Host Mom Advice Wanted: How to get more privacy and family time?

by cv harquail on September 25, 2008

riot jane aupair n dog Hi Host Moms (and Dads) —

We just got this request from a host mom who’d like some suggestions. Here is her challenge:

We are looking to have some space away from our au pair on her time off.

I have heard of au pairs that go out with their friends, go out to eat on their time off, but ours hangs around the house esp on her full-day off, she has expressed that she is trying to save her allowance. I even got her a local gym membership so she would have a place to go. She often comes to us during her down time to socialize or ask us questions. In the beginning we were okay with this, but months in, as a family we really need our home to ourselves once in a while. I don’t want to hurt any feelings. Any suggestions are appreciated.

I must admit, we have rarely had this challenge at my house. That may be because we live close to NYC and there is so much for an au pair to do, and it may be because we’re no fun to be around …? But I can empathize– sometimes you do just need to be alone as a family.

It’s a clever idea — and very kind– to have given her a gym membership. You are really showing her that you care.

Let’s start by collecting ideas in the comments section, and I’ll add them to this post so that we generate a list as we go.  Some of these ideas will be things you’ve tried, and things that won’t work for you, but there may well be some ideas that *will* work!

1. Talk with her candidly about taking advantage of the gym as a place to meet other young people.

2. Give her clippings from the local newspaper with suggestions for free/low cost activities that might be appealing

3. Consider whether there something you can do in her room to make it more likely that she can entertain herself during her off duty time, in her own room

Moms? Weigh in below……

{ 7 comments }

Melanie September 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Shouldn’t the au pair be part of the family?

Rayann October 1, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Although I think most of us would agree that the au pair should be part of the family, even family members occasionally need a break from each other right? Maybe that’s just me….

We don’t have this problem with our au pair as she’s fairly social, and the time we do see her we really enjoy her company. However…I think one great thing that we did that might help is to help her make friends. We did this in a couple ways – first, we invited over a few other host families and their au pairs for dinner. There are 14 families in our cluster, and 3 other families within a few miles, so having a cook-out allowed the au pairs to meet and for us to meet some of the other host families.

Another thing we did was introduce her to some non-au pair people her own age. We had friends and friends of friends that were close to her age. While we didn’t really do this intentionally, now that she has started meeting more people, she is around the house less.

Is there a way you can help her meet other au pairs in your area? Do you know anyone her age that might be willing to take her out to a movie or show her your town? Maybe a shopping trip to the mall?

Mary October 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm

We actually had this situation as our aupair is not the most outgoing person. Since our child is very young, our own ability to socialize and bring her out is impeded. We made the car available and had a heart to heart discussion with her about the fact that she wouldn’t want her year to end without having explored beyond the house we lived in. She did get in touch with other aupairs that she saw each month and now has a good social schedule and wants to go out and have fun.

Anna December 14, 2008 at 2:54 am

I’ve created a google calendar for our au pair that is filled with only FREE adult-oriented events in our area. I’ve shared it with other cluster au pairs through our local coordinator. It was actually a lot of work, I’ve used the library website, our city site, newspaper calendar section, local radio station site, local university site… And I keep updating it.

I think she went to one event from that calendar, to a first date with her boyfriend. Now she spends her time off with him.:)

I can post a link here, if anyone is interested. It is for Northern VA.

Lara February 4, 2009 at 4:57 am

Hey everybody!
I really liked this web site! I am a 22-year-old Brazilian au pair and I really like my host family. I am their first au pair and everything is okay with us so far. I try my best to show them how grateful I am for all the things they do to make me feel at home…I write cards, I tell them, I try to help them in what they need…But it’s really hard to know when you is supposed to be around and when you shouldn’t. In Brazil we are very family-oriented, so we like spending time with our family and we are very attatched to each other…My host family welcomes me very much, but sometimes I feel like “too much” when they are together.
I have a very happy social life here. Believe me! My host mom even says I have more friends here than she does. And I don’t even have a cell phone! ( Sad, sometimes! haha) I go out really often, but I also like to spend time with them, because I was raised like that: I enjoy being a family member! But, sometimes, when I am not out, I go to my room and stay there to let them have time for themselves. I don’t know if I am supposed to be with them or not…or if they feel like they need some space…It’s hard to be away from home and not having someone to hug you when you are sad, to talk or watch tv with… Simple things that mean a lot!
Last week, my friend cried because her host family didn’t invite her to have dinner with them. They ate together and didn’t even asked if she wanted to join them.
I am really shy girl. I am shy even to eat here, although my family never said anything that could make me feel bad about it. I have time to make my own lunch, but, since I am not alone at home ( my hd works from home), most of the time I skip lunch because I am shy to go to the kitchen to eat. I was going out to eat but the fast food made me no good, so I stopped. I am trying to forget about my shyness, but it’s not easy. It’s not my house, not my real family…Seriously, being an au pair is more chalenging than I thought it could be! Besides being away from home, you deal with weather changes( my worst nightmare, since I come from a near-the-Ecquator city), insecurities, too much responsibilities ( car that is not yours, kids that are not yours, rules yo’re not used to…your period, that makes things get really worse! ahah) and some families forget that we have feelings. It’s not my case, but some of my friends have been through a lot and it’s very sad!
I like this web site because, the same was au pairs exchange ideas and expectations, you can do the same in order to make those years with au pairs enjoyable for both sides. Congrats for the idea!
Sorry for venting here now.
=*
Lara

Teel February 4, 2009 at 10:06 am

Hi Lara,

As a hostmom, if my au pair were feeling this way, I would love it if, the next time we were hanging around, you brought this up. You would use your own words of course, but you could say something along the lines of “host mom, I’ve been wondering about something. I am really happy here and I enjoy spending time with the family. I’m grateful that you are my family — you’ve really made me feel welcome . But sometimes I worry that I may be intruding on your family time and I find myself unsure whether I should be with the family or in my room. Could you give me some guidance in that department?”

Aside from getting the answer to your uncertainty, your host mom will probably respect that you communicated with her directly.

Good luck,
T

Calif mom February 4, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Your family is lucky to have you, Lara! You are just the kind of au pair that we try very hard to find. We have had au pairs from Brazil, and I think I understand about the challenge you are feeling. Some American families do not hug or hang out as much as Brazilians! : ) My kids have become much MORE huggy and kissy because of the lovely au pairs who have joined us. I love this very much.

[We have the opposite situation right now, where our au pair is more of an introvert, and it has been hard for ME because she does not join us for dinner and does not hang out with us. For weeks we invited her to eat dinner with us every day, even though every day she said no. She says she likes to eat a big lunch and small dinner later on (which she does). But I also have figured out that she just needs more “down time” by herself to recharge from my energetic kids during the day.]

I agree that you should just bring this up as a question with your host mom, casually. You should not be worried about being a “third wheel” — here’s a new expression for you. You feel like you are extra or are in the way, but I would be very sad if someone living in my home felt that way, and it seems like your host family has been very thoughtful otherwise to you. Your host parents may not feel that you are in the way at all — and they are probably wondering when you ever eat! Or maybe worrying that maybe you have an eating disorder, or don’t like the foods they buy! I am glad you are not eating fast food, it’s really unhealthy, and then you would end up feeling even worse. But you do need to eat, Lara! Eating lunch will help you feel better — just think about how poorly kids are able to deal with their emotions when they are hungry. They can’t do it, and neither can you.

When we sign up to be host parents, we want our au pairs to feel comfortable. I don’t know it in portuguese, but in Spanish it’s “mi casa es su casa”. I also believe that one of the great things you will learn in your au pair year, something that we all have to learn as we become more and more responsible for our own lives, is how to ask your new boss for what you need, even when it is difficult. Having conversations about uncomfortable topics, and learning that you don’t actually die from it. As I tell my kids, worrying about these conversations before they happen is much harder than actually having them!

Good luck!

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