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October 2017
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Why It Is About Time to Start Trusting Your Au Pair

For stay-home mothers, the decision to return to work is a big step; to swap the playground with the coffee room, the diaper changing table with a desk full of files, and crying children with an annoying boss. But who is going to ease the children’s cries from now on? Hiring an Au Pair has proven to be a convenient choice and a rather popular one as well:, one of the leading Au Pair agencies worldwide, reports that the number of registered host families has skyrocketed throughout the past few years, with 49,000 in 2011, increasing to 75.600 families in 2013.

The decision to hire a young, mostly European Au Pair, who will take care of your children and in return live with you, is an exciting one and families will enthusiastically anticipate the moment she arrives. But as soon as she steps into the house and starts running around with their babies, fear arises: How can they pass responsibility on to a person that they have never even met before? And in front of the parents’ eyes the caregiver’s halo slowly turns into the devil’s horns…

And this is where I want to ask everyone to hold on. Of course, parents should not stop worrying about their children’s well-being, but they should consider the Au Pair’s comfort just as much. Many of the Au Pairs are only freshly baked young adults themselves, apart from their parents for the first time. Of course, they might not be perfect, but that does not mean that you cannot trust them to be responsible. Let me introduce Hanna’s story:

From 2012 to 2013, 18-year-old Hannah from Germany was an Au Pair in the US for a family with three children. Both host parents were working and it became very clear to her after a while, that she did not receive any trust, especially not from the mother concerning the children: “My host mom basically told me every single day how she did not trust me and when the kids lied to her and I told her what was going on, she ignored me.” Hannah goes on explaining how her host mother interpreted her attempts to discipline the children as feelings of hate towards her offspring.

These troubles are not unknown throughout the Au Pair community. Many caregivers have trouble communicating with their host parents over issues such as disciplining the children. Finally, many of the Au Pairs end up switching families and that is not because of the endless tantrums that the children throw, but it is mostly the behaviors of the host mothers that have the Au Pairs at the end of their tethers.

women_arguingThat is exactly what happened to Hannah. She explains that her host mother has made her life “a living hell”. “She yelled at me for no good reason, constantly told me how untrustworthy I was.” Finally, Hannah left after a long emotional struggle and under the impression that her host mother hated her.

But where does this hysterically protective behavior for her children come from? What drives mothers to become so aggressive towards girls who are just doing their job as well as they can? Do parents simply think that young Au Pairs are unqualified? “One time my host mom told me I was not quite bright enough for an 18-year-old, that I haven’t developed at all during my time there,” Hannah explains.

But then again, what makes a person qualified to take care of children? You do not need to be the smartest person, as long as you are dedicated and show them that you care about them. In this case, the parents’ dedication towards their own approach on childcare was quite limited. Hannah explains how the parents came home in the evening, sat down in front of the television and ended up spending more quality time with their iPads than with their children.

Most often, parents try to make up for their lack of commitment to their children by spoiling them and easily letting them get their way, never saying ‘no’. And especially this ends up being to the Au Pair’s disadvantage. In Hannah’s situation, this made her the bad guy: “I think the children thought I didn’t like them because I sometimes told them ‘no’, their parents didn’t and they disrespected my rules for the kids when I was around which made it very hard.”

In her book ‘Shadow Mothers’ Cameron McDonald, who has researched the relationship of mothers to caregivers for five years, explains exactly these kinds of situations as a paradox. That is, the mothers expect the Au Pairs to “form a strong emotional bond with the children while at the same time never, ever threatening the mother’s place.” This might be a reason why the host mother did not respect Hannah’s attempts to discipline the children or to make decisions regarding their free time. But just as likely, it could have simply been easier to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ after a long day of work.

Being a working mom surely is tough, but the host mother in this case never failed to “tell her kids how hard her life was”. She apparently did not realize that maybe, just maybe, her life would have been easier if she had not seen Hannah as an untrustworthy burden, but to accept her as the help that she actually was – or could have been.

So, dear future working parents and Au Pair employers, please keep in mind that – even when your boss bothers you or your life may seem very hard – you may not realize that you make it even harder for the people around you. People, who just want to help make your life, and the one’s of your children, a little bit easier.



Communication and Media student at Erasmus University Rotterdam

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