Au Pair Asks: How can I gently decline my Host Mom’s advice?

by cv harquail on April 26, 2010

One of my guilty pleasures as a host mom has been to think that I’ve been able to give my au pairs some good advice. After all, I’ve had a lot of life experience, I’m opening-minded, I have relevant professional experience, and — let’s face it– I usually know what I’m talking about (grin). Therefore, it has never really occurred to me that any of my au pairs might not be interested in my advice.

This au pair’s request for advice hit a little close to home. (Cough, cough.)  Aimee is a bit confused (her description) about what to do next in her life. But she’s clear about one thing; she doesn’t want to extend with her current host family.

In the meantime, her host mom would like her to extend, and may (or may not) be offering advice intended to meet the Host Mom’s needs and not the needs of the au pair.

How can this au pair get a little psychic space, and have some quiet to sort things out on her own?


Dear Au Pair Mom– First, I have to tell you that I’m a huge fan of the blog. I think it’s an amazing help. I”m a little embarrassed to admit how much time I spend skimming past topics and comments looking for tips and insights for my own year as an au pair!

I have a little dilemma, and that’s why I’m emailing you now:

I’m an American au pair, living in Europe city. My host family have two little boys who are complete angels, and I adore them. I’ve been with this family for about 2 1/2 months. I’m lucky enough to have my own apartment in the same building as my HF, so my situation is a little unique- it’s much more of an employee/boss relationship than a familial one, which is completely fine by me; it’s what I prefer. Right now, I’m scheduled to stay with this family until the end of July.

My problem is this- I’m 18 years old, and I have no idea what I want to do. My mother is pressuring me to start school in the fall, and I’ve applied to a couple of schools in the country I’m in now, but I’m not sure I’ll get in. My boyfriend lives in another European country, and I’ve also applied to a university there. I don’t want to go back to the States, and once August comes around, my visa will be up, and I’m scared of running out of options.

My HM knows this, and lately, she’s been keeping me later to “chat” about my future. We both tentatively discussed extending when I first started, but I made it clear that I wouldn’t commit to anything until I was sure. I was expecting to have that conversation in a month or so. My host mom was understanding and said “No pressure.”

Except lately, I have been feeling the pressure!

It’s not so much that I mind her nightly pep talks and advice, but I just can’t help feeling that they’re far from genuine. For example, every conversation always seems to end with, “… well, maybe you should just stay another 6 months or a year while you’re figuring out what you want.”

I’ve pretty much decided that whatever I end up doing, I won’t be extending, but I don’t want to tell her yet, because I’m sure she’ll ask what I’ll be doing instead, and I don’t want to say that I’m not sure yet and come off as, “Basically, I’m doing anything but staying with you.”

My HM’s advice also all ends up being exactly the opposite of what my own mother is advising me to do, and while I know it’s good to hear different opinions, frankly, I never really asked for my HM’S opinion, and it’s starting to get on my nerves. Maybe if we had a more familial relationship, I would appreciate it, but I honestly doubt that my HD even remembers my last name, and I’m not interested in suddenly becoming the adoptive daughter so that she can try to convince me to extend.

I just want to finish my last several months in peace, without getting unsolicited advice about every aspect of my life (because she’s also given her two cents about my boyfriend, mother, father, and vacations) but without offending my HM and souring our normally pleasant relationship. I have my own opinions about her life, but I keep my mouth shut, because it’s not my place. How can I politely get her to do the same thing with mine?

Thank you a million times just for taking the time to read this!!
— Aimee AP

Dear Aimee AP-

Before we go further, let’s just chuckle at the irony of asking host moms & dads for advice about how to avoid a host mom’s advice!

This situation calls out for our favorite American problem-solving process: a frank conversation. You’ll need to find a way to talk about both extending and the advice, with the goal of leaving your host mom feeling good about you as an au pair, okay about your need to keep your own counsel, and okay about going on to find a new au pair.

Even though your Host Mom may be offering advice that suits her needs, let’s “extend a generous interpretation” to her and imagine that she’s doing this with the very best of intentions. Approaching the situation from this expectation may help to shape your conversation with your host mom in a positive way, since people generally will rise up to shine in the positive light we offer them. And, she may be unaware of how self-centered her advice seems… she may actually be thinking she’s helping!

Since you know what your actual decision is about extending, there isn’t a chance that the conversation will change that outcome for you… So, it’s all about shaping the way your host mom understands your decision(s).

Here’s one way to unfold the conversation:

First, you might gently tell your Host Mom that, although you are not sure what your exact plans are for next year, you know that you’ll need to move on to your next adventure. Having another 6 months as an au pair would just delay the inevitable decision(s) for you. And, the school year timing, how you’ll feel when you get accepted to schools, your desire to be nearer your boyfriends, etc. etc. all suggest that, when you do decide, you’ll be eager to go and actually need to leave right away. You do not want to leave her in the lurch.

It would be better for your Host Mom and for the darling boys if the transition for them could be deliberate, well-planned and well-orchestrated. You want to do what’s best for them, and what’s best would be to move on to another AP who could confidently commit to a year, without second guessing her next steps. Of course, you’d be happy to help orient a new au pair, or to do whatever else you can to make the transition easy for the boys.

In the meantime, you have been talking closely with your mom, who (as your HM may or may not know) is strongly advising you to make plans for school. And of course, you know that you can talk things over with your host mom if you need to sort out options, but your host mom will understand that right now what you really need is space to think things through yourself. You appreciate her understanding, etc.

You might also have a kind, one-liner ready, something like

“I know that you want to be helpful, and offer your perspective. You’ve had a lot of great ideas to share with me. But, what I really need now is not more information, but the chance to reflect on my own needs. And I now I can turn to you when I need help, but right now I’m not really feeling like talking about it more.”

Then switch the topic to something about the boys. To a host mom, the only thing more appealing than offering advice is talking about her darling kid(s)!

That’s one suggestion, and I’m sure other HMs & HDs have ideas too– so let’s hear them!

Image: Talk To The Hand from Tancread



Calif Mom April 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

CV said:
To a host mom, the only thing more appealing than offering advice is talking about her darling kid(s)!

Brilliant, and another layer of irony: re-directing the re-director.

Great advice for this young woman, CV.

JJ host mom April 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

First, thanks for posting this. I often try to give advice just to be helpful but hadn’t realized that it might be coming across as something other than helpful.

I agree that you should just have a frank conversation with her. Tell her that you’re sure you need to move on, and would be happy to help find and train a replacement. Then tell her that you appreciate her advice, but that you need to think things through on your own for a while, and will be sure to come back and ask if you need more advice. I think that the chances are good that she’s mostly just trying to be helpful, but I can definitely understand how you might feel caged in by what she’s saying.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s fantastic that you’ve already lived on your own in another country by the time you’re 18. It shows incredible maturity and regardless of what you decide, you’ll go far in life. Good luck to you.

Calif Mom April 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm

It does sound to me like the HM may be trying to buy herself a few extra months, since she also sounds kinda pushy. But be that as it may, I also agree that AP needs to have a conversation to draw a line. Might help, can’t hurt.

NJMom April 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Funny, I just stepped over a line last night and strongly nudged my AP to register for a class (already!). She’s two months into a 9 month extension and I’m concerned abou the lack of movement on that front. She has friends who are forfeiting their deposit and not bothering to do the credits. But then I wondered if I should have stayed out of it. (Although the classes are a program requirement. Perhaps a separate topic. Hint, hint!) Anyway, it is good to hear your perspective and to know that sometimes the AP knows herself the best and needs some space. Good post.

HRHM April 27, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Depending on her sense of humor, when she suggests that you should stay on for an extension, you can playfully point out to her that she has a conflict of interest and laugh with her about it. She may not even be aware at how obvious her underlying motivations are and this may lightheartedly embarress her into laying off.

Deb Schwarz April 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Great advice CV! …..and if that doesn’t work, you can always do what I do when my 85 year old mother (former child psychologist) doles out advice about my four kids…..I take the parts that are useful, and nod politely (and daydream) during the parts that I think are rubbish. It’s amazing how glazed eyes tend to stop unsolicited advice rather quickly.

Anne Marie Segal April 30, 2010 at 8:47 am

I have never pressured someone to stay a second year, even if she was a really great au pair. If you are the one to talk her into it and she’s unhappy with the decision, it’s natural that she will resent you for it. It’s the same reason I don’t try to talk other people in my life into making major decisions. I don’t tell my husband which job he should take. I won’t tell my children which college they should choose. Why would I tell my au pair (host daughter) whether it makes more sense for her life to spend another year in the U.S. or return to her family and country? For host families, it is more convenient to keep someone we and our children trust and love in our house, and we don’t want to give them up. (And we’ll miss them!) But we can always find another au pair, and maybe we’ll love the next one just as much. For the au pair, it’s about making critical choices for her LIFE (caps intended).

If you have a great au pair and you want her to stay, this is what you should say, about six months into the relationship: “In a few months we will need to talk about whether you are going to extend. I want you to think about it very seriously, because we would absolutely love to have you. We can talk about advantages and disadvantages, and I’m here as a sounding board. But in the end, it’s totally your decision.” Stick with that. She will respect you for it, and you will respect yourself. And lo and behold, she will make the right decision!

OP Au Pair April 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Thank you all so much for the great advice!! I’m away on vacation until next week, but I expect I’ll have The Talk with my HM verrrrry soon after my return. Wish me luck! I’ll post how it goes later.

cna training May 13, 2010 at 1:24 am

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

OP Au Pair May 25, 2010 at 6:22 pm

So it’s been a while, but I finally have an update (if anyone was tossing and turning at night wondering)!!

I was accepted into my 2nd choice university!! This means I’ll be able to stay in the same country AND stay in contact with my boys. My HM found my replacement, and I even helped her choose. I’m very happy with how things finally turned out, even though my HM still drops me little ‘pearls of wisdom’ every now and then- it’s a lot less stressful now that I know I’ll be leaving soon!

ps- AND my boyfriend is probably relocating to my current city as well- everyone wins!!! :D Thanks for the advice everyone!

JJ host mom May 25, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Great! Thanks for letting us know what happened. I’m glad it worked out.

FormerSwissAupair May 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

I’m glad everything worked out for you! Good luck! :)

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