How Can You Get Your Au Pair to be (more of) a Self-Starter?

by cv harquail on October 6, 2008

Moms- We’ve got another request for advice! Not so surprisingly, this request shares a theme with last week’s question, about how to get your au pair ‘out and about’ so that you can have some alone-ish time.

I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting some of the passages to call your attention to them… What are your ideas?

The situation

We are first time host parents and our au pair has been with us for 6 weeks. My husband works outside of the home and travels quite a bit for his job. I am a stay-at-home mom of 4 under 4 and am constantly filling our social calendar with fun activities throughout the weeks to keep the children entertained. We have tried our best to include our au pair in family outings (i.e. day trips to explore our historical city, day trips to Annapolis, D.C., etc.) which she has enjoyed, but I’m finding that if WE don’t “initiate” any type of outside of the home activity, she seems to just hang around the house or stay in her room. We would love for her to branch out and meet others in the community her own age so she may have a more fulfilled experience during her year in the U.S.

What they’ve already done to help

Upon her arrival, we immediately
– took her to our wonderful downtown area to see the sites (which is only 5 miles away),
– gathered all kinds of literature about our city, metro schedules,
– suggested an ESL class that was starting within her first two weeks. She was very excited about getting to practice and learn more english right away.
– She also wanted to purchase a bicycle, so we took her to do so right away.


Any suggestions on how to get her to interact more with others? We have let her know constantly that we are very open to her inviting over other au pairs, having play dates with other host families children, using any of our cars to do things at her leisure, etc. She just doesn’t seem to have the “want” to do anything.

Also, she is 25, not 18!!

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

(I’ll weigh in eventually too…)


cynthia October 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm

We are having a similar situation with our au pair who is 19 years old. We encouraged her to call all the au pairs on the au pair list given to us by her LCC who lived in the area. She has met some girls doing this. She was very resistant to doing this initially as not wanting to feel “stupid” but I just discussed that they were in the same situation once and they would understand. My husband works with a lot of younger men (Army) he found one who we felt was responsible and whom he strusted, and asked him to take her out to see the sites of DC or to a movie. She too is still lonely and I can tell feeling somewhat depressed. We had an issue where she met a person on Facebook she wanted to meet, so we had to nip that in the bud immediately and discuss with her safe practices. So you may want to make sure your au pair does not go that route as well. We are trying to get her enrolled in school so she can start meeting some folks as well.

Clara October 7, 2008 at 4:25 pm

If I could give you an advice I could say to wait! Time is the best thing ever to fix it. She (au pair) will not stand for too much time being alone and living only the host family life. Its normal getting afraid on the first weeks since We dont know if our host family will feel good with us hanging out all the time. I got shy to hang out and enjoy my days off at the begging of my year as au pair. So, take it easy that she will meet others au pairs once she will have monthly meetings ans so, she will enjoy America a lot!

Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Thanks so much for the feedback! Funny that you mention the Facebook situation. My husband was just telling me to discuss “safety” issues about online sites and to remind her not to give out any of our personal info (address, phone #, etc.) because she was just telling us about someone she met on a site similar to Facebook. Thankfully, it was another au pair in the area that just arrived a month ago and they are from the same country. I will definitely offer the suggestion of contacting the other au pairs on our cluster list! I hope she will be open to this. She seems to gravitate to the au pairs that are only from her country since it reminds her of home and she is able to speak her own language, but we’ve been told by our director to have her not do that since it makes her not practice her english.

We are hoping that with time, she will branch out more and explore her new environment! :)

sunnyvah October 7, 2008 at 10:34 pm

About the Facebook thing:
it´s not that bad. We have a similar community in my country and I met actually my first contacts there BEFORE I went to tha states. That was really helpful to get a start. of course you have to be careful about meeting ppl in the internet and you have to talk about general things like not giving any address or numbers BUT if she feels good about it (well, i trust my guts, but i´m responsible too AND Carefully)it´s not bad to meet someone at starbucks.

I never heard about Au pairs who don´t want to meet ppl… that´s weird, because I really needed my Au pair friends and my time off the family and kids. (In the “bad” family aswell as in the good family).

Maybe she just feel like “calm time” if you´re doing a lot of stuff generelly. When I had a busy week with kids and family, I enjoyed a day of doing nothing. Didn´t talk, didn´t go out. Just reading, sleeping, tv and internet :) But that would be just a day.

I don´t think Au pair-time is the right time to save money… I saved some money, but just for vacation and trips.
It will be hard for her to do stuff with other Au pairs if she doesn´t want to spend money. (Seriously, I never spent so much money before… wish I had again my Au pair salary… It´s hard to be a student after that :) )

“Also, she is 25, not 18!!”
Are the other Au pairs maybe younger than her? because it could be hard for a 25 years old person to connect with 18 years- just-out-of-school-girls.

Another thing (I´m not sure if it fits in this case, but i think it´s good for HFs to know:)
I was at the beginning very unsure how much of my free time I should spent at home (to show, that I´m interested in the family and that I want to be part of it). Actually in my “bad” family this feeling stayed till the end, as I couldn´t talk with my HF about this.
In my beloved and great 2nd HF I was unsure at the beginning, but as I connected very well with my HM I knew, she would tell me, if she get´s a weird impression about my absence.
Maybe your Au pair doesn´t want to give you the impression that she´s not interested in you and doesn´t want to spend time with you (as you´re inviting her to family outings, which is really great, she maybe thinks you would be disappointed if she doesn´t spend free-time with you).

I hope you understand what I mean (it´s late *lol*)

Good luck

cvh October 8, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Some great suggestions so far– from Moms and Au Pairs alike. I just saw an article on becoming a self-starter, over at Psychology today

You may feel bound to your timid demeanor, your stifling job, or your rancorous relationship, but there is one realm over which you unquestionably have control: your own head. Herein, five principles of change to turn you into a self-starter.

Marguerite October 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm

If an aupair is hanging out at home too much and you need some family time , how about suggesting that she look into some volunteer activiites?
Lots of towns and school systems publish booklets listing activities. Most high schools now insist that seniors do some volunteer work.
Most of theses programs are very worthwhile,intellectually stimulating and delighted to welcome help. The people she is likely to meet are usually lovely. It is a great way to tap into the behind the scenes life of a country. Many foreign exchange programs are organized around volunteer work
If she is not into the party life or if she is anxious about spending money, she may feel comfortable doing this.
Just remind her that if she finds something wonderful, it is secondary to her childcare responsibilities. Good Luck !

Marianne October 14, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Hi – we are in the opposite situation where our au pair is busting to get out and meet people and do things, but we can’t get insurance for her until she gets a licence which she can’t get until she gets a SSN. However, it sounds like you are in a similar area to us and I thought you might want to see if our au pairs would like to do something on a weekend together. I know our au pair would love to do a trip to DC, and is very interested in history so other places in the area might work too. Especially as it seems like you are a little more logistally setup then we are at the moment. Also, our au pair is 25 too, so it might be good for them both. Reach out to me if you would like to organise something.

Angie October 16, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Hi Marianne,
That would be wonderful!! I would love to organize something. :) Our au pair’s social security card just arrived this week, so we are one step closer to getting her a driver’s license, bank acct set up, etc. Unfortunately, we took her to the dmv the other day and she failed the written test. I am taking her again today, so please say a prayer!!! In the state of VA, if you’ve never had a driver’s license in the US, they will only issue you a Learner’s Permit for the first 30 days. After that, you can go back and take the Driving test. Once she is able to drive here, I think that will help give her a bit more freedom to branch out.

Marianne October 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Angie – my email is, if you like to send me an email we can take it from there. Our au pair is off to the DMV on Saturday, however she was told a different process to what you’ve said :(. She is from Germany and we were told that they would run a cross check back to germany and that was all, but seems like that isn’t the case from what you’ve mentioned.

Angela November 9, 2008 at 9:19 pm

I found out that the au pairs do need to take the written and driving test to get their American license….EXCEPT if they are from Germany! I think because the requirements in Germany are much higher than in the U.S.
Also, I wanted to add that you might want to be careful what you wish for as far as your au pair spending free time away from your family. My experience has been that our aupair was slow to meet friends, but started going to the monthly meetings and met a half dozen other au pairs. Turns out they all get along pretty well. Sounds good, right? Well, it mostly is ok, but now our au pair has every weekend planned out with her new friends and very little participation with our family outings.
This mostly works out for us because we are a blended family and our kids visit their other parents some weekends, but if we have plans and need/want our aupair to join us, she often has already mades plans. Also, during working hours, I found that they were busy making these plans and taking their attention away from our children. So I just want you to make sure that if your au pair starts to meet friends and go out more, you must set some boundaries.

chithra January 26, 2009 at 5:28 am

i’m an au pair, and i mainly stay at home during weekends to study. throughout the week, i take care of four kids and just don’t have the energy to study. the going out part happens a lot bcos i attend day time college and also take the kids on lots of play dates. so it is my own choice that i stay at home and chill during during weekends, and i also make sure that i stay away from the family spaces in the house, to give my host family their time with each other. my host family has never had a problem with this.

personally, i think that if the AP wants to stay at home or go out during the weekend, it has no connection with the host family, unless the au pair agreed to work during the weekends. If you specifically want her out of the house because of any reason (may be there is a private event in the family or you want to clean the house), then you can negotiate it with her, tell her clearly why you need to be alone during the weekends – ideally, this has to be done before hiring the au pair, so that she is clear.

Otherwise, it is better for the host family not to stress about the lack/excess of their au pair’s social life during the weekend. If an AP was mature enough to leave her country and work in a new place, she should be left alone in the weekends to do her own thing. It’s nice of the host family to worry about their au pair, but not to such a level!

Calif mom January 28, 2009 at 2:42 am

I absolutely agree with Chithra! I don’t worry about how our au pairs spend their time on the weekends. We invite them to join us when/if we know our schedule ahead of time, and I don’t feel guilty if she chooses not to come, and we don’t feel offended if she chooses to sleep in instead of attending some kid event or other. (it is nice for the kids if the AP will come to watch one soccer game a season, or something like that, but their free time is their free time!)

Our current AP is more introverted than we are, and she needs down time. Heck, if I didn’t have kids, I would be spending a lot more time chilling by myself on the weekends, too! : )

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