Help: We Need Our Au Pair to Grow Up

by cv harquail on October 28, 2011

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 —

1490657629_3abb4fc89f_b.jpgI 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

Image: Harajuku Girls AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Albert78000
In Japan, it’s a fashion statement. In the US, not so much.


Should be working October 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

CV, this reminds me of the question that came up last week as to whether anyone can report a situation when a “rocky start” was followed by a great, or even good, year.

In my view the high-priority problem here is homesickness. If it is just homesickness, then if she’s happy and busy, she won’t be crying and moping around. (I can’t see how her family visiting is going to help this at all.) You’ve given her the suggestions. If she doesn’t pursue them, then you have to accept her being very homesick or take advantage of her little-girl compliance and REQUIRE her to do social things and make friends.

What you describe, however, suggests that it might be more than just ‘light’ homesickness. It might be an episode of depression, triggered by homesickness and upheaval. So, if you really really want to save the match, take her to a therapist who can prescribe medication. Americans tend to be more liberal about medicating depression, so she may resist this, but again perhaps the compliant attitude can work for you here.

With regard to au pair duties (and I imagine a 5-time HP would have this in place) make sure your handbook is clear and convert some of it into checklists, and ask her to check off her chores and duties each day/week.

Give in and give her more hugs, more cheers, more support, more guidance. You knew she came from this family profile, so you are a little bit responsible for trying to meet her needs where this is not a huge infringement on your time and energy.

Should be working October 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Additional note: Reduce the number and kind of decisions she has to make at all. Hopefully childcare is simple and she is fine with deciding cards vs. Monopoly. So make sure she doesn’t have to decide much else for awhile. Circle a movie in the newspaper that she should see. Send her to a teenager-friendly restaurant. Tell her where to go to buy her coffee. These are easy things that might make her feel taken care of without costing you any energy.

NJnanny October 30, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I agree! limit decisions to be made, both in quantity and in difficulty. Workwise, I can’t think of many decisions that have to be made… I guess like meals and stuff? Have a list of pre-approved snacks/lunches made up so that she can ask your children what they want and a decision can be reached that way. A list of pre-approved outings (park/museum/etc) and down-time activities could be used the same way.

I’m an aupair in Europe now and I have to tell you that one of the hardest things for me, besides the language, has been knowing where to go to get stuff I want/need. At home, I know what types of stores sell certain types of things, but here I’m flummoxed. The same may be true for your aupair. Making a list with suggestions might help her acclimate a little. Things to include might be coffee places, lunch spots, book stores, clothing stores/malls (several, by type of clothing/price), etc.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 28, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Your AP reminds me of AP#5 who was from an Asian country (unlike the rest of our APs, who were from Brazil or Europe), with the exception that AP #5’s parents left home when she was a pre-adolescent to work in factories to provide for her while she lived in a dormitory during the school year and with her grandparents the rest of the time.

Within a month of her arrival AP #5 admitted that she bought her clothing in children’s stores, and when I told her that it was patently absurd (she wasn’t THAT tiny that she couldn’t fit into adult clothing) she made it clear that she wanted to look like a little girl. That’s when I stated outright that only adults looked after my children.

You want to make it work? Then it’s time for The Talk. The Talk begins with “You are an adult in my household, not a child. You are caring for my children and I expect you to behave like an adult in their presence. Establish benchmarks for independent behavior (realizing that you will probably spend most of the year telling her what-do-do and when-to-do-it). Praise her when she gets it right, to reinforce her path to adulthood.

Every time she expresses a desire to “be-a-baby,” reinforce adult behavior. For example, when she mentions sitting on a parent’s lap, say “I’m sorry you feel insecure right now. I’m not your parent, and in the United States adults don’t sit on each other’s laps unless they want to have sex. I’m not your mom, but I’m willing to listen if you’re having a hard time. Why don’t we talk tonight after the kids go to bed?”

In my experience, APs who are not really adventurous, and have become APs for other reasons: education, immigration, etc., do regress when they realize what it means to be alone in the United States. She might transition to independent adult. However, expect to find yourself exhausted 6 months in (I did), and mentally prepare for the next AP. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself asking questions to see if she’s the adventurous, independent type.

Color me the mom of an independent ‘tween and a severely disabled child – I don’t have time or energy to be anyone else’s mom! I quickly tired of always having to tell an AP what to do and when to do it, so I stopped (and when she proved incapable of scheduling herself, that was my queue to tell her we wouldn’t be extending).

And while you stated up front that you don’t want 100 reasons to rematch, do ask yourself how much energy you want to put into this relationship. After all, you’re going to spend the year trying to compel a pampered young woman into becoming an adult. If you don’t have the energy, your children will live. Establish benchmarks for her to meet, and if she can’t, then it’s time to rematch.

As to Should be Working’s Question. Because of The Camel I made the year work with AP #5 (but while she worked hard with The Camel, neither DH or I would classify the year as “Great.” In fact, I’d still call it a miserable year. The start of the year with AP #6 was surprisingly difficult, mainly because I wanted total relief, which of course was not going to happen (we did become close and did sob as we said goodbye). AP #7, on the other hand, just finished a quick few months with us that passed in a blink of an eye.

NJnanny October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

this isn’t exactly on topic, but… what’s so wrong with the girl wanting to shop in the children’s section? First off, the clothes are cheaper. Secondly, the aesthetic gap between adult clothing and children’s (at least older, asian-adult-sized) clothing is shrinking quickly. I don’t think wanting to dress younger necessarily translates to wanting to act younger.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 30, 2011 at 8:36 pm

In this case it was a conscious decision to act like a child (and fitting into children’s sized clothing was a stretch for her).

NJnanny October 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm

lol. gotcha

JJ Host Mom October 28, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I don’t really have much advice on how to help her grow up. I do feel compelled to ask, though… if she’s not good at critical thinking or making decisions, do you have confidence that she’d know what to do if faced with an emergency while taking care of the kids?

momto2 October 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Good question, and an important one. The kids are old enough and smart enough to tell us if something was amiss or if there were a safety issue. The AP really only has to get them up, feed them breakfast and get them onto the bus, and off the bus at the end of the day. She does a lot of helpful stuff like kids’ laundry and things that I’d gladly pay 200 bucks a week for just so we don’t have to try to squeeze it all in on the weekends. She struggles with making decisions like, if the kids are fighting about who gets to brush their teeth first, what should I do? (these are calls we get from her). She also struggles with making decisions about how to spend her free time, which she has a lot of during the day. She doesn’t struggle with decisions like, if the kids run out into traffic, should I try to stop them? She watches them like a hawk, which is a good thing. We can handle the phone calls and we work with her to assess the situation and we can walk her through making a decision, we just can’t handle the incessant crying.

maleaupairmommmy October 29, 2011 at 4:19 am

What things does she like? What activites can you find for her. Example I gave my ap free ESL classes at the library and another on taking the u.s. citzenship class as he would learn american history. He called and joined and best part on one of the classes he has my daughter but they have activites for kids so she is picking up more spanish by playing with these kids. They took the kids to the pumpkin patch free as it was part of the public library program. Does she go to church and find a church family? It will take time and a lot of patience on your part. My current ap when he first arrived he was kinda of a complete diaster needed everything handed on what to do and his orangizational skills were horrible. Luckily he always gave 110% and was mature enough to see his faults and fix it. Example he got a book on how to organize a household. Now he is the perfect ap (I don’t have to touch the laundry during the week) the kids are happy thus mom and dad are happy. I must admit it took about 6 weeks and me learning and realizing I’m kinda of a control freak and learning to let go on certain things. This is ap#5 so it was a new way of thinking. Stay strong make a list make sure your handbook is strong so she can refer back to it. Good luck

momto2 October 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm

We have her hooked up with our kids’ schools to volunteer 1-2 days a week, and she has information about free English practice groups at the schools and the library, she also goes to daily Mass and has been scooped up under the wings of a prayer group made up of grandmotherly type older ladies.

NJnanny October 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm

are you members of any sort of religious assembly? if so, you must know some young people there. I can imagine that walking up to a group of strangers would seem super overwhelming for her, and so it’s probably hard for her to introduce herself and be proactive in making friends. Maybe you could arrange a playdate of sorts for her. I know that wording is juvenile, but it’s the same kind of concept. It would happen at my church all the time; the pastor would come up to me saying “hey, I just talked to this girl who’s new… why don’t you grab some of the girls and go over and say hello?” sort of deal. That way she meets other people her age without having to be the one to initiate it.

EC November 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I totally encourage the idea of getting her linked in with a church, if that is what she wants to do. Almost my entire social circle ended up coming from my church while I was an au pair. The part of a church that she has hooked into does make me wonder how good it will be for her in terms of growing up however.
If this girl has a hard enough time dealing with being an adult, then I am unsure how being part of a prayer group mainly made up of grandmotherly ladies, is going to help her move out of being a child and into adulthood. I love the grandmotherly ladies in my church and in previous ones. However, they tend to want to mother/grandmother anyone under the age of 35. For this girl, having another place where she can be/will be mothered, is probably going to hinder her behaving like an adult.
It would probably be hard to tell her it is not something she should be doing at this point, but maybe encourage her to join a house group of younger adults as well as the prayer group. If that is something that is available at the church in question.

Calif Mom November 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Two our our BEST au pairs have both enjoyed church groups. One had a vibrant “youth group” for young/20-somethings, the other joined the choir. These groups provide some structure both in schedule and a format for creating relationships. Could be helpful for an au pair who needs people to do the social organizing for them. Ironically, though, these two au pairs were both also very independent. And mature. Maybe these factors correlate but one isn’t caused by the other.

Long Island Host Mom October 29, 2011 at 4:45 am

Sorry of you think this is going to sound mean or rough – but I am sorry…your reasons for not wanting to rematch aren’t good enough…She isnt your child and its not your responsibility to train her to be more independent. She either is or isnt…its just too much work – and you are paying for this service…someone should pay you for something that your are trying to help her with that is probably cultural in nature and her parents responsibility. I agree that AP’s do become more independent over the year they are here…but you can’t change someone that much…especially if they arent ready to change. She has a job to do and seems like you are spending too much time on this and you got yourself another child… while your kids might like her – there are many other AP’s out there that can be that for them and also someone that wont take so much time to train. Maybe next time you will ask the questions necessary so that you dont match with someone who is obviously too immature to do the job…Sounds like she needs her own AP. Move on. I would never trust this child with my children and yet you are willing to – maybe you need to see if there is another reason you are set on keeping her…cause I cant figure out why.

Newhostmom October 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

I’m with the PP on this one – I can’t for the life of me think of a situation where it would be worth it deal with this type of behavior. The very first thing that popped into my head and the thing that would make this a no-go for me (other than the thought that you will probably be putting more time and energy into the ap than the children!) is safety. If she can’t make decisions and she freezes up, it’s fine if it’s just monopoly versus cards. What if it’s a fire in the house, or someone has a bad fall, or one of your children confides something in her that has happened that needs to be addressed, or there is an intruder in the house. How old are your kids and how frequently is she alone with them? Any of these things can happen at any time and I would not feel confident that she would be able to make decisions that could ultimately save my children’s (and her own) life.

southern HM1 October 29, 2011 at 8:08 am

I’m sorry- there seems to be a princess dynamic here that I would not want to navigate for the next year. There are so many wonderful APs out there and threatening to quit in an attempt to manipulate you is disrespectful and unkind to you and your children. I would also tell you, from my personal experience, that it is painful to take an AP on vacation who is not a ‘team player.’ If you think she is going to pout or sulk through your vacation, leave her at home.

Calif mom October 29, 2011 at 8:22 am

I think you may not want to rematch because you have been through it under painful-to-remember circumstances.

You can’t just tell her to grow up and have it happen.

We ended up with two like this over the years. They will call you at work to solve basic problems. If you are an extremely patient person with low expectations and lower standards, or if you don’t mind having an extra kid who can drive the kids around (but will call you, lost and in tears, regularly) then start managing her life.

As for the kids, they are the easiest part. They will likely fall in love with whoever you hire. Honest.

PA AP mom October 29, 2011 at 11:02 am

I commend the OP for being willing to take on the challenges of dealing with this immature young lady. I for one know that I wouldn’t have the patience.

I do think that the best thing to do is give clear, concise instructions of what things you want done, and when. This will be the best way to get things done.

My 2 cents October 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

Whoa. Her father rocks her on his lap? As a young woman of 18, 19? Sorry, this is just creepy. She sounds not only immature but honestly, emotionally damaged, maybe a little delusional. Unless you and your children want to be part of her fantasy world, in which she gets to play like and be treated as a baby, you really need to cut her loose. Imagine the modeling she’s setting for the kids with all this weeping and emotional craziness and neediness.

NJ Host Mom October 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Amen, My 2 cents!

momto2 October 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Trust me…..we are not at all Pollyannish about this girl, and we are not afraid of rematch, we just see rematch as the answer to an unbearable situation. The one girl who we had to part ways was abusive and neglectful. That is not the case. After 5 AP’s we realize that there are aspects of EVERY single one of their personalities that could push us over the edge and if we focused on those negative issues they could have all ended in rematch. The first one was a slob, the second one was lazy, the third did end in rematch, the fourth had no personality and barely spoke, and this one is immature. We lasted through all the others, and keep in touch with all of them except the one we re-matched, and we survived. They all also had positive qualities, which is why we didn’t stay stuck on the parts of their personalities that drove us to join a wine of the month club. The other girls’ issues we found we could mitigate. The slob? We scheduled cleaning days as part of her work, and/or closed her doors. The lazy one? We scheduled activities that she had to do with the kids. The girl with no personality? We just dealt with it because she was a hard worker and the kids loved her and that’s what mattered. This one has thrown us for a loop. We didn’t expect this, and trust me when I say that we interviewed her several times and spoke several times after matching with her and her family via Skype. We never got the impression she was a crier. She seemed very mature for her age in all of our conversations, and we understand that she is now a long way from home and it is a different setting, so it is an adjustment, we just didn’t realize how big of an adjustment it was going to be. She is a safe driver, responsible with our car/house, and follows the schedule to a T. She is not a party freak, and she is actually someone who had childcare experience, unlike a couple of the others we hosted who may have embellished a bit. Really, the immaturity (crying, insecurity, neediness) is the only thing that has us wondering, “WTF?”

Though, I agree that the lap thing is creepy.

Long Island Host Mom October 30, 2011 at 3:41 am

Yeah really !! MOVE ON !

Bren ex Au Pair October 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Oh! She needs some self confidence. I know it sounds simple but it’s not! (How could she get some of that If she got all her stuff done by someone else)

My mother moved to another country, it was hard to me since I was really childish. I had to take care of the family business (a small studiantil hostel) and I found myself making big decisions and solving problems that I have’n face it before, because my mother was there to fix them! I was not able to call her many times because of the different times, and guess what! I get over it, because when I noticed that I was able to do a lot of things it felt really good!

She will burst in tears many times. Give her more time! two or three weeks are not enough to adapt a completely new life!

She will has to take decisions eventually, she might be afraid to make mistakes too, and she’ll learn that she is able to do it, and she’ll found that sickly relation with her father is ridiculous!!

I bet she is latina. So do I! And I have had many friends with those issues and almost oll of them get over it.

Anna October 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm

I haven’t had such an experience, but still will chime in with advice.

I think you will have to spend more time with her initually, not rocking her on your lap, but having pep talks, giving advice, mentoring her. You will have to find out what she really wants out of her year here, why she came here, what she plans to do when she returns. Based on that, you will have to give her a plan of things to accomplish, etc.
You will probably have to repeat to her very often that you are on her side, that you are rooting for her, that you want her to succeed.

You will have to try to describe gaining independence and learning to function away from the family as a big carrot. Embellish its importance, describe how wonderful it is, and how strong, accomplished and great she will be when she approaches it. Acknowledge all the obstacles and difficulties she is having, and keep cheering her on.

Lynda October 30, 2011 at 3:54 am

Strongly suggest you seek a rematch. Your AP is part of your family but not her mother. I would think that your AP wants the overseas experience without life skills to learn from these. She has absolutely no idea how her moods and actions impact on the people around her, I doubt that she would even care.

Your family are priority, that this as a learning experience to ensure your children have the requisite life skills before they leave home. You APs family didn’t think this was important and now it has become your problem.

Tough love

JM Host Mom October 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Of everything you posted, what bothers me the most are two things: Firstly, safety. I understand that you are looking at her schedule and tasks and saying that there are few opportunities for something to happen. But emergencies can happen anytime. You never know what might happen. And if she is calling you to ask what to do when the kids are arguing because she can’t keep her head together, how can you trust her to react to an emergency? If your child falls and hits their head when you aren’t home, SHE will make the decision whether it is bad enough to call the doctor immediately, drive to the hospital, or call an ambulance. The difference between those three choices can be life-ending. I don’t say this to scare you, I apologize if it does scare you. Part of my professional job is youth protection, and I think in these terms all the time. I have to trust our AP first and foremost to be able to keep her wits about her and make good decisions. If she can’t decide how to handle a sibling spat, how could you possibly trust her where your child’s life is concerned? I would not want her growing experience to cost my son his health or worse.
Secondly, the fact that she attempted to manipulate you by threatening you would be a deal breaker for me. We just went through rematch recently with an AP who was, among other things, passive aggressive. Had she ever outright threatened me, I would have probably been thrilled because it would have been immediate grounds for rematch. We absolutely refuse to employ an AP who we don’t trust and who does not respect us. And threatening you is a clear sign that neither trust nor respect are present.

For what it’s worth, I think you should re-examine your ideas about the purposes of rematch. I was the same way before we rematched. I didn’t want to do it because I felt like it wasn’t a desperate situation and maybe I was just focusing too much on the AP’s bad qualities and not being patient enough. It was the kind moms here who made me realize that sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and it’s better for everyone if you rematch. I’m SO glad we did. No AP is perfect, of course, because we are all human. But our new AP has a brain which she uses, and we trust her with our son’s life. Ask yourself this: would any other job/employer allow her to behave in such a way? I know the whole “part of the family” bit, but when it comes down to it, you are her employer, and no employer would put up with this kind of behavior (heck, most parents I know wouldn’t put up with it either). Why do you?

If you absolutely refuse to consider a rematch, then I would echo what I’ve read here in other posts: Be clear about your expectations and follow up (I think this situation is probably going to require a LOT of follow up). Be compassionate and understanding to the point that it does not enable her behavior. Enabling her behavior will only prolong and worsen it (and I think allowing her entire family to come is DEFINITELY enabling her behavior-if you feel you’re committed to allowing them to come, I’d put them up in a hotel). Clear instructions, checklists, and try to give her opportunities to make decisions about small things and then support those decisions. This will give her confidence and hopefully improve the situation. Good luck to you!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I think many APs “regress” a little – it’s the combination of culture shock and being a full-time adult in a household. For those who have not worked (other than babysitting), having time scheduled can be difficult (AP#6 had a friend who cried every Monday for months). For some APs, obviously, it can be almost traumatizing.

Crying is not typical, but it does happen. AP #2 came to us a few months out of high school, but she left a small village where her extended family lived, so she lost a network of support. We helped her get through her homesickness by enrolling her in an intensive 4-night a week course, involving our LCC in finding other APs from her country from other clusters. Our LCC also made sure she had a buddy, an AP who had been in the cluster longer and could show her around. She ended up being a great friend to a variety of women from several different countries and extending with us for 6 extra months.

AP #5 was traumatized by culture shock. I don’t think it occurred to her how different it would be, and she nearly shut down. After a couple of months she stopped trying new foods, and retreated into a religious organization from her country. She spent her holidays at religious retreats. Her English, weak when she arrived, despite having working in an English-speaking school in her country, actually became weaker in her first months in our home – it became clear to me that she rarely left our home and spoke English with no one besides us. I set a benchmark – she had to speak English outside of our home for several hours a week – I even made it part of her work schedule (since we only had her work about 25 hours a week I felt justified). I had to know that she could communicate to an EMT in the event that my special needs child had an emergency.

There were other APs who arrived at our home whose English was equal to AP #5’s, but the different was personality – they were outgoing and confident. It made all the difference in how they adjusted to the differences.

You can stick it out with your immature AP. I recommend 1) asking every day when she gets home how her day went – if she has had free time in the middle of the day, ask if any other AP’s from the cluster have called her or if she has reached out to any (if she doesn’t then ask your LCC to find her a buddy), if she doesn’t then find out if she has plans to go out. 2) having a meeting once a week to see how your benchmarks for a successful year are being met. 3) reinforcing her role as the adult in the household when you and DH are not there. I can understand having trouble for the first couple of weeks, and it sounds like everything is still new to her, but she obviously needs to hear that she is an adult. Don’t call her girl or her friends girls, call her a woman. Reinforce the idea that she’s grown up and see if she doesn’t accept the role.

Reevaluate where you are once a month. If you find yourself 1) complaining about her to everyone who will listen, then you’re done or 2) watching her fail to meet benchmarks on her own and getting angry about it, then you’re done. BTDT and I wouldn’t do it again.

honeywhite October 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Our current au pair displayed similar behavior when she first arrived–it was obvious she had been completely sheltered and taken care of by her mom, and she was paralyzed when she first got here–showed no initiative, couldn’t make a decision, display no independence etc. We came close to re-match because though she got along well with our daughter, she expected us to be like her parents, and my husband and I did NOT need another kid to take care of. With the help of our coordinator, we decided to set some specific ground rules – she had to start taking classes, she had to start proactively reaching out to other au pairs in the cluster, she had to start learning her way around town etc – as a means to foster independence, and I’m pleased to say that this CAN work. She became more confident, her English improved immeasurably, she made lots of friends, and at the end of her year we all mutually decided for her to extend another year. You need to do what works for you, and if the good outweighs the less than good then keep trying to work at it, but I would emphasize, as I’m sure you know as an experienced HM, the need to maintain boundaries (and inviting her entire family for the holidays is going way beyond) and realizing when you’ve reached diminishing returns.

Colorada au pair October 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm

@taking a computer lunch you should be my host mom I love all your comments. Best wishes xoxo

Returning HM October 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Our current AP was similar to this when she arrived. She was fearful of doing anything on her own and paralyzed when it came to driving – even though she is a good driver. She was terrified of getting lost and needed to practice over and over again how to get to each new place we needed her to go. Our plans to have her “jump in feet first” with the children and with driving went awry in the second week when our two children came down with pneumonia and I ended up staying home to nurse them so AP was never alone. And then after that, HD and I came down with pneumonia, so that was another week I was home. So it was three weeks in our house before she was finally in charge — and by then she had “learned” to depend on us for everything.

That first week I was back at work she called to say that it was raining and she was afraid to drive. Fortunately, I “missed” this call, and when she called HD to report same, he told her that there wasn’t a choice: she needed to get in the car and go pick the children up – no fuss, no parent stepping in. She called and interrupted me the next day in the middle of a meeting to say that she was parked at a broken meter and what should she do? I told her that I was in a meeting and that I wasn’t able to help but that I trusted her to figure it out. And so it went.

At the end of the first week, I reviewed with her all of the decisions that she had feared she could not make on her own but did, just fine, when forced to. And i reviewed with her all of the things she had accomplished and the new places she had driven, even though she was scared. You could see her stand up taller as the conversation progressed and she realized all she had mastered.

We now use that theme frequently wtih her — look at all you have done and learned already, and it’s only two months in! She recently broke her toe and as she came out of the Urgent Care place, you could see her lip quivering as she said she needed to call her mother. I spent a few minutes before she did, talking to her about how brave she had been, how she had now mastered (!) the US healthcare system, and how she has now had the experience of being hurt in a foreign country and surviving to tell about it. She called her mom with a stronger voice and a good dose of pride that she had conquered this situation too.

I think, if you really like her and want this to work (as we do and did with ours), that you can start to break apart the job for her and show her all she has already mastered -and how, with even small efforts, she can conquer so much more. And then you can be less available for the silly questions, saving your intervention and time for the really important issues that arise. Once you get used to using the mantra “We trust you and know that you’re able to figure this out for yourself,” both you and she might well start believing it.

Good luck!

HRHM October 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

I agree with the “less available for silly questions” above. I have a boss who never comes in or answers the phone until 30-45 minutes after everyone else is at work, because he found that that is when all the “crises that require” his attention occur and that by waiting, most people sort it out without his intervention when forced to do so. It sounds like she could use a dose of that. Tell her that if you don’t answer, she should leave a voice mail (or text). If it’s a life and death emergency, then she should hang up and call again. In our family we have a system – if DH calls me three times in a row, I call him back regardless of what I am doing.

That way, if you listen to the VM or read the text and it’s something she can handle (sorting out who brushes their teeth!) just ignore it and she’ll work it out somehow.

momto2 November 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

This tip is actually very helpful. I was in a meeting last week and didn’t wear my phone, and when I returned to my office I saw several missed phone calls from her. When I called her back, she admitted that her attempts to call me were to ask questions for pretty basic stuff that she was able to figure out on her own. Since I was not available, she realized she shouldn’t have had to call me at work. We talked to her about only calling for emergencies, and explained to her what WE believed constituted an emergency. The calls have definitely decreased.

cv harquail October 31, 2011 at 8:06 am

Hi All-
I got an email from a reader who was concerned about the photo I used to illustrate this post. Here’s her email—- (details edited)

I’ve been following the blog for some time now and I really enjoy reading it and all the comments everyone leaves. I’m working as an aupair in …, but was working as a nanny in the US for 5 years before that. I comment under the handle …. The reason for this email isn’t actually regarding any kind of aupair question; it’s regarding the picture you used in the topic mentioned in the subject.

Whether you know it or not, the picture you chose, probably at random, is of a Japanese sub-culture called Elegant Gothic Lolita. These particular girls are dressed according to the sub-genre “sweet” lolita. I know this because I also participate in this fashion hobby in my free-time.

I guess the reason I’m emailing is because I found the use of this picture somewhat offensive, though I’m sure you didn’t mean it to be so. Though girls who dress this way may appear to be child-like, the fashion has nothing to do with being child-like. As I posted in a comment on the topic, dressing “young” doesn’t equate to acting young. When I wear these dresses, I act and talk exactly as I do when I’m dressed in my every-day clothing, as do all of the girls I know.

I don’t know that I’m expecting this email to accomplish anything; I’m just a product of a complaining generation. :) Maybe it’s just to advise you to choose a little more carefully the photos you use to accompany the different topics on the blog.

Keep up the good work :)

Here’s my reply:

Hi Reader-

Thanks for your email. Just checking–
Did you note that I had already mentioned this on the photo credit?

I didn’t choose the photo at random, but on purpose, to illustrate cultural differences about the degree to which adult women position themselves, or are positioned by others, as being children rather than adults.

We could get into the details of a cultural analysis of the fashion trend, but keep in mind that overall, there is no case where how one dresses does not communicate something about that person’s expression of gender and power….

More specifically, in cultural analysis of the trend, this particular trend is built on and named for an exploitative dymanic between adult men and “child” females.

Here’s one explanation:

The concept of ‘Lolita’ is perceived quite differently in the West than in Japan.
As media scholar Debra Merskin states, it is named after the preadolescent heroine
in the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1958), and is often used to describe young
girls dressed and posed in a highly sexualised way, or middle-aged males’ paedophilic
attachment to such girls.22 Merskin expresses her own concern over the current trend
in Western media (especially in advertisements) of portraying young girls with highly
sexualised looks, as well as the trend for more mature-aged women to dress and look
like baby-dolls. She argues that this ‘Lolita’ look is indeed a multimedia phenomenon.
Merskin cites author Judy Steed who argues that this trend is likely to fuel the fantasies
of paedophiles who find that their predilections are ‘reinforced by mainstream culture,
movies and rock videos that glorify violent males who dominate younger, weaker sex
objects’.23 In this sense, she claims that the concept of ‘Lolita’ operates exclusively for an
objectifying male gaze. As a consequence, ‘Lolita’, or women dressing to achieve ‘baby-
doll’ looks, represents the objectification and sexualisation of women in the mainstream

Here’s the citation:

I know that you don’t think that dressing this way, for fun, communicates anything about how the hobbyist wants to be perceived. Consider that, if that were actually the case, people wouldn’t dress this way.

So, yes, the picture is there on purpose as a commentary about cultural differences. I’m sorry if you find it somehow offensive. Certainly there may be differences between how you enjoy the trend and how you believe or hope that others perceive it, but that doesn’t eliminate the effect that the clothing, and the larger cultural communication of the trend, have on reinforcing or problematizing the gender & power dynamic for women and men.


Aimee December 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I don’t mean to sound rude but what has that picture got to do with this post? I wear Lolita fashion myself but I would be terribly embarrassed if I or anyone I knew acted in this way, whether or not they wore the clothing.

HM Pippa October 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Thanks, CV, for such a thoughtful, well reasoned explanation of your choice of photo.

Joy December 1, 2011 at 7:17 am

I am sorry, but you all seem to be forgetting, that the girl has come to your family to yes, work, but most importantly to learn. If you do not wish to ” baby” anyone, you probably need to be more careful with your choices and definition of the job the next time around… I know, that the line seem a little thin, but if you promise to treat her like a family would, than you can’t expect anything else from her. Especially if she’s a kid her self. You did not get a slave or a young worker. You did basically adopt another child in to the family and should deal with the fallout. Find and read the definition of an au-pair. If you want someone more mature, get your self a professional nanny and pay her accordingly. This girl is working for what I assume the first time in her life for probably about 5 hours a day and feel disconnected. I get that. But you need to either tell her to go back home if she’s not ready and talk to her parents about her behavior ( having a break down several times a day is weird) or put up with her, because she just another kid, who is doing her best in helping you around the house and get’s weekly pocket money. An au-pair is not a professional worker and will never be. I do not mean to defend her or to belittle you – I am only being honest…

Taking a Computer Lunch December 1, 2011 at 8:30 am

I’m sorry, but by taking on an AP – HFs do not “adopt another child.” An AP is somebody’s child, but she’s not MY child. I state explicitly in my handbook that APs are the 3rd adult in my household and that I don’t hire children to look after my children. I am sympathetic when APs are homesick, have difficulties adjusting to new foods and experiences, but I don’t spend good money to bring someone halfway around the world to baby them. All of my APs have risen to the occasion, although some have taken longer than others to enforce rules, establish guidelines and to reinforce positive behavior in my kids.

azmom December 1, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Joy obviously the APs can range a lot, but would you call a 26 year old a child or baby? That is the upper range and yes our first AP was in that range. We also ask for someone who has real work experience so they understand what it means to work a full work day and have to wake up and manage their time. If I wanted another child to watch my children, I’d hire a high school drop out and pay her accordingly…. In AZ I could pay a nanny less than the total cost of the AP year (mind you we’re paying $100/month for insurance when we don’t require a driver… So yes, she may not get a lot of pocket money amount, but she gets a roof over her head (nannies pay their own), internet, tv, food…)

regarding the AP in the original post, yes she’s 19, but even at 19 many are off in college, signing leases on apartments, etc. ie, making their own decisions, so yes, the AP needs to realize she’s not 15 anymore and she CHOSE to be an AP, so it isn’t mean to expect that someone who CHOSE to come to another country to exploer AND take care of kids, would have to rise to the occasion…

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