professional interactions (providing the level of child care we had hired her for) are only part of the equation. There is the social aspect of being part of a household as well.

NewAPMama June 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Well, seeing as how we require someone to attend church with us and its’ activities (yes, this is counted as “work hours”) as part of our family, having someone change religion in the middle of the year would not work, and I would ask for a rematch. Families choose an aupair based upon certain criteria. A large part of our criteria is religion.

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