Working out isn’t working, is it?

by cv harquail on June 11, 2009

What really counts as "work" and when are we willing to bend the rules? This mom’s getting a workout– and not the kind that makes your heart healthy. …

"We are family members at our local gym, which provides childcare while parents are working out.

We added our au pair to our membership (didn’t change the cost for us, but saved her a ton of money), and encourage her to take our little boy (almost 2) there occasionally to interact with other children and get a bit more excitement.

Now, she wants to take both kids (the other being a 6-yo who is now out of school for the summer) to the gym for 1.5 hours everyday so she can exercise.


I feel if she’s going to do that, she should consider part of that time as not working time (for example, if she leaves the kids in childcare for 7.5 hrs/wk, 3 of those are "on duty" time for her, and 4.5hrs are "off duty" time, and we can therefore schedule her for an additional 4.5 hrs during the week). Is this unreasonable? After all, I have to figure out how to schedule my workout time around my work time– my boss doesn’t let me work out for free while someone else does my job for an hour and a half everyday…

I would love to hear what other host moms have to say about either (and both!) of these issues! Thanks for being a great resource for host moms–

HostMom in Seattle"

Dear HostMom in Seattle —

If the earlier issue about vacation days didn’t raise red flags for you, this one has "taking advantage of you" written all over it. Here’s my opinion, then we’ll go to the wise Host Parent readers for more.

1. It is inappropriate for your au pair to take the kids to childcare at the gym so that she can have time to herself. Childcare at the gym is for the parent who otherwise can’t find the free time she needs to exersize. Your au pair’s job is to watch the kids, not to work out. Watching the kids should be her top priority.

2. When she is at the gym, is she really paying attention to the kids? If not, she’s not working.

3. You can’t really be sure that when the kids are in the gym’s childcare that your au pair is actually working out. She may be chatting with the personal trainer or taking a long shower. That is not what you are paying her to do.

4. Childcare at the gym is NOT free. You are already paying for it, in your gym membership. So, if you are paying both the gym and the au pair for the same hours, you’re getting ripped off taken advantage of.

5. Let’s face it, childcare at the gym is perfectly fine, but it’s not the same as childcare with ones own au pair. If you wanted to have your kids in group childcare outside your home, you wouldn’t have an au pair, would you?

Childcare at the gym is a nice additional experience for a little one, and it may not be right for the 6 yr old. It is fine for 1.5 hours two or three times a week, when parents are working out and when the kids have had lots of personal attention, but it really isn’t the same quality as formal "childcare", it’s really babysitting. Are you sure that you want a chunk of your kids’ week spent there?

6. Childcare at the gym is a privilege you should reserve for YOURSELF first. How will you feel on a Saturday, when you want to work out, your au pair is off duty, and your kids have already spent 5 days times 1.5 hours at the gym already? Do you think you might feel bad about taking them there a sixth day? This is a privilege that you have paid for, for YOU, and if you let her use it so much there is not enough left if and when you or your partner needs it.

6. IMHO, you are being entirely too nice to let her go to the gym every day during her on duty time, even if it is only partially on duty. The girl has other time in her week– she doesn’t have to do it during her childcare time. Sure you might allow her to do it once a week– but no, not more than that.


7. You are already paying for her to be a gym member– sure, your cost did not go up when you added her, but you already paid for the "family" plan, with your au pair in mind. Had you paid for just you and/or your spouse, you or she would have had to pay for her. Just because is not additional out of pocket doesn’t mean it isn’t a cost. You have *already* been generous; you don’t need to be even more generous.

8. Finally, if she really wants to work out a lot, can’t she find a way to do it with the kids? Running, walking with the stroller, flying kites!

Have you ever heard of the term "hedonic treadmill"? She wants more and more and nothing makes her happier. Your au pair seems to be on one…. where what she has, no matter how good, is not enough.

Consider too, that underneath your initial well-meaning generosity (based in part I’ll bet on a good relationship with the previous au pair) you know you are being taken advantage of. So suggest something moderate and yet still generous– maybe once a week she can take the kids there, or maybe twice, but NOT counting the whole time as work. That’s my $.02. cvh

Okay Moms & Dads & au pairs– what else should HostMom in Seattle consider?

Phote credit: Eric K Bishoff


Calif Mom June 11, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Nope. No fair. One day per week, max.

And just to reiterate #5 and #6 — that six year old is NOT going to be happy with this situation for more than a couple days in a row (unless the kid is a total reader and you can park him/her there with a new book). Imagine the indignity, being forced to hang out with “babies” in a “boring baby room” at the gym. I can hear it now… and that little sibling who is now 2 is going to start being a serious cramp in that 6 yo’s style this summer.

Mom, you are NOT being unreasonable or selfish.

Hula Gal June 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm

It’s ok to change your mind. The au pair won’t be thrilled but it really is how you present the situation. I’d suggest approaching it from the angle of, “I’m not comfortable having the baby in the childcare at the gym for more than xx hours a week. You will need to limit your on-duty gym time to that many hours.” If you don’t want the 6 year old in it at all than it is ok to tell her she cannot work out during work hours while the 6 year old is out of school because the gym does not have appropriate childcare for him. I will not allow my au pair to work out on on-duty time if it means she has to leave the house to do it (unless she wants to take a walk with the baby). We have a treadmill at home. I’ve offered to the au pair the use of the treadmill while the baby naps with the expectation that all of the tasks we need her to do get done.

Anna June 11, 2009 at 9:48 pm

this is insane.
Gym childcare is for parents who don’t have a caregiver (like an au pair who can stay with kids while they work out), not for caregivers who don’t want to do their job!

I would tell her no gym during her work hours, she is there to provide one on one attention to your children, not to delegate it to somebody else. She has plenty of off-work time to work out, and the gym daycare perk is really for YOU. She should be thankful she gets free gym from you, to ask for more is way over the top.

Amy June 11, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Whoa! I think I’m overly flexible with our aupair, but I don’t think I’d go for this one. We also have a family membership at a local gym and added our aupair to it. She is welcome to use the gym any time that she is NOT working. She enjoys this priviledge quite a bit, and has never requested to go while she is working. We have negotiated schedules so that she can go to a yoga class once in a while, but going during work time is not a regular event.

I also agree that being a physically fit role model is important for the children, so perhaps exercising with them at home (Wii games?) might be better for all.

I would let her know that, after consideration, you have decided that you want to continue providing her membership, but she must utilize that priviledge after work hours. I think she’ll find that reasonable.

Anonymous June 12, 2009 at 8:58 am

This reminds me of our au pair who asked if our two-year old could stay in the daycare at our last vacation spot for 3-4 hours each so she could enjoy herself too. Well, let me tell you after 4 days of it he had, had enough. I had to do what was best for my child. When I told her about the plan change we had a sulky, depressed au pair on our hands. Their priority is themselves most of the time, not the children…we need to enforce rules that reflect that the children are the priority! It was a great lesson! All the ap moms raise good points. If you want to drop your kids off at the daycare on a weekend when ap is off-duty you may have a stubborn child who refuses to go. And her dropping the kids off at the daycare DOES NOT count as on-duty time.

StephinBoston June 12, 2009 at 9:28 am

I think I’m a pretty generous host mom and I’d NEVER go for that. She needs to do this off hours, before she works or after. This feels like an aupair with quite the sense of entitlement: vacation, gym, what’s next? I think you need to sit down with her and reiterate that she is here to WORK up to 45 hours a week and take care of your children, if she’s not ready to do that it may be time to part ways before it gets even worse..

Anne June 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

I think it’s perfectly OK for the au pair to be taking the kids to the gym childcare–even the 6yo–IF it’s somewhere like the YMCA, where they have fun kids programs going on. Ours has a gym class for kids ages 3-10 in the mornings, and craft times for older kids later in the day. Since there was no additional charge to add the au pair, I suspect this may be the case. I *encourage* our au pair to take our kids to this at least once a week. We have a three-year-old, who enjoys the interaction with other kids, and an 8 mo old, who (according to my au pair) gets taken by one of the child care workers to “watch” the gym class. I think everyone gets something out of this arrangement!
That being said, my au pair is not working when someone else is taking care of my children. This should not count towards her 45 hours/week maximum.
Also, if you aren’t comfortable with this happening every day, just say so! It’s not unreasonable to limit this.

Ann (host mom from New England) June 12, 2009 at 11:09 am

Well, we don’t have this problem – since our APs have to use public transportation and walk a lot with our daughter, they gets plenty of physical exercise and have no desire to go to the gym in their off hours! And it would have cost extra to add her to the gym membership, though I’ve invited each a couple of times as a “guest” to use the hot sauna in the cold winter, come swimming, etc.

I think that taking your children to a gym daycare where they get exposure to other children isn’t much different from a preschool, playgroup, or paid for kids’ class – at least in the social aspect – but I agree that your AP shouldn’t take them so often that you couldn’t use that privilege on the weekends. Depending on what else you have planned for the kids, schedule a weekly limit for the AP of number of times/hourse she can bring them there. Using the argument that you like to use the gym yourself I think would be helpful.

As to whether this counts towards her working hours, I wouldn’t count them towards her 45, if you need the time for other things. If you don’t, maybe let it slide occasionally.

I do let my APs occasionally take care of personal things while they are on duty, especially the long 10-hour days, within reason, just like I do things on my lunch hour etc, as long as I feel my daughter is safe and can participate or learn something to some degree (going to the bank with my AP; helping her pack for a long vacation trip; calling her parents together on Skype cameraphone to practice the language).

Franzi June 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm

though i think anne has a valid point (kids gym class) for some cases, this is something different to me. working out for your AP seems to be a hobby and this should be taken care of in the off hours. even if she is working the full 10 hours a day, there is still 14 hours left to work out!
scratch 8 for sleeping and she has 6 hours each day to work out if she wants to!

allowing the AP work out while she is on duty is absolutely not ok to me.

and we didn’t even get into the quality of childcare at the gym yet…did you check the child care room with the thought in mind that your kids will be spending 1.5 hours there EVERY DAY?? would you want to stay there for that amount of time EVERY DAY??

HostMom In Seattle June 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

Thanks for your input, everyone!

This match has just been beyond what I could even imagine– the things she comes up with to ask me about seem so outrageous to me I can’t even believe that I’m understanding her correctly most of the time! It does help to get some perspective :)

Just a clarifying point– like Anne, our gym is a YMCA where they have a great room for toddlers and a separate area for older children, so my 6-yo does have an age-appropriate place that she enjoys.

I hadn’t even thought about *my* using the gym’s childcare on weekend– I depend on it, since my husband works every other weekend, and that’s the only way I can consistently get a good workout every week (even then, I limit the time they spend there to 1 hr!). And if they go every day, I *will* feel bad about using it on Saturdays!

We have one more week before the “mandatory” 30 days is up, so not too much longer to go. I’ve determined for myself that I can “put up with her” for another 3 weeks, but that I can’t live with her for a year. She’s also made it clear from her perspective that our family/situation isn’t what she expected or desired. And every day makes it easier– she does or says something else to make it clear to me she has a crazy sense of over-entitlement.

C’est le vie– at least I know that it’s not just my over-stressed, anxiety- and guilt-prone self that is mis-interpreting the situation.

Thanks moms!

sleepytime January 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm

We have a gym membership that includes our au pair. She had to bring one child to a lesson there, and had another with her. I had her drop the second off at the childcare, because I thought he’d be bored and distracting at the lesson. All the parents stay at the lesson because the kids are young.
She asked if she could go work out during the lesson (hey, the other kid was already at childcare.) I said sure, but please check in a couple of times. Her response was she found that distracting when she was a child but okay. I thought, this is going to be a really long year.
That week she decided to rematch.
I never mention during initial match that we have a third car or a gym membership, or unlimited texting because I’m afraid we’ll end up with the kind of person who’ll argue about checking on kids during her work hours!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm

I would have said no, “American parents and caregivers stay and watch the kids because they want to know that someone cares about them. Please stay, watch, and meet his/her glances from time to time.” My guess is that as the lessons continue, the parents pay less attention, and the ability to work out increases. Easier to give a privilege than to take one away.

Franzi June 13, 2009 at 10:24 am

@hostmom in seattle – if this match is not what you desire AND your AP has said that she feels the same way, why not rematch now? yes, the agency might have rules regarding that but if both parties agree to rematch i’d contact the LCC and go ahead and start rematch.

it would also prevent your kids from bonding with her too much.

i thought that busy time in your jobs is in july (enough time to get a new girl before)

Calif Mom June 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Seriously! This is the same AP as the vacation days one? Cut your losses, get it over with, and move on. This is NOT going last, and you’re much better off ending it–quickly–on your terms than having her leave in a huff, and you in a lurch. At least start talking to your counselor about available APs and start talking to them. If this is a busy time for work for you, all the more reason not have to her leave you high and dry when you really would feel it at the office too. Get backup lined up and move on!

D June 13, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I think the gym is a great perk ( she already has it free) Only during off hours & free time only though. With maybe once a week to give the kids play time. But anything beyond that is selfish on her behalf. The children deserve 1 on 1 care & to be at home, thats what an au pair is all about. Maybe tell her you need her to watch the kids on a babysititng night. (which is easy work as the kids sleep!!!) The Gym then is the tradeoff.

AnnaAuPair June 13, 2009 at 10:50 pm

As Franzi said, if you KNOW that it’s not going to work, you can get into rematch right away – no matter, what the rules normally are. My first hostfamily and I decided to go into rematch and the day after that my LCC came (she wanted me to stay longer and so on, but as we had already decided, she just said ok and let me leave) and I left that very day [they didn’t want me around anymore and I didn’t want to either =(]

Megan June 14, 2009 at 7:52 pm

I encourage my au pair to use the YMCA gym and put the kids into the childcare there. Our YMCA has a really nice child watch, and my kids LOVE it there (they actually ask her to go work out so that they can go there for an hour). The usually have some neat arts and crafts going on for the bigger kids (my kids are 2, 4 and 5), and my 2 yr old really likes their set up and games. Part of the reason I actually joined the YMCA was so that my au pair could have this perk. They let us have 2 adults on the family membership, so I have myself and my au pair. My husband is gone frequently for work-ups and is deploying in Sept for 7 months, so it wasn’t worth it to put him on there (plus, being in the military, working out is part of his job, so he often does it at work). During the school year, my oldest two are in school full-day, but I think it’s nice for our au pair to get a little break in the day to work out. Maybe I’m too flexible/ lax/ whatever, but I also think that a little bit goes a long way. I’m not sure how I would have felt if our au pair had asked us for this, but I know I was happy to be able to present her with the option. I see what others are saying about this being just another issue, going along with the vacation thing. In this case, yes, I think it might be wrong of her to have asked, since she seems to not understand the big picture anyway. I wish I was able to use the YMCA more and the childcare option, but my school schedule is so hectic that I rarely get there at all. I also feel that if I told her that I was going to use the childcare part on a certain day, that she would ensure that she didn’t use it that day, but with my schedule, I can’t even see that being an issue.

Clara June 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm

What next? Maybe she’ll ask if she can leave the kids with a neighbor for a few hours because she needs to get her hair cut, or go shopping, or meet for a chat with friends at Starbucks. Working out isn’t work.
Likewise, the Y childcare is not necessarily a place you want your kids every day of the week. (As great a service as it is in our town, the Y babysitting is populated with au pairs volunteering in order to get reduced-cost f Y memberships — some of whom I’ve heard enough about through the cluster grapevine to know I wouldn’t want my child in their care too many influential hours a week.)

Anonymous June 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I agree with everyone who said that working out isn’t an appropriate use of the aupair’s ” paid ” hours. But, I think, this is why so many women were miserable at home in the 1950’s. Intelligent women stuck in the suburbs without cars and husbands who came home , turned on the televison and asked ” What do you do all day ?”.
There is no easy answer to this. Women are now in the position of those men none of us wanted as a husband. Think: The Women’s Room, The Feminie Mystique , and Mad Men.
Life as a mother at home can be absolute bliss but only if you are your own boss.

CV June 15, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Hi Anon- Your comment makes me think about how, with the best situations, we can give our au pairs lots of autonomy in the ways that they choose to get things done (so long as it gets done). We do have to guard against making that same assumption that since we haven’t seen all the work get done, that someone (homemaker or au pair) hasn’t been working. B/c this is of course not true. If only someone kept track of how many times we changed a diaper, or picked up Crocs from the front stairs, or… yo know what I mean… cvh

new HM June 16, 2009 at 8:03 am

This thread is getting a little off topic but it is an interesting conversation. Now that I am returning to work after four years of being a stay-at-home-mom I am acutely aware of the challenges that my AP will face (because I faced them too!). I’m talking about those days when you feel isolated in the house, bored with sidewalk chalk, and frustrated with whining and arguing. I love my children dearly but there have been those days that I wanted to put on my running shoes and do a Forest Gump!! I want to be sensitive to the fact that my AP may at times have these same feelings. An opportunity to get out of the house once or twice a week with the kids to go to the gym sounds fine to me. Sure she gets to be “off duty” at some point but as a very young women she will need encouragement, praise, and gratitude. Everything that stay-at-home-moms want.

Franzi June 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm

i understand the frustration any parent and AP goes through. but i think the main difference is that the AP signed up for a job (versus a first time mom who might be under the impression she can handle it all and then has to realize she can’t), (supposedly) having child care experience. girls with just a little over 200 hours probably never came close to this level of frustration. also, girls who only took care of kids while they were sleeping or for 2-3 hours at a time probably never experienced this frustration.

this is why i think it is important to really screen the experience stated in the application and ask about what she would do in these situations because she will hit the frustration level if there are only little ones to take care of (even worse if they don’t talk yet).

i think someone with enough experience is more able to channel her energy and knows how she can recharge (while being off) just because they have been there and they know what will happen! also, when you interview a girl, you can and should be very straight forward with what life will be like. this is even more important if you do not want your AP to leave the house with the infant/toddler when its below XYZ degrees. to many APs it’s perfectly normal to walk the kids, no matter what the weather is like. but i know some families that do not want their AP with the kids outside unless the sun is shining. being that stuck in the house

NJM June 16, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Interesting off-shoot discussion!

Host Mom in Seattle (OP), I am *really* starting to wonder if my old AP didn’t make her way out to you! (A related question: Is there a good way to screen for over-entitlement? We’re about to start interviewing for next year’s au pair…)

Anonymous June 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Regarding Franzi comments, this is why we picked a 2nd yr or ext ap this time around. They knew what they were getting into and wanted to stay for an additional year. It is important, though, to see what age children they took care of previously. You can also ask the host parents about attitude.

Brittany June 18, 2009 at 9:55 am

Someone made the comment that even if the AP works 10 hours a day, minus 8 hours for sleep, there’s still 6 hours in a day for her to go to the gym and work out. Really? After working 10 hours, who would want to work out? I totally get that she shouldn’t be paid during these hours, but if she’s allowed to go, and take your children with her, then I hardly feel that she should have to “make up” for those hours later (unless it is discussed and agreed upon by the AP). I’m a Nanny and I work 9.5 hour days, and when I go home, I don’t even want to cook dinner. I asked my Host Mom if I could take the baby to my house for maybe an hour in the afternoon, to let my dogs go out back for awhile, but the Host Dad isn’t a dog person and doesn’t want me to take the baby, it can be frustrating, trying to think of just something new that you can do with a 7 month old, I mean, feeling tree bark is enough to make him smile for thirty minutes, but I’m not so much into the tree bark. :)

I get what some of you are saying about sitting inside being bored…the baby I watch is 7.5 months old. Yes, he’s very fun and exciting, but things get pretty dull (how many times is chewing on plastic food gonna be exciting!? hahaha). Here in Holland it’s mostly rainy/overcast so it doesn’t make for nice exciting outside adventures, if ya know what I’m saying.

There are many girls who demand things that are outrageous (all those vacation days) however, I think that the AP should be able to go maybe once a week to the gym for an hour, at most because it is something new for the kids to experience, and they may even like it…if they don’t, put an end to it. :) Or, tell her to go out back and hit wiffle balls with a bat, throw around a softball, shoot some hoops, that’s a pretty intense workout in itself, AND the kids would be able to join in with the fun! Good luck!

Bilingual February 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

I would say just reexplain to her what you meant by take your son there occasionally and the difference between working out in her off time and taking your son there. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that she is purposefully trying to abuse the system but perhaps needs the specific rules explained to her. Also, in general for host moms, I would avoid phrases such as “within reason”, “once in a while”, “occasionally”. For example I worked as an au pair in Germany. In the beginning the parents had said I could invite my boyfriend over any time. I usually stay with him on the weekends and had no real need to invite him over. Anyways, the second time I asked if he could come over they said “Well, we would also like it if we were here when he comes and we would prefer it only if he comes occasionally. I wasn’t trying to push for him to come over more often but I really wanted to know my limits because I wanted to stay within them. I had a long and pleasant conversation with the host mom until I got specific information with a logical explanation. She was also very direct with me which I appreciated. It turns out that she only felt comfortable with him coming one time per month and only staying one night on the weekend except when they specifically invite him. Basically, “occasionally” and “sometimes” mean very different things in different cultures and languages. I never would have found that out if I hadn’t pushed the conversation and insisted that she help me understand. Once again, I had no problem with the decision because it is her house, but I wanted a concrete definition of how often he was allowed to visit.
I would also like to add to this as being someone from the south, as we like to talk around things rather than being short and direct finding it perhaps a bit more polite, that that is sometimes difficult for foreigners, whose native language is not English, to grasp.

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