Help A Brand-New Au Pair Get Better At Her Job

by cv harquail on June 24, 2017

It’s not easy to settle in, whether you’re the new Au Pair or the First Time Host Mom.

The American college student who sent this email hasn’t had the benefit of a formal Au Pair orientation, and I suspect that her host mom hasn’t had the benefit of a local counselor or group of moms helping her establish her expectations and organizing her own in-house orientation for her au pair.

6939410983_ca43148038_mThis particular situation could go either way.

Any ideas how this Au Pair could tip it over towards the positive?

I am a first time au pair in Barcelona with a family of two adorable girls that I adore and who adore me back. It is also the first time the family is hosting an aupair and has redecorated their flat and their au pair room for me. They seem very excited to have me.

It is now my fourth day here and the girls love me, hug me and remind me all the time how much they adore me. Last night I went out for a bit to see the town and meet some fellow au pairs and got home a little later than expected around 11:30 PM. Earlier in the day I had taken a nap as I was extremely tired and a little homesick.  

Today, the girls’ mom just had a conversation with me and broke down crying and was so emotional because she says I seem to dislike the girls and not spend enough time with them and she was so excited to see me and it is not what she expected. She meant in genuinely and told me in order for me to improve.

I appreciated this, and I also felt extremely awkward and like such a disappointment. Unfortunately, I also struggled to explain how I was feeling and to respond to her feedback, because neither of us is fluent in the others’ language. I feel so sad now and want to be better but I hate to feel like I’ve disappointed her already.

I want to write out maybe a text and say how I feel so she knows I am taking this seriously but I am not sure what to say or if that’s strange because I could just say it in person. I also want to have a fun time in Barcelona this summer.

How can I become more comfortable here and better at my job?

See also:

Where to Begin: New Host Mom, New Au Pair
How to Fix It When Your Au Pair Starts Out On The Wrong Foot
Should She Ask Her Host Mom To Read AuPairMom?

Image of El Born, Barcelona, from Ilhourahane on Flickr


Sydney host mum June 24, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Sorry that things have become awkward so soon!
I think writing something could be helpful, especially if that means you can be more accurate. I’d consider using pen and paper, though and maybe you use it as notes when you say it in person or give it to her to read. You can explain that it’s because of your language skills.
In the note you could point out the things you love about the girls to show that you are really getting to know them and things you hope to do with them. As a mum, I think that would help me if I was worried my au pair didn’t like them.

Remember that being very tired can make everything feel worse (including homesickness) so you can explain that.
It sounds to me like you both need to be clearer in understanding and stating each other’s expectations.
It will probably help for you to be more open about your feelings so she is less likely to assume you were in your room because you didn’t want to hang out with the family. And you can be up front before you disappear (maybe you were). My au pair will often say he has a Skype call with her parents so she will be in her room before going to bed. I have had au pairs who just disappeared after dinner and a little communication here is just nicer.
You can tell her you are sad that she is disappointed as that is the last thing you wanted. I suggest that once you clear the air that you and her agree to ‘start again’ and have a good understanding of what it looks like to her for you to like he girls and what does ‘enough’ time look like.
If you are introverted, you might need to explain that for her and how you need time to yourself sometimes to get energy to be fully engaged again.
Good luck, would love to know how things go.

GermanHostMum June 26, 2017 at 3:58 am

There is very little information here to see what the issue is at root.

As you are only on your fourth day, to me it is natural that things are not running smoothly – the host family and you need to give it more time.

Since you say you adore the girls and they you, this may “just” be cultural difference in the way you express that and the way the host mum expects.

Adoring is fine, but you really have to get to know them, and they you.
What is your prior experience with children? Have you planned any activities that will help you get to know them better?
How much time have you spent with the girls in reality? And have you been given a schedule?

How did you team up with the host family?
There are a number of websites such as AuPairWorld that have helpful hints both for families and au pairs on what to do and expect in the first week. You could use this as a basis for a talk with your host mum on how to go on from there.
Of course, really it should be your host mum’s job to do that with you, but if she has not had an au pair before, she may not have thought about the practicalities in advance.

As for your question about a text, I personally would never send a text to somebody about this. I find it looks as if you are avoiding her. If there are language issues, write down what you want to say and use it as a basis for a conversation.

Good luck with your summer. I am sure it will get better once all of you get to know each other better – we have all been there!

Nina June 26, 2017 at 10:51 pm

It seems that the host mom would like you to be engaged with the girls, play with them, organize games, activities and do them together. They seem to be an affectionate family so be more affectionate with the girls.

Pauline June 27, 2017 at 7:26 am

It’s only your fourth day in a brand new continent … I think the host mom needs to accept that you need time to settle, and that maybe you don’t have the same way to express affection (you don’t need to hug someone all the time to make one feel loved and cared for).

American Host Mom in Europe June 28, 2017 at 7:08 am

I think Sydney Host Mum and German host mum had good advice. I remember when I had my first au pair, not really knowing how it would go, and as I talk with others who are new at this, they often aren’t sure – and that, plus perhaps language, is at the root of this.

Some things I’d ask:
– does the host family have a handbook / schedule / written guidelines of what they are expecting? It sounds like perhaps expectations are misaligned — maybe they were expecting another sister in the family, to hang out with them all the time, rather than another adult around.
– is there an agreed curfew? Or discussed process for what you should do if you’re coming back late? (I always ask my au pairs to text me if they will be later than expected, so I know they’re not lying in a ditch on the side of the road somewhere… ;-) )
– presumably you are able to communicate reasonably well with at least one of the host parents (they interviewed and hired you) – what process worked best then? (was it mostly email? then maybe hand-writing a note and then sitting down to talk thru it might work)

I think four days – or what is now more likely a week – is still VERY early days in figuring out how this all should work, and both of you are new at this, which makes it that much more awkward. Make sure you have WRITTEN clarity on expectations (I have a handbook listing responsibilities, a printed calendar showing times I expect things to be done, etc.), and perhaps set up an every-other-day time, after the kids are asleep, to check in with the host parents on how things are going, what you missed, what you did well, etc. I usually plan such a daily or every other day check-in with new au pairs for the first week or two, and then weekly for the next several weeks. It has the benefit of being pre-planned, so doesn’t feel confrontational – it isn’t like we’re only “meeting” if something is wrong.

Please post back and let us know how it goes!

kat July 4, 2017 at 5:51 pm

i wonder whether the hostmum kind of expected the aupair to spend all of her time with the family and therefore her understanding of the aupair going out is that the aupair does not like the children. if the mum breaks down in tears, she might have issues of her own, perhaps she has unconsiously expected more of a mental support for herself from the aupair, than the aupair realistically can provide. /speaking a lot from experince of years of aupairing/nannying, in the UK/

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