How Can You Help Your Au Pair Feel at Home over the Holidays?

by cv harquail on December 20, 2010

201012200751.jpgLast night I was ironing a pretty Christmas tablecover given to us by the cousin of one of our au pairs, when he was visiting a few years ago. Smoothing out the God Jul! embroidery, I looked up to see the Swedish straw reindeer, the sleigh candle holder, the Dala horse ornaments,  and one of my favorite Christmas gifts of all time, a handmade paper mobile of angels. All gifts from Au Pairs.

When I put up these decorations, I’m warmed by memories of au pairs near and distant, and I’m also a little sad.

I get nostalgic and a little emotional at Christmas, even when it’s at my home, with my decorations, my family, and our traditions. The few times in my own life that I haven’t been home for Christmas have been acutely lonely, even when I was having fun. What must it be like for au pairs who celebrate Christmas, to be away from their families at this time of year, maybe away from home for the first time? It must be even worse for au pairs who don’t have a great ‘fit’ with their host families — they don’t have the easy way of joining in, contributing, or easily adding their traditions or voices.

How can we help our au pairs feel less homesick, more welcomed, and more included at this time of year?

Do any of you host parents have strategies for opening up your holiday traditions to include your au pairs?

Or strategies for letting go (of anything) to make more emotional room for her or him?

I’d love to hear them.201012200749.jpg

Felt Dala horses from
TwoHungryBlackbirds on Etsy
Greeting Cards by
CameraforKitty on Etsy


Taking a Computer Lunch December 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

We offer to include our AP in all our activities – traveling to relatives, making special foods. Some have had a tougher time than others – especially those APs who are recent arrivals into our home (we had one young AP who came at the end of November – she had a really tough time).

Fill a stocking for your AP. Yes she’s too old for Santa Claus, but it will make her feel special. I put a mixture of things in – socks, gift cards, little bottles of Purel, hand lotion, Chapstick, stationery, food items from her country, stamps, a phone card (even APs with Skype will need one to call family members without Skype), chocolates.

Buy some gifts, both seasonal and fun. If your AP is from a warm climate and you live in a cold one, buy her some silk long johns, good mittens, wool socks (Target sells nice blends inexpensively), and a scarf.

The Camel, even though she is an adolescent, doesn’t really know how to open Christmas presents, so we have the AP help her. Your AP will run through her gifts before the rest of the family. If you have a baby, have her help the baby open gifts – it will give her something to do and help her feel involved (and it will leave your hands free to write down who gives the baby what).

Make your AP’s favorite American foods, or ask your AP to make a traditional holiday dish for your table if she likes to cook. Ask her to talk about the traditions in her family. If your AP doesn’t usually go to church, but wants to go to Christmas Mass, help her arrange it (best if she can tag along with another family from your neighborhood if it’s not your tradition).

Acknowledge that it’s a time for homesickness. Sometimes knowing that someone else cares that you’re feeding sad and lonely makes it less painful.

PA AP mom December 20, 2010 at 1:14 pm

A few things that we do:

1. Include the AP in all family activities. We even give her an explanation beforehand of who will be present and how we know him/her. Most of the time this includes pictures. We have a LARGE extended family, so it helps her feel more comfortable at the events.

2. We buy her a personalized stocking and fill it with chapstick, lip gloss, a fashion/gossip magazine, pens, American candy, a battery powered toothbrush and gift cards for coffee, gas and Panera bread.

3. We have her help the boys make ornaments and decorate the tree.

4. She comes to church with us on the Sunday before Christmas for caroling and the children’s program.

5. We sign her name on all the gifts we give to family members and friends.

6. I take her shopping and we talk over lunch about how she feels about the holidays and being away from home.

7. We make sure she has time to Skype with family back home during their family holiday celebrations.

8. She helps with the baking and cooking and preparing for our holiday party. This is always one of the AP’s favorite parts….and mine!!!

ExAP December 20, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I love #5! That would be the best proof that the AP is part of your family!
I bet it made lots of APs feel special and honored! =)

HMinWI December 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm

We have one family tradition that I think our APs have always enjoyed. On Christmas Eve we get to open one gift…and it’s always pj’s. Our APs haven’t known this ahead of time, but I have always enjoyed seeing their smiles when they realize that we treat them just as any other member of the family, and they get new jammies too. I think the best way to make an AP welcome during the holidays is simply to include them in everything….even the things that you don’t particularly enjoy – like traditions from your in-laws that you never really wanted to join. If you share with your AP that it’s part of the holidays, and even though you don’t like it you do it for the family, I think they appreciate knowing all the little stuff. It makes them feel like an insider instead of an observer.

HRHM December 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm

We talk a lot in advance about what Christmas is like in her country and her home. Our last AP was from Serbia and she told us about a money filled apple that is a prize for the first one to find it, so we made sure there was an apple with some money in it. We try to find out special dishes and then have her make them or better yet, make them together. We also include her in putting up and trimming the tree, the cookie baking frenzy and going to see Santa. Yes, our 20-something APs sit in Santas lap with our DDs and they all three get their picture taken with him. We take our AP to the drive-through lights at the botanical gardens and boardwalk, and we have a personalized oranment made each year with each persons name (DH, me, DDs and AP) and “The Host Family, Christmas 20XX” on it. We also take DDs to pick out a couple small gifts for her (usually earrings) and they are very excited to let her know they picked them just for her. My family also all buy her a little gift so that when there are get togethers, she is never without something to open.

Gianna December 20, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Does anyone else think it is a nice idea to include your aupair in the family Christmas photo that goes out with the Christmas cards. I got this idea from a friend. I opened this card and the photo fell out with her aupair as part of the family, of course. I never forgot that and learned from it !

PA AP mom December 20, 2010 at 5:03 pm

We do the picture as a family, AP included.

We then send a copy to all of our family and friends, as well as to the AP’s family in her home country.

They love it.

evyyk December 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

As an aupair, I LOVE that idea!!! Would definitely be something that would put a hugeeee smile on my face and made me definitely feel welcome! Wish my HF would do something like this:)

AnD December 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm


I think including the AP in the Xmas photo is a great idea and I’m sure she’ll be so happy! I am an AP and I’d love to be in my HF pics.
For some of us this is something we don’t do in our countries and for me it’s so American (love cultural exchange!!).

Merry Xmas to all of you!

HM Pippamaus December 20, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Our traditions are very similar to traditions in AP’s home country, but different enough to be disorienting and strange. We both have a tree, but here we put it up weeks ahead and put the presents under as they’re wrapped. Nikolaus visits our kids at the German school on December 6th, but never visits at home. Santa and Santa Mouse visit us here, but we are not visited by the Christkind. We have a bunch of advents calendar (and don’t need yet another one filled with chocolate). We have an advents wreath but are really informal about lighting the candles in it. We have fun discussing the differences and sharing our favorite parts. Since our traditions look so similar, it makes it even more important to discuss the differences and unpack the assumptions behind how we celebrate.

Au Pair in CO December 21, 2010 at 2:34 am

I don’t have a very traditional relationship with my host family, in that I have been mostly living with my boyfriend for the last couple of months, and never spend any time with them outside of work. (They seem to be perfectly happy with this arrangement.)

For Christmas, my host mom sent me a list of every present they were getting for the kids, gave me money, and made me buy and wrap every single Christmas present for the kids. I don’t mind doing the shopping (I do it on work hours), but I still feel it’s kind of sad that they don’t get involved in any of the preparations themselves. I’ve bought Christmas trees for the kids and I helped them decorate them, I’ve been baking, making decorations, pretty much everything that’s xmas-and-kids related.

We agreed early on that I would be celebrating Christmas with my boyfriend (these last couple of months they’ve stopped asking me along to any family related activity, unless it’s because they want my help and don’t have enough hours left to schedule me to work). I was to have Friday-Sunday off, with normal 8-4 workdays Mon-Thu this week, mostly to help out with the preparations, as they also have grandparents visiting who help out with the kids. Then a couple of weeks ago I told my host mom that my bf and I had decided to do an 7 hour drive on Thursday night to visit his parents for Christmas, and 1 hour later she told me I had to work until 7pm instead of 4pm as first planned. When I asked her what I’d be doing for those extra hours, she just vaguely said “oh, wrapping presents and stuff..”, something I finished already today.

I know she’s in her full right to change my schedule as it pleases her, but it still ends up seeming a little unfair to me. (And to my bf, who already asked his boss to leave work at 4pm to fit with my first schedule.) We made the plans to travel for Christmas while my schedule said I’d get off early, and then when I told her she changed it so I have to work late, so I don’t feel like I’m totally being unreasonable either.

I know this is a little (way) off topic, but can anyone think of a way I might explain how I feel to my host mom, without coming off as ungrateful?

Anna December 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I think you should let it slide.

A huge plus of having an au pair for us, host families, is flexibilty. The au pair lives with us and can work nontraditional hours. For those who are shift workers, or who want to occasionally go out in the evening, it is often the determining factor for getting an au pair.

You have changed your arrangement to take away that flexibility – you no longer live with your hostfamily, you are not amicable to working holidays or evenings (even though holidays are not automatic days off for au pairs; they are EXPECTED to spend them with the host family)
You basically found your own “family” – your boyfriend and his family – in stead of the host family you initially signed up with. You checked out of that personal relationship with your hostfamily, which is an expected part of the program (yes, taking care of the kids is only one part, this is the second)

I think your hostmom, by making you shop for christmas gifts and wrap them and prepare the holiday for and with the kids, on your work time, is trying to get that role of being part of the holiday, and part of holiday memories, for the kids, on your work time. Because she knows you are not interested in doing it out of your own desire, on Christmas; or helping her on “your own/off” time, just in the spirit of being part of the family and being genuinely interested in them and the kids.

And I think she is being generous by giving you Friday off (24th) without making you take a vacation day. Even though it could be her day off at work, you are not entitled to American holidays off.

I think your host mom is holding her own grudges against you, but keeping mum because you probably do your job OK and it is a hassle to rematch or stir the pot, because she cannot change it. But I bet she is not going to offer you to extend, and I bet next time she is going to look for somebody different in this regard.

Anna December 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Also, she told you TWO WEEKS ago that she changed your schedule?
This is fair enough; most of us give the schedule to our au pairs one week in advance.

[edited to soften tone, 12/23] IMHO you seem to be coming across as judgmental about your host mom, in your talk about her making her shop for presents etc. This is a pleasurable task she delegated to you; what happened to judging favorably? My first thought is that she did it to give you some of the pleasure of the holiday, and pleasure of sharing it with the kids. Better than wiping butts, doing laundry, and washing lunch dishes, no?

She is still within the rules fo the program (45 hrs a week, 10 hrs a day). And you get more time off than other au pairs this season (Fri before Christmas, Christmas, full weekend off that week) – so she is being generous to you.

[Keep in mind– there are always additional ways to interpret behaviors… the ‘real’ reason could be somewhere in between your view and hers. cv]

Eurogirl December 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Wow. It was never implied that her host family are unhappy with her arrangement and you are assuming that because you would not like a “live-out” au pair, they do not like it either. Just because it’s not how most families in this situation manage the au pair relationship does not mean that they are not happy. If they did not want her to live with her boyfriend, I guess she would not be employed by them any more.

Anyway no matter what job you have, if you are scheduled for time off, an employer can ask you to work that time, but if you have made plans and cannot work it – asking you to cancel your plans to work is demanding and unfair. If you were not supposed to work, then if they ask you to, maybe you can say yes and be flexible and helpful. But asking you to cancel your plans without good reason other than just changing minds… A good employer would not do that as just “power tripping” on the technicality of “oh I can ask you to work if I feel like it” is damaging to the relationship between you and will make employee resentful.

Anna December 21, 2010 at 3:43 pm

It is not so simple to break a match because of a situation like this, things are not so simple; so I wouldn’t be so quick to assume happiness on both sides.

From the post, it doesn’t seem like there was a “scheduled” time off. Schedule around the holidays is always different; but it appears that the au pair made plans, then informed her host mother of her plans (assuming regular schedule and time off she was accustomed to) – that’s when the host mother informed her that the schedule is different for that week.

I understand the disappointment on the part of the au pair, but to me it didn’t sound like the host mother was power tripping – it sounded like the au pair made plans without asking if it is OK first, and assuming she will be granted time off for her plans.

Melissa December 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I would bet that your HM is not as happy with your living arrangements and work/family division as you may think. Whether she is taking this opportunity to exert some control or whether she is just oblivious to your personal life & plans and thinks of you only as an employee (which may be the case since she only sees you only when you are working), I think it is inconsiderate of her to unilaterally change your schedule without at least having a discussion about it and giving you some opportunity for input.

However, this is also an example of one of the major downsides of a having a solely employee/employer relationship, which can be particularly complicated and rife for resentment when you both signed up for a live-in exchange program. It sounds like you see her as a disinterested mother and she sees you as an employee. It is much easier to care about your au pair’s personal life when you see her on a personal level, and it is also much easier to discuss and work through these types of issues when you have a more familial relationship.

JJ Host Mom December 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I think she’s perfectly within her rights to ask you to change your plans. She gave you plenty of notice, and it’s only 3 hours. Remember that the primary reason you are here is to be an au pair. Everything else is gravy.

Should be working December 21, 2010 at 4:34 am

You have a HF that accepts your living arrangements; that is indeed something to be grateful for, especially if that arrangement was not discussed during matching and their expectation was a member-of-the-family relationship. In my view, if your HM told you WEEKS ago that you have to work that Thursday, then you have to modify your plans to match the HF’s. They get first dibs on your schedule. Or I suppose you could have asked to take those days as your vacation days instead. It could very well be that the HF is scheduling you to ‘work’ in order to require you to be a little part of the family that evening, which is their right. I ‘schedule’ hours for the AP for things like seeing kids’ chorus programs or Thanksgiving dinner, just so they know they have to be there. (See earlier posts on whether APs have to attend kids’ birthday parties.)

Taking a Computer Lunch December 21, 2010 at 8:07 am

I disagree. I think the HM was being petty and showing she was still in control. It would be one thing to initiate a conversation, “I know I had planned to let you leave at 4, but something has come up…,” but after an AP initiates it seems just wrong. And sure, the HM has the “right” to schedule the AP to work a 45-hour week, but it doesn’t necessarily make it fair if there is a last-minute adjustment.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t think they are getting full value for their money unless they schedule their APs to work a 45-hour week. Personally, I think one gets better value in give-and-take. It sounds to me like this HF wants a nanny for an AP price.

And as an aside, it never occurred to me to have my AP shop, wrap, decorate and make a holiday for my children. Even though the holidays exhaust me (I’m the parent who sets aside money all year, so I get to shop and wrap), I would miss that Aha! moment of finding the perfect gift. (Last night it was spotting the chocolates my AP once mentioned she loves and remembering that she said she didn’t particularly like something else…). Sure, I’ll have my AP do an activity with my son on the afternoons my daughter and I are out, but not all the holiday preparations!

PA AP mom December 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

My AP and I wrap presents together. She enjoys it and I enjoy the time we get to spend together talking and laughing.

I am torn on the “changing the schedule” topic by Colorado AP above. I think her host family is already being generous by allowing her living arrangement with her bf. Believe me, I wouldn’t do it. Also, they are letting her vacation over Christmas and not spend it with their family, which I also wouldn’t give permission for. I want an AP to be part of the family and in my mind one of the biggest family times is at Christmas.

But, I do think it was a bit petty of her host mom to wait until the last minute and then come up with a “lame” excuse just so she has to work. That’s not fair to the AP.

HRHM December 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I also think HM was being an a$$ and exerting control. Based on only one side (granted) it seems that everyone is satisfied with the wierd “living arrangement” (though I wouldn’t be) or if not, they haven’t addressed it. But either way, if the AP normally works M-Th 8-4 (that’s what her post says) than while the HM is within the law to add 3 more hours, she is terribly mean to do so at this juncture. It seems a bit fishy that she just realized she needed extra help THAT Thursday AFTER AP told her she’d be going out of town. It would be one thing if she asked before, but once AP told her she had special plans, that should have been it.

Au Pair in CO December 23, 2010 at 12:08 am

I gotta say, I am amazed at home many people have commented here based on stuff they have misunderstood (like me assuming I had a normal schedule, when what I meant by “I was to work” is that I had been scheduled to work normal hours), and stuff that’s just not in my post at all (like how we have a bad HP/AP relationship, and that they’re unhappy with me).

She offered me to extend already in August, and was very disappointed when I turned that down. I have made sure every step of the way to ask for her permission and feelings about things like not spending my nights at home etc, and would never have done any of that if she had told me she had a problem it.

And it’s not that she told me two weeks ago, it’s that she changed it and told me an hour after I told her about the plans I had made. I was scheduled to have Friday-Sunday off, with normal 8-4 workdays Mon-Thu this week. (I did not just assume that I had a normal schedule, like some people here has assumed..)

I am also amazed at how everyone assumes that I don’t have a good relationship with my host family, just because I’m not “living” with them. My host dad is giving me away for my wedding in January, and the youngest kid will be ring-bearer; I feel like that is being pretty close.

They told me already last year when we were matching that they had never had an au pair spend Christmas with them, and my HM told me one of the reasons she chose me was that I seemed very independent, and not as “needy” as previous au pairs. Even before I met my boyfriend, while I still spent every night and weekend at their place, they never invited me along for anything from grocery shopping to things happening at the kids’ schools etc, and I often chose to have dinner out alone over having dinner with them. This has been the way we’ve interracted all along – they don’t invite me along, I don’t choose to spend much extra time with them – and we are all happy about this.

I am grateful for all the advice given here, but I am still a little disappointed that so many people are unable to see beyond their own views. Just because a live-out au pair wouldn’t work for your family, please don’t assume that it doesn’t work for anybody else, ’cause we’re all different.

Merry Christmas to you all..!:)

Melissa December 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

That is great that your untraditional set-up is working well for you and your host family. I mentioned in my earlier response that I would bet the HM is not as happy with the arrangement, because her sudden demand that you work late on a night where she knows you have plans to me translates to something is bugging her. If it’s not the living arrangement, than it must be something else. Otherwise, that is just weird and/or mean to do when you have a good relationship with your au pair. And since you have a good relationship, it would seem reasonable that you could just ask her about it, and try to share your concern in a nice way.

You mentioned that the host family stopped inviting you join them a few months ago, but then said they never invited you and that you often had dinner by yourself. I do have to say, regardless of how independent the host family wants their au pair to be (and even if the AP is perfectly ok with this), it seems very odd to me, and rather rude on their part, that they would never ask you to join then for anything. After all, that is how you build a HF/AP relationship — by spending time together. Again, I think it’s great that you have a good relationship that all sides seems to be happy with, but I would think it would be really challenging to get to know each other and build that relationship if you’ve never spent much time together. You also didn’t mention your upcoming wedding the first time… who knows, maybe that is bugging your host mom and she is anxious about you leaving?

Lukas December 21, 2010 at 7:37 am

Hi there! :)
Clara notified me about your message on the god jul tablecover.
I just want to wish you and your family a merry christmas and a happy new year!
Thanks again for your hospitality!
Im glad the tablecover comed to usage.
Oh and give my wishes to the grandmother to :)
I will always remember the conversation about the new york face i have to put on when im there.

God jul och ett gott nytt år!

With regards
Lukas “the cousin”

cv harquail December 23, 2010 at 9:02 am

Lukas you are so sweet! We have been using that tablecover since the beginning of Advent — it is one of those ‘traditional signs of the holiday’ for our family. You’re remembered by the girls as their favorite au pair guest ever, you know. We even have our own version of the Swedish Bachelor Supper you made for us. I will send your best wishes to Grandma too, if you promise to give a big squeeze to Clarabelle. cv

momof4 December 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

My new au pair arrived last week. She is here for 6 months because she decided to extend but not with her previos hf. With the holidays and all, she is homesick for her old hf and not her family back home. Has anybody gone through this? And does anybody have really great ideas/suggestions for making her holiday a happy one too? I thought extending au pairs transition easily?

Taking a Computer Lunch December 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm

A transition is a transition, and even if your AP decided that her previous HF wasn’t worth another 6 months of her time, she still has to get used to your home and your rules — and just before Christmas. One week is not enough time to hear what her favorites are, so I would ask her outright if there’s anything she would like to have or feels she needs for Christmas. If she’s changed climates, then help her adjust with a few items of clothing or a gift certificate. Include her in your family activities as much as possible – does she want to hear child X sing in a school holiday concert? Would she like to join you for caroling in the neighborhood. If you don’t go to Christmas services, would she like to join one of your neighbors? I’m not talking about catering to her every whim, but including her in your regular activities. I had an AP arrive the first week of December and it was hard on everyone. You might encourage her to call her previous host children – chances are they’re missing her, too.

DarthaStewart December 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

We get a stocking with their name on it.
We have them decorate gingerbread houses with the kids.
We take them to drive around the neighborhood and see some of the awesome lights.
Invite to the school pageant.
give her a schedule of what will happen on those days.
she gets to help with food- if she’d like.
We make sure she has a similar number of presents to the kids.

Eurogirl December 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

When working as an au pair I did not spend Christmas with the families I worked for. All the other holidays I spent with them but I booked holiday time to go home for Christmas. I did stay until Christmas Eve as in the European countries I worked in, that is the biggest celebration and then to be at home on Christmas Day – Perfect, best of both worlds!

I think inclusivity is very important but one has to remember that some times an au pair will feel lonely and/or homesick and if they do not seem too cheerful around the holiday, understanding that and letting them talk to you or call home to talk to family is best. I knew one girl who au paired in Canada and the host family left her out of the celebrations entirely! She was left behind in their house because their family were all gathered kilometres away and she had not good enough English to go with them – or that was the excuse! How mean on Christmas! It can be a hard time of the year so we should all be extra considerate of each others feelings around Christmas. Most of the suggestions above are lovely – but one of my families made me a special calender for Christmas with pictures on of the kids with me for every month. I still use it as a birthday calender every year and it brings a smile to my face. Simple, personal gifts like this make some one feel truly a part of events and welcome in your home. We appreciate things like that!

Gianna December 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

One thing I have learned through experience is that Christmas Eve is the ” real ” thing in Europe and just as important as Christmas Day. So, when I think about how an aupair feels, I try to take that into consideration. An aupair told me once that Christmas Eve is the most important day of the year. The other thing I learned is not to assume that Europeans who are not Christians do not have Christmas traditions that are cultural. Even if they do not celebrate Christmas per se , they are used to being surrounded by their majority culture and miss the holiday ambiance. That is, music and food that is part of their national home even if it is not their own relgious tradition. Just a thought

AZ HM December 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

We are in the second year with our AP. Before we matched she asked if we would be OK with her traveling home for Christmas. We agreed even though we knew we’d be sad not being able to share our holiday traditions….we knew it was very important for our AP. Then when we extended we were glad that we’d get an opportunity to spend Christmas together.

Last year, we included our AP in our tree decorating, Christmas programs before she left, got her a stocking that matched our family’s and it hung right beside ours for santa to fill even though she would not be there. We also had a special family dinner where the family and AP exchanged gifts before she left for home.

This year, we took our AP with us cross country over Thanksgiving to spend holiday time with extended family and we had an early Christmas there. Since we returned we’ve planned special Christmas activities with her/children (as has she), we invited her to invite her friends to our annual holiday party, she went with us to get the tree, etc…

Now, here’s where I’m totally thrown…last week she mentioned she was going to take a day trip on the 26th and she has vacation scheduled from Dec 27-Jan 2 where she will be going out of town. No big deal except for that is one of our children’s birthday. I took a deep breath and said OK and smiled. Thought about it and felt like well she will be with our family for the holidays she isn’t required to spend that day with us. Then today, 4 days before Christmas, she tells me that day trip has changed to an overnight and she is going with friends, leaving Christmas morning at 5am. I was totally taken off guard. Our family’s Christmas celebrations are on Christmas morning…she knows this. I seriously didn’t know how to respond. I’ve been really hurt and disappointed that she wouldn’t pass on the other opportunity explaining that she had Christmas plans with her “family”. I now don’t know when we will do a separate Christmas celebration with her. We have spent a lot of thought planning for her to be a part of our Christmas. She was going to make one of her favorite Christmas dishes from home (her desire and I was excited) and we have gifts from the kids, and from us, etc… I don’t want to tell her how upset and guilt her into changing her plans, but I feel very sad that she seems to think this overnight trip is a “better offer” than spending time with our family, especially when we have really made an effort to include her (to her comfort and interest levels) in all our family trips, holidays, vacations, etc…

So, like CO AP, I don’t mean to hijack the post…but I though perhaps some outside perspective could help me figure out how best to move forward without upsetting anyone’s holiday.

Steff December 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

This post made me smile at first but then made me smile sadly a li’l too…It seems as though you really care for you AP -bet she’s one of the lucky ones- and that really was nice to read, and while I do understand the first situation -she wanting to spend Christmas with her family at home- I don’t quite understand the second one. She’s after all in her second year with you and your family, and I’d think you’d grown to be each other’s family as well, so I dunno…It doesn’t sit right with me somehow. I would say talk about it, but it’s Christmas time, and ‘creating’ grudges at this time of the year doesn’t go with me either, but I would still just try to tell her -delicately- how “skipping” holidays that were planned with her in is not quite the way to go…
Then again, maybe it’s also cultural, who knows? In my country spending Christmas with family (from Christmas eve evening to whole Christmas Day) is the tradition and is THE big deal of the year, but maybe for her it isn’t so important? …Hope you all get to have some nice holidays anyway. If she doesn’t want to be there, you can’t force her, but it’ll be nice if she considered everybody else’s feelings when making those kind of decisions. Maybe that I’ll tell her if I could get the chance to actually talk to her about her decisions and stuff ;)

AZ HM December 22, 2010 at 1:19 am

Oh, we do really care for our AP. You were right, we just needed to talk. She is staying with us for the holidays…I’m very happy. She didn’t mean to hurt our feelings. She really did want to spend the holidays with us, “I just have this one last year” she explained and “I do want to spend the holidays with you…you are my family after 1.5 years”. I stressed that I didn’t want her to feel obligated, she insisted she didn’t. She said she didn’t think we would mind, that is all. I said of course we mind, you are our family and we want you with us for Christmas. All is good! Thanks for letting me share!

Calif Mom December 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

Wow–thanks for following up. What could have been a big ugly resentment-filled time turned into a cementing of your relationship. I’m getting verklempt……:-)

PA AP mom December 21, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Well, if it wasn’t “fair” for the host mom to change the plans at the last minute in Colorado AP’s situation, then I would say that it’s not fair for the AP to change at the last minute in this one.

I would tell the AP that we already had plans based on her previous requests and that she could still leave on Xmas evening or the next morning, but not first thing on xmas morning.

Eurogirl December 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

My thoughts exactly! I was just about to write them but that is what I would say too – if you have made plans, whether they are a work schedule or special holiday plans; you cannot change them without consulting the people you have plans with! That is not polite or fair! Once a plan is already made, any changes should be discussed together rather than surprised on someone. Tell your au pair you will be disappointed if she misses xmas as you thought your plans together were made before this new plan of hers. That is unfair of her.

Some times I would have had plans to go away with my au pair families at the weekend and have had an offer of a “more fun” trip with friends; but when I was already included in the family plans, no matter how much I would rather go with my friends, it was my job to go with the family – not to mention how could I disappoint the kids like that! No. I think this is thoughless of her.

Noga December 22, 2010 at 9:26 am

I am really impressed how much the aupair families care for their aupairs and how important the family issue is. I have never been an aupair in the US but in an European country where the scheduled working time was 30 hours. The family spent summer holidays in the countryside where they had a huge property. I worked about 11 hours every day and had a dirty room under the roof. In the wardrobe I found dirty laundry of the former aupair. We had common meals. They were polite not more – not less. If there were a railwaystation or a bus I would have left.

When we were back at their home (big city) I had a room of my own with shower beeing situated two blocks from their home. This room was furnished with a bed, a wardrobe, a “table” consisting of cases which were covered by a long table cloth. I had lunch with them. For preparing breakfast and dinner and meals on my days off duty, I had an electric cattle (“you can prepare rice”). Working time scheduled was 30 hours. Each of the three kids from 2 1/2 to 7 had exactly 3 (three) drawers.

Being part of the family was a big issue for them, but when I was with them I was just an employee. They were really surprised that I prepared birthday gifts for the kids. But I was expected not to be part of the childrens birthday celebration what I would have liked much. During all the time they had no single complaint about my work and my relationship with the kids. On my last morning before departure HM shared her problems with HD and with aging. I never got any “extra” or gift.
I would never have gone to the US as aupair because of the 45 hours on duty.
This sounds really much in European ears.

Before knowing this site I had the prejudice that Americans only search a cheap nurse and cleaning lady when looking for an aupair. Please make really sure during the matching process what “being part of the family” means and how important or unimportant this is to you. I want to thank all of you for sharing your issues here because this enabled me to change my mind. I started to read here for intercultural issues and to improve my English. Happy holidays!

AnonAuPair December 22, 2010 at 9:53 am

As I come up on Christmas with my host family, I just want to say I wish they could be more like some of you. I have had nothing but the worst time with the parents (I won’t go into specifics) but I love the kids more than anything in the world. It could be going from the U.S. to Germany, but I have encountered warm-hearted people outside of this household so I know it’s not the German stereotype.

It’s really hard for me to not quit right now, but knowing that there are wonderful people out there makes it easier for me to pull through. Some day when/if I have my own children, and *if* I choose to have an au pair, I want to be just like many of you and not like my family.

Calif Mom December 23, 2010 at 11:04 am

AnonAuPair, I’m sorry you are having this hard time! There is so much pain in your voice! May I give you some unsolicited, mentorly advice? Please don’t be offended…I know sometimes we just want sympathy, but then what we really need is a jump-start.

Remember that you do have options, there are always things to try to either improve the relationship with the hosts or give you the strength to move on. And remember, too, that continuing in your misery is also a choice; it’s so difficult when the alternatives are hard to see, and the future is not yet known! But I’ve discovered when stuck in lousy jobs, anyway, that there is always something else out there, once you start really looking and really seeing. And if all else fails you this Christmas, I hope you can at least be on Skype with your family back here! Best of luck in the New Year — don’t settle for this miserable lifestyle, and do not also wallow too long in being a victim. It’s poisonous and ultimately self-replicating. You really DO have options, once you let yourself see them. Make a plan and start taking steps. You don’t know what will work until you start trying to change things.

We’re past the solstice–the sun is making its way back a little bit at a time, and you can too! Best wishes!

jnl07 December 22, 2010 at 11:23 am

This is a little off topic, but I’m currently an Au pair in Germany. I adore my host family and we get along great. I’ll be spending Christmas with them this year, and I’m having difficulties thinking up of gift ideas for my host father. I’ve found something for the 2 children and my host mother, but my host father is a bit more difficult. As it is with most German families, my host father is the one who works and brings in the bulk of the money. For that reason, he is often not at home, and even if he is, he’s still working on and off. Therefore, I don’t exactly know him well enough to figure out what’s a good present for him. I’m not looking to buy anything really expensive, because it’s not what my HF expects from me anyway. I just want to give him something as a token of my appreciation for the time I’ve had here. In general, I think men are kind of difficult to shop for, but any ideas would be greatly appreciated. A friend offered up the idea of a really nice pen since he works in a corporate business setting, but is that a bit cliché?

Fomrer NOVA Host Mum December 22, 2010 at 11:53 am

What a thoughtful Au Pair you sound!
How about a picture of the kids in a nice photo frame that he can take to work with him and put on his desk?
Happy Christmas.

Aupairgal December 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Random question that goes along with this? Would any of you host parents ever get offended if your aupair only ever got gifts for the children (on any occasion) and not you?

AZ HM December 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm

To answer your question aupairgal, I wouldn’t be offended as Christmas is such a kid holiday. However, when my aupair has given me (or my husband) a special gift it has warmed my heart. The gifts are not expensive ones, they are thoughtful ones. I’ve been touched by the fact that she considered something I’d really like/use. We have had caregivers (aupairs and nannies) in the past who have not given gifts or cards to me or my husband at birthday or Christmas and that has been OK too, I understand that finances are limited. But since I am the one in the family that plans almost all gifts, including those that we (or the children) give to our aupair, it does feel nice when she gives something meaningful to me for a special occasion like Christmas.

2boys2girls December 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I would prefer my AP to not buy us presents. She works hard for her stipend and I would not want her to feel obligated to turn around and then buy us gifts. In the past our APs have given gifts such as art work they helped the children make, organized photos of her and the children doing fun activities, and one beloved AP gave us a certificate for a traditional dinner from her country that she cooked for us – these kinds of gifts were the BEST!

Anna December 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I wouldn’t be.
Our new au pair brought gifts for the kids when she arrived, but not me or DH.
I really didn’t even give it a second thought.
Although the au pairs who DID think of us a brought me a small gift, this was appreciated. Right now I am wearing a necklace the previous au pair gave me (nothing fancy), and I do wear slippers the first au pair gave me around the house still.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Not at all. DH’s and my siblings have agreed not to exchange presents, but to continue to give gifts to each other’s children.

Once and future HM December 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I would not expect an au pair to get gifts for host parents. If you are worried about this, though, a picture that you took when you were with the kids would be a nice and inexpensive present, esp. if the host parents haven’t yet seen the picture.

Calif Mom December 23, 2010 at 11:07 am

Not at all! I actually try to talk our au pairs OUT of getting us gifts; they don’t have enough money, and I don’t need more cheap crap, frankly.

But, most of our best au pairs have been the kind of person who can’t imagine not giving even token gifts, so if you are one of those, I recommend giving treats that you know the person enjoys. Chocolate is rarely a bad choice!

Aupairgal December 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Basicall the situation is that I am no longer an Aupair but live close to my old host family to visit occasionaly. I always bring little gifts for the boys but have never gotten anything for the parents(mostly because I am now a student, which means I have even less money than when I was an aupair). I’d like to think that they get more joy from their sons getting all excited about the little stuff I bring them than getting something themselves.
That is however a great idea about a photo with the children in a nice picture frame as I have hundreds of pictures of me and the boys.

Once and future HM December 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Last Christmas, we had an au pair (don’t right now because of circumstances ). She had met my family and my husband’s family. My parents bought her a Christmas present, as did my husband’s parents and his sister (who she really liked). This was very special to her.
Host parents can’t control this, and I don’t want to encourage people to hit the family up for presents for the au pair–but if any host grandparents/aunts/uncles are reading this, please take note. A small present may mean a lot to a young person away from his or her family during the holidays.

AZ HM December 22, 2010 at 8:09 pm

At gatherings where gifts are exchanged among family and close friends and where our AP will be there, I get an extra small gift to give to our AP so she is not left out of the gift exchanges. However, I’ve found that our family (parents, aunts/uncles, etc…) have always thought of our AP on their own and had a gift ready to give. I think they all see her as a family member and like to share their appreciation for her important role in our family.

Eurogirl December 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm

One host family I lived with (in Germany) – I became very close with the grandmother – the host mum’s mother – she still sends me a small gift on Christmas and some times a card for other holidays like Easter or for my birthday. I really appreciate that kindness because she is not wealthy and we didn’t see that much of her (she did not live close to her daughter). It means a lot to me. I would never have expected to get such a good relationship with someone who was not a direct member of the host family – there are some really unexpected and lovely things that can happen when you are an au pair! :-)

JJ Host Mom December 22, 2010 at 8:42 pm

We get her a filled stocking, same as everyone else.
We get her gifts. Last year it was guidebooks and a small travel suitcase. Something like that.
I do ask the AP to wrap gifts (Christmas and birthday) on her worktime. She seemed to have enjoyed it. I’d ask her to do the shopping too, if she ever took the kids to the mall, but mostly I order them online. I don’t view it as an imposition. It’s one of those tasks that, as a working mom, I really don’t have the time to enjoy, but it’s a good way for her to spend time while the kids are napping, so…
Last year we had a bunch of family here so we did a secret santa exchange, and included the AP. So everyone got a gift from someone.
She’s included in dinners, breakfasts, everything else, and helps cook. I teach her to cook traditional American dishes, and vice versa.

Calif Mom December 23, 2010 at 11:19 am

CV, I’m so glad you posted this!

Got me thinking about how my AP’s expectations are probably not in alignment with mine, so I should have a conversation with her about how the next few days will work. I’ve already told her a lot, and I know she wants to go to a church of her denomination instead of ours, but I’m realizing more and more that because she’s a bit spoiled and has a control freak mom, she has no actual experience *doing* much, never mind leading projects that would be fun for the kids or helpful to me.

I LOVE the idea of having the AP help with wrapping presents — I never thought of that, but she would enjoy doing it with me, and it would help me a lot.

It’s funny, because my AP started asking about holiday decorations several weeks ago, what she and the kids could do, (I gave them carte blanche on doing lights around the house, making snowflakes for the windows, etc), but then when I got out all the supplies and clearly explained how to do it, she let it all sit for several days and I ended up having to take charge. It was very disappointing. Ooooh! Major insight as I write this: she is excited about being treated like a kid for Christmas, isn’t ready to see herself as a grown up yet, who has to actually DO stuff in order to make that Christmas magic happen. (And yet, she’s had no difficulty spending a lot of time at malls shopping lately…..)

I think I’ll make some cookies and let her and the kids decorate. But again, I’ll have to do all the prep work and organizing, because she doesn’t have that leadership spark.

It’s fascinating how each AP year has a different flavor.

igelwelch December 24, 2010 at 2:23 am

We are having a German dinner on Christmas Eve and have invited another au pair and some German friends to join our extended family. We’re even going to surprise her with a raclette machine for appetizers before having spaetzle, schnitzel, cucumber salad, pumpernickel, etc. It won’t be totally authentic, but she’s excited to have something like home.

We got some simple stocking presents and then a huge supply of special papers and scrap-booking materials because we noticed she likes to make cards. When our photographer took photos of our girls, we had him take some of her with the girls and some alone. Then we used the website Tiny Prints to make a photo book of her time here. We bought her a sweatshirt from the local university and some fun clothing items. We’ll also give her a little money. Our families, though they live across the country, have taken a liking to her and either sent or brought small presents.

Lastly, we gave her some money so that she could buy materials for them to make us gifts. This has been really fun. My 3 year old is delighted to have a secret!

I think it’s so important to make her as comfortable as possible. It’s hard to be away from home & we want to make this really nice for her. We’ve been playing a lot of boardgames at night with her and the family and it’s been a really fun time together.

Emily December 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm

We spend Christmas with our good friends every year, who happened to be our next door neighbor. We invited our aupair to come with us, she told us she would come if she is not going to the movies with her aupair friend. We told her Santa was coming to our house Christmas morning at 7am (Santa had lots of gifts for her too), she slept in. I tried to wake her up at 9am to have Christmas breakfast with us. She rolled out of bed and could barely speak. I told her she missed meeting Santa with our kids, but we would very much like her to join us for Christmas breakfast. She said she tried waking up this morning but she was too tired, she also asked if she could go back to bed. It is now 2pm, she is still sleeping. I really do not understand this. She worked from 9am to 3pm yesterday, and did not go out last night. Would she act like this if she was home with her family? I have to say I am very disappointed and feel hurt.

MommyMia December 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I’m sorry your AP didn’t make any effort to participate in your family’s holiday customs, and no, I would say she probably would not act like this if she were home. But, as someone who has spent a Christmas in a foreign country (on my own with no family or friends, only joining up with an acquaintance who was studying in that country later in the day for dinner at one of the few open, affordable restaurants we could find) I would speculate that she is depressed (even if she’s not admitting it or showing other signs) and sleeping is her way of dealing with not having her familiar traditions and family with her on this holiday. Just keep making an effort to include her in your celebrations, and hopefully she’ll realize that she’s missing out on a unique opportunity that she may never have again.

Calif mom December 25, 2010 at 6:36 pm

totally agree, this is a sad girl. Send the kids in to drag her out to dinner? You might want to acknowledge that you understand she is sad at this special time of year, and ask if there is anything you can do . EVen if she says no, it might help her pull herself out of the mire. The short days don’t help… I hope she rallies! If not, do NOT take it personally! And keep the communication open. Maybe she is checking email?

Taking a Computer Lunch December 25, 2010 at 7:54 pm

It can feel awkward to participate in another family’s Christmas celebrations (having lived abroad and having done that, I know). I have found that it helps to be explicit. “Even though it’s your day off, we would like to have you participate in our Christmas celebration….” Talk with your AP about what to expect if she’s not asking. Draw her out and encourage her to participate. If your AP is relatively young, and especially if she has arrived to your family fairly recently, the holidays can be particularly difficult. Openly invite her to participate in activities and encourage her to call home and talk to friends and family.

Anna January 2, 2011 at 6:34 am

Im a soon to be aupair and i love christmas time, but I am going to a family who are jewish and do not celebrate christmas. And while i am excited to learn about their religion and holidays I know I am going to feel even more homesick because i wont beable to do all the things i normally do on christmas…is there anything that could help with this? would it be wrong of me to ask them to join in on xmas celebrations just for me?

Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm

As a Jewish family, we don’t mind APs sharing their holiday traditions – as long as our kids are not being told by the AP that hers is better. We have a Swedish advent candle set, and this year my son enjoyed a German Advent calendar with little chocolates. In the United States, the AP is supposed to be part of a cultural exchange, and it shouldn’t be all one way (although it mostly is). We do include our AP in our Hanukkah celebration and give a gift on the first night (the only night adults exchange presents), but we also celebrate Christmas and that’s when our kids get their big presents. Even in American families holiday celebrations get blended from the HD and HM’s families.

However, before embarking on a holiday celebration, DO talk to your HP when the kids are in bed. If they are dead set against it, then back off and ask them what they do for winter vacation when the kids are off from school. Do they take a vacation? Do they stay at home? Will they include you? If celebrating Christmas is very important to you, then do ask your LCC to assist you in finding a “family for a day.” Our LCC used to offer to place our AP out, until she realized that we celebrate both holidays.

Eurogirl January 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I totally agree that you should ask them! All host families are different. I worked as an au pair three times, and each family had different opinion. Two wanted me to introduce their children to as many new cultural experiences and foods and traditions from my homeland as possible…but one respectfully asked me that I was living in their country and while I was welcome to celebrate the local holidays, not to give their children things they did not have – not to “make” them try new foods or celebrate new holidays.

Personally I think it is one of the big “plus” of having an au pair – that an au pair can come and teach your kids appreciation of different cultures and lifestyles than their own – I think that is very healthy for children…but you have to respect the parents so those children missed out on most of the new meals, little celebrations and treats that I would later put together for the other families.

Gianna January 2, 2011 at 10:13 am

Yes, I think it would be completely inappropriate to ask this family to celebrate a religious holiday that is not their own just to accomodate someone whom they have welcomed into their home to be part of their family. But I have a couple of suggestions
because I understand how hard it would be to be away at Christmas with no celebrations at all. I would ask your agency to put you in touch with other aupairs in your cluster whose families do celebrate Christmas , Easter, etc. Over the years, I have seen this happen many times with lovely results. If you are arriving soon, you will have a long time to make friends who will be happy to include you. Ask your host family how they spend this day which is a national holiday in the US – maybe they take vacation at that time. If they are planning to take you with them, maybe you will enjoy the vacation tremendously. Are you fairly religous yourself ? If so, why not join a church community while you are here. Church people are very friendly and someone will invite you for sure ! I am wondering how you got placed with this family. Did the agency assign you to each other. In that case, it seems to me that everyone should have discussed this before the placement was finalized. I have found that my Jewish friends with aupairs are very sensitive to this issue and always make it clear to aupairs that they will not celebrate Christmas. Anyway, I would not ask this family to celebrate Christmas but I would ask them how they spend the day – if they are a repeat family , they must have faced this issue before. You might be very happily surprized by how sensitive they are to your situation.

Happy Host Mom January 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

So glad to see so many families INCLUDING their APs. We had an extra family member this year (an AP whose HD left her alone last minute at the holidays) and we were glad to have her with us. It helped us focus on what was important – family and friends. We were very sad to learn one AP had no one (spent the day home in an empty house crying) when another AP who was also home alone, skipped out on a plan to spend the day together when she got an invite to join another friend. Wish we’d know so we could have invited the poor girl to join us.

Dear Emily – you are describing depression. Perhaps it’s frustrating (sounds pretty horrible) but let’s see if you can’t get her some help before you through in the towel. It could be a lack of understanding on her part of the importance of the holiday to you and yours – she may have never had the experience and so missed the point entirely. But does sound a bit odd – sleeping is often a way of coping for teens and twenty somethings. Figure out how to approach her or as your LCC for help if she’s really good. Good luck!

Emily January 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thanks for all your advise. She has been with us for 4 months. She has always liked to sleep late on her days off since the beginning, which is completely fine with us. She usually gets up around 2-3pm and then goes out with her friends later. That was approximately the same time she got up on Christmas day. The only time we see her on her days off is when she needs the car, or it’s dinner time. She goes out with her friends every weekend, which is a good sign that she is not depressed. She just went to NYC for New Year’s Eve. She does not seem to be isolating herself from her friends at all. A week before Christmas on a Thursday, she left a note on the kitchen counter saying she was too sick to work for the day. She had a cold that week (which we all had), and told me later that she just needed more sleep. She then went out with her friends all weekend, from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. I just don’t know what to think. She did tell me they celebrate Christmas in January in her home country, maybe that’s why she did not feel the importance to celebrate with us on 12/25? I had a talk with her on Christmas day after she got up. She said she might be a bit homesick and that she just needed some time. She was upset that she disappointed us and she apologized. I was quite emotional during our talk too. She then joined us that evening at our friend’s Christmas dinner party. I will definitely talk to our LCC and ask for her advise.

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