Would you ask your Au Pair to help out at someone else’s party?

by cv harquail on January 22, 2012

Do you think it’s appropriate to ask an au pair to got to your kids’ school and help out at a birthday event there, for someone else’s kids?

Send your AuPair to help at someone else's event, without you?

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Send your AuPair to help at a school event, without you?

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Here’s the email that prompts the question:il_570xN.95510412.jpg

Dear AuPairMom –

I am mostly satisfied with the family I am working for. We’ve had a few problems but nothing that you don’t expect with living in a new house with new people.

Usually I go along with what is asked of me, but today I agreed to do something that I don’t feel sure about. Agreeing to do it has bugged me ever since, but I am not sure whether it is right of me to question it. Here is the situation:

My normal routine on a Friday is to pick the younger girl up from school at Midday and the older child at 2.45pm. Today, the whole class of the younger child has been invited to a birthday party arranged by the parents of 2 boys who are also in the class. The birthday kids’ parents have arranged a nice lunch at school (usually the kids eat at home on Friday afternoons). After lunch, the birthday kids’ parents will put all the kids on a bus to take them to the party destination.

My HM told me this morning that I should go into the school at 12 and ‘help the kids eat their lunch because there will be lots of children’.

Since both sets of birthday kids’ parents will be there, I’m not sure why they want me to do. The kids eat lunch at school Mon-Thurs it’s not like they are uncomfortable with eating at school. I don’t exactly see what I would be needed to do, short of lifting sandwiches to the children’s mouths!

I always help out at birthday parties of my own host kids, but I distinctly do not recall any other parents sending over their Au Pairs to lend a hand. (We’re in an affluent area with a lot of au pairs.)

I feel a bit frustrated with the situation. Partly, I’m not sure whether I am just frustrated at having to break up my day (which could have been used for something useful). But also, I’m wondering if doing this kind of task is outside of what’s normal to ask of an au pair duties. There have been a few similar situations before, where I’ve ended up standing around awkwardly because there is nothing to do. Still, I’ve been expected to be there.

How can I express this to my HM without sounding rude? I’m not unwilling to do this, but it doesn’t seem completely right. Since the party is today, I’m going to go even though I’d prefer not to. But, I hope to discuss the issue with my host parents later.

I’d appreciate any advice the AuPairMom readers might give. Thanks — ZD

Image: ricracandbuttons on Etsy


Taking a Computer Lunch January 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm

AP – it is typical for parents to attend the birthday parties of young children in the United States. It can get pretty chaotic, and may eyes are needed to see that nothing gets damaged and many hands are needed to make sure the kids have food, a game goes well, or hands are wiped before the children move on to the next activity.

If you are confused, ask your HM directly. It could be that teacher put out a call for other parents to help so that the classroom was tidy before the weekend. Your HM, knowing that you usually work from midday on Fridays, probably volunteered you. It’s not a deviation from your usual work schedule, yes? Just a last-minute readjustment to your usual schedule, yes?

I understand that you had anticipated having some extra time off and it was taken away at the last minute and you didn’t feel that a good explanation for your schedule change was offered. Does that sound correct? Since we’re all reading your note after the event occurred, then it would be interesting to know if it became obvious to you why your presence was needed.

I understand that no AP likes a last-minute schedule adjustment. Things happen. As a HM I depend on my AP’s flexibility, knowing that my sick child changed her plans for the day. I do try to begin my schedule changing sentences with an “I’m sorry, but…” or “I know that you may have made plans, but would you please…”

Personally, I would have no problem sending an AP to attend the birthday party of a young child where my young child was a guest that was scheduled during my working hours (and the AP’s typical working hours). By age 6 or 7, most kids are able to behave well enough without their parents and even do a modest amount of picking up after themselves. Until then, it’s all hands on deck making sure food and cake are distributed quickly, and that the kids are under control while a game is underway.

hOstCDmom January 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Like German AuPair, I think TACL’s comment is spot on, and likely if the schedule change had been presented to the OP in the way TACL explained it, the OP might have had a better understanding of the need/cultural norms around such an event, and why her HM would have asked her to assist. Sometimes busy HMs forget to “pause” and give the back story or connect the dots for their AP re why AP is being asked to do something, because the HM is focused on the conclusion/presesnt need for APs assistance. Context and back story can go a long way toward generating goodwill. I bet that if the OP’s HM has said: “Sally’s mom emailed me to see if I can help out at the party on Friday, but as you know I will be at work, thus I need you to go to the party and assist in my place” the OP would have seen this request as normal occasion when the AP “stands in the shoes” of the working parent.

sleepytime January 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I’m going to surmise that from the usual let out time this is a kindergarten or preschool event. Given that it is during your regular working hours, I don’t think that this is out of line- you are just lending a hand because your child is not going to get the normal supervision that they would during a non-birthday party. I bet you’ll see a few other parents or babysitters there, and even some going on the bus.
Really curious about how it turned out.

AFHostMom January 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm

well I voted before I read the body of the post, but after reading it, I don’t see an issue–unless of course the program rules are being violated in some way (more than 45 hours, etc). We absolutely expect our AP to go and help out at our kids’ schools if they are needed, just as we do when we are able and requested to be there. We looked at putting the younger ones into a co-op preschool that would have required the AP to go every 2 weeks, but opted not to in the end for other reasons. We would have shared in this responsibility and counted her in-school time as work hours, of course.
When the last AP came to our daughter’s birthday party, she was surprised and said it was “kind of boring.” At home they have clowns and all sorts of activities at parties–and this was no princess–and we had a quiet-ish party with horseback rides, snacks and arts and crafts. There are tremendous variations in party traditions, and isn’t learning that part of the cultural exchange?
And for the record, I can absolutely see where little kids need help eating–it’s not so much the eating as the set-up and clean-up (opening the milk/juice, wiping up spills, taking trash and recycling, handing out food, etc).

Didis January 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Honestly, if ZD has host family who react, behave and talk to her in that way or with attitude like you are having in this comment, I totally understand why she is frustrated and feels abused.
Like she said, this isn’t first time that it’s expected from her to do things like that and when we are becoming aupairs we know what rules and expectations are. But if she feels like this isn’t right, she needs advice not criticism.

In one point you will need to talk to your HM, probably she see this in a different way and maybe you are wrong but you don’t realize that. When you talk to her, either things will change or you will.

5kids=aupair January 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

I agree that the problem lies with how the host mom addressed the issue. Does the child need help or is the HM unsure of the child riding on this bus? Or did the party parents ask for parents or the au pair to help? If the host parent really did have some concerns, she could have addressed it that way. If the party parents wanted some extra help (which sounds like the case) then they should offer to pay the AP. I often employ my AP’s friends to help at bday parties, although they are not during their working hours. I think a little explanation from the HM could’ve prevented the hurt feelings.

Either way, the AP should address her feelings with the HM.

WestMom January 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

As a HM, this seems like an odd request to me, and I understand why you are puzzled. I have asked our Au Pair to help out with school activities when the teacher requests some assistance, but I would not ask an AP to go help out other parents with their birthday party, unless I felt my children specifically needed some attention (which does not seem to be the case here).

In your shoes, I would simply ask your HM what is specifically expected of you during that time so you can better understand the reason for her asking. But at the end of the day, as odd as the request might be, I don’t think there’s any reason to be upset about it as long as it counts towards your allotted hours.

LuvCheetos January 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the host parents to have the AP stand in their stead at the party. The AP may not realize that many American parents attend preschool birthday parties (especially large ones). I also think it’s reasonable that if the birthday parents had asked the host parents to help at the party and the host parent asked the AP to take their place. Our APs help out at school for us and this seems similar.

It sounds like it would not be outside of the AP’s normal working hours anyway. Perhaps she had assumed she’d have some extra free time that day and is disappointed. She should definitely speak with her host mom (or her LCC) if she thinks it’s out of line, but I’m not sure that I agree that it is.

Former AP and current Nanny January 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm

To me the whole thing comes down to two things:
– Have the parents of the B-day-children asked that EVERY child have a caretaker with them (considering that the time of the party is when they are usually not in school this is not an odd request)
– Is the AP expected to only care for “HER” children and not everyone else’s at the party. While I think that the HM is in total right to expect the AP attend the party (within her 45 working hours). I don’t think it’s fair for her to volunteer the AP as an “extra hand” at the party. Because face it it does not say in the AP contract that the AP should have shared responsibility for 20+ kids OR clean up a whole B-day party that has nothing to do with the HF.

JJ Host Mom January 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I think there might be a cultural difference at play here.

In Europe, when people get invited to a party, they are invited strictly as guests. At most, they might bring a bottle of wine or flowers. The host generally does all the cooking/serving/entertaining.

In the US, parties are community affairs, especially in communities of busy parents. Often they’re “potluck” where everyone brings a dish. Often everyone pitches in; setting the tables, loading the dishwasher, refilling the fridge with drinks, etc.

Furthermore, Americans don’t wait around for someone to tell them what to do. First thing they do when they go to a party is ask “what can I do to help?” They might even ask a few times, if the first answer they get is “nothing.”

Given all of that, this seems like something the host mom would do if she weren’t working, and it is therefore an appropriate ask for an au pair.

So my advice to the OP is, yes, it is within the realm of normal expectations (although I agree with others that she should have explained it better). And also, if you’re finding yourself standing around, keep asking “what can I do to help?” because chances are, they could use your help. And keep in mind that even if you’re “just” watching the kids eat sandwiches, that might be enough to free someone else up so they can go prepare a craft or decorate or whatever.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 23, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Even if the party is not a potluck, American guests will offer to help the hosts (e.g. clearing the table, organizing dishes in the dishwasher) depending on how well they know the hosts. American parents who attend a toddler or preschool party with their children know in advance that they will be pitching in to help all the children, not just their own. Now that my kids are older this is not an issue, but I was fortunate that my AP and her friends were great help (not only at my kids’ parties but at the ones we attended) with all the kids. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be an issue, but I can see that with cultural difference, taking a few minutes to offer an explanation will save hurt feelings down the road.

DCMomof3 January 25, 2012 at 9:50 am

If I asked my au pair to attend a birthday party that my kids are attending, I would expect her to just do it. She could look at it as a new cultural experience (seeing what parties are like), a way to get to know some of the families that the host kids interact with, or just another way of filling up her work time that does not involve laundry or grocery shopping. In any event, I would expect that it would be done cheerfully as it is directly related to the care of the host kids. My au pairs have often attended functions at my kids’ schools when I could not be there. The great ones took some pictures to show me, helped the kids to do special crafts or projects going on that day and generally just seemed to enjoy the break from the routine. Any other attitude would really be looked down upon in my book.

CalifMom January 26, 2012 at 12:45 am

I hate those parties where you have to stand around and wonder what to do, and the other moms are a but cold or have a chip on their shoulder because they don’t work and you do, but the other moms seem to know each other, too. I usually chat up the sitters and au pairs: They are often more interesting!

NoVA Host Mom January 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I’m with everyone else. If it is something HD or I would have done but can’t (probably because of work), than I absolutely would expect the AP to take that slot. It’s about the cooperative working for the best of the kids. Yes, while helping out at a holiday kids party I was smushing icing on the gingerbread houses of other children, but that’s part of the event. I don’t pay attention to mine and only mine. So, if it is a party and my kids are going, I would have no problem asking our AP to step in and participate/help out/be my eyes on our kids.

Bren January 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Im an Au Pair and gladly I clean after my kids every day, or in their b-day party, but I would be really pissed if I am requested to clean o even help with the dishes in a party with 20 kids. No way, even less If I am the only sitter there for my kids. That’s ok for the parents who were invited to the pary, but you cannot expect the au pair to watch the kids and also help into the kitchen.

NoVA Host Mom January 30, 2012 at 6:32 am

And none of us were saying that the AP in question, or even ours, were to be at the party either as the sole adult for a room of 20 children or as the professional dishwasher for the party. This is about being an adult for your children and their friends with the other adults who are also attending to help out (be another set of eyes and ears so no one ties up the dog or sets the cat on fire while the parent throwing the party goes to the kitchen to get the cake out). If my kids are there and I cannot be, I will expect the AP to take them to the party, participate and prevent mayhem, and bring them home safely.

As for general helping in the kitchen (and NOT the clean-up post-party), that’s part of living in a house. I am one of 3 adults in my home: HD, AP, and me. We all take ownership of maintaining a clean home, including loading a dishwasher or two or putting away the clean dishes in the morning (or whenever we get off duty). We all make sure the trash is not left to collect in the house and we all make sure the floor under the dining table is swept before the dogs gorge themselves on the droppings from dinner. That is what being part of a family household is about.

Bren February 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I have never said that my au pair job was limited to the kids at the house. I had to empty the dishwasher every day, do the laundry and I did’nt mind to wash my host family clothes (The easy ones, not the fancy work clothes) In my HF home is ok. Even when we visit family on the other coast I was there to help, but I am an Au Pair, not an extension of my host mom and I don’t think I should do what she’s supposed to do as a parent invited to the party. Sorry if she cannot be there.

LuvCheetos February 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm

That’s an unfortunate attitude. I hope to learn to screen AP’s with that attitude out. Our first AP, who we loved dearly, really enjoyed children. She WANTED to do things like help at birthday parties. She liked to help out at school, chaperone field trips, etc. I wish I could clone her! It’s so wonderful when your AP loves your children and they are not just a “job” for her. Our AP was invested in the children. She wanted to be part of their lives. She would work with them on their activities and then proudly attend the performance or sporting event or whatever, knowing she had a role in their success. She wouldn’t have questioned that if I couldn’t be there, she could fill in.

AFHostMom February 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm

I agree. The kind of involvement we want for our kids is an immeasurable skill, and an important part of the exchange program, in my opinion.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I’m with you, Luv Cheetos. AP #2 begged for weekend time with child #2 – he was 4/5 at the time and she loved to have an excuse to see the latest animated movies. (She did not work a 45-hour week.) It made him feel really special, and it gave DH and I some quiet time with our special needs child. She was tops in our book!

NoVA Host Mom February 4, 2012 at 3:09 am

Actually, yes, an AP *is* an extension of the HPs. We look for an AP who will provide the kind of care, safety, and attention we feel will continue and/or enhance the manner we choose to raise our children. If we had a standard day care provider, we would be looking for the same thing. Our children’s teachers are an extension of us, providing discipline when needed, love and encouragement whenever around our kids, and providing a strong role model for our children to look to. We are not there during those hours for our children so you better believe whoever is better be approaching it with the same determination to contribute to their growing up to be loving, well-adjusted, confident and educated women. Sounds like an AP to me! And if the AP is one who does not embrace with whole heart the idea that she has a direct influence on how these kids turn out, then she is definately not the one for our home.

Otherwise, there would be little reason for any prior skill sets coming to this job and we could just put them in a soft room with a video monitor (kidding, folks – I know my youngest would “MacGuyver” her way out and stage a prison break).

Alex January 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I would also be confused in this situation. The aupair is helping the host family with their children, but she or he is not the parent, its logical for the parents to go to the party and help in a general way, thats fine, but not for the au pair.
The au pair takes care of their kids, if they need her/he to watch them at a party, they should, and if the au pair wants to help, good, but it should be clear to her that that its not her job and she is not expected to do so.
She’d be in an ambiguous position, and taking in acount how pushy other people can be when you are in the service industry id never sugest anything like it.

Should be working January 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm

The au pair IS sometimes filling in for the parent. If a parent would help out at a party (not as the ONLY adult responsible for this, but in a pitch-in way that is indeed a cultural expectation in this American context), then it is not unfair to ask the au pair to do–as part of her work time–what a parent would do in that situation.

Host Mommy Dearest January 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Luckily I think my AP would really be happy to go. She loves kids in general and loves seeing my kids have fun. If the instructions were to go help my kid open his straw, make sure s/he has a fork for the cake, put his paper plate in the trash after (or make sure my kid does this), and make sure he or she does not set the cat on fire while the host goes to the kitchen for the cake, that would be one less kid the hosts would need to cover by themselves. I know my AP would also open the straw for Johnny and Sara too, and put their paper plates in the trash too, because that is the kind of person she is. If she were there watching my kid, and Johnny scraped his knee and was crying, she is the kind of person who would comfort Johnny and help him find a band aid or find someone who could. I know she would not worry that she had better things to do with time that could have been free (especially if those were her usual work hours), and I am pretty sure she would not be concerned that her job is to only care for my kids, and the birthday party setting might force her to open a straw for someone else’s kid. I do not know why dishes came up in these comments, but I have never been to a kid bday party where paper plates and plastic utensils were not used. I would never assign or ask my AP to “run the party” – unless she asked to run the arts & crafts table or organize pin the tail on the donkey or something like that – but I don’t think it is too much to ask the AP to cover your kid’s needs at the party and to pitch in for the greater good with others’ kids where possible.

AvidHM February 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having your AP take your children to a party if the HP’s are working, and be expected to lend a hand with a bunch of rug rats running around.
But a HP should ask their AP before “volunteering” her services.

CA Mom of Twins February 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I agree with the majority of the comments above. Our au pairs are expected to help out at events and outings when needed, given it falls within her 45 hours. I am guessing the HM expects the birthday scene to be quite chaotic, so having an adult there to make sure your own kid is ok and perhaps just lend a hand with other kids could be helpful.

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