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