I always wonder about “the rest of the story” when I get a notice that someone has unsubscribed from the email newsletter .. for the reason that “the content is no longer valid”. I usually take that to mean “we don’t have an au pair anymore”. Over the weekend we got this letter from a host mom who has actively contributed to our conversations and shared her wisdom… and now she’s sharing her goodbye. There are a lot of “take-aways” in her letter, which we can discuss in the comments and also in future posts… but rather than me highlighting, summarizing or editing, I turn the floor over to Ex-Au Pair Mom in California
Dear Au Pair Moms (& Dads),
I wanted to write, first as an opportunity to process my own feelings and thoughts, and second to share my experiences as an Au Pair Host Mom. I have to admit that my experience was mixed, but overall a disappointment. And, I’m now “done” being an Au Pair Host Mom.
When we signed up for the program, we were sure that with our interest in cultural exchange and foreign language, warm-heartedness, and need for childcare of our then 18-month and 3.5 year old, we would be ideal candidates for enjoying an au pair situation.
And, in retrospect, I think we are! But the variability of au pairs, three in total we had over the past year-and-a-half, was staggering in all areas.
Our first, a young lady from Panama, had very little formal childcare experience other than taking care of family children, was shy and reserved, but very sweet, motivated, and took an interest in us and the children. She remained shy and reserved in our presence, but we knew from pictures and other sources, that she was quite animated with our children and truly developed a bond with them. We would then spend time discussing them, strategies for improving their behavior, etc. Her reserve didn’t always allow her to communicate as directly as she might have, so there were times when she was moody and even tearful, but I always noticed and explored this with her and we would have helpful talks that always resolved the issue and improved things in general.
After a year, even thought we felt close to her and pleased with her overall, we were both ready to part. She was eager to return home to her family and we were interested in choosing a “different” kind of au pair, someone more sophisticated, knowledgeable about child development, whose language skills were more advanced, and someone who might be less reserved with us.
Enter a Swedish au pair who was very likely on the opposite side of the spectrum. An active “jock”, she had worked part-time in a nursery school, had fabulous language skills, and seemed to have values, about which she was not shy to express, in line with ours. She was so much more outgoing with the children, able and willing to interact with them in our presence, with very strong motivation to work with us to improve certain behaviors, even to the point of keeping a journal about areas on which to work and various approaches. She spent an hour or so many nights “hanging out” with us and we truly developed a relationship with her that was enjoyable and comfortable.
After two months, however, she told me that she “just couldn’t see” herself in our family for a full year. She couldn’t exactly say why, she really valued her relationship with us and had gotten into a routine with the children. She stated something about being accustomed to a bigger room and house, more privacy, and perhaps wanting to be able to be to care for older children with whom she could be more athletic. We were surprised and quite upset, but tried to make the best of it. And, within a week, we had both rematched.
We welcomed a more mature Brazilian au pair into our home who had been placed with a family with an infant when it was clear to the mother that she really had no experience caring for a baby. She was sweet and warm and seemed a perfect balance between our prior au pairs. However, she was unable to prepare food other than in a microwave or toaster oven. Truly, I showed her how to make scrambled eggs on the stovetop at least six times. I started to wonder if she indeed had some sort of learning issue. While her expressive language was quite good, she couldn’t understand even the most basic communications from us and so we relied mostly on written communication. And, there was a quality that we couldn’t explain, but which was noticeable immediately – she seemed to just “miss” things – didn’t notice them, see them, hear them, and therefore was not as responsive to our children as we would have hoped.
Not to mention that she could not understand them. Neither did her language skills improve over the next three months. She spent the majority of her time with a fellow Brazilian speaking Portuguese. And, she didn’t take initiative to do things like prepare for her driver’s license exam or enroll in English language classes prior to the start of our local college courses. She ate all of her meals in her room and never once came to “chat” with us. I sought her out frequently to talk about issues related to the children, and she always greeted me with a big, lovely smile, but she never invited me in her room and these conversations were usually held standing up. Over the four months of her stay with us, we never formed a relationship with her, which was odd to us, as we had intended to make attempts to do so. My husband losing his job three weeks ago forced the issue of our withdrawal from the program, but I have to admit that we were relieved to have an excuse!
Overall, I am left feeling that the programs do not do an adequate job of screening for candidates and allow the candidates to misrepresent their experience and skill level. We lost several thousand of dollars, as our particular au pair company required an up-front deposit of over $7,000. We’ll get a token refund, and will come out even without paying a stipend in about four months. But, in general I feel that the companies do not consider the families’ needs and issues as much as they do the au pair candidates’ needs and issues. And, I feel that au pairs come to the US for so many reasons – they know what to tell you, but really they come for their own reasons and not necessarily to bond with our children or develop their child development skills or experience a relationship with a host family or even improve their language skills.
At one point, I was left thinking – how can this be a good idea, to bring a teenager who doesn’t speak your language to your country to care for your children, drive them around with very limited driving skills akin to the kind needed in this country, feed them without having any knowledge of the kinds of foods they eat or like, and hope that you are all compatible, but it’s hard to judge having never met them before making this very important choice!!
For now, my husband will be home with our boys and I am grateful for this for now. Hopefully, he will return to work shortly and we will be hiring someone we can actually meet prior to inviting them to care for our children and someone with references in this country that we can actually contact successfully.
I truly hope that other people have a better experience with au pair programs than we did. But, I felt compelled to discuss my own experience and as I had used this blog site often over the past year-and-a-half, thought I might share my thoughts here. Thanks for all your help, wisdom, and advice over the past year-and-a-half.
Ex-Au Pair Mom in California
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