Choosing an Au Pair: Will being “in recovery” from an eating disorder ruin my chances to Au Pair?

by cv harquail on May 22, 2011

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.

2 11 silly smiles.jpg 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


Europair May 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I’m not sure if I’m going to evoke the wrath of the HMs with this post, but I’ll post anyways.
I really think it is up to you whether you tell potential employers. Only you know the extent of your illness, and only you know whether you are capable of performing your job well, despite it. Your past history is only as powerful as you make it, and if you think it’s a very important part of who you are, you should tell the family. On the other hand, if you don’t define yourself by your ED, then there is no reason to.

There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, so it is likely that you will lose a lot of job offers because of it. You also could end up with someone supportive, who doesn’t mind, but since the matching process is a lot like dating, disclosing it at the start might alienate families before they get to know you. Because of that, I would say that you should only mention it if you really think it impacts your ability to perform the job. Depression and Bipolar disorder are potentially more problematic than an ED, because chemical imbalances come into play. However, there’s often a high rate of comorbidity when it comes to EDs, so depression or anxiety may be something you also struggle with.

So, basically… You are the only person who has a complete understanding of your condition. Thus, inform families only if you think it has a significant impact on your daily life.

Mar May 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

“Your past history is only as powerful as you make it.”
Completely agree!

I think this issue is not about honesty, but private life. I agree with Europair when she says: if you don’t define yourself by your ED, then there is no reason to.

Anna May 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I don’t know what kind of remission or compromise you are in regarding your illness; but if you eat normally now, normal food and normal amounts (it is important because hostkids will be observing your eating habits), and if you think you will not relapse in your illness, I would not disclose this to your hostparents at all.

And I am a hostparent.

I just know that if a potential au pair would tell me this, I would not match with her, no matter how wonderful and perfect she seemed for my family.

Just know, that if you show signs of your illness, or need more treatment here to remain in your normal state, you can expect to go home early.
You have to decide for yourself, if the stresses of a new situation here, adjustment, potential conflicts, etc., can be too much and make you get worse, or if you can handle it.

Indi Au Pair to be May 23, 2011 at 12:40 am

Carla, first and foremost, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with such a disease, I really hope you the best.
I don’t intend to sound harsh and I’ll try to be as asertive as I can with this.
You’re right, you didn’t chose to have an eating disorder but, you’re choosing to be an AP. As a job that implies living under the same roof as your employer I think being completely honest in the most asertive way possible is NECESARY. Walk a mile in the HP’s shoes and think, if you were them, would you like not being told about such a delicate issue as an eating disorder? I honestly think the answer would be no. What if you decide to keep it to youself and then (knock on wood) you find yourself needing help while Au Pairing, if they find out I think you’ll be most likely being sent back home and I don’t think that’d be good for your health too.
Also, I actually think if you are honest from the begining it’ll pay off later. If you tell a potential HF about your story and they decide not to match with you at least you’ll have a clear concience that it wasn’t of you. If you decide to tell them and they still match with you, it’s a great sing of a good path to an open communication and a supportive HF. How great is that? The job of an AP is taking care of the HP’s most treassured thing on earth, their kids! It’s not playing being nanny, you’ll be living abroad with no support system other than the LCC and AP girls. Have you pondered about it? Also, therapy is not cheap cheap in the States (assuming you’re going there, but I don’t think it’ll be cheaper in Europe either) what would you do if you feel weak?or if you are on the edge or a relapse? I don’t want to say you will, no no, but it’s something you have to think about, you have to ponder every situation, both good or bad.
I really hope you the best and I admire your corage to ask for advice.

Should be working May 23, 2011 at 1:37 am

I admire and respect your self-examination and determination to succeed. Nonetheless, apart from the question of honesty with potential HFs, I think you are missing an important point here:

You are ‘in recovery’, which is an ongoing process. It does not sound like you have been in recovery for long, not long at all in fact. If your ongoing recovery is important to you, then it is not a good idea to uproot yourself, enter a very new and somewhat unpredictable situation, and risk your ED resurfacing. The AP year can be stressful, you will not have a lot of choice over what your family eats, and it sounds to me like a terrible idea for you to have an AP year right now. I assume that you have a therapist or support group–are you listening to what they say about the idea of an AP year?

Perfectionism is part of a lot of EDs, au pair, but even if you can manage to be the ‘perfect’ au pair for a year might be ok for your family, it should not be your priority right now. You need to focus on yourself, your eating disorder, and any other factors–psychological or otherwise–that contribute to it. This is about you, all about you, and being an AP right now means endangering the recovery you have worked to achieve.

Should be working May 23, 2011 at 1:42 am

Sorry, that last paragraph has some scrambled sentences, I didn’t mean to address the OP as ‘au pair’.

Let me also add that I myself have had an eating disorder as a teenager, so I have true sympathy. It took years for me to develop healthier eating and LIVING patterns. This accomplishment is more important than an AP year in my view. If your determination to be an AP seems so strong that you are willing to overlook its potential effects on your recovery, maybe you need to examine whether the desire to be an AP is itself getting caught up in some less-than-healthy patterns about not putting yourself first, or putting achievements before self-worth.

Carla - au pair to be with ED May 23, 2011 at 6:04 am

First, I’d like to thank you ALL for your advice, it’s being very helpfull.
Yes, Indi Au Pair to be, If I decide to tell them and they still match with me, it’s a great sing of a good path to an open communication and a supportive HF. That would be totally great except that… I think most host parents would have the same thought Anna had. “doesn’t matter how wonderful and perfect she seemed for my family, I would not match with her”. And again, I don’t blame you. I can perfectly understand all the “whys” and I respect them.

Now, let me answer to “Should Be Working”, since she has quite a point.
It’s not like I didn’t think about the issue you brought up here. But that was, how can I say.. that was a step I had to do on my own (and with my psychologist) BEFORE deciding whether to be an AP or not. And it took me/us months to decide – which means I really have well thought about all the issues you described.
It’s not somthing I would ask advice for to a HF, since it’s not their problem.
Please don’t get me wrong, what I mean is that if I have to deal with all this s…tuff ;) before making up my mind about being AP, I don’t want anyone to be forced to be involved and compelled to deal with it.
So, once I have examinated all the issues you described (I could tell you knew the problem well – for whatever reasons – before reading the second part of your message, as you really came up with the right questions) I decided that I could do it, and jumped into the matching “pool”. Now, step 2 is the problem I asked advice for, which is: wheter to tell them or not.

As for the “focus on yourself part”, all you said is very true. But what’s also very true, unfortunatly, is what CV wrote. “…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.”
I don’t want to insinuate that you still have “a sort of problem” with food etc, in fact, I’m thrilled if you are over it. Really.

I don’t know for how long you dealt with your ED – nor I want to know, it’s none of my business – but that has an impact too.
Let’s face reality here: I have been sick since I was 10 yo, which doesn’t just mean half of my life but pretty much the only half I have memory of. So, yes, I would LOVE to think that if I focus on myself, my eating habits and my living patterns I will be over it in some years. But the thing is, I’ve already tried. Very hard indeed. And I feel like I’ve made some steps since it all begun, some good ones actually. But I don’t really feel like I’m going to EVER feel 100% cured and safe. And I can’t, I don’t want to put my life in a sort of stand-by waiting for that. It’s more like I’m always going to be “in recovery”. Which means, if I keep waiting for that “perfect” moment -that is likely not coming- and in the meanwhile stay focused only on myself and my problem, I’m never going to achieve anything in my life other than self-examination.
Yes, it’s true that people with ED have to dedicate time and effort and will in their problem and stay focused on that. But especially after so many years of theraphy, having something else in your life: a job, a “someone”, a sport, a school, an hobby – whatever works, can be very helpfull and we NEED that, not just to distract ourselves but to find things that make the “whole thing” still worth it.

Being in therapy is very important, yes, but you gotta start LIVING at some point, otherwise your life is just going to revolve around you ED over and over again.
I might be young, but I’ve learned so much about me and my disease, that I really know what I’m talking about. I would still have time before the departure (we’re talking about the end of the year) in which I would definitely keep up the theraphy, the good eating habits etc and I really think I can make it.

Have I ever though “what if” I find myself close to relapse? Yes, sure I did.
Can I promise myself or my HF that this will not happen? Unfortunately, nope. I wish I could, though.

The question now is wether it’s FAIR or not to involve a family in all of that.
Not that I think something dreadful could happen if smt goes wrong. I mean, the worst thing would probably be that I manage to do it all by myself –> I’m wrong –> I realize I need help –> I talk to my HF –> wait until they find a good rematch and then go back to therapy at home. Yes, not nice at all for them, but what I mean is that I’m not going to ruin the family or -even worse- a child. (and I’m not saying rematches are easy to deal with).

To be brief, as desperate as it might sound, I am BEGGING for a chance.
I’m just not so sure I have right on my side asking for it “behind the scenes”.

Tara May 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I hate to say this, but…
I think that she deserves the chance, like anyone else.

You’re talking with someone who has an ED, no with a pyromaniac. The life of the children is not at risk. She says if she feels bad, then will come back to home to receive treatment. She’s not gonna take the food away from the children. If she is honest, I don’t see how she could put at risk the health of the children.

Please, people, change our minds.

German Au-Pair May 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

Just a practial question that crossed my mind on this one: Don’t you have a medical form filled out by your doctor? There are questions about this subjects (at least mine had them), what did your doctor do?
Other than that, I’d just like to say that I have great respect for your attitude and hope things will turn out good for you.

AnnaAuPair May 23, 2011 at 7:28 am

I’m a little confused on why your agency even allowed you to apply. From my experience the agencies (or at least the American part of it) doesn’t allow AuPairs who have been in therapy in the last years or have ever taken any serious medication (e.g. for ADHD) or are even in therapy right now.

I can understand that you really really really want to become an AuPair – but I could also understand every HF who wouldn’t want to take the risk.

An Illness and especially one that requires therapy ruins quiet a lot. And as hard as it may sound: the rules are there for a reason!
If you would have been ill a few years back and been stable since then (WITHOUT therapy), I guess I would tell you to just leave it out. But in your case, I would say: tell them because it’s not fair on them!!!!
My guess is that it’s going to be very very very hard to find a family – if ever. And I’m sorry to say that this might be one of these moments where your illness once again ruins something you want to do :(

glexie May 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I think there should be individual regulations concerning the therapy stuff. My mom died when I was 10. Later, I was in therapy because of this and therefore I could not apply for the USA-au pair program which I think was not fair. I think it’s so sad that things like this can “ruin” your future plans when you were courageous enough to get help. you don’t chose that stuff like this happens to you … and you can still be a great au pair (it’s not like everyone who was in therapy is lunatic …) – – normally you are better off after the therapy…;) anyway – not the topic here.

@carla – tell the host families, what you have told us. explain it, I am sure you’ll find a great host family which will accept you. bot does your organization knows about this issue ? think this could raise a problem, rather than finding a host family since you need this medical check …

Former au pair June 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I think the stigma on therapy in this culture is ridiculous. The people that would be more problematic are people who have had huge emotional problems and never seeked help. The fact that our culture punishes people for the willingness to say “I need help” is horrible.

Also, if everyone who has ever been on ADHD meds isn’t a valid candidate for being an au pair there is an entire generation of kids who will never be able to do this. Just a few years ago kids were so over medicated, and that wasn’t their fault.

I’m just saying that some of the regulations on this subject are far too broad and relying too much on cultural stigmas.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I agree that there is an enormous stigma on mental illness in the US, but I don’t think there is a stigma toward therapy. I would argue that US agency’s attitudes toward therapy are probably a hold-over from immigration policy to the US – for generations the mentally ill and retarded were turned away from the US.

I would say that individual HP attitude’s vary – and it probably depends on the reason for the therapy. For me, I wouldn’t necessarily discount a candidate with a history of mental illness, but I would be very angry if I found out about it after she arrived because of a recurrence. All of my APs have had minor medical issues, but nothing that prevented them from fulfilling their job. All of my APs had issues with food and homesickness that might have unduly stressed them had they had a history of ED or depression.

The AP year can be fantastic, but it is always enormously stressful to adapt to a new culture and a new family.

Reb May 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

I admire your courage to take the step to become an au pair. I do not think anyone should put you down or make you believe it is not the right decision for you. As you mentioned you have spent months deciding wether you want to be an au pair or not. I can only assume your psychologist have supported you in that decision and if she/he felt it was not benficial to you (and future hostfamilies), she/he would have told you so.

In regards to the actual question you asked, I would ALWAYS advice to be completely honest and truthful to your hostfamily. You are after all going to live with them, in their house for at least a year.
Of course I am aware of the stigma assocciated with mental health issues and eating disorders being one of them. I have experience supporting people with mental health issues to get their voices heard, there are so many judgemental people out there.. The stigma can be very disabeling and does not help your recovery whatsoever but consider what will happen if you are not honest with your host family.
Not being able to talk to the family about issues that may arise will surely not be a contribution to your recovery, rather the opposite.

Another thing worth considering when talking about this is the host familys reaction. You are worried they may not want to match with you when you tell them. Perhaps a host family who react like that is not the right for you (would they be supportive if you had other issues when you lived there?).. As long as you tell them that you are in recovery and that you will perform any task given to you no different from anyone else.

Ultimatly, it is your choice to be made. Only you know what is right for you..
(Hope that helps)

WestMom May 23, 2011 at 7:54 am

As a HM, you telling me about your ED could influence our decision in a positive way- assuming you have been in recovery for a while, and have references supporting your progress (psychologist? parent?). Showing that you are honest and truthful might trump this situation altogether. I also imagine that a family that is supportive will increase your chances of a successful year.

As I HM, I would assume that ED would be disclosed in the medical section of the application. If it weren’t and you were to relapse, I would cause big trouble with my agency for the omission. I would feel duped, and the chance of us ‘trying to work it out’ would be very slim.

On a side note… if you decide to pursue this adventure, I would think it might be more comforting to do so with a family that values healthy eating habits and spends time cooking and eating together, as opposed to a family that will leave you to eat by yourself… I would not take that for granted, as we Americans (sorry for the generalization) are not necessarily known for having the best diet.

anonmom May 23, 2011 at 9:45 am

Carla, I admire your outlook, as well as all the steps you have taken to help yourself. I also admire and understand your desire to have an AP year. If, after speaking with your psychologist and your own support system, you feel you are up for the challengem then go for it. The down side, is whether during your year you have less than an ideal experience- such as nonsupportive family, bad connection, etc. Then you may be facing the abyss.

As far as your main question- whether to be forthright with this illness, I believe you should be. As host families, we do have access to your medical record-= at least what has been provided to the agency. Now, I know often times they do not record everything, so there are ways around that. If you are forthright, then you have nothing to hide- you need to explain just what you have told us here- that it does not affect your ability to care for children, nor do currently deprove yourself of food, etc.

My honest answer as a host mom, is that Yes- this would impact my decision, and I would not choose you to be our AP. The reason, our own young daughter has some mental health issues, and one of our concerns is the budding of an eating disorder with her. At this stage, when she is 9 years old, I would not want someone with her own issues impacting our daughter, and honestly would be concerned that the AP would be putting her own advice to our daughter which may or may not be in conflict with what our dr tells her. On the flip side of the coin, once she is older, then I would actually find your experience to be helpful, but not at this young, impressionable age. If on the other hand, I did not have a daughter with some special needs, I would welcome your honesty and, if after speaking with you found you suitable to our family, may consider you based on your experience and honesty.

Good luck in whatever decision you choose, and I wish you well in all your future endeavors.

Tahoe Mom to Twins May 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

I’m short on time so I will just get down to it. Our one and only au pair has bulimia and didnt advise us (or the agency, as far as we know). In fact, I feel like she may have had in under control prior to her arrival, to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, the symptoms started becoming quite apparent shortly after her arrival. Fortunately, I am a “helicopter host mom” and when she spent 20+ minutes in the bathroom, it was usually while I was home or just prior to her shift. There were certainly times when I had to call her out on her time leaving my infant twins alone in their playpen while she took care of business. But it wasn’t really a red flag for us until 6 months in, when her mother came to visit. Then AP must have been given some advice and definitely some diet pills (which were left out and in reach of my babies) by her very vain mother, and from that point on, our AP did nothing but break house rules leaving food around, bingeing, staying out all night and other self-destructive behavior. After we told her she would have to find a new family, and said our goodbyes, we found out that her mother, the puppet master, did not disclose that our AP (whom I loved dearly, by the way) did not disclose that her daughter has a serious learning disability, one which would prevent her from ever driving a car, getting a degree, keeping a job, adding 2+2 and other mathematical equations (such as figuring out how much medication to give to a 20 lb baby??) and even following simple recipes or balancing a check book. 90% of her disability would have been manageable, and the other 10% too had I been aware. But instead this AP’s family put me and my children in harms way by not disclosing. I think you should disclose your challenging situation and make it clear how devoted you are to staying healthy and beating your demons. You do sound amazing, but as a HM, I would like to know how you would handle a potential relapse in a foreign country (healthcare access, especially psychological treatment, is difficult to arrange for AP’s, at least in my experiences). How will you maintain treatment while here? Will you skype with your therapist on your time off? Will you meet with a group of other anorexics while here for support? I would try to get all of the pieces to this puzzle beforehand and approach your potential HF with answers to questions they won’t even know to ask. Disclosing is the honest thing to do. I do understand you risk losing this opportunity, but your HF deserves full disclosure. They are taking a big risk on you, and trusting their beloved children with you. Please don’t ever hide something that is so much a part of who you are from them. But do make sure that its clear this disease doesn’t define you, explained in your letter to them. Perhaps some words from your therapists can help soften the blow for the HF, too. Good luck!

Southern Host Mom May 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

I would add to the already great discussion that food, meals, and grocery shopping can be tricky issues with any Au Pair and host family. For that reason, you will find many posts on these topics on this website. For example, I wonder if the type of food you eat at home may be very different from typical American foods. Would this complicate your situation? And what if your host family match is less than ideal? Even if it is great, you can find any number of stressful situations that arise in even the best Au Pair/Host Family relationships. How would you deal with that stress?

Amelie - ex-aupair May 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm

You say you’re 20, so why not wait for a while to be an au pair?
You still have six years to do it! Don’t blow all your chances now, that your recovery is so recent that you might not find a family or find a family and having prolems while living with them.

x May 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Dear au pair to be, you just made one of the most interesting posts on this website. At least for me, since I’m just done being an au pair, and since I’ve had issues with eating disorders in the past.

It may be a generalization, but in my opinion, people with ED are usually extremely hard workers and somehow perfectionists. That’s who I am, and I saw myself in your words. I believe that from the moment you decided to be an au pair, you didn’t measure efforts to make it happen and to prepare yourself to it.

If it was me in your shoes, I’d never say a word about it. I never said a word about my disorder to any of my friends and family until I felt like it was mostly “gone” and that I could live a normal life. And besides being extremely healthy and a crazy salad eater, yes, I do live a normal life. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible, and if you want to get over it, being determined as you maid me believe you are, it’s done, you’ve got it.

No one ever asked me about it, cause my behavior and body no more shows signs of my anorexia. But you’re the only one who can tell how prepared you are to do it all right now. Being abroad and living with strangers who also happen to be your bosses is very complicated. It’s challenging. It makes you feel homesick, and angry and sad sometimes. It also gives you one of the best years of your life, but the tough moments are always intense, and you should ask yourself how prepared you are to deal with all of that new information, and how your body and – most important – your brain will react to this.

Maybe you’ll need a couple more years to do it, maybe your moment is right now, I don’t know. Think carefully about it, but don’t give up on your goals, and don’t let people take them from you. As long as you’re in peace with your body and soul, you should be able to do anything you want.

Anonamomma May 23, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Okay I will take the heat on this post but I will be honest with you.

I think we need to be realistic here – no you should not be an Au Pair – there I’ve said it.

It is unfair to expect a HF to take on the extra burden of you/your ED (even if you are recovery – that is not enough) Nor would any HF take on a recovering alcoholic or substance abuser.

And before I get a string of abuse for that comment – yes they are like for like – they are both complusive behavourial issues and it is not appropriate for someone who is in “recovery” (whatever their vice may be) bear the SOLE responsibility of caring for our children.

And yes you must disclose because it will become apparent anyway if you do not – ED is a complusion – it is not something that just goes away.

Au Pairing is not easy – even when you have a great match there are hard times and the last thing a HF wants to have to comtemplate is how you are going to take hardtimes/criticism/homesickness, etc. It is an unfair burden to put on the family.

Quite simply the answer is no – you should not do this – not now anyway

Maybe in 3/4 years time when you have worked your issues through – then perhaps – but the fact that you wrote to Au Pair Mom to ask this question tells me that your ED is still very much a part of you and is also a way in which you identify yourself so you are not nearly ready enough for this.

It is UNFAIR to put that on another family and you may end up causing a lot of damage to that family – (whether you disclose or not) – they are not your saviours!

Please believe that I am really trying to save alot of heartache with this post – honestly I do not want to hurt feelings but I strongly believe that there is no way you should be bringing an ED (recovery or not) into someone’s home.

I would hate it if it were my home, I would feel so responsible for you and if I knew you had a ED and it started again – the guilt would be unimaginable – I would feel that I let you (and your family back home down) and that it must have been something I did/didn’t do and I am naturally a fixer so I would try to “fix” it.

On the other hand if you did not disclose and I found out because it started again – I cannot begin to describe to you how angry I would be. Trust is a huge part of the Au Pair programme and to break that bond before it even starts well…

Do you really want to be in either of these situations?

Do you really want to put another person there?

Are you really ready?

All the best, x

x May 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I think you wrote it to “au pair to be”, please correct me if I got it wrong. If it was for me, I said “I’m just done being an au pair”. I just got back home after 13 great months in the US, me and what’s left of my ED. No problems related to that at all. I say it’s possible :)

x May 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm

About having it all disclosed on the health form, I didn’t. It depends on what doctor fills it up for you.

Anon Mom Now May 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm

After reading the past several posts, I was curious to read our APIA Au Pair applicant application on this issue. It would seem to me that an eating disorder would be disclosed under at least one (or more) of the following questions:

Medical and Health (completed by applicant):
Do you follow a special diet? Do you have any problems with your health? Have you been hospitalised or been in the care of the doctor within the past twelve months? Have you ever suffered from a nervous or emotional condition (for example: depression, anxiety, an eating problem, etc.)?

Interview (completed by the interviewer):
Does the applicant have any health or emotional issue a host family should be aware of? Is there any history of abuse/depression/counseling, etc. in the applicant’s background?

As a host mom, I take the information in the application very seriously, both from the applicant and the interviewer, and fully expect the information to be truthful and complete. If the applicant failed to disclose an eating disorcer in response to the above application questions, and failed to disclose to the interviewer in response to her general question about “any health or emotional issue a host family should be aware of” AND the history of counseling, I would consider the applicant to be exhibiting a lack of candor.

Steff May 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

My opinion to the OP; do not lie— If a Hostfamily is to take you as their aupair, then they ought to take you as you are, all of you, sadly, ED included & all. I think it all comes down to trust, the parents are supposed to trust you with their children, you know? Why if halfway through your year there (that is going to be *hard*) they find out you lied? — Would you trust a person (no matter how good she is) with your children when this person has showed she’s not reliable to tell the truth?? — I would not if I were the host parent.

-I’m not saying you shouldn’t be an AP, or lead a ‘normal’ life…all I’m saying is that you really shouldn’t lie, and keeping this information from the people you are planning to live with for a year is indeed a lie…

Living abroad, living in the States is going to be far too different from living on your homecountry, and your eating habits, one way or another, are going to be tremendously affected whether you like it or not…..I really hope you thought this through enough….it’d be so sad if all the process you’ve done with your disease goes to waste only because you wanna give this AP thing a go — don’t push yourself more than you are capable of unless you are 100% sure you can do this — sadly, giving your post & question, I don’t think you are.

I wish you the best of luck, but honestly, I hope you are not dishonest with your future hostfamily if you actually decide to keep going with this. Think it like this, your relationship with your HF is solely based on trust at the beginning, what if then you decide to start building your relationship with them from a lie?

PS : If you are going through an agency then there is even more pressure to disclose (truthfully) your whole medical history— I think this time the issue is really black or white for me, whether you lie or you don’t…

njhostmom May 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm

As a host mom, I would not hire an au pair with this issue. One of my motivations for participating in the au pair program is to get help with the tasks surrounding my children.

I definitely do not want to *knowingly* take on additional responsibility of taking care of a potentially ill individual in addition to dealing with the loss of a care giver.

The other thing that comes to mind is that while you may think that the ED does not impact your ability to deliver, I would consider an objective assessment by a licensed and qualified practitioner to be more valuable and accurate .

former scandinavian aupair 23 May 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm

when i filled out the application, i checked out “NO” on the question for whether or not I had an eating disorder. i was in denial, but now i can totally admit that this is something that has been part of me since i was 15 and a tiny part of it will never go away. during my au pair year i got healthy and finally started eating right and exercising (mostly due to watching my hostmom who ate very healthy and did bootcamp classes every day). but i also had a few “bad periods” where i would go back to my old habits, however they would normally never last long and it never affected my work or my ability to be a role model. i would definitely say that the au pair experience and my hostmom saved me, and now i eat healthy and exercise and feel so much better about myself!
however, this is MY story, it doesnt mean it will be like this for everyone,, im just saying that an ED doesnt HAVE to be a recipe for disaster..

HM Pippa May 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Each of our APs, who were not dealing with ED, had significant changes to their ordinary, normal relationship to food. AP1 started eating out with friends multiple times a week and had to manage her calories and pocket money. AP 2.0 decided to become an omnivore the week before she left for the US, and all she would talk about while she pushed meat-tainted food around on her plate and didn’t eat it was how disgusting she would feel after eating it. AP 2.1 started eating massive amounts of carbs: cookies, cereal, bread, juice, and candy and gained 20 kg in 6 months. AP 2.2 decided to become a vegetarian when she left her first hostfamily and came to join us. Personal choices, right? No impact on their job performance? Wrong. A lot of personal and work time will center around food. Your food choices will have a direct impact on the nature of your relationship with your friends, your host children and host parents. Your work is ALL about those relationships. To think ED will not impact the job is simply false.

I’d say that caring for children and living with a host family for a year is 50% about food. Moving away from home for the first time is 50% about food. Choosing to live away from home to care for children while dealing with ED is a recipe for disaster, not only for you, but more significantly, for the host family. There may be a host family for you out there, but to keep your condition secret during the matching process is a gross violation of trust.

Should be working May 24, 2011 at 6:07 am

Pippa, TACL and others make great points here. Food is ALREADY an issue for this OP; food and weight and emotional stresses are BIG issues in the AP year. In my view the OP is putting her recovery at risk. Determination to do something major that poses a big risk to a very recently begun recovery seems to me to be a sign of poor judgment–and possibly a sign that the perfectionism that is related to the ED has not been adequately addressed thus far in therapy.

Trust is a big issue as well. So if the OP lies to the agency (since as pointed out, these questions are asked explicitly on the forms); lies to a doctor (or, what amounts to a similar thing, has a doctor fill out the form who does not know about her ED); and lies to a host family, then I just don’t see how it can be a good start here.

In my view it would be foolhardy to to trust that a 20-yr-old with a 10-year history of an ED has developed the skills and psychological stability she needs to embark on a full year with strangers, with no continuity from her usual supports, possibly in another language, with a different food culture, many unknowns, and possibly needing to keep the whole thing a secret (itself a sign of the disorder) from the host family, and definitely needing to keep the whole thing a secret from the agency and her doctor (or the doctor who fills out her forms).

OP, please do disclose your history to potential host families. It’s just not fair to them otherwise. Your story makes me wonder what questions I might ask interviewees in order to ascertain whether my family might be matching with someone who is hiding a history of ED.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I agree with HM Pippa that ALL APs have an issue with food, and in many ways I liken it to the American “freshman 15” – those pounds that many of us gain during our first semester in college when there is no parent to help oversee what we eat. Many of us figure out pretty quickly how to get active and eat more wisely. That is the trend for many of the APs I have hosted, although initially many lose weight as they are embarrassed to ask for food, to eat in front of us when we are not eating (like when they get up later on a Saturday morning and we’ve already had breakfast). Then, when they feel more comfortable about being a member of our household and find new favorite snacks, they gain weight. That’s about the time that nearly every one of them hit the gym (only 1 in 6 did not join a gym).

The Thanksgiving that my son was 5 he said, “I’m not eating anything all day – I’m saving my appetite for dinner.” It took us 2 seconds to figure out where that came from and 20 minutes to convince him that it was okay to have a light breakfast and a light lunch but he couldn’t fast.

Almost all of my APs ate well – meaning that they ate healthy food before they indulged in junk food, and so they modeled good eating behavior. One never adjusted to American food, and I found myself on occasion reprimanding her not to just make a meal of bread when my son could see her – that I would find it more difficult to get him to eat a variety of foods necessary to support his growing body.

I would not necessarily reject an AP with an ED, but before I knowingly matched with one I would want to know what supports would be necessary for her to have a successful year. We adjust easily to a variety of diets in our home – after all I’m a near vegetarian with one major food allergy that requires me to be extremely careful about what I eat. Over the years we’ve adjusted our diet to meet the needs of APs with food allergies and they have adjusted to our 70% vegan diet.

Calif Mom June 1, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Just catching up here, but yes, I agree with TACL, HM Pippa, SBW…this is a huge red flag for me and I would pass. I would feel hugely guilty about it, but I would pass.

Two reasons:

1) au pairing puts a ton of stress on an au pair. You can’t just “promise” not to relapse. We are parents; we understand that promises can be unbelievably heartfelt, earnest, and honestly made, and also completely impossible to uphold. Our job is to help people in our charge be successful. Subjecting a young person who is overcoming serious mental health issues to be a successful au pair is, frankly, a lot more work than I can take on for reason of my own personal mental health.

2) I have daughters who are already high risk, due to the bizarre environment of high-achievers that we live in. My fifth grader talks about girls in her class who are “emos” and “cutters”. I have a hard enough row to hoe ahead of me for the next decade without stacking the deck against my girls by having a young person with eating disorders *in charge of* their eating after school and making their lunches, and babysitting occasionally, and eating dinner with us every night.

Nope. Don’t have the energy, training, or desire to take that on right now. Again, I’m sorry, because in an ideal world I would be able to help you break free and find your way, help you become a stronger person. But I can’t risk it, because our crazy American life is already too hard, therapy is *really* expensive here, and the potential damage is just too painful to think about. Sorry.

AuPairtobe:) May 24, 2011 at 1:06 am

I don’t know why you are asking if you should or not tell to HF about your issue. Cause, I am sure you have already hided it from them, and from the agency. I don’t know wich is your agency but all the agencies don’t accept people who has been in recovery/treatment for the past 2 years.

I know that, cause I was applying with an agency, and I put that I had migraine, migraine is nothing, almost all people in the world have migraine, but they did not accept me as au pair, so I had to start all the process with another agency again and hide about the migraine, that is something not important at all, I really don’t know why I put that I have it, cause it is just normal headaches as everybody has when is working hard, LOL…

By the way, you started it hiding about your ED, so you need to keep doing it, cause if your agency find it out they might expell you out or send you to your home if you are already in USA.

I hope you understand my point of view, once my english is not so good! :)

German Au-Pair May 24, 2011 at 7:18 am

I strongly disagree! A real migraine would most definitely affact an au pair’s job performance and not “almost all people in the world” have it.
Someone with *real* migraine trouble wouldn’t be suited better than someone with an ED as I know many people who can do nothing except lying in a dark room for hours and some even have to vomit.
My father e.g. is very used to pain due to his back problems, but when he had his migraine, he actually cried and locked himself in the dark bathroom for hours!
So hiding a real migraine is not at all any better than hiding an ED.
However, telling an agency you have a migraine, when you actually just have a normal headache, is just not that smart ;)

MommyMia May 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I agree with German Au-Pair – what I and the medical profession define as a migraine is most definitely not a “regular headache that most people have” when working hard, as anyone who suffers from them will tell you. And while there are some new drugs to treat them, they most definitely would affect your ability to work, as has been pointed out, since sensitivity to light, sound and nausea are common symptoms, and if you take certain medications, driving is not advised, which could impact your ability to do your job, at least in my family.

AuPairtobe:) May 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm

So sorry I think I wrote it wrong…

My headaches are not migraine, ‘my headaches are just normal headaches that almost all people in the world have…sometimes ”

I made a mistake and confused my headaches with migraine, then the agency asked me for a Doctor letter about my headaches, and he wrote the it is not migraine, but the agency did not accept still… even knowing that I am normal..

Migraine or not, ED or not…. is the kind of thing that the agency does not allow.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 24, 2011 at 7:21 am

As long as your migraines do not cause you to miss days from work then they are not an issue. As a teenager I babysit a child who suffered from migraines (whose parent did not warn me) and I was blind-sided by the symptoms, even though her brother and sisters assured me that it happened all the time and that she just needed to be cleaned up and put to bed.

I had one AP who told me that her menstrual cramps made it impossible for her to work, and I did the math quickly and realized that HD and I could not cover for her. I gave her the opportunity to change her mind. She ended up finishing her year with us.

Most years I spend the equivalent of 10-12 work days each year taking The Camel to doctor’s appointments – my supervisor would not be sympathetic if I told her I needed to cover for my AP’s illnesses as well. (This year is different – The Camel has been in the hospital for nearly 4 weeks, so when I return to work absolutely every moment will count.)

While none of my APs has disclosed health issues, most of them have been minor food allergies and none have resulted in days off from work because the AP is too ill to function.

My 2 cents May 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Honestly, I think you need to focus on fixing yourself first and foremost. I think pursuing being an au pair is just a mistake at this point for you and for any potential host family. It is patently obvious from your post that are still struggling and, despite all best intentions and recent experience, can expect to continue to struggle with a relapse and failures a big possiblity in your future. You should not be exploring going to a new country where you will be thrown into a whole new set of challenges — negative and positive — that could very well throw you into a tailspin and your host family with you.

Drop the au pairing idea. You need to focus on you first.

Carlos May 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Everyone has mental issues… seriously.. but we all somehow manage to adapt ourselves to a normal life without noticing how obsesive compulsive we are sometimes, how angry we get with simple things, that sometimes we find ourselves biting our nails without noticing because we have anxiety. Like someone said above, you might have a mental disorder but as long as it doesn’t affect others I don’t see any problem…
I would hire an au pair who has been through anorexia and has been treated as long as she tells me that she feels better and that she won’t do it again… and I’m not pretty sure of what I’m going to say but there’s always the option of a rematch… there are tons of au pairs out there waiting for a family so… it shouldn’t be hard to find a new one… correct me if I’m wrong please

Indi Au Pair to be May 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Hi Carlos, I respect your opinion but, I wouldn’t call it mental “issues”, an Eating Disorder is something that’s beyond likes/dislikes or how we choose react to things, it’s something one can’t control, a serious dissease that requires medical assistance. Is somene who’s suffered from an Eating Disorder unable to work? Not at all, but the thing is, with being an Au Pair comes a MAJOR responsabilty, taking care of CHILDREN. I’d say it’d be very different than say, being a barista or clerk desk…it’s MAJOR responsabilty, we’re talking about little people lives. As other commenter above expressed it before me, the fact that she’s even questioning wheter telling it or not because of being scared of loosing chances tells me that she’s most likely not ready to take that big step just yet. It’d be different if she ommits it because she honestly think the ED is all in the past, but again I’ll highly doubt it as it’s something you never “heal” but recover from. In this situation being very upfront and honest would help her find a suitable family rather than hiding it and they finding herself in an unsupportive family that with all right could feel hurted because of the lack of honesty it’s shown from day one. The fact that someone TELLS you she feels better and she won’t do it again doesn’t mean she’ll actually attach to it.
It’s not a matter of disclosing it or not, for me it wouldn’t even be an option, if AP decides to hide it, how can one assure a great relationship if one basic step is lacking, honesty and trust (from the AP part). It’s not allergies, it’s not a simple cold, an ED is something complicated, deep, delicate and personal.
I hope the AP makes the best decition for her, not in the inmidiate future but in the big picture.

Anonamomma May 26, 2011 at 3:17 am

Carlos – “There is always rematch”

How long have you been posting on this site? Long enough to know that rematch is always a last resort of HF’s when they give up all hope of salvaging/saving a relationship.

You don’t really understand rematch at all so you should not put it out there as an “option”. What about the heartache and trouble caused to the host family – first they would have to deal with her ED (which we as host families do not sign up for) then once it became too much we are the ones who would have to find a replacement and all the heartache that that brings with it, explaining/lying to our children (because we would not be telling them the truth why she has to go home would we!)

And what pass her along to the next family (unsuspecting if the ED is not disclosed or kindhearted if it is) or just send her home and train in a new au pair and all the work involved. I think you comment is grossly unfair to host families.

HF are exactly that a family – we do not need/want to take on another family’s problems and if you have a disorder (whatever that may be) it is up to your family to help you – not mine.

Quite simply this person is not allowed in the programme (the rules are there to protect HF from this kind of situation) and she should not be allowed to enter. She has a disorder and that is the end of it.

And once again REMATCH is not another “option” – it is a last resort.

Eastcoaster May 29, 2011 at 5:16 am

Well said. That rematch comment annoyed me too.

Carlos May 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I apologize for that… I didn’t see the big picture of it…

Now I know the host family side of the story and that’s why I like this website because you can actually see from first hand the au pair concerns and the host families concerns… Out of the au pair topic this is one of the things I love the most… debate…

I’m so sorry if I used rematch as just a simple option, please try to understand that I’ve been thinking for this months that I might be waiting too long to get a family and for au pairs rematches can be great, so there are more options to us…

Again… didn’t know how hard it is for a family to deal with it… I was just thinking as an au pair who doesn’t have a family yet..

franzi May 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm

as former au pair and as someone who had an au pair friend during her year who clearly had an ED i can only advise you not to become an AP at this point in your life. you are 20, you still have plenty of years ahead of you.

the problem that i see for you in the us (and that was the one that triggered my friend back into eating problems) was the type of food and drinks served in the us and the amount of it. naturally you want to eat healthy, super healthy, but this might not be what your host family can or wants to support. even if they tell you during the matching process that they eat healthy it will likely not be what you expect it to be.
even “healthy” salads in the us can be full of sugar and other calory bombs.

thus you automatically will have to turn your mind onto food issues. you will be thinking about it every single day. whenever you feed the kids something, whenever you open the fridge, whenever you are out with friends at starbucks: FOOD and CALORIES will be on your mind. how convenient that the calory intake is also posted on most menues in restaurants/coffee shops…really, there is no way to escape this thinking even for people who do not suffer an ED.

my friend ended up eating only apples and drinking water because she saw unhealthy food and eating habits “everywhere”. her host family did not care (she only had a hostmom and she was way too much into herself and her problems to notice) and my hostfamily did not have enough leverage to make her realize that she has an ED.

so to sum it up, i think you should not become an AP right now but give yourself more time to get healthy and strong so that in 5 years you really are ready to be an au pair.

HRHM May 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Franzi, it sounds like you knew AP1 from Bosnia! She was rail thin and NEVER ate in front of me and the kids. She went through dozens of apples a week and occasionally entire bags of chips would disappear in one day. She also kept laxatives in a box in her room and hid food in her closet. (found this when I was packing her bags to send her to live with the LCC after we caught her stealing from us) I cared, but obviously didn’t know she had an eating disorder until she was firmly entrenched in my family. She was older (23) and since she maintained her weight during the year, I chose to not confront her on it. If I had, it would only have resulted in her being sent home immediately, since the AP medical insurance doesn’t cover any treatment of this type. As it was, I tried to keep lots of fruit and veggies in the house and encouraged her to eat (she didn’t anyway)
My advise to all HMs is to RUN in the other direction if you get an applicant with a history of eating disorders. The APs have enough adjustment issues without adding this to the mix. Would you hire a “recovering” alcoholic, someone with suicidal depression in the past couple years or other serious chronic health problem (seizure disorder, brittle diabetic) to take care of your kids unsupervised? And if you find that she has one (undisclosed) once she gets to your home, notify your agency immediately and rematch. AP1 projected her food issues HEAVILY on my kids and although there was no permanent damage (they were really young) I’m not sure how this would affect more cognizant older kids.

Eastcoaster May 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm

We had an AP lie about something on her application and when it came to light I was absolutely furious. I called the LCC immediately and initiated re-match. When trust is broken the deal is off. In your case I’m sure the agency would send you home, and that’s a bad situation for you and for the host family. I agree, unfortunately I do not think you should be an AP. Have you thought about a study abroad program instead?

kat May 27, 2011 at 5:01 pm

what country are you wanting to work as an ap in? it might be a lot easier in other countries than the us.
a/ in other places it might be easier to find food that is more similar to what you have in your own country and therefore a problem that franzi describes is likely not to be as big or nonexistent
b/ an ap job in the us is what one would call a nanny job. its full time hours, or more then full time hours at 45 a week and that is demanding. in europe aupairing is typically 25-30 hours and then you have time to recover and do your own thing. it actually does make a difference whether you work nine or five hours a day.
c/ you dont need to go through an agency and can therefore save yourself from lieying (sp?) on a application form. not saying whether you should or shouldnt tell the family but just the fact of not going through an agency who just tells you what you can or cant which i personally find too controlling might work for you better. and perhaps you can do aupiaring in the us a few years later when you are even more stable than you are now.

BEmama May 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm

We matched with an au pair who had been bulimic, it was a disaster, and my husband still ruminates on it when we are in match season.

Bathho June 6, 2011 at 4:04 am

I’ve just finished a year as an au pair and I would seriously recommend that if you have an eating disorder that you DO NOT do it. This is coming from my own AP experience and family experience with ED. I am a European APing in Europe working very few hours and prior to coming here I was never an emotional person at all. I was pretty mellow about everything, never really felt down or sad and cried about three times a year. During my time abroad I pretty much became an emotional wreck. I didn’t show it and it had no impact at all on my work but I spent so much time reflecting on myself and on my life that I really changed as a person. This happens no matter how much you try to avoid it so even if you are certain that you won’t relapse and that you’ll keep it under control it doesn’t necessarily work that way. I don’t know what kind of history you have with relapses but my cousin was ‘recovered’ for years,in as much as everyone thought that the anorexia wasn’t going to be a problem again, and when she hit a stressful period in her life she became life threateningly ill. This was when she was living far from her family at university and nobody could identify what was happening because she knew how to hide it. Food is strange with another family. I lost 6kg between Christmas and March without knowing how and everyone I know has either gained or lost weight. It’s a subject that comes up frequently and you can’t avoid it. I suggest waiting a few years or possibly doing a summer au pair job. I don’t know where you’re from but especially if you’re in Europe it shouldn’t be too hard and it will give you the same experience but a little less intensly. Good luck with everything and I hope you keep healthy.

AuPairInHolland June 20, 2011 at 7:46 am

I’ve been an au pair for the past 6 months (6 more to go) and I had an eating disorder for several years.

I still consider myself “in recovery” because I don’t think one ever recovers from an ED, it’s some that you can control but it doesn’t really go away.

Having that said, on my first 3 months here I gained 3kg and I was mortified. I couldn’t sleep, everytime I ate I felt anguish and guilt…. Then I skyped my doctor back at home and he added an anxiety medication to my treatment (notice, I’m away but I haven’t stopped treatment with antidepressants). The anxiety medication helped me a lot, not only to deal with the bad feelings towards eating but also the part where I used food to cope with my fears/frustrations/period of adaptation.

I haven’t told my host family about it, I think I proved I can be an au pair in spite of having a mental disorder, because I’m being treated and I trusted myself before I came here.

I think that you should think about it and see if YOU’RE ready, and if you can deal with it. It’s not gonna be pretty if you go on starvation mode or binge and purge in your host family’s house. Even though you said nobody ever noticed you had an eating disorder, being secretive about eating habits and such doesn’t really help building a trust relationship with the host family.

Just think about it, and good luck!

Anonamomma June 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

Let me ask you a few honest questions? and I would urge you to answer them honestly (even just to yourself)

Do you think it is fair on a HF that their au pair “couldn’t sleep” – and “everytime I ate I felt anguish and guilt” – do you think that they did not pick up on this? Do you think the HM didn’t fret and wonder what is going on with you? Do you think your moods did not affect the children (who naturally cannot understand that you have an internal conflict/struggle going on).

Did you disclose this disorder to your hostfamily before you matched? and have you told your host family that you are taking anxiety medication? (IMO – I think not!).

You are abusing a position of trust if you did not tell them the truth (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth) and you are continuing to violate that trust if you have not disclosed that you are on medication and you still have a very serious ED. 3K is not a huge amount to gain or loose for that matter – it would not cause a “normal” person to seek anxiety medication – you are still in the grips of a disorder and you are unfit to be a carer of children – that is not just my opinion – that is the rules – even in Europe their are rules and guidelines and you are breaking them.

And you have proved nothing – except that you are not ready to take on this challenge without medication – therefore you are not ready.

Please disclose all to your host family immediately. It is their right to know.

azmom June 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

i agree- this should be disclosed. i think she’s saying that she was mature/in control enough to realize that her thoughts weren’t “normal” so she spoke with her doctor. Rather than purging, she had medical help.

Anonamomma June 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

And I commend her for that realisation but I wish she would take it one step further and disclose or leave her family.

Who would want somebody who is dependent on mood altering medication taking care of their children.

Does anybody out there think (honestly) that someone on this type of medication should be taking care of children full stop.

I loathe the fact AuPairInHolland has not told her host family anything about her condition.

How irresponsible, selfish and dangerous can you be. All medications especially mood altering medications have side-effects (some of them very dangerous) – can she drive a car, does she drive the children around, even cycling is not permitted on some medications and in Holland it is normal to cycle with children in a carrier on a bike – is all this permitted on the type of medication she is taking – and should that not be the HF’s choice?

Her HF have a right to know.

“I think I proved I can be an au pair” (because she went behind her HF’s back, contacted her doctor in her home country and got a prescription! – give me a break – this person is an au pair – she is someone who has taken advantage of a family and used them for her own means. An Au Pair/Family relationship is based on truth and trust. This person has neither.

That poor family – little do they know they have a time bomb in their house.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

Personally, I feel like this AP is handling a stressful situation responsibly – she sought and received medical advice. I agree that for most people a 3 kg weight gain is not worthy of a wince, I don’t think this particular AP is a “time bomb.” That’s a rather extreme description. I do think she is going to have to work hard at caring for herself in order to be a good caregiver to others.

Yes, I would rather that an AP came to me and explained that she was on medication, but given attitudes toward mental health, it would take a very strong AP who was sure of her place in the family to admit this to her HP.

On the other hand, a lot of people take “mood altering” medication, and to make a sweeping generalization about them confirms their suspicions that they are the victims of discrimination. My guess is that there are many teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and parents who lead successful working lives with a little help (I should know – I’m married to a great husband and father who does a lot better when his anxiety — totally justified as the parent of a medically fragile child — is under control).

If you find yourself, as a HP, angry about people who don’t have perfect mental health, then it is best to disclose that to candidates out front. That way, those who have issues that require medication can quietly say no to matching with your family without explanation.

hOstCDmom June 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

TACL – you beat me to it, and correctly went further to note the mirror image counterpart to this HP’s view — i.e. that a HP should disclose such views regarding mental health as much as s/he expects an AP to disclose his/her own mental health/mental health medications. Thanks for making this important point.

anonamomma June 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

My issue is not only with the fact that this girl is taking medication – it is with the act of hiding it from the host parents. They have not even been told that she has a diagnosed condition. That is dishonest plain and simple.

As for the “time bomb” comment – this girl is already on antidepressents – her doctor back home has just added anxiety pills to the mix – her host family know nothing about any of this. It is a time bomb – the truth will out in the end – and no family likes to be lied to.

And I’m sorry I’ll take the backlash – I don’t think that girls/boys with disorders or on this type of medication should be in the programme. I beleive the burden is too much on HF’s and in some cases on the AP themselves who have put themselves out of their depth.

The fact that they have to lie or withhold the truth to even match says it all.

hOstCDmom June 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

Annonamomma –

A few questions for you:

RE: “Does anybody out there think (honestly) that someone on this type of medication should be taking care of children full stop.”

Don’t you think that many HP themselves take anti-depressents (the class of drugs usually used to treat eating disorders, not necessarily bc the AP is depressed) — should they not care for their children?

Other than an AP situtation, where it seems that many HP expect their AP to disclose medications taken (and folks say that the regulations also require this) how would you know if a caretaker, babysitter, teacher, or even family member for that matter (grandma, aunt, cousin etc.), was taking what you refer to as “mood altering drugs”? I am pretty sure that daycare center workers take such meds, as do teachers, coaches, scout leaders….and physicians. Therefore, there is a reasonable chance that your child would be in the care of someone taking such meds. And they wouldn’t have to tell you, and their employers are likely prohibited from asking such questions.

2011 statistics show that over 10% of the American public take anti-depressants…and that > 10 percent only includes the ‘official antidepressants’ such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, etc. This stat doesn’t include people using ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, etc. nor does it include folks taking other psychiatric medicines (MOAI inhibitors; lithium; anti-psychotics etc.)

This is not meant as an attack, but rather I was really surprised at your strong feeling that anyone taking such meds was unfit to care for children, and that you feel that any caretaker should disclose this information. I would think that the AP situation is about the only situation where you might get such info; if you hire a nanny (and do it legally) you are an employer and bound by your state’s and federal employment law and regulations; in a daycare center or school, the head/principal is clearly not going to give you information about their employees medical status (if they even know it, since they themselves may not inquire about this).

I am very curious if other HP out there feel that an AP (or any other childcare provider) is unfit if s/he takes antidepressents or other such meds?? And do they feel they have a right to know every medical detail about their childcare provider?

@CV – this type of issue/question might make a good post of it’s own…..

anonamomma June 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

hOstCDmom – love your question!
And here’s my answer – there is a difference between being seeking treated yourself and doing your best to raise your children TO bringing another person into your home to care for your children who has withheld the truth or lied to you about the person they are at that moment in time.

If someone is undergoing treatment and they (or their doctor) feels they need medication then in my opinion NO they should not be caring for children in an Au Pair setting. The responsibility is too big and the impact / damage they can do is too great.

I take your point about doctors, teachers, coaches, scouts, etc interacting with children however I would point out that nearly the interaction happens in a structured environment where safeguards/guidelines/rules and ongoing monitoring are in place. Just like daycare it is a professional setting (no matter how loosely that setting is).

Au Pairs work outside a structured environment – usually they care for the child in the home for hours on end – there is very little monitoring – it is all about trust – and we all agree it is a hard HARD job which puts huge pressure and responsibility on an Au Pair. It takes a strength to be a successful au pair.

It is unfair to come to a family if you are not whole yourself, if you require help yourself, you are there as an added support – not to be supported.

Melissa June 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I tend to agree with you. In most other employment circumstances, I would never question the privacy of someone’s medical conditions or any medication they may be taking. If they can perform well in their job, that is all that matters. However, the au pair role is an entirely different situation in my mind. It is very unstructured and all about trust. And yes, parents themselves often have their own issues that could impair their ability to care for their kids as well as they should — they could be taking medications, or other emotional issues that make them less than the ideal parent. Doesn’t mean someone is a bad person or ‘crazy’ because they are taking anti-anxiety medication or what have you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they would not be a wonderful au pair. However, in the unique situation of an live-in childcare provider (very different than an occasional babysitter, soccer coach, etc), that is something I’d want to know about and a risk I wouldn’t take.

FutureAuPair June 21, 2011 at 1:33 am

I have a quick question. I am starting the process of becoming an Au Pair in Germany next year for an entire year. On most agency forms, applicants are required to list whether or not they have taken “mood-altering” medications. What should an applicant do if they took an anti-depressant almost three years ago? I was on medication for a few months and was weened off the medicine when the timing was right. Since that time, I have not had any issues with emotional instability. Should I still put this on my application? Will this hurt my chances of becoming an Au Pair? Host Families, Would you hire someone with a history of emotional problems, but is completely healthy three years later?

NoVA Host Mom January 5, 2012 at 4:16 am

I’m just seeing your question now, so I’m sorry if the answer is not going to help you, but for me as a HM (in the US, so again a bit different of a beast), knowing exactly WHY you were on the meds is as important as the fact that you were on them. I have friends who have very resposible positions, the same as the one I hold actually, who are on various medications for various reasons. That it was for a short time and a few years ago gives me the impression that either it was a single significant incident — such as a death — or that it was dealing with the very real and very hard teen years and all that they can be (but you don’t say how old you are so my guessing is going to be a bit broad here). That is was only for a few months is in your favor. I look at that as a sort of “antibiotic”, something taken for a specific “infection” of the mind and now it has been addressed.

I would want to know what kind of follow-up you had and what plans you have made to provide for the further support you might need during your time as an au pair (liken it to a tune-up for a car; everyone needs the tires rotated and the oil changed now and again, just to keep all the pieces working as they should). If you show me that you have already done a bit of homework and set up a support network (i.e. Skype appointments with your regular counselor or doctor), I’d be willing to give you a fair shot at the application process.

My concerns with the OP here is not that there was a treatment and the needs have run their course, but that she is still very, very fresh in the recovery stage and is likely trying tomask her recovery with a diversion to “prove” just how healthy she really is (in her own mind). The reality is that ED, especially in that stage of recovery, needs ongoing and long term management and support: two things a HF should not be put on the hook for either financially or emotionally.

The OP here has not yet answered what ongoing treatment plans she will be following while in the US and how those plans could likely impact the HF. She is still in denial of the full extent and reach of her disease. I commend her successes to date, however I suspect strongly she has a long way to go learning to truly be responsible for herself before she can take care of others (taking a guess on this one, but my first impression is that she will put everyone and anyone else’s needs ahead of her own, thus sabotaging her own recovery). I wish her much continued success in her recovery efforts, but just because she really wants to AP at the tender age of 20 does not mean she is ready to. I agree with a previous post which suggested that she wait 3 or 4 (or 5) more years and AP then. The program will still be there, and she will have so much more of her recovery to demonstrate to the prospective HPs just how honestly ready she is to undertake the massive quest.

Comments on this entry are closed.