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Advice needed - think my Au Pair may have an eating problem & there are other problems..

(22 Posts)
gingerparkin Wed 29-Jul-15 12:54:16

Really hoping someone can come along to help me form some perspective on how I manage this situation.

My first au pair arrived around 3 weeks ago. I had found her through AP world and did a thorough screening process . I have 2 girls (8 &10) and the plan is she would take the role on a year's basis. I work full time but most of the time she would only need to do around 20 hours per week. In exchange, I am offering her financial support with the study of her choice, phone, 3 clear days off per week (incl every weekend), �90 pw and gym membership (she was keen on the gym � more to follow). She has her own room and bathroom, sky tv, use of a laptop etc.

To help her settle in, I have done everything I can think of to welcome her as I feel that is my responsibility. I have arranged trips and involved her in social occasions. I have taken her out on her own to spend quality time checking in with her. I have found her contact details of Au Pairs in the area to meet up with, FB pages where she might meet people and sent her links to pretty much every course in London. To help her bond with my girls and settle into London I have given her a budget and an oyster card and a free rein of activities to get stuck into.

Part of my reason for selecting her was because she said she already knew London, had visited a lot and had friends here already. She came across as very bubbly, enthusiastic sensible and intelligent and I thought she might be a good role model for my daughters, my eldest especially who struggles with confidence. Her English is great and our impression was that she saw this as a stepping stone to exploring a possible life in London in the long-term.

All sounds good, except it isn�t�

When I picked her up from the airport, I was struck by how underweight she looked. It hadn�t been evident on facetime. I am talking � super model and out of proportion underweight�. I am small myself but am huge in comparison. I didn�t want to jump to any snap judgements so was happy to keep an open mind. But I am starting to believe that she might have an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.
She limits what she eats significantly and cuts out a lot of food types and groups e.g. no carbs, no diary, no sugar etc. Though I do see her eat (and for the first week she ate every meal with us) it is always miniscule portions and I have never seen her eat anything with any enjoyment. Yet she talks about food a lot. She has repeatedly said her stomach feels funny since arriving but only when I offer her something. She says she feels tired since she arrived. I continue to invite her to eat with us but she declines and eats a small bowl of salad on her own. My daughters tell me that she doesn�t eat with them. My eldest has started to tune into this and this week has been mentioning that her own thighs and tummy are fat :-(

The only activity she shows any enthusiasm for is the gym which she goes to every day. She hasn�t gone anywhere else. She hasn�t met any of her friends or made plans to. She spends all evening in her room with the door shut. She is in and out of the bathroom and brushes her teeth regularly through the day.. She doesn�t seem to have a plan for her time here and generally is not showing any of the �get-up and go� that she showed promise of. I don't want to make a snap judgement that she has an eating problem, but also I can't igonore the symptoms. What's more I don�t feel she is making a massive effort in terms of bonding with the girls, she doesn't seem enthused about any of the opportunities we are presenting her with or being on her best game but I do appreciate she is young and it is down to me to guide her to a certain extent..

I am starting to think the food thing is a deal-breaker but don�t know if I am being harsh or whether it is a legitimate reason to terminate the agreement. So my questions are
1.Am I being unreasonable in any way? Could some of this be down to homesickness?
2.Do I talk to her about her attitude to eating and give her an opportunity to discuss it? Or do I decide the risk is too high in terms of what message she is giving my daughters?
3.What is the fairest way to terminate the agreement, if I decide to?
4.When your au pair scenarios have worked, how soon did it take to click?
5.If this doesn�t work, is it worth trying again?

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

holeinmyheart Wed 29-Jul-15 16:11:44

Oh dear. Personally I think you need to get rid of her.ASAP . She has been welcomed as a family member. Family members eat with the family.
I had one like this and it was so disrupting.
You are not a charity and sad as it is you have to think of your own family.
I found someone else and helped my Disfunctional Au-Pair to go home.
I just wish that I had done it sooner. Unfortunately there is no knowing in advance except that after her I insisted on a health certificates from a Doctor stating that they were in good health.
So sorry as it is an awful situation.

holeinmyheart Wed 29-Jul-15 16:17:01

Sorry I meant to say that we clicked within a week, if we were going to.
Termination. I arranged her flight home. I paid for a B&B, visited every day and then collected her and put her on her flight back to Germany. A matter of days.
She didn't want to go but it was hopeless.
She was the only one I had that I sacked. I went on to have lots more and they were great.

Purplepumpkins Wed 29-Jul-15 16:32:10

I would say she needs to go simply because you have two girls who will go through puberty soon and they do not need that kind of negativity around food and appearance and weight.

One tho and probably irrelevant but when it's your au pairs time off its her business if she wants to be shut in her room.

gingerparkin Wed 29-Jul-15 18:07:34

Thank you both for taking the time to reply. My instinct tells me that it isn't going to work and I am constantly worrying about her and whether she is happy, what more can I do etc.

I agree it is absolutely her right to go to her room when its her free time and I don't expect her to hang out with us, unless she wants to. But I was more concerned about what it said about her happiness levels. She gave me the impression that she had friends here and I assumed she would be out and about a bit more. I feel for her I guess. Away from home, clearly not happy with herself, nothing joyful. It is so different from the vibrancy she communicated before she arrived.

Purplepumpkins Wed 29-Jul-15 20:08:02

She sounds like she have some form of eating disorder and as harsh as it sounds, you don't need that around your children.

Btw apologies if I sounded harsh I am a nanny so I was simply saying its normal to shut yourself away after a long day to give yourselves and Us Space and privacy. However I agree she sounds unstable and I understand your being concerned about that.

Karoleann Wed 29-Jul-15 21:17:52

It sounds as if she does have an eating disorder and that's not good for your dd's and they need to come first. I would offer to pay for her flight home asap.

chloeb2002 Thu 30-Jul-15 02:11:49

One of my screening questions is what do you not eat? More than a sensible.. Not keen on x and they wouldn't come. I learn that after an ap who only ate chicken ��
Life's too short. I'd ask her outright and explain your concerns. It can take a little while to make friends but id like too see more effort.
Our aps eat with us but often sit in their rooms at night.grin

AlpacaMyBags Thu 30-Jul-15 02:37:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Atenco Thu 30-Jul-15 04:46:12

More than anything, I think, is the risk if she gets seriously ill while she is will you. If she is anorexic she needs to be under the care of her parents. And yes, it could be bad for your daughters too.

gingerparkin Fri 31-Jul-15 20:02:11

Thanks everyone, apologies for late response. Thanks for all your replies. I did ask her about food and she said the only thing she didn't like was fried food but would eat everything else. I thought this sounded reasonable. I may have also made it easy for her as I had agreed with her that sometimes/often in the week, she would need to sort her own food out or eat with the children as one of us is home from work late and the other is seeing to the children, so often we eat our main meal at lunch and have a smaller meal later in the evening.

Anyway last night we had a chat. Without being prompted by me, she did mention that she is keen to put a bit more weight back on last night. She says in the last year she has lost weight because she used to be very unhealthy in her diet and recently tried to adopt a healthier lifestyle which means she has dropped weight and recognises it might be a bit too much . She says she feels better and she does seem a bit brighter. She has also made plans to meet up with a few people this weekend and go to a few social groups in the next week. I invited her to eat with us last night and she did . I am very torn between the 'benefit of the douby end of the scale' with her perhaps being young and taken healthy eating too far vs the opposite end of the spectrum where the scenario is that she has a deep rooted issue. So my plan is to engineer some food situations over the next few days to see how she responds (family meals, pudding etc) so I can gather some actual evidence about how she eats in front of the children. and then have a serious talk with her about it. If I have any doubts, I will make the decision to end it as the risk is too great.

Its a shame because in many ways she is also great. Tidy, good communication, the girls like her and aside from this can be occassionally good company and pleasant to have around.

Atenco Sat 01-Aug-15 03:59:14

Well, in view of that, she may not have an eating disorder but you might still find she has a small appetite if you she cut back too much over the last year.

chloeb2002 Sun 02-Aug-15 01:01:11

Going by the update I'd say a normal teenage girl?
It's hard as every family has their normal with food, that may be far removed from another families normal. Even within our family we have differing needs.
For example I'd refuse a pudding as I eat low carb. Dh eats chips puddings treats. So I'd not look for her to eat what you eat. Just to partake I family life and get out and meet people.grin

bestguess23 Sun 02-Aug-15 01:17:06

If she is making an effort to eat more normally then I can't see the harm in giving it a bit longer. One of my closest friends doesn't like food, never has, it's not an eating disorder, it just isn't high in her thoughts so she actively tackles it. Some people don't eat much if they're going through stress. Being skinny doesn't mean she has anorexia or bulimia. If your concerns remain and she isn't improving then reassess it. She might just be adjusting a bit, which could also explain the introversion. Try to be as honest and also encouraging as you can and you should get confirmation fairly quickly if she is wrong for your family.

gingerparkin Sun 02-Aug-15 09:53:57

Thank you every one. So the saga continues but in a different vein. Taking on board what everyone said, I decidedthat I would give her the benefit of the doubt re: eating and food. I had accepted that the social life she described as being available for her in london was not going to materialise and was encouraged that nonetheless she is making an effort in terms of settling (she has made enquiries about a part-time job, planning some events to attend etc.) All finally seemed to be moving in the right direction until yesterday.

Yesterday I took my girls out for the day and I was checking in as to how they were finding things and the flood gates opened from them. Their main issues are that she spends her time on her phone and reading magazines when I am not around, doesn't talk to them, huffs and puffs and gets stressed with them, doesn't help them find things to do, doesn't seem to want to take them out unless I expressly them tell to. They asked me why she never wants to eat with them. My eldest commented that she has to remind her when they should leave the house for a class etc. This is significant because my eldest is very anxious and timekeeping sends her into a spin. She gets very upset at being late. I have been very clear on this with AP. In short, my eldest commented that she thinks she doesn'tt really want to be an au pair but just wants to be here to live in london. Without putting the words into their mouth, they both said they would prefer to go back to their old childcare setting than carry on. To put this into context, they have been in full time childcare for up to 10 years. They have campaigned to be at home more and were not big fans of their previous setting. Getting an AP was in recognition of this. I had noticed that attachment either side seemed not to be happening but everyone is still being very polite, so I figured it would take time.

So now feeling the pressure to make a decision. On the one hand, AP when we are around, is very pleasant and other issues aside is making some of the right noises. On the other hand, I had noticed that attachment either side seemed not to be happening but everyone is still being very polite, so I figured it would take time. I have set up a whole loads of options and activities and she hasn't been pro-active in doing them. I haven't pushed it because I wanted to give her chance to settle in. If I am honest, she doesn't seem to enjoy the children and I suppose in my mind, I assumed she would snapping at my heels to be off enjoying London with them (she has a budget to do this) but according the girls all they do is play in the bedroom when I am not around. This isn't what I need for them.

So I need to talk to her. I am mindful of not completely crushing her and having only heard one side of the story. But in my girls' defence, they are very easy going (though shy) and have taken to other carers in a much more positive way. I have the option to go badk to my old childcare in september while I re-assess so think i need to decide in the next 2 weeks if she needs to go.

Any suggestions as to how to manage this with her??? The tricky thing is my girls are actually away next week, back for a week and then we are away for 2 weeks, so not masses of time for her to make a big change. Plus her parents are visiting london to see her in 3 weeks. But part of me thinks if I am having this many issues this early on, then it is not right. At work, I would take a very direct, performance improvement approach but not sure whether it's appropriate in this scenario. She is only 21 and away from home.
What to do???! Gah!

holeinmyheart Sun 02-Aug-15 11:10:46

Aw , gosh. I feel for you as I had to sack one of my Au-pairs and I didn't like the feeling.
The situation is not good with you. Yours just does not fit in.

The one I sacked, sent my DD upstairs to play when she collected her from school so that she could watch TV. So no CBBC for my DD. She lied frequently. She left one seven year old DD alone, having failed to collect her from a club. ( that was the deal breaker) I found out from a neighbour, who had seen my DD alone in the village in the dark and brought her home. She then lied about that
Your Au -Pair is equally hopeless. You need to send her packing.

But don't despair there are other more wonderful ones out there.

When we sat down and told our Au-Pair we were going to sack her, she screamed and howled and begged me not too. But she had endangered my DDs life with her lying.
It wasn't the only thing she had done. There was a catalogue.

I was like you though, as it took from September, to November, to get rid of her as I kept giving her the benefit of. The doubt.

I wouldn't let an Au-Pair get a part time job either as it will become their priority( possibly)
Best of luck because the situation makes you very anxious.

middleeasternpromise Sun 02-Aug-15 11:25:36

I had au pairs for exactly the reasons you state both children fed up with childcare outside the home. This has to work for your children and for that you need a good match not a compromise where no one is happy. There are good matches so long as there is honesty on both sides. One of our aupairs just came back for a holiday after 3 yrs - lovely relationship. Key here was she wanted to learn English I needed reliable child care - when it works its very good arrangement. Make yr decision and end it don't give in to second chances if its not working.

bestguess23 Sun 02-Aug-15 13:43:47

Wow, that's puts it in a complete different light. I would definitely ask her to leave at this point. She has not been doing what she's meant to, and is treating your daughters poorly. If they want to return to their previous childcare, you could do that short term or try a new AP if you can find a good one quickly.

featherandblack Sun 02-Aug-15 14:23:00

I'm amazed that you think there is still a decision to make.

Your girls are not happy for reasons that sound very reasonable. I wouldn't ask my children to spend any time at all with someone they felt insecure and unhappy with. She doesn't have the right attitude.

OVienna Sun 02-Aug-15 21:35:01

Your schedule over the next few weeks is actually good because it gives her the opportunity to find another job in London while you're away ...I would be equally frustrated with her and I think you shouldn't give up the opportunity to go back to your other childcare but it may also be a bad fit and she might pull her socks up for the next family...I can't decide from your posts if it would be completely impossible to give her a reference for another family. Do you feel you could do that?

gingerparkin Mon 03-Aug-15 10:51:03

Thanks for the posts. It's been really helpful to help get my thoughts straight. So I have decided she needs to go and will have the discussion with her tonight. I'm hoping for her sake it will be a bit of a wake up call. Depending on how she reacts will depend on how much I can feel provide a reference. I feel quite sad about it, this wasn't the plan from any of our perspectives! Will provide an update on how it goes. I Haven't given up on the idea and certainly will be wiser in the selection process next time. For now, I'll go back to my previous arrangements and reflect on how to go forward.

gordonpym Mon 03-Aug-15 23:54:17

I think you did right. Young girls are vey influenceable at that age and eating disorders once implanted are ready difficult to eradicate. Your eldest commenting in a negative way about her own body is enough a reason to say, sorry it doesn't work.

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