Would you match with a candidate who told you that she’d been treated for anorexia, and was currently healthy and in recovery?
(Keep in mind that being “in recovery” for an anorexic is like being ‘”in recovery” for an alcoholic, in the sense that you are never “over it”, but always in the process of learning how to be healthy.)
Many host parents would like to avoid having an au pair with an eating disorder. We are concerned about the challenge that eating disorders would raise for our au pair, our kids, and ourselves.
For an au pair with an eating disorder, moving to a new country with different foods, being on your own, and being homesick can exacerbate current problems. And, it can be difficult to get treatment for an eating disorder while you are also being an au pair.
For host families, eating disorders raise a red flag. We want au pairs who are healthy– physically and emotionally — because the year of an au pair is already so challenging. Also, we host parents often feel at a loss around the topic of eating disorders– we know that they can be difficult to diagnose, difficult to ‘cure’, and difficult to live with.
As parents, we want our children to have healthy relationships with food, and we hope that our au pairs can help model good eating habits (and not model horrible habits) for our kids. And, for many of us parents, food and weight-related issues are things that we struggle with personally, so we wonder if we can really be helpful.
Since we’ve discussed food issues so much on this blog, our au pair readers know that food and nutrition are concerns for many host parents.
What food-related personal issues are too much for a host parent to consider?
Here’s a question from Carla, an Au Pair candidate currently in the matching process:
Dear Au Pair Mom Readers,
I have a question, a tough one actually. I am an aupair to be, I’m now in the matching process and have already been contacted from different families, some of them – well, one specifically – I really really like.
We are now into the “email exchange/skype” step, and have already shared quite a bit of information about each others.
I’ll get down to the nitty: I am a 20 years old girl who has been having an eating disorder for several years now, well, almost 10 years to be honest. I know, it’s kind of a huge “red flag”… I can almost see your faces right know. And I can almost hear your comments “neeext”.
I don’t blame you.
Eating disorders are a very complicated issue, and most people don’t know much about them. Which is the reason why I’m asking this question: Should I talk about that while in the matching process – or ever?
Ok, I know how does it sound. I already feel bad just thinking about lying (or hiding…whatever… it’s pretty much the same to me) before even having started. The thing is, and please don’t think its too pretentious from me, I know I would be a great AP. I have even been told so from some of the hostmoms reading this blog after sharing with you some ideas I have for next year.
I genuinly love kids, I have lots of experience, I’m a self starter, a hard worker; and I’m very mature and responsible due to a “family history” that made me grow a lot. Yes, I have a problem with food which goes way beyond food. But I’ve been working insanely hard to keep my life from falling apart due to this and keep up to the “standards” I wanted for myself. I’ve done great with school and put lots of effort in being the best person I could be, always, even if it was 100 times more difficult for me than for people who were luckily healthy.
As it usually happens, many people who are around me didn’t even noticed the problem for quite a long time, as people with eating disorders (except from Bingers) are usually very good at hiding the problem to almost anyone else. I tried lots of treatments and therapies (in and outside the hospitals), and I’m now in a sort of “compromise” I reached after the last therapy.
I am not in life danger and I’m pretty sure I won’t be ever again. I am physically healthy enough to well handle every chore I’ll be asked to do, from childcare to sport tutoring to housekeeping. (otherwise, I would be the first one not even trying to apply to the program). The problem (which, as said, is now in a “down” period that’s hopefully gonna last forever), is not aesthetically evident, which means I’m not obese nor dangerously skinny.
I would never EVER act in any unhealthy way with the hostkids or the hostparents, I know for sure I would not expose them to eating disorder habits such as not eating or being hyperactive, and I know this because I know the problem and I know myself and – as said before – I wouldn’t even try to apply if I knew I was putting someone else in danger, especially talking about children.
I am overall an happy person, very smart, patience, loving, willing, active, reliable. I am always smiling, I have a genuine concern for others, I have plenty of true friends and a great relationship with my family and my siblings; but yes, there is this “black hole” I’m dealing with since I was 10 years old. I didn’t choose to get sick. And struggling with this problem made me a better person and surely a stronger one. I can feel I am way more mature than most people my age and luckily I have always been clever enough to retrieve everything my illness was trying to steal from me, from high school diploma to competitive sports and social life.
The point is, I am terrified… I really wouldn’t like to start the relationship with my HF hiding something (even though I know it wouldn’t affect my job), also because in my HF shoes, I know I’d rather know something like that. But then again, luckily most people don’t know much about eating disorders so I am afraid (well, not just afraid, more like pretty sure) most families would just screen me out from the candidates because of that. I hate not being honest, and this thing is freaking me out.
But I really like this family and I don’t wanna mess this up. I know this might sound selfish, but I want this experience so badly… I’ve worked for it, I’ve been studying english very hard, worked to save money, took child safety classes and stored up any kind of childcare experience I could find. When you have an illness that challenges you in so many ways, you have to put the double of effort in everything you do, and damn it, it IS hard. That’s why lots of people with this kind of problems just let themselves go. I’ve worked very hard pretty much my whole life not to let this happen.
I don’t want anorexia stealing me this opportunity too, ’cause I’ve earned every single step that brought me here.
I would really appreciate some advice from either HF and AP. I am really concerned about that and I have no one else to turn to.
I know it’s a little long. Ok, maybe too long. But it really is a tough question and a complicated issue that would have been difficult to explain even in my own language. I really hope you can post it all on your blog and hopefully give me some advice about that.
I know that there are many prejudices and some simple misunderstandings about eating disorders. I can understand that people who aren’t that familiar with eating disorders might think that a candidate who is afraid to bring this issue up might be a selfish or dishonest “princess”, a person who’s willing to lie about something like that just to get to the usa. This is not the situation for me. Also, some people think that “anorexia” is really just for “young ladies who refuse to eat just to stay skinny”. Just for the record, I wish anorexia would really be just about that. Maybe the fact that it all begins on a 10 year old kid will help people understand that eating disorder are way beyond looks. It’s not about how you look or about being a shallow person– it’s an illness, and it’s an illness I didn’t choose or create on purpose.
I really hope someone can give me advice about how to share what needs to be shared, so that I can find a host family and be a really great au pair for them.
Thank you very much for your time.
Families, and au pairs, please offer your suggestions gently.
Note: We received this email from a possible resource for au pairs, which I add here because comments on this post are closed:
My name is Mike and I’m the content editor over at Steps to Recovery, an addiction treatment facility in Pennsylvania. Recently, my colleague Amy and I produced an article that discusses the near impossible body image that Barbie dolls represent. During her research, she came across one of your pages:
The research article we wrote shares shocking statistics and insights of how the portrayal of a thin body image has devastating effects on young girls and women, and can sometimes lead to eating disorders. If you have a few extra moments, you can check the article out here:
Because of your recent coverage of other eating disorder and counselling topics, I was hoping that you may consider sharing Amy’s article with your readers. Kind Regards, Mike Kelly, Content Editor