Which Au Pair Rules Feel Flexible?

by cv harquail on February 4, 2015

This is a companion post to “Which Host Family Rules Feel Flexible to Au Pairs?”

Au Pair Program Rules are Great.

breaking au pair rulesOne of the strongest elements of the US Au Pair Program is the framework created by the State Department rules.  

These clear and specific boundaries around work hours and work responsibilities help US Host Parents and Au Pairs avoid lots of the problems that we see in au pair relationships across Europe, NZ and Australia.

So why would I even launch a post about breaking rules then?  An au pair inquired, and her email made me curious to see. Which rules do we feel more okay to break?  

Note: I am not suggesting that people break the rules. I am a BIG fan of rules and following the rules.

We simply want to know which rules feel somewhat more flexible than others and which ones are sacrosanct. Also, in none of these situations are we suggesting that the rules be broken without compensating the au pair and without his or her explicit permission.

DearAuPairMom-–  We know that they are rules within the au pair program, but of those rules, which get actually broken ?

In my case, I work very often 10 hours if kids are not in school, and it extends to 11 or 12 hours on a regular basis. Once we even went to 15 hours in a row.

I also offered my host parents to go for overnights, which they have done once. We have an agreement on how I get paid if I work over the limited hours.

I also go to the dry cleaner, do the parents’ laundry, do lot of the grocery shopping, kids related shopping, random errands (get a new key done…), I pick up, drop off and pay the housekeeper, take care of the dog (veterinary hospital, walks, baths…) .

These all are fine to me— I don’t feel taken advantage of, and they are similarly flexible with my own requests. But I’d love to know how other families feel. ~HappilyFlexibleAP

More than 10 hours/day

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Doing non-kid house cleaning

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Doing Host Parent laundry

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Walking the dog/ pet care

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Overnight and Day OnDuty, without a break

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Family grocery shopping (not just kids food)

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Working for other families

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Image via James Yeo on Flickr


NoVA Twin Mom February 4, 2015 at 10:34 am

From the list above –

My family does not see the “working 10 hours a day” rule as flexible. First, we have noticed in years past that after a certain point au pairs seem to “turn off.” They just don’t pay attention to what’s going on as well as they did at the beginning of their shift, and we’re not willing to have them be the “adult in charge” at that point. To avoid this, we don’t schedule them to work longer than 10 hours. But second, we realize that “stuff” happens. That no matter how scrupulously we work to schedule our au pair to only work 10 hours, there will come a day when everything falls apart. She’ll end up working more than 10 hours. And we feel that this circumstance will be better received/tolerated if it hasn’t happened regularly in the time leading up to it.

Doing non-kid house cleaning – our kids are preschoolers. There aren’t many parts of the house that would be considered non-kid cleaning. She doesn’t clean the master bedroom/bath, obviously, and we don’t ask her to vacuum the living room, but she’s been known to vacuum a few other locations when she has the vacuum out for her own room. At our house we ask that our au pair clean her own room, clean up after herself in the bathroom, and clean up messes she and the kids make during the day. She does her own laundry and has been known to throw some kid laundry in with hers if it’s in the laundry room and she needs to fill a load. We’re really going to miss our current au pair when she leaves because we’re spoiled at the moment. But overall, since our au pairs obviously have the “run of the house,” other than cleaning the master bedroom and bath and doing my laundry, scrubbing floors (because that’s just unpleasant and so we do that), and that I’d rather they concentrate on my kids than cleaning so I don’t assign much cleaning, I do see “upkeep of the house as a whole” as something that au pairs *could* do, just not necessarily for us. Loading, unloading, and running the dishwasher even if that plate is technically mine? Absolutely within reason, because chances are tomorrow I’ll do the same for one of “hers”. Getting an extra key made for the front door or a car she often drives? Also reasonable because it will ultimately benefit her to have a spare. Getting the car she drives inspected? Also reasonable, and as we’ve explained to one or two au pairs, the garage has been known to change a burned out light bulb for free for an au pair, but not for my husband or me.

Host parent laundry? No way. I don’t want anyone else doing my laundry. It even feels weird when she does her own laundry and finds ours still in the dryer and folds it for us (again, we’re REALLY going to miss our current au pair!) In that situation, putting the clothes in a laundry basket and leaving them on top of the dryer so she can use it would be OK though – and would remind me to be more aware of emptying the dryer.

Walking the dog/pet care – we have a cat. House rules say that she doesn’t have to feed the cat – but the cat knows she CAN and once she’s seen that an adult is awake she’ll yowl until someone feeds her. So if she wants to make the cat be quiet, she certainly may feed the cat. Just let others know that you did because the cat will continue to look all pathetic and hungry in hopes of getting extra food. And she’s already somewhat overweight, so we don’t want to feed her a meal twice.

Overnight and on duty without a break – Not in our family. See comment above about having preschoolers and au pairs “turning off”. If my husband and I both will be away overnight, my parents come and take the night shift. They love having an excuse to visit, and the au pairs have invariably loved my parents.

Family grocery shopping (not just kids food) – We don’t have our au pair do this, but I see it as fine if you have the hours. They will be eating much of the food that they’re purchasing, right? :)

Working for other families – No. For our family, no.

Basically, I see the rules as there for a reason, but also, when push comes to shove and rematch is on the table (and of six au pairs, we’ve sent two into rematch) I don’t want to give her any “ammunition” that I don’t have to. Plus, our LCC knows us and knows we feel this way, so if a future au pair were to complain we weren’t following the rules, she would know that the story probably has more to it than the au pair is relating. I like to keep that “status” with our LCC because I think it makes us more credible when we DO have a complaint.

hOstCDmom February 4, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Not a SD rule, rather an agency specific rule, namely the 1.5 CONSECUTIVE DAYS rule seems like one that could be flexible, to mutual AP and HP benefit. i.e. an AP who works a Sat night, but gets off early on Friday to do something fun. Maybe that doesn’t technically work with the 1.5 consecutive days rule (but the AP still has 1.5 days off, e.g. all day Saturday until 6.pm, then on duty until 11pm, then off from 11pm Sat night until Monday AM), but it actually enables the AP to do what s/he wants, and the HP to go out on a Sat night. This one seems like it could be flexible without taking advantage or being unfair, especially if all the State Dept rules were being strictly followed.

Old China Hand February 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm

+1 our agency makes the 1.5 consecutive days sound like a state department rule, but it isn’t! It’s the only rule I really consider breaking.

I am very strict with following the rules because we have global entry and immigration violations will get that taken away. I like it too much to risk. Also because we host APs from China and they don’t understand rule of law so well in general. It’s part of teaching about honesty, in my opinion.

That being said, I did flex around some time for our last AP to take a longer vacation and she wanted to pay for it by working extra hours. This worked well for us with a short work trip I had planned. It was at the end of 18 months with us and I think she understood my feelings about rule of law and honesty by then. I also had her occasionally pick up spices for us at the local hippie store because it was an outing with my son and she was benefiting from having them around.

We have had “trouble” with both our APs that they don’t want to stop working when their shift is up because they think they are responsible for more things, like cleaning up from my son’s dinner, which ends right after their shift, generally. No matter how many times I explain that I cook his breakfast and they clean up from it and they cook his dinner but I clean up, they always insist on finishing up. If I know they have some reason to leave immediately, I make a bigger deal out of pushing them out the door. If they didn’t finish laundry during the day, I don’t object too much to them deciding to finish it in the evening rather than the next day.

Old China Hand February 4, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Oh, I forgot about the working for other families thing. One summer our AP helped out with a friend’s 2 elementary age daughters during her work shift. The girls came over and it was during APs normal working hours. She already knew the girls and they were under strict orders to make and clean up their own meals, not watch TV (since my son isn’t allowed to), to agree to go anywhere with my son and AP, and to generally help out. AP liked having more people around to talk to. It was once a week. She didn’t get extra money but we were extra flexible with her vacation time and gave her a generous birthday present and Chinese New Year red packet.

In Rematch Hell - AGAIN February 5, 2015 at 2:22 pm

APIA does not require that the 1.5 days off be consecutive. I’ve asked and asked for clarification about this and I consistently am told no — it does not need to be half Friday and all Saturday or half Saturday and all Sunday. It could be half Monday and all Saturday or any combination we (and AP) would like, and it can change every week how it is done.

The “rule” is that AP must get one full weekend (Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday) with no work at all, once per month.

Stella February 5, 2015 at 3:23 pm

I thought one full weekend was all day Saturday and all day Sunday. Is it the SC that includes Friday night in that? Or just the agency?

We have a standing date night so our AP works every Friday night (until 9 or 10) but then always has all of Sat and Sun off.

Dorsi February 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm


Friday evening to Monday morning, per the State Department.

Stella February 5, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Uh oh! I wonder what the cut-off is for “evening”?

Taking a Computer Lunch February 5, 2015 at 10:46 pm

We’ve translated the cut-off for evening as the same time as the rest of the week – EXCEPT when the AP has a 3-day weekend off. Then, we have no regrets about asking her to work late on a Friday night. It’s not a rule, just my personal feelings about what is “fair.”

TexasHM February 5, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Cultural Care has the consecutive day rule – that’s where that is coming from it is an agency policy not a state department rule. State dept rule is one full weekend per month, CCAP rule is every week 1.5 consecutive days off as well as the full weekend off per month.

Old China Hand February 5, 2015 at 7:52 pm

GAP is the same.

Mimi February 4, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I voted flex on the HP laundry because I don’t do separate loads for everyone and even for the small part they do (dry/sort), they’re involved in my laundry process. I’ve tried having the APs do the kids’ laundry, but only one has ever gotten the concept of pretreating stains/dealing with grease spots and we’ve had issues with over-sudsing. I give them the option of doing just the kids’ laundry or drying/sorting everything and even the one who chose option A eventually asked to switch to option B.

I do 10-15 loads a week, twice weekly. I have the AP move wet clothes to the dryer and sort the dry clothes into kids/not kids so the kids can fold and put theirs away and I can take care of the rest (mine/HDs) when I get home. Most have hung up shirts when they come out of the dryer, but I’ve never asked. If the AP wants to throw her laundry in with ours, I’ll wash theirs, too. I’ve only had one AP wash all her own clothes, but one other did choose to wash her own ‘delicates’ herself.

Multitasking Host Mom February 4, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Other host families in our area leave their au pairs with the kids for a weekend or have them work over 10 hrs a day. These host parents do give the au pair extra money. Our current au pair has offered several times to work more hours for pay. She sees her friends having more money to spend on things, so I do get that…but i do worry about the au pairs getting burned out after long hours and thus not providing good childcare, so I am just not willing to go there.
The one rule we do break is the consecutive day and a half off rule. (Note this is an agency rule) About four times a year our AP will work a half day on Saturday night so we can attend an event/ have a date night. AP normally works a split shift (before/after school during the week. She thus stays within the mandatory 45hrs and does have a day and a half off…it is just technically right in a row.
One gray area is the AP has started to do our family grocery shopping. She does this during work hours. I leave her a list and I trust her to know what she needs to get for the kids lunches she puts together. AP does eat almost her dinners and breakfasts during the week with the family, but I guess this might not be exactly in the rules. (For example, she will pick up for me the items I use to make my lunch I take to work)

Should be working February 4, 2015 at 1:22 pm

I would argue that some of these tasks are not at all against AP agency rules.

Family grocery shopping is something that an adult member of my family would do anyway, so I don’t see that as against the rules. When my daughter is old enough to drive I will expect her to do family grocery shopping occasionally, so why not the AP? Also the AP can eat just about everything we buy, even if she chooses not to, so I do not see it as against the rules to ask her to go to the store to buy food that she and the kids and the parents will all eat. She does not have SOLE responsibility for groceries, but partial, all the adults share this.

Non-kid-housecleaning is another interesting one. Adult members of my family are expected to take out kitchen trash when the trash is full, occasionally sweep leaves away from the front door, vacuum the hallway even though it’s not kids-only, and so on. None of these expectations of cleaning in shared space, in my view, violates AP rules. Having her vacuum the master bedroom or clean a master bathroom or take out my home-office garbage would violate the rules, because it’s not shared space. (Hence the HM above whose household mixes adult and kids’ clothes together is in my view also not violating rules. Shared is shared and so the AP is part of it.)

Very simple pet care in moderation is perhaps borderline, but I don’t think so. Adults in the house take care of the pet, feed the pet, let the pet out. Walking the dog is perhaps the real borderline here because it is time-consuming and a genuine care taking task that other people could be paid for. Here is our only potential rule-breaker: We do “gift” the AP extra money if she WANTS to walk the dog, and I emphasize regularly that this is not an obligation but a choice on her part. It’s a flimsy way to portray this as non-rule-breaking maybe, but my justification is that if she chooses to be such a great part of the family that she walks the dog, we are happy to add to her stipend, which is allowed.

We never do over 10 hrs’ work, even if the AP WANTS to do the extra hours and get paid (and one even volunteered for free, but we refused). We never let them work for other families.

WorkingMomX February 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Doing any of the things you’ve indicated above (grocery shopping for the family, taking out trash, yardwork, etc. and most especially pet care) – if these were raised in a transition situation, they would be addressed as outside the program guidelines. Asking an au pair to take out the trash once in a while or to let the dog out or in on occasion would be fine. Including them as part of the routine for your family/household maintenance stuff is not what they’re here for. Imagine how some families could take this and run with it. As an adult in the home, sometimes I have to paint the kitchen, mow the lawn, clean all the cars out on a weekly basis, pick up or drop off drycleaning, deal with an oil change or vehicle inspection, etc. Au pairs are meant to be performing light housekeeping chores related to the children and most agencies are pretty clear on what that means and doesn’t mean.

Christina February 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm

You may be right, but our LCC gave us a list of things our au pair can do and she has a section in there for parents who do not need 45 hours of care. One of the suggested tasks is grocery shopping.

And, while I’m not sure about pet care, ours supervises the kids feeding the dog and lets the dog in and out of the back yard. I’ve never considered that an issue.

NewbieHM February 6, 2015 at 6:58 pm

I agree. They were very clear with us and most of those things are against the rules without a doubt.

NewbieHM February 6, 2015 at 7:00 pm

I agree. They were very clear with us and most of those tasks are against the rules without a doubt.

SKNY February 4, 2015 at 2:12 pm

So I am curious… Our loved star au pair, when she returned to help me (when I needed care a few weeks before last baby was born), gave me for my birthday a “gift card for a night off”. She really wanted me to use it to go away with DH before baby was born, but I ended up saving for going to the hospital on delivery day (which she was also fine with). She had a tourist visa, so no real trouble there.
BUT… IF she was…. lets say a year 2 au pair, and had given us the same gift card of an overnight babysitting… probably taking the gift would be against the rules, right?

HappilyFlexibleAP February 4, 2015 at 2:22 pm

I would say yes and no. This is when she is not scheduled to work but just comes to help out and isn’t paid for it. Limit between employee and family member comes here. But officially, she is alone with the kids so in charge of them…

Returning HM February 4, 2015 at 3:07 pm

I know this is slightly different, since it doesn’t involve overnight, but for Christmas, our AP gave us a giftcard to a restaurant and the promise of a “free night of babysitting” so we could go. We made sure to use the giftcard when AP was out of town – thanking him profusely, of course, but ensuring that there would not be a question of him doing anything outside of his schedule. Now, he works only 25-30 hrs/week anyway, so we could easily have “added” those hours he tried to gift us onto his hours, but it didn’t feel right to us to ask anything of him outside of his usual hours, so we got around it this way.

The only time I ever left our AP overnight with the children was back in 2009 when my mother was rushed to the hospital, and I was told that she likely would not make it. My husband was away for work across the country and couldn’t get back that night and my mother-in-law was in Florida as well. I drove to my mother that night (6 hours away) and my husband got a flight home the next morning, so AP was with the children overnight, got them off to school, and then did her usual day, at which point my husband was home. AP was mortified when I tried to pay her extra for doing the overnight and ultimately refused to take the money. Incidentally, it was during this situation and the aftermath – my mother survived this initial hospital stay, came to live with us for a month, and then died while staying with us – that AP turned from an OK AP into a stellar AP. She stepped up when needed (desperately needed) and became a very different and outstanding AP (and now a lifelong friend).

exaupair February 4, 2015 at 8:03 pm

I would say no.
I’m not that familiar with the rules, but imagine…she would be giving you a ‘gift’. What if you decided to give your AP an extra $200 to spend during their travel month? It would be more than they earned, but also a gift. Would that be against the rules?

TexasHM February 4, 2015 at 8:11 pm

No but it’s not against the rules for HPs to give cash above the stipend. However, it’s clearly against the rules to have an AP work over 10 hrs per day, 45 hours per week, for 6 days a week etc which is likely why this HP avoided the situation.

exaupair February 4, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Either way, that’s kind of a nice gift, and I think there’s nothing wrong with accepting little things from the AP (when it’s every now and then ofcourse, I’m not talking about additional overnight babysitting every week!), such as they would accept them from you :-)

TexasHM February 4, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Totally agreed it’s super nice, just explaining why HPs (us included) would decline the gift. Too much risk. APs are here a term and leave, HPs need to protect their family and follow the agency rules or risk losing their agency fees (significant) or getting kicked out of the program.

HappilyFlexibleAP February 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I am the OP and I find your answers to be fair but I also think that each situation is different. I wonder how families with parents both working crazy schedule jobs (hospital nurse, firemen…) do ?

In my case, I am scheduled for about 30 hours of kids hours if this is a week with school, and only because they also spend some time at school care. The parents have sometimes to go out of town, the mom on a monthly basis, not always overnight though, they both finish working around 6:30/7 and leave the house around 8/8:30 so if kids is sick, if there is no school, etc, well I have to do 8:30 to 7:30 most of the time. When possible they try to come earlier or leave later but their jobs don’t really allow it.

Then again, I was happy to be able to take a class I was interested in, although it is on a week day from 1 to 5, I’ve worked at a few places to get extra money and still try to.

Concerning the burn out possibility, when I did an overnight I started at 9 one day, finished at 12 the other. I had most of the time only one kid as the others had a few playdates, my host kids are 6, 8 and 10, I can entertain them as well as just keep an eye on them, so long days are exhausting because of chaos / fighting, etc, but overall they are doable once you have a routine established, which I have been pretty strict about since day 1, kids know me and know where I stand. If I’m tired I’ll also be honest about it with the kids. “I’ve had a long day and so have you, we need to work together and not against each other, my patience is more limited now and if you push me, you’ll face quick consequences”. This isn’t a problem for me especially due to the fact the kids still try to push my buttons after 6 months although it still hasn’t work. Everyone has a good day in the end, it’s just about balancing the part where I’m just someone in charge of them and part of their family, more than someone from a day care with fixed hours.

ProPair February 4, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Are you an AP in Europe? This sounds a lot like my au pair year. I was also ‘Happily Flexible’. ;)

HappilyFlexibleAP February 5, 2015 at 12:49 am

I am in the US actually :) So the Department of State rules should be applying.

WestMom February 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

HappilyFlexibleAP- The AP program is not suitable for people who have unusual schedules. Each family is interviewed when joining the program, and if they disclose that they need more than 10hrs/day, 45hrs/week, they likely would not be accepted in the program.

HappilyFlexibleAP February 5, 2015 at 4:52 pm

That’s unfortunate. Although I knew an au pair who was paired with a second au pair and they were working not at the same time so the family was getting 80/90hours of care a week… It was a crazy situation.

exaupair February 5, 2015 at 6:15 pm

I assume they also paid double fees?
I suppose it would be possible for a family to request more than one AP if they needed round the clock help, and pay accordingly? They would still stay within the rules with either of their APs and get what they needed at the same time.

WarmStateMomma February 6, 2015 at 9:11 am

There are families in my city that host 2 APs – one family is even in our cluster. Each AP is responsible for a different child in that family, according to my AP. She knows an AP from training that has 3 APs in a house.

HRHM February 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm

I am/was one of those “crazy schedule” HMs. I’m a surgeon and DH is stationed in another state, so we only live together every other weekend. When I first started hosting, we were also in this situation but worse because I was still in training and frequently working 14 hour days. During that first year, single parenting with a 3 month old and a 4 year old, both kids went to daycare from 9am to 3pm. AP had them from 6:30 until 9 and then again from 3 PM until I got home which was ususally before 9 pm. Occasionally I would have to leave in the middle of the night to go operate and when I did, I would adjust my daycare schedule to compensate for those hours (it was open about 12 hours a day so I could adjust easily to give her back any hours I had to use – this only actually happened maybe 3 times that year)

I would never have been able to do it on AP hours alone.

DCMomof3 February 5, 2015 at 6:12 pm

I agree that the program can be suitable for those with crazy schedules, if you also have other arrangements in place (and yes, having 2 APs can be one of those arrangements). I came into the program when my husband was deployed to Iraq, I had a 5 week old and a 20 month old and I was just returning to my big law firm job after maternity leave. I still had my nanny for daytime help, but I had the AP for early mornings, evenings, one weekend day and another adult presence in the house. Even though much of the AP’s shift was done with me at home, I just wasn’t surviving well as a single parent in those days. I am glad that I got into the program that year, as I don’t know what I would have done without it.

Dorsi February 4, 2015 at 4:44 pm

We were flexible on the 10 hours a few times when we had one kid. With three, it seems unsafe to take care of them for more than 10 hours in a row. At least for me, the resemblance to myself/my spouse keeps me from throwing them out the window at hour 11 — my AP doesn’t have that luxury.

However, I have been thinking about offering a few extra hours to our current, well-established AP. There are days when an extra hour would really make things simpler and I know she would like the money. We have two kids in school for at least 4 h per day, and the baby reliably naps for 2 (and she is on the clock for all of that), so it seems like an extra hour might be mutually beneficial.

On laundry — we had an AP who often did our laundry during times of stress (right after I had a baby, family emergencies). I think it was her way of “doing something”. It was kind of awkward, but helped out, and I hated to say anything to her because she was trying so hard. However, even if it was permitted I would never want the AP regularly doing my laundry.

WarmStateMomma February 4, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Wow. I’m feeling like a crazy rule breaker.

Overnights and newborns: Our AP watched the toddler when I spent 48 hours in the hospital (c-section). She has also watched the newborn when I went to the doctor for follow-up appointments at the infectious disease clinic (NOT the place to take a newborn). The AP was the only person who could have watched my kids at those times and she insisted that it was ok. All her friends watch their host kids for long weekends or longer. To say no is to treat her like the help instead of a member of the family.

10-hours: Our AP used to work 3 days a week for 11 hours each day, but the alternative was for me to work 5 days a week to get her hours under 10 per day (and she wouldn’t have the car because I wouldn’t be carpooling with HD). We moved to a place with a shorter commute, so we are now always under 10 hours a day.

Pet care: whoever is home when the dogs need to go out in the yard lets them in and out. (I’d feel differently if they needed to be walked or on a leash.) We expect the adult at home to refill water bowls as needed. I put this under “member of the family” duty as it’s something that even our houseguests will do.

Grocery shopping: Our AP sometimes asks to do the grocery shopping, especially if she’s going to be near the Asian grocery stores. It works for everyone and I wouldn’t consider that to be against the rules.

BearCo HM February 5, 2015 at 11:16 am

The occasional overnight in the case of an emergency is one thing, or babysitting on a weekend evening after they’ve already done their 45hrs and want to make extra money … but is it really true that there are many families who leave their APs with their kids for long weekends or longer ?? To me this seems like a GROSS violation of the rules and way too much responsibility to put on your AP. For what it’s worth, our last AP told me about ONE family that did this, and truth be told I had a hard time believing it was even true. Assuming it was though, I asked why the AP agreed to it (as I got the impression the other AP was telling the story to mine as an example of how she was being taken advantage of by her family) , and the response was that the girl felt she couldn’t say no without risking the family resenting/rematching her. So it apparently didn’t upset the AP enough to want a new family, but she wasn’t actually “ok” with it either. I agree with what TACL says below that the family holds a lot of the power — or at least this is often the APs perception of the arrangement — so I think host families have a heightened responsibility to follow the rules as best they can , even if the AP claims to be “ok” with breaking them.

HRHM February 5, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I know of many families that do this on a couple times a year basis. They will go away for an overnight or a weekend and leave AP with the kids. Most of the people I know give their AP a pretty generous cash “gift” in exchange – $200 for a weekend was not a high number… Pretty good reason for an AP to do it – doubling your pay for the week.

I have heard of a couple of families who really abused it (single parent traveling regularly for work, leaving 3 kids with AP and a nanny for weeks at a time!) But in most cases, while the rules are being broken, it’s usually beneficial to everyone involved and the APs telling me about it were not complaining.

TexasHM February 4, 2015 at 6:59 pm

I found several of these very interesting because reading the original post I thought all of the rules listed on the poll were going to be state department rules but the vast majority were “spirit of the program” or agency suggestions/rules. We have actually changed our tolerances as we have changed agencies and become more experienced HPs as well. For example, our first LCC told us before our AP arrived that all the families have the APs babysit extra hours and as long as we pay her and she is ok with it (vs making her) then we will never have an issue. We weren’t very comfortable with that so we hired a babysitter for date nights and the AP actually resented us because she wanted the extra money, all her AP friends did it and she was very bonded/protective of my kids and of course she thought the babysitter didn’t do as good a job as she did. :) This caused angst and eventually we gave in and gave her first right of refusal on the occasional date nights. We then changed to a different agency that was very strict and lucky for us, they made it crystal clear to the APs as well that it wouldn’t be tolerated so we didn’t do it and they didn’t ask, although they did occasionally offer a date night or to run a kid to a practice across the street from where they were going anyway (the latter we accepted a few times or more accurately – she walked out with the kid and wouldn’t take no for an answer). :)
Grocery shopping – every AP has begged me to do this but we largely shop at Costco and get meals delivered so other than an occasional errand they don’t do it but I would find it very hard to police this. So the agency says to have her get all kid related grocery items and then you (HPs) go back and get the non-kid items? Which would be what exactly? We all eat the same food in our house with the exception of an alcoholic beverage on occasion which I wouldn’t have on a grocery list anyway.
Pet care – I hear APs complain about this all the time. We have a bird so its a non-issue for us but I hear the rants all the time and I tend to agree that an AP shouldn’t be primarily responsible for pet care. If she wants to walk the dog for extra $ and exercise then that’s your call but I see WAY too many APs told to do it all with no additional pay “as a member of the family” of course. ;)
We personally don’t ever leave the APs overnight because we are not comfortable laying that type of responsibility on them. We always have a grandparent or two come in if we are both going to be gone. I know families that do this and pay extra and the APs are fine with it and we have had APs offer but just not something we will ever do.
Doing host parent laundry and scrubbing floors consistently I think are obviously out of bounds and I don’t know any APs that do this (at least that stayed in those families, knew several that rematched and families were kicked out).
We tend to try to think of the AP being “on par” which would mean I would never think of telling her to do my laundry or scrub my toilet. Now that we are transitioning to a school aged kids schedule though I am going to have to reevaluate chores a little I think because historically we asked the bare minimum because we had 3 young children. Nothing non-kid related but now that we aren’t going to be using even close to the weekly hours in the fall I am hoping she can help with more kid related chores/projects like sorting out donations/too small clothes and shoes and dropping them off and helping more with schoolwork (all on the clock of course). Grocery shopping might have made that list too but now I am going to have to think more about that!
Much more tempting to bend a rule when you are making it work minute to minute on a Mon-Fri 8am-5pm 45 hour week so it will be tricky in the summer to lose those date nights and extra kid chore help but such is life!

Stella February 4, 2015 at 9:48 pm

With the pet thing, I think it really depends on the pet. Some pets are more high maintenance than others so I would take that into consideration when thinking about what to expect the AP to do. We have a very low maintenance pug and a fenced in yard. She scratches at the door when she needs to go out and barks to come back in. My two year old can handle letting her in and out so I think it’s fair to assume that the AP can do that if she is at home (on duty or not). But taking the dog on a half hour walk is another story.

Our dog does like to be outside with the kids when they play in the front yard and I always wonder if its too much responsibility for the au pair to mind the kids and dog. Part of me feels bad for the dog because she is accustomed to getting to go outside with the family but then again I don’t want to burden the AP with another “being” to watch. Our current AP likes dogs and has one at home so its less of an issue with her but still, I wonder how this works in the “spirit of the program” type of thinking. It’s tough with dogs because they really are a part of the family.

Stella February 4, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Oh, and FWIW, I have our AP do some of the grocery shopping – almost every week but she goes to one store and I do the other (both need to be hit each week). I don’t see how this isn’t OK – I mean, she is eating the food, the kids are eating most of it (since we are outnumbered with 4 kids!) and she uses this as an opportunity to buy stuff just for herself, too (we pay for it – she uses my CC). I was really surprised to see grocery shopping on the list actually. This is something that I see nannies do all the time so maybe that’s why I thought it was pretty much an acceptable chore.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 4, 2015 at 10:28 pm

I’ve been hosting for 14 1/2 years, and my needs and the hours which my APs work have changed considerably from the time I had an infant and a multiply-handicapped “toddler” (she didn’t toddle) to now when I have 2 teenagers (albeit one “big baby”:

I can’t tell you how my times over the years I’ve heard “your” AP complain that you never come home on time and that she always works more than 10 hours. She takes care of your growing baby and loves him/her, but by the end of 10 hours she’s exhausted and tired of explaining to her friends why they need to wait to go out and no, they can’t come wait at her house. When my AP asks if she can come with us to say goodbye at the airport, I say yes, but once again, you’re late and I’m fretting because my departing AP has a plane to catch. Bottom line – you have all the power and the AP has none, so she’s not really in a position to say no. And yes, our first AP did work extra hours – after she explained that she was supporting a family member at home and didn’t want us to hire a separate babysitter when she really needed the extra income. We paid her the going rate – $15 an hour, so we didn’t have many weekends out. Since then, we have rarely gone to 45 hours a week, but have been careful to stay under 5 hours at the weekend unless we give the AP a morning or afternoon off during the week.

We require very little house-cleaning, even now that we have two teenagers. We ask the AP to clean The Camel’s bed & bath, and some kid laundry every week. She does do the kids’ breakfast dishes, and all of our APs have quickly learned that if they do the occasional object we leave behind – a forgotten lunch container, a wine glass, or something else that accidentally gets left out of the dinner dishes, that we won’t complain at all when she leaves something behind. It works both ways. As for “chores” – shopping only relates to the kids & AP, as do errands – taking medicine to school because we’re not allowed to put it in a backpack. Taking “her” car for emissions inspection – completely okay. But she’s not my “Girl Friday” and doesn’t do our parental errands – no dry cleaning pick-up, no purchases of birthday presents or cards, no taking the kids for back-to-school shopping.

My rules say the AP is not to do her laundry at the weekend when I do the family laundry. It only takes one mistake – like putting my work clothes in the dryer, and he AP learns it isn’t a “guideline” it’s a “rule.” That being said, my kids are slobs, and I have no 12-step process to guarantee their clothes look pristine.

We have a cat. Occasionally we head of out of town when she wants to stay. I tell her she has a choice, we’ll hire neighborhood kids to feed the cat, but it means they will come when it’s convenient for them. If the AP doesn’t want strangers in the house at 6:30 AM because a kid wants to feed to cat before school or camp, then she has to agree to do it herself – for the entire time we’re gone. I’m sure you’re not surprised that 100% have chosen to do it themselves.

Overnight and on duty without a break – I’ve broken this rule twice that I can recall. Our first AP gave us a gift certificate to a hotel days before The Camel was to have major surgery. We gratefully accepted, and kept the outing under 18 hours. (Technically she wasn’t an AP at the time – we were waiting for our application to sponsor her as an employer to rise to the top and were funding her education as a full-time student in the meantime, so I guess there was some quid pro quo – we did try to treat her as if she were still in the program). The second time (and one of the rare instances when we exceeded 10-hours per day, I returned home on a summer day when the AP had already worked 9 1/2 hours, only to have her point out to me that a sore had opened up on The Camel’s neck and metal was visible (the Camel has a lot of hardware in her). I knew immediately it was a “do not pass go” situation and apologized to the AP that I needed her to take care of child #2 while I took The Camel to the hospital. Family arrived the next day to help us juggle care while The Camel underwent emergency surgery. The AP was amply rewarded.

Family grocery shopping – only the odd container of milk, or something the kids absolutely need before we can head to the store.

Working for other families – we look the other way. Several APs have supported family members, a couple were always broke, and one wanted to remain distracted by working extra while she felt homesick. Only once did we permit an AP to care for other children while she was caring for ours – and that was when a neighbor developed a blood clot while delivering her baby. Our AP (a former PICU nurse) took care of the infant as well as my toddler during our neighbor’s hospitalization and subsequent recovery with our permission.

Every time you break a rule, expect that when things go sour, it will haunt you. You may think your AP is okay with it, but remember as a HP, you always have the power. Asking “Do you have plans for Thursday night?” Is very different from asking “I need you to work on Thursday night, are you free?”

Juggling childcare, especially when your children are infants and toddlers is hard, exhausting work. But remember, they won’t be babies forever and they need you, too. APs are a revolving door – kids need the stability that their parents provide. I love my job, too, but sometimes, going home is more important than staying at work.

Lucy February 5, 2015 at 8:11 am

Regarding let care: it’s interesting that no one has yet brought up situations where a particular chore is the kids’ responsability and therefore the Au pair’s to assist/teach the kid how to do. In our home starting around age 18 months kids are assigned the chore of feeding the dog. They can barely manage the cup without spilling the food, but the dog doesn’t mind picking extra kibble off the floor and the kids develop a huge sense of pride for doing something so important. Obviously whichever adult is with the kid at mealtimes has to fill the cup until they’re old enough to do it themselves.

Around age 2.5 they are old enough to start letting he dog out when he needs to go to the bathroom. The dog makes his need very clear and the kid runs right to the door. An adult has to help with the doorknob and make sure the dog returns in a timely manner and very often this is the Au pair. We have an invisible fence FYI.

The kids have other jobs she has to help them learn to do, and I don’t see dog care as any different.

Now, I will say we do bend some rules. Over 10 hours or over 45? We do it rarely, we pay, and I’ll only do it if it includes evening time after the kids are asleep because yes, they will get burned out faster than they know or will admit. We also always pay her for 1.5 extra hours a week so she can be flexible about when she does the kids’ cleaning. With 4 kids ages 0-4 it is nearly impossible to properly pick up with them underfoot, so we agreed to give her a little extra so she can spend 15 min a day picking up after I relieve her. When they are in school I imagine this won’t be necessary but try getting down on your hands and knees to clean spilled beads with an big infant perpetually strapped to your chest. It’s an anti burnout measure! Plus what takes 45 min with them underfoot takes 15 min when you’re alone. This is something every mother knows.

DCMomof3 February 5, 2015 at 9:27 am

We have a good will policy which gets explained in a detailed discussion. The good will works both ways and it can increase exponentially. Is bringing in the trash cans on garbage day part of the au pair’s job? No. Does it build good will with me if the AP has gone out to the end of the driveway twice during the day to get the kids on and off the bus and the trash cans are still blowing around out there when I get home at 7 pm? No. Does the AP have to clean up after the host parents? No. Does it build good will with me if my husband leaves an empty coke can on the counter and the AP has prepared and cleaned up 2 meals with the kids during her shift and I get home and the coke can is still sitting there? No. I am not talking about major cleaning, parent’s laundry, etc. I am talking about little things that any responsible adult in the house would do because they need to get done. And, in my mind, this does include errands involving the cars that she drives such as getting an oil change, going through the car wash, running to the grocery store during the day to buy food that she will eat as well (with my credit card of course), etc. My kids are in school so I can schedule in time for some errands, but even when my APs worked 45 hours, the awesome APs would run some errands or do things to help out around the house during their free time.

Now, I did have one self-aware candidate tell me during matching that it sounds like I want someone to run my household and since she just graduated high-school she did not think that she could handle it. I appreciated her perception, but I do expect my APs to step up and do things that they see need to be done around the house (within reason). And, for those who do the extra stuff (most have) we are willing to give extra time off, change the schedule to accommodate them, take them on vacation just because, host visiting family, etc. I do think that laying this all out in preliminary discussions and re-set conversations if necessary helps to keep things from slipping into the AP only doing her set tasks and nothing more and us from becoming stingy.

ILHostMom February 10, 2015 at 12:59 am

I couldn’t agree more! Being generous goes both ways. If the Au Pair wants to do the bare minimum and only what is required of her, then why should the family do more than the bare minimum? We make clear that we have very high expectations, and that we won’t be an “easy” host family because we lead very busy lives. But when our expectations are met, the kids are happy and well taken care of, and the au pair goes above and beyond, then so do we. There is nothing that requires the host family to take the Au Pair on vacation, include them in gatherings with friends and family, take them out to dinner, etc… But we have found when we have an Au Pair who really steps up, who chips in as an adult and does the extras that she doesn’t “have” to, then our appreciation and generosity grows exponentially.

Schmetterfink February 5, 2015 at 10:01 am

As a 2x ex au pair and now of an age similar to many host parents (though not a host parent myself) I might not really be the target group for this poll. As I also screen for my ex au pair agency, I do advice applicants on these questions (if they come up during the interview) though thus of course I have an opinion ;)

More than 10 hours/day – I would go for a clear no, never.
But of course life happens. You can plan as good as you want to, you can always end up in a situation where you just don’t make it home in time. You have a 30 minute commute, you leave an additional 15/20 minutes earlier… and there is an accident on the freeway and you just can’t make it home on time because you are stuck in a traffic jam. I had my host parents be home late due to tornado warnings (and touch downs in boardering counties), they called, said they would leave work as soon as they could and please go into the basement with the kids. What should they have done? Have me take them over to the neighbors? Leave them home alone?

But 10+ hour days shouldn’t be a regular occurance and they shouldn’t be planned. At best a host parent would try to schedule to be home at least 10 to 15 minutes before the au pair’s day ends as to leave some room for delays. I know how difficult it is to leave work on time (I work 1.75 hours of overtime on Monday because I just couldn’t get out) but you have not only your au pair that is waiting for you at home but your kids as well (I only have cats waiting after work, they don’t mind).

Doing non-kid house cleaning – this I always find difficult.
How strict a line do you draw? Is vacuuming the hallway non-kid related? Is it only kid related if the child got it dirty right that moment? Taking out the kitchen trash – it’s everybody’s trash. It’s the au pair’s, the kids’ and the host parents’ trash usually. So yes or no? Get two trash cans?
A definite no for things like cleaning the master bedroom / bathroom or areas kids and au pair never enter (attic?). Same for cleaning a car the au pair never uses or taking that car to a shop (though I have driven my host dad back from the shop, driving there in two cars in my time off and then driving back in the au pair car while host mom watched the kids). But common areas? Stuff that you share (trash, dishes, kitchen counters)? When does non-kid related start?

It’s like light and heavy house work.
Now, I would consider washing the windows heavy housework that can’t be asked from an au pair. However, I would still expect them to clean joghurt a toddler just smeared on the living room window up before it starty drying (or drips into the carpet). Simply because I would consider that kid-related. I wouldn’t want an au pair to try and get greap juice out of a couch though, call me and ask what to do but don’t throw something on it because the internet says it’s a great idea.

What about kid-related housework that is ridiculous to ask from an au pair.
One of my closest au pair friends had to wash her host childrens’ toys (kids were maybe 4 and 6? no allergies – yet – no disabilities, not immune compromised, just healthy kids) with bleach every week. Every toy they had could be bleached. Au pair would have to throw it all into the bathtub and scrub, then rinse with hot water. She bleached baby dolls. The host parents didn’t even provide her with gloves and when they did they got gloves she was allergic to. Of course, throwing the lego bricks into the dishwasher for cleaning would be kid related… so is washing said legos with bleach every week. It’s just over the top.

Doing Host Parent laundry – no. Ideally not.
However, I did it and I did it freely. I did laundry for five (kids & I), host parents hardly had any laundry (most was dry clean or so delicate that it never ended up in the common laundry baskets) and throwing in five additional shirts or two pairs of shorts or ten pairs of socks when doing at least five loads for kids and myself anyways didn’t really matter at all. And washing 5 vs 7 towels really doesn’t make a big difference either. My host mom also washed my things if they were still in the laundry room and if she was doing laundry on the weekends.

When interviewing I always use host parents’ laundry as something that is not the au pair’s responsibility though.

Walking the dog/ pet care – ideally not.
Though I see a huge difference between walking a dog twice a day for an hour and letting the cat out (and in and out and in and out and in) in the morning or feeding the fish once a day. Also, I assume pet care includes wiping up cat vomit? And really, I would expect every adult who saw that first to just please use a paper towel and clean it up no matter if it’s “their” cat or not. But I am still working on that with my husband even… if they want to cuddle, they are “our” cats. If they throw up, they are suddenly “my” cats… And some au pairs really love their family pets and enjoy walking the dog.

Overnight and Day OnDuty, without a break – no.
No, no, and no. I am all for “emergencies” when it comes to bending the 10 hrs/day rule. But overnight and day? Or even better starting your regular duty on a Monday morning and working until regular time off on Tuesday? Or working full weekends (Friday night to Sunday night)? No. I can think of very few scenarios in which that would be okay (something like spontaneously going into labour and no way to reach the babysitter or a single parent needing to rush to hospital with a child at night).

Family grocery shopping (not just kids food) – flexible yes.
If you go grocery shopping for the kids (five bananas, six apples, two bags of gold fish crackers) why not also buy family groceries at the same time IF it’s during a regular 10 hr work day within a regular 45 hr work week and counted as working hours. Assuming the au pair is allowed to share the groceries they are buying that is. An au pair will directly benefit from toilet paper they have bought on their way back home from pre-school… Not huge $500 shopping trips with three full carts but getting little things that are desperately needed before anyone has a chance to do a big grocery shopping trip? Why not?

I think it’s like running errands because you are on your way anyhow.
Picking up things from the dry cleaner down the road if you drive past on your way to/from school or getting a spare key because the shop is right next to the gym where a child has ballet lessons or dropping of a package at the post office after taking the kids to camp. As long as it is counted as working hours and it’s not a two hour round trip but on the way I don’t see why not.

Working for other families – no.
No. Au pairs are not allowed to work for other families. No.
I have heard people argue that a strict no in that case would include having the neighbor’s child over for a play date but… no additional child care for a neighbor on a free day / weekend for extra pay, no night time babysitting after a 10 hour work day for a family friend. No.
There are au pairs who feel they need the aditional money, I understand that. They might be saving up for their education or support their family at home. But no matter what, the host family’s own children should always be the au pair’s main responsibility and I doubt an au pair can provide adequate child care for the children she has been hired to care for if she babysits for others regularly. If the au pair already works 45 hours from Monday to Friday how are they supposed to relax and regain their strenghts if they babysit another three hours at night or an additional full day on the weekend? You wouldn’t let your au pair work night shifts at McDonalds just because she wants to earn more money, why allow her to work for another family?

Au pairs want to – and need to – be treated as adults. But that should also mean that they behave like adults. And I agree with Should be working that adults in a home are supposed to pitch in – painting your walls is your decision (it’s your house), mowing the lawn is something you can hire the neighbor kid for if you don’t want to do it, doing an oil change is something you take the car to the shop for… but you don’t need a professional to take the trash out or get the mail or pick up the dry cleaning on their way back home after meeting their friends for coffee if the dry cleaner is right next to their usual Starbucks (however, that should also mean that you drop your dry cleaning off somewhere that’s on their way and not where it is cheapest if cheapest meant that the au pair needs to drive to the other side of town to pick it up).
And whatever you ask for, a) make sure to ask (!) and make sure that “no” is a possible answer (no matter how difficult it is to say no) and b) make sure that the au pair also sees you do chores. An au pair that gets the feeling that she is the only one to do something (e.g. vacuum the mud room or take out the trash or pick up the dry cleaning) will often feel used more quickly than an au pair that experiences her host parents sharing the work load (e.g. unloading the dish washer before going to work, ironing while watching tv together at night, mop the kitchen floor Saturday morning).

Host Mom in the City February 5, 2015 at 12:03 pm

I answered “never flex” to every single one of these questions. I have literally never a single time broken a SD or agency rule, even when we had both kids at home all day. I am a rule-follower by nature, but I also feel strongly that the rules for the program are the rules and they are there for a reason. If the rules don’t work for a family, then I would suggest that the au pair program is not for them.

I also think it’s just a slippery slope toward unfairness. Au pairs have very little power in the relationship and are also usually a lot younger and less experienced than the host parents. Au pairs frequently say yes to things that bother them because they don’t feel they can say no (and then they come to my house and complain!), but the host parents feel like “well she said yes, so she’s fine with it.” You really don’t know if she is or not, and it just sends this message of “I don’t care about the rules that were put in place to protect you.”

Au pairs also agree to things while matching that they don’t really understand until they get here. Yes, I totally agree that we should be upfront about the schedule and expectations while matching and if an au pair agrees to something reasonable at matching, she should stick with it. But we also need to make sure we’re being reasonable and acting within the spirit of the program when we set and enforce those schedules and expectations.

Obviously I’m generalizing here, but you wouldn’t believe the number of au pairs I’ve heard complaining that their host parents use more than 45 hours, or ask them to stay overnight, or ask them to do things outside of their duties, or come home late a few times a week, etc. Just following the rules keeps the relationship trusting and to me, demonstrates that I’m holding up my side of the contract – I similarly expect my au pairs to hold up theirs. Honestly with all the rule breaking I hear about, I’m sometimes surprised the program continues and that there are still so many au pairs that want to come. I feel like the only host family I know that follows the rules.

Emerald City HM February 5, 2015 at 12:23 pm

I answered never flex to almost all of them.

The cleaning and the shopping ones to me are different and those kind of depend. I don’t send my au pairs shopping for the household by any means, but do expect that they will do some of their own grocery shopping and I pay them back, which is non-kid shopping technically. Our current au pair eats grapefruit regularly, but neither my husband or I do. If I happen to be shopping and she is almost out I will pick some up for her, but if she’s out I don’t have the time to make a special run just to get her grapefruit. So I guess I see it as that line.

Also, non-kid cleaning. I do expect that they will empty the dishwasher and maybe run the trash to the trash can every so often. Not as a regular “chore” but as something any other adult member of our house does. As our kids get older, they will be taking on more of this stuff as their actual chores, but for now they are too small to do these things.

So I guess it’s an interpretation of what a rule actually is in my eyes.

We have never gone over the 10 hours in a day nor the 45 hours in a week and I too am shocked to see families that do this on a regular basis. I also would hope that our au pairs don’t work for other families, but I guess ultimately I really wouldn’t know that if they went off and did it on their own.

TexasHM February 5, 2015 at 6:13 pm

+1 HMiTC. I know our APs want to help/do more sometimes we just can’t accept. Our recent burnout AP gave me a sob story that she didn’t have money for a plane ticket home and asked to babysit/help out for cash under the table (we had our first AP now nanny take over due to safety issues) and when we said no she called the LC to pick her up and told the agency lies about us! Can you imagine if we had broken a rule?! Plus like you said it’s a trust issue and the rules are the rules and I agree – if you know your situation doesn’t fit please dont join the program. It was hard to juggle at times but we made it work. There have actually been times when I have considered only taking rematch au pairs because I have seen there are APs out there that get lied to, abused, etc and it’s not fair that they lose the experience because someone else wouldn’t follow the guidelines or be honest about their household and expectations (goes both ways of course). With all the gray areas in the au pair program we tend to just try to follow the Golden rule and treat our au pairs as we would want to be treated.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 5, 2015 at 10:58 pm

I had fears of that with my recent rematch, but then I realized that I had had the same LCC for a decade, and during that time I had nominated several of my APs for “Au Pair of the Year” awards (and a couple of times they had won at the cluster level). The LCC recognized it was a bad match. Because it took 4 weeks between departure of the rematch AP and the arrival of her successor, sufficient time had passed to keep any gossip or ill will at a minimum. When my LCC came to do the second intake, she said, “This is the AP that I expected you to match with.” (However, one of the rematch issues wasn’t more hours – it was far less – and this with 2.5 hours twice a day 5 times a week and up to 5 hours 3 weekends a month!)

SKNY February 6, 2015 at 1:20 pm

We thought about it (only taking rematch au pairs). Specially because our most loved au pair was a rematch one. HOwever, I am not sure I would be good at weeding down au pair’s side vs host family’s side…

TexasHM February 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm

You know that’s one reason we recently made the switch to Cultural Care. When I called them to see if they had any candidates they told us both sides, history (ex – had AP and zero complaints from HM for 10 months of check ins until mother in law moved in) and offered contact info for both plus the LC. I bet you would be able to sort it out better than you think! We do love giving APs the opportunity to come over I just hate the thought of another one going home without a fair shake. If we had more flexibility I think I would totally do only rematch APs. My husband is convinced that if it was possible to open an au pair orphanage I would’ve done it already! And he’s right! ;)

Host Mom in the City February 11, 2015 at 9:49 am

We went through a rematch recently and our rematch au pair is awesome. APIA was great – they gave me the contact info for the former host mom and the former LCC and encouraged me to speak with both. I spoke with both at length and feel like between the three perspectives on the situation (host mom, LCC, and my now au pair), I got a really good feeling for what had actually happened.

I don’t know what the other agencies do, but my APIA LCC sent me “rematch templates” that included information about where the rematch candidate was geographically, why she says she was in rematch, why the host parents said she was in rematch, and then perspectives from the LCCs on the situation too.

I feel like I got as much of the whole story as would have been possible and was encouraged to do my own digging too. Based on that experience, I would be really open to taking an APIA rematch again.

TexasHM February 11, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Interesting! I wonder if they changed this based on feedback because this is very different than our rematch experience with APIA a year ago. Sounds worlds better than what we experienced hopefully this was a policy change and it will be that way going forward that would have been really helpful to us!

BearCo HM February 10, 2015 at 11:05 pm


CAmom22 February 5, 2015 at 1:11 pm

We are strict rule followers. I answered ‘never’ to all of the questions except the grocery shopping one because one the one hand I have never given a grocery list to my APs but on the other hand they are in charge of grocery shopping for and preparing all meals for the kids and themselves (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then involves buying things (e.g. milk, fruit, vegetables) that my husband and I will likely use as well. I also go grocery shopping for items AP wouldn’t think to get and for meals when I make family meals (including AP).
Even though I said “never” thought, I do absolutely see the need for flexibility in certain unavoidable situations. In terms of the 10-hour schedule, for example, when there is a traffic accident and you can’t get home on time. I would not expect (or tolerate) that an AP would leave to be with her friends because her shift was over even if the HP had an emergency. Several posters above have listed examples of these emergency type situations in which any “member of a family” would step up to help. I think it’s easier to deal with these situations though when they are the exception to the rule; when there is a basic understanding that the rules are black and white and not negotiable as a general matter. I’ll admit that this is more me than my husband (I’m simply a rule follower by nature so it carries over into how I deal with our APs). I always worry when I’m out of town on business that my husband will “flex” the rules more so I am constantly calling/emailing (ok, nagging) to ensure he does not. :-)
I do think the strict adherence to the rules, though, has served us well in that the APs we have had do not feel they have been or will be taken advantage of and thus have all willingly taken on general household tasks even when not asked. As an example I recall once AP #2 telling me and my husband about what a terrible situation her AP friend was in with a family down the street. One of the problems was that she was required to take the trash cans out every week for pick up and bring back in in the evening. My husband and I were stunned and said, but you do that every single week. Her response? “You have never asked me to.” Every single one of our APs (we’re on #5) has done the trash thing every week as well as picked up our mail every day. We have never asked for it and in fact have made clear that it is not their responsibility. But they have all done it and we certainly appreciate it.

In Rematch Hell - AGAIN February 5, 2015 at 2:40 pm

More than 10 hours/day — We haven’t broken this yet, but we come close during the summer when the kids aren’t in a camp. And by “come close” I mean we used 9 hours and 59 minutes. Close. But generally we don’t see this rule as one of the flexible ones. APs work hard and we acknowledge this by respecting this rule in particular. HOWEVER if we had a true emergency (death or health catastrophe or ambulance-is-coming-kind-of-emergency), then I expect any good AP to “rise to the occasion” and show me that she isn’t just here to work, she truly is a part of our family in a time of crisis. Me wanting a pedicure or coming back late from a work trip is not a crisis. But my kid is in the hospital? AP better readily agree to cover the other kid until husband or other family member can relieve her. Of course we’ll make arrangements as fast as we can, but I expect a good AP to volunteer to help out for a little while even if that puts her well, well over the 10 hour stop mark.

Doing non-kid house cleaning — Well. Yes and no. We don’t require or even expect that AP will do non-kid house cleaning EXCEPT that we all live here and we all use the dishes and we should all help with them. And trash. Those are the two that I don’t care what the rules say, we all help if we all live here. And I truly mean “we” not “she” … this isn’t a sneaky way to get AP to do a chore I hate. Yesterday in the morning I put away all the clean dishes. AP in the evening had the kids load dirty dishes before dinner but after dinner AP put all dishes (including mine and hubby’s) into the dishwasher and ran it. This morning hubby put clean dishes away before he went to work. We all help. It’s not scheduled. It’s more like “see the need, fill the need.” With the trash, the kids are old enough to take them to/from curb but it is AP’s job to make sure it happens. If they forget, she has to do it when she comes back from drop-off. With the laundry, no. She does only the kids’ stuff. My stuff is mostly dry clean only. Hubby is particular about his stuff and weirded out by the idea that AP would touch his undies (ha). We have a once monthly house cleaning service for the real heavy duty cleaning/scrubbing of the house. AP must maintain her own room and bath (but house cleaning service does go over her room and bath when here to clean) and AP must maintain kids’ beds and shared bath.

Doing Host Parent laundry — No. Never.

Walking the dog/ pet care – We have a cat. This is relatively new for us, and we have not had pets with past APs. We have zero expectation that AP would do anything to feed or care for the pet EXCEPT when we are away and she’s not. We’ll give her the option to feed/water the cat or we can bring a pet sitter in (my parents or sister) to do it.

Overnight and Day OnDuty, without a break – Only in extreme emergency.

Family grocery shopping (not just kids food) – YES. In my opinion, it’s dumb to distinguish between family grocery shopping and kid grocery shopping. We sometimes do it, AP sometimes does it. AP eats food and it needs to be bought. She makes food for the kids and it needs to be bought. I don’t make AP always do the shopping but certainly she does her fair share.

Working for other families – Nope.

Dorsi February 5, 2015 at 3:17 pm

I have in my handbook that we expect the AP to do 1/3 of adult chores around the house. This is not really true — it is really far less. APs don’t generally understand the bill paying and maintenance that goes into running a home. We outsource our deep cleaning, so no one is running a vacuum cleaner (unless there is a spill) or scrubbing a toilet.

I put this into the “good roommate” part of AP-HF relationship. 1/3 of the times the trash goes out, she can take it. 1/3 of the time that the dishwasher needs unloading, she can do it. I consider this well within the spirit and the rules of the program.

Dorsi February 5, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Has anyone ever heard of a family (like really knew them — could generate a first and last name) – who has been in any trouble with the state department for violating AP rules? I have heard of families who were asked to leave the agency, but has an immigration officer ever even had a conversation with some one for asking an AP to take the trash out on a regular basis?

I find it hard to believe that Global Reentry could be at risk even if you were flagrantly abusing the AP, let alone if you were working in a gray area (like asking the AP to do daily walks with the dog — probably not fair, but is the federal government going to get involved?)

One of the things that attracted us to the program is the legal status of Au Pairs. DH had a security clearance, and paying an undocumented worker seemed to be very risky. He no longer has cause to maintain the clearance, but I can’t imagine it could be at risk by demanding that the AP pick up groceries for the whole family on a regular basis.

Anon this time February 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

I work for the federal government (currently at lunch :)) – given how well my agency works with our fellow agencies, I think by the time State found out about what was going on and tracked down someone *for the violations we’re discussing here* your children would be well past the point of needing an au pair. Now, for the flagrant, awful, hits-the-news kind of violations we all cringe about when we hear – chances are things would move faster. Because the “right” people would see the story in the news.

State runs the au pair program, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be in charge of any immigration officer, and Customs and Border Patrol is in charge of Global Entry. Both ICE and CBP are part of Homeland Security. So the chances of anyone in the J-1 visa program knowing the right person to call at either ICE or CBP to “get someone in trouble” with them is, um, slim.

That said, my husband and I both have security clearances, and we too chose the au pair program largely due to its “legal” nature. We don’t plan to be a test case to find out what happens if you mistreat an au pair. We treat our au pairs well, because we feel that’s how it should be, because we know how we would want our own daughters treated if they were to participate in a similar program, AND because we want them to treat our KIDS well. It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem willing to mistreat their au pair, then turn right around and leave their kids home alone with them.

HRHM February 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

I think the much more likely scenario is that IF the agency allowed families to routinely abuse the system and IF these abuses that went uncorrected by the agency were brought to light, the AGENCY would lose their standing and no longer be able to act as a sponsor for J-1 visas.

I find it highly unlikely that any individual HF would EVER interact with the SD or other government bodies regarding how they treat their AP, even in the most egregious of abuses…

Seattle Mom February 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm

I agree.

I think if someone were up for Senate confirmation or public election then if they are found to have severely abused APs in their past it could get a mention.. but even then I’m not sure. I think you have to do something worthy of being thrown in jail for it to really matter, and breaking AP rules doesn’t seem to apply.

Em February 5, 2015 at 6:01 pm

I didn’t make it to the end of the comments but had to take a break and comment about the thread about overnights with the children. I’m actually surprised about how against it most people at this forum are —-I suppose it is a personal decision, and granted against the rules per se.

In my case, having a long weekend with the kiddos was always an option, I was never told I had to do it, but instead was asked if it’d be okay —-parents had work travel, or a wedding in a different state, etc —– I was always okay with it, because in the end it turned out to be a fun weekend with the kiddos just by myself and I always enjoyed that. We got to do fun things —depending what time of the year it was, it could have been festivals, or apple picking, or touch-a-truck one year I remember. We’d have fun outings and at the end of the day those weekends were always a lot of fun.

I guess for this to happen there must be a lot of trust between family and au pair, but I guess we had that with my family. I bet most families would be okay with having grandparents babysit for a weekend, so in a way that was kind of how it was and it did make me feel part of the family when they trusted me the kiddos that way.

Also, it was always okay with my family if I babysat in the evenings or during my off days for different families. It honestly never occurred to me this could be a problem for other families. I do wonder why? For my family it was always okay for me to make some extra cash working at nights or during the weekends. Of course they always came first, but I suppose in the end I was just free to do my thing whenever I wasn’t working… :)

UKAu Pair February 7, 2015 at 2:52 pm

I had one family for whom I would have worked long weekends without a second thought. Adored them, adored the little boy, would have had great fun.

The other family I au paired for I would never in a million years have agreed to being left alone with the children for a weekend. I was already working 60 hours a week for them (not in the USA), they had five children and I was burnt out. I needed the weekend off. I didn’t like the family particularly and I wouldn’t have been willing to go the extra mile for them because I didn’t feel that they would do anything at all for me.

I can see where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s fair (or safe) to leave an au pair alone with the children for a weekend when you don’t have to. Medical emergency? Absolutely! You feel like you need a holiday? No. Absolutely not. I’m happy to provide some level of care (overnight, for example) but it’s your responsibility to find someone to look after them during the day.

NoVA Twin Mom February 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Em –

A lot of our hesitation may be due to the age of our children. I’ve explained before that my family follows the rules (and leaving the kids with an au pair in the US for a weekend would break the rules), but that an additional hesitation in our case is that we’ve seen our au pairs “turn off” after a certain amount of time, particularly with very small children. We’ve had au pairs since our girls were born. Ten hour days with kids that are totally dependent on adults for everything is a LONG time.

We knew it was a hard job, so we tried to make up for it by giving our au pair as many “benefits” as we could. One benefit of the way our schedule worked was that by Friday afternoon, we were OUT of hours. So our au pairs got (and still get) every night and every weekend off.

Our girls are older now, but we still provide the “benefit” of every night and every weekend off due to the way our schedule works out. My guess is that those au pairs who are willing to work their full schedule plus an occasional, off-the-books overnight or weekend, either aren’t only taking care of very small children, or aren’t working the full 45 hours during the week (usually because the kids are older).

As UKAuPair points out, after a full week of shifts with some kids, everyone needs a break from each other. I think we may all be trying to make that same point but perhaps haven’t articulated it as well.

CAmom22 February 9, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Em – for me it’s simply because it is against the rules. The State Department sets forth certain black and white rules for the program. The 10-hr/day, 45-hr/wk rule is not a guideline. These rules are in place to protect APs and I prefer not to start down a slippery slope of deciding how much or how little to break which of the rules that seem more or less important to me (or to the AP). For me it’s simply easier to follow them.
As described throughout this post there are also many guidelines that leave room for interpretation (e.g. ‘member of family’ chores) and for this reason communication with the agency and between AP and host family is super important, but on the black and white rules we don’t bend. We actively plan to avoid breaking them. My husband and I both travel for work and it can get super hectic trying to make sure we always have coverage. We’ve had APs offer to keep the kids for the weekend or overnight to help out with the travel schedules but we have always declined.
It’s interesting to hear your perspective that it makes you feel more like a family member to help out (which I’m sure contributes to making you a great AP with a great attitude) and I get that (especially when it seems kind of silly to ask my mom to drive a 2 hour round-trip just to sleep at my house so the AP doesn’t go over the 10 hour max), but like I said above, for me the black and white ones are not negotiable.

TexasHM February 5, 2015 at 6:25 pm

I know of a couple of families that have supposedly been put on the State Department “do not host list with any agency” list. Meaning supposedly if they applied for the program with a different agency they would not pass and be accepted because they are on some kind of black list. These were EXTREME cases and for the sake of the APs I’m not going to disclose any details except to say that their families were removed from the program but there was never any discussion of them getting a State Department visit, just blocking them from being able to agency swap and do this to another AP in the future.
In large part we follow the rules because yes we are rule followers by nature but also because we feel like we are setting an example for our children and as a family we want to always be above reproach. Yes an au pair could always try trashing us to the neighborhood but at this point having had many successful au pair relationships and zero complaints it likely would not be taken for truth (we know because it just happened and the APs and other families told us about it and that they didn’t buy any of it). The rules are the rules and yes we don’t always agree but we know it all going into the program and agree to it and sign a contract that we plan to uphold.

Seattle Mom February 6, 2015 at 12:48 am

I hope that is true. There are definitely some people out there who shouldn’t be hosting au pairs.

TexasHM February 6, 2015 at 10:25 am

I was told this by LCs at two different agencies (same exact story) so I believe it is true BUT – it is apparently REALLY hard to get a family put on this list. (Think burden of proof.)

Seattle Mom February 5, 2015 at 6:36 pm

I am pretty inflexible when it comes to following the program rules. Not because I’m a huge rule-follower, but because the black & white rules make sense.

But some of the rules seem to have grey areas, and they have already been discussed by others- groceries, cleaning, etc… my kids eat everything we eat and use every corner of the house. So for those rules I think it’s important to make sure to stay in the spirit of the program, because it’s possible to follow the rules and still be abusive.

I never plan to break the 10 hour/45 hour rule, but it has happened a couple of times in my 3+ years of au pair hosting. Only with one of my au pairs, who insisted she didn’t mind working extra hours. I only took her up on it when DD was sick, and only three times total (twice we went over 45 hours/week, and once over 10 hour day). I have always juggled our schedule to accomodate sickness & snow days when possible. I’ve also hired outside assistance, and scheduled my kids for camp in the summer when I knew that it would be hard to stay within the 45 hours with school out. I already know that will happen this summer, because my husband is teaching a very rough schedule for 4 weeks- we will definitely need the kids to be in some kind of half day camp to make everything add up.

We have asked our AP to do light grocery shopping for the whole family- during work hours and always stuff they will eat too. Usually just to pick one or two things up.

We ask our au pairs to run/empty the dishwasher as needed during the day- she probably does it about 75% of the time, because she’s home more than anyone else and generates the most dishes.

One of my au pairs insisted on doing all the laundry, including ours. I told her she didn’t have to and she shouldn’t, but she insisted. I had to hide items that required more delicate attention, but otherwise it was really lovely that she did that. That was the same au pair who insisted she could work extra hours, she kept our house spotless, cooked frequently, and was amazing with the kids. She also went out late all nights of the week and partied like a rock star… thus ending my concerns about “good time party girls.”

I would never ask an au pair to work for another family, but I would not look too closely if my au pair seemed to be doing something like that. Don’t ask don’t tell, unless it got in the way of my family’s needs.

Seattle Mom February 5, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Btw that same au pair who said she would work extra hours was not shy about telling us she had weekend plans and asking if we could change her weekend hours to another day/weekend. So I know that she was capable of saying no to us. We always accommodated her requests because she was so great and always went above and beyond.

Dorsi February 5, 2015 at 7:39 pm

I hear you — my current Au Pair never says “no” and always says “thank you”. Which is why I was out at 11:30 the other night picking her up from the airport when I could have been in my warm bed. Good will certainly goes both directions.

Should be working February 5, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Awww, I love that story Dorsi!

AlwaysHopeful HM February 6, 2015 at 7:48 am

Ha! So, for each of these I could answer sometimes, because there could always be some circumstance.

We were the worst rule breakers with our first au pair, but not intentionally. For example, she was an organization/neat freak, and we are not, but of course have no objection to neatness. More than once I came home to “I hope it’s okay that I organized the pantry” or the like.

She also took out the trash constantly, before I could get to it (she was home more), and insisted on cleaning up after dinner while I took my son to bed. She asked to cook dinner most nights, and begged me to go to the gym sometimes in the evenings. I did have her cook some (not most) meals, but the gym would have put her way over her hours, so I did not go. I think she felt sorry for me as a single mom, and really wanted to help.

She did my son’s laundry, and would fold anything i left in the dryer if it was there when she got there. That, I hated– I don’t like anyone else touching my laundry, so I just started racing to the dryer when it buzzed to make sure I got my stuff out.

All of the extra stuff she did made me uncomfortable, because I felt it was extra and also because I didn’t want to get used to all the extra and miss it with the next AP!

One thing i did ask of her was to go to pick up groceries and put away the perishables. At the time, we used a service at the grocery store where i would shop and order everything online, and she just had to pull the car up–they would load everything in the car for her . So I didnt feel bad asking her to do that during scheduled hours.

She also went way over hours on a few occasions: she kept my son one work evening while I went with my parents to have their dog put down; she stayed with my son for goodness knows how many extra hours once when my commuter train home struck a pedestrian and we had to wait to detrain. The worst was when I had the flu. I was physically present in the house, but completely out of it for at least a couple of days, and she just took over. I don’t know what I would have done if she had not been there– it hit me so quickly, and i literally couldn’t lit my head from the pillow (yes, I had gotten a flu shot… different strain, I guess). At one point, she sent my son up with a bowl of fruit, because I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and she was starting to worry that i was going to die! I tried to give her extra money for going so far beyond, and she felt insulted by the gesture, so I gave her time off when I could, and just did what I could to make her time happy with us.

With our next 2 au pairs, we haven’t really had these issues. The one big non-kid thing is to unload the dishwasher periodocally. It works out to about once a week. But, my son has a lot of chores, and AP is responsible for making sure he gets them done. One chore that is borderline is that my son is responsible for walking the dog. He’s not strong enough to handle the dog if something goes awry (like a loose dog running up to them), so I ask AP to go with him, but my son should be the one walking the dog and picking up his poop. On the other hand, if there are so many things scheduled that taking the dog out won’t be possible, I ask that AP walks him or let’s him out in the back yard before picking my son up from school. With first AP, my son was younger, and i had a dog walker come to walk the dog midday.

Last thing: I never request this, but both of the last 2 APs have gone out to help shovel snow, and both help me bring groceries in the house when I come home with them.

TexasHM February 6, 2015 at 10:35 am

I think what is becoming clear (and what I have seen from two agencies now) is that these gray area items (NOT state dept rules) are generally flexible as long as its the AP offering/genuinely wanting to do these things. It only seems to become an issue when APs are told to do these things or asked and agree even though they don’t want to do them. That makes it tough from a HP perspective because there are likely borderline things that might help a lot but as said previously, it’s often hard for APs to say no to HPs. I guess what I’ve learned from this thread is any of those middle areas should probably just be discussed casually first (as a hypothetical perhaps) and take your APs temperature on these things or wait for them to offer. I know an AP that makes her HM an omelette every morning. HM never asked for this, would never ask for this, but AP LOVES her HM (awesome match) and AP is up with kids making breakfast anyway so whips up a quick omelette for her HM as well. HM talked to me about it because she was concerned our LC would find out and flip out (this particular LC, not every LC in general). Those are the things that kill me. There are APs that really do have it rough out there and in our cluster we were all tiptoeing around about omelettes and groceries!!!

mom2jack February 6, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Luckily we have never gone over 10 hrs/day or 45 hrs/week. One child in school full time makes it pretty easy to follow this rule. On the rare occasion (maybe 3 times in 3 years) that a last minute Saturday evening invitation came up, and our pair was not scheduled to work (we are at maybe 25 hours for the week), we’ve told her that we were going to hire a sitter and the teenage sitter would not be comfortable with the au pair in the house so the au pair could choose to sit for our son or go out for the evening. Once the au pair said she had no plans and watched our son and twice we’ve hired sitters. And, in those instances, we made sure to adjust the schedule elsewhere so that the CC 1.5 consecutive days off requirement was met.

We have a house cleaner every other week. We ask our au pair to clean up after herself, keep her room and bathroom tidy between cleaner visits and help my son clean up after himself. Our au pair puts the occasional stray glass left behind by me or my husband into the dishwasher – as we would with hers. And our au pair empties the dishwasher approximately every third time.

As for laundry, with one child, I don’t do separate loads. I generally put wash into machine before I leave for the office and ask our au pair to move to the dryer and fold (note most of our work clothes are dry clean only) . To date all of au pairs have been fine with this arrangement – I have asked. They realize it’s easier than doing kids laundry for their friend’s families with three and four kids – or doing the entire family’s laundry as many of their friends do.

We have a dog and during the selection process we only seek dog lovers. When the rescue agency called to speak with us before accepting us into the program, they actually spoke with our first au pair who was so excited that the rescue group impressed. Our puppy filled our au pair’s Facebook pages and was front and center on her Christmas card. Our neighbors would comment that they saw our first and second au pairs all over town with the dog – walks, runs, coffee with friends. Each of these girls is in regular contact with us and always wants to know about the dog’s well being.

Our current au pair, who we took out of rematch, is a little less into the dog, but takes the dog when walks to and from school and lets her into and out of the fenced yard – works for everyone. We wouldn’t leave the au pair overnight or long weekends seems like too much responsibility for us to be comfortable with – but I know plenty of people who do this (and LCCs who look the other way). Like others have said we don’t ask our au pair to work for other families but if she did so we really wouldn’t know.

DCMomof3 February 6, 2015 at 3:30 pm

2 more points on this:

1) I really like the post about AP as third adult sharing 1/3 the household duties. I kind of agree, as long as they are truly shared duties for shared spaces. Taking out the trash, picking up the mail, sweeping leaves off the front steps, changing a lightbulb in the kitchen, picking up milk, etc. All are fair game as far as I am concerned. I address all of this in my speech about acting like a 3rd adult in the house – if you see something that needs to be done, then do it! Or come and tell the HP about it. Just letting it languish because its “no my job” is going to build bad will with me quickly.

2) Some of the extra stuff that APs want/try to do to earn money is not really the fault of the AP or the HP. I’ve had countless moms see my au pairs interacting with my kids who then ask the AP to babysit. And they offer the APs up to $20 per hour, which is of course tempting and makes their stipend seem incredibly cheap in comparison. After making the babysitting mistake with AP # 1 (which quickly got out of control when the family she was babysitting for asked her to move in with them!) I’ve never again allowed it. Now I am facing a similar situation with somebody my AP met at her college class asking her to stay in their beach cottage to watch the dog. As far as I am concerned, this is akin to taking on babysitting and I find it even more annoying b/c she would have to use my car to transport herself to this other job. I think I’ve communicated well that this is not acceptable, but it just leaves me wanting to tell all of these would-be employers to just go find their own babysitter/au pair/housesitter and leave mine alone!

Should be working February 6, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Here is a question that is sort of about AP agency rules and flexing them. Are families with an eating-disordered teen disallowed from the AP program? We are suddenly in the hard process of figuring out whether that painful road is what we are on. And–in terms of the spirit of the post and flexing rules–do we have to disclose this possibility to the agency at this uncertain point? Would they remove our current AP if there is a definitive diagnosis?

Emerald City HM February 6, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I can’t see why it would be disallowed. It’s a medical condition of the host child but they can get treatment here, whereas au pairs cannot get treatment while in the US for an eating disorder. Though maybe some agencies might consider that a special need, but I’m not sure.

It might mean you may want to screen au pairs that show signs of having an eating disorder themselves more carefully. I know they all say they don’t but we know our first one did.

TexasHM February 6, 2015 at 5:15 pm

I cannot imagine an agency removing an AP for this. We’ve seen horrible things reported and the AP was left in the home while the HF was given another chance because they said they “didn’t know” things were against the rules. Plus this isn’t abuse or rule breaking this is a family member with a medical issue. I would think its no different than a host mom with an eating disorder (never been asked this by any agency), a child with special needs or a medical condition that needs to be monitored etc. I would say the AP could “opt out” herself by asking to rematch to not deal with it if she wasn’t comfortable but as long as AP is fine they aren’t going to remove her no way!

AuPair Paris February 7, 2015 at 6:18 am

I absolutely can’t believe that au pairs would be “not allowed” in a house with a family member with a health problem! That would be terrible! I would screen for disordered attitudes towards food though. Diet talking and fat-shaming au pairs would be terrible influences for any teenager who is struggling with food – let alone one who is in the grips of such a painful condition. Honestly, there are au pairs out there with experience with psychology, or at least who are self-aware and know a little about mental illness – I have a bit of training and I know other au pairs who do as well – who might even be able to help a little, in the sense of being good role models and modeling good emotional attitudes.

And Should be working, I’m sorry your teen and your family is going through something so difficult.

AuPair Paris February 7, 2015 at 6:22 am

(Although from experience, as well as counselling training, many teens with eating disorders struggle with manipulation – that is to say, the disorder has a lot of control and can result in the teen manipulating the adults around them. Playing one off against the other, or similar. If this seems to happen, it would also be something worth chatting with/warning the au pair about.)

Should be working February 8, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Thanks all. This is horrible and terrifying, but pediatrician has experience and so we will just do whatever he says. For now I’ve halted matching entirely. We might be done with au pairs because I’m definitely feeling like I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s needs and feel like paying an adult for afterschool driving and care might fit that bill. But if we eventually go forward I’m pretty set on a male AP, for precisely the reasons HostOCDMom mentions.

Meanwhile current AP revealed that she also has eating disorder history. And she also said she can’t believe how thin everyone is here, including all my daughter’s friends. So much for stereotypes about Americans.

WarmStateMomma February 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Sending warm thoughts your way!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 7, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Personally, I would list the child as having special needs. If you ever have to ask an AP to watch a teen eat, make sure s/he keeps food down (or doesn’t gorge him or herself), or the care they need to provide will seem extraordinary in any way – be up front.

A friend had an APs go into rematch after discovering their child has asthma (even though the child has never used a rescue inhaler).

Child #2 was crippled by anxiety disorder after being bullied in camp. AP #8 wasn’t warned about it because it didn’t exist when we matched with her – he returned home from camp days before she arrived, so we were blindsided by it, too. She complained about it, but stuck through it (she complained about everything – she had never done a load of laundry before she came to our house). We made sure to reveal his anxiety disorder to every AP afterwards – even now when it’s not a big deal, because we don’t want an AP to use it as a rematch point.

If your child’s illness is new to you, then be up front about that, too. Talk openly about your child’s good points as well as his or her weaknesses. One line we use with AP candidates is, “You will not be asked to do something that we as HP will not do.” I stress this again when the AP arrives. “We do this, too.”

Anon this time February 9, 2015 at 1:43 pm

I’ve looked through our agency’s site and am finding nothing to help me – does anyone know if you declare a member of your family to be “special needs”, does that “stick” forever? One of my girls is currently getting some Occupational Therapy for some relatively minor issues that we hope will resolve soon. Basically her fine motor skills are delayed, but she’d been compensating so well it took us a while to notice (oops…). If her delays resolve in the next year, can we go back to “non special needs” or will we forever only be able to match with special needs willing candidates?

Our current au pair, who was here when we got the diagnosis and was probably special needs willing given her work experience, has taken this in stride and even takes her to OT and attends with her because we learn tips/tricks from the therapists that we want her to hear too. We have her for five more months – which is fantastic, but means we’ll be matching again soon.

Due to a lot of “special needs” in my family and my husband’s family (though not our immediate family) we’ve tended to look for “special needs willing” candidates just because they’d potentially be more comfortable at extended family gatherings. (I’m aware that there are candidates out there that “check the box” to cast a wider net, but we do tend to mention a few of the extended family issues during matching just to gauge their reactions.) We would disclose that one of our kids goes to OT and list it as a potential “activity” that we would want the au pair to do.

I guess I’m wondering if there are any downsides to listing our family as having “special needs” that I’m not seeing currently. I’d rather go in with complete openness and not have rematch issues, but I’m still hesitant to make a change to our “status.” Thoughts?

Taking a Computer Lunch February 9, 2015 at 2:20 pm

We’ve been a “special needs” family from day one. The reason we turned to APs is that we couldn’t afford local child care – even if we had found someone willing – because they caregivers charged a lot extra for children with special needs. Our first AP was a PICU nurse, so that worked out very well for us. The Camel started full-time preschool funded by our state 10 months after our AP arrived.

Child #2 has slid in and out of special needs status. He started receiving PT after AP #1 arrived to offset delays from an illness that occurred before she arrived. After he developed an anxiety disorder, we put him back on the special needs list, but he’s dealing with it so successfully that we’ll probably take him off with the next match (he’ll be old enough by that time – he’s entering high school and will be responsible for most of his own transportation).

If you have any concerns, talk with your LCC. However, in my experience, if you’re going to require an AP to regularly go to therapy appointments, learn the skills taught, and repeat them to you, then you’d be better off being up front about it – even if you don’t categorize the child as having special needs.

Multitasking Host Mom February 10, 2015 at 11:47 am

Two thoughts on this….
1 I doubt the special need designation “sticks” forever. At least with my agency, I have to update my application every year and I could easily just uncheck the special needs box that go around. Children’s needs our constantly changing, so I could see how that flexibility would be needed in some cases.
2 I understand your concerns about becoming a special needs designated family. I had them too when we first started host APs. Looking back I really glossed over a lot of my sons anxiety issues. Not really intentionally. I felt like I needed to “sell” our family bit, and frankly I always seem to want to put my children in the best light. We ended up with an AP who not only didn’t know what to do with my son when he started feeling anxious about things, but also didn’t want to put in the effort to learn. I learned my lesson and now happily check the special need box each year. And yes my worries did come true….we have a much smaller pool of APs to pick from and we have had a lot of APs reject us. But our last few APs have been stellar with taking care of my children and truely were a perfect fit for our family. Now due to therapy and medication my son doesn’t have as many issues, but we are going to continue only looking at special needs willing APs.

Anon this time February 9, 2015 at 1:46 pm

And sorry to interrupt SBW’s discussion, but this started me thinking about my question.

Mimi February 9, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Our twin boys were evaluated for developmental delays while AP #2 was here and ended up needing (mostly) speech therapy and (some) motor skill therapy which she attended with them as it was in home and during her work hours. I would attend an occasional session when requested by the therapist. We felt bad about the situation, but the AP didn’t mind as she wanted to be an early childhood educator and felt that this was something that she might come across professionally. She also told us the speech therapy held her improve her English. (!)

We updated our application to reflect this because we felt that it was important for APs to know that the children they would be spending the most time with might be hard for them to understand at first (beyond the baby talk issue). AP #2 extended for a second year and we left this on our application. AP #3 suggested we remove it when we started looking for her replacement because she indicated that it wasn’t really an issue any more and that she had been very nervous about the situation until she met the boys in person and felt that we had overstated the issue.

We spoke with our LCC at the time whose response was something to the effect that special needs should be disclosed for any chronic disability that may be medical, mental, or psychological. If we felt it wasn’t going to be an on-going or recurring issue that we didn’t need to include it. Since we have removed it, it does not appear in our profile and I would assume potential APs can’t see it.

hOstCDmom February 7, 2015 at 7:23 pm

I am sorry to hear that you may be facing this challenge. I concur that it seems there would be no basis for disallowing a family simply because their child has a medical, or psychological/psychiatric, condition. There may be a requirement to disclose this, but even if there were not, you might consider doing so in the best interests of your child and matching with an AP who will be aware, sensitive and capable of being part of your support team for your teen.

Lastly, at the risk of playing into broad gender stereotypes, I wonder if a male AP might not be the better gamble for you at this junction? I know you were at least considering this option, perhaps for other reasons, but I wonder if a male AP might bring less “food baggage” with him? I say this because many women I know (most?) and all but one of our female APs had “food issues”. One AP had a full blown eating disorder (terrible for her, but it did not interfere with her doing her job, and thus I didn’t initiate rematch over it, feeling that she was an adult with a private problem that was not impacting my family, so it was her business (my kids were all little at the time and her odd eating/eating disorder was not apparent to them; it would be at their current ages, so I would act differently now.). However, all our female APs had various “food issues” or “weight issues” or unhealthy dieting habits or stated worries about their weight etc. Our two male APs did not. The males ate lots of healthy food, regular snacks, and never once dieted or linked food to emotions or labeled it as “good” or “bad” etc. I wonder if a male AP might be more “neutral” vis-à-vis food, and thus give you and your teen space to figure out what is going on without adding any variables based on their own issues to the mix?

CAmom22 February 9, 2015 at 10:23 pm

SBW – I’m really sorry to hear you and your family are going through this difficult time. I wish you the best of luck and just wanted to “second” hOstCDmom’s advice. Good luck to you.

AlwaysHopeful HM February 8, 2015 at 11:10 am

SBW, I’m sorry to hear that you are facing this difficult question. My suggestions would be the same whether or not you’ve had a definitive diagnosis. Regarding your current au pair, I would think that it would be a matter of whether she and you felt she is able to handle the evolving physical and emotional challenges you guys are facing as a family. How has she been so far? Does she enhance or detract from the family’s overall emotional health? Is she able to remember her job as a constant role model, and act accordingly? Is she needy? You may not have a lot of emotional energy left to tend to her needs. Can she handle tgat? Does she have a good network of friends and sufficient outside interests to keep her energized and enthusiastic?

For future APs, I don’t know if it must be discusued with the agency, but I would certainly make sure to have a lot of discussions with potential APs about what eating disorder are, how they manifest, what care challenges they may face, and any challenges AP has faced or familiarity she or he may have with eating disorders or other problems or emotional challenges surrounding food, exercise, control, body image or the many other components. I would think that as long as everyone understood what was at stake, the AP side of the equation should be okay.

NewAPHostMom February 8, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Gees, after reading this read makes me realize my AP only does the bare minimum, and not unless I ask her. Empties the dishwasher but only because I ask (and we wouldn’t be running it daily if she weren’t here), never takes out the kitchen trash (and seems unable to compact it down, just lays stuff on top). if she takes laundry out of the dryer that happens to have some of the children’s clothing in it doesn’t bother to fold it and put it away even though their laundry is one of her chores. And the other night she wanted to go out, but because there was some snow in the driveway sat around and waited for my husband to shovel it instead of offering to help.

HRHM February 10, 2015 at 12:58 am

You don’t say how long you’ve had her but I take it from your Nom de Mom that she’s your first?

Now is the time to have the reset conversation and lay down a basic schedule of tasks you’d like completed each week (if you haven’t already done so) OR reinforce said schedule if you already have one and she’s just not doing it.

Unfortunately, getting/having/keeping a great Au Pair is probably 75%+ YOUR management of her work and only 25% or less her underlying abilities. If you repeatedly let her slide and just stew about it without directly addressing it, it will only get worse.

If you never gave her a HHHB or told her these things had to be done on a regular basis and she’s been with you for several months, expect some push back. Despite what you had in the back of your mind as an expectation, she will see it as you changing the psychological contract without warning.

Good luck.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 10, 2015 at 7:59 am

Basically, being a first-time HM is a steep learning curve. You learn what type of personality meshes best with yours, how to manage someone (even if you’re a manager at work, you’ll learn that there’s more in play in managing someone in your home), and how to teach the young adult living in your house to become an adult (assuming that your AP is fresh out of high school and has never lived away from her parents home).

I agree with HRHM – don’t let things fester. Have what some people call a “sandwich” conversation after your kids go to bed. Tell her about the great things she is doing, then talk about how she needs to step up her game – like washing, folding, and putting away the kids laundry, running and emptying the dishwasher when it’s too full to include dinner dishes, emptying the garbage when it’s full during her shift (or compacting it down), and whatever other little chores you want her to do. Then end the conversation on a positive note, telling her that you know she’s capable of doing what you’re asking her to do. I have found telling an AP directly, “I know you were a child in your parent’s house, but you’re the third adult in this house.” Then, when she does what you ask, notice it and remark positively on it.

The next time she’s itching to go out, tell her, “It would be great if you would help X shovel the snow, since you want to go out. After all, you’re an adult in this house, and that’s one of the tasks adults do.” (If she’s from an area of the world that doesn’t experience much snow, then this may be a learning curve for her.) Show her how to defrost a car properly if she’s never done it before – I can’t tell you how many AP’s left annoying hand swipe marks on the inside of a windshield because they weren’t patient enough to let the car defrost properly.

If you don’t have a handbook, now’s the time to start building one for the next au pair – there are some helpful examples under “categories” as well as some extensive threads discussing handbooks.

NewHostMom February 8, 2015 at 9:45 pm

We have our first AP and by nature I am very much a rule follower. We have not broken the 10 hours a day rule but at the moment we are pretty consistently at about 47 hours a week. Driving has been far less successful than we had hoped with our Au Pair which has left some picking up of kids to me expanding my day a bit. We’ve been working on driving lessons but she’s not going to be driving my often distracting children any time soon. We had a pretty open discussion about getting additional help one day a week to be below 45. We had a week of additional help prior to the baby being 3 months old (never broke that rule!). We give evenings and weekends off completely and have only asked her for some time on Saturday when we had given her Monday off. She felt strongly the two hours a week aren’t a problem. When summer comes and all the kids are home (currently 2 days a week she is home with just the baby and he is a very good sleeper and generally a very calm easy baby) we will either insist on help to be below 45 hours or I will flex my schedule at work so that i can come home early (which was the original plan until it became clear she couldn’t handle pre school pick ups). She has repeatedly offered to help on weekends but we feel strongly her full M-F week is enough and she needs her time. Not taking advantage of her is something I try to be very aware of. As for chores she does empty the dishwasher and despite telling her multiple times she doesn’t have to help clean up after dinner she usually does that too. She does nothing at all with our pets or shopping and I wouldn’t leave her overnight, but my children are young and their care is constant. It would be a lot even if it wasn’t against the law I don’t think I’d be comfortable.

All in all we feel very lucky to have her as our first experience. I’m pretty lax on picking up after the kids she does a better job than I do. She has organized their closets and folds their laundry more precisely. I never really ask her or insist that she does the laundry – again little kids I get that some days are just difficult – but she always manages to get it done and folded and put away more neatly than I would :)

She doesn’t shop at all with the driving thing I don’t know if that will change over time but if she gets more comfortable driving I’d have no issue asking her to pick up something. I actually wish she’d ask us for more for herself, she’s welcome to anything we have but rarely makes requests but occasionally comes home with things when she’s out with friends. I try to remember to put the things she brings home on my list so she doesn’t pay for them herself.

American Host Mom in Europe February 9, 2015 at 8:41 am

I haven’t read all the comments, but have to say I’m glad I’m not living in the US and having to have an AP — it clearly wouldn’t work for us. In my country, there are almost no official rules — they are limited to: 1) they must be 18-30 years old, 2) no more than 25 hours of light housework per week; 3) they must be studying local language for much of the remaining time, 4) you must offer room and board, 5) monthly pretax salary minimum, 6) household duties and studies combined must not exceed 40 hours per week, and finally, 7) they may not take up full time employment as a child minder or home helper while on an au pair visa.

As a general rule, most host families start off following these, but many au pairs are not interested in studying the local language for a full year (it isn’t spoken outside this country, and everyone here speaks fluent English anyway), so most will take a course or two and then stop. There are no agencies, and there is no enforcement of these rules — and to be fair, I don’t know of any other host family here who even has an au pair handbook (I do, courtesy of many of the examples on Au Pair Mom!). My handbook says they’ll work 25-40 hours per week M-F, including study time; although we do offer au pairs the option to occasionally babysit on weekends for extra time off or pay (their choice), because when we used to get other babysitters, our APs got very annoyed at not having the chance for the extra money.

While I follow the spirit of the US program, it is part of our au pair’s regular responsibilities to grocery shop once a week, and she prepares meals at least 3 nights a week, sometimes 4-5 nights – for the children, herself and usually me (my husband is away Mon-Fri every week). She also stays overnight with the children for 1-2 nights in a row once or twice a year when I have a business trip, although if my trip needs to be more than 2 nights, my husband will come home for one night. When the children were younger, I’d have a babysitter come in the afternoons to help/give her a break when I was traveling, although even then, the children were in daycare 9-3 daily. As an expat, without any family nearby, we don’t have other options, really — so glad the AP program here is well suited to us!

HRHM February 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Out of curiosity, do you look for Americans to AP for you (since you can) or do you mainly choose women from other countries? I’d be interested to hear how they compare…

SKNY February 10, 2015 at 6:33 am

Are the following chores out of the program rules:
1. Clean children’s room once a week (meaning dusting furniture, sweeping, moping, and wiping their mirror clean)
2. Wiping down their (au pair and kids) bathroom every other day (spraying a solution in tub, sink, and mirror daily and wiping with paper towel, sweeping and moping bathroom once a week.
3. Empty the dishwasher in the morning as needed (family fills it and turn it on every night)
4. Daily Sweeping the floor in the main areas where the babies crawl (living room, tv room, playroom, and kitchen – one open floor concept area) so that babies will not eat stuff from the floor
5. Kids laundry and clothes (includes putting in box clothes that are not fitting, and switch seasons once a year)
6. Keep playroom and house free of toys (have kids pick up after themselves)
7. Once a week organize the kids minivan.
I thought so, except for the daily sweeping of main common areas, but wasn’t sure because it would be probably easier for an Au pair to sweep the area than to keep watching so the baby won’t eat any little thing he finds in the floor…
Ps: not for me as I still don’t have Au paif

BearCo Mom February 10, 2015 at 11:14 am

My feeling is #1, 2, & 3 are borderline — particularly #2 — mainly just the mopping part – But a good AP would not think this was a big deal I think if this was the only “cleaning” required. (Our ‘cleaning’ tasks include vacuuming the playroom 2x a week, cleaning the baby’s high chair, sweeping the kitchen floor after kid meals, cleaning the car seats and vacuuming the crumbs from the car floor. )

The others to me seem clearly kid related tasks that are fine.

Our APs always clean out the dishwasher in the morning. I’ve never told them to do this , they just do it because it’s easier than the alternative — i.e., hand washing all the dishes accumulated through the day because the dishwasher is still full of clean dishes from the overnight wash.

HRHM February 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I disagree that 1 and 2 are “borderline” I can’t think of a more kid-related housework than cleaning their rooms and bathroom, especially if they are too little to do it themselves. Although I will say, 2 (and maybe 4) is a little OCD (and I’m an OCD neatnick so that’s saying something) Cleaning the sink, tub and mirror (especially for little kids) probably only needs to be done once a week. For bigger kids, they should be doing/helping/participating in these chores as well.

3 is a “flatmate” chore along with things like putting out the garbage when the can is full or bringing in the mail occasionally when you pass the box. Unless she wants to hand wash all the dishes she uses, along with any generated by the kids during her hours, she should have no heartburn dealing with either being the loader/runner or the emptier/putter away. In our house, we load as we go (ALL of us, kids included) and then I usually run it before bed. She empties it in the AM but my kids are bigger and capable of getting themselves ready for school unassisted.

TexasHM February 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm

That’s another good point that has been casually mentioned a couple times here – having the kids do the chores. That is what we do in our household and the AP is to pitch in/supervise as needed. On laundry that means the kids bring the baskets to the laundry room, help sort, help pull dry clothes out and in basket, help fold, etc but AP has to supervise the sorting, actually load and start the washer, transfer to dryer and supervise/fold what my kids can’t. The kids also put the clothes away as a chore on their chore chart. Dishes are similar – my oldest can actually rinse and load the dishwasher for the most part but that is a higher paid chore because it is a lot of work for him at his age. The younger two can unload and stack onto the counter and put away silverware but AP has to help finish because they can’t reach the higher cabinets (plates, glasses). Our son does the trash duties so AP isn’t involved there aside from reminding him on trash days and we have someone come to clean the critical stuff every other week (bathrooms, kitchen and all hard floors). AP is responsible for cleaning her own room, son can vacuum his so she supervises and then she does younger kids room although we have never policed this. Kids help do sheets and make their beds back up with clean ones. Son will occasionally (when needed) sweep kitchen floor as a paid chore. Younger kids bring in the mail everyday as a paid chore. Obviously a lot of this is dependent on the age of the kids but aside from teaching our kids to contribute to the household and pick up after themselves I guess we are getting the added benefit that our AP is unlikely to feel like a housekeeper and we don’t have to worry about whether something is within the spirit of the program if our kids are doing it! ;) That might be a great workaround for those of you with pets as well. Our younger ones feed/water our bird as a chore, AP supervises but is never involved so we have never had to have a pet as AP responsibility conversation.

cv harquail February 12, 2015 at 10:57 am

Folks, I’ve pended that sub-thread on cooking and ‘catch as catch can’ nights for a new (upcoming) post.

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