Yes, You Have Our Permission to Leave

by cv harquail on December 11, 2013

or: Just Give Up Already: Au Pair’s Version

Somedays, the inbox is pretty heavy.

I struggle to understand just what it takes for an Au Pair to realize that — yes, her situation really IS awful — and that — yes, she really SHOULD give notice and leave as politely as possible.

All you need to do, FrustratedAuPair, is make sure your pay is up to date, give 2 weeks notice, make plans to leave, be nice for 12 days (especially to the kids) and then leave.

I think it’s weird, the number of au pair emails we get where au pairs are really struggling with awful situations and seem to be asking for permission to leave, even though they already know they are being advantage of.

And, I think it’s odd that as host parents (at least those of us in this community) we have more experience with au pairs who throw in the towel without even an effort.

I know that it often takes a dramatic situation for someone to be moved to ask for advice, but it’s weird that parents always need advice about abrupt departures, and au pairs need advice about just leaving.

My $.02.  What’s yours?

Details of the drama, below:

Dear Au Pair Mom,

I am writing you because I need some advice. I am an Au Pair currently living in Australia with a family. I have told them I would be leaving early because I am just not happy here. We both went through an Agency, a horrid one at that, that has been anything but helpful. Anyways, we have followed the Agencies guidelines for when an Au Pair decides to leave.

However, the Agency will not honor the families guarantee of a replacement Au Pair as the agency has formulated a reason that basically says the family is not an adequate family for an Au Pair.  Basically claiming the family is “abusing” the Au Pair and it would be a liability to the Agency to pair them with a new one. This is absolutely frustrating as my words were completely taken out of context when I stated my reason for leaving.

Secondly, I talked to the parents and told them i wanted to leave because I was just not happy and am not able to travel and explore . The behavior of the children is also a big reason as well. Anyways, they questioned everything and are making me feel awful for wanting to leave and strongly suggest I stay as they cannot afford to find another person. Whats frustrating is the questioning part, they have gone to great lengths to round up the neighbors to support them in these tactics and question every single reason I give them. They have even researched deeply into how to navigate and probe every statement or reason i give and back it up with facts, thinking it will deter me from leaving, but let me tell ya, its doign the exact opposite its makign me want to run for the hills right now. I feel like im in an episode of Law and Order being questioned.

Anyways, I stated I was very homesick and they threw that in my face with “well i thought you said you wanted to live here”, or “We would hate to see you miss out on exploring this wonderful country, stay with us and you can explore”- I haven’t been allowed out of the house to travel since being here, so when will I see this “beautiful Country?” Or  when I said Im not comfortable with the children farting on me, spitting on me, blowing snot bubbles on me,  they claimed that it was pure affection and that I have been the rude one because im pushing them away when they behave like this. May I remind you that no discipline was ever implemented until I told them that it bothered me, and by dscipline i mean very very lenient discipline in my book .  Further, they have even told me that according to the teachers and child psychologists it is actually quite normal behavior for them to be doing that stuff and that its encouraged behavior. May I remind you also that the kids are 5 years old and 6 years old and are in grade 1. I have never been so appalled by something in my entire life.

Maybe  its me and i grew up in a strict house but I would think manners would be an encouraged behavior not the opposite. Anyways, they just cant seem to accept my answer or decision and continuley question why im not happy. I shouldn’t have to justify myself to them for anything.  It feels as though they put themselves in my shoes but see it totally different than I do. I also feel that no matter what answer i give them, nothing is good enough.

Thirdly, the guilt trip.
Yes I know the economy is bad and childcare is very expensive. but I also don’t think its fair when im getting paid less than average and am expected to do more than originally was agreed upon. I agree being part of the family is the goal but I work more than 35 hrs a week as I am constantly entertaining the children during my off time. the mom had the nerve to tell me that when she gets home its like she starts her second job all over again. UM yeah, thats what being a mom is like, besides you shouldnt see your children as a seond job an be negative about it. I try to be as helpful whenever possible but I need time for myself too, which seems to alway be a pain for her as i love to swim and would love to go swimming, but its seems as though If i leave, the 2 kids alone are too much for her to handle. Further,upon notifying them of my departure they throw in the fact that its unfair to them and that they haven’t got enough money on a nurses salary to pay for someone else to come in and watch the children and are blaming me for leaving them in this position and saying im being the selfish one.

I do admit its a bit of an inconvenience but my goodness, i want to be happy too.

Further, ever since telling them i want to leave, none of my duties have changed but the moms seems to think im not doing a very good job. I vaccum the house everyday like she asks but it seems like since telling her I want to leave that im just not doing a good enough job and not doing anything right and she is questioning my ability to care for her children. Shes being overly ciritcal especially since the house is always a disaster when they leave for work and its always clean and organized more than when they do it themselves. I just feel yet again like nothing is good enough.  Further, I had a friend drop by for a minute to give me back my transit card as she was headed to the beach on probably the nicest day ever, but the mom made a snide remark when I got back because the neighbor had told her I had a friend over today. It was a bit misconstrued as she just dropped it off like the mail man drops of the mail. Sometimes I wonder if I will get in trouble for signing a parcel because Im takign my time away from a sleeping child.  I am also not allowed to be out past 11pm because that is the curfew. I am 22 years old and have been living on my own since I was 17, I am by no means a partier and don’t go out much anyways but I just feel so constricted and isolated and under a microscope that I am just not happy.

I guess what Im saying is what do you suggest i do about this situation. I have already committed to another family but dont want to tell them about it as it is none of their business. I just want them to accpet my decision of wanting to leave and will help them as much as possible to find a replacement.


Image: Goodbye, Attribution Some rights reserved by Klearchos Kapoutsis


Should be working December 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

1. The story doesn’t make sense. If the agency says the family is unfit for an au pair (whether or not that is the case) then why is the AP still there? Maybe Australia is more renegade about that, but if the agency says it’s a liability to place a new AP there, then it’s a liability to leave the old one there as well. Is the AP staying on with the family without an agency?

2. Apart from that: Of course the AP should be long gone, the HF is way out of bounds and terrible.

3. But in response to CV’s general puzzlement over why there are letters from APs who are clearly being mistreated and “asking for permission” to leave, I actually worry about the mental/emotional constitution of an AP, or anyone, who would not protect herself/himself better from such poor treatment. Maybe this AP and those other permission-askers are from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds and/or countries, and so the AP opportunity is big and life-changing enough that they are willing to hold on as long as they can. But if we are talking about someone with options, someone with parents who might help and a place to go home to that is fine enough, then frankly I think there is a mental health issue–or perhaps a background of abuse at home–if someone needs that much “permission” to leave an extremely bad situation.

Angie host mom December 12, 2013 at 1:54 am

I’m not surprised that a lot of au pairs are reluctant to leave really bad situations. Honestly, I’ve seen a bunch over the years who should have been out the door in week two but who stubbornly hung on until the host family had a meltdown of some sort or who actually stuck out their year in misery.

They tend to group into the ones who can’t handle the uncertainty of a new family which might be worse, the ones who obviously just can’t handle confrontation, and the passive-aggressive types who use the hf’s problems to justify bad behavior back at the family.

It seems very hard for au pairs to leave their host families, they have left their support network at home behind, and do not have the stability of home and family and friends to support them in the leap to a new family.

That said, my advice to all au pairs who have arrived at a host family that is materially different that what was promised and that is consistently breaking rules without respecting you – just rematch and be firm. It’s two weeks basically til you get out and then don’t look back.

AmericanAP in Germany December 12, 2013 at 5:53 am

I can understand why an AuPair would be reluctant to leave. It feels like a failure, first of all. Even if the host family is entirely at fault, it’s still embarrassing and disheartening to have to leave the family you’ve been excited for. Personally, I also find it hard to tell whether the problem is with them or me. For example, I do a lot of cleaning…Washing the floors, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming, dusting all the rooms, etc. My host mom frequently comes to me nitpicking my cleaning, a streak on the mirror here, some cat hair there. I felt really awful about myself for the first month (I have a college degree and I can’t clean a house!?), until I found out that her obsessive cleaning is the subject of much discussion and mockery by her husband’s family…It made me feel really sorry for her, but also not take her constant chastising too much to heart. It’s a give and take relationship.

As for this AP, as bad as you may feel for leaving the family without another caretaker, this is NOT your problem. If they were willing to change the terms of your employment, perhaps, but as nothing is changing, you have no obligation to stay in a situation in which you are not happy! If the agency has determined the family is unfit, you should have been out of there a long time ago. Book your ticket, get your paycheck, and get out of there!

spanishaupair December 12, 2013 at 9:11 am

As someone who has to make my mind that i need to change family and how to get through that I know is very difficult and hard to take the last step and leave. But sometimes and specially in moments like this you have to think just in yourself and if they are not what you thought and treating you so bad just leave, is not your fault they are the way they are and they are not right for having an aupair.
Best of luck

TexasHM December 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

Angie host mom hit the nail on the head in my experience. We’ve never had a rematch but our house has been a safe house for a couple of rematching au pairs in bad situations and I’ve seen the same. It’s complex because these girls have ZERO support structure here and I often hear LCC horror stories as well so if the girl doesn’t trust/dislikes the LCC it’s even harder for them to rematch because they worry the LCC will toss them on a plane home vs rematching them.
There’s also pride (I failed, how did I need see this in the interview process, why didn’t I leave week 2?), fear (this family is known quantity, new family could be worse or LCC sends me home a failure or I like the area/have friends/support here and typically agencies will not rematch into same area OR I think it’s bad now just wait until I tell them I’m leaving) and outside influences. One girl I knew in the worst situation I’ve ever imagined stuck it out for 7mos because her mom told her “you made a commitment you will finish that commitment” and told her even though it seemed bad even bad here was not much worse than things in her home country (South America). I’ve also seen girls stick it out because their friends tell them there are no really good families “we all really want to be a member of a family but we get treated like employees at best” so they lose hope for a much better situation unless it gets bad enough like Angie said and family melts down or it comes to a head.
For this situation – tell them you are leaving on X date, it is final and not up for discussion and stop talking with them about it. Say “I am focused on working hard and giving 100% the next X weeks and will do everything I can to help you find a replacement so let’s focus on that, how can I help? If they keep questioning/bringing it up just stand there and don’t say a word or change the subject to finding a replacement. Don’t be rude, but don’t get sucked in. Good luck!

Ihopeulikemykids December 12, 2013 at 10:12 am

There are two sides to every story, and in this case, 3. Regardless, this is not a relationship that can work out, and the au pair should leave.

icsamerica December 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

Bodily fluids & farting on you? Those kids are out of control. If they can get away with that who knows what’s next. Have some self respect and leave on your own terms in a courteous & polite way. There is never any excuse for that type of behavior from anyone.

Old China Hand December 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I’ve talked with our AP about a lot of her friends from home (in other clusters) who are in really awful situations. They feel a sense of loyalty to do the job they signed a contract for, even if they aren’t being asked to do just what was agreed on. They don’t want to be sent home if they can’t find a new family in 2 weeks. They are nervous about talking with someone in authority because they aren’t always able to communicate well with their LCC or it feels like the LCC doesn’t care about them (certainly the case with ours). I once called our agency and reported the family of one of the girls because they were going to leave her alone for a week with a baby. She was just going to quietly put up with it because she felt like she had made a few mistakes and needed to make it up to the host family. But it makes me SO angry to see families so blatantly breaking the rules. Rematch. Leave. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself sane. On the other hand, it irritates me that our AP’s friends from home tell her to rematch so she can move to NY and be nearer to them, but she recognizes now that our insistence on following the rules to the T is protecting her too.

Aussie Mum December 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm

The situation sounds untenable, the Australian agencies I have used would also not find another aupair for this family, as they are breaking the rules and being unreasonable.

However, they should not make you stay and see out the notice time with the amount of pressure you are being put under – there are probably families out there who have had aupairs who were unsuitable who are looking for someone ASAP, leave as soon as you can, ring the agency again, look on the web if your agency is no help, there are good familes out there who wont treat you like this.

Should be working December 13, 2013 at 1:08 am

I am not defending the family nor staying the AP has any reason to stay; but I must confess that my kids at 5 and 6 did do things like farting and spitting, not “on” someone but as a form of entertainment-by-grossout. Even my older kids once in awhile fart “at” each other to be provocative. And of course we reprimand them. Anyway, on its own a lack of adult body-function norms is nothing peculiar for a child.

Momma Gadget December 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I have boys… they have an unfathomable amusement with bodily functions. They will talk & make crude jokes about them, and have been know to threaten/ pretend to “blow a fart in your general direction”( Monty Python). But there is a line that is not crossed- or there are serious consequences for crossing. Spitting and “blowing snot bubbles” on anyone is disgusting, degrading, and unacceptable in any culture. I can not imagine any justification of this animal behavior as a show of affection!!! Seriously, what planet is this HM from?
I am with Should be Working- there is something fishy about the Agency kicking the family out of the program but leaving the AP there, Furthermore; how creepy is the guilt trip and gathering the neighbors to brainwash the AP into staying?
OP- you are unhappy, they have not acknowledged, or taken seriously the reason’s for your misery. Make no mistake-this is an abusive situation, and it will not improve. For your own well being, pack up your things and be ready to leave. You have given them notice, finding/affording replacement childcare is not your responsibility.
I hope your next situation is a happy one!

Seattle Mom December 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I completely agree with this. I’ve been accused of lax parenting before (or maybe I imagine that I’m being accused, but yes, I’m pretty lax) but even my almost-3-year-old knows that you don’t put your snot on people. Sometimes she gets some on me by accident (the kid is only 2) and then she gets a tissue and wipes it off for me. So cute. Sometimes I suspect it’s not so much on accident, but she would never openly do it. My almost-5-year old would never do such a thing.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 14, 2013 at 12:28 am

Quite agree. When he was 6 child #2 spent an entire summer mastering the art of “armpit farting.” Thankfully, he’s forgotten its charms. Don’t have enough info to know whether this AP is over her head with the lack of boyish charm or whether the children are true monsters, but either way, it sounds like the best move for her is out the door.

Skny December 13, 2013 at 8:08 am

There are a lot of things that play: you dont want to hurt ones feelings, or you like the kids (even if ou dont like the hosts or the situation). There is also the fear of backlash. You are at the family’s home, eating their food, and basically depend on them for everything… When I asked rematch from my first family (all the way back In 2004), the family responded by turning off the Internet, the cell phone, and taking away the car keys. They also stopped buying much food and started going out to eat (without me, of course).
When I still did not change my mind (and matched with a family 25 min away from them), the mother came home in the middle of the day yelling to the kids to get away from me, that I was an awful person and was leaving them because I hated the kids. The older ones started crying, I cried, and in the end I called LCC, who came to pick me up. (Crazy thing is that agency wanted to remove from house from day one of rematch – so they could take family off program, and I insisted in stay until they found someone new). Ended up leaving with 6 days of rematch.
Later on I was told I was not supposed to get within 100 feet from the kids or mom would be requesting a restraining order against me (and wanted me to be aware that even staying in the area I was not welcome to come In contact with their children).

Angie host mom December 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

The moral of that story is once in rematch everything that is bad gets worse so leave as soon as you can. I know au pairs feel obligations and want to try to help out the family but really, it gets bad very quickly.

Momma Gadget December 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm

That is not entirely true.
In the past we continued to host the 2 APs for several weeks after we mutually agreed that rematch was the best option… Both AP & HF were was on their best behavior, probably made easier because we could both see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course if either the HF of AP is unreasonable(or down right crazy)- then it is absolutely best to “rip the band- aid off”.

Seattle Mom December 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Agreed- we had a rematch AP, and she stayed with us for the full 2 weeks and continued to work. We bent over backwards to be nice to her (a little guilty bc we initiated the rematch) and she was her same old self. It was uncomfortable, but everyone was civil and we were kind of vague when we told the kids why AP left (kids were not quite 4 & 2, so they didn’t need details).

I can see how it would be more problemmatic with a crazy HF or AP, but I don’t think that’s the norm.

Angie host mom December 14, 2013 at 2:58 am

I guess I wasn’t thinking about the “friendly” rematches. I mean if the HF is kicking out the au pair because of serious issues with responsibility, or the au pair is leaving because of serious disrespect/lack of boundaries by the HF, those situations often turn bad quickly.

Seattle Mom December 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I can see it from both sides. Many of these APs are young and don’t know how to be responsible for their own safety, and they feel like they should be able to trust the HF and when that is not the case they don’t know what to do.

I have some personal experience with this, though I was never an AP. I lived with my cousin’s family for 2 summers as a mother’s helper when I was 15 and 16. You would think because it’s family I could trust them and be safe, and it was except for one major problem: my cousin’s husband was molesting me in the middle of the night. And I was too immature to know what to do about it. I was completely freaked out. I actually wanted to stay and just get a lock on my bedroom door- that was the solution that I proposed to my local friend who I confided in. I’m really lucky that she was a lot more experienced & mature than me, without her I don’t know what would have happened. But she forced me to report it to the school we were at (I was doing a summer program for part of the time while working that summer- the deal was 3 weeks of summer program, then 6 weeks of working with the kids), and as an educational institution they got me out of there fast. Meanwhile my own family, especially my cousin, acted like they didn’t believe me. And I felt so guilty for messing everything up and not finishing the summer with them.

Looking back, that was a clear violation of my rights as a human being, and I should have left immediately and not come back. But I wanted to stay. I felt like I was wrong for leaving. Others in my position might be more mature, but I think my own attitudes & feelings probably weren’t that uncommon.

APs are older than I was, but I can see how some of them might be more immature than we expect. They don’t have the confidence, don’t know what appropriate boundaries are, and have trouble defending themselves against people who were supposed to be trusted adult advisers and employers. It’s tough. So they turn to this blog, and whoever they can, anonymously, to tell them that in fact they are not crazy and they are right to leave. If there were an internet when I was in that situation I probably would have written some similar letters and a bunch of parents out there would have wondered why my bags weren’t already packed.

Should be working December 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Seattle Mom, what a bad story. Your story helping me rethink my earlier statement about APs who don’t protect themselves from a bad situation. In fact at 19 I was in a bad relationship, and stayed in it way past when I should have, because I didn’t have the sense that I could simply break up and end it. So indeed, it might be hard for APs, in an even more isolated situation, to have the worldly perspective and self-reliance to Just Leave Already.

Seattle Mom December 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Anyway, to the OP, if you are reading-

Leave as soon as you can.

Do not feel shame or guilt. This family is taking advantage of you. A lot of people can’t afford adequate childcare. That is not your problem. Please don’t let them guilt you into staying. You owe it to yourself. You take care of your own problems, let them take care of their problems. There are good host families out there. I know what your host mom was saying, about feeling like she was coming home to her 2nd job, but as you know that’s just life when you’re a mother- tough luck. You don’t get to use someone to take care of your kids when they are supposed to be off-duty, that is incredibly wrong. Shame on her.

Gianna December 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

It seems to me that the family described by the OP is using classic bullying tactics : guilt, shame, assaults on her sense of self. Even if you are with a responsible agency and have a great LCC, these young women are far from home without large amounts of accessible cash . Under the best of circumstances, they have a limited support network. Even if the aupair likes the LCC, going to stay with the LCC means leaving the social network and geographical area the AP has recently developed and mastered. More importantly, while she is in rematch, the AP does not get paid. Going to live with the host families of friends is tenuous at best. Once again, she is dependent on the kindness of strangers. Host families of friends, even the kind people on this blog, have no contractual obligation to house aupairs in rematch – it is a gift. Should circumstances change, the aupair has to start all over again. The people on this blog who have housed friends of their aupairs sound like wonderful people with altruistic motives. But I have heard occasional stories of people who offer temporary housing with the idea of getting some extra help for free. A host mom I know once told me that she would always offer temporary housing because that was her Saturday night Plan B. I never heard that an aupair in transit was unhappy there but the potential for exploitation was out there. On the other hand, an aupair with enough cash for a plane ticket and cab fare to the airport is holding all the cards if she is willing to go home. We have all sympathsized with host families who have been left high and dry because an aupair took off in the middle of the night. I am surprized that LCCs have so much power to decide if someone goes home or into rematch. Doesn’t corporate make that decision ? It seems to me that professional administrative staff in the area offices should at least review the decision before someone is sent home.

TexasHM December 14, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I don’t know for sure but I have had very candid conversations with our two LCCs over the last four years and both said they give the recommendation to corporate on whether the rematching AP should be rematched or sent home. There was one scenario I know of where an AP grossly misrepresented herself and was an extraordinaire. The LCC strongly encouraged her to rematch as a standard AP in a non-driving situation and the girl refused. The LCC gave her a week, when the AP still refused and tried to throw the LCC under the bus she had her on a flight home the next day. I knew this LCC well and it was not malicious, she became convinced that she couldn’t in good faith place this girl in another family. Maybe it varies by agency but LCCs are their eyes and ears so it wouldn’t surprise me if most have great influence over placements in rematch and departures.

Skny December 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

It varies from lcc to lcc. The first LCC I had (as an au pair) was great and very supportive. She was the one who convinced me to rematch (I was the only thing holding the family in the program), and even found me a family in the area so I did not have to start all over in a new location. She was fair and I watched her handle many rematches in a more than fair manner. I don’t believe any au pair was unfairly sent home by that specific lcc.
My lcc from second year however wasn’t as conscious. She specifically closed her eyes when an au pair was sexually harassed by host dad (who yes, was drunk, and yes, was au pair last night in the house… But there was a new au pair starting next day and she did not want to loose the family… Or thought was an one time error).

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