A host mom who prefers to remain anonymous shares her reflections, and helpful questions, about that delicate stage in your Au Pair- Host Family relationships…. those days when it only begins to dawn on you that, with this terrific au pair as well as any other, there will always be challenges…
After the Honeymoon…
The first few weeks with a new au pair can be just wonderful. A lot of work for host parents, as we train, teach to navigate, explain and repeat instructions, all with our fingers crossed–but it’s also just wonderful. There is a super-enthusiastic Honeymoon period when your new au pair arrives. S/he will help wash dishes after dinner, even though s/he doesn’t have to.
Their energy knows no bounds–perhaps because they’ve been scared by the talk of rematch during Orientation?
More often, they are just so happy to finally be here, in your home, getting to know your kids.
(Aside: If your new au pair isn’t bending over backwards to bond with your kids, figure out how to work with you, and learn her job in your first few weeks together, your antennae should be screaming “Pay Attention! Something Isn’t Right!”)
Summertime being New Au Pair Season (if ever there was one)… Come Fall, the Honeymoon may be starting to fade just a tiny bit.
Eventually, in the midst of the cheerful Good Morning!s and high fives at finding the way back from the bus, or driving through downtown alone by car, you will start to see the particular flaws that you as host parent will be managing the next year. These foibles are undoubtedly different from those you found in the preceding au pair.
You may need to adjust your tactics.
- Maybe it’s her comfort level with using appliances, or fear of the grocery store. Or her idea of how to do laundry, or skills at packing a diaper bag for the day. But what if it is something a bit more innate, like her judgment in friends, or shyness.
As Host, you then take a deep breath and decide, okay, is this a problem? how big is this really? do I need to do anything about it? and if so, what?
- Maybe it’s immaturity–(“I never pay for my own drinks” — okay, that would be a red flag! Maybe it’s something like “Well, in OUR country, we never [or we always] [fill in blank].”
- Maybe it’s lack of exposure to people who are different from her family–(“Oh my! Is this neighborhood safe to go through?” Or a blanket statement about fashion choices of people from different cultures.)
- Maybe it’s a strong opinion about a parenting subject or health issue (“In my family we never go to the doctor,” proclaimed right after you’ve spent ten minutes explaining how to administer a prescription.)
- Maybe it’s the cringing–or smirking–while walking behind a gay couple down the sidewalk.
I never want to start out heavy-handed with au pair relationship-building.
I’m just a softie at heart, and I am usually so glad that we made it through the first 2 weeks without a hint of a flameout that I am going to ignore the first little twinge of “Oh, boy, I wish I hadn’t heard her say that in front of the kids…”
How do you as a host parent help a (sheltered) young adult come to value differences?
How can you expand their horizons–without making them feel judged by you?
It’s a delicate task:
If you point out how her last statement could be misinterpreted as racist (if it struck you that way), you risk offending the au pair, making her unable to hear you at all. Or if you tell her that you are relying on western ideas of medicine in this situation, how do you also make sure she doesn’t think that you think she is stupid?
The au pair program offers a young person the opportunity to leave their country for a year and explore the world. Theoretically, the program attracts adventurous, wide-eyed people. But what if that wide-eyed curiosity is tinged with that youthful confidence at having everything figured out, and never trusting anyone over 30? (Remember that feeling?)
- How can we support cultural sharing with our kids when a slightly older AP finds their peer group (of APs from their country, of course) and never branches out?
- How can we successfully open an au pair’s eyes beyond their own slightly microscopic views?
- Is time really the best cure for youth? Is repeated exposure a better approach?What has worked best for you?