Can This Relationship Be Saved?: Au Pair Seems to be Giving Up

by cv harquail on February 11, 2013

Waaa waaa waaa waaa……

Sometimes I hear stories about au pairs and their complaints and I want to say:

“Dude, grow UP.”
“No one forced you to become an au pair. No one forced you to pick this particular family. No one’s making you do anything out of the ordinary. No one’s skimping on your food, your comfort, or your time off. Take a deep breath and buck the *&#% up already.”

And then, I tell my inner witch to calm down and listen more closely to the story.

Which was what I had to do when I got this email from a host mom for whom everything was going well, until her au pair started crying. Yeah, crying. Why? Well the au pair offered a reason, but when the host parents made a switch to meet her needs, the au pair didn’t respond.

Perhaps you, dear readers, are in a better head space than I am, and you can offer some sympathy to the au pair and some really wise advice to our HostMomW/Disconnect…

Dear Au Pair Mom — 

I have an AP who has been with our family now for 2.5 months.  She is great.  She’s 24.  Our family loves her and the kids have a lot of fun with her.  We have three boys 5,3, and 2 and she handles them beautifully.  She is very easy to live with and we really have no complaints about her or her performance.

Unfortunately, on Sunday night we came home to a crying AP who said she is no longer comfortable living in our house.  She thinks the kids are great, but she says that for the last 2-3 weeks she no longer feels a connection to my husband or me. She says that is a dealbreaker for her.

We were shocked and saddened to learn of this both because it means that she has been unhappy for a few weeks and we didn’t pick up on it, and because it means we could be losing our AP.

When we tried to get some more specifics out of her so that we could address what was making her unhappy.  She said it really bothered her that when we came home at the end of the day we would encourage her to take a break and tell the kids to leave her alone for a bit.  We thought we were giving her some much needed space and a break from the chaos at the end of what I know can be very long days with our boys, but she felt it was excluding her from the family.

It seems like the easy enough fix is to change what we’re saying at the end of the day and encourage her to stick around us during the dinner/evening hours.  We’re trying that now, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough.  Yesterday I came home an hour before she was officially off-duty and told her if she needed to finish up homework before class that night I’d be glad to take over.  She said her homework was finished but instead of sticking around me and the boys she went upstairs for the next 3 hours until her class.

She does not seem as open or comfortable as she did last week. I’m worried that her mind is already made up to rematch.  Also, I wonder– are there other things going on – homesickness setting in?…the winter is getting long (we live in the Upper Midwest)?…maybe there are other issues that she doesn’t feel comfortable telling us?

To complicate matters I am pregnant and due in 2 weeks, taking care of an ailing mother, and have a lot on my plate right now.

I’m feeling like my gas tank is nearly empty and I don’t have the energy I would normally have to address this situation and take care of her the way that she may need right now.  For example, I thought it would be nice to ask her to watch some TV together last night after her class, but I just couldn’t stay awake.  LC suggested taking a family trip to the zoo or indoor amusment park, but I’m having trouble even finding time for self-care right now and don’t know how we could fit that in (hubby is picking up a lot of slack right now too).

Sometimes I just feel like letting the cards fall where they may and deal with the consequences of it later because I’m worn out.  AP’s are supposed to make life easier (which she was until Sunday) and now life is much more complicated and stressful.

Another side note is that this is our second AP.  Our first was a disaster.  She came, got into an accident with our kids in the car and did not tell us.  When confronted with the obvious damage and the report from our 5 year old 2 days later ,she said she was sorry and then fled the next day.  Her visa was revoked and we started the search for a replacement.  So, the AP program has not been all I could hope for so far…

So is our AP throwing in the towel? 

If she is, is there anything we can do about it?

Help or advice is appreciated.


Should be working February 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Weird story!! And 2 weeks until 4th baby comes is reeeeeally bad timing. Maybe she is indeed homesick, or jealous, or covering up a real reason of her own with the story of the ‘lack of connection’ with you. Maybe something came up at home, or she had a bad boyfriend moment or something?

I have a feeling others will have more patient, constructive advice than I can come up with. I would be MAD and distraught, frankly.

Thinking constructively: Probably you should try a friendly sit-down (again) and ask her explicitly to please try staying with you for 6 more weeks, you will attempt to be what she perceives as more welcoming and includisve, but you are really at your end of your rope right now and hope she can try keeping to her commitment for at least that long before giving up. Maybe a letter would be easier if language is an issue. Maybe a carrot/bonus for trying again for a few weeks, like a gift of some kind. I will be interested to see what others say.

NHM February 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm

my question to you would be whether you need her to cover/help during the next few weeks. Honestly, you will not have extra time and patience for her while welcoming a new baby and helping your three older ones not feel neglected. If you are set with help from friends and family you could give the AuPair the choice of staying or leaving. If you need her I like asking her to stay a few more weeks and then re-evaluate. Altogether the next few weeks won’t be a time when you have extra time/energy. Making this clear to the AuPair may also help.

Au pair with two awesome kids February 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

From an au pairs perspective: sit down with her after the kids are in bed and talk to het. She seems like that she needs to be included in the family at all times, and you seem not to have a problem with that. Tell her that you really really like her, and you would want her to join anything she would like to join, because you like spending time with het. Tell her that you know that it is hard to be with kids all day long, and you just don’t want that she feels taken advantage of. Tell her that! Tell her that her well being is very important to you and your husband. She seems like a good au pair, therefore I would really try to fix this, because it is hard to find a good au pair as you already experienced. Also it is hard for your kids as well when au pairs come and go all the time. I understand you are pregnant, but I think a talk is possible. I think what she wants and needs is knowing that you care about her and that you like her, and I think that is not a lot to ask since she cares about you and your kids, otherwise she wouldn’t do such a great job with them. Good luck!i don’t think she has given up yet, she cried, and told you how she felt. If she wouldn’t care, she would have left without any tears. Don’t give up. She is a good one!

Aussie AP February 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I second this! Talk to her!
The fact that she has TOLD you that she’s unhappy proves that she likes you guys. Just talk to her. It could be that she’s totally misinterpreted something you guys may have offhandedly said or done. The “feel free to go upstairs and have some peace” might have come across as “please go away.” even though it most certainly was not meant that way.

Maybe she’s just homesick. Or tired. Or quietly dreading how her nicely established routine is going to be turned upside down when the new baby comes (nothing anyone can help. Your life will be as well, of course.) and isn’t sure how to deal with it. It could be a whole multitude of things. But I do think jumping straight to the rematch conclusion is unfair on her and will be a major pain in the you-know-what for you guys.

If she’s good and you like her, TELL her that. When you live in an environment where you’re never quite comfortable (no matter how lovely your host family is) and where you’re often likely to misinterpret things, little things like a “hey, you’re really great at what you do and we really like you. What can we do to fix things?” can make the biggest difference in the world.

spanishaupair February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I will sugest talk with her. If she has opened to tell you the reason is because she probably wants to keep it, but sometimes when you finish crying is because you are a bit over limits and is not going to cover just in a day. And ask her if she has any other problems she wants to tell you and you can help, usually is not only a simple one, except if its a really big one.
Good luck, and hopefully you can solve this problem as you seen you like her and she likes your family, and with the new arrival :)

PA AP Mom February 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I think a lot of times, once an AP (or a host family) has made the decision to give up on the relationship, it can be best to just part ways and move on.

You are very pregnant and about to have another child. Dealing with the baby and the sibling issues that always present themselves at each new addition is going to take up A LOT of your time and energy. Will you resent dealing with this young person’s issues at the same time? I would hope that during this transitional time in your family your AP would be more help instead of more work.

I would like to say sit down, talk it out, try to make adjustments, etc but at this point, I’m not sure in your situation I would have the time, energy, or desire to do that.

Our 1st AP (6 years ago) checked out about month 9. She told my kids they were brats and she didn’t care about them anymore. She started making smart comments about everything around the house. We ONLY had 3 months left so I tried to make it work. In hindsight, I definitely should have initiated a rematch. I bent over backwards to make sure she was “happy” and I ended up miserable.

CA Host Mom February 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I agree with SBW and NHM above.

Really bad timing! I would initially be mad and echoing the statements in the intro to this post … and then I would take a breath and calm down and try and decide how to accomplish what is best for all.

First, it totally sounds to me (based on what you have said above) like there is more to the story than her out-of-the-blue-all-of-the-sudden feeling like the connection to you and your husband has vanished into thin air. I agree with a follow up, direct, and compassionate conversation to try and tease that out. Did she feel a connection, and now all of the sudden it is gone? Or has she always felt that there was a lack of connection there? Maybe you have already asked those questions …

Next, 2.5 months is about where we were when we called it quits with our last AP. Our situation was quite different (your AP sounds like a great AP; ours, as an AP, was awful) but I wonder if the timing is indicative of a settling in period, or a typical window of commitment for an AP who might not be happy where she is, but tries to stick it out and see if she starts to feel better over time.

And my goodness do you have my empathy here because I remember how hard it is to even get the basics covered when you are that close to the end of your pregnancy. I’d say that the suggestion of a frank discussion about whether or not she can stick with the commitment and give you 6 weeks is a really good one, even if she intends to leave after that.

A lot of stress and effort that you really shouldn’t have to be dealing with right now, but it could be worth it in the long run …

Good luck to you, HostMomW/Disconnect…

SnowMom February 11, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I wrote the original question and I’m writing in to give an update…

So we really made an effort to bring her into the fold of the family last week. Sometimes she responded and hung out with my husband, boys and I in the evening (they all went ice skating and sledding together) and other times she would just shut down. This weekend she spent the entire weekend away from home out with friends and we made a very concerted effort to keep her up to date on what and where we were going and inviting her along. Don’t get me wrong – we are just fine with her going out and I think it’s healthy for her to have a great social life, but then don’t tell me that we aren’t making an effort to connect with you. Last night at dinner she just texted on her phone and answered questions we posed to draw her into conversation with the most minimal answers.

She was also extremely morose and dramatic about the snow we got this weekend. Snow is ruining her life, it’s December everyday, normal people don’t live in areas where the weather is like this for five months of the year, etc. I am trying my best to be sympathetic, but we really tried to warn her about the cold climate, winter, and what the job would be like (I used many of this website’s contributors advice and “dared” AP’s to match with us – I never “sold” our family as an easy job). It is just seeming like a lot of hand holding and energy going toward somethings that maybe I can’t change, like the weather or including her if she is not willing to meet us half way.

CA Host Mom February 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm


Sorry to hear this … as hard as it will be to do during this time for you and your family (you may not even have the resources/extended /family/friends/etc. to help), I would end it.

Based on your update, I really feel like her story about not connecting with you and your husband is made up and she should be saying, “I wish that I would have matched with a family that lived in [any state that doesn’t have extreme weather].”

Alex February 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

I’m sorry for the bad timing but your AP gave up long ago and she’s just looking for a way out.

The things is, you will be welcoming a baby anytime soon and won’t have the patience to deal with not only having to spare “me time” with 3 boys, but with the AP. It’s not fair for you, the kids or your husband since she doesn’t seem to be making an effort either.

Host Mom in the City February 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Yikes. Given this update, end it now.

Reb February 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Just an idea, why do you not ask her flat out how she is feeling now and if she wants to stay with your family? I am sure you want to know if you need to arrange alternative childcare, especially since you are about to have a baby!

Goof Luck!

Gianna February 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I think that aupairs believe that saying that there is ” just no connection ” is the kindest way to say ” I am just not happy and I want out ” . It reminds me of men who thought that saying ” I am just not ready to get serious ” was a kind way to say ” I don’t want to get serious with you, now, because I think I can do a little better ” LOL
I think that there is a good chance that this young lady and homesick and cannot articulate it because she doesn’t think she is homesick. Very few people believe that they are homesick and deny it strongly. They attribute the general blue feeling to all kinds of other things like the weather, the food, the location. You are in a tough spot because you haven’t the luxury of nursing her through this right now but calling for rematch might create more problems than it solves. How long would it be before you could get someone new ? How much time will you have to train someone new. How draining will it be to have her interviewing potential families ? I think you have done nothing wrong and tried very hard. I think maybe backing off a little bit ( hard as that is to do ) might be your best bet. I would not keep tap dancing trying to make her happy. You’ve already tried with some success. The snow was pretty bad here in the Northeast this weekend – you might point that out in a gentle way. We had a hurricaine, too , not so long ago. This malaise might pass and you will have saved yourself a lot of grief by not rematching. Hope it gets better

NoVA Twin Mom February 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Between reading here over the years and talking to my more talkative au pairs, I feel like there’s a set of “code” that au pairs use to get themselves into rematch and increase their chances of being matched with a new family. I feel like there’s a parallel network – like this one, just for au pairs and not through a formal website – where au pairs network and look for “phrases that will get you into rematch but not sent home”.

“There’s just no connection” seems to be one phrase. “I don’t feel like part of the family” seems to be another. I’m sorry if those things are true, really I am, but the phrases seem to hide a deeper problem that families taking an au pair out of rematch probably need to investigate. As someone pointed out elsewhere on the thread, it probably DOES mean “I wish I matched differently and now I don’t know what to do about it – but I know if I use that as my reason for leaving the family I’ll never get a new hostfamily and I’ll have to go home.”

If your au pair is using one of these phrases, she’s already decided she wants to rematch. If she doesn’t want to be there, you don’t want her taking care of your kids. Especially when you’re about to bring a newborn into the family. Do you have family/friends that could come help? If you do, pull off the bandaid, rematch now, and move on.

Just be aware that you’re going to need an infant qualified au pair and they’re hard to find in the rematch pool. So you might be looking at a six week wait to bring someone in from “home” – and you probably won’t even be allowed to start looking for that someone until you call rematch. So you probably wouldn’t be able to start looking during the six week grace period people are discussing.

NoVA Twin Mom February 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I reread what I wrote and realize it sounds really grumpy. I do empathize with au pairs that have landed in rotten placements and who probably do need an LCC-approved “this wasn’t a good match so let’s give her a redo” option. There are some strange host families out there, just like there are flame out au pairs, even though the majority of both hostfamilies and au pairs are committed to the success of the program.

But I really do think there are code phrases that host families considering rematch au pairs should know to question if they hear them, and feel that in this case, where the phrase seems to be coming out of nowhere, the au pair is probably looking for a nice way to say “I just don’t want to be HERE anymore”.

Penn AP Mom February 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I just need to add that I’ve rematched and needed Infant-Qualified. Both times I was able to find an in-country match AND both worked out really well! The first time, 5 years ago, I find an in-country IQ match and the au pair ended up not just finishing their year (9 months) with us but extended for a second year. This past year I had to rematch again and needed IQ. We knew within 2 weeks of the first AP’s arrival that is was not going to work (mutual decision), but my agency won’t let you begin rematch until 1 month has passed and then it is a 2 week period. Since I had 4 weeks I utilized facebook and found my own IQ rematch Au Pair. I only looked at AP’s who were already in the rematch process – A LOT of them post on FB (I have the ability to house/room 2 AP’s at once). I would warn any AP’s reading this, however, that if you look for a new family and are not currently in the rematch process your agency can and should send you home.

Penn AP Mom February 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Just to add, it goes against the spirit of the program for AP’s and host families to “shop” for something better. My 2nd rematch was not a case of this, it was a bad fit and it was our AP who came to us and said she was not capable of fulfilling the duties which she had agreed to (3 children ages 5 and under were more than she had realized). It was because of this that we agreed to rematch when the agency would allow and I began looking at other rematch AP’s and gave my outgoing AP a good recommendation for working with older children.

Seattle Mom February 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Well.. you could start looking before you are officially in rematch on It’s not exactly kosher, but it makes your situation a little easier and it’s not explicitly illegal. You just need to do a search for au pairs from your agency, and you’ll find au pairs who are either in rematch or thinking about rematch and already fishing for a family (see, it’s not entirely kosher and it cuts both ways). But you can also find an AP who is extending that way, and who wants a little more control over the matching process.

Skny February 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I say talk to her, ask her to hold on for 5 or 6 more weeks and then you will help her rematch. Explain you really need her right now and will make sure you will help her getting what she needs afterwards (if that’s her wish). That this is a bad timing and you need her to hold on until baby is here and you are settled.
Also I’d get LCc involved

Should be working February 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Hey, good point I thought of based on SKNY’s comment: Tell her you really really need her to hold out 6 weeks (if indeed that would be an easier time to organize rematch than right now), and if she does a good job, she will get a good recommendation from you, which would help her have choices about her next family. If she can’t do a good job, you can point out, you will have to say so when asked by LCC and a future HF.

au pair February 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

But if she sais that, she might want to leave immediatly? Just my guss… She doesnt have to stay 6 more weeks, so i think saying something like if you dont do a good job, i do not give you a good reccomondation might make her leave faster…(i agree, if she does not do a good job, i would not give her a good reccomendation either.)

Alex February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

But what if once she tells the AP to hold on for 6 weeks, the AP starts lacking even more, or getting detached from the kids -who will have to deal with mom and dad being all over the new baby- ?
Wouldn’t it be better to bring someone new, with more energy and new, positive vibes to hang out with the boys? The last thing you need (imo) when you’re with a new born is AP -or any kind of- drama.

Skny February 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm

One last thing… Where is she from?

SnowMom February 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm


Momma Gadget February 12, 2013 at 10:23 am

That could explain a Lot!!! Maybe she is suffering on top of homesickness a bit of S.A.D. To be warned of what winter is like, and to experience it are 2 very different things.
I hope you are able to work things out!

SKNY February 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Thats what I thought…
I am from South America (not Mexico though) and do get some winter blues every year (even after being here for 9 years)
I do also agree with who told about that being a code for I matched wrong and want out….
Most au pairs lie on their references, and 3 young kids can be hard. A new baby coming can be even more scary.

Aussie AP February 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm

This is a really good point. I was “warned” of the grey, sunless, cold European winter. But being warned about it and actually experiencing it are two different things. When you are used to sunshine 300 days out of the year, going three months without seeing proper sunshine for more than twenty minutes every once in a while can really do your head in. Cold is one thing. Lack of sunlight is another.

This winter has knocked me around a lot and combined with homesickness, can really be a kicker.

I really do think you might be onto something with this point.

Dorsi February 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Oh! I have a fresh newborn at home and am very sympathetic to those last few weeks of pregnancy — especially when there are other small kids in the house. Now, I am a few weeks post partum (and welcoming a new AP this week) and feel like I can conquer the world. The six week plan (with the carrot of a good letter of recommendation) sounds like a very good plan.

One thing that jumped out at me was your note about her being morose and texting at the table. That is very bad behavior, in my opinion. If you continue with this Au Pair, will you be able to ask her to change (that or anything else) without constantly feeling like: “If I say anything, she is just going to leave.”? I had that feeling with AP#2 and put up with a lot of things I shouldn’t have.

Should be working February 12, 2013 at 2:09 am

Congratulations Dorsi! Haven’t ‘seen’ you here in awhile, hope all is well with the new baby (and the ‘old’ baby/babies).

BoysMama February 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Yes, congratulations indeed! And you are Wonder Woman if you already feel you can conquer the world.

I agree with you about all of this… She is a good Au Pair whose head has gone in the wrong direction, but there is a possibility that she may be the best possible option for the next six weeks. DO NOT allow her to behave badly because she’s in a bad mood… no texting at the table and no rude behavior… that needs to be nipped in the bud. She was warned about the weather and being away from home and you are not responsible for any bad surprises.

Be up front about everything. Tell her you understand she seems to have decided to move on but ask her to please honor her commitment to you during a crazy stressful time in your life. I think it’s totally reasonable to ask for that and give a good referral if she performs but not if she quits and leaves you in such a bad spot through no fault of your own. One option is the responsible thing for her to do, the other is irresponsible and downright disrespectful and it is appropriate to give recommendations based on performance and integrity.

I’m so sorry you are going through this. We just suffered a flameout so I’m supersensitive to Au Pairs who agree to everything and promise everything and then act shocked that there are actual live children living in the house (my Bro-Pair) or that it actually is cold in the winter (yours). But you had a good one with potential. Give it one last shot, but be prepared to drop it if she is making your life harder instead of easier.

Good luck.

CAmom22 February 13, 2013 at 10:36 am

Very well said BoysMama. Good advice. And congratulations Dorsi!!

SnowMom February 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm

We had a good sit down tonight and she says she is feeling more comfortable again. I appreciate Dorsi’s point that I don’t want to feel like we’re constantly under the threat of her leaving if something isn’t going her way or she’s unhappy with something that might be out of our control. I also don’t want to be tap dancing to make her happy while dealing with a newborn, but in many ways that seems easier than finding a new AP at this point in the game.

I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to push through this tough spot but I’m sure time will tell. Lets just hope she can make it the next few weeks at least. Thanks for all the advice so far!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 12, 2013 at 8:04 am

When we had an AP on the fence, it was our LCC who suggested that we give her a week decide whether she was staying or leaving. The LCC told both of us – the HF and the AP – that if she decided to stay then she was committed to the year (unless something drastic happened). It seems to me, that this would be a good idea for your family, too. You have enough on your platter without having an AP yank your chain (even if she wasn’t doing it on purpose). When our LCC returned one week later, and the AP decided to stay, she had us both verbally agree to a one-year commitment. It sounds like a similar type of meeting and agreement would give you the piece of mind you need to continue your caregiving and have your baby without the added stress of feeling like the AP could pull the rug under your feet at any moment.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm

I seem to recall another conversation on this list where a HM wrote that 3 months was the “witching month.” The newness of being in a new country had worn off and the reality of another 9 months hit home.

Call your LCC and arrange for a mediated meeting. If your LCC has been around the block, then she’ll know how to deal with it. It sounds like a classic case of homesickness – nothing’s right and you (the HM) don’t have the power to change it. No HM does.

We went through the same thing with AP #5. Nothing was right, she wasn’t trying particularly hard, she wasn’t making an effort. We had a chat and the LCC said, “Let’s give it a week. You make your decision – are you going home or are you staying.” During that mediated meeting it allowed the AP to have a platform to say what was bothering her. Things weren’t going well – she had scraped the side of another car on her first day of driving, and it was clear her skills weren’t up to par. However, once she had permission to acknowledge her homesickness, she also had the power to deal with it.

In our case, we asked the AP to stay until we could find her successor and warned her that it would be 6-8 weeks (having a special needs child just makes matching take longer). The LCC warned her that if she waited 8 weeks, then she would be halfway through her year and might feel like she should have stayed.

Don’t try to hold on to an AP by solving her problems for her. It won’t work. You can’t make it better (I’m not saying don’t be nice and I’m not saying don’t be inclusive – what I am saying is that the homesickness is hers and she has to figure out how to make a life here).

My handbook says that cluster meetings are mandatory. In my 12 years of experience hosting, the APs who attend cluster meetings and develop meaningful relationship with their peers have a better shot at success than those that stay in their rooms and Skype with friends back home. My most successful APs have been the ones who organized outings in the community, trips to other cities, cooking lunch for each other to try each other’s cuisines, or even hanging out at Starbucks. The ones who were the most unhappy were those who were cut off from their local peers, so that they had no one to call when things weren’t going well.

Make sure your AP takes a class and give her time to do it! Whether it’s a couple of nights during the week or a couple of hours while the kids are in school, even if her classmates aren’t peers, they are people with whom she can interact. It gives her something to do.

Urge your AP to volunteer. Now this won’t work for the AP who’s already working 45 hours a week – she may be feeling overwhelmed at the end of her day.

If your AP is from a country that is not common, then ask your LCC to find other APs by putting out a call to other LCCs in your area. Sometimes having a friend with whom you can speak your dialect or language at the end of the day makes all the difference.

Ask your AP how her day went. What was her favorite thing she did with the kids. What is she looking forward to doing this evening? It only takes a few minutes to connect with another human being enough to make them feel noticed and special.

Finally and especially since you’re 9 months pregnant. Open up! Tell the AP what’s going on in your life. It’s hard to ignore your growing belly, but she doesn’t really have a clue how tired you’re going to be after the baby is born, or how much work a newborn is – even if all they seem to do is sleep. “I’m sorry you feel like going home, you’ve been so fantastic these last 2 1/2 months that I was looking forward to your help when the baby is born. You may not have lived with a newborn before, but they’re a lot of work.”

I haven’t had a newborn, but child #1 did have major surgery when AP #6 was living with us. She had assumed that since child #1 took up about 90% of her work time that she would practically be on vacation while the child was in the hospital. I took her aside 6 weeks before the operation and said, “I want to talk about how different our lives are going to be…” By opening up and preparing her for changes, I drew her in and made her a partner in the caregiving process. She really rose to the occasion and left for home with a glowing recommendation from me that allowed her to accept a part-time job working in a home for children with special needs. I could have said, “I’m too tired” or “I’m too worried” to deal with the AP, and that would have been true, but in building a relationship I got far more back than even I could have anticipated.

And, at the end of the day, if she goes home, then she goes home. You tried. Don’t kill yourself trying to make her happy so she’ll stay. Because it’s not you. It’s her. She has to make herself happy.

A B C Au Pair February 14, 2013 at 12:39 am

“Ask your AP how her day went. What was her favorite thing she did with the kids. What is she looking forward to doing this evening? It only takes a few minutes to connect with another human being enough to make them feel noticed and special.”
I loved all of what you said, but especially that part. Wish my family cared about me haha

Tamara February 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Weird. I am having a similar story. I found out I was pregnant when my au pair arrived and she has notified that she will leave 6 weeks before the birth (4 weeks from now). I think she is scared of the new baby but the timing is bad and I wished she’d been honest with her feelings earlier because getting someone new with just a few weeks to go feels daunting.

Kelly Hand February 12, 2013 at 2:22 am

I think moms are very self-absorbed when they are on the verge of having a baby, and this is probably a positive evolutionary trait as it protects us from stress. I had my first child three days after 9/11, but it did not affect me as much as it did other people because of my focus on the baby. Your au pair is probably picking up on the fact that you don’t really care that much about spending time with her except to appease her so she can continue to be the good caregiver she is. She has emotional needs you can’t meet, and she may just be sick of the weather, too. I don’t know if you mentioned her nationality, but it’s probably a good idea to have a conversation about the different expectations each of you has from an au pair/host family relationship. You may be better with the independent kind of au pair, although that kind will only be happy if she has a car and plenty of friends in the area. It’s important to remember how vulnerable these young women are. Your family is at the center of her world, so it’s tough for her to sense indifference about her.

Thoughts from an Au Pair February 12, 2013 at 5:13 am

For me it sounds like she is homesick. The first 3 months can be really hard. Even if she knew about the snow and different weather conditions and culture etc. before she came, you can never imagine exactly how it will be when you are there. She might have thought she could handle it but now when she is here maybe she can’t. It is hard to realize that you aren’t as strong as you thought. Maybe she hasn’t admitted it to herself yet, the reason why she is feeling like she does. If she is homesick and everything just is harder then she thought it would be, she is the only one who can solve it. With help of course. But to solve it she need to know what she is feeling first. If she is homesick it would probably help her to talk about it, with whoever she decides to talk to. And then she needs to decide what she wants to do. If she is homesick and that’s the reason why she is acting like she does, she needs to know that it gets better. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, it will! She just needs to give it time.
It seems to me like you as the host family is trying to do what you can. I would think that much of it is up to her. But that doesn’t make it easier on you, cause you will still be worried that she might be unhappy or decide to ask for a rematch/go home.
Maybe she doesn’t feel like talking about it with you but have friends to talk with. You could ask her if she has someone that she can talk to and that she trust and ask her to keep you informed about how she is thinking, cause you need to know.
I understand you don’t have much energy with 3 boys and one baby coming soon. I really hope your situation with the AP will be better in the close future! Wishing you all the best with everything!
(There is lots of maybe in my text, but all I can do is guess. The maybes are there in case homesickness and the culture shock isn’t the reason.)

Old China Hand February 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

I’ve been reading this thinking it sounds a lot like classic homesickness. When I have lived in China and started my year there in the fall (beginning of the school year), it was always worst right around Thanksgiving. If you look at classic homesickness timelines, there is a period of excitement and adjustment (everything is freaking awesome and new) then you move into the everything sucks phase. When you’re an American living abroad and that shows up at Thanksgiving, it really sucks extra bad. I always associate the time with Thanksgiving for me, but then last time I lived in China we started in February and I had to think about the timing a bit more. For us that year it was a spring blues, but at least it was spring.

For me, homesickness is best dealt with by (1) acknowledging that it is there, (2) doing something positive and proactive where I am living to feel more like I am comfortable and home (like going and splurging on fancy American food in China), and (3) keeping busy. I once spent at least a month in January in Chengdu (grey, miserable) not wanting to leave my apartment even to decide where to eat meals. I was working from home (sort of like an ap) and didn’t have to leave much, and I would break down in tears every time I had to even consider what to go buy so I could eat. It was truly awful. And I didn’t have lots of friends or things to keep me busy, just a depressed boyfriend, so it was really hard to get out of the funk.

We just welcomed our first au pair a month ago (from China) and she has finally started auditing classes (just last week). She is worried that she is too busy, but I keep telling her that she needs to stay busy so that even if she is slow to make friends (which she says she is, and which I am, so I understand), at least she won’t feel so homesick.

So, if you can handle the energy it will take, I highly recommend getting the mediated conversation with the LCC and seeing if there is something special you can do for your AP, like cooking her favorite dinner from home with her, that will make her feel less homesick.

Momma Gadget February 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

BTW: Kung Hay Fat Choy! :D

Old China Hand February 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Thanks! I was happy to know the exact first date so I could give hong bao to our AP. And I even got the bank to give me some reasonably new bills too.

Opinionated HM February 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

I lived in Minnesota for several years and I remember how, in the last weeks of February, winter would seem like it was never going to end. It was so hard for me to remember how beautiful the summer was but I would keep telling myself just a few more weeks. I live in the south now, and people don’t believe me when I tell them how, in Minnesota, we’d be in our shorts and t-shirts as soon as the first sunny, 40 degree day arrived. We were so happy with the arrival of warmth and sun when spring arrived.
If I am doing my math right, your au pair arrived at the start of winter and hasn’t yet experienced your city when it’s sunny and warm. She’s probably cold and miserable all the time right now and has no memories of sun and fun to help get her through these last few weeks. If she’s never lived in a cold winter environment, She probably doesn’t really know why she’s feeling so miserable right now, which is why she is being so vague. It might be too late to save things with your current au pair, but you should try telling her that she probably feels this way right now because of the weather. Get out your calendar and show her how many weeks it will be before things start to thaw and the sunny fun can begin. She’s done the hard part getting through the winter, now she can enjoy the gorgeous spring, summer, and fall with the kids. It would be a shame for her to leave now, just when things will start getting better. Many people have mentioned the difficulties of a new baby, but there are also so many sweet moments with a new baby too. She’ll be there for so many firsts, the first time your baby smiles, laughs, turns over, sits up, crawls, stands. If your au pair loves babies, that could be something to point out as well.
Someone mentioned SAD. I think that is a real possibility. You might want to look into getting one of those special lamps for your au pair to use. Even if it’s too late for this au pair, future au pairs will surely appreciate it. You might also consider having your next au pair year start in the spring so your au pair has time to get comfortable with your family and acclimate to the northern climate before having to get through the winter.
I’m impressed that you are finding the energy deal with all this right now considering how close you are to your due date. I’m wishing you the best of luck with all of this.

massaupairmom February 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I am wondering whether the timing has anything to do with the arrival of the new baby? A little pre-baby anxiety? Perhaps she is already feeling overwhelmed or just at her limit, and is worried she won’t be able to handle the additional child? Maybe she’s afraid to handle a new born? As part of the sit down conversation, it makes sense to me to talk specifically about the new arrival, and how this will change her life, if at all. Exactly what will be expected of her in relation to the new baby, etc.

mama February 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm

When we had situation like this, we asked our AP directly whether she wanted to stay or rematch. We just wanted to know to make plans (and peace of mind ?). So, I think you should ask her that question. If she wants to stay, you can work out something to make it easier for everyone (as long as you also still want her to stay). If she wants to rematch, both of you can make plans. You can ask her to stay for few more weeks. In return, you can offer her to give recommendations or you can let her stay for a week if you have a new AP before she finds a new family it something like that. Then you can focus your energy for the arrival of new baby. Don’t stress yourself out to make her happy all the time. Your happiness is important too. I think you have done a lot to make her feel comfortable. You should not feel guilty when you feel so tired to do activity with her. Good luck and hopefully you find a solution for your problem.

hm2 March 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I know that many people will not like this idea but it has worked well for us. We have cut down significantly on the internet access for our APs. Internet is only available for two hours in the morning when the kids are at school/preschool. We had two APs who spent most of their time off on the internet, relied on advice from friends back home and did not participate in family outings at all. The result was a lack of sleep on APs part, homesickness, no willingness to adapt and constant referals to how things are done at home. When we cut down the time on the internet APs slept more and better and became more interested in the world around them. They still weren’t our best APs but much easier to live with than before. I have no idea if this would work here I’m just thinking that sometimes a cure for homesickness is to really limit contact to home, speak the language of the people around you and get to know them. The APs might not see it this way immediately but our APs told us afterwards that they could understand our reasons in retrospective and grew to like the area we live in, the long winters and the people in our town.

JJ Host Mom March 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Yeah, count me in as someone who doesn’t like that idea. I can see limiting internet access during work hours if it’s been a problem, but i seems cruel to limit contact with support folks back home during her free time.

Momma Gadget March 12, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I totally agree with you!!!!
I was an exchange student my self, back in the Stone Age before cell phones and Internet. I did get home sick but I had no choice but to get over it -usually before calling home.
My mother recently took on an exchange princess, who any time she didn’t get her way she would sulk and call home to complain about how she was mistreated. It completely exacerbated the situation because her parents only heard one side of the story. My mother wasn’t starving her, she just wouldn’t buy her a bag of chips when a nice dinner was almost ready to be served.
Skyping back home constantly allows an AP to get sympathy for her point of view without a balanced perspective.

Should be working March 12, 2013 at 8:15 pm

We did institute limited internet hours for our own kids (Netgear is the program), and even for me the mom, but the AP would have been horrified if she couldn’t get internet when she wanted it. Ours is outgoing and happy, though, so I wouldn’t want to cut it off.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

We have not limited Internet access in our home. Most of our APs spent too much time on it at some point in their year (the saddest was the Brazilian AP who stayed on all summer not realizing that we had real seasons. I think she extended with us just to experience summer. The Camel limits the amount of time an AP could Skype, FB, email successfully anyway. I find that asking APs what they have done that day gently pushes them out the door. I would not prevent an AP from using her free time as she wishes.

In my experience, the “that’s not how we do it at home” attitude ends in the 4th month, when the AP has had enough new experiences to begin to appreciate that difference can be a good thing.

If you suspect that your AP is too homesick to move forward, and your LCC is good at her job, contact her and ask her to check in. Believe me, she has had plenty of experience with homesick APs and knows the right questions to ask.

German Au-Pair March 13, 2013 at 12:02 am

I see your reasons but I would feel like I am not treated like a grown up if you limited my internet access to push me to do what you think is appropriate for me in my free-time. Would be a no-go for me.

Seattle Au pair March 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

I agree !!

HRHM March 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

While I understand the theory and agree that most people (HMs included) get sucked into the electronics and should be detoxed, it’s up to her as an adult to do it voluntarily. I think it is patronizing to limit it during her free time (that’s why it’s called “free”!)

I do recall one HM who’s AP actually asked her to turn of texting or internet during the day because she was soooo addicted she couldn’t stop herself without help, even though it kept getting her into trouble with the family. So if I really felt it was a problem, I would sit down with AP and “offer” this solution, but if she didn’t seem interested, I wouldn’t just cut her off.

After all, if you were overweight, how would you feel if your AP tried to limit your portions at meals, to help you out? Similar concept!

MidAtlantic Host Family May 2, 2013 at 9:19 pm

So our current au pair came to us through rematch (both of us were in rematch) and was amazing for the first three months. Then she had some prolonged time off away (over a week) from us and afterwards things have been dramatically different. She has completely lost her enthusiasm and makes comments about how things are better in her home country. We have had issues we have had to address and each conversation ends with her in tears about issues at home in home country. Will we ever get the enthusiasm and commitment we saw in the first three months back?

Host Mom in the City May 3, 2013 at 8:59 am

MidAtlantic Host Family – The fact that she was amazing for three months and then came back from a trip with a dramatically different attitude makes me wonder what happened on that trip. Was it back to home? Did something happen that made her need to go back home? The answer to your question of whether the enthusiasm will come back probably lies in what happened on that trip.

CA Host Mom May 3, 2013 at 11:04 am

I agree. Have you talked to her about what might have changed in her life? With family? Friends? A boyfriend back home? Maybe have just a general conversation about her and how she is doing instead of including it in a “issues to discuss” conversation? It’s tough to tell without knowing more details about what may have triggered the change …

MidAtlantic Host Family May 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Thanks for responding. In an attempt to answer your questions. There was significant family drama before trip including family not supporting the au pair concept and telling her she should be home. (Conversely, we were particularly drama free during those weeks). She had a really good time while home and is readjusting to having significant responsibility again and resistant to simple rules like do not plan your social life when you are supposed to be focused on the multiple kids – never an issue or question beforehand.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Out of the 8 APs I have hosted, 2 were fortunate to be able to return home during their time with us (AP #1 did so to validate a student visa, AP #2 acquired a second visa so she could return home at Christmas). Both had a difficult time returning to their AP duties as well as life in America. AP #1, because she missed home – she was used to working extremely hard in her native country. For AP #2, I think both connections to famiy & friends, as well as her childhood past made returning to the U.S. problematic both times (she went home to obtain visa and again at Christmas).

The trick for us was to acknowledge their pain and emotions. I think, in the end, it made our relationship stronger to both APs to acknowledge how hard it was for them to get back on the plane and to thank them for continuing to work and be part of our family.

You said you had some “drama free” time while she was away, which makes em think that even though you found her amazing for her first three months life with her was not “perfect.” As you’ve probably figured out, I strongly believe in chats. Does she know how amazing you thought she was before she went home? Do you think finding out will motivate her?

MidAtlantic Host Family May 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

We had that conversation before she went home. We will have it again. We also asked the LCC to talk to her (advice I read somewhere here). Interestingly, for the second time, our oldest said that he wants a guy next time because they are happier (I know this sentence belongs on the bropair thread). Thank you for the response and advice.

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