Resources for Current Host Families
Who’s in Charge?
Au pairs and host parents are most often together with the children at the most stressful times of the day. In the morning everyone is hurriedly getting ready to start his or her day. At the end of the day children are tired, and they may be hungry and cranky as well. The parents have often had a stressful day, and the au pair is ready for her leisure time. When one or both of the host parents are home with the au pair, how do the children know who is in charge, and who is responsible for what?
Laying the groundwork for successful cooperation begins when an au pair first arrives. She needs time to be with the children when the parents can observe her as she interacts with them, but she also needs time alone with them so that she can build her own special relationship and establish routines and expectations.
Getting through the stressful times of the day is best done with a consistent approach. Planning ahead about division of labor and delegation of responsibility, as well as developing routines that both the au pair and the parents will adhere to, is essential. This sends the message to the children that they will get the same answer no matter whom they ask, that they need only ask once, and that fussing about the answer will not accomplish change. This consistency requires good communication between the parents and the au pair. It also means that the parents need to back up the au pair’s decisions, and discuss it later if the parents would like a situation handled differently in the future. An au pair should ask for clarification of any situations she feels might be confusing to the children.
When an au pair and a parent work side by side during the day, it creates a wonderful opportunity to divide and conquer the workload. If au pairs would like to be able to make decisions and plans even if a parent is at home, this is something that should be discussed in advance whenever possible. The amount of direction a parent needs or wants to give an au pair will vary by family, by au pair, and also by how long the au pair has been with the family.
A particularly challenging time of day is when the transition is made from parent to au pair or from au pair to parent. Focusing the transition on a particular activity and consistently following that procedure may ease the confusion for the children. For example, Mommy will help you get dressed; then you will go downstairs and the au pair will give you breakfast while Mommy gets ready for her day; or the au pair will give you a bath, and when you are done, she will say goodnight and Daddy will read you a story before bed.
The children will benefit when the au pairs and parents remember to work cooperatively, keep communication open and exercise authority when necessary.