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Au Pair question about fitting in with family or taking advantage? (long - sorry!)

(23 Posts)
cravingchocolate Sun 09-Aug-09 20:34:39

Good evening,

I posted on here about 6 weeks ago about a wlcome gift for my au pair - she has been here for about a month now and I have a few questions about how to do things - not sure if they are things that I am being silly about or if I should say something to her.

As we live in the middle of nowhere, she has just fitted in as part of the family, she does not have set hours to work but has jobs that need doing and can take time out whenever she needs to - I said that if she saw something that needed tidying or cleaning just to do it and the same with helping out with the children. This seems to work most of the time, but at weekends she will eat with us as a family and then leave her plate on the table when she has finished - which really winds me up.

We have all had supper this evening(dh is working) and I have been upstairs putting the 3 dc to bed, I came down and the kitchen was as I left it and she was on the internet.

She keeps arranging for friends to call her in the evenings, which is fine - but should I ask her to check what time is better for us, as I have a few phonecalls to make this evening and she is chatting away now, when I asked her how long she was going to be sh looked really put out.

Sorry this is so long, no idea how to set rules and if I am expecting too luch common sense from a 20 year old?? Would really like some tips!

Millarkie Sun 09-Aug-09 21:41:26

I don't expect our au pair to clear the table after we've eaten together at the weekend - I would expect her to carry her plate to the dishwasher (as I expect the kids to do) but no more than that because it's the weekend...she doesn't work weekends.
I think one of the problems with not having fixed hours is that AP can feel that they are never off duty and can 'burn out' a bit. Having said that, we don't give our AP fixed hours, but we are clear in our handbook (and by stressing it in the first few weeks) that they don't need to feel that they have to play with the kids if there is a parent in the house etc.
Phone-wise, we ask them to use skype to call their friends (is free to call another skype machine and very very cheap to call a phone, UK or abroad), so we don't have any problems even if they spend all night on the phone.

DadInsteadofMum Mon 10-Aug-09 10:19:59

Like Millarkie our AP doesn't work weekends so would not expect her to clear up, and the kids are responsible for taking the dishes away when we all sit down together for the Sunday meal.

On the phone thing I have had a similar issue, but found that a quick "sorry I need to use the phone" was all that was required.

catepilarr Mon 10-Aug-09 12:35:24

i would have thought that helping to clear the table after a family meal is surely being part of the family?? i would have never ever dreamed of not doing so shock. i am not in a hotel! i think it is perfectly reasonable to ask to to take her plate away and help to clear the table.

MuffinToptheMule Mon 10-Aug-09 13:02:32

When I worked as an AP I had set working hours. Having no set working hours sounds terrible. But if it's working for you then that's fine. Since she doesn't have set working does this mean she is working at the weekends? If yes, then she should have cleaned up after dinner. If not, then she should have just cleared her own plate away.

As for your last comment, "if I am expecting too luch common sense from a 20 year old" I think you are being extremely offensive.

PixiNanny Mon 10-Aug-09 14:50:50

I am extremely offended by that comment about common sense. I'm twenty and tbh I'd also get annoyed if you asked me how long I was going to be. If you say something like "Do you mind, I need to use the phone..." I'd happily get off (as DIoM said). Also, do you expect the kids to clear up their own stuff? If so then yeah, you have every right to be slightly put out that she doesn't clean up her own plate, but if not then why should she? It's polite but also she may have other things on her mind. I forget to wash up my dinner bits or put things in the dishwasher occassionally just as I expect you do (should I insert a comment here about your age group's common sense?)

Having no set hours would drive me crazy as well. I work while the parents aren't here, so 7am-9pm latest usually, don't work weekends at all and usually don't really work two extra days a week. But I do pitch in becase I feel like it and go to my room of my own accord during time off. If I was expected to join in fam meals at the weekend I'd do as much as the children were expected to do and that's it, parents made it so why should I clean it all away unless asked? And why should I anyways? If I feel like it I'll help but if I'm expected to sit down with you all at the weekend then I'd like to have some me time too!

You sound like you're expecting way too much out of this girl for a start. She can't read your mind so you have to communicate with her about your wants and needs. And you need to set some working boundaries, poor girl is probably feeling like she's stepped in too deep, does she have any actual time off, as in time she can plan things for well in advance? Being on call 24/7 isn't exactly fair after all.

Sorry for the rant all, but yes, I was and still am quite peeved at that comment.

HarrietTheSpy Mon 10-Aug-09 15:03:43

If you don't establish clearer boundaries it will end up driving you both mad. Give her some set hours and expectations for the time that she is around but not working, i.e. cleaning up after herself, the phone, etc. Participating in a family meal means also helping to clear up her part of it. She is an adult and you do not run a hotel; it is not 'polite' but 'optional.' A long term grown up guest in your home would do the same or else expect to be ejected. It doesn't matter what your kids do or don't do in that regard.

FiveGoMadInDorset Mon 10-Aug-09 15:05:07

I have a 20year old working for me, not live in, she has set hours, set duties and shows huge initiative and coomon sense. YOu need to sit down, establish hours and what is expected of her.

mumof2222222222222222boys Mon 10-Aug-09 15:16:06

We got annoyed with our previous AP (who in general was pretty good) because she was always on the computer in the evening, and we felt a bit awkward muscling in. Boys go to bed at 7pm, and that is a good time for us to check messages etc. After dinner etc, 9pm is too late to start anything.

So - new AP we asked not to use computer until after 9pm. Occasionally she asks if she can use it earlier - but never when we are on it.

I would set a few ground rules as set out by others. I don't expect AP to clear up after meals, but she can (and usually does) clear her plate and quite often ours too.

catepilarr Mon 10-Aug-09 17:05:06

on the other hand pixi, eventhough i am not a family having an aupair, what you said i consider cheeky, esp the bit '... parents made it so why should I clean it all away unless asked?...'

cravingchocolate - no , i dont think you are expecting too much common sense from your ap. unfortunately as i have learned from this board, both sides need to learn to voice their expectations in quite a detail. so in your shoes i would tell the aupair that she is expected to help with clearing up if she shares a meal with you. if she eats her own food, then she is expected to clear after herself. then probably something like 15 min max a call and if she plans to call more people in a row, ask you whether you want to use the phone(i do that, if i plan to talk to someone for longer on the phone,ie 20 min which is actually just to call my mum who is in a hospital at the moment).
as for hours, agree that not having at least vaguely set hours is probably not a very good idea as i can make the aupair feel she is on duty all day and cant go anywhere or do her own thing in her room. you could perhaps set some of her hours to a fixed time and have the rest as flexible (which is actually what i have at the moment, i have about 35 hours roughly set and 5 is flexible time and it has worked well for me and this family (its my second summer here). or perhaps set time when you def wont need her help so she can do whatever she likes and then have her lets say six hours spread over lets say nine hours.

Fruitysunshine Mon 10-Aug-09 17:24:43

Why would an AP who does not actually pay the phone bill (I assume) be put out just because the billpayer asked her if she was going to be long? If this is an employer/employee relationship then there are certain boundaries to be adhered to - even if somebody is living as part of the family. Rules would need to be set as to when she was able to use the phone without interruption if the issue threatens to be controversial.

As for the clearing her own plate away - who decided that the person who made the dinner should clear away after everyone? It is basic respect to take your own plate from the table after somebody actually stood and made you the meal. I expect all of my family to help clear and tidy after dinner - regardless of the input in cooking it. The only exception to this rule is if we have a dinner party and I have "invited" people to join us in which case it is my treat to them to wait on them.

I do not have an AP exactly for this reason. I have had family members who have had APs and experienced no end of boundary issues with them and the fact that you cannot leave the issues "in the office" or "at the nursery" means your home environment can be a constant source of tension, which is not good for anyone.

Sounds like you need to sit down and have a clear conversation with her and set some boundaries so that everyone in the home can manage their lives without fear of treading on somebody else's toes.

I would say however that if I was an AP I would want to maintain a healthy distance between myself and my employer and ensure the rules were set out from the beginning from working hours to what privileges the job gave me. I would not want to muddy the waters by taking advantage of the facilities open to me or inadvertently disrespecting my employer by not becoming familiar with their customs and way of living.

Weegle Mon 10-Aug-09 18:04:42

There are some differing opinions here!

As for the hours - if it's working fine then ok but there's no way I would be happy on either side without fixed hours. During the holidays ours vary from week to week and she gets a weekly schedule with what childcare and household tasks are needed each day. This is great for both of us as we know where each other stands - she knows exactly when her time off and can plan to go out accordingly.

As for meals - I would be extremely unhappy with anyone in this house not chipping in and helping with clearing up after meal times. If you go by the argument it's not her working hours then frankly you could use that argument to say why should you feed her. I provide the meal (except Mondays when she cooks for the family - outside of work hours, it's part of living in a family, it can be as simple as bunging a pizza in I don't care!) and the other adult members of the house clear up, with DS clearing his plate (except Mondays when AP doesn't clear up as she cooked). This is made clear in their handbook when they start.

As for phonecalls - we do go with the Skype route. However they can also use the landline up to 1.5 hours per week. We also put in the handbook "Please ask before using the phone in case we need to make or receive a call". No problems so far.

PixiNanny Mon 10-Aug-09 18:46:18

catepilarr - What I mean is that it shouldn't be expected; I (and most others) would probably clean away my bits if I'm not in my own world (happens on occasion), however, I'm never asked to clean up unless it's something I've made for me and the kids, iyswim? If they make me dinner with theirs they don't expect me to clean the whole families dishes away and I don't think I should, just the same as I don't think OP's AP should clean up after the whole family. It's not fair on her and gods knows how many times I've been peeved at DB for leaving things out for me to clean up after him (usually MB will do it but if it's just me and him home he leaves EVERYTHING on the side, I've started ignoring it until he does it himself).

OP - boundaries need to be set and you need to be polite to your AP and communicate with her, as I said before and as everyone else has said.

Weegle Mon 10-Aug-09 19:02:52

no you shouldn't clean up, by yourself, after the whole family but I do think the AP should be HELPING to clean up with the DH or old enough children. I would be livid if I cooked a meal for DH, AP & DS and then had to clear up too. I also wouldn't be pleased with either DH or AP if they left the other one to do all the clearing up. It's not a restaurant.

catepilarr Mon 10-Aug-09 19:17:30

pixi, i (or anyone else on this thread) never said she should do ALL the clearing up! she should HELP clearing up, as a member of the family. and that should be expected in my view.

catepilarr Mon 10-Aug-09 19:19:57

btw i had a friend whose ap family always left all their washing up after supper on the table for her to do, eventhough she didnt eat with them!

magicOC Mon 10-Aug-09 19:44:57

OK i'm a nanny so maybe it's not my place to comment, BUT.....

One of my live-in jobs, tha dad would cook the meals in the evenings and sometimes at the weekend (if I was around), the way he saw it was that I looked after their child all day long so the least they could do was make sure I didn't have to cook in the eve (V. V. unusual in a nanny position).

There was no way I was going to sit back and be waited on hand and foot (was only 26 btw) thats just pure lazyness imo, so he did the cooking MB washed up (her choice) and I dried and put away, cleaned the floor if required etc, basically mucking in. It even got to the stage where I had pre prepared the veg, marinaded(sp) the meat fish or whatever for them coming in from work.

This is all "being part of the family".

PixiNanny Mon 10-Aug-09 23:53:23

That's just the impression I got from the OP's first post, that she expected it to be spick and span by the time she came downstairs. I know it doesn't say that but I was in my original response quite annoyed and typing by how I felt by her explanation of the situation (and how I felt after reading the 20yo's comment I must admit).

As I said before, if the family expect the older children to clear up, then I think it's fair for the AP too, but I don't think it's fair for them to expect her to tidy up that much of the table if everyone else goes without lifting a finger (I hate DBs who don't help tidy up gr). I don't think they should expect her to do it but on her side I think it would be common courtesy for her to at least take hers most of the time.

Gah, I'd get so annoyed if I were left all of the dinner bits. If it's just DB he makes a HUGE mess in the kitchen at gone 10pm, so I'm already in my room and don't see it until 7:30 the next morning, when I have to then get the kids up and ready for school with no clean dishes because he forgot to put on the dishwasher the night before, no cold milk because he left it out and dirty, hugely greasy cooking utensils and pans where he's left them festering for the night. I left a pan he'd used to cook a slab of meat in for 3 days before I had to clean it myself once. I couldn't leave it any longer.
*end rant*

Though, back to the AP situation and less of my DB rantage (he is lovely... sometimes grin) we don't know what OP is also expecting her to do. She's on call 24/7 by the sounds of things, so doesn't know whether she's coming or going really; probably knackered by the idea of it and I completely sympathise with her, especially considering that it's a Sunday (days off?!) and also she may be used to her own family tidying up at dinner and doesn't expect it to be different here (she hasn't been told so by the OP).

Again, it's all down to communication. You can't know expectations unless they are told after all! ;)

Quattrocento Tue 11-Aug-09 00:01:01

I think you need a set of House Rules. Mentioned this on your other thread. Ours were gifted to us from MN, but they are really very useful. They set clear boundaries.

Also I would say that it could potentially be unfair to your AP not to assign firm work hours. She will need time to get out and about and make new friends, also potentially attend language classes etc.

catepilarr Tue 11-Aug-09 00:53:17

pixi, you just seemed to be annoyed by the comment about 20year-olds and seem to jump to conclusions that the op did not mean. and why do i need to mention again that noone here says an ap should do all the clearing up??

PixiNanny Tue 11-Aug-09 09:55:49

catepilar, my first paragraph: "That's just the impression I got from the OP's first post... I know it doesn't say that but I was in my original response quite annoyed and typing by how I felt by her explanation of the situation (and how I felt after reading the 20yo's comment I must admit)." - You are entirely correct in part just as I admitted myself.

Then, I continued about expecting an AP, not the OPs AP but any AP in general, to tidy up after the family, as I was responding to your comment about your friend actually:
"i had a friend whose ap family always left all their washing up after supper on the table for her to do", to which I said "Gah, I'd get so annoyed if I were left all of the dinner bits..." and adding my own personal experience of tidying up after DB, not directing it towards the OP herself except in the last paragraph which says this "we don't know what OP is also expecting her to do" which I think we can all agree is a huge part of the problem.

PixiNanny Tue 11-Aug-09 09:59:41

"I came down and the kitchen was as I left it" - And it is this line that made me feel as though she expected it all tidy, it's the type of thing I remember my Mum saying when she actually expected my room to be spotless when she came back in.

dreamteamgirl Tue 11-Aug-09 13:38:00

Hi cravingchocolate

I wasnt at all offended by your 'am I expecting too much common sense from a 20 year old' -after all it is one of the oft repeated things on here 'dont expect too much', 'they are only just out of teens', 'I didnt know that at her age' and so on and so forth so i can see why you said it. (then again I am sadly not 20 grin )

Anyway, to the rest of your post...

Does everyone clear their own plate at the end of a meal? If not expecting her to always do it is, I think, a bit much. There is a danger she could end up feeling like a serving girl IYSWIM?

I think expecting her to be working after every meal is also probably a bit much -unless you have agreed this with her. If she has spare hours left then saying 'could you tidy kitchen whilst I put DCs to bed' is fine, but if she has worked all day, and possible all week, expecting her to start cleaning kitchen's as 7pm on a Sunday night is maybe a bit too much to expect?

As afr as phones go, you do need to agree something. I am with BT and it comes with its own second line on the broadband line so I will give AP that to use then we wont annoy each other. Does your provider offer anything like that?

I hope that helps and doesnt offend- I am waiting for my AP to arrive on Sept 5th and will no doubt be posting my woes in 6 weeks time too!!

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