Even when we host parents follow all the rules about scheduling, we can still run into trouble when au pairs begin to resent that their on-duty schedule cuts into their off-duty social time.
Whether it’s a Saturday night that you need her to work, a school holiday he too thinks he should have ‘off’, or a sudden ‘need’ to take a class on the very weeknights you need your au pair to be caring for your kids, these sorts of conflicts can be frustrating.
We Tell Au Pairs What Schedule To Expect
Most of us do our best to head these concerns off at the pass.
We inform prospective au pairs what they can expect in terms of the regular weekly schedule. We tell au pairs up front that they can expect to be on duty one Saturday night a month, or always on weekdays between the hours of 2 pm and 7 pm, or in some cases at early times in the morning (e.g., 5:30 or 6:00 when host parents must leave early for work). Or, we tell them that we work shifts and can only schedule them two weeks in advance.
We clearly communicate our scheduling needs, and match only with au pairs who agree that these schedules are okay with them.
We Follow the Rules About Scheduling
Once we’ve communicated our needs and expectations, we scrupulously follow the rules. We work hard to make sure we are fair and that our au pairs have no reason to complain.
And yet, they do complain. And they ask us to change their schedules.
When we try to be accommodating and move the schedule around, we can run into trouble. Once we’ve cancelled our Saturday Night ‘Date Night” so that the au pair can go to a party, some au pairs can take advantage of that and assume that our plans for ourselves don’t really matter. Flexibility is seen as a sign that everything is negotiable.
We can find ourselves accommodating so much that at some point we sit up and ask “who’s working for whom?”
And so, this host mom below finds herself in a quandry:
We are a 1st time host family and have an au pair from the EU. I work full time in a demanding job. My husband is a consultant who works out of town, he is often gone all week long.
I was becoming overwhelmed with daycare dropoff/pickup, cooking dinner, laundry etc, because I was often on my own. The few nights out I had to myself were pretty limited, and required a babysitter. We decided to get an au pair to help my life be a little more manageable, and to allow our daughter more time at home. We thought getting an au pair would alleviate some of the work-day stress on me, provide some opportunities for date nights with my husband and/or friends, and have more quality time with our daughter.
I feel like our Au pair has a pretty cushy gig. She watches 1 child (7 yrs old) who is a little high energy but fairly well behaved and is super sweet. She goes to school, so we only schedule our au pair to work ~33 hours during the week.
She often takes her to activities, and we will pay so they can go to the zoo, etc. She gets to use the car whenever she wants. We pay for whatever she wants for groceries, allow her to have friends spend the night, include her in everything we do (travel, dinners out, etc). For her part, she is good with our daughter and often will do extra work like doing our laundry or cooking dinner. She is in general a responsible, hard worker.
Where we are running into trouble may come from misaligned expectations.
We have a constant source of struggle and tension around the schedule. When we were interviewing, we made it very clear that the schedule would not be the same every week, and that the reason we were getting an au pair was because we needed some help and flexibility.
I showed a sample schedule that had her working on a weeknight one night and working a Saturday night.
After about 3 months, when she had more friends and was making more plans, she began complaining a lot about the schedule. I have heard over and over that her friends only have to work M-F, and always have the evenings and weekends off. I recognize it is frustrating to have a fluid schedule, but I have never asked her to cancel plans and have made huge efforts to finalize her schedule one week in advance.
However, she is still complaining. A perfect example… I do my best to give her a schedule in advance, so that she can plan ahead. I set her schedule last Sunday for the following week, which included watching our daughter Saturday night (at then end of the same week). I have not asked her to work on the weekend for over a month now.
She is upset because there were some parties going on that Saturday. I pointed out to her that if it wasn’t this party, it would be something else. Essentially, she is unhappy anytime I schedule anything on a weekend.
I would like to know from other host families if we are being unreasonable. Is it unfair for us to expect that she work 2 weekends per month, give that she only works 33 hours during the week?
I am getting tired of the constant attitude I get about the schedule, and this has morphed into attitude overall.
I would like to remedy this situation, but at this point I don’t know if it can be saved. I am hoping there will be some great tips, and also would love to hear from folks who have travelling spouses, as this adds some unique scheduling challenges.
See these post for more wisdom:
The Saturday Night Situation: When your Au Pair doesn’t think it’s fair that s/he’s on duty
Classic Case: Your childcare needs are not your Au Pair’s priority
Scheduling Your Au Pair: The Half Day
Au Pair Asks: How can I get my Host Mom to give me a schedule?
Almost-done Au Pair Refuses to Work Weekends!
When your Au Pair complains about working too many hours, but still less than 45… what can you do?