A Host mom/reader, Acicala, wrote in a comment/question last week that hit me right in the pit of my stomach, because this particular problem has been the source of nearly all the “APA” (AuPairAnxiety) that I have experienced as a host mom. The problem, in a nutshell, is when your Au Pair begins to complain about her hours. Here’s how Acicala describes the problem:
Our au pair has a friend who works nowhere near the 45 hours – at most 25 hour per week. Our au pair works on average about 40 hours per week with no weekend hours required. She is making her “relative deprivation” known. We cannot work less and were very clear during the matching process regarding the schedule. We also have spent over a $1000 on camps to lighten her load for the past two weeks. She plays well with our children and we all like her, but there is nothing more we can do to change the hours short of hiring someone else which doesn’t seem reasonable given that 40 hours. Any suggestions on how to make her feel better about the situation?
I have experienced this situation in one form or another in over half our au pair relationships. Either it’s been a concern about the overall number of hours, or about the number of Saturday / Friday nights our AP has had to work, or about whether or not she could have a regularly scheduled off duty time during the hours when I really needed her to work (like, when my husband and I were at work!). Our one and only ‘flameout’ Au Pair got pissy and quit because she thought that it was too much to ask her to work on a Saturday night– And she did this after we had sent her copies of actual schedules and explicit explanations that 2 Sat. nights a month would be expected of her!
Acicala did all the right things up front —
— She made it clear what average amount of hours would be expected of her au pair, and when the Au Pair could expect to work these hours.
— She kept these hours and their scheduling within the legal limits ( e.g., no more than 45 hours, no more than six days a week, no more than 10 hours per day, one day with no more than five hours).
— She gave some thought to how she might reasonably ease the au pair’s load.
These efforts address only part of the problem.
Alas, doing all these sensible, rational things, should have eliminated the problem before it began, but it hasn’t quite worked out. That’s because there are several pieces of the problem that a rational approach can’t completely handle. These pieces of the problem include:
— An AP can work ‘up to’ 45 hours a week. But, some families need (and ask for) less on-duty time each week.
— Some au pairs will complete all their on-duty hours Monday through Friday. Other au pairs will be needed on weekend days or weekend evenings. So, even between au pairs working the same number of hours, one Au Pair can have a schedule more favorable than another Au Pair .
— Au pairs often make friends with (and want to schedule their social activities with) other au pairs with different schedules. So, they become aware of all the times that they are working when their friends are not, regardless of whether their onduty schedule is legitimate and fair.
Of course, when they get here in reality sets in, and especially when they start to compare themselves to other Au Pairs, they’ll only really notice the Au Pairs who have schedules that are somehow lighter or “better” than the one that you have provided for them.
What can you do? Try one or more of these suggestions…
I’m not sure when it’s all said and done what really works best, but here are the ideas that I’ve come up with… Please, add your own suggestions to these — maybe together we can help figure it out!
1. Give “just the facts, ma’am”. Take a totally rational, completely objective approach.
— Remind your Au Pair that she signed up for a 40 to 45 hour week job.
— Show her that her overall compensation only makes sense for your family if she is employed full time. One way to emphasize that it’s a 40 to 45 hour week job is to show her that her pocket money and other non-cash compensation are based on a 45 hour a week schedule. (I’ve done this, and I’ll eventually explain how I did it, but it’s too long to post here.) Basically, you total up all that you’re giving her, divided by the number of hours she works, and compare that to the minimum wage and/or the hourly babysitting rate in your area.
Remember — don’t compare it to the salary of a professional nanny! If she works less than 45 hours, she would be earning a much higher hourly wage, and you could argue that at that point you would simply hire someone who would live out and who would be simpler to manage. (You might have to pretend this, but you can at least say that this was the alternative you considered).
— Keep an accurate and cumulative count of her work/off work schedule, so that she is aware of how much she’s been on duty, how much she’s been off-duty, how many Saturday nights she’s been on or off duty, how many vacation days, and so forth. It can be easy for Au Pairs to think in terms of week to week (e.g., Damn, I’m working Saturday night again!) and simultaneously to forget that they had two full weeks off while your kids were at Camp, and they still got paid. I know of host moms who have kept a running tally of hours actually worked versus hours that could have been worked, to show Au Pairs that when it’s all said and done, the Au Pair is still working less than she might actually have been asked to.
I recognize that these are “rational” argument, and these won’t address the emotional parts of the problem, so also consider….
2. Ask for some support from your community counselor.
The community counselor is there to enforce the procedures and rules, most often for the protection of the Au Pairs but also for the protection of the host family.
— Ask your community counselor to discuss this issue directly with your Au Pair, and/or to discuss it at cluster meeting, or in an e-mail. She should remind the au pairs that they have been hired for a 45 hour work week, and that this is the norm. She should remind them that they should feel lucky if they work less than a 45 hour week schedule, and that it is unreasonable to expect to work less or to be irked if you work a full week.
[(Keep in mind, though, that some Au Pair Agencies paint a pretty and unrealistic picture of what being an Au Pair is like… they de-emphasize the work and highlight the sight-seeing, setting every au pair and many families up for disappointment. Shame on them.)]
There was a time when I went to my local community counselor for help with this issue, and it didn’t help. The counselor responded that I needed to ‘realize’ that other host families asked for fewer hours and that other host families didn’t use Saturday nights, and that perhaps I should adjust my expectations accordingly. (Hello? If I wanted a part time childcare person, that’s what I’d have hired. !! ) Maybe you’ll get a better response. What I took from her advice was that I started to emphasize how the Au Pair had 2 Sat nights a month off, rather than 2 on.
3. Ask for support from other Host Moms
— Talk to other host moms about their schedules, and determine whether or not your Au Pair’s schedule is out of the norm.
You might find that other host moms are intentionally or unintentionally hiding from their Au Pairs the actual number of hours that they work. (I had the situation with a friend, who told me that she thought her au pair only worked 30 to 35 hours a week. Because she didn’t write it down explicitly on a calendar or schedule, she never kept track of the exact hours. However, when we together went over her Au Pair’s hours and counted up the total — it turned out that her Au Pair was regularly working over 40 hours a week! But, because the host mom and the Au Pair never saw this number in writing, they both assumed the number was less!)
– Talk to other host moms about their schedules, and talk with them about considering whether they should have their Au Pair’s on-duty for additional hours.
Sometimes, host moms think they’re doing themselves and their Au Pair a favor only counting as on-duty time hours worked directly with the children. However, some Au Pairs are on-duty for uncounted hours/unrecognized hours, when they’re doing laundry, watching TV while the children sleep, or eating dinner. Or, maybe the host mom could add a new job or two (grocery shopping? Washing off the high chair? to use up some time in a legitimate way.
— If there is a specific post mom/Au Pair that your Au Pair is comparing herself to, consider talking to that particular host mom about having her au pair be on-duty for more hours, even if she has to make some work up or force herself to take some time for herself.
4. Change the framing from ‘how bad she has it’ to ‘how good she has it”.
— Find a worse case situation, and offer that to your Au Pair as a comparison. One way to help your Au Pair feel better is to show her a another situation where an Au Pair is being taken advantage of. Look around your cluster– it would surprise me if there wasn’t an Au Pair who had a bad deal and/or whose host family was breaking the rules. Not to revel in her misfortune, but her situation could show your Au Pair that ‘it could be worse’.
— Talk about how many days/night she has off duty, how many evenings she has free to plan social events, etc. In Acicala’s case, she could emphasize that her Au Pair has two days a week free, nearly every week!
– Tell your Au Pair that this is a job, she signed up for it knowing the schedule, and she should just deal with it. This is usually my husband’s line of reasoning. Maybe you and your partner could play good cop/bad cop on this one.
— Get this fridge magnet:
6. Be Clear.
— Be clear that this is what you need, this is the job, and stop at that.
— Be clear with your Au Pair when you are being flexible, making a concession, or giving her something extra. Sometimes I think that Au Pairs keep a running tally in their minds of when they give in for something you need/want versus when you give in for something they need/want, and I often find that there is a loser. (I think this is generally human nature regardless of why or what we are tallying up.)
7. Whether this is your problem or not, consider how you can help other host moms who have this problem. For example, here’s how every host mom can help with this problem:
Every host family who has the hours available could schedule their Au Pair to work one Saturday night a month — even if they don’t “need” childcare for a specific event.
I know this seems ridiculous, but if there is anything I could ask host moms around the USA to do, it would be to schedule their Au Pair for at least one Saturday night at month it they have the hours available. Who among us host moms doesn’t need a Saturday night out every once in awhile? And, if you are one of the lucky host families that doesn’t need to use all 45 hours a week to cover when you and/or your partner are working, you should definitely take some of this time to have a night out, even if it just means going shopping for yourself Target.
8. Finally, Be confident.
— You are being reasonable. You are holding up your end of the contract. You are being fair. You are being kind. Your kids aren’t devils. Being an Au Pair can be a tough job, but at your house it’s a fair job and there’s time for fun too. You are a caring parent and Host Mom, and you deserve an Au Pair that does a good job without complaining about the basics.
— If you need someone to remind you of this, email me.
What else can Acicala do? What have you tried? What do you recommend! Tell all……