We had exceptional luck in finding our first two au pairs. (FYI, we used aupairworld.com and loved it. I’ve written all about it here.) Our previous au pairs really bonded with the kids and with us, and became like family during their time in our home. (You can watch the video I made with our au pair, Sedef, here.) I had heard horror stories of au pairs unexpectedly leaving, stealing, hoarding alcohol, or even an au pair who refused to work when she was on her period! Ha! But luckily we had never encountered any of this. We were always a good fit with our au pairs . . . until we weren’t.
Without going into details, I will just say that our last au pair wasn’t a great fit with our family. That being said, the most difficult part of coming to that conclusion was admitting it to myself. I was concerned quite soon after her arrival that it wasn’t an ideal match, but given our experience with our last au pairs, I thought it was just growing pains. There is always an adjustment period with a new au pair, but this was different. We were simply not a good match.
After a lot of stress and worrying, we eventually decided to part ways with our current au pair. When chatting with a friend this morning, I realised that a silver lining of all of this, is that now I feel like I have had a more diverse au pair experience and can say that even after a not so ideal situation, I can still recommend getting an au pair. But with that being said, having an au pair who isn’t working out can be incredibly stressful. Here is my advice for anyone struggling:
If you are feeling like things aren’t going smoothly, the best thing to do is to open the lines of communication. In retrospect, I wish I would have done this sooner with our latest au pair, but things ended up coming to a head quite unexpectedly and by then it was too late. If we get another au pair in the future, I will be scheduling in weekly check-in sessions to make sure things are going smoothly on her end and to share feedback from my end as well. A face-to-face conversation can solve a multitude of problems.
If you have opened the lines of communication and things are still not going well, then it may be time for a compliment sandwich:
Give her a compliment.
Give her a critique.
Give her a compliment.
Not only is this a good exercise for you as the host parent to reflect on what your au pair is doing well, but the criticism will feel less harsh for your au pair if framed in a loving way. Again, keeping the lines of communication open after this is essential.
The role of an au pair host parent can be an odd one as you are meant to be both an employer and parent to some extent. You want to make sure that your needs as the employer are being met (ie: your kids are being well looked after) but it is also your responsibility to make sure that your au pair is okay and settling into her new life.
With this in mind, it is important to self reflect and consider whether or not you are providing your au pair enough support. Have you been mindful to make your au pair feel truly welcome in your family? Does your au pair feel she can come to you with any problems? If not, why? Have you been clear about your expectations of your au pair? Are you asking your au pair to do things you wouldn’t want to do yourself? These are all good questions to reflect on before throwing in the towel.
Not a Great Fit:
Once I admitted to myself that we weren’t a great fit with our au pair, I simply told her so. It was an awkward conversation to have, but it was also a necessary one. And it laid the groundwork for the even more awkward conversation wherein I suggested we part ways. While there were specific points I could have brought up, I knew the most helpful thing would be to say that we simply weren’t a great fit. That the demands of what we needed didn’t match up with her skillset. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just wasn’t a great match.
In this conversation I reassured her that she wasn’t stuck in our family. She had options (and obviously this goes both ways . . . ). If she would be happier pairing with a family with a less demanding schedule, I wasn’t opposed to her seeking that out and even offered to help her do so. While it would be a disruption to our family life to have her leave, it is also quite stressful when things aren’t working out. And when it comes down to it, I always feel a motherly responsibility for our au pairs and I feel obligated to make sure that they are getting the most out of their au pair experience. No one wants to have an unhappy au pair moping around their house. Better to sort things out and move on.
Remember You’ve Not Hired a Professional:
It is important to keep in mind here that you’ve not hired a professional nanny to watch your children, you have (at least in our case) hired a teenager who is more motivated by the idea of living in a foreign country and mastering another language than excelling in the field of childcare. So if she isn’t able to handle your child’s tantrums, or is secretly bribing your kids with candy to get them to brush their teeth, just keep this in mind during your conversations.
If you eventually need to have “the talk” I would recommend not focusing on specifics, but focusing on the bigger picture. Focus on how she may be happier in a family with older or fewer children, or on how you really need someone who is able to help more with meal preparation. Bringing up how she lets the kids watch too much TV, or how she gives the kids sandwiches for dinner isn’t important right now. Focus on the bigger picture. Focus on how you could both be more comfortable and happier with a better match.
Because we’ve never gone through an agency and therefore didn’t ever have a formal contract with our au pairs, we were under no obligation to let our au pair stay for any period of time after being let go. But as a quasi parent, I am not about to kick a 19-year-old girl out on the street. Luckily my work is flexible enough that I can figure out some patchwork childcare until we sort out a longer term solution so I offered our au pair to stay at the house until she sorted another situation out (up to two weeks). I also offered that she was free to leave immediately. Different families will have different views on this, but if you don’t have the same flexibility that I do, I would recommend setting out some guidelines on how things will play out if they are terminated before your au pair moves in. The same goes for paying her her stipend, and any other financial situation you have in place (phone plans, travel card, etc.).
While our au pair’s leaving was fairly undramatic, I do worry about the kids adjusting to her quick exit from our family. Tonight when Pete said his prayers, he prayed that she would return soon . . . breaks my heart. Obviously we have some more discussions to have with him so he better understands the situation.
We may or may not get another au pair. We have had such amazing, lovely experiences that I am open to trying again, but for now I am looking forward to spending a few weeks peeing with the bathroom door open and having a room to send my husband to when he snores. I may spend some time walking around my house naked as well. I’ll keep you posted. xx
Have you had to let an au pair go? Any tips or tricks to share?
PS: The gorgeous pic of my kids is by the über talented, Ashley.