When Your Au Pair Won’t Do More Than Mind Your Child: Child Care Chores

by cv harquail on January 12, 2013

How do you teach an au pair that ‘childcare’ includes more than just caring directly for your child/ren, in real time?

We all know that childcare means not only one-to-one interacting with the child and the child’s needs, but also doing child-related work ‘offline’.

But many au pairs (especially new ones) struggle with this, because their idea of child care is more literal. For these au pairs, childcare is more like babysitting or working at the church nursury, where caring for kid laundry, kid bedrooms, and kid playroom mess isn’t part of the job description.

Child Care Chores: Part of being an Au Pair

When I talk with au pairs and host parents about these tasks, I usually call them “Child Care Chores” since, at least to me, the term ‘chores’ refers to the work that you do to keep the household and family running.

These Child Care Chores *are* part of your au pair’s responsibilities.

The basic Child Care Chore tasks are usually outlined for the au pair in the materials that s/he gets at orientation from the Au Pair Agency.

Then, as we host parents are orienting our new au pairs to how things are done in our homes, we usually refer to these chores as part of our procedures, routines and guidelines in our au pair handbooks.

We’ve been careful to itemize these offline kid care activities in our au pair handbooks. (And we all have au pair handbooks, right?)

[If you have an au pair handbook, but it’s not being followed, check out this post: R.T.F.M. Making sure your Au Pair Reads the Family Manual .]

It should be pretty clear for an au pair that these chores are part of the job, and these chores should just get done.

Yet, sometimes, they don’t.

Teaching Your Au Pair to Do Child Care Chores 

 Host McMom wrote us asking for help with getting her Au Pair to take responsibility for Child Care Chores. Her au pair has plenty of on-duty time time to do these tasks.

HostMcMom has done all the right things. She has

    1. Provided the au pair with an explicit list of the chores for her children
    2. Taught the au pair how to do each of these chores
    3. Added these chores to the list of daily and weekly tasks on deck
    4. Discussed with her au pair that this work needs to be done, after the au pair has failed to get it done.
    5. Given  her au pair a few strategies for mingling interaction with the kids and working on these tasks.

After all this, her au pair still doesn’t seem to understand and execute on her responsibilities.

How can HostMcMom get her au pair to complete these less fun child care chores?

What to do?

I think our new (2 months here) au pair is wonderful with our children. They love her and she is fun and loving with them. The problem is, that’s about all she wants to do. She’ll work directly with the children, but never seems to do the other work involved.

We have had several sit down conversations about her to emphasize the need to do her other responsibilities, given her email and hard copy lists and reminders. She has always apologized and promised to do better. And she does, for a week or so and then she starts ‘slacking’ off again.

I get the feeling she really feels like she shouldn’t have to do so much ‘other work’ and doesn’t seem used to having to clean up after herself, never mind children. I realize that au pairs are only responsible for tasks related to the children and contributing to a reasonable amount of household tasks as any other adult in the family would.

[She itemizes the list, which will be posted  for another conversation.]

Our au pair has about 3-4 hours a day when the baby is sleeping and the older kids are at school and about 25-30 hours when she needs to care for and play with the children, take them to the park, library, play space, playdates, etc.

Also, I have encouraged her to spend some time helping the children do some tasks to teach them how and give them some responsibility. This has backfired however, when she uses that as an excuse: oh, I was going to have Susie help me, but I got busy with the baby or the baby needed xyz.. This of course, can and does happen, naturally. But I think it happens less than it says she does. Our baby is very easy and low maintenance.

Also, I have told her what tasks are “priority” i.e laundry, getting ready for activities, fixing formula, etc. vs ‘can wait till tomorrow when kids are sleeping’ or skipped that day if there are other pressing tasks to do (i.e skip making the beds so you can clean the carseat after baby’s diaper leaked, or vaccum car crumbs tomorrow if you cannot find the ballet shoes and tutu for the ballet recital tomorrow morning)

Frankly, the fact I needed to tell her how to prioritize in this way is bit concerning: it speaks to judgement and if the person caring for your child has judgement issues, well…it does make me wonder if she is caring for them as well I think she is, what she does when I’m not with her, how she would handle a crisis, etc.

Also, sometimes it seems like she just doesn’t pay attention: she leaves cabinet doors and drawers open, cereal boxes open (even if she puts them away!), leaves her personal papers and items lying on the kitchen table and counters (where they could and have get damaged or lost) so does that carry over to child care when I’m not around?

I am just generally questioning everything now, I guess.

Of course, taking good care of the kids is most important, but must it be ‘either/or”?    I feel like I have another child in the house…I sometimes have more work to do when I get home from workbecause she is here, rather than less. I don’t know what else to do. Advice?

Host McMom

See also:

Where to Begin: New Host Mom, New Au Pair
Is Your Host Family Handbook Too Long?
What exactly is a Host Family Handbook?


Image: Customizable Chore Magnets and Boards by MoreThanAMemoryAK available on Etsy


westcoastaupair January 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

i would tell her, that if she does not do her job, all of it, you will cut her money. I know you can’t do that, but, she will do her job if she wants the money. Otherwise rematch? au pairs are not here to make your life harder, they are here to make it easier.

cv harquail January 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I wouldn’t advise “docking” your au pair’s pay. It would violate your contract with the au pair and the agency, and your au pair might be smart enough to know that it was not legal.

More importantly, empty threats are bad news. They teach other people that you won’t follow through, which leads them to listen less and less to you.

MailysFormerFutureAP January 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I would suggest you something that you could do with children as well (although kinda sad to get there). Make lists where she needs to tick what she has done. Sit done with her and the counselor if needed. Or ask your counselor to give her a reminder that tasks must be all children related but that also means doing laundry, cleaning after them, etc.
If you find she still does not fit, maybe a rematch would be the solution, she could find a family who does not expect her to do chores and you’ll find an au pair who is willing to do them.

MidwestHostMom January 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm

At this point, I would suggest another sit-down discussion with her (perhaps include the LCC) and ask her if she understands that these chores are her responsibility. If she says she understands, then I would ask her what the appropriate consequences should be when these responsibilities are not being taken care of, as discussed and agreed upon. Perhaps that might change her awareness/understanding — or give you a good view into per perspective (i.e. that these aren’t her chores to do!)

Taking a Computer Lunch January 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I second the suggestion to contact your LCC. AP #8 said to me, “I didn’t come here to be a housemaid,” which shocked me. DH and I had a lot of pushback in our first few weeks with her, and so I invoked a call from my LCC, who told her that our tasks (30-35 hours of childcare per week, daily washing of kids’ breakfast dishes, one load of laundry a week, and light cleaning in children’s bedrooms and bathrooms once a week) was not out of line of what HF expected from APs. She also reminded said AP that the fact that we didn’t have a curfew and had a vehicle nearly dedicated to the AP was far more flexible than most HF offered (meaning she might not fare any better in rematch).

Why did we stick with her – it’s that tricky venn diagram of rematch candidates who have special needs experience and can drive – it’s often nil.

JJ Host Mom January 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I’ve had this issue with au pairs in the past. When we were both working, my husband and I were always really efficient about getting things done evenings and weekends, and couldn’t understand why the au pairs couldn’t get their stuff done when they were home so long during the day. However, currently I’m a SAHM while our house undergoes a remodel, and I’m finding that I’m having trouble. :-<

The thing is, I've found that when I'm home with kids constantly, I get involved in spending time with them. I've slowed down a lot, and I tend to favor playing a game with the kids over throwing in another load of laundry. So my whole day goes by and I haven't gotten anything done, really. It's interesting to me that now I'm having the same problem my au pairs have had!

That said, the chores need to get done, so I've been trying to figure out a system. I recently saw a suggestion for how to organize chores, and it's been working better for me. It breaks things up into daily morning chores, daily evening chores, different chores for each day, and once-a-month chores that are done on a designated swing day. I find it's easier to get small finite list of things done, vs. trying to tackle a giant list of never-ending chores. I end the day feeling like I've accomplished something, rather than feeling like I never get anything done.

Full disclosure – I'm still not able to do all of this (although in addition to taking care of the kids I'm also managing a household, and managing and doing parts of a major remodel, and in school, so maybe it's not a fair comparison.) Still, I will probably work a couple of hours into the au pair's schedule on the heaviest chore days, to make it easier.

Here's the schedule I'm using. I'm making three meals a day, but the meals indicated are what I'd expect an au pair to make… we share cooking in this house. In the past I've just said they can cook whatever but I'm finding that it's hard for au pairs to do meal planning, so I thought this time I would start by teaching them two simple meals – pizza and spaghetti, that they wouldn't have to think about.

Anyway here it is.


– If there is a full load of kids’ laundry, wash and dry it
– Unload dishwasher

– Help kids put away their toys
– Fold and put away kids’ laundry
– Wash kids’ lunch box and water bottle
– Pack kids’ lunch for next day and put in the fridge.
– Fill up kids’ water bottles for next day and put in the fridge.

– If the housekeeper & gardener are here this week, straighten up kids’ rooms in preparation for housekeeper and move toys off lawn in preparation for gardener
– If the housekeeper is not here this week:
– Catch up on laundry
– Sweep under the kitchen table and wipe under and around the kids’ booster seats.
– Wipe down the kids’ bathroom counter and run their cups and toothbrushes through the dishwasher
– Vacuum the kids’ bedrooms
– Make dinner – spaghetti with meat sauce

– Swing day – see list below. On first Tuesday of the month organize kids’ drawers, on second Tuesday clean out the car, etc.

– Wash kids’ sheets, towels, and pajamas and re-make the beds

– Plan activities and schedule for next week. Post schedule on refrigerator.
– Make a list of food items and art supplies we need from the store
– Make dinner – pizza

– Wash, fold and put away all remaining kids’ laundry
– Catch up on anything you didn’t have time to do the other days

1st Tuesday: Organize kids’ drawers and remove clothes that are too small.
2nd Tuesday: Clean out the car and take it to the carwash. Make sure the car and the car diaper bag are stocked according to the lists in the handbook.
3rd Tuesday: Re-organize toys and books, make sure everything is in the correct labeled box and put away in the right place
4th Tuesday: Straighten up the outside toys, cleaning any that need it (like the wading pool or water table, in the summer)

Alex January 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm

The thing is that OP feels like she has another child in the house instead of a pair of adult hands to help her out, and she’s been talking with the AP for two months now, how long does the AP need to do something that’s not only outlined in a family’s Handbook but to you by your local agency before getting on the plane (and let’s not forget about the training you get in NY when you first arrive to the States)
It’s pretty clear that “Taking care of the Kids” involves laundry, some cooking and tidying up. Having a baby can be very demanding, I had one while I also had a toddler and a 6 year old, but kids nap and what is she doing while kids are down? on her computer?

If after two months she can only improve for a week until you sit down with her to talk about the same things, maybe you should just talk with her one more time, give her a fair warning and if it doesn’t work out, rematch.

JJ Host Mom January 13, 2013 at 2:10 am

I hear you and agree that if it’s truly not working out she shouldn’t hesitate to rematch. This coming from someone who has rematched three times… believe me, I have no problem with it when merited. And it may well be in this case. But hear me out…

In management (and I’d argue with au pairs too) when someone isn’t doing their job, it’s easier to decide how to resolve it when you know why they’re not doing it. Maybe it’s because they’re unwilling, or maybe it’s because they’re unable. I used to always think that when my au pairs weren’t doing the child-related chores, it was because they didn’t want to. In all fairness, that may still have been the case. However, having been in their shoes now, I realize that at least part of it may have been that they were unable to do it, lacking some sort of system like I’ve outlined above.

Only this host mom can make the decision whether to keep trying on this relationship. If she does decide to keep trying, then maybe my advice is useful. Otherwise, yes, she should rematch. I’ve had au pairs that make my life difficult and it’s definitely not worth it to keep beating a dead horse.

Alex January 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Yes, you are right, only the HM can make the decision but I don’t see the point in keep trying (and trying) when she’s said they sat down and talked about it, the AP improves for about a week and then she starts lacking again. Even small things like “leaving cabinet doors and drawers open, cereal boxes open” can add up to a fed up parent. Some APs don’t feel like they should be doing anything else besides watching the kids, I’ve known some of these APs and even though some HFs didn’t mind because they had either a housekeeper or too many kids that they’d rather the AP to only focus on them leaving these chores for the HM, an AP ~should~ be able to put up with small chores . I know that taking care of kids is tiring, but why would you sign up for something you aren’t ready to accomplish? That’s what I don’t get.

I, personally, wouldn’t mind having to schedule my APs week at first, until she got comfortable with the daily rhythm, but if after a couple months she still needs this from me, I’d wonder if she’s actually capable to take care of my kids. Some parents don’t mind micromanaging, others need a hands on AP that can get things done without someone telling her when.

Posie January 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm

She sounds like a bit of a slob. I can say this as a bit of a slob myself. I’m not good at keeping up on daily tasks but generally keep a pretty tidy house because I force myself to clean and tidy a few times per week. Luckily both of our APs have been more tidy than us and with the exception of a handful of days where the kids were challenging, they left the house at least as tidy as we’d left it and did kids laundry.

I wonder if there’s a way to schedule her to do some tasks when she’s not also looking after kids. For example, if you have the available hours to have her start 15 minutes early, she can put in a load of laundry, get the diaper bag packed, plan for day, etc. then at end of day, 30 minutes to tidy up, wrap up any tidying that didn’t get done during the day. Sounds like there is also down time while kids are napping. We always tell our AP to take a little break first, just 15-30 minutes, then get started on folding laundry, etc. Ours have always been efficient and tidy about chores so end up with a longer break.

I think leopards don’t change their spots so she will likely never be super tidy or the kind of AP who anticipates your needs. She may improve but will always need prodding and coaching. Question for you is if that works for you and your family…

Julie January 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I’m a host mom & LCC. Here’s what I tell my au pairs and families. (Borrowed from many who have gone before me):

Keep in mind that au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week, 10 hours per day. If you would like your au pair to complete housekeeping duties, it must stay within the 45 hours per week. Each family is different, but here are some reasonable expectations:

What the State Department says: “While the primary responsibility of the au pair is to care for the children, au pairs can perform some household duties that are child related (meal preparation, light housekeeping, etc.)”

But what does that mean to you?

Au Pairs should expect to do any necessary cleaning associated with the children (assist children with cleaning these spaces, if age appropriate):
o Children’s Laundry
o Children’s Bathroom
o Children’s Bedrooms
o Children’s Toys/Belongings
o Preparation and Clean-up of Children’s Meals

Au Pairs should never do anything associated with the parents:
o Parent’s Laundry
o Parent’s Bathroom
o Parent’s Bedroom
o Parent’s Belongings

Au Pairs should clean up after themselves
o Au Pair’s Laundry
o Au Pair’s Bathroom
o Au Pair’s Bedroom
o Au Pair’s Belongings

Au Pairs should always leave a room as neat or neater than when you arrived
o If you sleep on it, make it up
o If you wear it, hang it up
o If you drop it, pick it up
o If you cook or eat from it, wash it up
o If you make a mess, clean it up
o If you open it, close it.
o If you borrow it, put it back

(And families, this is a great policy for us as well!)

Above all, don’t give the host family any reason to feel that having you in the house makes more work for them.

HRHM January 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

LOVE this! I think I will print it and put it on the cover of my next HFHM!

NNTexasHM February 20, 2013 at 5:08 am

Wow – this is a great list especially for someone like me who hates, hates, hates to micro manage. I will plan to include this in my host family manual for our new rematch Au Pair (who arrives Saturday) and each each of us initial each line that pertains to us. Thanks!

CA Host Mom January 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I think that the OP has done a really great job (as CV said) of trying everything, different ways, and being patient with her AP. I have been in this position with our AP#2 and it was really frustrating feeling like you inherited a teenage daughter (who is less mindful than your 3 year old) when you were planning on hiring an Au Pair who would help with your children. I felt like the APs parents shipped her off to the USA so that she would grow up on someone else’s watch …
Anyway, I really like what JJ Host Mom suggested above. Understanding why the AP isn’t doing these things that are asked of her might not only shed some light on issues with the AP, but perhaps she could learn a bit about her self (communication style, etc.) that might not be as effective as she had intended.
My feeling is that things probably won’t change enough to make it worth the OP’s time, money, effort … because like someone else said, tigers keep their stripes forever. But it would likely be a valuable exercise. And during that conversation I would set it up like, “We have asked you numerous times to do XYZ. You continually make excuses and do not complete XYZ. We would like to understand why. Please explain.” Depending on how that conversation goes, for me, it would end up being, “If you can not do XYZ during the day while children are napping, we aren’t a good match and we will have to initiate rematch and find a new Au Pair.”

Then follow through.

We are only on our 3rd Au Pair and I have only initiated one rematch, but I will never hesitate (after of course exhausting all other reasonable options) to do it again if we needed to. Sometimes you just don’t end up with a good match – no matter how well you tried to screen.

Also, when the AP is unhappy with their family, they are a lot less likely to care about making sure they meet expectations. Any chance that this AP is not happy with her family?

Taking a Computer Lunch January 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I’ll throw out a third reason – the AP is incredibly homesick. She arrived just before the holidays and feels incredibly dislocated. She may feel that she hates being an AP, hates her room, and just wants to go home. Has she connected with other APs? Sometimes asking your LCC to help her find other people from her country helps. Our LCC has extended her request to other clusters in our area, when there were no other APs in our cluster from her country.

You may ask your AP, “Do you feel homesick,” and she might reply “No,” but my guess your LCC (especially if she’s been in the position for a few years) is a good judge. Call or email your LCC, ask her to contact your AP because you have concerns that homesickness is getting in the way of her work performance, and ask her to check in. Ask her to come to a mediated meeting. Sometimes having a neutral third party with whom to talk, and a chance to talk openly with a HF, allows the AP to have the release she didn’t even know she needed.

At 8 weeks, you’ve already invested a lot of time into training this AP and it isn’t working. Your LCC can assess whether it’s homesickness that can be overcome, or just plain being in over her head and unwilling to try.

German Au-Pair January 14, 2013 at 1:18 am

How does homesickness relate to not doing your chores? I agree that when you are not feeling well you tend to be less concerned with other stuff. Not seeing things that can or should be done and all that.
But cleaning the car seat of the diper leaked and finding the stuff you need to get the kid to ballet is something you don’t need any ability of taking the initiative for…you just need to think logically.
I am kind of slobby myself so I do get it…I sometimes wait until Thursday to put away the kids’ laundry because I simply forget that it’s waiting in the laundry room (or I’ve gotten used to it being their and honestly overlook it…or tell myself “I’ll do that later” and then forget). I do have great understanding for issues like that.
BUT “getting the kids ready” or “peparing formula” are points were I wonder how you manage NOT to do them…nothing bad will happen if I postpone putting the laundry away, but what happens if you simply don’t get the kids ready or prepare baby’s food? How can homesickness be an excuse for that?

I’d agree with the writers who said that the host mum should tell the au pair, either she starts being actually helpful, or she’ll rematch.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 14, 2013 at 8:03 am

Depression can make it harder to do a lot of things. Experienced this with AP #8 who hadn’t really held a job prior to becoming our AP nor had she been given a lot of responsibility within her family’s household. She also had not done a lot of the routine household chores we expected her to accomplish (despite fair warning) and required a lot of job coaching. There were times she told DH and I that she didn’t do things for fear of failing. She also had time management issues. DH, when he saw her just sitting on the couch waiting for the next task with child #1, coached on her on all the possible tasks she could be doing while she waited. We definitely scurry around when it’s our turn, and while she might be present, I’m not sure she “sees” the activity.

HRHM January 14, 2013 at 10:09 am

BTDT, have the t-shirt. I think part of the key of figuring out why is to find out what your AP’s home life was like. (preferable in advance to matching!) Our AP2 was wonderful with the kids and described herself as a “big kid” which while it was great for the little ones, was a true red flag for any help for me. She was a complete slob, left coke cans and dishes everywhere, left the kids wash in the machine or balled up in a basket when she left for the weekend, spent nap times on the internet and basically made more work than she solved. I should have rematched but I really loved her despite this and I just couldn’t do it. I found out during our year together that her Mom, despite working full time, did everything for her and her 3 sisters. 20 years old and Mom was still making her bed! :0.
Fast forward to this year, AP is not perfect but I rarely have to ask her to do any of her listed tasks and she frequently does things that I haven’t asked her to. At home, her Mom is an OCD freak and makes her keep the house like a museum. So, as nuts as I am, I’m laid back compared to at home. I think I may screen for crazy-clean Moms in the future. LOL

Melissa January 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

I agree with what another poster had said about trying to find out why she is not getting things done. Not for the sake of trying to delve into her psyche or to coddle her by helping her work on personal skills. But to put the responsibility into her court to not only acknowledge that she needs to complete certain tasks, but to acknowledge to you that she hasn’t been doing this and why. I think you should pretty much just tell her what you said in your post here and then have a forthright conversation. Along the lines of, “We had several conversations about this. Help me understand why this is still not getting done?” And then ask her to come up with suggestions for correcting it. What you find out could be enlightening. Not that it is your job to fix it, but at least it will help you determine how to proceed.

We had this issue with one of our prior au pairs. It seemed due to a mix of laziness and poor judgment/initiative. Like you, in the beginning I worried about whether this also carried over to her judgment with the kids. As we got to know her, I concluded that she did have a good head on her shoulders when it came to safety, but just not so much in the day-to-day type stuff. Not my ideal, but I could live with it. However, I work mostly from home, so it was easy for me to see her interact with the kids. If you don’t have that opportunity, maybe you should try to work in a surprise visit or two during the day.

Your issue with her might very well be fixable. But if it is not (if you have a very direct conversation with her, and possibly LCC, and you don’t see marked improvement in two weeks), this is one of those things that will likely cause extreme frustration and resentment on your part as your year goes on and is not worth it.

Gianna January 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I really like JJ host mom’s approach because as a schoolteacher , I see many colleagues who are fabulous with kids but hate paperwork and often get into confrontational discussions with administrators about this. The bottom line is that the ” not so much fun ” stuff must be done because although some of it is really a waste of time, much of it is in everyone’s best interest ( i.e. health reports, attendance, etc ). That’s just life. Since this aupair is wonderful with the kids, my inclination would be to work with her. As a mother, I would hate coming home to a messy kitchen and toys all over the playroom so I understand that. I don’t have issues with writing out a daily schedule and prioritizing work chores. It might be worth the effort if you find that she is great with the kids

Fille Au Pair January 15, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Is very important to leave clear in the handbook that we need the assistance of the au pair to help in childcare chores as well, as this is part of her job is better to mention it in the handbook from the beginning

Seattle Mom January 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Hm it sounds like she might have ADD- leaves cereal boxes open, leaves her personal papers lying around? Has trouble prioritizing multiple tasks, wants to do a good job but gets easily overwhelmed? Yep, she may very well have attention deficit disorder. I think I have it too, but I’m undiagnosed. If that is her problem, then you may have to help her prioritize (give her jobs in smaller, more manageable chunks, in addition to all the reminders and lists). Or it might just be a bad fit, and it may never improve enough to your liking.

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