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Au Pair social life? Question from 1st time Host Mum

(15 Posts)
CanadianFilly Wed 12-Mar-14 03:31:24

Hi there, this is my first post. I'm a Canadian living in New Zealand and a first time host Mum of an Au Pair. I've been searching this board to try to find out more about Au Pairs.

I'm wondering what is the typical social life of an Au Pair? We have taken on an Au Pair for 6 months, its been 2 months already. The Au Pair is great with our son, and we get along well with her but she rarely goes out. I find the weekends hard as I spent the first month of her stay including her in our activities but I found myself resenting the loss of our family time every weekend.

I've made lots of suggestions and tried to be helpful researching things to do and introducing her to one other Au Pair I know. I want to know if she's typical of an Au Pair or very unusual, this 6 month stay is a test for us how well an Au Pair works for us so I'm curious on what you guys have to say.

I'm a stay at home Mom who is pregnant, Au Pair's stay overlaps the third trimester and first 2 months of newborn time. We have a 1 1/2 yr old son. Au Pair helps out in the am getting toddler dressed and fed. She then has 6hrs off during the day until the afternoon when she plays with our son, takes him out to the park on nice days, gives him a pre-made dinner and gives him a bath. I am usually around but in another part of the house, I don't hover, I rest, cook and get things done that need doing.

Our Au Pair has 6hrs free during the middle of the day and weekends free. Our toddler goes to sleep earlier than dinnertime so it is myself, my husband and the Au Pair sitting down to a hot meal, sometimes we all watch a movie afterwards. I was under the impression that Au Pair's travel across the world not just for a job but also to meet new people, see new things and practice their English. We live near a park, some shops, have good transportation to the main part of the city, its a nice neighbourhood there seem to be other Au Pairs around. Our Au Pair doesn't have car access but besides the close stuff nearby, public transport options, there is a bike for her to use to get to farther places. We pay the recommended wage for the amount of hours.

Our Au Pair often mentions that everything is expensive and that she doesn't like to do things alone. It took her the first 3 weeks to take the bus on her own to meet another Au Pair. She's 18 going on 19 and while I understand this personality type exists, I didn't think someone who flew to a strange country, to live with strangers speaking a different language would chose to be an Au Pair! We've suggested some activities, looked into casual english classes but everything seems to be too expensive or not interesting to do on her own. If another Au Pair with a car picks her up she's happy to go out, it just has to require minimal effort and money on her part. On the plus side though she's really bonded with our son and is great with him.

She has made three Au Pair friends in two months, she'll go out with them maybe once on the weekend if the weather is nice. She started asking if she could invite a friend over during the day, I agreed, so far its been a once a week visit and they hang out in our kitchen/living room rather than the Au Pair's space which is the lower floor of the house: bedroom, washroom and extra living room with tv.

While I realize I'm very pregnant and moody, I'm a bit disappointed that she came across the world to hang out in our house. She is talking about doing a big trip with her vacation days at the end of her placement, my husband believes she's saving every penny for one big trip. I suppose it could be worse, we could have an Au Pair who likes to party and hides in her room all the time but with me being home its a struggle to spend so much time with another person. I really do like her, its just that I feel I'm not always in the mind set to keep her company.

So sorry for the really long winded post. I realize my post doesn't sound like such a big deal but I just didn't expect to have someone so much in my space all the time. I thought an Au Pair would want their own space, their own social life and a chance to experience a new place. How much of what I've said sounds like part of a usual Host Family experience I'd like to know? If she's typical having an Au Pair may not be for us.

minderjinx Wed 12-Mar-14 09:11:52

For a start I would ask her not to hang around in your living space with her friends as she has her own accommodation. If you point out that you prefer to have some time on your own or just with your partner she may take the hint that this applies more generally. If not, you may have to be more blunt.

plumnc Wed 12-Mar-14 09:22:32

We had an Au Pair and I understand where you are coming from. I found never having a family meal alone frustrating, but with time we came to an arrangement, when she would be out 2-3 nights a week. However she was quite a sociable type. Here it is unusual for an au-pairs not to be attending language classes though. In fact I got a "second-hand" one by advertising at the college they attend. That saved me the hassle of being responsible for bringing her over and we went through an interview process, meeting each other to ensure a good fit. That may be worth considering next time.

bbkl Wed 12-Mar-14 10:12:34

If English isn't her first language and she has become an au pair to improve it, I think paying for her language classes is part of the deal and you should be doing this. She shouldn't be worrying that they are expensive. Are there any available locally that she could attend in her free time during the day or evening? That would get her out of the house and help her to make friends. Perhaps she doesn't come from a particularly affluent background and is trying to save, or sees the big trip at the end of her stay with you as a once in a lifetime opportunity that is worth doing without nights out for.

But I agree with the poster above who said ask her politely not to hang out with her friends in the main living space. Could you put a toaster/kettle/microwave/small fridge (whatever would work best) in her living room so she's more self contained?

We have an au pair but I work, so I'm not in the house all day and I think that makes a big difference to how we get on.

Scarletlips Wed 12-Mar-14 12:20:21

Hi CanadianFilly, we have had 4 au pairs and all have paid for their own English classes. I think I would go mad if our au pairs were at home all the time. English classes are great, not only for their language skills, but also for them to meeting friends. Our aupairs have always gone out most evenings (and I don't mean clubbing, just meeting friends). They have definitely being happier for having a good social life and wehave been happier for having our own space also. There are lots of things she can do that don't cost much or anything.For example, going to the library and going to the park etc. Hopethis helps smile

LadyHarrietdeSpook Wed 12-Mar-14 15:01:40

We've had this happen; usually it sorts itself out after the first two to three months but then we are in London...so there is lots going on around us which is easy to walk to or use public transportation.

God I feel for you, it really is so hard when this happens.

Last year was terrible for us as the hanging out with us all night, every night,until near on midnight didn't ease off until January. I even had one night when I went in to wash up and the AP followed me into the kitchen. I said: "I need some time to myself now." She said: "Okay, but I just have to tell you about this show.."

One thing we did do after last year is state that after x hour, we need time to ourselves in the sitting room as a couple. This may have gotten the point across; the AP may be less keen to hang out with 'grown ups' anyway. You can't always tell. I have wondered whether APs with more expert English feel more confident hanging out with you; inverse corrleation with who may need to practice more. But I think our current AP needed a 'break' more than the previous ones from speaking English after spending the afternoons with the girls, so was happy to crash in her room. Now she's just out on the town enjoying herself!

Your AP may well be saving for that trip; she will need much more money to travel about from New Zealand than our APs going to Dublin, Edinburgh etc. Can't get a train/bus. You may need to think hard about this with future APs. Are there lots of good activities locally she could be doing? I know there is one other AP but are there more?

Need to know to suggest more. We've been there, though, I know it's tough.

LadyHarrietdeSpook Wed 12-Mar-14 15:04:44

You can definitely ask her to hang out with her mates in her own space though; do that for sure.

JerusalemArtichoke Wed 12-Mar-14 15:09:50

We have an au pair as do many of our friends and the amount they hang out with their host families seems to vary hugely.

Ours tends to go out about two nights a week but nearly always eats dinner with DH and I even if she's going out. On nights she is in she stays downstairs with us 'til around 9 ish. At the weekends she tends to hang put with us a bit during the day but usually she meets friends.

Our friends' au pairs seem more inclined to either go out more or just hang out in their rooms. Luckily we get on v well with our au pair and she is easy and helpful company so it doesn't bother us but I know friends who tell their APs that they have to go to their rooms in the evening.

LadyHarrietdeSpook Wed 12-Mar-14 17:15:05

Nine for us would be fine; midnight is not. We were staying up later and later just to try to get some time alone togehter.

CanadianFilly Wed 12-Mar-14 22:01:46

I did spend the first month of her stay taking her around, showing her free or low cost activities, also including her in family weekend outings hoping she'd get comfortable with her surroundings. We gave her the equivalent of an Oyster card with some cash on it to get started and she didn't take the bus until week 3. She told us about an Au Pair Facebook group in our city but said herself that unless another Au Pair lived within walking distance they'd have to meet in the city on weekends. Au Pairs seem to have different weekly schedules but then she also said she doesn't like going out both days of the weekend. I think its a personality thing rather than lack of options.

There are Au Pair programs that include English classes here but its several times per week, she's not interested in attending that often, nor are we interested in paying for it completely since that wasn't thought of from the beginning. I'm trying to think how we went wrong in the interview process. When she asked about where we live she seemed interested in exploring the area. She does have great experience with our son's age, I'm happy with the job she's doing her working hours.

I can see with a new Au Pair stating that we need couple time after a certain hour but it would be hard now after two months as the habit is quite ingrained. I can tell her to hang out with her friend in her space but wow do I feel like such a bitch saying this. I think she's sees herself very much as an exchange student rather than an employee. She wants to use our kitchen to bake a cake with a friend, I thought this might be ok if its just the odd time and they clean up after themselves. She asked about playing music though and I said no way.

My husband says I can't change her personality, she's happy to just be in a house and doesn't really want to go out. She had a friend over the other day, it was gorgeous weather outside and they just chatted inside even though we have nice outdoor furniture. What are some questions I can ask in an interview next time to weed out this type of personality? We were really cautious about hiring a responsible type, with good experience with young children but I didn't think someone who would travel across the world would not be interested in getting out and about.

LadyHarrietdeSpook Thu 13-Mar-14 00:16:50

Don't feel a bitch for saying hang out with friends in her own space; just explain that you want her to have friends round but when they're in your space it feels like you are entertaining too and you would prefer it if the OP entertained in her place. You don't want to inhibit her plans by you not feeling like having someone around.

Where is she from OP? How young is she? How would you feel if she didn't stay?

I agree with your husband; it probably is a personality thing. We now describe how busy we are in great detail and how little hanging out time we have. I would ask about what they do at the weekend: what hobbies they have and how regularly they do them, when do they meet up with friends. We didn't hire a German girl once who had every meal together as a family with her extended family too and she wanted lots if day trips. Went on about this. Her description of time with friends didn't sound convincing. Our position is great for a young person looking for a London base; it wouldn't be at all suitable fir someone looking to replicate their family life at home in the Uk. It sounds like your AP is the latter and doing something similar with you.

Can you break the cycle by being away for a few weekends doing things on your own?

bbkl Thu 13-Mar-14 08:42:52

If I read your post correctly your new baby is due quite soon? This could provide you with a reason for changing the status quo if you feel uncomfortable just telling her. E.g. 'A-P, once the baby arrives things will be a bit more chaotic and having my own space will be especially important to me.'

I think she's sees herself very much as an exchange student rather than an employee.

This is the root your problem I think. Many people would agree that an au pair is slightly different to employing a mother's help. They are in your country to live as part of your family, learn English and expereince life in another culture. Her perception of what this actually means seems to be slightly different to yours. The next time you're interviewing you'll probably be much more aware of exactly what your needs are and what kind of personality you're looking for and like Harriet says you will be able to suss them out at the interview stage.

For now, unless it's so bad you don't want her around, try to focus on all the positive things about her - she's reliable, great with your son etc rather than dwelling on the negatives. And do try to find a way to talk to her (I am a wimp about this so I really sympathise). If she doesn't know things aren't ok she can't do anything to change.

CanadianFilly Thu 13-Mar-14 14:38:01

Yeah LadyHarrietdeSpook I think you get her personality type, sounds like you might have interviewed her! She is a German girl from a small town, close with her family. Yes bbkl I've not got too much time to go left with the pregnancy, a new baby will definitely be a fair reason to change things up a bit. My husband & I probably won't have any couples time in the near future anyways & I can think of a number of reasons to say why a newborn & friends hanging about don't mix.

Thanks everyone for your input, I mainly started this topic to find out if this is the typical Au Pair/Host family experience before we decide to get one again. As far as my toddler is concerned it really has worked out, he sees her as a part of the immediate family I think. The trouble is she has taken on that impression as well.

2468Motorway Fri 14-Mar-14 00:22:08

I think she's sees herself very much as an exchange student rather than an employee.

Well they aren't really employee's either. They are supposed to be part of the family. I think if you don't really want her to be in the kitchen much on weekends and in the evenings you probably need a mothers help not an Au Pair. I have used a lot of childcare and to be honest nothing is ever completely perfect. I think you have to decide if you want to potentially offend her or put up with it as she does a good job with your son.

LadyHarrietdeSpook Fri 14-Mar-14 03:41:45

OP you don't want time with your baby spoiled by worrying about/negotiating this seriously. You will find a diplomatic way to speak to her.Getting out more may take her put of her comfort zone for a bit but would she really want to look back on years to come knowing that all of her time was within your four walls? Tell her that it's important to you she has a network if activities set up before the baby comes because you won't have the same time you do now which allows fir lots of chatting and hanging out. When the baby sleeps you may sleep too! Fir rxample. If she can't adapt I would personally risk her deciding to change families. New babies are a few in a lifetime thing.

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