gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

The Secret of Parenting or What Would The Au Pair Do?

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So, many of you know that I’ve been very disappointed by my parenting abilities. Thank goodness, I often find myself thinking, that I was never an au pair because I would have been terrible at it. The reason that I think this often is because one of the side effects of motherhood is that you think the same, un-profound, thought repeatedly before being able to take it to the next level. But finally, the slow cogs of my brain realised that if I had been an au pair, I would have been a good one. Two reasons: I’m an over achieving show-off who needs to do well at jobs and, more importantly, I’m very nice to other people’s children.

This thought tumbled about in the desert landscape I call my brain for a while, before finally – finally!- reaching the next step. But it was worth the wait because it is The Secret of Parenting In All Its Glory:

Pretend that you are the au pair. The very good au pair.

Think about what you would expect from an au pair. No hitting, goes without saying. No screaming like a fishwife, a nice firm voice should do. No texting her friends while your kids are talking about their days. Fun activities delivered with a smile. Calm explanations, and patience with questions. Controlled discipline that fits the crime. Balanced meals delivered without threats.

Do you deliver all that as a parent? I certainly don’t – I have broken every one of those rules.

But if I ever happened to hire an au pair, and she broke one of those rules, she’d be Out On Her Arse. I have no doubt I would seek comfort from my friends and we would say, “You Can’t Find Good Help” and “Shame On Her They Are Innocent Children”. I would worry about the long term trauma.

So, I’ve decided to pretend that I am the au pair. I must regard my life as a job that I have foolishly taken, that for some reason I can’t get out of. The hours are undoubtedly shitty – but like most au pairs I have the mornings off, and once the kids are asleep I am theoretically free to go clubbing with the other au pairs. My pay isn’t great – (especially as I have to work mornings to pay it) – but I have food and shelter.

When I hit a bump in my parenting day, I ask myself “What Would The Au Pair Do?” and my voice drops, and I reason with the kids, and I use all the text book manoeuvres like distracting and reflecting feelings. I swear to all that you might hold holy, it works.

There are some down sides. I keep nearly telling my children to call me “Gail” instead of “Mommy”. I am a bit surprised when they climb into bed with me. . . does their real mother NEVER step in? And I was a bit taken aback to discover that I’m the sort of au pair that sleeps with the children’s father . . .

But it works. And now I must go, because the au pair would NOT be sitting blogging while the children watch tv. . .


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