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Au pair problems - what to do?

(22 Posts)
Boomboomboomboom Sun 22-Dec-13 19:26:39

If you recognise me, please don’t out me. Apologies this is massively long!

Bit of background: our first au pair, she is early 20s first time as au pair, first ever job. Three children, some school runs by foot, some wrap around care (including for a toddler), stated 25-30hrs, all agreed in au pair contract but in reality because we are self employed and take over as soon as we are home and do every school run we can she barely does 15hrs a week and in three months she has only worked 20+ hours in two weeks, and that is including babysitting. Always has at least 2 complete days off a week.

Positives – because of self employed work, she has been pretty flexible and on the odd occasion where I have had to say to her the night before, sorry tomorrow is early, you need to be working at 6:30am etc. she is fine with it. Kids are happy in her care and I feel confident that she is by and large a safe pair of hands. If I write her a list of things to do that day (light housework), generally she does it. Keeps her room clean and tidy and the bathroom she uses. Does all own washing and ironing.

The problems – she is really greedy and it is getting me both down and annoyed. I appreciate that everyone has a different appetite but she is really quite fat (I’d say obese 5 foot 6, 14st). I serve her main meal portions as big as my husband which is fine, but she will happily then eat toast and bread afterwards. I have already told her she must buy her own treats, which again she mostly does, but often she eats the kids lunchbox stuff, and not just one or two packets but loads. I bought a pack of 10 brioche rolls for breakfast, she asked if she could have one and then in 24 hours she had eaten 7. I know it is not my children who are taking them. Half a pack of chips for lunch. Huge amounts of butter, ham, cheese, bread etc. I can buy something pop it in the fridge and find it has been eaten or half eaten when I come round to using it such I’ve not got enough for a main meal.

We had a frank chat and she brought up the issue of food and said herself that she ate too much. I said that it was a difficult thing for me to address but her food habits were not great, that she needed to drink more water, wait after finishing her dinner for it to go down properly before deciding she was really hungry, but nothing has changed. She says she wants to go on a diet but wants me to do it with her but I have little or nothing to lose! I think her eating is boredom and comfort eating and I have had lots of kindly ‘motherly’ chats with her about good healtly eating and about her life and family, she tells me I know her better than her own mother but I feel I am at a bit of brick wall and my sympathy is running out as it the money in my purse.

Laziness – when we had our recent chat I talked about the difference between working (which is mostly childcare related) and being part of the family, chipping in where necessary and frankly not treating my house like a hotel. I do not expect her ever to cook for us, nor have I asked but she has a few times and I explained that I would never expect her to both cook and do all the washing up – we should all pitch in and the same should go when I cook, she should help with the washing up etc. Mostly either my husband or I cook for all of us (including the children) or just the adults. But despite my chat and even before that she never helps. She never offers to do the washing up. She never wipes down the prepping area. I made a rather pointed comment this evening to my son who was rude and demanding at dinner time about how he had not helped at all (normally he would lay the table) and even then she didn’t offer to help with the washing up, after I had spent 2hrs in the kitchen. I don't think I am being unreasonable but tell me if I am - she has ALL her evening meals with us and yet she does nothing to help.

I also gave her a list of chores to do weekly, which she rarely does. She did one hours ironing the other day for the children and told me she was happy to do it, “not every week but every now and then” ffs.
She hasn’t made any friends despite offers from other local au pairs to meet up. She goes to school and has had opportunities to socialise but has refused.

There has been a huge amount of hand holding and mothering, which I knew I was in for and happy about, but when it comes to living in my house I am not her mother and I do not want another kid to have to run around after. She doesn’t make much mess but does leave glasses, dirty knives and dirty kitchen towel lying around the kitchen sometimes.

I have included her in all of our family activities but it has been a busy few months so we haven’t done as much fun stuff and I would have liked. I often tell her about things she could join in but she lies in til late (beyond 10:30) and I have to leave without her.

On the one hand I am grateful that she has made my life easier so I don’t have to do multiple breakfastclub/ nursery/school runs or try and get someone else to do them for me. On the other hand I am frustrated by all this other stuff and the fact that she doesn’t do as much of the light chores that I hoped she would (and was in our au pair contract).

So what to do? I wouldn't do anything until after New year but what?

Suck it up? Write a list for her every day? Do I need to tell her to buck up her ideas? I don’t think she is depressed as such, she doesn’t miss home, skypes her boyfriend and family members all day (bf was long distance anyway so moving here doesn’t matter and he is coming to visit soon). She is desperate to please (apparently) and doesn’t ever want to go home (apparently) and wants to stay in the UK long term but I do think having had a big chat and writing stuff down you’d have thought she’d make more of an effort. We said one year and longer if we agreed, but terminable on one month’s notice if it wasn’t working out. I am thinking I’d go insane if I thought she stay beyond August next year.

If I made her work 25 hours a week my house would be gleaming…

LilacwineGirl Sun 22-Dec-13 21:01:08

Hi Boomboom,
Gosh, alot of problems and where to start...
Firstly, the food issues. We had an au pair, great but same eating probs. she used to stand in our larder in the dark, stuffing her face, literally, with both hands, with food we had just bought. We had big baking days and tins of cakes that lasted our family for most of the week would be devoured in 48 hours!
This never changed over the 2 years she was with us. So, I would book up an offpeak gym membership for her. Talk to her about this and take the cost out of her wages, if this is possible. It sounds as if her overeating is a result of boredom and low self esteem.
Re chores, it sounds as if you are being too soft and she has become lazy.
It sounds like you need to make a list of definite daily 'to-dos' and then other jobs that have to be done weekly. Ie if you want her to wash up daily, then that needs to be spelt out. Likewise, clearing up dirty cutlery etc. This sounds harsh, but you will all be happier, if you all know who is supposed to be doing what and she understands your house rules/kitchen standards etc
She sounds a little lazy and immature and ultimately you need to decide if her good points outweigh the bad.
Are you having a break from her over the Christmas hols? It sounds as if you need some space to think the whole thing through clearly.
Personally, I think i would be looking at giving her a 'trial period', 4-6 weeks and see if she bucks up.
From what you have written, alarm bells would be ringing for me, re my 3 sons, as I have always expected them to help with household chores. Healthy eating is also a big deal in our home, as is sports and a "lazy" person who wasn't interested in fun activities would be a major concern. As your children get older, they will probably do more and more activities and an au pair who shares a love and takes an interest in their lives is pretty important.
Not sure if this is helpful, just trying to let you know of our experience and my children's needs!

lilyaldrin Sun 22-Dec-13 21:13:24

It sounds like she has taken your approaches to her quite well so far, so I would be direct/blunt about what you want.

Food - make it clear to her what she is/isn't welcome to eat. Maybe buy some cheap snack stuff for her (loaf of bread, bag of pasta and some pesto, multipack of own brand crisps) and keep them in her cupboard for if she wants to eat outside of meal times - tell her that it has to last until next week's shop, or she can buy extra herself.

If you plan a meal, tell her what you will be using. Make clear she isn't allowed the children's lunchbox stuff. If you get something like brioche tell her it's 1 or 2 a day maximum as they are for everyone.

Chores - make her list weekly and daily. Get her to tick them off when done. Go through everything in her contract again if necessary.

Chipping in - after dinner give her a job, "I cooked so AP you wash up and DH can dry up since the children laid the table".

Boomboomboomboom Sun 22-Dec-13 21:16:28

LilacWG - thank you so much for replying - it is all very helpful and echos much of my own thoughts, but you never know if you are being fair or not.

You are right about being too soft - I think because our initial focus was on the au pair doing school runs/wrap around care we let the chores slide, but because we are around for more than we thought of that we should be more specific. I mean I could do some of the housework I ask her to do, if only she did more school runs.

What I didn't say is I really like her, and she is a sweet girl and her heart is absolutely in the right place, but yes she is immature and lazy and probably does need me to force her to do things like the gym, but then doesn't that turn me in the mum and I am not her mum? It is something we have discussed so I will look at it again. She actually told me she was bored one day this week after getting up at 10am, knowing I had done a school/nursery run, walked the dog, washing, washing up, showing, hovering, cleaning, getting ready for work etc. so I wrote her a list and told her to get on with it then she wouldn't be bored. She did it all so I think that is what I need to do.

We are very conscious of the bad example she is setting with eating habits and lack of exercise. My children are very active, and whilst she does a tiny bit of cycling, it is nothing to write home about. Seriously this will completely out me to anyone who knows me but she asked if she could come with me on a 'run' a month in. I explained how far and fast I would run (3 miles, 30 mins so pretty slow) and she was walking in less than 200 yards <sigh> I ended up jogging less than 2 miles in about 36 mins.

We are having a small break over Christmas and had one a few weeks back and I felt relieved. Which probably says it all...

Boomboomboomboom Sun 22-Dec-13 21:22:24

cross post Lily - brilliant suggestions too, thank you so much. I will show DH these replies later.

She is approachable, not moody or anything, it is just having the bloody balls to do these things!

It reminds me a little of my husband when we first had children - being irked that you had to ask them to do stuff and expecting them to see what they needed to do, as I had a pair of eyes and could see it myself so why cannot they? But again, she is immature, needs direction and all that so a direct approach and lists etc. are the way to go! I actually have a weekly diary so she knows what her 'childcare' chores are. What I need to do is add home chores onto that too. Perfect and easy and I am wondering why I didn't think of it.

I gave her her own cupboard for snacks - the bread thing is a brilliant idea. I have actually started buying crappy 50p a loaf bread as "we" have gone from eating 3 a week to 7!

Thank you both so much

fackinell Sun 22-Dec-13 21:29:30

Hi Boom. Could you perhaps give her a realistic shopping allowance and a drawer to keep her food in so she knows what she can and can't have? I'd also make up a rota of chores you'd like her to do daily and weekly. It's her first job, she's probably unsure how to do it.

It's great that the kids are expected to muck in too. I nannied years ago and though it was lovely to be invited to do things with the family, I did feel a bit of pressure to go along when I fancied just chilling. Maybe mention that she's welcome to come along to places with you and to say if she'd ever like to go rather than be asked every time.

Can you give her a gentle push by arranging a few play dates for her and the kids? Maybe she's shy about approaching the other au pairs. I'd say its worth sorting out now as you and the kids seem to like her. smile

Boomboomboomboom Sun 22-Dec-13 21:41:53

I thought about the food allowance but I'm not sure how I can get to work. I already buy her ham just for her (don't worry it isn't crappy ham whilst we dine on organic wink) and she is from a culture when she likes to eat with others (apart form stuffing her face outside of mealtimes), but I'll have a think about that.

I hope I don't push the family things too much, but it irks when she says 'I'm bored' but passes up opportunities to come out and doesn't actually do anything to stop being bored IYSWIM

She tells me she is shy, so again, maybe I'll look at an au pair playdate. Thanks for your help

fackinell Sun 22-Dec-13 21:58:13

No probs. one of my live in jobs had a shelf and drawer that they asked me not to use (the contents.) I didn't mind at all. You sound like a great boss in that you care about her happiness. I'm sure you're not pushy, as mine weren't, just inclusive. She sounds lucky to have you. smile

LilacwineGirl Sun 22-Dec-13 22:40:01

Good luck Boomboom. Great advice here, as always.
If she is as sweet and nice as she appears to be, it sounds as if its worth trying to resolve everything.
An aupair party sounds as if its on the cards, which I think would definitely pay off, as she might hate the idea, but the other aupairs will love her!
Re the food issue, I'm not sure I would go down the bread/fill up route, which is going to slow her down and make her feel more lethargic. Instead, I would show her the Harcombe diet online, great results quickly! ( Hope I'm allowed to mention that)
Hope it all works out!

Boomboomboomboom Sun 22-Dec-13 22:54:28

I've been on harcombe this week 5 days 6lbs not bad when bmi 22! thanks again

blueshoes Sun 22-Dec-13 23:06:08

Hi boomboom, from reading your post, the only thing your aupair is bringing to the table (dreadful pun) is "On the one hand I am grateful that she has made my life easier so I don’t have to do multiple breakfastclub/ nursery/school runs or try and get someone else to do them for me". Any aupair can do that. That is nothing particularly special.

Everything else is a negative. Aupairing is an unskilled job. Whether it works well depends a lot on the personality and attitude of the aupair. Having had aupairs for 6 years now, I think you pretty much know within the first week if there are niggles. They will be confirmed within 3 weeks. In your aupair's case, I would be performance managing in ernest.

I think your aupair lucked out with an easy job (beginners luck) and now has gone down the slippery slope of thinking she can do even less because she is a "member of the family".

As other posters said, she needs some clear instructions as to what she should do and then you should be constantly on top of her to ensure she does it. If not, she needs to be told she has not performed to standards and you have to start issuing warnings, culminating in giving notice. I hate to say this but aupairs rarely improve during performance management. They are far more likely to change families than work harder. You will be well rid but beware aupairs like nothing better than to leave you in the lurch once they have decided to leave. Make sure you have some semblance of a plan B when that happens.

When you find an aupair that works, she is worth her weight in gold, so try to keep the faith. I never persist with a dud because I know what else is out there.

Boomboomboomboom Mon 23-Dec-13 07:10:06

blueshoes - thank you too. I think clear tasks (written down on her weeks sheet) will make the performance managing easier. I think if she socialised with other au pairs she would realise she has it very easy.

I will implement lots of the suggestions and report back early next year!

GoodnessKnows Mon 23-Dec-13 21:55:17

Chat and discuss your dissatisfactions broadly and lightly. You could say that you know that she wants to please you and that there need to be a few changes so that things improve a bit.
Chores- just tell her. Don't fester. " I'll cook tonight and you'll tidy up." Kind of thing.
Food - this is your food (meals and cheaper 'value' alternatives to the stuff she's guzzling. "This is enough for a week. I'll replace it on a Wednesday / Tesco day. If you need more before then, it'll be up to you to buy it. The children and our snacks are not for you to eat as we can't afford to replace it and it's frustrating when things run out."

About the guzzling thing...
There's an eating disorder called compulsive overheating. It's not as simple as having 'healthy eating / motherly chars'. It's a real problem and one that is exacerbated by being away from home, family, etc. I've personal experience of this. Don't think you can resolve this one - although she could go to Overeaters Anonymous (if she wasn't someone prone to rejecting social invitations/ suggestions.

GoodnessKnows Mon 23-Dec-13 22:00:17

Please excuse major typos (eg Overeaters Anonymous - not overheaters). Lol
Obviously, point it all out positively with all the things she does that are fab. Don't go into everything - just the ones that drive you most bonkers - evening meal times (help,) and food. Make sure that she knows that evening meals, etc. are for her too. You're not banning her from all family food- just in between meal stuff.
Be warned, if you don't tell her that it's just meal times she can eat your x, y, z, you'll probably see your cereal disappearing during the day time.

BoffinMum Mon 23-Dec-13 22:10:08

She sounds pretty miserable, but frankly also rather lazy, and she would drive me nuts too. Just because she is doing 50% of her workload does it mean you have a fair deal here or it is right to continue. You could easily find a more cheerful, co-operative au pair who would pull her weight a lot more and take the pressure off you properly.

MaybeABitLikeTigger Mon 23-Dec-13 22:10:51

Hmm, I agree with the other posters regarding chores. It is her job, so a clear list might help.

Regarding the food I am not so sure.. Where is she from? . Having worked with people from various places with less privileged backgrounds, I am wondering whether it could be a situation of " wow, all this food which I have never/ hardly ever tried and keeps getting re-stocked"... I don't know exactly what to suggest but I would approach it very gently. "You can eat when you are hungry but please do not eat lunch box snacks etc as they are more expensive/harder to get in Spar" and maybe see whether she wants to talk nutrition. Whether it is fair to let her pay her own snacks would depend on how much she is paid I think.

blueshoes Mon 23-Dec-13 23:59:30

In terms of giving clear instructions and setting limits, be aware of cultural differences. The British can phrase requests in a optional non-prescritive way e.g. "if it is not too much trouble, could you not leave your dirty cups lying around" - I did not grow up in England but have picked up the equivocation after more than an decade here.

In dealing with people from another culture and possibly with less facility with the language, I try to be more direct e.g. "please put away the dirty cups when you finished and do not leave them lying around". To my ears, it sounds like an order or my being 'rude' but where you are performance managing, you have to get the message across clearly and in a matter-of-fact way. In other words, your aupair has to hear that it is not an option.

Less is more. Good luck.

CookieDoughKid Tue 24-Dec-13 00:12:52

Don't take anything for granted. My aupair is 27 and you'd think she is old enough to learn to chip in and take the bin out now and then. No.

So I write lists of things I want done.
I have reoccurring calendar events.
I get her to review what she needs to do night before.
I am clear on her tasks and hours.
And if I want the bin taken out, I simply tell her because quite frankly, they don't see it as their home like you do as the home owner.

Depersonalise, delegate and be completely in front.

Metrobaby Tue 31-Dec-13 09:58:55

I've had many au-pairs too, and I must admit the signs are not good.

You say "She hasn’t made any friends despite offers from other local au pairs to meet up. She goes to school and has had opportunities to socialise but has refused." This would ring a lot of alarm bells for me. An au-pair needs to have friends as it contributes to their general well-being and happiness and their overall experience here.

Writing down a specific lists of tasks for her is very helpful as it lays out your expectations clearly. I would recommend you write down WHEN you expect things to be done also.

However, my experience is like Blueshoes' - they rarely improve. Ultimately, the type of APs I find that need performance management are lazy and try to get away with doing as little as possible. I find improvement lasts for about a week or two. I personally find it tiring to be constantly on top of them, asking them if they have done everything, and checking. It is a lot of hassle, and I can't help feeling as if I am turning into a nagging Mother. Bear in mind, approx 2 months before they are due to leave they tend to take things easy, so imagine how much worse she will be then!

Personally I would recommend you start your search for a new AP now, and performance manage her in the meantime. There are so many wonderful APs out there, there is no reason why you should be putting up with a second rate one. After all - you are giving up your personal space for her.

My best APs have been great with the children, friendly, have had active social life here, and were willing to chip in with any household task. Furthermore, I never had to remind them to do their household chores. The only regret I have ever had with getting rid of an unsuitable au-pair has been why didn't I do it sooner!

ToffeeOwnsTheSausage Tue 31-Dec-13 10:55:15

Maybe she needs the shock of she will have no job at all if she doesn't start doing what she is contracted to do?

I was an pair and had no real clue what I was meant to do as I wasn't told. Five weeks in I was asked to clean the whole house as I hadn't done it. I wasn't told it was part of the job!

Boomboomboomboom Mon 13-Jan-14 21:04:24

Given all your good advice I thought I'd give you an update.

Things have been much better, in part due to my directness.

I have started writing those daily and weekly expected household chores on her job sheet and having a visual reminder is working much better. I also have made her do some chores when I felt she was trying to slack off and to her credit she has done them (and more) without complaint. She really does have a good attitude I just think she is young and a bit blind and needs reminding IYKWIM

I also told her that some of the things which seem minor to her drive me crazy (like the dirty knives and glasses). She said she didn't like to constantly take glasses and tried to use just one a day, but I explained that unless she put it in a particular place it looked to me like she had just forgotten to tidy it away so we agreed where she can leave it if she is reusing it. I know that sounds trivial but when something isn't working it can drive you mad!

She is making friends and has made a big effort since Christmas which she is happy about and I am happy about. She has thanked me for encouraging her and I have told her her friends are welcome here.

Food - a work in progress and I'm not sure if we'll crack it but there is only so much I can do given she is an adult. I will be stricter about snacks though and have continued to be encouraging. She is contemplating the gym.

Thank you all for your help.

Katiejon Mon 13-Jan-14 22:06:46

Its wonderful when an ap works well.
Its crappy when they don't.
Very pleased for you.

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