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Advice needed on getting the au pair 'relationship9; right?

(39 Posts)
CaramelisedOnions Thu 06-Aug-09 21:04:52


I am on my second au pair and seem to be struggling to hit the right balance with this one too....

First au pair came just for last summer and second au pair has been here about 6 weeks with about another 4 weeks to go. However, I wondered what sort of relationship you all have with your au pairs. Part of the family or more of an employee?

The two au pairs I have had so far have slipped easily into being a part of the family which is obviously great and what I prefer but sometimes they find it hard to take any instructions from me and, I don't know, sort of respect me as their boss when its needed. I don't know if this is making sense. I want them to feel comfy in our home but also listen to me and answer politely and not sulk if I need to tell them to hang the bath mat up after I have picked it up every day for the last 6 weeks. Little things I know....

hope you don't think I am being a bit 'funny'? I am quite level headed and calm with the au pair but when I tell him something he just replies "I know, I know" before I have finished the sentence, even when making small talk.

CaramelisedOnions Thu 06-Aug-09 21:22:13


ConstantlyCooking Fri 07-Aug-09 09:37:52

will be interested to see the responses - but no advice I'm afraid. smile

madusa Fri 07-Aug-09 09:47:36

it is the little things that annoy though

I had 2 lovely girls who were a part of the family but also had the ability to listen to what we were saying and act upon it.

We also had a dreadful girl who looked so grumpy every time we asked her to do or not do something! She was hard work and in the end we asked her to leave early as I was dreading even being in the same room as her.

StillSquiffy Fri 07-Aug-09 09:57:22

At the risk of generalising I think you get certain patterns of behaviour for certain ages/nationalities, and it is impossible to change. I find that the younger girls and only children and those who have never previously held down a job, and the ones whose own mothers don't work are generally pretty hopeless, regardless of whether they are really keen and enthusiastic or not - they just don't get the frames of reference to work out what is/isn't acceptable behaviour. I appreciate of course that there are always exceptions to the rule.

FWIW I always treat them as part of family and not employees in terms of how they fit in, but I am very strict about who I get in the first place. If I can't check the following I don't employ...

1) >20
2) held down a job previously (even if only working in McDonalds)
3) Must have siblings
4) Must have working mum
5) Must have spent time away from home (even if only for a few weeks on student exchange or similar)

For the last year I have also limited my hunt to Uni educated males from certain countries, but that's just me being picky (and having an aversion to teenage girly hormones)

dreamteamgirl Fri 07-Aug-09 14:11:58

This interests me too, as I am such a softie and know I will lean towards the 'part of the family' thigng, when maybe thats not the right hing to do ....

LittleMissTuffet Fri 07-Aug-09 21:32:26

"Must have siblings"


EmNotPGYet Fri 07-Aug-09 22:05:43

Eek, when I was an au pair a decade ago I wouldn't have qualified under any of those headings... I was 18, an only child, my mother didn't work, I had never had a paid job, and I had never left home (would a 2 week French exchange at 14 have counted?). I think I was a pretty good au pair though - am still in touch with the family!

CaramelisedOnions Sat 08-Aug-09 09:05:17


My au pair is male, over 20, has siblings, is doing 2nd uni degree, mother works, has travelled but still doesn't seem to have 'that' work ethic thing. Maybe he is just a bit esoteric (if that is the right word) for me.

I too wanted a uni student just for the summer as thought they would be bright and imaginative but it seems hard to get one that appreciates that you really just need some help in the house and with the children.

I really think that although I want them to be a part of the family I might prefer them to be more of an employee and clear off at certain times. Our current au pair tends to hover when friends come over and just stand there listening in a bit of a creepy way. I know that sounds horrible but he is old enough (23) to know when not to be around? I then start getting a bit prickly and grumpy with him. Feel this might be solved by separate accomodation though - he is in the house with us and although it is big enough to carry us I wish he could knock off work at 6 or 7pm and, well, just clear off....surely he would prefer this too? Although I have offered him his own sitting room, he hasn't used it more than once.

Would love to hear more from you with your au pair relationship tips and stories!

CaramelisedOnions Sat 08-Aug-09 21:19:37


dreamteamgirl Sat 08-Aug-09 22:40:52

Hey CO
Is your male AP your first? I strongly considered male but didnt find the right one and ended up choosing a girl

blueshoes Sat 08-Aug-09 23:14:26

Hi Onions, the tricky thing about an aupair relationship (as opposed to nanny or mother's help) is precisely the bit about them being part of the family, as well as being an employee during their contracted hours.

How I deal with it is to provide facilitate their needs eg food/board (obviously), help them to get onto language classes or travel around (London, in our case), make friends and decode English behaviour! But I don't provide their social life or become too friendly with them that it is difficult to lay down the law when I need to. I made that mistake with my cleaner and was not going to repeat it with the aupairs.

My alarm bells started ringing when you wrote that your aupairs find it hard to take instructions from you or respect you as their boss. I have a written daily schedule and rules and regulations which I go through with them when they arrive. I would expect them to follow the schedule to a T and try to raise any issues as soon as possible in a matter-of-fact way eg I would like you to wake up on time, not be even 5 minutes late, here is the alarm clock.

If they do not listen after a few times or sulk or show unhappiness to my face, I would be looking to get rid of them. I don't feel I have to put up with this under my roof.

Like squiffy, I take a lot of time choosing the aupairs and ask many many questions and try to give them as full as picture of what life is like in the blueshoes' household as much as possible before she accepts. In fact, taking tips from squiffy's list right now.

I have had 3 aupairs so far, 2 very good and one adequate. But no one was insubordinate. A lot of it is still luck.

blueshoes Sat 08-Aug-09 23:22:00

Onions, your aupair needs to make his own friends asap. Lol at his standing around listening in a creepy way.

I don't really mind aupairs hanging around when I have guests round, but I did not find them creepy. Apart from initial polite interest from us, it would be quite boring for a young adult to hang around families and children. They should be out with their friends instead.

Do you know any other families in the area who use aupairs that you could suggest he meet up with. Or attend ESOL classes to meet people. One of my aupairs (female though) got lots of attention at our local pub.

If you prefer him to clear out, I would just tell him. You risk putting him off though, so distracting him with friends might be better, if you can encourage that.

Julesnobrain Sun 09-Aug-09 00:26:25

Onions. I have a schedule which tells them what to do when. That would resolve your hoovering when friends are around problem. We try to make us feel they are part of the family but not in the family IYSWIM.. ie welcome to join us at certain times but we expect them to be independent at others. Certainly in the evening I tell then I am around until 9pm then I will be going in the sitting room with DH and that room is off limits. I make a joke that I need adult and personal time with DH. They are welcome to stay in the family room and watch TV but I find most are glad to be able to go out or go off to their room and internet/watch movies etc. Maybe your AP doesn't want to be rude and think its more polite to hang around you?

CaramelisedOnions Sun 09-Aug-09 08:53:49

Great advice thanks.

This is my second au pair (first one was really quite precious and sulky, this one a little less of both...)

I think the problem stems from the early days. I am quite firm and gave our AP a list of duties and times to get up. DH is really soft and really wants him to be our 'guest' and talks of him in those terms too. hmmmm.

I like the sound of welcoming but establishing a limit to family time with us. We are in the sticks so no other APs around as far as I know. Our AP has an all consuming interest (don't want to go into it here as will identify me?) which is 100% OK with us and keeps him occupied in his spare time. So, he does clear off to his room at times but more so when it suits him rather than me. I will often go to bed and leave AP and DH to watch TV, which is fine as I don't watch a lot of TV anyway....

I emailed him at length whilst choosing him, amongst others and explained that he would have his own sitting room and hours I expected him to be around, also explained at length that the Onions house can be chaotic etc so thought I had laid the ground quite well. I just seem to find the APs whose sole mission is to improve their English and they almost appear quite hard nosed about stuff the rest of the job description, just speak lots of English!

CaramelisedOnions Sun 09-Aug-09 08:59:57

Just out of interest and I know this was mentioned earlier. What nationalities, age, sex have you found the easiest combination.

I know this is a MASSIVE generalisation but I found the Italian quite superior and the French one quite abrupt and would dearly like to eliminate both of these 'qualities' next time.

AP set up is really ideal for us but feel it could be better?

blueshoes Sun 09-Aug-09 11:23:32

Onions, it depends on the individual rather than the nationality. Though it is hard to resist certain cultural stereotypes.

I personally have only been burnt by french aupairs (one cancelled one week before she was due to start and the other was intelligent but was not terribly bothered about doing a good job) and so it will be an exceptional French profile that would make me consider again. My German and Swedish were aupairs were great, though once again, not that is a lot to do with the girl.

Perhaps the best thing is to check up on references thoroughly, particularly on personality aspects. I only shortlist aupairs who can provide English speaking references who are non-relatives, ideally previous aupair families, otherwise summer job references or babysitting families. I speak to them over the phone, email being a distant second preference.

blueshoes Sun 09-Aug-09 11:24:05

not that

catepilarr Sun 09-Aug-09 15:30:08

jules, i actually do remember myself in my early aupair days i though it was polite to hang aroung and wait for the parents to give me jobs. when we had guests -usually for a sat/sun lunch i used to sit at the table with the adults like a potato after the meal was finished, trying to look i was enjoying myself. i wasnt allowed to do the dishes myself, the kids played by themselves so i just sat there thinking that the polite thing to do. it wasnt until i left the family i realised that at lots of occasions they would have actually prefered to be on their own. couple of times they asked me to leave them alone so i thought its ok any othertime. but then we hardly had guests in the evenings and i worked saturdays and sundays. but with no scheduled times, i i generally spent the weekends with them doing whatever was needed. at those days i didnt realise i could have benefited both sides if we agreed certain times they wanted me aroung and times they didnt. i think they didnt think it was polite do set that. which just shows how important comunicating is. unfortunately you dont realise lots of things when you are a lets say 20 years old thrown into a foreign family for the first time.

CaramelisedOnions Sun 09-Aug-09 18:48:32

interesting to see it from your point of view catepilarr.

It must be very difficult and I think you are right that communication from the very start on lots of points would be worth getting right.

Saw the other thread the other day on 'war and peace' length handbooks and shuddered. I was horrified at the thought of a handbook but can now see it's merits....although where to stop??

I have got references for my au pairs but found that they always provide 'good' references so will take your hint at calling only English speaking references for a more personal character reference!

great advice here though. thanks all

CaramelisedOnions Mon 10-Aug-09 20:15:47

Well, I had a chat this morning with our au pair about his abruptness with the children and me in particular, as I had just asked him to do something. He has now decided to go back to France we go again.

blueshoes Mon 10-Aug-09 22:02:50

Sorry to hear that, Onions. I do think you had a lucky escape there, from what you described of him.

The thing about French aupairs is that they just have a short hop across the channel so they might be more light footed and perhaps even less committed or thought things through than one who has a longer distance to travel? I get that vibe sometimes, could be wrong of course.

Hope you find a good aupair soon.

CaramelisedOnions Mon 10-Aug-09 22:13:16

Thanks Blue Shoes.

I really think that next time we need to be less matey with our AP and get them working to a routine much earlier on rather than including them quite so much and fussing over them etc...

Can you tell me what you do in your first few days or first week or two to lay the ground rules?


Julesnobrain Mon 10-Aug-09 22:18:11

Onions.. lucky escape. I deliberately don't chose french because of my sisters experience (au pair went a bit loopy and threatened her) and a friends experience (too superior refused to do any housework at all including picking up children's clothes). This is a terrible generalisation but we have found eastern european the hardest working and most efficient but perhaps lacking in warmth for the children and western europeans more friendly, outgoing, better with the children but less efficient at housework etc. Not sure if that helps anyone.

CaramelisedOnions Mon 10-Aug-09 22:25:46

Jules, thanks.

I had wondered whether an Eastern European might be better in terms of housework but do feel that I need some emotion and warmth for the children's sake.

Just need to find a grafter from Spain maybe?

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