So far you have learnt a lot about keeping children safe and happy. But what about yourself?
You also need to take some steps to ensure that your needs are looked after.
If both you and your host family have selected each other carefully, chances are good that you will fit right in, connect immediately with the children, and love everything about your experience.
However, there are times when the au pair and host family simply don’t fit well together. It’s natural that issues will come up now and again – and as we’ve mentioned before, communication is the key to resolving those little things before they become big things!
Below are some of the common complaints that come up between au pairs and their host families – and how to handle those sticky situations.
When things go wrong, here are some tips that may help you:
Is it to do with the childrens’ behaviour?
This is often a common source of frustration. Au pairs may have unrealistic expectations of how well children will behave. Temper tantrums are normal and kids will disobey you sometimes. But hitting you, calling you names, or running away is not acceptable and you should raise this with the host parents immediately. If you are having trouble managing the childrens’ behaviour – try reading back on our section on behaviour management for some strategies that may assist you and ask for the host parents’ help or ask your agency for advice. What won’t help is judging the parents or labelling the children as ‘too difficult’.
Is it to do with family diet?
If you don’t like the food, then you will need to say so. Offer to cook for yourself. Buy your own snacks or specialty foods. Don’t expect gourmet meals, but families are obligated to have food available to you for three meals each day. Just be honest as the host parents want you to be happy with what’s on offer.
Are you working more hours than agreed?
Your host family should provide you with a weekly schedule and you need to make sure you agree on the expected working hours before you start. If some weeks are slightly lighter or heavier, that is ok, but if you’re being underpaid, exploited or overworked, address it immediately with your agency and host parents. If you have an organized weekly catch up where you go over the timetable this is a great chance to raise any small concerns before they become big concerns.
Are you doing more housework than you think is fair?
As we have talked about before, you are primarily to be there for the kids and an extra pair of hands for all household tasks. If you find that you are doing more than initially agreed on, you do need to raise this with your host family. If it is not resolved, go back to your agency and get their advice as to whether they believe you have a genuine concern.
Are they ‘forgetting’ to pay you on time?
Make sure you establish a particular day you get paid on. If you haven’t been paid on this day, they may have forgotten. It’s happened to the best of host parents – give them the benefit of the doubt if they forget payday or the weekly bank transfer once or twice. But if it happens more than once or twice make sure you address it quickly with the host parents or contact your agent before the amount of money they owe escalates.
Do you feel like the family is ‘leaving you out?
Most good host families try to protect your downtime to allow you to have an independent life and time out from the kids. However this may end up making you feel like you are not welcome. For the most part this is unintentional. Ask if you can come along – they’ll probably be very happy for you to come with them. Try to establish some social activities with other au pairs or young adults, so you’re not relying on the host family at all time for your entertainment.
Have they told you to limit your use of the internet/phone/Facebook?
Remember that most families do not have unlimited internet packages. You have a certain amount of data available through your phone and it is reasonable to expect your family to cover the expense of evening internet use for Skype and web browsing. While it is acceptable to use your phone on the couch if you are relaxing out of work hours at times, bringing your phone to the dinner table is not good manners. Use the opportunity to bond with the host family and save your online social media for your time off.
Look at the big picture
Is the family kind to you? Have they tried to get to know you, made you feel welcome, paid you fairly and on time, and helped you create a social network? Have you showed respect for their rules and tried to discuss anything you don’t feel comfortable about? If so, it’s probably worth trying to solve any minor disputes.
So how should I communicate?
Prepare! Think carefully about what you are going to say, discuss it with your parents, friends or agency, and have a suggested plan for how to improve the situation.
Ask your host parents when would be a good time to talk. It is best if both parents are there as it is important that they both hear your concerns. Don’t just spring it on them when they may be busy with other things and not give you the full attention you deserve.
Tell the parents all the things you are grateful for first.
Explain the situation calmly and with good humour and respect. Do not sulk like a child. This will only make your host parents look at you as a child rather than an equal.
Talk calmly and respectfully, and hopefully there will then be a resolution that you are then both happy with.
Don’t hold grudges! Give everyone the benefit of the doubt that the situation will improve after you’ve discussed it.
If your issues aren’t resolved and you are still unhappy raise it again – even in an email if you feel to uncomfortable to talk about it again face to face.
If nothing improves – give notice. You are not obligated to stay somewhere where you are unhappy.
If you do give notice – be honest – don’t tell them your grandmother is dying or your house burned down. Be completely honest so the family will hopefully not make the same mistakes again. This can be a learning experience for everyone.
Try to leave on good terms, so that your current host family can still act as a reference – they may still be happy to recommend you to a different, more suitable family.
Be careful about posting negative comments about your host family on social networking sites. Unless the family is abusive and you think another Au pair will be in danger, it is best to avoid a public game of insults. In a seriously dangerous situation, consider reporting the family to the police.
Trust your gut
If you have come to your host family through an agency, they should have done a number of background checks on who you will be staying with so the chances of everything working out is very high. However, in the unlikely event that a host family makes you feel uncomfortable, know that you do not have to stay. Contact a trusted adult, your agency or the police if you are in an uncomfortable situation so they can come and assist you. You can always move to a youth hostel or hotel if needed until you find alternative arrangements.
Here are some tips
Do not accept an offer of drugs or alcohol from a host parent. While a glass of wine at dinner when you are off duty is ok, “partying” with parents is not appropriate. If a parent is intoxicated, do not allow them to drive you anywhere. NEVER get in a car with a drunk driver!
Do not ever allow a host parent to coax you into a sexual experience. If you feel that a host parent is overly affectionate with you, or makes sexual advances at you, leave the host family immediately and report the issue to a trusted adult or the police.
Don’t be exploited! If a family is withholding your pay or not paying as originally agreed, this can be very disconcerting. Make sure you get paid regularly, as arranged at the beginning of your stay. Allowing a family to have an endless running tab may end in your not getting paid if you part ways on a bad note.
Don’t allow a family to expect you to be their au pair and housekeeper, or domestic servant. However, don’t roll your eyes if asked to load the dishwasher or fold some clean laundry – they are reasonable chores especially if children are sleeping.
If you are verbally, physically or sexually threatened or abused by a family that you work for, report it immediately to the police. There is no excuse for this type of conduct. Your safety comes before everything else.
Remember: your safety is paramount above all else. If you are ever in a dangerous or abusive situation with any member of a host family, get out immediately. You are never obligated to stay with the family if you feel uncomfortable or threatened. Look out for your own safety before others!
You should also protect yourself from being accused of inappropriate behaviour.
Avoid the following activities with members of your host family:
Back rubs or massages
Lying in bed with a child or parent
Excessive sitting on your lap
Any contact with a child’s genitals (other than nappy changing)
Flirting or romantic words
Excessive hugs and cuddles
Interaction with the children on social media, texting or emailing when not on the job
Any other “grooming” behaviour associated with child molesters.
If you feel that a child’s behaviour is overly sexualised or you suspect physical or sexual abuse, you must report it. Talk to a trusted adult about the best plan of action, and contact either the police or the local Child Protection Services.
When it’s time to look for new work
All good things do come to an end. In some countries, a Working Holiday visa means that you can’t work as an au pair for more than a 6 month period. In other places, you can stay as long as you want with your host family. But at some stage, you may find yourself leaving one au pair job and looking for another.
If you find that you must leave your host family earlier than planned, you can try again, perhaps knowing more about what type of family you prefer, in what location, and what age children you love to work with. Remember that leaving a host family is upsetting and disruptive to the family and the kids as well, so don’t make the decision lightly. You will be out of a job, at least temporarily, and the family will most likely be rushing to find a new child care solution which is very stressful. This can also impact you if your host family isn’t keen to give you a positive referral for your next job.
Unless the situation is dangerous or abusive, there is certain etiquette for making a graceful exit. Typically, this involves giving a family at least 2 weeks’ notice that you will be leaving, which will hopefully allow the family to make new arrangements. This will also allow you time to figure out your next step, and for both you and the family to part ways amicably.
Discuss finding a few au pair placement with your agency, or by renewing your online profile on au pair matching websites. Take your time to find the perfect match – you’re worth it and you will be have amazing adventure along the way.
May all of your au pair adventures be safe, happy and fun! Good luck on your journey!Best wishes,The Sitter Train Team
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