Our Au Pair is not the cheerful girl we expected. Now what?

by cv harquail on February 15, 2010

We’re 1 month into our first au pair and not sure if it’s going to be ok or not. Just to clarify we’re based outside the US so our au pair has not come to us through an agency, in fact she is American.

We have 3 kids, all under 6 and there is no language barrier as we didn’t want to have to worry about that. I’m a SAHM who needs help because one of our children has special needs and takes a lot of attention. We interviewed via email and skype prior to employing her and thought we were getting a reasonably bubbly, cheerful, outgoing au pair. We didn’t. _160_405224443_0603b19d78.jpg

Our issues are:

1. Our au pair is not very enthusiastic with the children. She came with great references but I have already had to talk to her about how to engage the children and be more enthusiastic. I set up activities but because she approaches them with such a lack of enthusiasm they never last long. This is especially true with the younger two children who are not bonding well with her.

2. She never talks to us (HF) unless spoken to first, never initiates conversation and we get only limited responses when we try to open up a conversation. As a result talking can be quite painful. She very obviously wants to spend her time off away from the family which is something we can live with but the lack of communication when she is working does as it affects the atmosphere in the house. It’s even basic stuff like she will not communicate to us whether or not she is in or out for dinner unless we ask. I spoke to her about this and she told me she tends to take a backseat in a new situation and just observe until she feels comfortable, trouble is it’s been a month and it’s making us uncomfortable now.

I have spoken to her about both these issues and seen a little improvement with the children, but no improvement on the adult communication issue.   I’m not sure whether to keep ploughing on or whether to cut our losses now. Trouble is, because there is no agency back up, if it doesn’t work out with us she has to go home, though this is a risk she knew she was taking before she joined us.

She is only due to be with us for 5 months but it’s feeling like it could be a long time. Any thoughts on how to improve the situation?

thanks — KP in the UK

Molly: A Dog With A Lot On Her Mind from miscpix


OhioHostMOM February 15, 2010 at 11:54 am

We “made do” with an unhappy AP for nearly 3 months last year. It was terrible. She was so depressed and it really started to take a toll on my 2 young children, who were 3 1/2 and 8 months. The AP was severly homesick, and I did all I could to quell that within reason, including trying native meals for her, giving her extra time off, introducing her to french neighbors and going out of my way to look for an connect her with other french AP’s. It didn’t work, she remained miserable. I hated coming home in the evenings to the sullen girl, and it pained me to leave my children with her each morning. With young children you NEED someone enthusiastic. I want someone who would walk into their bedroom each morning and greet them with a smile and talk to them excitedly about the day ahead, what fun things they would do and learn that day . She would walk in their room in the morning with a frown, not greet them, and just go about the “job” dressing them, making beds…not a word said (my 3 1/2 yr old would try and engage her about the day ahead and she would respond gloomly almost everytime). It was a terrible 3 months.

Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. Once we moved on to a new AP (ours ended up going back to her home country) I realized that although rematch (or just starting over in your case) is hard….living like that longer than you need to is HARDER! We got a wonderful girl just afterwards whose attitude made such an improvement on the mood in our house. It was nearly instant. I might have another sit down meeting, and give your girl 1 last stern warning and indicate that immediate non-improvement means this won’t work for you any longer. Make a meeting for 1 week later, and be prepared to move on if things really haven’t changed.

Should be working February 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm

This is one place where I think the agencies’ emphasis on HP-AP meetings, feedback and communication just doesn’t work–i.e. when there is a personality or mood issue. You can tell someone that you would like them to be more cheerful, but it is not like telling them how you like laundry to be done. I think 3 months is enough to spend trying to improve the situation before giving up.

We had an ok, but somewhat depressed-seeming, au pair for 4 months before I gave up and went into rematch. Now we have a delightful, cheerful AP and we are so happy. Rematch stinks, but honestly I felt better as soon as I did the ugly job of firing the old AP. And now with the new AP we see that our little one has fewer tantrums, our older one seems happier too. I think the mood has a lot of effects on the kids that might not be obvious. I was especially concerned that my daughter was trying to “cheer up” the AP and engage her, without success. This is not ok.

Obviously your situation (no agency, abroad) make things difficult. In your shoes I would weigh how much of a psychic toll the AP’s mood is taking. I imagine you will discover that it is too high to keep on with the situation.

Dorsi February 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I think it is also the time to make sure that you are using those cliched communicating skills that we all learn in some seminar or another (or some self-help book, or some Oprah episode.) Maybe you have done this already, maybe there is nothing more that can be done on your part — then it is time to cut your losses.

1. Open Ended Questions: How do you feel things are going? What are your favorite things to do with the children? What do you like best about being here? What do you miss most about home?

2. “I” statements– so cheesy, but they have there place. “I feel frustrated when you don’t engage the children” “When you don’t talk to us about dinner plans, it make me feel like you don’t want to be involved in our family.”

3. Clear expectations: I want you to write down a plan for the next week about what you are going to do during your working hours. We will review it.

4. Clear consequences: If we can’t find a way to help you engage more with the children in the next two weeks, we will need to find a new AP that meets our needs.

Dorsi February 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Also, I remember from my own babysitting days that it can be very difficult to engage children and direct them when Mom is watching. It is hard to be fun and spontaneous (and unguarded) if you feel like you are being watched. Is there a way to physically separate yourself from the two older children and the AP so they can spend some time alone?

ExAP February 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I agree to that. For me, it was always quite difficult interacting or acting funny/engaging the kids/being silly with them, when my HM or HD were watching. It improved from time to time but I still felt strange when I was silly with the kids around my HPs.

Did you ask the kids how your AP is behaving/interacting when you’re not there?

Calif Mom February 15, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Absolutely true! Our AP is a totally different (a cheesy, silly, imaginative, goofy, hilarious playmate when she doesn’t know my hub and I are listening, but much more serious in conversations with us.

That said, it sounds like this girl is having culture shock and retreating a bit from what is normal for her (from her interviews and references) until she feels her feet back under her.

Mary February 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm

We are also an American family in the UK and have an au pair (from Switzerland). I used an agency for 3 years when we were in the US so it was initially scary to have to go it alone without the support of an agency. However, I found that there are a lot of very qualified English-speaking au pairs out there. If they are from the UK or the EU, there is no need for a visa or work permit and they received reciprocal medical insurance from the NHS. I’m assuming your American au pair is on a tourist visa since the UK doesn’t give au pair visas to Americans. You might be able to reinforce the desired behavior if she wants to stay by making sure she understands that she can’t stay if it doesn’t work out. On the other hand, she might not enjoy living in England. We’ve had a terrible winter, the days might be very short compared to where she lived in the States and many Americans I know experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to some degree their first winter here. Don’t be afraid to start looking for a European au pair if you decide to go that route. It will be a long 5 months if your family is uncomfortable with her.

franzi February 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

i think you should sit her down again and together with her write down what you want to see improved. write up a timeline (maybe two weeks). if things don’t improve by then, make it clear to her that you will ask her to leave your family and look for someone who is more enthusiastic and engaging with the kids.

you should not settle for a so-so au pair, especially not if she does not take care of your kids in a way you want her to.

Sara Duke February 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm

We’re in a similar situation, and we’re making the relationship work because the au pair excellent with the special needs child, and is willing to work on the areas in which we have demanded improvement.

Our case is a bit different, because the AP came to the US with an advanced, albeit not quite college-level, reading and writing ability. However, her receptive English and spoken English were far off the mark (I think because she had never really worked with native speakers).

We have had monthly meetings with this particular au pair (after the kids go to bed – no need to dress her down in front of them), but I lay down the law. She had to speak to me in full sentences, she had to explain what had happened while I was out, and be able to convey what she knew. I don’t ever ask her “yes-and-no” questions, instead, “Tell me what you did today with X.” Eventually, after the 4th month, I will tell you I blew up and yelled at her that she wasn’t in a position to keep my daughter safe (whom she loves and would never purposely harm). After I yelled she made more of an effort to work on her spoken English.

I personally believe that you should tell the au pair you are considering rematch and why. “I don’t think you are very happy with us, and I’ve had trouble getting you to play with the children. I sense that you don’t like being an au pair. I’m considering rematching with another au pair who can engage the children while I take care of X. I’d like to offer you a second chance, but you’ve got to be willing to listen to my suggestions. You need to sit down and talk with me at the beginning and end of your shift to discuss the children for a few minutes.”

Once you put your unhappiness with her out there, explicitly, then she has an opportunity to respond. Maybe she wants to be given the opportunity to quit. Maybe she really needs more direction with children (it’s one thing to babysit, quite another to live with a family and care for children day after day). If she indicates she would like a second chance, then develop some benchmarks with some deadlines and agree on a second meeting. After all, if she really can’t cut it, you don’t want to hang on too much longer.

Former Aupair February 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Sara, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like you are in much of a position to be giving advice. I have been an aupair in a foreign country, and it is very stressful if you know you do not speak the local language fluently, and the last thing you need is for your employer (especially if it’s also supposed to be a “family member”) YELLING at you because they think you do not speak well-enough. You’re lucky your aupaid did not request a rematch ASAP, as I would have. I don’t know many people, in any job, who would tolerate being yelled at. That sort of behavior is just uncalled for.

To the OP, I am American, and was an aupair for 3 years in Switzerland, and the first month was a very difficult adjustment. Even though the UK is an English speaking country, it still is a foreign one with an entirely different culture than the US. I would give her a few more weeks, and try to give her more responsiblity. I loved the suggestion above about having her write a list of things to do with the children, and also giving her pleanty of time alone with the kids. However, of course if she just doesn’t improve, then of course look into getting another one. I am curious though. A tourist visa for the UK is only good for 3 months as an American, and you can really only get a 6 month aupair visa if you go through a specific agency. Are you having her stay there without a permit? Or are you only using her for a short period of time?

Good luck! :)

CV February 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Given how much we know about Sara, I feel pretty confident that her idea of “yelling” is not so horrible as you’d think. And, I suspect that the situation had to have become really really horrible.

None of us believes that yelling is really the preferred way to communicate. Sometimes, though, we just reach the end of our rope. Given the kind of care, support and consideration that Sara — and so many other host moms– give to au pairs, we need to cut each other some slack. Just as we forgive our au pairs when they are overwhelmed, we too need to be forgiven. So, let’s remember to be generous with each other.

FormerAp, this comment isn’t really for “you” but is instead a reminder to all of us. cv

Sara Duke February 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

CV is right, I didn’t yell at her, screaming. I lost my patience. After three months of gently telling her that she needed to do something to work on her spoken English (she had dropped out of a spoken English class, saying it was too easy) and seeing that she was making very little progress (she was grunting and pointing despite having studied English since middle school), I finally asked her how many hours a day, other than to my children, she spoke English. She replied, “Not very many.” I only have this AP working 25 hours a week for most weeks, sometimes as much as 29. So I told her, “until further notice, you are to spend 5 hours a week speaking in English as part of your work duties. I don’t care when you do it, with whom you do it, but I am going to ask you to speak to me when I get home every day. Invite an au pair from another country to come over for lunch or meet you at Starbucks. Go to the public library and ask for books about your area of interest. Go into a store and ask a salesperson for advice. Talk to me, talk to HD, but talk. I need to see you making progress on your spoken English because right now if DD needed to go in an ambulance you couldn’t tell the ambulance crew what you know.” It did the trick. She enrolled in a free spoken English class and did some conversation groups at local libraries.

Both my husband and I have lived in another country and we have travelled in many countries. We know how hard it is to communicate in another language. You have to try. I have bits and pieces of several languages (and an absolutely horrible accent in all but English), but I try. I wasn’t asking my AP to be perfect. I wasn’t asking her to be fluent. I was asking her to try. And I was giving her a chance to do, instead of just giving up and saying, “I’m going into rematch.” And that was the advice I was offering here – not to just give up, but to let the AP have a chance to try to meet expectations.

anonym au pair February 16, 2010 at 2:16 am

Just to clarify, I’m the one who usually has the “former au pair” moniker but it was not me who made that comment. guess I’ll have to go by this name from now on.

Hula Gal February 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Not to dive into a side conversation here but I think it would get irritating at some point to have an au pair that is just not committed to improving her English skills. Our current au pair has been here for a year and a half and her English skills are still below average. I don’t press her about it because she speaks well enough but it is too bad she hasn’t really taken advantage of this aspect of the au pair experience to improve her skills for better job opportunities at home. And I also want to comment about Sara’s remark saying “maybe she wants to be given a reason to go home” or something like that, essentially someone else to make the decision for her because she doesn’t have the courage to make this decision herself. I believe this was the case with our second au pair. She really just needed us to make the decision to go into rematch because she didn’t have the courage to initiate it herself.

NorthCarolinaAuPair February 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm

What I would like to know is: can you fire someone because his mood/character does not fit into your family?

I have the problem that I am living in a nice family in North Carolina since 4 months. The family is polite and everything. But they do not say “Good morning” to each other, they don’t play, they don’t smile, they don’t hug. I have never met such cold people.

I tried to go into Rematch but my Area Director told me that I cannot change the family if there is not a real reason, like me having to work 60 hours a week or something like that.

Cause, I could understand if KP wants to have someone in her house and in charge of taking care of her little kids, who is at least a little bit motivated and happy.

But for me, it sounds like the Au Pair is just surprised and still overwhelmed with living in a “strange” family, being in charge of three little kids and having to find new friends, new places to go, new favourite things to do in her free time…

Have you tried to invite her to spend a bit more time with your family in her freetime? Something that’s fun for all of you, like going to the zoo, the museum, whatever.

I know that it would have made the whole “getting used to living with this people” easier for me.

Its only one month, give her a bit more time and over her chance without pushing her.

Darthastewart February 16, 2010 at 10:20 am

I think it depends on which of the AD’s you’re talking about- (I’m guessing that since you refer to her as an AD, it’s APC, and I know most of them). You need to really talk to your AD, and see if there is something you can do.

Some families are naturally more demonstrative than others. Many times it does not mean that they aren’t happy- just quiet and reserved. For outgoing people, it can be a shock to live and work with someone who is an introvert. The other way is also true. It can be unnerving to deal with the opposite type of people. I would suggest since it sounds like you’re the more extroverted one, taking the initiative to say “hi” to them. Eventually most people do respond back- heck you might even teach them something. – It might not work, but at least try.

Sara Duke February 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm

One of my au pairs trained me to pause and think about other people. She greeted me when I arrived home with “How was your day?” It made me stop, pause, and chat with her for a bit before switching gears and taking on my evening duties. You, too, can train your family, by talking to them in the manner in which you would like them to talk to you. It might take a while.

Should be working February 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I stewed for 2 months over whether to rematch because our au pair was adequate and fine with kids but moodwise and personality-wise I was totally frustrated and disappointed.

I did fire her, it was not pretty and I felt guilty because she was “fine”, and now we are head-over-heels thrilled with the new AP (who came out of a transition).

Personality is in my view the hardest issue–dangerous driving, non-fulfillment of duties, these are OBVIOUS rematch cues. Personality is not. On the other hand, if you are unhappy with her now, you might only be MORE unhappy in 2 more months. Give her concrete guidelines if there are things that would make her acceptable to you, and if she cannot meet those, then rematch. Just my view.

franzi February 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

with my first host family i (we) had “personality issues” but i managed to stay with them for six months, nontheless. eventually, when i went into rematch (APIA) because of that, my counselor said that she has never met people as cold as my host parents and that their emotional IQ was below freezing ;-)

so yes, personality issues can be a reason for rematch. i guess it depends on your agency as to how much they value this as problem just like constantly working longer hours etc would be.

from the AP perspective, i think you are more likely to try to sit this out or make it work than going into rematch. at least that’s what it was like for me. it took me six months to realize that this relationship will not work out and that they will always be this cold no matter how much i tried to engage with them. so it became a question of me asking myself if i want this for another 6 months or not. looking back i should have rematched much sooner.
like many will agree here, getting someone who is great with kids is one thing but you are always dealing with the parents as well. and that’s where the trickiness comes in…

Calif Mom February 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm

North Carolina AP — I agree with your assessment of the original post.

As for your 4th month with a ‘cold’ family — that sounds difficult to me! I am a bit surprised your agency rep told you that you couldn’t rematch because of personality differences. our counselors at Au Pair in America would allow that.

I do understand that different agencies put a lot of pressure on their reps to avoid rematches, but it’s not like they ever disclose those rematch rates to anyone! In my experience, the 4th month can be a watershed — by then you are either doing great with a family, or are in rematch. I would certainly not think ill of you wanting to find a family that is more outgoing and demonstrative.

TXMom February 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Try to speak with the AP about her goals for the year and re-motivate her. There were some great ideas on this site in another thread about creating a “goal bulletin board” in the AP’s room – something for her to get past the initial blue months. (But, after 2 months you should cut your losses if her mood doesn’t improve. IMHO)
You may also want to work out of the house for long periods at a time in the next month to give her some independence and confidence. I have found that the “sink or swim” method works best for the working mom, the AP and the kids.

HM in VA February 16, 2010 at 5:57 am

I think the original poster needs to step back and think about whether she is asking her AP to change her behavior (activities, methods with the children, participation in family life) or change her personality (be cheerful, engage in small talk with adults, take on a new outlook on her life). The former is reasonable; the latter certainly is not. If this AP simply isn’t a good fit for an outgoing and bubbly family, this is not her fault and it is not reasonable to ask her to ‘change.’

I just finished (12 months) with an AP who also completely lacked the ability to engage adults in conversation and did many of the (annoying) things the original poster described like not greeting the family and not communicating basic information unless asked directly. Dinners with her could be painful. She was GREAT with my kids, though, and we kept her for the year. I don’t regret keeping her at all, but I’m really glad her replacement is more outgoing.

She can’t change who she is, so don’t ask her to try.

Europhile February 16, 2010 at 6:08 am

Our first AP, who was with us for nine months (we don’t live in the US and tend to have APs that want to stay less than 1 year), was a terrible communicator. She was great with the kids, but she couldn’t have a conversation with us, and it wore us down (particularly my husband). She also had a bit of an attitude. She stayed with us for the whole agreed period.

We are now on our third au pair, and we keep learning what we expect from our AP and how to communicate with her. We wouldn’t want to repeat the experience with the first, and would explain to her what we want. We make sure we go through this during the interview process. If we ended up with another bad fit, I would cut my losses and move on. There was too much tension between me and my DH, and I can’t deal with that. I would try and protect the AP, but it didn’t do any of us good. Luckily, our last two APs have been wonderful, no issues at all, and I really believe it’s a learning process.

Host Mom February 16, 2010 at 11:20 am

Whoa – I have a constricting throat and wibrating eyelid from stress over what I just read. It sounds like you are describing our last AP – she was with us for 4 weeks and it is 4 weeks I don’t care to remember. I am NOT objective when writing this and I have zero patience or tolerance for APs that are not communicative or engaging.

Move on! Your kids and your family deserve better. No matter what you say – your kids will feel like it there fault that the AP is not talking to them, kids just KNOW if adults are enjoying their time with them or just doing a duty. Your kids deserve to spend time with someone that likes their company and are engaging. Aside from that your kids are all in a very heavy developmental stage and they need all the positive, encouraging and fun input they can get and sponge up.

Base your decision on what you think will be better for the kids and it will make everything easier for you.

Calif Mom February 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Humor me here, but I would again like make one of my hard-learned, favorite points about au pair/family relationships: finding someone who is great with KIDS is easier than you think, while finding someone who can handle the kids and also the parents is much trickier. To me, you have to have both of those skills in order to make a go0od match. It is not good to have the parents absorbing a ton of additional stress while toughing it out because “she is great with the kids, and we don’t want to put the kids through the pain of an early rematch”. Kids adjust much better than you think (no absolutes, of course, but in general), and the stress of absorbing all those not-quite-right things is really quite hard on the parents, especially if you are looking at months of it ahead of you.

Better for all three parties to be happy: parents, kids, and au pair. And personality match does fit into this equation.

I do think, for the OP, it’s a tad different b/c she’s already 1/5th done with her term with this AP, since they are only hosting her for 5 months. By the time she finds and trains up a replacement–not to mention dealing with the guilt of sending this AP back to the states–there won’t be much time left for a new AP to bond with the kids anyway, so it’s really a temp, stop-gap kind of arrangement.

Sara Duke February 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I think that those of you who have typical children may be able to go into rematch quite easily. For those with special needs children who need to be driven, the venn diagram of available au pairs in country at any given time is next to zero. When HD and I are forced to weigh the consequences of waiting for an out-of-country au pair to arrive, we usually let our pique of anger pass (albeit we call yet another monthly meeting). The last time I wanted to go into rematch there were 2 au pairs who would fit our minimum requirements in rematch status (not to say that either of them necessarily would have been up to the task). HD and LCC managed to help me take a deep breath.

So I can live without a perfect adult-au pair relationship as long as there is a good au pair-special needs child relationship — for one year.

Calif Mom February 16, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I can only imagine how hard it is to find someone who meets your needs! Rematch isn’t ever easy, though, the emotions run very high, and you don’t want to end up out of the frying pan into the fire.

But I agree with your larger point–there is no perfect!–and you really do need your au pair to have a good relationship with your daughter. Glad you have a network to help you catch your breath! (I just drafted our new host family letter, since we need to start thinking about recruiting; apparently I swung too far on the ‘trying to scare off any and all princesses’ continuum. He insists I do nothing further with it until he can edit. Where would we be without our advisors to remind us when to take deep breaths?!)

I have a sticky note at work that reads “I practice radical acceptance”. A very helpful concept at times.

DCHostMom February 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Wow … we are going thru a very similar issue. Our AP is not sullen, she is just very shy and quiet. She never speaks! She smiles but she never makes any noise. Our previous AP was such an extrovert and always proactively looking for ways to engage the kids. Our new AP makes minimal effort. I have caught her reading a magazine (or sometimes the driver’s ed manual) while my 4 y.o. son sits alone and plays with his Legos. I give her suggestions for things to do with the kids but she says that she tries and they don’t want to. I’ve been trying to decide if this is reason enough and warrants re-match. She has been with us six weeks now.

Calif Mom February 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

6 weeks in, it’s probably not going to suddenly be “ok”.

That said, I think it’s totally fine for your 4 yo to be playing legos by himself! Not all day long, but neither does he need someone coaching him at that, either, so I don’t think any damage is being done.

I’ve discovered that our weekends are harder than they used to be because when Mom and Dad are on duty, we don’t stop everything and engage in imaginative play with the kids. Sorry, but there are errands and chores, kids! They much prefer to hang with our au pair…this is “a good problem”, of course, but too much of a good thing can create its own unusual situations. Took us awhile to figure out why kids were being so needy on weekends. They had to remember how to play by themselves, fix their own problems a bit.

MommyMia February 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I agree – it’s hard sometimes to strike a balance between engaging in play with preschoolers and letting them sometimes just be on their own. It’s a tough concept for many au pairs (and even us parents) to grasp, and though I try not to butt in when I see that my little one was happily playing alone and then got cranky when AP tried to involved herself in the game or activity, you do need to point out that sometimes the AP just needs to be nearby keeping an eye & ear out, but can read or tidy up or do something else. Learn to enjoy listening to the make-believe scenarios and see how their imaginations work! Absolutely necessary for development and they do need to work things out by themselves in order to grow into reasonable human beings.

E2 February 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

We had a sullen, grumpy au pair and eventually did rematch. I found I started questioning what I was doing wrong, why she wasn’t happier, more fun with the kids, etc. But I think some people are just grumpy, have a chip on their shoulder or whatever. If it is not a good fit, rematch – the whole family will be happier!

Calif Mom February 16, 2010 at 11:09 pm

we had one like this whom I’m convinced had Depression. (We were her third family. I, ever the cockeyed optimist, have learned much.)

Former French Au Pair February 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I think the advice you have been given should help to give your au pair one more chance to prove herself to you.
Homesickness can be a short-term syndrome of living abroad as an au pair, and it brings emotions which causes are difficult to precisely identify… Keep talking to her and try different things to make her feel home and cheer her up (find her friends, meals from home, as suggested).
But her attitude may also be a combination of the above and her personality. She may be more shy and reserved than expected, and is unable to adapt to the personalities/ style of your family. A personality mismatch can happen and there is really no way to change a person, so a rematch (although difficult in your situation) may be called for.
I had for example an American family with an au pair whose native language was English, but yet she never spoke unless asked a question, only brief answers, never engaged the children and had a hard time gaining their respect. She went on with a family that wanted a more “homy” and less extraverted au pair and did fine. My family rematched with a super extraverted, very active, funny, laughing, silly but mature & independant au pair. They ended up extending for a 2nd year together.
So I guess finding out the exact reason for her behaviour would be the #1 task, and then that can help you determine if it is something that can be solved (like short-term homesickness) or not (like a personality trait or long-term homesickness).

Also, even though you are not with an agency, there might be a nanny/ au pair group in your area she could plug into?

aupair February 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I’ve been au pair in England for 5 months already and now I took another family. As an au pair, I tried my best to fit into the previous family. Played with the children, took them to the park, with the bus in town, or just stayed indoors and played games. Sometimes I left them play by themselves while I was watching the telly or reading a magazine and that’s because honestly, you cannot play 8 hours without stopping. And as we all know, you have to be very active durring the day with children and you just feel the need to take some moments and sit down. And if the children are playing nice by themselves, then where is the problem?I don’t agree leaving the children in front of the telly for the hole day or being obsessive with watching films.
Besides this, I took care of the house, painting the bathroom, washing their car, washing the cooker daily and tidying up all the things, from zero. I did more than my job assumed. I worked very hard, I must say, and the house was shinny, the children were clean and with their dinner ready, and the dog was walked and combed daily.
I bought english books and a cambrige notebook with exercises from the library to improve my language.
I even made conversations with them, every night at dinner, laughing, making jokes, being interested in their life and day. I was all the time available, offering myself to babysitt in weekends (from 6 a’clock in the morning ) just to let the parents sleep more in the morning.
And guess what? they seemed to be glad with me, but they weren’t. I always felt they don’t like some part of my personality. They were very grateful at the end. but I somehow felt they wished to replace me as soon as they had the chance. They never asked me to stay more, even if I could do it. Even if they had problems in finding another girl after my leaving.
I really tried to be part of their familly but I also left them enough time to be alone and have privacy with the children. At dinner times I always gave them a report about how the day went and how are the children or if there were any problems with them.
At the end, I felt very dissapointed. I worked my ass out and I invested in them, hoping that they won’t be that cold with me. Hoping that they would ask more about my home country, about my family, about my preferences.
Being au par is a hell of a job : you have to be active and creative during the day with the children and find your way around the house, and be polite and cheerful at night time with the parents.

Euromom March 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hey aupair – you sound absolutely wonderful and I know that it will not mean so much to you now but that family will really really appreciate you – now that you are gone :o(

You are the type of au pair that most families can only dream of having so please do not feel discouraged – but I have one piece of dvise for you – only invest this amount of effort again if you see a return.

But thank you for letting us know that there are girls like you out there.

aupair March 4, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Thank you, that’s very kind. You made me happy to see that at least somebody could appreciate that.
I think AP- Host family should have an Win Win type relation. If they treat me nice and respect me, I’m happy, if I do my tasks and respect them, they should be happy.
Like you said, you were right. They send me a text to say the children are driving them mad, the dog is sad and they all miss me. It’s funny how I’m not happy about this, it makes me feel more sad.
Is bad when people don’t realise what they had just until they it’s gone for good, isn’t it? I am wondering, should people (hostmoms, au pairs, etc) have had bad experiences first, in order to be able to appreciate the good ones? Otherwise, we think we deserve everything that happens to us?
N0w I’m at a new family. I’m their first AP. They were so nice they even took maps and leaflets with the city,with cafes and with trains timetable and put them near my bed. But I don’t even know how to be with the host family anymore. Should I just do my tasks? Or should I try to get close, to invest feelings in them, in their children, in their pet?
Actually, my biggest concern is : are the host parents investing something in their AP? or is, after all, just a person who works for them?

Chev March 4, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I think you should definitely invest in your new HF. They sound like they think of you as more than just an employee, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered with the maps and timetables.
Having a bad experience can be rough, my first host family wasn’t the best fit for me, nor me for them. But having lived and worked through that i appreciate even more the wonderful family i have now.

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