Which bedroom to choose for your Au Pair?

by cv harquail on September 26, 2012

Lucky you- you’re not only getting an au pair, but also you have a choice of rooms for his or her bedroom!  

But which bedroom should you choose– the one near the baby? The big one where s/he’d share the kids’ bathroom or the smaller one where she’d have her own bathroom? Or the tiny one with the great view?

Recently some friends of mine decided to get their first au pair. While they’ve had live-out nannies for years, they no longer needed that level of childcare. They wanted more flexibility, and maybe even someone who’d be fun and help broaden their kids’ worldview. So far, so good.

They have three kids– a 14 yr old, a 12 yr old, and a 7 yr old.  Their cosy home has three floors — it’s not huge or glamourous, but it does have well-designed space. The second floor has the parent’s bedroom/bathroom, three smaller bedrooms and a bathroom. On the third floor there are two additional bedrooms and a bathroom.

girls bedroom with owl wall stickerWhen our friends moved into the house a year ago, their 14yr old daughter took a bedroom on the third floor, and the two other kids got bedrooms on the second floor.  That left two open rooms, one on each floor.  One of these rooms was for an au pair, and one was designated for a homework room/office/study for everyone to use.

A few weeks before their au pair arrived, my DH and I went out to dinner with this couple, and the conversation turned to their au pair’s arrival. They were super-excited, and wanted everything to go off well.

They were planning to put their au pair in the open bedroom on the second floor, right across the hall from them and in-between the two younger kids.  Why the second floor?, I asked.  Because their teenager wanted the third floor to herself.

“Oh really?”

My husband and I looked at each other. Which on one of us was going to challenge their judgment as parents? Which one of us was going to tell them, outright, what to do?

“Put the au pair on the third floor.”  

“When you have a choice, optimize for parental privacy.”

“You’re the parents. You need to do what you want, not what your kids prefer.”

My DH and I absolutely agree that when given a choice, you put the au pair as far away from you parents as possible.

Why? Because most of the hard stuff of having an au pair has to do with having enough privacy as a parent, and as a couple. If you have a place you can go and hide from your au pair when you are tired, or angry, or emotional, or just want to be alone — it REALLY makes a difference.

It’s probably also true from the au pair’s point of view. It takes a lot of energy to operate in another culture, in another family. And, sometimes you just have to go hide. (Not always. Just sometimes.)

I’m happy to report that their au pair did arrive, she got the bedroom on the third floor, and she and the teenager share a bathroom stuffed to the gills with hair products.

The host parents got to keep their second floor as a more private space.

And they all are living happily ever after.


See also:

“Mama Needs Her Space”

Image: Decorating, AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by tjstaab


hm2 September 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm

This makes perfect sense to me for all the reasons that you give. We also live in a big house and for the AP room opted for the room that is the furthest away from our bedroom. One AuPair once said that sleeping on the other side of the house made him feel somewhat excluded and left out but all other AuPairs were fine with the room. It’s also good for them – we don’t hear them skype or talk on the phone at night, which we would if they had a room closer to ours.

Daring Au Pair September 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

When I was an au pair, my bedroom was sandwiched between the parents bedroom and the children’s bedroom. I completely agree with aupairmom’s stance for 2 reasons:

1. I would have greatly appreciated more sound privacy
2. Being so close to the host family all the time was a bit much after a while – and I was extremely fond of them

The au pair’s room will likely be the only place in the house she feels completely relaxed and at ease, so the more privacy she has there the better. It will be her sanctuary – which I’m guessing is how a lot of parents feel about their own bedrooms? Everyone needs space to decompress and recollect themselves sometimes…

And, yes – the freedom to make late night phone/Skype calls is much appreciated and invaluable! If you can’t offer your au pair the sound privacy to do this in her room, I greatly recommend inviting her to use another room that does strictly for this purpose.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm

This is funny to me – my current AP suite is below The Camel’s suite. It turns out that any AP making a late night call, if she speaks loudly, can be heard through the baby monitor in DH and my bedroom. While the room, which is on the opposite end of the house from ours, and in the basement whereas ours is on the 2nd floor, may appear private, that baby monitor picks up a lot. We do say something, if we hear more than we wish.

Jade Au Pair October 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I know from your child’s needs the baby monitor is totally necessary but I do hope you told your Au Pair about it before she moved in because that might make me feel a little uncomfortable and like I was walking on egg shells if I found out after.

Reb September 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I suppose each are their own… When I was an au pair, like Daring Au Pair, my room was located between the childrens rooms and the host parents room. I would have preferred to be further away from the host parents as I felt I wanted to give them the space they needed to stay sane (and for me to stay sane sometimes!!!). My host parents did not have the luxury to pick and choose from several rooms so it was inevitable that I would be wedged between them and their children. In the end it worked out fine and as far as I am aware there were never any problems in regards to noise level or privacy. Having said that, when I lived at home with my parents (a long time ago now:S!) my bedroom was right above my parents room so I was used to having to be fairly quiet at night time etc.

Oops, I rambled a bit there. I suppose going back to my first sentence, you should do whatever you feel the most comfortable with, if that is having the au pair as far away as possible from your bedroom that is fine and vise versa…

If you do not mind where the au pair stays, why not give her the option – it would be a nice welcome treat for him/her!

Newhostmom September 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

This post makes it sound like we all have a choice! We live in a very expensive area and usually there’s a trade-off between being closer to the city and not stuck in a boring suburb (my bias shows!) and the size of one’s house. Sure we could have had tons of space if we’d moved out 20 minutes more, but we like to be where the action is! There are lots of families with au pairs here. Some of them have bedrooms in the basement, but many of them are in one or three bedrooms upstairs (parents in one, kids sharing another). Yes, it’s tight and noisy, but it would be far fewer families who had au pairs in this area if we had to make sure the au pair had a separate space away from the parents.

I’d recommend that au pairs consider what they want, need and can put up with of course and get all the details before matching. But I don’t think distance from your host parent’s room is going to make or break your au pair year and you’ll be cutting out a LOT of families if you only to for the ones with separate suites.

Apu September 27, 2012 at 8:22 am

There are 4 bed rooms and we are all living on the same floor. My bedroom is separated by the parents bathroom,but it’s just in front of the main hall where the parents put their wardrobe and computer. It’s big and cozy and also equipped by shower. But there is no voice privacy, even if i close the door i still can hear the parent voice at night and vice versa. When I having a skype or phone call, I must speak extra slow so I won’t wake up the baby
What is worse is in the morning, they told me to wake up around 7.15 AM to help them with the kids. But they always wake up at 6.30AM and I can hear them taking shower, shouting to the kids (yes, shouting every morning), even if their talking they don’t intend to lower their voice. It’s just weird for me that they have to shout to give order to their kids because it never happens in my family.
The good thing is the kids respect my privacy. When I close the door it means “no more playing with me”.

Should be working September 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Apu, so you mean in your family the kids just do whatever the parents say, with no reminders, voice-raising or frustration? How does that work?

newhostmom September 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I don’t know, Should be Working – we have our au pair on the same small house level as I mentioned, and we are always super quiet. I’m sure all she hears is “shhhhhh! shhhhhh!” :) It’s very difficult to keep little kids quiet, but I have never had to yell or raise my voice in the morning right near her room. And of course it’s not because they listen the first time (although I’m not really a yeller anyway), it’s because I try very hard to be as quiet as I can in the morning when she’s sleeping.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm

This is another issue, isn’t – how quiet to be so the AP can sleep? On weekdays in our house this isn’t an issue – the AP usually wakes up the kids. On the weekends, we’re usually out the door early, and after a bit of a mad scramble, the AP has the house to herself. After 11 in the morning, however, all bets are off. The Camel is permitted back into her room to play (her play is noisy). We advise the AP to purchase ear plugs.

Should be working September 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm

We try to be quiet in the morning too. But it is hard, and the dog barks, and fortunately our APs seem to be deep sleepers and don’t mind.

I was just responding to APU’s statement that “It’s just weird for me that they have to shout to give order to their kids because it never happens in my family.” NEVER happens? I admit I’m not the model mom, but really you other moms don’t end up raising your voices to get kids to do what you ask?

American AP in Europe September 29, 2012 at 6:03 am

No, some parents don’t yell at their kids. That is the literal, straight forward answer. It would drive me crazy to live with yellers.

JJ Host Mom September 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I have yet to meet a parent who NEVER yells at their kids.

Apu September 30, 2012 at 6:59 am

Nope, my mom never yell at me even when I was a kid. My sister also never yell to her son, I know it because we were living in the same house. That’s why it surprised me when the HF shouting all the time to their kids, even the 2 years old baby who can’t even speak.
I understand voice-raising or kind of frustration you mean. But for me, the context of voice raising is when you talk normally beofre and don’t get the respond you want after several times. My HF just using loud voice to tell the kid (the big one) to go to bathroom, change clothes, etc, all morning activities. Esp about finishing breakfast. Even to the baby when she’s a little bit craving of attention. They just tell her NO. WAIT THERE. WHAT’S WRONG?
I don’t blame parents who yell at their kids. I know it’s so hard handling kids. But it’s just not usual for me. This HF asked me to be a little bit “harder” to the kids, but I can’t. Esp to the cute little baby :)

NonCoastHostMom October 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I also have yet to meet a parent who has never lost his or her temper and/or yelled at his or her child – I cannot think of any parent I know who even claims not to do so.

TiredMama October 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm

There is a difference between yelling constantly at a child and a parent who yells on the rare occasion. I can honestly say I can count the number of times that I have truly yelled at my children. I find that when parents resort to yelling all the time, they do not truly understand child development and effective guidance strategies.

aline October 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm

=D nice
I AM just making my application now ..to become an au pair ,and I think that it is very important for everyone to have a little of privacity.

Jade Au Pair October 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I had a huge issue with this with HF. I wasn’t on-duty untul 7.30 but the kids woke up at 6.30 and the mum seemed to scream at them all the time or let them yell and slam cupboards and doors. My room was off from the main living area and kitchen and I heard everything. I thought it was really disrespectful since I never slammed doors or yelled coming in at night. I know complete silence is unrealistic but not making an effort to shush herself or the kids made me sleep so poorly it meant my mood was also poor, not what I wanted (and I’m sure they never either) when working with the kids.

Twin+1Mamma September 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

We are kind of in the same situation! We are moving into a brand new house in two weeks and it’s another two weeks before our first au pair arrives.
In the house there are two master suites, one of them on the 2nd floor with the kids’ bedrooms and one on the 3rd floor

The one on the 3rd floor is by far more private for her. The downside for us is, when she comes home late at night she will walk up the stairs and all the way down the hall passing ours but most importantly the kids’ bedrooms when walking up the last flight of stairs, which is in between each of our twins’ nurseries down the hall.

On the other hand we have the 2nd floor bedroom which is right as you come up the stairs, so no one will hear her come home, plus the fact that it is bigger.
This solution is great for the kids’ sake but we aren’t sure if us sleeping upstairs is the best idea, when the twins and our 5 year old daughter is on the 2nd floor. Maybe the au pair would prefer the more secluded and private bedroom.

We talked about letting her decide but my husband thinks that we should somehow work it out and find the best solution ourselves. What would you do?

Dorsi September 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm

You say nurseries, so that make me think your twins are little. I would not be a flight of stairs away from small babies if I didn’t have to be — I would hate going up and down the stairs at night. We moved our baby downstairs when she was around 1 — we rarely went into her room at night anymore and it was a better situation.

I imagine your AP will be happy in either master suite — you should really think about what is best for you. How noisy are the stairs? How lightly do your kids sleep? Where do you want to be?

Seattle Mom September 27, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Our AP’s room is right above our bedroom & the kids’ bedroom, and I’m surprised how little I hear her up there. Sometimes I can just barely make out her voice if she’s on skype. And I can barely hear her up and down the stairs.

My husband’s office is also up there, although on the other end of the hall (not right above our bedrooms, over the kitchen instead). And when he goes up & down the stairs, it’s like a herd of elephants. I think some people just know how to move more quietly :).

We have a white noise machine in the kids’ room, and it blocks out all noises from upstairs. We still have to talk quietly in our room (right next door to kids, and connected by a heat vent), because it’s not super loud (we wouldn’t want it to be).

So I think it can work out, esp if you are willing to get a white noise machine. I would not want to be upstairs, especially since my baby wakes up at night!

On a side note, we conciously do not choose an au pair who is on the heavy side because we want someone who is “light on her feet” in the upstairs room above our bed. I know that light people can be loud too (loud shoes, loud voice), but there’s a better chance that a light person won’t clod around as much. My mother stayed in the upstairs bedroom for a month before our au pair arrived, she is quite overweight and I could really hear her up there.

hm2 September 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

My children sometimes wake up at night and there have also been several occasions when they got sick at night. Therefore, I would probably always choose the bedroom that’s closest to the kids. As for the AP having to walk up the stairs, tell her to do it quietly and as in some other post suggested if she comes home between 3 and 6 and wakes up the kids, she has to babysit them in the morning.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm

In my experience, kids adapt to routine noises fairly easily. My son can sleep through big noises thanks to the fact that The Camel screamed through the night for two years, including the last year they shared a room together. (We all sleep better now that she doesn’t.) Ask her not to talk as she goes past the bedrooms, ask her to remove her shoes and carry them up. My guess is she’ll be extra quiet because she doesn’t want to wake YOU.

CA mom to twins September 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

We have 2 bedrooms downstairs and 3 upstairs (including the master). When we only had our twins, we had a choice of putting the au pair upstairs with us, but chose to make one of the downstairs bedroom for her instead, so that she would have more privacy and not be woken up at nights/weekends. It worked out great for us parents too!

Emerald City Host Mom September 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I do have to say I find this post somewhat amusing, since my first experience of asking a question to CV was a fairly similar one (almost exactly 2 years ago). However, the responses were different (have the au pair stay on the main floor), though the circumstances were slightly altered as I had a teenage boy on another floor instead of a teenage girl. :). We also would have had to rearrange furniture and switch the location of office furniture and bedroom furniture.

Next year we will be in a situation where we will be able to give a future au pair a choice of the basement bedroom or the room upstairs by us, since my son will be off to college. In our case we will actually give her the choice since we don’t want her to have the impression that she isn’t part of the family and we are forcing her to stay in the basement away from us. That also has to do with the fact that she would be the only one sleeping on that floor and the basement can feel really secluded.

Given the situation above I would also put the au pair upstairs with the teen.

cv harquail September 28, 2012 at 11:07 am

Oh ECHM- I forgot about that post! In this one, I was just taking for granted the female au pair/female teen thing, so the issue of having privacy from an opposite sex teenager didn’t even come to mind. Thanks for bringing this up.
Here’s your original post!

Integrating an Au Pair when your household has an Older Teen

Should be working September 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm

It was fun to reread that post about having an older teen.

I’ve got some barely related pre-teen issues to ask the wise HPs here, we have talked so much about littler kids and a little about teens, but not about preteens very much!

My daughter used to adore our au pairs. Clinginess was a problem. Now she is 11 and sometimes friendly, sometimes sullen, sometimes rude and disrespectful. The current au pair has some difficulty with this (so do we all!) and I’m wondering how to help her, besides expressing support and respect, and trying to work on respect on our daughter’s part, and figuring out some fun things they can do together to promote happy bonding. Any clues on how to work on this?

Here’s another question: I wonder if it would be a good or a very bad idea to try a male au pair next time. Our little son would probably be thrilled. Our daughter would likely be horrified, but I wonder if it might reduce her tendency toward drama and competitiveness with our au pair. Would it be unfair to put her in the position of having to deal with a ‘young man’ around just as she is physically changing so much and embarrassed about it? Would it be a way to have a less charged AP-HK relationship?

Any anecdotes?

Taking a Computer Lunch September 28, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Since The Camel is not a typical teenager, all I can go is from the point of view of a preteen boy:

1) kids tend to open up when they are doing – it is up to the adult (parents, too!) to do what the kid likes to get him to open up – throw a ball, shoot hoops (okay, don’t ride the skateboard – the rubber band doesn’t always bounce back). Meet on common ground to have a conversation and you’ll be surprised at what you learn. Encourage new au pairs to do what their ‘tween and teen HK like to do.

AP #1 taught him her language, which became their secret language (as if I didn’t understand the word chocolate), AP #2 went to all the animated movies, AP #3 spoke his favorite second language, AP #4 rescued the beloved hamster from a glue trap, AP #5 cooked a favorite seaweed soup (who knew?!), AP #6 was great at the Wii. AP # 7 was great at having laser gun fights. With the exception of AP #1, who arrived when he was an infant, all had to be patient to let the trust build.

It’s okay to let a HK show his or her stuff, but really, they want boundaries and a take-charge attitude (even if they chafe a bit at the start). An AP who can’t set the boundaries from the start suffers.

Finally, encourage your AP not to ignore the teen or tween, just because they’re self sufficient. Once ignored, the teen or tween figures they don’t need an AP, and then it’s trouble all the way. (Believe me, when child #2 says “The AP is here for The Camel,” which while true, sets up a bad relationship for the year.)

Apu September 30, 2012 at 6:54 am

Nope, my mom never yell at me even when I was a kid. My sister also never yell to her son, I know it because we were living in the same house. That’s why it surprised me when the HF shouting all the time to their kids, even the 2 years old baby who can’t even speak.
I understand voice-raising or kind of frustration you mean. But for me, the context of voice raising is when you talk normally beofre and don’t get the respond you want after several times. My HF just using loud voice to tell the kid (the big one) to go to bathroom, change clothes, etc, all morning activities. Esp about finishing breakfast. Even to the baby when she’s a little bit craving of attention. They just tell her NO. WAIT THERE. WHAT’S WRONG?
I don’t blame parents who yell at their kids. I know it’s so hard handling kids. But it’s just not usual for me. This HF asked me to be a little bit “harder” to the kids, but I can’t. Esp to the cute little baby :)

NonCoastHostMom October 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

We are fortunate enough to have a great deal of space and there was a natural choice for the AP room, but I can share how our situation works.

We have a 1st floor master; on the second floor, our boys have rooms that share a bath and the au pair has a third room with its own bath. I like that the au pair and kids are all on the same floor and that our room is on a different floor for several reasons. For me, it clearly delineates that the AP is to keep the second floor straightened up, whereas we parents are primarily responsible for the first floor. AP does not walk past our bedroom to get to hers at night, which is also a plus, but I am honestly not sure we would hear her anyway. For awhile, AP showering right next to the toddler’s room after he went to bed would disturb him, but he quickly got used to that. I told my older son before the AP came that when her door was closed she was having some alone time and should not be disturbed, and he has respected that. Our AP frequently hangs out with us in the evening and her going upstairs is a clear signal that she is up for the night, which just helps with the couple-time situation. (We bust out our hidden treats and watch scary movies – which the AP doesn’t like).

Talya October 2, 2012 at 10:14 am

I definitely agree with keeping the au pair as far away from the parents as possible. The host parents need their privacy, and au pairs most certainly do as well. When I worked as an au pair in Germany I had a teeny tiny room on the third floor but loved that although the room was nearly the size of a big closet, it was away from the family and a great place I could shut myself off on when I needed privacy. So yes, keep the au pair as far away as possible!

spanishaupair October 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm

if possible, i should put the aupair as far away as possible, gives more privacy for both sides. As an aupair i have lived next to kids and parents bedrooms most of the times, and it was ok, because the house was small but the aupair or the family has no privacy as you can hear everything and obviously the family can hear everything, and if the kids are the typical young kids that don’t understand the idea of free time or personal space, could be a bit difficult sometimes. Now i have my room on the top floor of the house and i’m the only one who use it and really makes a big difference, of course is a bit scary sometimes but privacy is very important for both sides specially when you are going to be living together for a long time.

Au Pair Australia October 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Having an au pair is a very nice experience, but as parents we still need our privacy, which is affected from the moment they arrive, so I agree if you have a room for her as far as possible, better for you, at least you feel less intimidated.

Seattle Au pair! November 20, 2012 at 9:21 am

When I was an au pair, I was lucky to get my rooms in both host families separete from their rooms/kids rooms.
My first house the room was on the first floor,close to the family room and the kichen, and sometimes it was very lound, but as an au pair you have to remember that as much as they try to be quiet they are in their house and they have kids. and like someone suggested to her au pair, I bought ear plugs, the problem was solved the room was perfect.
My second family I had a room outside of the house, that was a dream, I was very close to the family but having my separete little house ( it was like a studio apartment) it was amazing. As much as I loved them I loved having my privacy and not worrying if I was being loud or waking someone if I was getting home late.
So my advice is that if you have the option of having your au pair room separete do it, for you and for her/him !

SM CA January 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I am shocked to hear in which conditions some au pair need to live, and I seriously think that before to host an au pair, people should ask “do I have a nice place for my au pair to live in? Regardless which are the law requirements.
In our first house, we had a construction company coming in to switch the basement in a nice quarter for gusts / au pair, it has nice dark wood flooring, white walls, nice queen size bed, heat /air conditioner, own tiled bathroom, TV, computer, desk etc. We also putted a little fridge for the au pair, so she does not have to inconvenience herself to walk in the kitchen to get a fresh bottle of water in the middle of the night. It is literally like her own little apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom and an entertainment room).
Let me be clear: I ask the au pair if she does prefer to live in the nice new basement, or in a bedroom that we have in the second floor (the second bedroom is close to the kids bedroom), I didn’t want the au pair to feel like she was forced to confine herself, so I left the choice up to her.
Every au pair I had chosen to be in the renovated basement, all of them loved it, they were able to have friends over and actually entertain them. We as a family became very close to some of my previous au pair friends, and all of them complimented us on how beautiful was the basement and how easy it was to have some privacy (something that most of them missed with their host families).
Our new home has a guest house, and also this time we gave the option to the au pair to be living in the main house, or to be in the guest house, and all of them choose to live in the guest house, they love it and all of them are really grateful to us for what we provide.
I really don’t think it is necessary for someone to offer a guest house to have an au pair, but you really need to question your choices when you know deep inside your heart you wouldn’t live in the place where you ask your au pair to live in.

traveler February 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm

The first family gave me the room next to their kids. Though, they were very quiet and never had any issue with my privacy, as also they never complained. Even though I was conscious that sleep hours are sleep hours… I would just read a book if I was still up. This family never allowed their kids to watch TV and actually, in the whole house only one old tv with no cable was available, in the living room. The family could have afford the latest one but their rules were very well established, and I did not have any problem to adapt myself to them. So, in that house everyone was a book lover, silence and privacy was respected from 8 PM to 7 AM.

My second family gave me the basement. Nor that I did not like it, the basement was very well decorated, I had my own desk, TV, radio-DVD player, my own bathroom and shower, and closet. Yet, nothing can be so perfect… during winter time it was very, very cold, so much that the humidity affected me badly. Since then, I stay away from basements even if they look nice.

I spoke with the family about this problem, they gave me more blankets. I was allowed to bring other au pairs and they could sleep over on weekends, the two of the friends I had, they said that it was cold, so that is when my boyfriend then, gave me a portable heater. The other problem for me was that I could hear everything, I mean, when they walked, it was very annoying. They would be up around 5 or 530 AM. I couldn’t sleep after those hours, including weekends. Another reason why on weekends I would spend my time in other friends house (Au pair or friends from church) resting.

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