Will your Au Pair be On Duty this Thanksgiving? (Poll)

by cv harquail on November 22, 2009

Every holiday my DH and I have the same holiday conversation: Should we ask our Au Pair to be on duty?

Scheduling your au pair to work on and around holidays, family vacations, and birthdays (yours and hers) can be challenging, because you’re once again right on top of the question– What does it mean for your au pair to be ‘part of the family’ and also to be the person who’s paid to care for the kids when the parent(s) need(s) childcare?

As Franzi points out: “The whole emphasis on family and togetherness that Thanksgiving brings along could raise expectations and misunderstandings regarding the AP’s role in the whole festivities.”

Your au pair may want to be ‘part of the family’ and participate in the celebration… then again, you may need her to be the person in charge of the kids. And then again, in many families, everyone pitches in whether it’s their paid job or not.

200911220913.jpgOn Christmas and Easter the answers are always influenced by the church-going preferences of our au pair, but on Thanksgiving the issues are much more focused. Plus, Thanksgiving as a holiday is all about family and togetherness— so the ways in which you include your au pair have to jive with that.

Can your au pair be ‘part of the family’ and ‘on duty’ at the same time?

Thanksgiving is usually a holiday when I cook, so I’m very busy. The extended family comes here, so there are several people who our au pair has met only once or twice, sometimes never. And, there’s not much main activity besides cooking, eating, and cleaning, so we seem to have a lot of people wandering around wondering why we don’t have a television where Granddad can watch “The Game”.

Add a few diaper changes, some little people needing naps, cousins arguing over who gets the drum set for Rock Band, and some Aunts and Uncles who just really need a glass of wine, and you can see how having someone officially in charge of the kids looks like a good idea.

More often than not, we do schedule our au pair to be on duty at Thanksgiving. Usually this is around any other plans she might have (e.g., Thanksgiving day parade, soccer game, etc.), and it does not include being on duty during the actual dinner itself.

I’ve found that not only does it help to have our au pair watching the girls, but also it helps her have something to do so that she’s not sitting around trying to engage various relatives in conversation or asking me if she can stir the gravy. After all, she is an expert with the kids, she can organize crafts, help kids make videos, arrange the Battle of the Bands, and even take them to the playground down the street to work up an appetite.

A few times we’ve even had my sister’s au pair come for dinner, the au pairs have been on and off duty together to make things a bit more fun for them.

I’ve found that our au pairs generally like feeling needed and appreciate the chance to contribute to making the family celebration go well. Especially if our au pair can relax during dinner and have some time with no demands, no one has seemed to mind being duty at Thanksgiving.

And, needless to say, knowing that my kids are being cared for while I ‘flip the bird’ is something I am totally thankful for.

What is planned for your au pair this Thanksgiving?

Will your Au Pair be on duty this Thanksgiving Day?

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[Note: Having our au pair on duty does not mean that she is necessarily responsible for my sisters’ kids. Our au pair will help with the playground supervision of a group that includes cousins, but not with diaper changing.

Also, I start my turkey roasting it breast-side down (using gravity to enhance juicy-ness) so a big moment is when I “flip the bird” over to the fancy side. There have been years when the bird has resisted…. another story.]

See Also:
Tip: Family Fun for Thanksgiving
More Thanksgiving Day ideas…for you and your Au Pair

Thanksgiving Table by Ann & Lane of Flickr


franzi November 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm

i can’t remember if i was on duty for thanksgiving or not.

something that i think should be flat out mentioned to the AP is that she is working because it’s a busy day for everyone and that it helps you to know that at least the kids are taken care of. you know, don’t make it sound like work-work but more as a support thing.

the whole emphasis on family and togetherness that thanksgiving brings along could raise expectations and misunderstandings regarding the AP’s role in the whole festivities.

CV November 22, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Franzi, you’re so right…. I should have added that point to the post itself …in fact, I’m stealing it and putting it in right now. :-)

franzi November 22, 2009 at 5:24 pm

you’re welcome – happy (early) turkey day!

PA Au pair mom November 22, 2009 at 5:39 pm

We asked our au pair to help out with the boys while dinner is being prepared and then while I am cleaning up. We also put our xmas tree up the evening of thanksgiving so we want her to be a part of that.

Then we watch a family movie….Xmas Vacation….it’s a family tradition. We include the entire day in her work hours for the week so that we feel that it’s ok to make her attendance at our family activities mandatory. Then we give her off on Black Friday so she can experience this fine american tradition of fighting the holiday crowds.

NewAP Mom November 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

We gave it to her as a holiday but in retrospect, really should have asked her to work while I cook! But she’s great (new au pair! We love her!) so she will probably pitch in regardless.

Stephanie November 23, 2009 at 6:47 am

American nannies have off for Thanksgiving and the day after and the same should be for au pairs. Since you are hosting a cultural exchange best advice would to be to invite your au pair to your Thankgiving festivities but do not make her work! Of course since she lives in the house she may help out a bit. But, if you want her to experience a great American tradition invite her to Thanksgiving as a guest not as an empolyee.

A November 23, 2009 at 11:54 am

American nannies, by definition, are American. Which means that Thanksgiving is a holiday to them and their families.

Stephanie November 23, 2009 at 6:50 am

I should have mentioned if I work on holidays I make one and half times my orign\inal salary. Think about that if you ask your au pair to keep the kids busy on a holiday.

Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 11:20 am


Au Pairs don’t automatically get holidays off and this is certainly clear at the beginning of their time with the family. While many families give them off with pay, this is out of kindness and not everyone has a schedule that will allow that. To suggest that they should get time and a half if they work on the holiday is not realistic or helpful.

M November 23, 2009 at 11:43 am

To Anonymous,

Do you think that au pairs doesn’t deserve a holiday ? Do you think that they are slaves ? Why don’t you ask first to your au pair if she wants or not to be “the family member thing” ?

A November 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

The au pairs do deserve holidays, but we are talking about a day that IS a holiday for an American host family but IS NOT a holiday for the au pair. The fourth Thursday of November has no significance to our AP, other than she will get “credit” for working but she won’t have to take care of the children by herself.
I will not and would not ask our Christian AP to work on Christmas or Christmas Eve, for example.

M November 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Do you give off to your au pairs the holidays from her country that are important to her culture ?

PA aupair mom November 23, 2009 at 5:25 pm

My au pair deserves days off, same as everyone else, but she doesn’t necessarily deserve to have off on a holiday that she doesn’t even celebrate. I am a nurse and sometimes I have to work on Thanksgiving. It’s not a given that anyone will be off.

She asked to help make dinner so I thought that it should be included in her working hours.

Spare all of us the “au pair as slave” comments. My au pair gets treated better than any other employee I have ever seen.

Jane November 23, 2009 at 9:11 am

We give our au pairs off on Thanksgiving, and our first two have pitched in without being asked when it was clear we could use a set of extra hands–for me, that’s part of the spirit of participating as a family member. It does help to be clear about your expectations for the day, I think. I would be a little disappointed if any of our family members or au pairs enjoyed our festivities but then abandoned us while we cleaned it all up. At the same time, I think our au pair would be disappointed if she became solely responsible for the kids while we socialized without her. It’s about sharing–the fun and the work.

We don’t give our au pairs off for Black Friday. It is not an automatic vacation day for me, so if I choose to take that day off, I use it as a rare chance to do my own crazy Christmas shopping. I do not feel guilty about it because Fridays are a normal work day for our au pair, and she’s one of the people I’m shopping for that day. I would rather have her work then than ask her to work a Saturday so I can shop for the family. At any rate, I want to get home early that day to spend my extra time off with my kids, so our au pair does get off earlier than normal.

franzi November 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm

my family asked me to work on black friday (and by the way didn’t tell me at all about all the shopping madness on that day) – not sure if they wanted to spare me the disappointment of not being able to shop-till-i-drop or if they really did not care.

it took 6 more years for me to find out what black friday is ;-)

but i agree with you, it’s a friday like any other. an AP has plenty of time to shop. it doesn’t need to be black friday

Jane November 24, 2009 at 9:07 am

It’s too bad you didn’t at least know what Black Friday was! I do tell our au pairs what the day means–and why it’s important that my husband and I have the day to shop together–we can buy much more with the sales and without the kids to look after while we are shopping. Even though I know I don’t have to give my AP the day off, I still feel like I have to make a lot of explainations sometimes.

We give our APs a lot of bonus days off that don’t count against their vacation time, and I’m not sure it’s always appreciated, because it still doesn’t add up to the number of vacation days many girls get in their home countries. It’s hard for many girls to understand how few vacation days we host parents have ourselves. So sometimes, my generosity depends on my relationship with the AP–if they complain that they only got a 3-day weekend instead of a 4-day weekend, that doesn’t sit well with me.

A November 24, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Ooh, that reminds me that I need to warn our AP about Black Friday! She has the day off and she loves malls…but I’d hate for her to head out to the mall and be suprised by all the choas!

PA au pair mom November 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Now THAT would be a true case of culture shock!!!!

Sara Duke November 23, 2009 at 9:23 am

While I can see the benefit of having the au pair work on Thanksgiving (we always host a dinner) the only federal holiday which we require our au pair to work is Veteran’s Day (and only because our children’s schools use it for parent-teacher conferences). I encourage the au pair to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my son in the morning, and to encourage her to help prepare dishes as we talk about typical American foods and how they affected the world’s diet. We do not encourage the au pair to contribute a dish, as we do on Christmas, because the whole day is so hectic and there are too many “must have” dishes for members of the family. We always urge the au pair to invite friends to the table (many families leave town without their au pairs). This year we had to warn our Chinese au pair not to cook a ton of food this week (she likes to prepare a lot of dishes that she can eat during the course of the week, and the tupperware takes up a lot of room in our fridge), because we’ll need the space for Thanksgiving. Of course we didn’t warn her that the food will take up a lot of space in the fridge for the week after Thanksgiving, too! We always talk to the au pairs about Black Friday and the chaos that reigns in the weeks between Thanksgiving in Christmas. This year it is different for us, because we have an au pair who has never celebrated Christmas before.

Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 9:31 am

according to the au pair program rules, holidays are not automatic days off for au pairs. They are expected to be part of the family, pitch in as a family, and celebrate with the family. The fact that they do count as her work hours in this case is a perk, OK?
Don’t compare au pairs with american nannies or employees. Its apples and oranges. If they wanted to be an employee, they would go to a “work and travel” program, and well, they are not american.
My au pairs worked on thanksgiving because I was cooking a large dinner for guests and family, and my very young kids could not entertain themselves. She also worked Fri after because I had to go to work that day. This year my au pair has all Thanksgiving weekend off (Thu-Sun) because she is meeting her boyfriend’s parents and well, I am nice enough to understand how important it is to her. I encouraged her to go there instead of spend the holiday with us.

NoVA Host Mom November 23, 2009 at 10:30 am

Our AP was scheduled to be off both Thursday and Friday, but now that my husband’s schedule has changed and he is on duty on Thursday, I will need the extra set of hands to help watch the toddler while I am cooking. She won’t be needed for the full day, but she likes to help out anyway and wants to learn how to cook.

However, originally the plan was that my husband would take the baby while I cooked and she would have the whole day off as well as Friday. Unfortunately the change in my husband’s schedule happened while she was on her 2 week vacation, so there was no way to give her more notice.

My 2 cents November 23, 2009 at 11:14 am

We give the holiday off just like any other major holiday, and I always “invite” them making sure they understand they don’t have to come (but I’ll be the first to admit I’d be insulted if they did not). While they are not on the clock, they do pitch in here and there throughout the day just like any other family member or guest would. However, they are not responsible for the heavy lifting and are encouraged throughout the day to relax and just enjoy the day as a guest would. Our APs have all either asked how they can help or will jump right in when they see me running around like a chicken with my head cut off! As for the kids, since mine are young, I do suggest to the AP that if she happens to see one of them doing something dangerous and no one else seems to be noticing, to please put a stop to it. They aren’t expected or asked to entertain or watch or do anything other than what a guest would do in relation to kids. I’ve never gotten the sense mine feel they are being taken advantage of by having, for one example, to steer kids away from open candle flames on their day “off.”

And we don’t give off the Friday afterward. It’s still a work day for me and they do have vacation days they can take just like I have and can use at my discretion.

A November 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

Our AP is sort of “on duty.” I have asked her to help with the kids (although she won’t be solely responsible–when I have time I’ll take over, and I intend to be clear about when those times are), and I’m not counting it as a vacation day. She’s getting Friday off as a bonus day.
There are a few reasons she’ll be “on duty.” First, if she’s not, she’d stay in her room all day on the internet, and I’d like her to experience what Thanksgiving is about. Second, if I can have help with the kids while my husband and I cook, I’ll take it! Third, she’s not American, so it’s not like she’s missing a special holiday with her own family.

Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

It’s funny – this is exactly what I am doing and for the SAME reasons! I will tell her that I don’t need her until 10am, and I’ll relieve her early, but if I just give her off, she’ll sleep until three and then be on facebook the rest of the day. While it may be a slightly underhanded way of going about it, I’d like for her to participate in a uniquely American holiday.

TX Mom November 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I have always given our AP’s holidays off (very similar to the 8 holidays we get) in addition to their 2 weeks of vacation. I like CV’s reasoning and will reconsider the value of having the AP’s work on T-day and Christmas morning in the future because having them “on duty” is a way to enable (or force) cultural exchange. (AND we desperately need the help at those times.) A few of our AP’s have preferred to use the holidays as time off – long weekend to go out of town, etc. It’s disappointing since holidays are an important part of cultural exchange and that is one of the main reasons we chose to host an AP over hire an American nanny.

PacificNW_mom November 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Our au pair is traveling with us to a big Thanksgiving family gathering. She likes to come with us on vacations where we do not need childcare, and does often end up playing with the kids or with the family (board games, etc). She does this because she is part of our family…it is one of those gray areas where she may be playing with the kids, but is not on duty.
We just make it clear up front that these are not work hours, but family time and cultural exchange. Since it is her choice to join us, we’ve never had an issue with an au pair “claiming hours” for that time. But then again, she gets to travel to some cool places with us on vacation and we don’t charge her vacation time for it. If we travel and need her to work, we make it a work trip – but in general, we don’t need au pair help when we are on vacation.

Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I like my aupair to join us on Thanksgiving and I like her to help. When we go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving on alternate years, all of the adults take turns supervising the kids and setting the table. Sometimes someone brings a special dish that everyone loves. Everyone helps clean up ( the women, anyway ). Some aupairs are great but I am always disappointed when we have one of those girls who thinks that being part of the family means being treated like a special guest without any responsibility. Everyone socializes, helps , eats, cleans up, watches tv. You cannot have your cake and eat it , too. This really is what being a family is all about.

Jane November 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

I totally agree with this–it’s my ideal vision of what the relationship is all about. We’ve had this good experience twice now, but our current AP will text her friends at the dinner table and she spent our last family gathering looking pretty bored and miserable. While I want her to have the cultural experience with us, if she’s going to sit there and text all day instead of interacting with us, I think I’d prefer her to be able to go and do her own thing that day. She has already asked that she not have to come to Christmas dinner with us because we are having a family dinner on Christmas Eve (both days are “bonus” days off for her). I’ll let you know how it turns out!

CaliHostMom November 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm

In a perfect world, an au pair would pitch in and help all day on Thanksgiving, interacting with the kids, the adults, and any invited guests even if she was “off duty”. She would offer to help set the table, lead a kids craft, peel onions, tidy the bathrooms before guests arrive, etc. She would do this b/c she is part of the family. She would do this to experience this particular American holiday with an American family.

The problem is that it is not a perfect world and, after 10 au pairs, I can tell you that young au pairs typically lack the maturity and drive and situational awareness to anticipate and offer to help in these ways. Or, they may simply not really enjoy you and your family that much and would rather be alone in their rooms or out with friends.

I have always said something like this:
“I really need your help on Thanksgiving b/c I have to do x, y, and z. I would appreciate it if you could do a, b, and c. DH will be around to help us both so with the three of us around, it will be an easier day with the kids and we can all enjoy the holiday more.”

To me it would be weird to have the AP leave the house and not join us on Thanksgiving. Right or wrong, I would feel offended. So, by structuring it as a day of “team” childcare and “all hands on board”, she gets hours credit for working a fairly easy day and I don’t get offended.

Christmas is a little different. It depends on various circumstances such as where the holiday is, how religious the AP is, what is on the agenda for church, activities, meals, etc. But, generally, in the case of Christmas, I usually devise a sort of optional schedule depending on my needs (and hers, if she has expressed any). I have said something like “we hope you will join us for x, y, and z. We want you to be there. If you have other plans, we’ll understand, just let us know. If you can help me with the kids from X oclock to Y oclock, I will give you credit for the hours in your weekly schedule, but the rest of the day you will be off duty and free to join us in our celebration or not. If you can’t be on duty from X – Z, then I would appreciate your help from A to B on [another day] instead.”

'sota gal November 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm

We are giving our AP the day off, however she will be home celebrating with us. It depends on the AP as to whether or not I have scheduled her to work on the holidays. Our current AP loves (or at least pretends to love ;) ) spending time with us as a family and will jump in to help out as needed/if needed. Our plans for the day are that we will cook together when we can, but she will also help out with our kids, especially our 3 yo twins so that I can cook.

As with past holidays I have opened up our home to other AP’s whose HF’s are out of town. We’ll see what we get this time around! It usually turns out to be lots of fun and all of our kids love the attention of new friends. Only once has it been an unpleasant experience – our AP and another girl holed up in her room ALL DAY – except to eat. The next holiday I scheduled that AP to work as a way of forcing her to spend the holiday with us. In general its worked out well and we love having more people to share the holiday with since we are so far away from all of our families ourselves.

CaliHostMom November 23, 2009 at 3:16 pm

‘sota gal’s bad experience with the off-duty AP holed up in her room is EXACTLY why I always scheduled the AP for hours on Thanksgiving. It’s because I don’t want to spend my holiday being annoyed by an AP’s anti-familial behavior.

You can’t reliably predict how an AP will act. I just think it is much less awkward to say “you will have a fun, light duty day” than “we expect you to help out b/c you are part of the family but you won’t get credit for the hours.” The problem with the latter is that certain APs will be offended that the HF assumes they won’t help out and other APs will be annoyed they have to stick around even though they are technically off duty. I’d rather take the hit on hours for the week and avoid the problem by clarifying that they’re on duty.

That said, if any AP gave me good notice (e.g., a few days) that she would like to have Thanksgiving off b/c she will spend it with a friend, another family, a trip, or whatever, I would try to accommodate that if I could (and usually I would be able to do so — maybe not when the kids were infants). I also usually would ask the AP what her favorite foods are that are traditional ones made by her mom or grandma. We try to figure out one that we can re-produce here and that can be the symbol of the AP’s country on our Thanksgiving table.

Bruna November 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm

I just want to give you Host Moms one very important piece of advice: above all, INVITE YOUR AU PAIR TO THANKSGIVING DINNER. Even if she’s on duty. Don’t assume she knows she’s invited. You have to remember that it is a family holiday and the au pair IS NOT your family and like any other person who’s coming to your house share a special moment with you and your family, he/she should be invited. “I would love for you to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, we would love to share our tradition with you” won’t hurt.
It seems like nothing, but it does make a difference. When I was an au pair, my family didn’t ask me to work, but they simply forgot that I existed too. And I had a good relationship with them. They remembered to invite me when I was miles and miles away, at 6pm, at my friend’s host family’s house (she told her host mom I hadn’t been invited to my host family’s dinner and she (the HM) called me a week before Thanksgiving and told me she would love to have me there). That’s what I call being delicate with people. As for MY host mom, she said she was sorry and that she didn’t realize I expected an invitation… but she didn’t remember that I “assumed” that I was invited for Yom Kippur dinner, I was thrilled to be part of a Jewish tradition (being a Christian, I supposed I had a lot to learn), but they didn’t have a place put for me at the table.
Anyways, bottom line is: we are far far away from home during the Holidays. We miss our family and we know we’re not part of yours. I know most of you probably realize that, but for some of us, a meaningful invitation to some family tradition is much more inportant than a gift – which you were discussing some days ago.

PA aupair mom November 23, 2009 at 8:21 pm

very good advice. I mentioned all the things we would be eating and that she would be welcome to try, or not try, anything that she chose. I also invited her to our after dinner family activities.

D November 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm

My au pair has the day before off as I take the kids myself. And I just our au pair her to help me cook T-day morning or play with the kids, after our meal and we all clean up she can rest for the rest of the day. Then we ask for her to come with us to our families house that eve….for fun & family time. I make the expectations for the holiday clear over a week in advance.

The day after t-day….Our au pair is on duty while my husband take a day of rest. So in the end….we all have a nice R&R at some point. We try to be fair and a family.

D November 23, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I give our au pairs memorial day, new years & labor day off.

But our critical cultural holidays of Halloween, Xmas Day, T-day & July 4th. Sorry it’s family time! It’s not technically a working day but we call it Family Day. :) Where we all get R&R at some point during the Holiday time. This is no different than I would treat my own children as teens. :)

Happy Host Mom November 24, 2009 at 9:23 am

Our au pair will be going with us to the grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. She will be part of the family and function like an older sibling who will help if needed, but enjoy the parade and the meal just like a member of the family. Grandma considers our aupairs “honorary grandchildren” for the year and makes them feel like part of the family. If our aupair wanted to do something else that day, we would allow it, but we would be disappointed. We enjoy sharing our holidays with her, and we enjoy acquiring new holidays from her!

Anonymous November 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Our AP has Thanksgiving Day off, although I anticipate that she will help with preparations since she usually is great about that. Her boyfriend will also be joining us for dinner. She will also have the Christmas holidays off this year since she is traveling back to her boyfriend’s hometown on the East Coast. She’ll be home in time to work on New Year’s Eve.

All that being said, I definitely don’t think APs should automatically have holidays off – that (to me) is completely ridiculous. Sure, it’s great if they can have the holidays off, but for some families it isn’t realistic or practical to give their AP the day off on holidays. Just because most employers are closed on Thanksgiving doesn’t mean everyone is – consider those in the medical field, retail, food service, etc…many, many businesses are open on holidays – and if the AP is in one of those families, they should be expected to work.

Last year, we had our AP work on Christmas Eve while my husband and I went out for a quiet dinner before the chaos of Christmas the following day. Our AP was on duty for a few hours in the evening…but before you start thinking she is a “slave”, be aware that Christmas Eve for all of us was spent in a top hotel in a major city near our home, she had her own very luxurious suite in the hotel, we had taken her out for a lovely lunch earlier in the day, bought her a bottle of wine to enjoy in her hotel suite after we returned home from dinner, and gave her permission to order anything she wanted from room service. So did she work on a holiday? Yep. Is she treated like a “slave”? Hardly.

NoVA Host Mom December 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm

A follow-up: Thanksgiving worked out well. AP helped with my 14mo daughter in the morning while I got food done and caught a fast shower, then we all ended up over at our friends’ house for a big family & friends type of event. She loved the food, but insisted on taking care of the baby as often as she could get away with it. She said she found it easier than trying to have conversations with other people (she can get shy, so HD and I spent a lot of time trying to shove her out of the nest, so to speak).

When my husband and I left for the rest of the weekend with one of the dogs and the baby, she stayed behind for a well-earned rest and a quiet house to herself (she asked to since she had a church event on Saturday). She did try the Black Friday shopping thing, but the other APs she went with only wanted one store (and she did not need it) so it was a bit of a disappointment to her. She was very glad for us to get home Sunday night. And she has decided she loves the food we have for Thanksgiving. I think I have a helper cook for next year!

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