Will your au pair be on duty this Christmas?

by cv harquail on December 9, 2011

trees.jpgWhat will your au pair be doing this Christmas day?



Will your Au Pair be on duty this Christmas?

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If you and s/he both celebrate Christmas?

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If you celebrate Christmas and s/he does not?

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If you have asked your au pair to be on duty and work during part of Christmas Eve & Christmas day, how did you present this plan to him or her?

Did you discuss it during matching, or months ago, or just this month as the holiday has gotten closer?

How did your au pair respond when you scheduled him or her for Christmas hours?

Did s/he not mind at all, feel relieved that s/he’d have something to do, or feel disappointed? Or something else?

What advice would you give to a first time host parent, for managing Christmas and an au pair’s work schedule?


Image: Bottle Brush Trees by Liz for sale on Etsy


cv harquail December 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I’ve found Christmas and other holidays to be a bit tough– I’ve wanted to have our au pair be just like the rest of the family and feel treated with a special dinner, but also I’ve wanted her to watch the girls so that I could be free to cook dinner, clean up wrapping paper, and so on. It’s been easiest when our au pair has had a holiday celebration of her own to attend (like a Midnight church service) so that I know she’s had a chance to celebrate in her preferred way. Then, I’ve felt less guilty asking her to “work” for a few hours.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 9, 2011 at 9:14 pm

This year I have a quiet AP (the type that rarely asks questions), but who has joined on every family event to, which she has been directly invited. I have found it useful, in quiet moments to talk about “what to expect.” The first conversation, weeks out, was to mention the fact that Americans have to work the week between Christmas and New Year unless they take it as vacation time (I know a few companies offer it, but most don’t), and to tell her that DH and I would be working and so would she. At the same time I told her that while our city doesn’t do Christmas particularly well, New York does, and that she should find time to visit – and that she could pick her weekend off to go (which she has done). Since then, I have taken a few moments to discuss events. We don’t ask our APs to work Christmas – DH and I tag-team parent and take care of our special needs child to make sure she’s fed, diapered, bathed and dressed at appropriate times.

What I do tell our AP is that the boys will likely wake early and want to unwrap their stockings immediately. She tell her that she may choose to wake with them (and tell her in advance that she will receive a stocking even though she’s not a child) and open hers at the same time, or be awoken later when the family is ready to have breakfast before opening presents. Once I let the AP wake naturally for family gift time, which tortured the boys unnecessarily, and now I don’t.

We purchase plenty of small gifts for our AP – some useful (after all there is only so much room in a suitcase) and some luxuries (I try to make a trek to a store representing their country to buy some goods from home – the care packages their parents send sometimes don’t make it here until March!). However, the kids get more. Because I have a special needs child, I let the AP “help” her open her gifts if she wants to do it – many have, because it means they get to be part of the action. If you have a baby, I’d encourage you to do the same. I know firsthand how hard it is to be living in another country away from home and celebrate Christmas with a family that is sort of and sort of not your own.

Over the years we have invited the friends of our APs who have been stranded by vacationing families to join us, and purchase little gifts for them as well. One thing I find useful to is ask your AP about her traditions, and to offer to let her cook a traditional Christmas dish from her country (or a favorite dish from her country if she’s never celebrated Christmas before) so there is some familiar for her to eat. Many of our holidays are tied to food.

So, while my AP won’t be expected to care for our special needs child, she will be part of our family at Christmas. It won’t be like being at home with her parents and family, but we will do our best to make it a memorable American Christmas. (And we will encourage her to Skype and show her family at home the trappings of an American Christmas.)

Taking a Computer Lunch December 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I should mention that every other Christmas we have a “destination” Christmas at my parents’ home. Au pairs are always invited to bring a friend (who sometimes celebrates Christmas with her HF and then joins us). My parents treat them like family – paying their way into museums and dinners at restaurants — and even offering to pick them up from a night on the town! I have found it to be a great time to really get to know my AP – she relaxes more with her friend — and with us (I think because they both feel special). Wish I could come up with ways to do this on the “at home years,” but I don’t get the same luxury of time because every other year I have to work through the holidays.

Melissa December 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

I’ve struggled with this too over the years of hosting APs. With our first AP, I didn’t schedule her to work on Christmas because she had plans to go out of town, but I did schedule her on Thanksgiving. I knew she was planning to spend Thanksgiving with us anyway, and I could certainly use her help while I was cooking, so I thought it would work best to just have those hours go toward her week, rather than putting them elsewhere in the week. However, my approach with subsequent APs has varied, and it usually varies depending on our particular AP, her plans, and our relationship with her.

If we have a ‘part of the family’ AP who often participates in things with us, then I typically don’t schedule her to work and just count it as a holiday (meaning, I will schedule her for less hours for the entire week and not move the hours to another day). In those cases, I know she is going to spend the day with us, or at least a good part of it, and be part of the activities and help out as any family member or holiday guest would. It’s worked out fine because those were the APs whom we’ve had good relationships with and had the common sense to ‘help’ and not just sit there or retreat to their room or their phone.

However, for the occasions where we’ve had a more employer/employee type setup with our AP, I have scheduled them to work if I feel I needed to rely on someone to occupy the kids while I am cooking, cleaning house, etc. It depends on what we’re doing on the holiday though and whether they have something else planned that they’d like to do (if our AP wants to go on a special holiday trip to NYC with friends then I am not going to make her skip it to work 4 hours on Christmas). Again, it depends a lot on the AP. We had one AP who we got along well with and was very good with the kids, but if she was not specifically on duty, she wouldn’t do much to help, like offer to take the kids to the restroom or cut up food if we were at a restaurant, without being asked. I’d probably schedule her to work on a holiday if I needed help.

Anna December 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Our au pair has Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off this year. We are Jewish so we don’t celebrate either holiday, and she does; so it makes sense. However, we may go to NY/NJ area to visit relatives before New Year’s day, and she will tag along because she wants to spend New Year in the Times Square.

Also, the agency I am with this year, has a different policy on American holidays. It asks families to give their au pairs four American holidays off in the year, and the family can choose which ones. I chose Christmas and New Year as two of the four, because we don’t celebrate them and I don’t need her help those days.

HRHM December 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Which agency is this? IMO, I find this pretty objectionable only because a) Our AP already doesn’t come close to working the full 45, has more than the 2 weeks off (we vacation more and don’t work her then) and gets random long weekends PLUS b) we used APs for the flexibility of having someone to watch the kids when they are off school and we still have to work (often holidays when I am on call – happens more often than I like). I’m all for letting the AP experience the “culture” of celebrating American holidays, but she can take the kids to the 4th of July parade, watch the Macy’s Tgiving parade with them, go trick-or-treating with them or bake Christmas cookies with them. She doens’t need to have off to experience the holidays. And many American employees don’t have paid 4 holidays off!

Anna December 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm

The agency is GoAuPair. I am very happy with it otherwise (my top experience with an agency out of the three I tried) , and to me this is not a hardship at all.

cv harquail December 13, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Anna, thanks for adding the details.

Personally, I’d be annoyed by an agency that mandated 4 “American” holidays “off”. I get the point of it, but I think it ignores the realities of working parents’ lives. Some of us work on most or all of these holidays ourselves. And, as HRHM points out, being on or off duty doesn’t determine whether the holiday is enjoyed, or whether it’s a cultural learning thing.

We talked a bit about legal holidays and scheduling your au pair in this post:
10 Days of Work that Might Surprise Your Au Pair

Taking a Computer Lunch December 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Because DH and I get all the federal holidays off, we give most of them to the AP as well. Like Melissa, we treat holidays like a holiday most of the time, and don’t foist extra hours into a schedule (sometimes we do have to pad the schedule, and then just tell the AP she’s off early when we get home). Me, I’m not worried about whether my AP works 45 hours or 22 – after all she’s willingly changing my teenager’s diapers, as well as providing light therapy, feeding, bathing and dressing.

What I find useful is starting a conversation about expectations, things to do, or events not to miss several weeks out. We have never had an AP miss the first night of Chanukah (and some stick around to watch the menorah being lit for all 8 nights even though the adults in our household only exchange presents the first night), and even those APs who had never celebrated Christmas willingly joined in our celebration (we call the season Chanumas in our house). In the years we are home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we always tell our APs to invite friends who have been stranded by their HF and are feeling lonely.

Sometimes it is necessary to be explicit and say, “You are part of the family and it’s important to me that you celebrate our holiday with us – even if you only stay in the house for part of the day.” I also think there’s nothing wrong in being explicit, “I know most of your friends probably aren’t working today, but I really need your help. You know you’ll be off the week of x, so why don’t you make travel plans to be with your friends then.”

NoVA Host Mom December 19, 2011 at 4:24 am

Wow, it would be a serious hardship for us to do that. DH and I both have jobs that require holiday work, hence the need for that all so wonderful “flexible child care”. We have Christmas Day and Christmas Eve off this year only because of the way the calendar fell, but next year we won’t. And I have not have Thanksgiving, New Years, or 4th of July off in more than 5 years. I guess that agency is just not one for everyone.

Anna December 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Well, there area about 12 American holidays, so 4 is just a fraction. But I hear you… I am starting a new job on Jan 3, so giving my au pair January 2 off for New Year’s is a hardship for me this time.

Calif Mom December 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

This is the most poignant au pair Christmas for us. We have our most sympatico au pair ever, and she is leaving us the first week of January. I’ve been in total denial, and instead of separating, she has been pitching in more than ever. She even talked boyfriend and career issues with my hub for a couple hours one evening last week!

Christmas is a HUGE holiday for her, and I am planning to adopt some of their traditions (opening gifts on the 24th, and having a big spread set out all afternoon on the 25th) to help her feel at home.

As for her “work” hours, I have outlined our plans, and told her when the different church services are and how they are different (the 11:00 service is too hard on the kids now, though we used to do it when they were little and would just fall asleep, etc.).

I think it’s really important to have these conversations so everyone knows what to expect. When are the chunks of time when she might be able to go hang with her friends, for example. Which days are which parents planning to take time off (I have barely any, hub has a ton, for example, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be in charge of both kids all day! :-) ).

Tell her some of the activities they might not hear about, too, like outdoor skating that is temporary and super fun to do with friends. Or ice sculpture gardens, the lights at the zoo or the local garden or whatever. And which neighborhoods really get decked out and have people drive through them. This used to be HUGE in LA.

I am also going to ask her to either cook something herself (she loves to cook) or which dish is a must-have. I think having “must-haves” for holidays is a relatively easy way to show you care and food is sooo important at the holidays, as TACL pointed out. If you’re not a cook yourself, find a specialty store that has items from her home country.

au pair in the US December 17, 2011 at 9:37 pm

“We had one AP who we got along well with and was very good with the kids, but if she was not specifically on duty, she wouldn’t do much to help, like offer to take the kids to the restroom or cut up food if we were at a restaurant, without being asked. I’d probably schedule her to work on a holiday if I needed help.”
i just read this above and would like to tell some hostparents something as an au pair. I think that you not always understand how hard it is for us as au pairs to help when you are around. For example: in a restaurant with the whole family for dinner: girl 3 year old needs to use the restroom, sure i would love to take her but i’m also sure that she does NOT want to go with me when her parents are around! i have au pair friends whos kids are really having a fight if she wants to help them while parents are around! on au pair said to her hostchild after he was asking for help by something: oh let me help you! the boy started screaming and yelling nooooooo i want mommy to help me!!! so it is really hard to figure out when we should help or if we anyway just get yelled at! and by the way it’s really embarrassing if a child does that to you as an au pair just to show you that you are not in charge right now . ( and we all know that they love to do that) i know that not all kids are like that but a lot are! (especially younger kids)the other thing is, ( we just talked about that at one of our au pair meetings) that we don’t want to take the kids away from their parents when they are finally home from work and haven’t seen their kids for a whole day! believe me i think twice about asking them to play in the basement with me while mommy is cooking dinner. ( does she want that? or does she want to talk to her kids while she is cooking even if they are running around and just being crazy?) so what i would reccomend what is really helpful for us au pairs to let us know when it is ok to help!( like telling us that it was a big help for taking them even if we were off duty) we really can’t read your minds! i just wanted to let you know that things like that can really make a difference in an au pair- hostparents relationsship!

AFHostMom December 18, 2011 at 12:18 am

Our AP is taking the 23-26th off to go to NYC. Christmas and NYE are easy for us this year since they fall on weekends. I’d love it if she’d celebrate Christmas with us but she wants to spend it with her friends and she hasn’t been to New York yet.
She gets every federal holiday off as long as one of us isn’t working. We love to give her 3 day weekends because she works so hard during the week. I’ve been away 9 weeks for work since June, and when I’m gone she picks up a lot of slack since my husband is in the military. But we’re lucky that we both have pretty predictable weekday schedules–not everyone does.
au pair in the US–I appreciate your perspective but my advice would be to always offer to help anyway. My kids are just as likely to scream for their AP as they are for me, which is pretty embarrassing as well. :) I don’t think most host parents would think that the children are unhappy with the AP if they prefer the company of their parents. What we really love about our AP is her initiative and the fact that she does volunteer to help when we’re all together. If I really want my little ones around, and they’re not, I’ll make it clear.

German Au-Pair December 18, 2011 at 4:17 am

You are right, but so is au pair in the US.
I think her advice to tell your au pair “I really appreciated when you did something with the kids, even when you were off” is really good. It will tell her that her actions are not interfering.

When my hostparents are home and do something potentially uncomfortable or “dutyful” (is that a word?) with the kids (like homework, picking them up, making dinner) I usually offer to do it for them (unless I REALLY don’t want to -like homework on the weekends) and our communication is good enough that they either say “Thanks, I’m good” or “That would be great, thanks.”
So I know that they will let me do it, if they want to but decline when they either don’t mind or want to spend time with the kids.
I also offered them to stay home alone with the kids all weekend if they wanted to go away on their own and they gladly took me up on that.

aitUS is right: communication is key. TALK to your au pair. When we know that the hostparents wishes will be clearly communicated, we feel a lot more comfortable to offer. (That probably doesn’t only go for au pairs.) If you want to, say “Yes” and if you don’t, say “no”.
I know some people expect others to just DO it, instead of just asking. My mum used to say “Don’t ask if help is needed. Just help.” She would decline help when you asked even when she gladly would have taken it if one just started helping.
But that just doesn’t work when you are the person potentially intefrering the family, the houshold.

Being able to expect an honest answer to the question “Can I help?” makes things SO much easier!

Anna December 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I am an aupair and since nearly two weeks in the US!
I am not happy with my family,but I am afraid that if I rematch,I won’t find any new family :/ That would be very sad…anyone knows how the chances are to find a new family?!Thaanks;)

Dorsi December 20, 2011 at 1:36 am

Anna — it really depends on why you want to rematch. Are you in a terrible family that is not at all like they presented themselves? Or did you not expect to work as hard as you have, you are having a bit a culture shock and find the whole thing overwhelming?

The reasons that you go into rematch have a large effect on your success at rematch. However, most people on this board would tell you that you need to start solving your problems (or at least trying), talk to your family, talk to your LCC.

au pair in the US December 20, 2011 at 1:36 am

well it depends. right now around Christmas and New Years its pretty hard to find a new family..so i would wait maybe until January? and are you infant qualified? if yes you have more chances to find a new family than without. good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch December 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

I agree with Dorsi. You need to start with the family and your LCC. It is not unusual for life to be difficult in the first month of your life in the U.S. There is the adjustment of a new family, a new country, a new routine, and for APs like you, who arrive right before the holidays, the stress of the holidays without your family (and your HF stressing out over preparing for the holidays).

Think about what needs to change in order for you to be happier. Is it something the HF can achieve? Is it something that ANY HF can achieve? In order to successfully rematch, you will need to work with your LCC. If you are in a bad situation, then she will be more likely to assist you in finding a new placement than if you say “I don’t like it here.”

I recommend that you start with you host parents though. Ask for a meeting after the kids have gone to bed. Less than a week before Christmas is not a great time to have a conversation, but it’s better to get it out in the open in a calm way, than to let anger build up. It is unlikely for you to be able to rematch this week or next, as your LCC may be taking days off for the holiday, as well as people working for the agency in their headquarters, so you might as well start with your family and see if you are able to improve your relationship with them.

au pair in the US December 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm

hey, thats really good advice you got here. i remember my first time in my hostfamily. i was so homesick and did not feel very confortable. it got better every week. they are not used to you and you are not used to them. everybody needs to learn first about each other what can be very hard i know but its worth it! in my situation after 1 or 2 months i felt great here. my hosmesick was gone and i started to enjoy my stay. now i’m here sice more than 16 months in the same family and i love them!!!

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