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Trial Weekend with Au Pair - Should I cut my losses?

(51 Posts)
metrobaby Sun 14-Aug-11 21:10:42

I've had 3 AP's - 2 terrific ones, 1 awful. My 3 dcs are all in primary school. We've just had a trial weekend with our new AP who is a 19 yo German. However a couple of things are worrying me.

On the whole, new AP seems a nice girl. However, although the AP did spend time with the dcs, she didn't really seem to engage whole heartedly with them and wasn't pro-active with them. She looked a bit bored at times, and never instigated any play activity. After a day in London, when we returnd home, she didn't help - or offer to help - in any way with the dinner or bedtime and went straight up to her room.

Today, she woke up at 9.30 - but didn't come downstairs until 11am. She was leaving to go to the aiport at 2.30. Once again it was a similar story. DH took her to the airport and she only spoke to him when spoken to. DH said it was a real effort to talk to her.

This weekend is meant to be an ice-breaker for both sides to get to know each other. I don't expect her to be working - but I do expect her enage with the dcs and generally pitch in, especially considering we had paid all her expenses to come over this weekend and because this will be her 'job' in September! Personally, with a prospective employer I would have wanted to make a good impression.

Am I expecting to much?? With my 2 wonderful au-pairs I felt comfortable with them immediately and knew they would be fine. With my previous awful AP I had reservations from the start, and despite months and months of trying - and posting here - it never really got any better. I am scared of having a repeat experience or a domestic dementor!

I'm not sure if the weekend came as a complete shock to her. Should I cut my losses and start looking again?? Or should I give her a chance when she arrives??

scurryfunge Sun 14-Aug-11 21:16:25

You have to remember that an au pair is not an employee and it is not a job. You may be expecting too much.
Having said that, if you feel she is not comfortable with your children and does not fit in with your family, it may be best to look elsewhere.

ChitChattingaway Sun 14-Aug-11 23:03:56

It was a trial weekend - she should have been trying to impress you. If that's her idea of trying to impress you I'd hate to see what she would be like normally!

Wasn't the idea of a trial weekend to see if she was suitable? You're not happy, therefore she's not suitable. I would cut my losses if I were you.

harrietthespook Mon 15-Aug-11 04:28:46

OP: What was she expecting to happen over the weekend? Have you run through what her responsibilities are going to be? How good is her English? She may have been mentally exhausted by it all.

I have mixed feelings about these 'trying things out' weekends. On the one hand it enable me to screen out a girl who would have been unsuitable for us. However, at the beginning there are often niggly little things about APs -and I'm wondering if it's better sometimes for them to come and everyone to get on with it.

Our first AP would have realised it would be polite to offer to help with dinner, etc. Our second would have needed to be told. She doesn't sound that enaged though. Why did she become an AP?

harrietthespook Mon 15-Aug-11 04:29:56

But our first AP wouldn't have disappeared either after a day out with us. Did she say anything before going off?

metrobaby Mon 15-Aug-11 08:04:14

Her English is excellent. Her reasons for wanting to be an AP seemed to be sound enough - ie a gap year, wanting to improve her English, have the UK experience etc. She has had experience of working voluntarily at a Church camp with children too for a few years. Her parents have also left her at home alone whilst they have been away on holiday.

I don't know what her expectations were this weekend - but I would have thought she wanted to make a good impression. Her general duties were sent to her before she accepted our offer, and I also ensured at interview stage she was happy with them.

No - she didn't say anything when she went to her room after our day out - nor did she offer any kind of help whatsoever. At one mealtime she brought her cup to the dishwasher, but also left the other cups that were left on the the table. It also bothered me it took her a hour and a half to come down in the morning. When youngest dd (5), climbed on top of her playhouse in the garden, despite the fact the AP was there watching, AP said nothing. It worried me that she did not think this was dangerous.

mranchovy Mon 15-Aug-11 09:53:06

Cut your losses - and hers. We have had 2 unsuccessful trial weekends which went the same as yours did, and in both cases after emailing the 'sorry but no' message, the reply was 'yes, I know that we just didn't fit together'. If it is a struggle connecting with someone for 48 hours, imagine what it would be like for 12 months!

The right girl (or boy) for you is out there somewhere!

Strix Mon 15-Aug-11 09:58:58

I tend to think that an au pair is an employee and her precribed duties are a job. Any potential au pair who doesn't see it that way is more likely to be another child/teenager in the house and less likely to be a big help with the house/children.

ChristinedePizan Mon 15-Aug-11 10:03:59

Strix - APs are not employees. They are supposed to be members of the family.

OP - doesn't sound like it's going to work if she has so little initiative. I'd cut your losses

JessKM Mon 15-Aug-11 10:15:33

I totally agree with Strix ... Im sorry but you will be paying her to carry out certain duties and therefore it is a job and she is an employee. I aupaired around europe for 3/4 weeks at a time throughout college and I was treated as an employee throughout which is what I would have expected.

My first summer I went to a nice family in Germany and for the first weekend the idea was that I was just to get used to the family and I didnt pitch in (I was 18 and I had no idea I was supposed too! blush ) but after the Dad sat me down to discuss duties etc he asked if I was happy, because he didnt think I wanted to be there as I hadnt joined in, after telling him I didnt know they had expected me too they were fine with that and I got stuck in and thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and on subsequent trips knew exactly what to do when I arrived!

If this is her first experience of this you will have to make it VERY clear what is expected of her, and what she can expect in return, because its not always obvious. That said, if you dont feel that she was the right girl for your children then it is easier to say no now that when she has uprooted and moved to a different country!

Strix Mon 15-Aug-11 10:56:40

The Au Pair visa is a thing of past. Most "Au Pairs" today are actually EU citizens who come to the UK under the same working regulations as any other EU employee. I find, whilst debatable, it is best to treat them like an employee, whith a firmal contract, paid holiday, etc.

Of course, I also try to treat them with respect and member of my household. It is a more personal job than most. And the au pair will want to live with someone who is nice to them.

But, it is a job (for which they are paid). If they don't see this, then they have missed the boat in my opinion.

harrietthespook Mon 15-Aug-11 12:51:18

Metrobaby - child on roof of playhouse and general malaise - no way. Just say no. Not worth finding out if her risk assessment ability improves.

fraktious Mon 15-Aug-11 17:30:17

Au pairs are em

Dozer Mon 15-Aug-11 17:34:18

Cut your losses.

fraktious Mon 15-Aug-11 17:37:35

Au pairs are employees, or more accurately workers. The ECJ said so, overruling the British govt in the process, and this has been the case for quite some years now. Personally I'd like to see the term banned and them termed something else to reflect that legally they are part-time, live in childcarers. Of course many still enter into the spirit of being a host family, and it's possible to do both, but the letter of the law takes precedence over some nice European ideal that the UK isn't a signatory to.

Regardless of the legal status this won't work. Tell her so quickly and look again. She should be making an effort on a trial weekend and definitely not letting children climb on the playhouse roof.

redglow Mon 15-Aug-11 20:05:20

I think I would go with my gut feeling and find a new one.

metrobaby Mon 15-Aug-11 21:21:00

Thanks for all your reassuring messages. I've decided to cut my losses. It dawned on me that if I was posting a message here, then clearly she is not suitable. She should have made more of an effort this weekend. Harriet you were spot on about identifying her general malaise.

I feel awful and terrible though - she was looking forward to coming here, and I hate to be the one to let her down - but I cannot take the risk wth my children. With my past 2 fab AP's, I knew they had the right attitude from day 1. I guess I am disappointed despite my strict recruitment process, and the fact this AP looked great on paper and at interview stage it hasn't worked out.

Frak - I agree with the term au-pair being re-branded to something more appropriate. I have read many discussions previously as to whether or not an AP is an employee or not. It is a grey area.

I always strive to make my APs feel happy and comfortable, and make them feel included - but they are not family, and in return for board, lodging, and pay, I do expect them to perform their duties. I know I treat my AP's well - even my useless AP was so happy she didn't want to leave - so in return I need to feel reassured that my AP can cope with my dcs.

redglow Mon 15-Aug-11 21:33:23

I bet you are glad you have decided. Good luck with finding somebody.

metrobaby Tue 16-Aug-11 08:36:42

Arrggghh - update. I told AP it wasn't going to work out, and she asked why, so I gave her my feedback.

I have now got this email from her:-

Hi metrobaby,
thank you very much for your e-mail. My family and I thought about your reasons the whole evening. Especially my parents thought it was a fault not to have a second au pair family in mind. At first I was deeply disappointed because of your decision, but your second mail showed me that we had completely different ideas /visions about the weekend: I thought, that I have been invited to get to know the children and your family life. So I came not to work already as au-pair, but like a host just to get an impression and to prepare myself for my duties and especially to adapt to your kind of education. So as an observer / look-out I actively took myself back and I chose a more defensive role. I am still disappointed, but now I see, that our differences might perhaps be just a misunderstanding, because of a lack of communication about the purpose of the weekend in advance. If I would have known that you have expected me already to behave like an au-pair, I would have done. Unfortunately, I didn't see the weekend as a test for me at all.
This evening for a long time I discussed with my parents, what I would do if you changed your mind. At first I couldn't imagine that there would be a second chance. Now - if it really was just a misunderstanding - I can perhaps imagine to work for a probation period, soon.
I hope I could do my part to explain why the weekend didn't fulfil your expectations and I feel sorry for that.

I don't know what to do. I feel on one hand, she has a point about different expectations, but on the other - my gut feel is a no, and that she should have been trying to make a good first impression.

ChitChattingaway Tue 16-Aug-11 08:46:06

Ok, she might be right - up to a point. She could have been observing how the family worked, and might not have participated in household chores (she'd make a lousy guest though so pity friends!!!)

BUT - and it's a big but - she should have been getting to know your DC by interacting with them, and seeing how they liked her. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have realised that it was for BOTH sides to get to know each other, and unless she put something of herself out there then neither you nor your DC would get to know her over the course of the weekend. She didn't have to be in the role of an au pair, but she did need to give the family a chance to get to know her.

Therefore - she doesn't have an ounce of common sense - does not bode well for any future. I think you got a very nice email that her parents have helped her write in an attempt to get her job back. It's not really her at all!!!!!

So don't be fooled. She's trying to salvage something here, but that's her problem, not yours.

ChristinedePizan Tue 16-Aug-11 08:52:00

I'm sorry but I think that's a load of baloney. If you go into a school to have a look around when you're looking at applying for a job there, it is obvious surely that your visit is as much about them assessing you and the way you interact with the children as it is for you to decide if the school is right for you. This is a similar situation.

Strix Tue 16-Aug-11 09:52:48

The e-mail is very nice and has a lot of qualities I would welcome in an au pair:
- Accepts your criticism and takes it on board without being overly defensive
- Make a valid point about and understands the importance of clear communication

However, she is a bit silly to have not realised this was a work trial and not a welcome party. But, then, she is a youngish au pair and not a seasoned professional. So I can understand there maybe should have been more explicit communication and not an assumption that she knew what was expected (no idea if this is the case but I can understand it could have been).

I think I would give her a second chance on the trial period she has suggested. I would givce her a one month trial and expect her to return at her own cost. At the end of 3 weeks I would tell her whether or not the job was going to continue after the fourth week. And she would be paid monthly in arrears so as to ensure she didn't do a runner at the end of the third week if your answer is "no".

If she was a nanny the bit about "my family and I thought about..." would be a show stopper and I would walk away. But, as an au pair, I think that's reasonable. It tells me that she comes from a happy home where her parents are supportive and involved in her life.

Treeesa Tue 16-Aug-11 10:12:56

Unless you just organised her weekend trip and didn't email her to say it was part of the selection process, or told her it was some form of advanced orientation, I can't see how she could have misunderstood the purpose of it.

She definitely should have been trying to make a good impression on you - as I'm sure you and your family were trying with her (paying for her visit in the first place, taking her into London for the day etc). So if she didn't see it as an opportunity to shine, the signs aren't good considering you haven't even got to the honeymoon period yet - it's still the courting stage..!

I also agree with ChitChattingawa, in that her family would have helped with the email (probably because they've currently now got her on their hands without a job for the next 'n' months) - making a point she's got no other 'back-up family' is a good start to garner your sympathy though!!

If she's got good experience that got your attention in the first place then she should be able to find another family very easily.

If you've gone to the extent of paying for someone to come over for a trial weekend - and you didn't feel she passed, then there seems little point in bothering with a trial weekend in the first place though.

Treeesa Tue 16-Aug-11 10:16:29

Problem with a probation if you aren't really impressed with her is the effect on the children. The kids have to get used to someone new, then if it doesn't work out then there's more upheaval in a few weeks time.

metrobaby - what do the children think..?

metrobaby Tue 16-Aug-11 13:02:30

treeesa - you're right - not passing a probation would be a huge upheaval. We invest a lot of time with our AP's - I take 2 days off work to introduce her to our routines, show her the area etc, and the children tend to form very close attachments to their APs, which I like to encourage.

One of the main reason why I have a trial weekend is to ensure there is a good fit, see whether AP displays good rapport with the dcs, displays some initiative and enthusiasm, and to spot potential problems. Ultimately, I want to avoid having to send an AP home early. DH and I were useless at getting rid of my past unsuitable AP, and it is an experience I want to avoid.

The children's feedback were as follows:-
dd1(10) - 'At first I thought she was a bad AP, but i think she is good because she never tells us off - hurray!'
ds(7) - 'I really like her'
dd2(5) - 'I don't like her. She reminds me of past useless AP.' But then later she said 'new AP was OK'

Strix - I felt the same regarding her qualities. She has very supportive parents. Her mum even emailed me during the interview process, and once I had made her the offer.

I guess what really bothers me is that I cannot understand having paid for her trip and expenses, taken her on a day out, made a real effort etc, that she would not have wanted to make a good impression, and why she would have not wanted to make an effort to join in with the family earlier on the Sunday regardless of expectations.

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