Homesickness and your Au Pair: How you might help

by cv harquail on October 15, 2008

homesick au pair needs help Being an Au Pair’s host mom occasionally calls for you to help your au pair take care of herself, both physically and emotionally. You will find yourself needing to offer her ideas about how to distinguish between a cold and an allergy, how to find new friends, and almost certainly how to deal with homesickness.

If your au pair seems depressed or is spending a lot of time in her room, sleeping, and/or on the phone & computer, it’s possible that she’s missing her family, friends and familiar environs. I get homesick sometimes when I’m away for two nights for work– so I can empathize with an au pair who realizes that 12 months is a long time and home is a long way away.

Can you keep your au pair from becoming homesick?

Probably not. Your au pair is in charge of her emotions, so there’s not much you can really "do" to prevent homesickness or to fix it for her. But, you can help your au pair deal with homesickness by offering her some advice and strategies. Talya , a former Au Pair who writes at Best Au Pair Guide , recently wrote about how to manage homesickness . You could print out Talya’s post for your au pair, or email it to her. You might also encourage your au pair to look at her au pair program materials for their advice and encourage her to talk to her Local Community Counselor. And, as a host mom you can do a few things that might help:

1. Invite your au pair to talk about her family and her friends at home. Ask her to describe personalities, tell stories, and talk politics. While some of this can look like ‘cultural exchange’, it can also help your au pair feel connected to her home.  For your au pair, sometimes being able to make far-away people part of her everyday conversations with you can help her create a connection between where she is now and where she was & will be. Instead of being isolated from home, she might think of herself as being what connects home and here.

A side benefit for you and your children is that you learn more about your au pair’s world– you may understand her more deeply, and/or get a fuller sense of who she is. This, in turn, can help build your relationships and reduce the loneliness that triggers homesickness.

2. Ask your au pair about the new world that she’s creating here for herself. Ask about the other au pairs she’s met, about what she’s learning about the US, about what she’s discovered about your kids, and about the other au pairs that she’s met.

3. Find ways that your au pair can be especially productive. There may be an art project, an organizing project, a trip to the library, or something that needs to be *done*, that your au pair can do to feel like she’s making a difference in your home. (See Amanda’s idea at SimpleMom.com for creating an Art Box for kids ) .

Projects work against homesickness in two ways. First, feeling homesick tends to make people be more passive than usual, and being passive gives people a chance to be the ‘victim’ of sad thoughts. You want your au pair to be the active agent of positive thoughts, because positive thoughts hold homesickness at bay. Second, when we are able to ruminate on something sad, we make ourselves sadder. When we are busy, we aren’t really able to hold all the homesick thoughts in the front of our minds, and we avoid digging ourselves an emotional trough.

being silly 4. Find some ways that she and the kids (and maybe even you) can play together — especially outside. Can she take the kids bike-riding?  Bake cookies with your 4 year old? Take the dog & kids to the park to toss the Frisbee (this one always works to pick me up)? It’s hard to be sad when you’re running around with happy little people who look up to you.

5. Avoid playing moody music. (I’m not kidding!) Once dreary Fall day, I was playing a CD of some melancholy Celtic music in the kitchen, just trying to relax a bit, when my au pair burst into tears. The combination of the music and the greyness outside was more than she could handle. So I put on High School Musical , and made myself sing along until my au pair finished her sandwich and went off to the mall.

6. Talk with your au pair about her goals for the year. What does she want to learn? Where does she want to travel? Who does she want to meet? Help her think about the positive reasons that she’s here in the US. Encourage her to make a list, get out a calendar, set some goals.

7. Recommend ways that your au pair can "get creative". It’s hard to be sad when you’re creating something. How about making a video of the neighborhood? Making a flower arrangement from branches off the trees in your back yard? Dressing up the dog and doing a canine photo shoot? Creating a video on Howcast.com about something she knows how to do?

8. Encourage your au pair to combine goal-setting and getting creative by making a Vision Board. ( Christine Kane has a great post on how and why to make a vision board .) She can hang her vision board in her room, to keep herself focused on the positive.

vision-board-03

A little bit of homesickness is inevitable, for any au pair, no matter how happy she is to be here and be with your family. Remember, when your au pair does get homesick, don’t take it personally . Of course, if you’re a host mom who is cold, unfriendly, and hard to please, your au pair is more likely to miss home. But even if you and your family are warm, accommodating and encouraging, your au pair is still likely to be a little homesick every now and then.  So, don’t take it personally. Instead, while recognizing that your au pair is an adult who can (and needs to) take care of herself, think of some ways to extend some support and some kindness.

Other ideas? Let us know in the comments, below.

{ 5 comments }

Anonymous October 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm

We were very sensitive to the issue of homesickness. Having lived abroad before, I know after a few months I started to miss American food, American people, American manners…things I normally would take for granted here. Its actually very natural and common. When our au pair arrived we helped her connect with other au pairs from her country. That was key! We also identified stores that sold goods from her home country and took her there during her first week, so if she craved food from home she would know where to go. I offered to buy her a few things, however, she continued to think I would pay for food that she was used to eating “back home.” However, being an au pair is a cultural exchange and it does mean living in an American home. Our au pair has shared some of her traditions and national holidays with us. And our children do know a few words in her native language. We also made sure our au pair had access to a computer so she had regular contact home. And I can usually tell when she is homesick as she’ll comment how her homeland is so great or she’ll make herself a completely traditional meal for herself. Being sensitive to your au pair’s homesickness, in itself, can help alleviate it.

cvh October 16, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Anon. Mom- Thanks so much for these suggestions…finding a store with ‘food from home’ would be a great way to show you care.

Rayann October 17, 2008 at 5:00 pm

One way we helped our au pair feel more at home was to make sure she knew that we enjoyed her company as a friend, not just as a child care provider. In the evenings after the kids go to bed, she, my husband and myself often sit on the patio and enjoy a glass of wine and get to know each other. I’ve also taken her out for “girls night” where she and I go out to dinner just the two of us. My husband and I have also included her in nights out with us and our friends, having our back up babysitter stay with the kids (so the backup babysitter knows we still need her and value her!).

I think this has helped her know that we are her friends as well as her host parents, and it’s helped us develop a much closer relationship. We want to always make sure that she knows we enjoy her and value her as a person, not just as a childcare provider – I think that has helped with homesickness.

Edina Stone December 31, 2008 at 5:40 am

Hi – great article on homesickness and au pairs. I have worked in the au pair industry for over 10 years and I have seen my share of young women having difficulty assimilating into our American culture. Coming to a new and different country can often overwhelm the au pair and leave her feeling disoriented, confused and depressed. In the industry we call this “culture shock.” See my full article at my website http://www.aupairclearinghouse.com. We are a national clearinghouse for information on the au pair industry for host parents. I am sure your readers will enjoy my site – can we link up?

I can send you my article on Culture Shock if you want to post it on your site. Love your site, by the way!

Edina Stone, CEO and President
edinastone321@aupairclearinghouse.comom

gst July 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

i am here at cagliari italy . it was my first time to be here and abroad, i feel im dying with boredome and loneliness. i got no work here now for a week, i dont know if i can cope up for the next week, i am praying to god always almost every hour or minute when the homesickness strikes on me. it s true that people around me couldnt do anything for me to overcome this but me my self be the one to get this thing out of my mind…its so easy to tell in words but doin that is so hard, i dont know how am i able to tell my mind not to think of my previous life in our country, philippines..hope u can help me too..this is a place of living dead like me, no appetite for everything….gst

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