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AP driving me nuts!

(28 Posts)
mommybunny Mon 17-Sep-12 14:10:21

I don't know if this is best here or in AIBU, but I just can't seem to gel with new(ish, since mid-August) au pair. When DS and DD were little we had a nanny, but now they're in school we've been going with au pairs (I work FT), and apart from the first one who left homesick after 6 weeks, we've all gotten on well and I've been happy with the arrangement (though with the constant turnover I'm sick of the disruption). We have a flat above the garage where the au pair lives, with her own bathroom, mini-kitchen and fridge, TV, use of a bike and car, etc. This AP is in mid-20s, has lived away from home, is responsible, firm and active with DS and DD (though not terribly affectionate), does the housework and shopping, all that good stuff. I know I shouldn't complain, BUT...

I know that an au pair is meant to "become part of the family", but does that mean they have to do EVERYTHING with you? Have EVERY meal in the house? Watch EVERY TV programme you do? She doesn't have much of a life on weekends - we've tried to hook her up with other APs in the area and she's made a little effort, but more often than not when I've asked her if she's going anywhere she just smiles and says "no, I'm going to stay here..." At which point I want to shoot myself! She is, frankly, a very boring person (at least to me) who makes very little effort at conversation and says "hmm...?" instead of "yes". Drives me bonkers.

I need some down time with my family where I don't have to worry about being in my pyjamas, or screaming at my kids (or DH!), or whether I have made enough food for her to have some (she has a healthy appetite!). When I start making meals on weekends I don't seek her out to see if she intends to eat with us because I don't (and I'm so ashamed to say this) WANT her to feel invited. And she never gets the message. So I sit and stew about it, and rage at DH, who rages back because there's nothing he can (or will) do about it and he's tired of hearing me moan.

Last night was the last straw - DH and I were really looking forward to watching Downton Abbey and relaxing. Of course she wanted to watch it too and why watch it on a little screen in your flat when there's a 52 in screen in the TV room? So what if your host family are squashed on a 2-seater sofa when you've nabbed the 3-seater while they were putting the kids to bed? So what if they want to cuddle - completely oblivious.

What do I have to do to get my TV room back to myself on Sundays short of (a) lying to her that we're going to watch another programme on Sundays at 9 (and then watching DA) or (b) shagging on the sofa next time? DH did half-jokingly suggest putting a better TV in the flat, but I don't think that's a viable plan (c). She'd still want to sit in the TV room with us.

I know I must sound really psycho, and I don't intend to be. I wish I could warm to her and not mind having her around. I've built this grievance up in my head for the past month and I know I'm at least half the problem but I'm stuck in this rut and can't get past it. Any advice appreciated.

LeiaOrganaSolo Mon 17-Sep-12 14:20:14

By the sounds of it I think you need to either get a nanny or explore the option of after school clubs. Your part of the deal with an au pair is to treat them as part of the family and if you don't feel able to do that you shouldn't have an au pair.

MGMidget Mon 17-Sep-12 14:33:45

I think you could have a chat with her about needing a bit of space sometimes in the evening or weekends. Our last au pair understood this implicitly without us having to mention it. We always told her she was welcome to join us in the evening and sometimes she did but she also said that she wanted to give us some time to ourselves. I know of other friends au pairs who have done the same. She has a separate flat so doesn't need to be with you all the time. Maybe you could agree with her that you have certain specified evenings or times at the weekend to yourself but that she is more than welcome to join you at other times? Frankly even if I had a teenage child of my own in the house or an older relative staying with us long term I would probably still ask for a bit of space some of the time so I don't think it is unreasonable for you to ask for this.

mommybunny Mon 17-Sep-12 14:42:56

Thanks MGM, I've been using live-in childcare for 5+ years now and I've never had a problem before with people giving us space - they've wanted it too! I may need to have "the chat" - I was just hoping I could avoid it, and I had hoped that the hints I was dropping would get the message across, but they haven't. Getting another nanny or relying on after-school clubs is just not an option - a nanny is far too expensive for what we need, and my job doesn't always guarantee I'd be home on time to get the kids home from after-school clubs. The problem is this au pair, not having an au pair in general - I've done it before and again, not had a problem with the balance of "family space" and "togetherness".

bakingaddict Mon 17-Sep-12 14:45:11

Perhaps you need to be firmer with your next au pair and set appropriate boundaries

If evening meals are expected then I would take it to their flat. It sets the precedent that they are not expected to eat with you at mealtimes. They have their own living area, dont invite them to share the television with you. Your house is simply their place of work. By all means occasionally invite them to say a family Sunday roast to be friendly but make it clear they are expected to spend time in their own flat once the CC duties have been completed

JennyWren Mon 17-Sep-12 14:56:04

Having had a few au pairs myself, I understand what you are saying - we were concerned before we started was that it would be stifling in terms of our personal space. But, like your previous au pairs, ours always wanted their own space just as much as we wanted ours. We have always invited our au pairs to eat with us in the evening, but they would help to wash up and then make themselves scarce. One question - does your au pair have internet access in her flat? Ours spent hours on skype, listening to music etc.

If that isn't the problem, then yes, you will have to be blunt. Sit her down and explain that after dinner is your personal time, and you would appreciate it if, unless invited to join you, she leaves you in peace. At weekends, if it suits you, ask her to eat alone as well - cook her up a batch of bolognese sauce and a batch of curry, or whatever floats her boat, put it in individual portions in the freezer and give her a bag of pasta and a bag of rice. You are still providing her with a meal, but you don't have to spoonfeed her as well smile.

I'd bet that it is one of those problems that won't seem so much a problem when it isn't happening any more. so when you're not feeling so stifled, you might well feel better disposed toward her...

LeiaOrganaSolo Mon 17-Sep-12 15:15:25

I would love an au pair as a cheap child care solution. However, I also love my personal space. So, I pay for a childminder instead. Bakingaddict, the scenario you are describing might be appropriate for a nanny but not for an au pair! Your home is not the au pairs 'place of work' it is their home as well!

ZuleikaD Mon 17-Sep-12 15:25:54

I agree that it is supposed to be her home too, but with the facilities you've provided I think it would be ok to make it clear to her that you prefer to have the house to yourselves in the evening. I think the sooner you say it the better. She's in her mid-20s after all, not a homesick teenager.

mommybunny Mon 17-Sep-12 15:34:25

Bakingaddict and JennyWren, thanks for your input. It's helping me take a deep breath. You're spot-on JW about the nature of the problem, if I weren't feeling so stifled I'd be much warmer towards her. I don't mind so much providing the food - and in fact this weekend I've started operating under the mindset that she will eat what we have, but I will put some aside for her and she can come for it whenever she wanders over, not when we've called her to the meal. Of course that often means that she comes over while we're eating, which interrupts things a bit but she is getting the idea that she is not always part of the meal, IYSWIM.

Our AP does have internet access in her flat. Evenings aren't SO bad, she usually leaves soon after the kids are put to bed (she gives them their tea and eats with them, DH and I usually eat later). It's the weekend thing that I'm struggling with. I spend so little time with my kids during the week and I want them to myself on weekends, and I want to concentrate only on them, and not on some adult as well who should be perfectly capable of looking after herself.

But I have some coping strategies as well, thanks to you all, and I'm grateful for that. I feel terrible for letting something so trivial make me so crazy.

LadyHarrietdeSpook Mon 17-Sep-12 22:21:48

OP your post made me laugh out loud! DH has been warning our current AP all week that I am a Downton freak and would be in position on the BIG COUCH from 8.55 on Sunday night. I think she was terrified of our prosecco drinking and shouting at the screen. She's out tonight - fled.

We've had issues in the past with APs going through stretches of not giving DH and me any personal space - I felt completely crazy by the end of the night with the. Our current AP is very young and I feel extremely -unusually - protective of her and her big year abroad. But she is doing things like taking the 3 seater...I finally just said to her: Do you mind if DH and I share the couch? She's fine with this. I think it may just need explaining (politely).

You may need to say to her that because you're able to offer the separate flat etc you ideally are looking for someone who is keen to takes advantage of the independence that offers. I would go on but can't type any more on this sodding keyboard. But something which gets across your feelings about what you're looking for in the AP relationship. You do need to offer a cultural component - which it sounds like you know - but there will be other APs that are happy about greater independence in exch for the flat you are offering etc

LadyHarrietdeSpook Mon 17-Sep-12 22:26:37

Our AP is newly 18. I would expect an AP in their mid 20s to have more of a clue about couples and personal space. Are you quite near her in age? Is there a chance she sees you as a peer?

catepilarr Mon 17-Sep-12 23:17:38

its just so difficult to get the 'personal space' and 'family time' right with an aupair. i had a similar problem with my last employers but the other way round. i explained i am no longer an aupair /and they insisted there is no diffrenced between a MH and an AP/ but still their idea was that i spend most of my free time with the family, go out with them, watch tv with them etc... drove me crazy so symphatise with you!!!

i think some of it could be cultural, some personal/family, and some just different expectations. i remember when i first started aupairing i understood the phrase 'part of family' probably in a similar to your aupair. beeing 'available' all the time, watching telly with them /as i would have done perhaps with my parents/, etc. eating all meals with them as a family /not eating together would have been considered rude in my own family back then, i totally didnt understand the concept of the parents wanting to eat separately to have some private time. that is not something i was used to from my own culture, parents just did not have any private time together the way you do in britain/

not sure what can you do apart from setting some rules about when she eats togethre with you and when she eats on her own /like on her days off/, or when is she welcome to spend time with you and when it is time to leave you alone. i know some people on here have rules like when the door is closed, we want to be alone, or after 9pm its our own time.

mommybunny Tue 18-Sep-12 11:34:26

LadyHarriet (I think the Dowager Countess could take some lessons from you wink), I am old enough to be this AP's mother - in fact, the first AP we had was the same age as this one and her mother was younger than me! That was very sobering. I like the prosecco habit - very civilised, balances out the shouting at the screen. Perhaps I will take it up myself.

Catepilarr, you may be right about the cultural thing, tbh that had not occurred to me. I have put some parameters around weeknights - she makes tea for the kids and herself and I make dinner for DH and me later. She actually went out to a dance class last night - hallelujah!

I am going to have to be blunter about my need for space. I shouldn't be shy about it - she comes from a culture I have worked with before where people are generally very blunt, but you know where you stand. They usually aren't as easily offended as Brits/Yanks (of which I am one) are, and usually appreciate the honesty.

metrobaby Tue 18-Sep-12 13:04:25

I agree with others - have a chat with her and explain your need for a bit of personal space. She may be doing this because she feels obliged to spend her free time with you, and wants to be polite herself. I found a couple of my previous au-pairs felt this way and looked very relieved when they found out we did not expect them to be spending all their free time with us. So maybe it might be a case of mismatched expectations?

Personally I think it is quite nice if an AP makes an effort with the family to get to know them. I have the opposite with my current one who seems to flee to his room or go out as much as possible. It makes it a lot harder to bond with them then. As caterpilarr states it is hard to get the balance right!

Rubirosa Tue 18-Sep-12 13:58:15

I think you sound a bit mean about meals - surely APs are supposed to eat with the family, so this is what she expects?

Fair enough to tell her you want some time alone in the evenings though.

alice298 Tue 18-Sep-12 14:30:32

Rubirosa, they are not 'supposed' to eat with the family - it is a nice thing to do, and some APs and families love it, and some don't. When interviewing both our APs I said to them that while we were very keen to have them be part of our family, I also don't see my husband much in the week so we do like our space at the same time. So we agreed to have Sunday supper together each week, and she and I have supper together one other evening in week. It is perfectly fine if you make it clear initially. Also - mommybunny you cook for her?! Could you not just buy enough food for her to cook for herself? None of my friends cook for their APs unless specifically eating together...

mommybunny Tue 18-Sep-12 16:55:52

Alice, for some reason I feel less guilty cooking for her and leaving her some of what we've had for her to take and reheat when she wants to. On Saturday night she asked me what time we normally eat breakfast on Sunday as she'd "never seemed to make it". Heavy sigh. That's my day to make cooked breakfast for the family, and I like to come to the table in my pyjamas! I said the time varies depending on what we're doing that day. I made her some scrambled eggs and bacon and put it aside and she came while we were in the middle of it, and she made her own toast. I know I shouldn't worry about how I look in the morning (Lord knows she doesn't - I don't think I've ever seen a scrap of makeup on her) but I do.

Oh, and I just found out she's not going home for Christmas. I'm dreading hearing she plans on spending it with us. This is going to be a hard Christmas for us - my MIL died this year and DH is still very emotional and grieving, as is my FIL. I really don't want them to have to share that with a relative stranger. I may just have to flag that now.

SoldeInvierno Tue 18-Sep-12 17:36:35

I feel a bit sorry for the girl. She obviously wants your company and finds it difficult to be alone. She's only been here for a month, so maybe when she starts making friends, she will be quite happy to not join you any more. Is she going to school yet?

As for Christmas, are you paying for her flight if she goes home? if not, that might be the reason she's staying. She might not be able to afford going home. When I was an aupair, I always stayed for xmas, and my monthly salary wouldn't have covered the cost of the flight.

DowagersHump Tue 18-Sep-12 17:43:46

I thought APs were supposed to be members of the family?

TBH OP, this is exactly why I haven't got one - I value my evenings/downtime too much. I have found a young woman (18) who has just left school and wants to become a nanny. She picks up DS from school, gives him his dinner, plays and looks after him until I get home.

Rubirosa - I think a meal a week with you is very mean indeed. That is not being 'part of the family'.

SoldeInvierno Tue 18-Sep-12 17:48:06

when you go shopping, do you ask her if she wants anything for her fridge? that might also get her thinking about cooking something for herself sometimes.

Would you be ok with her inviting a friend over to watch TV, dinner sometimes? that's something you can suggest and might give her the right ideas.

catepilarr Tue 18-Sep-12 19:50:39

@when you go shopping, do you ask her if she wants anything for her fridge? that might also get her thinking about cooking something for herself sometimes.

i doubt that any aupair would underestand that as a hint that she should be cooking some of her meals herself. i think if that is the expectations, or an option, than it should be spelt out. life of an firt time aupair can be very confusing.

on of my families stated clearly that as the husband commutes and need to go to bed early /nine oclock/ that the parents are eating together and have the evenings together. it never was a problem and i still felt very welcome and part of the family.i always had things to cook for myself ready in the fridge. they used to have a nanny before and were very good at handling the relationship. i think it also takes some time for families to get used to having someone in the house, who is not another child but an adult who is independent from the family.

WLondonNanny Sat 29-Sep-12 09:04:52

I feel so sorry for the poor girl!

Coming from someone who came over from a different country to work, I would feel like absolute c**p if I knew this is what my boss thought about me! You make the decision to have an Au Pair, knowing that's an extra person in the house, and everyone us different in personality, some people like their space, some like to socialise. I've had friends who have been told that once they have put the kids in bed they must stay in their rooms or go out. How are we meant to feel welcome and comfortable if we are told we are not allowed downstairs? We're away from friends and family, living with strangers, it's nice to feel welcome! Don't be blunt with her, be polite. As someone who has been in the position, you put on a brave face when told you aren't welcome downstairs, but it makes you feel really down and you feel really unwanted! Lets just say that job didn't last long!

I guess I never realised how lovely my current bosses are! They always take an interest in what I'm up too, I often sit down and have dinner and a glass of wine together..I always offer to wash up after she cooks, but DB always says 'you've done a lot of washing up today'. As fit Christmas, I was starting to wonder what I was going to do as going home wasn't an option as way too expensive, so I was delighted when they offered to have me for Christmas, and really made me feel welcome as they knew it was hard to be away from home. I got involved and helped out with the prep, had a lovely lunch and then got spoilt, even by all the grandparents!

So just be subtle with her, cause it feels like you're getting punched in the gut when told you stents wanted!

LadyHarrietdeSpook Sat 29-Sep-12 13:53:54


I would be curious as to what you would suggest a couple who needs more private time do in this case? I didn't get the feeling she was saying: don't come downstairs or you must go out, which I agree is unacceptable...but let's not imagine that because your friends had that experience this is what the OP is saying. It sounds to ME like she is asking for an adult to show more awareness that the parents might need more couple time?

Or do you think that if you have an AP you give this all up as the "host parents"?

Genuinely interested, as every year we have to negotiate this with our APs

WLondonNanny Sat 29-Sep-12 21:02:43

With my current family, we decided that out of the 7 nights in the week, I give them 2 nights a week where I leave them to themselves.

I'm just saying don't be blunt as OP said she was going to be. Yes it might need to be said, but do it gently, not in a harsh/blunt/rude way, make sure she understands why and not bluntly!!!

LadyHarrietdeSpook Mon 01-Oct-12 10:48:50

When you say "we decided" it is exactly this bit I'm curious about to be honest. How did the conversation go? My husband and I have only ever been able to be very oblique in this area and I am curious when you say that they did it in a way that you didn't feel offended by.

I have said things like: please, we'd like to share the big couch as a couple, and the APs have been fine about that. And after a couple of months the APs tend to start spending mroe time with their friends.

So, what also happens on the other five nights? Do you have dinner with them and also spend the evening with them?

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