Does this sound familiar? A host mom recently reached out to her local childcare consultant (LCC) for advice on how to ask their au pair for a little more privacy. She explained: “Overall we are very happy with [our au pair]. She has bonded with the kids and really become part of the family. We enjoy having her around and we think she likes us too. Maybe too much. We wanted to ask if it’s normal for an au pair to hang out with the family all the time. Most nights Jana* hangs out with us after we get home from work, which is totally fine, and we’re actually having a lot more family dinners now. We then take the kids up to bed and when we come down all three of us typically watch TV until we go to bed. Oftentimes, Jana is in the middle of couch with us on either side (we only have one couch). Her room has a TV, cable, Netflix, etc… so we just wanted to know if this is normal. Again, we like her a lot and overall things are very good. We just don’t know how to approach her about this without hurting her feelings.” (*Name changed to protect identity)
When this question was posed to our entire network of field staff, the consensus was that this is a rare occurrence—most au pairs spend their evenings and weekends with their au pair friends or relaxing on their own in their rooms. But when it does happen, it can be a sensitive subject to broach. Sometimes au pairs spend a lot of their off-duty time with their family because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t want to disappoint their host parents. Other times, hanging around the house feels comfortable to au pairs and they really enjoy being part of the family. Either way, if this is happening to you and you feel you need more alone time, communication is in order. Here are some stories and advice shared by some of our veteran LCCs to help get the conversation started:
Be honest with your au pair
Jane Patterson, LCC in OH
This happened with a host mom of mine and I encouraged her to have a direct conversation with her au pairs. She talked with her au pair about the fact that their family needed some downtime by themselves and explained that their previous au pair did get out more and did more Skyping with family in her room. It worked, and the au pair wasn’t offended at all. She thought she was supposed to hang out all the time with the host family.
Rebecca Cronin, LCC in PA
I think the family has to very nicely talk to her about their expectations. If they do it right, the au pair usually “gets” it and the situation changes overnight.
Designate private family time as part of the schedule
Deb Schwarz, LCC in SC
I always tell families that for the most part, 20-year-olds don’t like to hang out with their families on their time off! But I do remember that one host mom had an au pair like this. She finally just told the au pair that they like to have their “family time” between certain hours. The au pair didn’t get upset.
Cari Webber, LCC in CT
I would strongly suggest families in this situation place boundaries, perhaps establish a date night twice a week where they request eating alone, and having the living room to themselves. Then the au pair can make plans to go out.
Ask your LCC for help
Julie Dye, LCC in CO
There are some homebodies, but most aren’t! [When I know one of my families is struggling with this] I actually “match” their au pair with a few in the group and ask the other au pairs to invite the one au pair out. I also ask that au pair to be a buddy to a couple new au pairs because it forces them to get out. I think, in some cases, the au pair feels obligated to have dinner and the family really needs to encourage them to get out.
Susan Regan, LCC in NJ
[One host family] asked me to speak to their au pair [about the lack of privacy] which I did. I told her that the family liked her very much and that she was doing a great job (both true), and then I told her the truth. I told her that the mom and dad had busy lives, didn’t have a lot of time as a couple and that they needed some privacy. This au pair was not at all upset, told me she understood and backed off right away.