Au Pairs mature a lot during their year(s) in our homes.
Most of them become more independent, more worldly, more self-confident, and more self-directed. They pretty much have to grow, since the challenges of living in another country, with another family, with responsibility for childcare are just to much for an immature person to handle well.
Some of the most independent au pairs are those who, in their home countries, were chafing at the bit, anxious to transform from someone’s child to their own person. But there are some au pairs who, despite our best efforts at interviewing, training, and orienting, remain little girls or little boys.
As host parents, we want our au pairs to be part of the family. But, we don’t want them to become another ‘child’ who we have to take care of. So, you can imagine the pain of this experienced host Momof2, who has discovered that her new au pair is a little girl– and seems to want to stay that way.
Is there anything this mom can do that might help accelerate her au pair’s journey to independence and maturity?
Note, Momto2 does not want to rematch– other than her au pair’s over-dependency, she’s a great au pair. (Hard for me to believe, since an over-dependent au pair is my nightmare, but I’ll take her word for it.)
Dear AuPairMom Readers —
I am writing to request input from other experienced host parents who may have dealt with this situation in the past. We are currently in the early weeks of hosting our 5th Au Pair, and are facing a dilemma that we have not encountered with any of the others. Our current AP has been with us for just about 2-3 weeks, and is our youngest AP we’ve hosted so far, (she just turned 19).
[Note: We are not looking for the collective advice to just go into rematch, because we do not feel that this is a rematch issue. We’ve been in rematch once, and it was due to child welfare issues and a pretty bad AP–that is not the case here.]
Our concern is about the age and maturity of our AP. What we’ve picked up on in the past couple of weeks is that even though she is 19, she’s very much a little girl in her own eyes, and the eyes of her parents. She’s always been told what to do, when to do it and how it should be done. She has never had to hone her own independent thinking skills, and seems petrified at making decisions about the slightest thing. She is very good at following directions, since that is all she has ever had to do, but if expected to make a choice about something, she freezes up like a deer in the headlights.
We knew that she led a fairly sheltered life growing up. The family follows a traditional cultural pattern of a domineering father figure and a demure, passive stay at home mom. The family has a domestic worker who did all the cooking and cleaning and even made this girl’s bed for her (and her 4 other siblings), even to this day. We explained during the interviews that we do not have a maid, and she would have to clean up after herself, and she has done pretty well, but she still waits to do her chores until we tell her when and how they have to be done.
We have clearly seen that we are expecting her to act like an adult before she was prepared to grow up.
We have talked about our need for her to be an adult role model for our children, but she is still holding on to being a child herself. She is on the computer/emails/IM chats/Skype everyday with her family and friends, (we do not limit internet use, and she has her own computer), and she is crying everyday about being lonely and wanting us to be more like her family back home.
She explained that when she is sad and upset back home her daddy sits her on his lap and rocks her until she feels better, and he tells her how to solve her problems. We told her that we will not do this. We are a very close family, and our children are very huggy and affectionate with her, and we are not against giving her an occasional hug when appropriate (when she is crying, etc.,), but we will not rock her on our laps. After a particularly rough weekend where she broke down in tears 3 times in less than 48 hours, (once at our kid’s soccer game and yes, everyone was staring at us), because she missed her family and felt lonely, we sat down and had the serious talk with her about whether she was emotionally prepared for this program, and whether she had the ability to last a full year. She seemed stunned, and began to sulk and pout like child, and did not talk to anybody for the rest of the game.
About 8 hours later, after speaking with an au pair “expert” from within the cohort, she crossed her arms and sat down with us to tell us she didn’t know if it was going to work, because she did not feel we were close enough to the type of family she was looking to be a part of. She said she loved our children, but she needed more attention than she was getting, so she was thinking about quitting. We said, “okay then.” Obviously, calling her bluff was not what she expected, and then she said, “maybe I was confused. I really want to stay.”
We clarified our expectations, once more. Since we are parents, we are not unused to a child acting this way. We made it very clear at the end of the conversation that we hired an AP, we did not adopt a third child. We were not going to baby her, and we were not going to treat her the same way she was treated by her parents. We were going to treat her with respect and include her as a member of our family as often and as frequently as she wished to participate. We would be supportive of her and listen to her when she had a problem, but we would not tell her what to do since she needed to make choices for herself. We would be patient with her as she learned to walk on her own two feet, but we expected her to make progress.
We have tried several things to help her with her homesickness. We have reached out to our LCC, who may be overwhelmed due to a very large cohort. We’ve begged for contact info for other AP’s, but she is slow to respond. Our AP has met a couple of girls, but learned right away that they were party freaks and she is not a club girl, so she has yet to establish a positive peer network.
We have advised her of activities she can get involved with such as volunteer opportunities with the kids’ schools, and at the local church and the library to keep busy and take her mind of homesickness. She won’t be able to enroll in classes for herself until January.
We have agreed to host her entire family for the Christmas holiday, for a week and a half. (If daddy sits her on his lap and rocks her, I may lose it).
People might wonder, why the heck would a family hang on to this girl? Well, there are two good reasons. Our kids. The reason we picked this AP to begin with was due to her clear ability to instantly connect with kids. She is naturally gifted and our kids fell in love with her instantly. They are comfortable being themselves with her, and she doesn’t get awkward when playing pretend games with them, and she really gets down at their level and has a blast. She follows the schedule and the rules well without issue.
We have planned a couple of family trips next month and asked her to join us, even though she won’t have to work.
The only issue we have with her is the emotional immaturity.
We need her to grow up.
- Have other host families encountered this type of AP problem?
- What tactics are helpful in this situation?
- Are there things that do/do not work?
- Do we just have to wait it out?
Thanks for any helpful input. Momto2