Help! My au pair isn’t a strong driver, what do I do?

March 29, 2017 4:05 pm

Your au pair has arrived and his or her driving has you white knuckling the dashboard like you are prepping for the drop on a roller coaster.  The profile said they had been driving for 4 years.  The profile said they felt confident driving in all conditions. You really like your new au pair but you NEED a strong driver.  You are stressed out (and so is your au pair) and you really need a resolution. Is there anything that can be done?

The answer can be complicated.  Let’s break it down, think about it and examine some possibilities.

The jitters:  Your au pair is driving for the first time in the USA, on unfamiliar roads, in an unfamiliar community, in a car that may be much larger than what they are accustomed to at home, is being confronted with a dozen street signs to the left, to the right, hanging from above, painted on the road and posted in the median (and likely doesn’t know which one is the priority sign) and on top of that has a passenger that they know is scrutinizing and evaluating their performance.  Performance anxiety is very common in this scenario.

As you know, each au pair is supposed to have three days of on-the-job training prior to being permitted to solo childcare in any way, including driving.  At least one host parent or other responsible adult is expected to be supervising the au pair during this training and transition period.   This is the opportunity for taking the au pair out, possibly to a closed course at first (like a parking lot) and let them grow accustomed to how your car handles.  You might also want to be a road sign tour guide, explaining their meaning and priority to your au pair (this is best accomplished while one parent drives and the other parent or adult can direct the au pair’s attention to the signage) before they drive.

Ask your au pair if they have driven an automatic transmission. Most of the cars in the USA are automatic but other countries are not the same.  Your au pair may indeed have years of driving experience, but on a manual transmission.  And while an automatic transmission is considered “easier”, remember the au pair needs to get used to having a free hand and foot.  The most common issue is hitting the brake with the spare foot, which gives the impression of stilted and poor driving ability.

Are you making your au pair nervous?  Some of us are great teachers, some are great learners, and some are both.  I can teach someone to drive.  I cannot teach someone geometry.  I can envision a beautiful craft in my head.  I cannot execute that vision.   If your teaching style isn’t working for your au pair, or if you are extremely anxious about damage to the car and exhibiting this nervousness outwardly, your au pair is likely to mirror it and be less successful at learning.  Ask for help.  Do you know someone else who won’t mind jumping in the car with the au pair and evaluating their skills for you?  Your Local Community Representative may even be willing to donate his or her time if they are available (this would be voluntary on their part and as their personal schedule permits).

Idea: I know that in most cases you need your au pair to hit the ground running, but if they need a little extra time to truly get comfortable behind the wheel, perhaps you can plan to have an alternate way of transporting your children, temporarily, for the first few weeks following your au pair’s arrival.

Lessons?  Perhaps you would feel more comfortable if you had a local instructor evaluate the au pair’s driving skill and possibly give them some lessons.   There are a few things to think about here.  If you are considering this because you would like that added assurance and confidence in your au pair’s driving, it’s a great possible solution.   It can be expensive however and may not be something you had budgeted for.  There are some free resources (online handbooks, road sign guides and driving simulators) that may be helpful.

What if it isn’t performance anxiety? What if the au pair truly unintentionally overestimated their driving ability and doesn’t seem to be improving?  We will need to look at it a little differently.   For example, even after lessons and receipt of a local driver’s license, do you think you would feel comfortable with the au pair driving socially or with your children?  Perhaps only socially? Is this what you NEED?

If you only wanted the au pair to be able drive so that they can expand their social horizon, but you truly don’t feel comfortable with their skills, they may have to accept that they will not be permitted to use your vehicle and will need to rely on public transportation. Can this work for you? Do you have excellent public transportation in your area?  Are you available to transport the au pair to and from outings and classes if public transportation is not convenient or readily available?  Will the au pair be happy (and ultimately will YOU be happy) with these compromises and modifications?

When you have an expectation for a certain skill set it is fair and reasonable to be disappointed.  It is especially hard when you and your kids have bonded with your au pair already and you want to do everything you can to salvage the match, leaving a change of au pair as the very last resort.

If you require an au pair with solid driving skills because you need your children transported to school and other activities, or because you live in a location that requires the au pair to be able to drive in order to get to classes and other events, etc. please be assured that Au Pair Foundation will work with you to discuss all of the above mentioned scenarios and possibilities and help you reach the best solution for your family and your au pair.