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Au Pair - how to establish some distance and space for our family?

(20 Posts)
WalkLikeAnEgyptian Sun 12-Jun-16 12:59:09

We have had 2 au pairs so far. They have been great with our children and overall it's been a positive but overwhelming experience due to how integrated they have become in our family life.

Our second au pair will leave as planned at the end of this month and our third will start in August. I need advice on establishing a slightly more formal and distant relationship with our new au pair.

We have been very close to our first two au pairs and really followed the advice to have them as part of our family. They have come out with us at weekends, eaten with my husband and I most nights, sat up with us in the evenings after a dinner, had their family over to stay who we have done days out with and generally been with us all the time. It's lovely in many ways but it is exhausting and DH and I get no time alone. I have ended up becoming a surrogate mother both times, sitting up late into the night counselling on boy troubles and being a shoulder to cry on. I even took the current au pair to buy a pregnancy test and guided her through the process after she made some bad choices and panicked. Luckily she was pregnant but it was days of tears and long chats.

Other families seem to be friendly with their au pairs but not end up with a third child. How to you establish those boundaries without seeming unfriendly?

Karoleann Sun 12-Jun-16 22:39:01

Its just about making expectations clear before your au pair starts. I would not want someone (including my children) sitting up with me every night whilst we watch TV and relax, you need some time alone with your DH.

Do they have a TV in their room? It can be something that you put in your au pair manual.

Something like: We usually eat our evening meal together at 7pm, after we've cleared up we like to spend some time alone together whilst we watch TV. On a Friday night DH and I like to eat together, so on this evening we'd like you to eat with the children....

We tend to take our au pairs out at the weekend if we're doing something interesting/fun, but most of the time we're not doing anything interesting or fun! But its something to add to the weekly schedule. i.e. Saturday we're going out to XXX please join us if you're not busy seeing friends. If you don't want a family day out, just don't add it to the schedule.

I think the counselling bit comes with au pair territory I'm afraid, especially if you have a young au pair. Most girls who do au pairing want the support of a family behind them and I think that is one of the roles of host parents. However, I think if you and your DH get more time together this side of the relationship will seem less onerous.

Its also really important that they make friends that they want to go out with so make sure they are on the au pair Facebook page for your area, they attend language classes and you put them in touch with other friend's au pairs as soon as she arrives.

ApocalypseSlough Mon 13-Jun-16 10:28:16

The relationship you describe is why you pay au pair rates for not Nanny rates.

Babymamaroon Mon 13-Jun-16 12:52:10

I can completely empathise as we also found ourselves in this position with our first AP.

It was not sustainable and I was becoming irritated as we just didn't have enough time alone.

2nd time around, we dealt with it at interview stage and were very clear that we wanted our evenings and expected our AP to either be out with friends, go to the gym that we pay for or chill in her room with its own sofa and tv.

It's worked perfectly and I feel we have a nice balance. We do occasionally invite her out with us and if we do BBQs or big social gatherings at home she is always invited as part of the family.

As a PP said, this is the territory with an AP that needs navigating as opposed to a nanny. A nanny wouldn't have suited us as we wanted our children to have the social interaction of nursery so that's what we spend our bulk of childcare costs on.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Mon 13-Jun-16 13:34:47

Thanks all. I do really like having au pairs, I just need to find a way of safeguarding more time alone with DH. I think I send mixed messages as the manual does talk about them going upstairs after dinner but then I chat away and encourage them to talk and we get into a pattern of them being around.

And it's interesting to know that the counselling role is normal. I find it a little overwhelming as it is a lot of responsibility to be a teenager's advisor on sex, drink etc. I want to be supportive but I don't want to get it wrong & I end up putting a lot of energy into it. My au pairs even text me with updates when they are out. Last year's au pair texts me still with regular uni life updates and questions! I cannot be rude and stop replying but I don't have time for all this and my own children, husband and job.

harshbuttrue1980 Thu 16-Jun-16 18:07:25

I agree with Apocalypse. A nanny is a professional with her own life, has chosen a career in childcare and who is expected to have professional boundaries. An aupair is an inexperienced teenager coming to a foreign country for the first time. An aupair is part of the family, a nanny isn't always (some like to be, but others prefer their own space).

If you want a nanny, you'll have to pay for a nanny. If you can't afford to pay a lot, how about a nanny who has just finished training? Or someone who lives out to give you more privacy.

ApocalypseSlough Thu 16-Jun-16 20:03:26

Thanks harsh I speak from experience as I au paired for a very unfriendly boundaried family. Fortunately I was 20 and it was in Paris so once I realised there was going to be no support of friendship from them I whooped it up and had a great time. It would have been a very lonely experience if I'd been younger or in a more isolated place.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Fri 17-Jun-16 10:27:39

Apocalypse and Harsh: I cannot imagine being unfriendly to a young girl living with us. I think my posts make clear hat I have gone out of my way to always be incredibly welcoming, supportive and friendly to au pairs. But I've ended up spending several hours each day talking to them, helping them, texting them and caring for them. That's not normal, it's not how other happy au pairs relate to their hosts. I take the blame for that because I have not established any boundaries at all. I'm simply asking how to establish a balance where we can all be happy.

ApocalypseSlough Fri 17-Jun-16 10:45:53

The thing is if you're young and away from home there's no way that you can be asked to give your family some space without it feeling like a snub.
Perhaps specify an older au pair? Certainly don't take in an 18/19 year old.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Fri 17-Jun-16 13:25:03

You are right, asking for space might be a bit cold. I need another approach.

I have already recruited our next au pair. She is 19. All our au pairs are on gap years but that is true of all their au pair friends who don't spend so much time with their hosts.

I am happy to eat with them most nights, to chat, to have them at weekend gatherings but I want a little privacy a coupe of times a week. And maybe less texting and family staying for weeks on end.

Right now our current au pair has her boyfriend staying and instead of hanging out in her room they hung out with DH and I last night until midnight! We drank nearly 3 bottles of wine between the 4 of us. See what I mean by not managing normal?

whois Fri 17-Jun-16 14:06:48

You are obviously a lovely lovely person and a fun couple to hang out with!

HSJoggingsquadron Fri 17-Jun-16 16:44:13

Tha'ts what hosting aupairs is about. They become family. We have the aupair, the aupairs boyfriend, several local aupairs all coming and going daily. its life with children. Its family. Its loud messy fun and ridiculous at times but the children love it, The au pair loves it and we are all happy and comfortable around eachother. The flip side is that the Aupair goes and stays with the boyfriend most weekends, and when she is on duty she works hard, professionally and ensures that the kids are her top priority at all times. So yes we get loads of time to ourselves, and it has never been a problem. The local aupairs who are unhappy in their host families are all unhappy because of the hostparents try to push familytime and exclude the aupair and treat them like staff. You need to find a balance, and resign yourself to the fact that whilst having an aupair is a necessary evil, it is the only form of childcare that works for us, that is affordable and that gives the children stability. And we have gained several daughters in the process who have done nothing but bring happiness and love to the kids and us.

HeteronormativeHaybales Fri 17-Jun-16 16:54:19

I agree that this is the trade-off for the cheap, on-tap childcare you get with APs, and if you can't take the rough with the smooth you'd be better off using different childcare. Not OK to employ 19yos (presumably) because they're cheap and then resent the extra responsibility that comes with that. Imagine it was your dd going off at 19 to AP for a family abroad. How would you like the family to treat her? You owe her nothing less than that, IMO.

That said, I think it's fine to say you'd like time alone with dh a couple of times a week and could she arrange to go out or watch a DVD in her room on those days.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Fri 17-Jun-16 17:17:54

That is all I am suggesting Hetero: I just want two evenings a week where come 9pm I can flop on the sofa with DH and not make any conversation.

I do like the hustle and bustle that HS describes in her post. I enjoy the glimpse into the teenage years that an au pair provided. But my kids are young. My day starts at 5.30am when I am routinely smacked on the head with a plastic dinosaur and forced out of bed to negotiate the gauntlet of toddler breakfast. After 3 hours with the kids I go to work and completed an 8 hour day before coming back, wrestling unreasonable midgets into bed then cooking a meal while chatting to the au pair, serving a meal while chatting to the au pair, clearing up the meal while chatting to the au pair. All that is lovely and I honestly enjoy it all. But by 9pm I am running on empty and just twice a week I want to flop next to DH on the sofa and not have to give advice on whether friend A (that I have never met) was unreasonable to friend B (who I have never met) when she kissed friend B's ex boyfriend.

Peasandsweetcorn Fri 17-Jun-16 17:28:57

Where do you live? I think it makes a big difference if you are in a town with public transport and a decent sized au pair network and in a rural location when the au pair has little choice but to be at home with you.
If the au pair doesn't go to the gym or socialise with you, where do you expect her to be? In her room or out? Bear in mind that, on her wage, she won't be able to afford to go out often. If you have a second reception room, whether it's main use is a playroom or whatever, could this become her evening sitting room & she can invite friends around and share a bottle of wine with them? Obviously she (and her friends!) would still be in the house but not in the same room as you & DH.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Fri 17-Jun-16 17:35:56

We are in London. Our au pairs have a large double en suite bedroom with TV, DVD and wifi. We pay for them to join our family gym membership.

We have no restrictions on inviting friends round. There are friends here a lot. It's just they often hang out out with us too.

ImperialBlether Fri 17-Jun-16 17:42:02

I know it's not a great solution, but could you and your husband watch a film in bed a couple of nights a week? Surely they wouldn't jump on the bed and cuddle up, would they? grin

You sound like a great employer - I bet they have some lovely memories.

LyndaNotLinda Fri 17-Jun-16 17:45:15

To be fair, even 19YOs who are related to you don't tend to spend all evening with you.

You're clearly way too fun and cool Egyptian. Develop some weird and unsavoury habits wink Actually all you need to do is indulge in some PDA with your DH and I bet you won't see the AP for dust grin

birdsdestiny Fri 17-Jun-16 17:54:27

I think Lynda is right, you need to become more boring, if they were in my house I would be talking to them about the Archers, and the hellish traffic on the way to work, they would be desperate to escape.

WalkLikeAnEgyptian Fri 17-Jun-16 23:12:36

Thank you! Now I have advice I can act on. Plan A is to talk more about traffic and The Archers and Plan B is to start licking DH's face whenever I want the au pairs to go upstairs.

Tonight the au pair has gone clubbing. It's blissfully quiet and empty in this house. Or at least it is if you ignore the two kids who have been allowed to invite friends on sleepovers and the one toddler who keeps having nightmares about "scary pigeons in the park".

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