Au Pair, Au Pain

by admin on November 10, 2011

I’m not sure what category this goes it, but this is my tale of life as an au pair/nanny to an evil host family. Names and details changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

Fresh out of high school, and barely eighteen, I decided to go work as an au pair/nanny to a family in Spain. We connected over an au pair website, and we seemed perfect for each other. I learned otherwise.

The family had two sons, Pablo (age seven) and Tomas (age three,) who were total hellions. Tomas especially. Both parents worked demanding jobs, and by the time they came home, both children were eager to spend time with them – but they were simply too tired, and told me to “keep the children out of the way.” Tomas would scream and scream for his mother, who did not want to see him, and I was berated for letting him misbehave and disturb their relaxation. Whenever the parents did spend time with the children, they let them run wild because they were too tired/stressed to discipline them. Tomas threw the most horrific tantrums at least twice a day, over the smallest issues, and would throw things, stomp around, refuse food, and scream and cry on a regular basis. I hated it but also felt bad for him, since I’m sure he would’ve been a sweet kid if his parents had given him just a bit of attention.

The parents were very stern, exacting people. They would make pie charts to plan out their mornings, and get upset when anything would deviate from it. The dishwasher had to be loaded perfectly, a specific certain way, and the mother would practically panic if it was done wrong. Once I accidentally left a scratch mark in a pan, and her husband literally had to calm her down and take her to another room, she was that upset about it. I absolutely HAD to take the boys to the park EVERY day after school/daycare, rain or shine, and if I dared to let them watch TV or play with their toys, I’d be reprimanded. (I discovered later that they wanted me to take the kids to the park to tire them out, so they’d have peace and quiet in the evening.) After dinner, and on weekends, was supposed to be my “time off” to spend as I wished. I spent most of the time off in my room, but apparently to them this meant I was always available. I would be called down to help them and spend time dealing with the kids. They would make subtle, sarcastic comments about how I needed to “help out” and not do the “bare minimum.” Once the father was sick, and I asked him if he needed help making dinner. He said he didn’t and I was free to go, so I went to my room. I later got in trouble for not helping him!

One incident I remember in particular – one of my errands for that day was to pick up medicine from a pharmacy. I was proud of myself for having done so, since my Spanish was not the best at that point. I put it on the counter where I knew the mother would see it. After dinner, when I’d retreated to my bedroom, she came flying up the stairs and began to scream at me. It turns out that the medication had to be refrigerated, and since I’d left it out, it was ruined. Terrified by her outburst, I apologized and said I wasn’t aware, but she continued her tirade, telling me it was common sense and I should’ve known better. She yelled and waved her arms for another ten minutes, telling me to “use my head,” and went stomping away back down the stairs.

I’d hoped for a great relationship with a family from another culture, but it was not to be. The morning I left, they didn’t even bother to wake up and say goodbye to me. (It even stated in the contract that they were supposed to help me to the airport, but they didn’t. I had to shell out a hundred euro for a taxi.)

I was originally supposed to stay for a full year, but I was so unhappy that I ended up leaving early. It was such a negative experience that sometimes I wake up thinking I’m still there, and have a mini panic attack. Several months after I left, I was job hunting, and I emailed them and asked for a letter of recommendation. What I received was several pages to the effect of “she’s a nice girl but doesn’t put in much effort.” Needless to say, I did not use that letter! 0416-09

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

m November 10, 2011 at 4:58 am

Au Pair stories have to be some of the scariest stories I’ve ever heard and I’ve listened to quite a few from long-suffering friends who were in situations similar to your own.

I am very sorry you had to go through that, especially at 18. What can I say, some people are just made that way.

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Cherry November 10, 2011 at 5:56 am

It sounds to me like when they advertised for a “nanny” they actually meant “slave”.

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Typo Tat November 10, 2011 at 7:40 am

This appears to be one of those cases where there are two sides to a story.

Take an inexperienced 18 year old with no training and have her parent two strange kids AND try blending into an unfamiliar household. That’s a recipe for disaster, and I’m sure the hosts didn’t have a good time either.

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Jenny November 10, 2011 at 8:22 am

I’m sorry you had a bad experience! I had a friend who spent a year in Spain and another who was in Ireland doing something similar and they both had lovely host families.

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Edhla November 10, 2011 at 8:34 am

I lived in a similar situation a few years ago- but I wasn’t an au pair, I was the family’s boarder. So in effect, I paid THEM for the privilege of unofficial babysitting of their horridly behaved three year old son. (When I say unofficial, I mean it. As in, I would be outside as I smoked at that time, and he would wander out and I’d be expected to watch him. On a farm. With no fences. When I am disabled and unable to run after him.) The parents were a nightmare. They worked full time in their own business and had no time for three year old or his baby brother, who was a newborn when I first moved in. The list could go on forever, but in short: horrible parents, horrible people. The child was a nightmare (baby too young to really be a bother) and it was pretty much entirely the fault of his parents.

I sympathise, is what I’m saying.

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MaryFran November 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

If you had such a terrible time, why would you ask for a letter of recommendation? I mean, how did the OP think that request would turn out? Obviously the family and she had different expectations for her duties and living situation in the job. She knew (it would seem from the post) that they didn’t exactly like her very much. If I were her, I wouldn’t have bothered asking for a recommendation.

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Dorothy Bruce November 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

I hope you told the agency that sent you exactly how the parents were acting and how you were treated as it was happening. And hopefully the agency was honest with the next au pair victim that took the job. If you survived the “bosses from h@ll”, you can survive anything!!

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Mary November 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

I have never been a nanny/au pair, but I’ve heard some horrid stories. The one that I thought was just sad involved one of my best friends. She spent two years as a nanny to a family in Connecticut. She said the kids were very sweet and well behaved. The problem was that she couldn’t figure out why they needed a nanny. The mother did not have a job and was not looking for one. She spent every day for those two years having lunch with her friends, going to the beauty salon/spa or shopping.

My friend had Sundays and Mondays as her days off according to her contract. The father would take care of the children on Sunday and they even had a babysitter hired for every Monday so the mother wouldn’t have to watch the children that one day a week! One wonders why she bothered to have any children. My friend said she cried for a week for those kids when she left Connecticut to come home after her two years were up.

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Chocobo November 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

Yikes! Some of this might be due to communication problems, cultural differences, and language barriers, but it still doesn’t excuse the abuse. When we are dealing with people of another culture, we must redouble our efforts to stay polite and understanding, not have a shorter fuse.

Good help is so hard to find, as they say. Even more reason to try to incentivize the good ones to stick around!

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livvy17 November 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

Oh, this is so classic – and apparently, international! My neighbors had a series of nannies for their three undiciplined boys. (I got an inside peek at the dynamics, because I’d go over there to earn extra money by doing their laundry….four loads a day, for five people!!) Nannies were on call whenever they were in the house. Even though the agreemeents were always that the girls shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week, it always wound up being a near-constant job. The smart ones would learn to schedule time outside the house as much as possible, but even then, the mother (who didn’t work, by the way) would moan and groan about how inconvenient that was. Imagine, having to watch her own children for an hour some evenings!! I was always amazed. They were also very cheap – with anyone but themselves, of course. The Mom would haggle about every penny they owed me, or the nanny, or the housekeeper, sometimes immediately after going through a litany of the incredibly expensive purchases she’d made. Ugh.

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Paige November 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

I am so so sorry this family decided to treat you so poorly! I lived abroad with a family in Peru for half a year and the truth is that they were quite rude also. They practically ignored me and apparently had no interest in why I was there; they treated me like the annoying American girl who lives in that room (with the crappiest bed possible). They also made it painfully obvious they only did it for money. Just know that not all foreign families are like that, there actually are nice people out there. I took from the experience pride in my country and my home (we NEVER would treat anyone that way) and faith that not everyone is that horrible.

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Wink-n-Smile November 10, 2011 at 10:53 am

People like this should hire two nannies. One for the day and one for the evening. That way, they can be assured that their children are getting the best care, from someone who is not completely worn out and resentful.

Then, during those 15 minutes a week that they actually interact with the children, the children will be happy, healthy, and grateful to their parents for their excellent care.

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Dark Magdalena November 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

@Typo Tat – How do you know the OP is inexperienced and has no training? I really don’t think there is much of another side to this story. How can you justify not spending any time with your kids being the au pair’s fault (thought from the sounds of it, these parents could find a way to rationalize it)? The only other side to this story would come from a pair of gigantic special snowflakes.

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Clair Seulement November 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

I sympathize, but if you broke contract I’m not surprised that the family didn’t feel like they needed to take you to the airport and that their recommendation wasn’t 100% positive. That said, it sounds like they purposely sought someone young and inexpensive, and treated you like you were incompetent in order to justify taking advantage of you.I commend you for leaving them high and dry.

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many bells down November 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

I took a job at 17 caring for a severely disabled girl after school. At least, that’s what the woman told me the job was when I called about it. At first it was fine. After a few weeks, the mom started coming home earlier and earlier, to the point where some days she’d show up simultaneously with the bus that dropped her daughter off.

So what did I do now that mom was home to care for her own child? I was the maid! Not only that, but I was the maid for a clean freak that was just across the line to crazy. As in, if the towels were not all hung perfectly straight, she would freak out. She ironed underpants – or rather, she had me iron them. I was a timid teenager so I had no idea how to quit this job until finally I had to because I was leaving or college.

I don’t think I could ever work in a family’s home again. It’s just too easy for more and more tasks to get sloughed off onto you.

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Politrix November 10, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I’d have to go with Typo Tat on this one. First and foremost, this is a sad story that, IMHO, isn’t so much about bad etiquette as it is about an unfortunate family situation. Yes, I agree that the parents — especially the mom — may have been too high-strung (or “crazy”, if you will) but I do think the OP could have made the situation work if she’d been a bit more proactive herself. For example, if they were asking her to supervise the children on her off hours, she could have sat down with them at some point and made it quite clear that this wasn’t in her original job description. Apparently there was a contract (see second to last paragraph), so I’m assuming that the Au Pair’s duties and responsibilities were clearly outlined in writing, should she need to support her case?
As far as throwing tantrums — well, that’s what three-year-olds do. Ideally, the OP should have discussed with the parents well before she even took the job what the standard plan of action is in their house when it comes to disciplinary issues. Even so, there was no reason OP couldn’t have brought up the issue with the parents after the fact, if these tantrums were something out of the range of normal for a boy his age.
As for having to take the kids to the park every day, rain or shine, I see nothing wrong with that either. Fresh air and exercise are essential to the health and well-being of anyone, certainly two growing boys (not that I would take a kid out in a tornado or monsoon, but you know what I mean.) And there’s enough evidence (both anecdotal and scientific) to support the claims that television can lead to increased aggression and shorter attention spans in people — again, children in particular. So I could see why the parents wouldn’t want their kids to watch TV if they themselves weren’t around to monitor the time and content of what they were viewing.
In short, I’m not letting the parents completely off the hook, and I know that caring for children is a highly stressful and under-appreciated job; but at the same time I think if the OP had made a little more effort in reaching out to her employers, and trying to achieve an understanding based on mutual respect — rather than passing judgement on them for being too tired to spend time with their kids or bing “stern and exacting” — she might have had a better outcome (and a better letter of recommendation!)
Just my two cents!

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TheVapors November 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm

This is one of those situations where I think the failures in communication were the problem. As well as it just not being a good fit personality-wise, and perhaps a dabbling of inexperience since the woman was barely an adult at the time of the time.

Regardless of my feelings on having ‘nannies’, this is about employee/employer relations. And not necessarily about how people choose to raise their children. It’s a reason why being a nanny can be so sticky, it’s crossing a job (which on their own can be frustrating), living with your employer (often, and I can only imagine living with my old bosses), and child raising (a HUGE minefield).

The LW’s job was to care for the children, and possibly take care of a few household things depending on her contract with the family. To her, she was doing just that. To the parents, she was barely doing just that.

They were poor employers as if their employee wasn’t living up to the standards, they should’ve had a sit down with the specifics of what they expected and why. There were a number of situations they could’ve handled differently so that their employee would know what they wanted. No one is a mind reader.

If the father wanted you to lend a hand when he was ill, then he should’ve said yes. If the medication needed to be refrigerated, then (especially to a non-Spanish speaker) instructions should’ve been left ahead of time. The only thing that I see being on the LW is the scratched pan. Is it a scream-fest? Probably not. But, gosh darnit, I love my pans and their expensive so if someone scratched one, then I’d be annoyed as all heck.

What I gather is that the employees needed to be more specific about what they wanted, and how they wanted it done. And the LW was young, inexperienced and probably not aware of what she was fully getting into. I’m assuming this was her first time as an au pair as she just turned 18, so the inexperience was probably a huge factor in some of these situations.

(Tomas was 3, and was still going through some of toddlerhood I imagine, so his outbursts (while possibly due to wanting time with his parents) was more likely caused by his inability to express his frustration in any other way. )

In the end, I feel as though the employers in this case should’ve been stronger about what they wanted, and most certainly said so in a professional way. Not just “wished” for an inexperienced and young woman to know what to do. At least then the LW might’ve had the tools to improve on things that they apparently so disapproved of.

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TheVapors November 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

*at the time of the events.

Wish I could edit to fix those typos!

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Gracie C. November 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm

wow – while that sounds horrible for the OP, at least she got out. My heart breaks for those (apparently unwanted?) children.

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Cobbs November 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

People with what I call “real” money are uniformly fair, kind and respectful of their help, be they live-in or day help. I know personally several families who employ such people. They value their employees and treat them with respect. They follow all employment rules concerning reporting wages and contributing to employment protection programs. They respect their employees’ time off. They give holidays and vacation time. I know these stories of abuse are true. They are caused by people who have come in to money recently, as a rule. Such people believe money will solve all their troubles and that life will be smooth sailing all the time. Any bump along the road is an outrageous affront to their lofty position. They are quick to complain. They are eager to point up their money. They skirt employment rules and hound their help. In short, they are not good people. Not all “new money” is like this. Those who want to do the right thing usually find friends who employ help them get on in the right way. They seek mentors. They ask candid questions. They become good employers, too.

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Psyche November 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

There was a program in my school where my classmates volunteered at local businesses for extra credit a couple of hours a day. I “worked” Mondays and Thursdays at a preschool and Fridays at the nursing home. With the exception of one kid and some typical rambuctious behavior you’d expect from kids that age, it wasn’t that bad. The nursing home, on the other hand…

It was a nice place, but even in their senile minds the old people knew they’d been put in here because they were an incovenience on their families. It was quite depressing to go there. At least they didn’t make us change bedpans. I dreaded Fridays, as you can imagine.

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Calli Arcale November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Au pair situations are frequently not what you expect. There are unfortunately many horror stories, as a lot of the “hosts” have a strong class mindset and consider the au pair to be one of the help and therefore inferior. Au pairs are often hired not for the cultural or social exchange value but because they are cheaper and less likely to be knowledgeable about their rights (and therefore easier to walk over).

The first au pair hired by my aunt and uncle was a fabulous woman. Actually, all of their au pairs were excellent. But this was her second situation; she’d been fired after a week by her previous hosts, who had been disappointed to find that requesting an au pair from Sweden did not guarantee them a white woman — she was half Jamaican, and this was apparently unacceptable to them. I think many of the situations work out well, but you do hear horror stories where the hosts are abusive and essentially treat the au pair as a slave. There have been far more extreme stories; it sometimes even rises to the level of felony. These parents were clearly rude and bad bosses besides. I wonder how they will feel in sixty years, when these same children are the ones making their long-term care arrangements!

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Allie November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Aw, TheVapors, sometimes typos can be fun. Personally, I like “at the time of the time.” I may use it in future.
OP, I’m surprised you lasted as long as you did. It sounds like you did your best, and sometimes you just have to know when to throw in the towel if something isn’t working and you’re miserable. After all, you only live once (or so I am told).

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Mary November 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Psyche – Many people in nursing homes may be there because they were inconvienent to their families. We lived across the country from my grandparents. My grandma was the sole caregiver of my grandpa with Alzheimers. Her health was deteriorating because she wasn’t able to sleep because he might escape the house. After two years, she finally gave in and put him in a nursing home. Plus home health care wasn’t what it was now.

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Raven November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I’m constantly confused about why people have children. I’ve never been a nanny/au pair, but I did nearly 5 years in the ECE field before I bolted and never looked back. Children are human beings, not fashionable accessories. If you’re going to have them simply to pawn them off on someone (anyone!) else all the time, buy a goldfish. “Parent” is also a verb.

(Before the bashing begins: Yes, I know that a lot of parents have to work to make ends meet. I get it and I respect it. That doesn’t excuse a parent never spending time with their child(ren) and bother to deal with the everyday issues of child-rearing.)

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Kat November 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Typo Tat & K – you are both making assumptions. The OP simply does not indicate whether she had prior experience or training in the area of child care. It’s pointless to try to guess, and I’m not sure how much bearing it has on the content of the post.

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Aje November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

How interesting that this should be posted. I´m in spain now and am considering this program so that I can stay an additional year next year instead of teaching English (it´s hard to learn Spanish when you´re required to speak only english all day!) I guess I´ll be very careful in my research!

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Genevieve November 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I’ve had a couple of girlfriends who did the au pair thing, and likewise had horror stories. Maybe some of it is “poor communication,” but I think it stems more from a host family realizing they can take advantage of a young woman in a foreign country alone.

In my friend’s situation, the agency made it clear that her job was childcare–and that was it. However, the mother would scream at her, endlessly, until eventually my friend was also cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen, and children nightly. She got screamed at for putting lettuce in the fruit drawer, when “every idiot knows fruits and vegetables must be kept separate!” This was in France.

I also have heard of foreign nannies in the US getting taken advantage of as well, so it is by no means isolated to one nation. I have heard so many horror stories I really am suspicious of anyone offering an “amazing international experience” in exchange for being live-in help of any kind.

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nifferka November 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I worked as an au pair for two families in two countries. The first was a miserable, nightmarish learning experience. The second family was lovely.

In the first family, the father wanted a live-in maid and the mother wanted a live-in nanny, and I couldn’t make both of them happy. I was on-call 24/7. They complained about everyone they knew and worked with, and I frequently overheard them saying terrible things about me. (I wasn’t eavesdropping–the walls were thin and they argued loudly, and even with a pillow over my head I could hear them at night.) I’d confront the mother about what I’d overheard each time, but she would just brush it off, smile sweetly, and tell me another story about her very difficult childhood. I’d have done anything for her, really. I’d made the mistake of thinking my employer was my friend.

It was only after I left that I realized how stressful it was. It was more than a year before I stopped saying “I’m here!” every time I overheard my name. My experience with the next family was much, much better. This was partly because they were very clear about my hours and responsibilities, and partly because I had learned to have clearer boundaries. I learned a lot from my au pair experience, and I think I’m a better employer now because of it.

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Aeonic Butterfly November 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm

God, I have my own horror story for being a livein housekeeper for someone. Too long to recant here.
@K, we are an etiquette website. There is no need to poise that kind of attitude upon yourself, or upon others. A polite correction such as, “Excuse me, but…” would be better to use here, rather than a passive aggressive attitude.

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Typo Tat November 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

@K

If this is your story then I sincerely apologize for assuming. However, the way I read the story, OP doesn’t seem to have bonded with the children or been able to control them, and she couldn’t communicate with the parents. Later she needed references badly enough to ask people who literally gave her nightmares. All that screams ‘inexperience’.

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The Elf November 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Ouch, Psyche! I was 17 when my grandmother had to go into a nursing home. We took care of her in our home for 6 years prior to that. However, her health declined over that time from just needing some occassional help to needing around-the-clock help. She went from using a walker for balance to needing a wheelchair and sometimes lacking the strength to operate it and get into it. We had to move to a house where there were no steps on the main floor, we replaced our vehicles so that she could get in/out easily, and Dad built a handicapped ramp so she could get from car to house. This was certainly inconvenient, but that’s what you do sometimes. But towards the end, before she went into a nursing home, it was not uncommon for me to come home and find her on the floor. One time she was bleeding, other times it was just a mess from lying on the floor for hours. I’d have to clean the mess before the rescue people got there to save her dignity. The fire/rescue squads knew me by name, and I knew them. She could no longer make her own breakfast or lunch, even if we assembled everything first, but being diabetic she needed to eat on a regular schedule. We kept healthy snacks at her spot in the living room, but towards the end she lost enough memory that she couldn’t remember what to eat when. Pills were a trial, too, because she couldn’t remember what she needed to take when even if we laid it out in a dish that was labeled. The only alternative to a nursing home was if one parent quit their job or I dropped out of school. Is that what qualifies as inconvienent? If so, then yes. Putting Grandma in a nursing home was completely for our own convenience. That’s why we went out of our way to visit weekly and Dad visited daily. For convenience.

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gramma dishes November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Psyche ~~ Please don’t assume that all people in nursing homes are senile. Most of them are quite sharp enough to realize that that’s how you see them!

And many have families that care about them very much, but simply can’t provide the 24 hour a day care that some patients need.

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Chocobo November 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Oh, ew, let’s not get into that old “old money”, “new money” argument. There’s enough vitriol there already without adding commentary on whose money is “real” or not. The notion that people who grew up rich are by nature more mannerly is a baseless–not to mention prejudiced and unfair– generalization. Isn’t that what Mr. Fitzgerald was trying to say over 85 years ago when he wrote The Great Gatsby?

Here’s a lovely quote from Ms. Martin that I quite agree with:
“Old Money (which Miss Manners thinks of as New Money: The Sequel). The notion was that people who grew up with money were also amply supplied with manners. That neither truth nor logic accompanies this proposition has never discouraged the rich or their distant admirers from believing it.

Manners are not inheritable goods, and therefore every individual starts with a clean—meaning rude—slate. Furthermore, Old, New and No Money learn their manners from the same people. In the case of No Money, it is their own parents, usually their mothers. In the case of the moneyed, it’s the same mothers who, being short on money, take on the challenging job of civilizing the children of the rich. “

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anon November 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm

typotat,
In Europe an aupair is not meant to be a nanny or have experience with children, it is meant to be a big sister type arrangement. The word aupair comes from on a par and it means an aupair should be an equal member of the family not staff. In effect an aupair should earn about 100-150 euros a week minimum plus full room and board in exchange for 25 – 30 hours of very light housework and basic childcare i.e watching the kids not actual official childcare, and no ironing etc. If people want people with childcare experience they have to pay a lot more money than an aupair wage, they also have to use different visa rules if they hire someone from outside the EU. The rules are getting more formalized now, and some aupairs have taken employers to tribunals, and received back pay when it turned out they got an aupair wage for nanny duties etc.

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Tanz November 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I think a huge part of the problem is that many people confuse au pairs with nannies… the two are *not* the same thing. A nanny is a professional, hired to look after the children, and has training/experience in child care. An Au Pair is a ‘mother’s helper’, usually young and fresh out of home, who basically ‘trades’ some time to assist her hosts with childcare in exchange for bed and board in a foreign country. Time and time again I’ve heard of mothers wanting an ‘au pair’ but when they describe what they want her to do it becomes clear the actually want/need a nanny. But an au pair is cheap, so…

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Katy November 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I think that the biggest reason there has ever and will always be complaints about parents coming from childcare providers is because there will always be parents who were unprepared or unwilling to face the difficulties when it comes to raising children, despite everyone from their own mothers to the Lifetime movie of the week telling them that kids are WORK.
Some parents were thrown into the situation unprepared, and I don’t mean just because they were young, I mean because their interaction with children was largely limited to when they themselves were a child. These parents often are trying very hard, but if you’re unprepared it’s very easy to find yourself in over your head, and when the stress of the situation gets to you, often you take it out on others. And in my experience that is often the childcare provider because they don’t want to take it out on the kids or at work.
The other parents, the ones who KNOW there’s going to be work involved but chose to have children, then pawn the work out to others despite having the time and, supposedly, the energy to do it themselves. One example I met was a woman whose husband dropped her kids off at our daycare the minute we opened, always the first ones there, and they were nearly always the last ones to leave, at least four times a week she was 15 minutes late, once she was an hour late. I felt bad, I thought she and the husband must be working their rears off, but when I told this to another teacher she laughed and told me the mother didn’t work. She just sent the kids to daycare so she could have time with her friends or by herself, and she would often complain to the teachers she made stay late to wait for her how difficult it was to get the two kids, who were angels BTW, to sit and eat because they were “climbing all over her”. These parents are the ones we hear so many stories about because we can’t belive that someone who had kids would be so disinterested in them.
I’ve done all sorts of forms of childcare, and I could write enough horror stories to fill my own blog, but in the end what I feel most sorry about is the children in these situations. They don’t stand a chance.

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Ann November 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I’m fascinated by the comments which say the scenario described has to do with communication and expectations and perhaps inexperience.

This is about two completely nuts people and their victims, namely their children and staff.

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grumpy_otter November 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm

The more comments I read, the more I was thinking–“Boy, some people shouldn’t have children!” And what I mean by that is not that some people don’t deserve children or that I should get to decide, but I know that, at least in the US, it is ASSUMED by pretty much everyone in society that ALL people should have children.

Many people are have no skill nor inclination to raise children–but I bet that no matter what culture they come from, they have been told from birth stories about “when you have children” this or that. Not “if” you have children– “when.”

It is a cultural constant that societies expect their members to contribute to the gene pool no matter how poor or disinclined they might be to be parents. That’s sad. For them, and for the children.

The OP’s story sounded to me like people who had children because it was expected of them–not because they wanted them.

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Sarah Peart November 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Is it a ticket to Ehell to pay au pair wages and expect to get the services of a fully qualified nanny? There is a difference people – nannies are fully qualified to look after children – they will have done child psychology, nutrition, first aid and lots of other courses so that they can have sole charge of even a newborn. An au pair is a young adult who´s main goal is to learn another language/culture. They have done no childcare course, they are not even required to have babysat or otherwise had much to do with children. Though of course most do. One will cost you a few thousand a month and is following a career the other works for little more than pocket money and a return ticket to their country.

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Louisa November 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I volunteer at a nursing hme, visiting people whose families never come (they exist, they have powers of attorney etc. and sign documents when necessary). There are many ‘community visitors’ like myself and we need many more for these lonely older people. I am sure Psyche was generalising and not implying that everyone in a home is dumped or neglected-but a lot are and it is important that society is aware of it-we may get more community visitors volunteering! I know what a hard decision it is to place a relative in a home if you need to, and that many family members are devoted. But don’t close your eyes to the families that tell me it’s too hard or stressful to visit their sad and lonely old folk. Those same old folk deserve their isolation to be acknowledged so those who don’t do the right thing may reflect, and those who do, may volunteer. Sorry to hijack the thread but as it’s an emotive issue I wonder if some were having a go at Psyche unneccessarily.

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Inga November 11, 2011 at 7:06 am

The reason why there are so many horror stories about au-pairung, is mostly the fact that the host parents either do not know what the au-pair system is ment to be about, or that they choose not to care and try to take advantage of their au-pairs. Au-pairing is supposed to be about cultural exchange. The hosts are not employers, they are hosts. In exchange for living with them and a small amount of pocket money, the au-pair helps taking care of the children, and sometimes doing light housework. What the duties are should be stipulated in the contract, made by the au-pair company. Au-pairs are not employees supposed to work hard 24/7, they shall also have time off, so they can get out and experience the country and culture. And ideally, the au-pair should be somewhat taken in to the family, so that the host family can also get to actually know him/her, and learn about the au-pairs culture, which is valuable not only for the hosts, but also for the children, as it is a good oppurtunity for them to broaden their horizon and learn more about the world we live in and respect for other cultures.

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Marli November 11, 2011 at 7:08 am

I agree with Ann. I was once doing an exchange year from school in Chile and came into a family quite similar as the on described here. It took me a while to realize that the issue were not intercultural communication problems, but that these were really strange people even for their own country. Sometimes you are just unlucky and stumble upon the wrong people. The important thing is realizing it in time before it gets too unbearale.

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MellowedOne November 11, 2011 at 9:24 am

@Louisa, the reason why Psyche received the flak she did is, because of what she did and you acknowledged, she generalized. Psyche may not have meant that everyone in a home is dumped, but her generalization certainly implied that. Yes, there are many families who use nursing homes as a dump site for relatives. But saying “all” do that is offensive to families like mine who were forced to use a nursing home because they just could not properly care for their family. You will find that families like that are often very involved in the care of their families in the nursing home.

Sweeping generalizations often come across as inflammatory statements, yet another reason to be careful with the words we choose to express ourselves.

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Psyche November 11, 2011 at 9:48 am

Thank you, Louisa. What I meant by my comment is that a lot of the residents seemed to be depressed. I suspected many of them-even the ones who had mental conditions where they weren’t in a position to understand-silently knew that they were here because they were too big a burden for their families to do on their own and that’s why they were depressed.

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Twik November 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

Psyche, I think your comment was extremely unfair to people trying to cope with parents with Alzheimers. Would you be willing, right now, to quit your job, give up your social life, and spend every waking moment looking after someone who is not mentally capable of knowing what is safe and what isn’t – who may even become violent for no reason? Knowing that this may go on for many years? If not, don’t say that people who can’t cope with such demands are merely objecting to an “inconvenience”.

I saw my own mother nearly collapse from the strain of looking after her own mother, a stroke victim, even though she was in assisted care. She aged twenty years in one. I’ve seen a near-tragedy when someone looking after an Alzheimer’s patient had his own health crisis, and she wandered off into the winter snow during it. I don’t think anyone has the right to demand that others completely sacrifice their own lives in this manner.

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Cooler Becky November 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Give Psyche a break. She’s already explained herself. I worked at a nursing home as well and have to say that even people, and especially people, who are put in the nursing home because of their inability to take care of themselves are well aware that they are not staying with family because they are a burden. Plus, people die in the nursing home all the time. It’s really depressing to work at.

A burden doesn’t necessarily mean just “inconvenience”. It just means that their problems need full time care that requires the kind of drastic measures that Twik described. It makes these people sad EVEN if they can fully understand why.

There is no need to get snippy with psyche if she’s simply pointing out the truth.

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--Lia November 11, 2011 at 6:30 pm

It isn’t just a confusion between au pairs and nannies. There’s also a confusion between exchange students and live-in help. I was visiting a friend in New York while he had an exchange student from Germany and while his own son was studying in Sweden. My friend had become friends with the woman who did the overseeing for the program in their area. He said that she reported that almost all her time was spent clearing up misconceptions about what the students were expected to do. Make their own beds and clear up their own dishes from dinner– yes. Do the laundry for the family, babysit, and vacuum– no. No sooner had I gotten a window into that world, I was waiting in line for tickets at the TKTS office in Duffy Square and had struck up a conversation with someone in line with me. Turned out she had an exchange student and was disappointed that her 16 year old guest didn’t want to cook for her family, do all the dishes, run errands, and get this, make hospital visits. Yup, not just babysit little kids. This host wanted her exchange student to go to school and visit her elderly father.

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Enna November 12, 2011 at 7:12 am

Hmm, as for making assumptions about the OP being expirenced or not I don’t think she was that well expirenced or she would have had a discussion with the parents, asking what the routine was and when she found out it wasn’t working another disucssion to ammend the routine as it isn’t working. As for the medication needing to be put in the fridge the Mother shoould have made sure the OP understood that – normally an individual’s medication that needs to be refirgeiated won’t “go off” that quickly as it will make it hard for people to transport their medicaiton home.

I also think the parents lacked expirence as well about having an au pair: I could imagine they get though quite a few! A demarnding employer drives away overworked employees. If the routine isn’t working with the au pair they need to have a discussion so they and the au pair can come up with a good resolution to resolve the problem. Supper Nanny says that if you spend sometime with your children when you get back from work they will often leave you alone for the rest of the day as they are content. How can they say she does the bare minimum when she will work on her time off? If they feel she needs to do more then they need to ask why isn’t she doing more? By having a disucssion they might relise they are being too demarnding, but they may also relise they have to develop a proper routine and make sure that the au pair knows and has the confidence to do what she needs to do e.g. train her up. For example when it comes to discipline if the children see Mummy, Daddy and Nanny using the “naughty corner” on them when they are naugthy that means all the adults are on the same page.

Expecting the Au Pair to do two oppisite things is unfair e.g. with the meal, if he said no he didn’t need help why did she get told off for not helping him? Okay, if they have demarnding jobs and they are tired that isn’t uncommon but they have to find away to relax – having “fun” with their children maybe away to relax as it will distract from the stress at work.

Contracts are important here so everyone knows where they stand and what roles and responsiblities they need to do.

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MellowedOne November 12, 2011 at 8:47 am

Cooler Becky, It’s a sensitive topic. Most individuals equate ‘nursing home’ with being dump sites by uncaring family members. When my father comes up in discussion with friends I hate to even say nursing home because of the negative connotation associated with it. I will honestly admit, after the death of my mother and I was trying to care for the needs of my father who has Alzheimers and physical disabilities, I said to myself, ‘my father is NOT going to a nursing home’. It was obvious though, that I simply could not take care of his needs, that I would be FORCED to put him in a place (although it was the best and newest) where he would not get the same care as if he were at home. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I knew he would be sad and depressed, that he would emotionally lose out a lot.

You can volunteer or work in a nursing home, but you can never understand the agony that caring family members go through until you have been there. And when you do, you too will be sensitive on the issue.

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