It seems like this brand new host mom did everything right (or, rather, took all of our recommendations) for getting started with an Au Pair.
Careful consideration, lots of advance learning, deep interviewing, a handbook (!), and lots of positive energy. Even after their new Au Pair arrived and presented the challenge of extreme homesick, this new CosyFarmHostMom did what I’d have recommended.
So now what? Her Au Pair’s homesickness has not abated, one bit.
Here are all the details. After her email, I’ll offer a little feedback and then turn it over to you, wise readers.
First, can I just say how absolutely amazing au pair mom is?! The wealth of information is invaluable. I have spent a great deal of time pouring over the website in the last eight months. In January, we began to contemplate having an au pair join our family. My husband and I both work full time and we have two children (3 and 5.5). After a few months of reading, we made the plunge and matched with our au pair from Germany. She arrived in the US one week ago and to our home on Friday.
To be honest, I expected growing pains and an adjustment period, but I did not think I would be reaching out for advice so soon.
We went through an extensive screening process (thanks to TexasHM for all the tips). We emailed and skyped. We sent an excerpt of our newly drafted handbook. We sent challenge questions. Our au pair seemed great: engaged and excited!
Fast forward to her actual arrival: The person that we skyped/emailed with is not the one who arrived.
The first day was great with a lot going on. We welcomed her to our home with a laid back afternoon and had dinner at my family’s home at our lakehouse (about 30 minutes away). Our second day started well with exchanging presents and showing her around the house, but by the afternoon, our au pair declined the opportunity to go out with me to buy a birthday present for our youngest. When we returned, she sent me a text asking me to come up to her room, where I found her crying. She said that she had been missing her family since her arrival. I parked the toddler in front of the tv, comforted our au pair, took her for a walk around our farm and made her tea. My husband and I asked her all about her family, her home, and her life after the kids went to bed.
On Sunday, she came with us on a hike in the morning. In the afternoon, after some driving practice, she took the au pair car to visit with her training school roommate. When she came home, she went directly to her room and later texted me crying. We tried more comforting, engaging and talking.
Yesterday, her first day of real on the job training, she was not excited to begin — at all. We went over the handbook. I showed her more of the town, with stops at the local Y (where she was able to join under our family membership), the playground (she sat on a bench most of the time), the library and our favorite specialty grocery store. At the library, I left her with the kids to use the bathroom and returned to find her crying at a table with the kids. She cried and told me she was “so sad” between the library and grocery store. She declined to even look around the grocery store when I invited her to see if anything looked great for lunch.
When we got home, she helped with lunch and as soon as the toddler was down for a nap, she went up to her room. My 5 year old went to ask her to play, and she told him to wait a few minutes. 45 minutes later, I went to her room, and, after knocking, found her sobbing to her dad on Skype. Her parents are supportive, but I wonder if they pushed her into this? She later came down to play with my son, who had been so excited to play.
We reached out to our LCC last night.
This morning, she came down at her start time (my first day back in the office) and told me she was so sad. She said she would be ok with the kids. She texted at 11:00 and asked if I could come home. I can’t; I have been out of the office for four days.
Is this the normal level of homesickness? Am I expecting too much?
Concrete Action Steps I am preparing for a reset conversation with very concrete things we need to see: A plan for each day with one outside and one inside activity and the meal plan (I will help her with this initially); two things to talk about at dinner (one about her family and one about her day); I plan on giving her a checklist for each day.
But I’m not sure she is up for this.
- Do we stick this out? Head into rematch?
- Drastically change the way we train?
- Are we not right for the au pair program?
We’d love any advice that AuPairMom readers might offer — CosyFarmHostMom
Dear CosyFarm Host Mom —
This situation sounds awful, but hold on– many of us have faced similar situations with new au pairs who are overwhelmed by homesickness. It *is* something that can be turned around, and while you’re working on it, your LCC can be putting into place a back up plan should either you or your Au Pair want to throw in the towel.
First — know that your Agency will almost assuredly not allow the Au Pair to go straight back home.
Unless there is some kind of insanely egregious issue, she must stay with your family for at least two weeks… and since it’s the start of her year, the expectation is that she can’t rematch or leave within the first TWO MONTHS. The reason Agencies have a two-month block on rematches at the start of an au pair year is precisely to give all the parties involved a chance to work things out (and/or to set up a plan B).
You are doing the right things right now.
Asking your Au Pair to step up and take charge of the kids is the right thing to do on many levels. It keeps her busy, gives you the childcare you need, lets her get a real sense of what the job will be like, and may even distract her from her homesickness.
Your reset conversation plan and the very specific guidelines for what she should do are wonderful. Expect her to continue to work, and **don’t come home early from work yourself**. She can handle the kids — it’s her mindset that’s the challenge.
Your next step should be: “Close the exits.”
By exits, I mean
(1) the idea of a return to her home anytime before eight weeks are up,
(2) the idea of shirking from her job responsibilities and interacting with your family, and
(3) the idea of seeking succor from her parents or folks back home — which only enhances rather than diminishes homesickness.
Nobody works on fixing a hard relationship or overcoming a hard situation if they know that they can leave — physically or emotionally — or as long as they expect that someone else will rescue them. As long as your Au Pair thinks she can go home immediately, not do the work and play she’s here to do, and call her parents every time she should instead be learning to be independent, she’ll reinforce her homesickness.
I could go on, but I know that other readers have ideas for you too — cvh
Image by juanedc on Flickr