Which Host Family Rules Feel Flexible to Au Pairs?

by cv harquail on February 4, 2015

Okay, Au Pairs — It’s your turn to tell us which Host Family rules you feel it’s okay to be “flexible” with every now and then.

[This is a companion post to “Which Au Pair Rules Feel Flexible?”]


Since there is no set group of Host Family rules, I can’t create polls for specific ones. Instead, in the comments, please share:

Of the rules that your Host Parent(s) have, which rules might you could occasionally bend without feeling too guilty?

Which rules would you NEVER bend? Why?

Don’t worry– all your emails are kept in the secret AuPairMom vault. I won’t rat you out to the StateDept.

Host Parents, don’t get freaked out by anything you see below….

Image by James Yeo on Flickr


ProPair February 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm

What fun!

Rules I would bend: 1. Food rules. After school, I would sometimes (often) sneak them something from the “special treat” box. Before anyone judges, raisins are considered a special treat in the Netherlands ;) 2. Screen time rules. I matched with a bit of a “TV” family, and to keep them entertained I let them watch it while I was cooking. I feel pretty guilty about this one since I truly believe TV is bad for children. 3. Keeping my own room tidy. It was never “dirty” but there were clothes everywhere. I figured it didn’t matter what it looked like since I was the only person who had to deal with it.

Rules I would never bend:

1. Safety rules (obviously). A big one involved the ice in winter. Having grown up in Canada around horror stories about kids cracking their heads open on ice, they weren’t allowed to play on the frozen canals with their friends. I know their parents wouldn’t have minded, but no one cracks their head open on my watch! 2. Baby rules. The baby was completely exempt from the “special treat” occasions.

Mimi February 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

I know that my APs have used extra computer or screen time as rewards and cooperation incentives for my oldest. I came home early one time and before AP #2 heard me in the kitchen, she called out to him to finish up his PC game before I got home. Depending on the circumstances, I don’t mind but I know that it backfired on her when he eventually expected a bribe to do his regular chores with her. We dealt with it and it was a learning experience for her and my son.

SKNY February 4, 2015 at 2:02 pm

When I was an au pair (11 years ago) on my first family I did bend the car rule. I was told once not to drive to Philadelphia (I lived 20 min away by car) or drive farther than 30 min. I obeyed it until 3 months into my year I was asked to consistently drive the kids to grandparents about 1h to 1h15m away. In my head it just made sense that If I was now allowed to drive them to another state more than an hr away, I was probably ok to drive to Philly. I felt guilt but used the “no ask, no tell” idea…

AuPair Paris February 5, 2015 at 3:00 am

I sometimes let the kids have a sweet or two on special occasions – they’re not supposed to eat any junk outside of the designated snack time, but I don’t see a lollipop as a major deal if it’s not every day! And they’re not allowed any TV or computer with me, but I sometimes let them watch youtube music videos in English – while playing English games (“pick out the words and sentences you know!”, “Tell me what you think the chorus means in French!”).

I also let the eldest skip out on her homework for ten minutes or so, to do her piano or have a break. The parents always get her to sit down, concentrate, not move until it’s done… But she gets so stressed and upset, that sometimes I’m like: “Go. Piano practice. Come back to it.” Then I go through it to understand what she’s got to do, while she’s de-stressing, then I get her back and explain it again, and she goes back to it. It’s not like she doesn’t *do* the homework, but it’s not how the parents like her to do it.

I wouldn’t change any other rules. Particularly safety ones – though I am more het-up about that than the parents, I think!

anonamomma February 5, 2015 at 5:08 am

AuPair Paris, you are the type of AP that every HP wants. You know this child and you understand her.

I think your rule “bending” re: homework with the child is a great example of how a great AP will know how to get the best out of a child and teach them how to make it to the finish line.. even if you have to take a break along the way.

I think that sometimes it is important for the AP to be the child’s advocate – and share tips and tricks that work with the host parents, i.e. in this case by telling them that child A really does much better when homework is split into bitesize chunks especially if it doesn’t stress her out..

Well done again..

AuPair Paris February 5, 2015 at 7:58 am

Thanks! :D That is some high praise!

I think it’s partly a cultural thing too? Kids here have *so much* homework, and it’s typical for them to do it alone, and then have to redo it all again with their parents to check it all through. This can take hours! And sometimes it’s leçons – long, dry texts to be learned by heart. If my ten year old has three history leçons, about consecutive periods, with similar vocabulary and sentence structure… You can see why it gets frustrating!

I sometimes worry that by being more easygoing, I make it hard for the parents, who are much, much stricter with things like that. BUT they are the parents – their kids love them unconditionally, and they have always been there. And also, they are the ones who do special treats and screen time and similar. So I think it balances out!

NNTexasHM February 5, 2015 at 10:55 am

I completely agree. It sounds as though your “rule bending” was not really that, it was “empathy”. The outcome was the same – the child accomplished what she needed to but due to your sensitivity and awareness, he / she did it in a way that worked for both of you. Bravo.

I also agree that a sweet every so often is not an issue – in fact if they are strictly “prohibited” doesn’t it become all the more tempting?


Au Pair in France February 5, 2015 at 10:42 am

I sometimes let them have a glass of milk after school, because it fills them up while they do their homework without making having sugar in to make them hyper, though their dad thinks they shouldn’t drink it because it’s too fatty (but any amount of jam is okay with him, which would be fine except that’s practically giving them spoons of sugar and then expecting them to sit still for an hour or more to get their work done).

I don’t exactly bend the rules for screen time, but HPs don’t agree with each other, HM told me and the kids that they can watch 1/2 an hour each lunch time, and HD has told the kids (not me) that they are not allowed to watch anything at lunch, and I choose to take HM instructions some days, though I make sure that we watch something in English and pause it if the youngest doesn’t understand ( the older 2 are almost fluent)

Obviously any rules related to safety in any way I wouldn’t change, like not staying out any longer than absolutely necessary during the tramontane wind, which is often strong enough to sweep the children off their feet.

ProPair February 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm

That’s so funny! My family was the same way about food. Apple with cinammon or peanut butter is consider a healthy and fun snack for kids in Canada. My host dad thought peanut butter was too fatty and for some reason believed cinnamon was bad for children, but having bread covered in chocolate sprinkles was fine! ;)

used2bap February 6, 2015 at 4:24 am

Actually cinnamon is “poisonous” is consumed often/in big amounts. Cassia cinnamon contains coumarin which can cause liver damage, so it’s not recommended to have children eat it every day. So your HD wasn’t completely wrong, just a bit over-cautious :)

ProPair February 6, 2015 at 11:40 am

He wasn’t wrong about the peanut butter, either. The point is that he’s being selectively overcautious. It was hilariously frustrating, just like Au Pair in France’s HD. I think a lot of these things are cultural. Many Canadian (and I would imagine American kids) are allowed to eat cinnamon and peanut butter every day, but sugary cereals are frowned upon, even though eating them a few times a week won’t hurt anyone.

Schmetterfink February 5, 2015 at 10:52 am

I think my host family’s rules agreed so well with what I would have done that I didn’t need to bend many rules.

The only things I can think of is allowing the three school-aged kids to leave their bowls on the table after breakfast and I would put them into the dishwasher while they were brushing their teeths (okay, I actually made them brush their teeths every morning and “I will be late” was never a reason not to – and no, they never missed the bus).

And I took the oldest to school when he missed the bus though I knew daddy had told him he’d be in trouble if he missed the bus again. But really, he was 13 and nobody got up with him in the mornings (his bus left at 6.45); he set his alarm, got ready, had breakfast, packed lunch and still managed to catch his bus 90% of the time while the rest of us was still sleeping. I always thought he deserved somebody to share the secret of missing the bus every once in a while and I was always back in time to start working.

With the toddler I was usually stricter than my host parents (I had far more rules than mommy and daddy had) but on the other hand they would put her in the corner to calm down (or send her to her room) and leave the room while I would just make sure to be out of sight. I would also let her cry it out as long as she wanted to which worked quite well when she had worked herself up and was starting to throw a tantrum. By just allowing her to let it all out and then asking her if she was done crying (she actually answered “No” a few times while sobbing, poor thing) it was much easier to console her afterwards. When she had let it all out she would cuddle so much more easily and then you could really comfort her instead of her fighting you because she didn’t want to be touched or held yet.
Oh and I allowed her to play in the tupperwear kitchen cabinet IF she helped clean it up again.

The only tv rule we had was “no watching tv before doing homework” but the kids didn’t watch much tv anyways. My car rule was “we need to be able to pick you up and be back home within two hours if the car breaks down” which I tought was reasonable (considering the car was 15 years old and had run 200.000 miles). I didn’t have a curfew, I could take the kids wherever I/we wanted (park, zoo, museum, mall, lake), they always backed me up (“Mom, may I do xyz?” – “Did you ask Schmetterfink?” – “Yes.” – “What did she say?” – “She said no.” – “In that case, you know the answer.”), I never missed a class because I could leave the oldest home as the babysitter after he had turned 13, I was allowed to send them outside to play if they were driving me mad, I could arrange play dates, I could cook what I/we wanted to eat, they made me feel welcome and part of the family while they accepted that I was young and had a social life of my own. I was always allowed to join them for everything (dinner or a trip) but they never made me feel ungreatful if I had other plans. I think for some reason we were just a great match though we matched after one phone call and far before anyone had ever heard of skype.

spanishaupair February 7, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I usually followed the rules but sometimes bend the rule my hf had of just a piece of fruit a day (they got also a bit after dinner) kids wanted them and much healthier than the other option usually sweets or biscuits.
Also sometimes bend the half hour nap to let the toddler relax in my lap and maybe get an extra 5 minutes sleep, I should say he perfectfly slept all night through.

I would never bend safety ones, except if i think whatvthey let them do is dangerous, like play with poison berries.

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