Lonely Au Pair Plans Early Departure – Do we approve?

by cv harquail on December 3, 2011

Hi there AuPairMom,

I was hoping you may be able to give me some advice. I am a 22 year old UK girl working as a AuPair in Germany. I have been here for just over 3 months. When I first arrived I found it difficult but was soon used to the job. The family has treated me well, but they are distant and cold and they are always very work orientated (I definitely feel more like an employee, not a part of the family). The 2 children (2 years old and 3 months old) are nice but it does sometimes get very stressful because I have to do a lot of housework (sweeping, mopping, ironing, preparing food) at the same time as watching them.

However, my main issues do not lie with the work but the fact that I feel extremely isolated and alone here – it is a very small village and there are no other AuPairs or young people I can be friends with. I have tried going to night classes and the gym to meet people but to no avail. I am becoming more and more depressed and i can’t sleep properly. I even prefer working now because my free time is spent alone. I work 8 till 5 with my only company being the children. I spend all evening and weekend alone.

I miss my family so much. I haven’t yet broached the subject with the host mum (who organises the childcare) and to be honest I feel very anxious to do this – one of their ex AuPairs left after 3 months with homesickness and they were very angry. So, at the moment I am continuing as usual. I feel i am a good AuPair overall and even though I feel very depressed and lonely I remain cheerful whilst working.

My dilema is I am flying home for Christmas in 3.5 weeks and I am supposed to be coming back after a weeks holiday but I really don’t think I can continue working here after Christmas. I don’t know what to do, tell them now and feel utterly terrible for almost a month before leaving because they are so angry and disappointed or go home as originally planned for the holidays and call them when I am at home and talk. They are getting another AuPair in January anyway because they wanted two, so they will not be without childcare for long.

Needless to say, I feel intensely guilty and upset about this. I really have tried to make it work but I can’t carry on living in such isolation.

Kind Regards, and thank you for your thoughts.

— Home After Christmas

Image: Heart happy pin book, AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by jek in the box


mouse December 4, 2011 at 4:52 am

I’m thinking different things about this:
Firstly: Don’t you have a written contract? Most au pairs in Europe have to make their own contracts with the families. In that there should be something about resigning, term of notice etc. If not then neither you or the family is secured.

Secondly: Homesickness usually turn up around 2-4 months. The first few months are very exited and all new. And then the everyday life starts and everything is just a routine. It is very normal to get homesick around the holidays.. And the feeling you have about being all alone is very common.

Thirdly: I think it’s sad that you feel like an employee and that your family is so cold. Are you their first au pair? If so, then ask calmly for a talk, make some coffee to show that you are bringing this up in a friendly and loose way. Tell them how you feel, don’t bring up that you are thinking that you won’t return. But tell them that you fell alone, and isolated. They might be so busy in their jobs, so if you don’t say anything – then they just assume that everything is in perfectly order. You have to speak up. Otherwise they can’t help you.

Then I’m thinking: There will come an extra au pair to help in January. Then the workload might not be so big, one can entertain the children and the other can do the practical. And then you can switch. Plus you suddenly will have someone to talk with! Ain’t that a positive thing?

A small advice: There are 100 of pages online with networks in Germany. Try facebook, search for a group with au pairs in Germany and write to them. Tell them that you need friends, be open. In Denmark, where I’m from we have “The Danish Church” in most bigger cities in Europe, they have au pair meetings for Danish au pairs. To give them networks, and a place to “breath” when needed. Don’t the UK have that? Try to contact your embassy – They will know where you could go.

My advice is: to talk to your family, go home for the holidays, come back and get a good relationship to the new au pair. Start searching for groups online, go to the embassy and ALWAYS communicate with the host parents. It’s their children’s well-being. If you can’t work and be positive then they children will catch the bad and depressed mood from you. And that is probably not what the parents want their children to feel. Talk to them, insist you need to talk if they are “too busy”

Merry Christmas :) Give it a chance.

APinAus December 4, 2011 at 5:41 am

I do feel bad for you in your situation, I know how hard it is to be so far away from a big place where you can go and meet people and do things with your free time.
But the homesickness? You’re going home in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to see your friends and family then and I think after that you will feel better. I know it’ll be hard to leave and go back to the same situation, but at least you get that time with your family. I still have another 5 months work here and I can’t fly home to my family for the holidays (I’m from the UK and in Aus) and I do miss everyone terribly, but I knew what I was getting myself into and chatting with family all of the time does make me feel better. I even get my sister to pull out a board game or Scene It or something and we’ll play it over Skype, just to make me feel a little more connected to home.
The homesickness comes and goes in waves, in a week or so, you may feel this was a bit silly, after all, how often do you get to go and live in a different country? (Or at least this is what my parents keep telling me when I tell them I’m homesick).
I don’t think your HPs are being intentionally cold, I think German people do come across a little bit harsh to us Brits. And from personal experience I know talking to your HPs is daunting because you’re supposed to be part of the family, but you’re also an employee. As someone who had to broach a difficult subject with my HM a few days ago, and received a hug and a “don’t worry about it”, you should talk to them about how you feel, you may be surprised how understanding they are.
I’m with the person above on the extra AP thing, you’ll have someone to chat to and hang out with and it’ll be a lot easier ’cause you’ll know what the other is going through.
When are you supposed to go home?

cv harquail December 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm

One of our au pairs was *certain* that she didn’t want to extend with us and that she wanted to go home instead. She had a quick trip home for a wedding, and when she returned she had completely changed her mind. Being home for a week reminded her that she hadn’t really had (enough of) the adventure she had planned. Sadly for us, she changed her mind after we’d already matched with another au pair (the flameout). I have so often wished that this au pair had extended with us….
all this to say- going home you might discover that you really *do* want to be an au pair for a bit longer.

Pia aupair December 4, 2011 at 6:28 am

I am originally from Germany and I know how boring small cities can be!!!
Maybe it ll be easier for you to find contact to other moms first. local churches often have a playgroup for children under 3 or try the sports club for a childrens gymnastics class. they are really cheap so i am sure your host parents probably wont mind paying for them.
i know a mom wont go party with you etc… but they know what issues you go through with the kids and you have someone to talk!
and then i agree what mouse says… in january you wont be alone anymore!
I know it is going to be hard to go back after xmas but i think u ll regret it if u dont give it another try :-)

MN Aupair Dad December 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

Depending on where you are – you might want to try to reach out to some former Au Pairs from Germany who have moved back home. We had two wonderful Au Pairs from Germany who were both from small villages – that if they knew your situation would be happy to go out and have coffee with you or meet you.

a December 4, 2011 at 10:29 am

I was in a similar situation my first year as an au pair. I actually decided to leave the family in the beginning of December and NOT go home, because I wanted to find another family in a bigger city. I was afraid that if I went home for the holidays, I wouldn’t come back, because I would get too homesick. Personally, I think if you’re very homesick, visiting your family isn’t going to alleviate that, it’s going to make it worse. Have you considered finding another family in a bigger city? I also wouldn’t give a month’s notice if you do decide to leave. Bottom line, you will be miserable and they will be angry for a month. If you leave, I’d let them know maybe a week in advance- it’s not like they will be without childcare.

Good luck.

Pia aupair December 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

aehm yes they are gonna be without childcare… even if it is just a week or two.
I dont know what your background is and if you are working or not but staying home for a week because your aupair ran away on short notice is not gonna be tolerated by a lot of employers!!!!

a December 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

If she lets the know a week before she leaves, that gives them approximately what, a month? to find temporary care while they wait for their new au pair. If she leaves, I don’t think she’ll be bothered by what her ex-employers will tolerate. It’s not an ideal situation, but I’m sure they’ll live.

GermanHM December 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm

The notice period for APs in Germany is 14 days.

Re the homesickness problem – I understand you feel isolated in your village. You said you tried to get more contacts – have you tried the local “Sportverein”? There is bound to be one.
How far are you from a bigger city? What about access to public transport?

But there are two points in your mail that really make alarm bells go off in my mind:

a) You say you work 8 to 5. Every day of the week? That would mean you are far over the legal limit for APs in Germany. You may only work 30 hours per week, 5-6 hours per day. That sounds very much like exploitation to me.
b) You say your family wants to have a second AP (maybe, hopefully, to ease your workload?) But in Germany you may only have 2 APs living with you if there are 4 or more children in the household!

I don’t think your HF respects the rules. You should change families!

Annika December 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

That really does not sound too well. I am so sorry for you. I had a quite difficult time with my first hostfamily in the US, too. – So, where in Germany are you right now? I know people all over the country, so feel free to write, I might be able to get you in touch with someone. :)

lunette67 December 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

It sounds like a lonely situation and it seems you have tried to create a social life but you don’t have many options. My au pair of nearly 4 months just went home because she was so homesick and she just wasn’t cut out for being an au pair. She didn’t enjoy the child care (and she didn’t even have to iron or clean the house!). She had her own car and plenty of fellow au pairs to socialize with and we are not in an isolated area, but still she was unhappy. At first I encouraged her to try to rematch with a family who has older children who would be in school, but finally I told her she should just follow her heart and go home. She left two days ago. I’m much happier because the energy in the house is much better now. We found a local nanny within days of our au pair’s decision. It’s not that hard to find child care, at least in the US.

Listen to your heart. Best of luck.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I am sorry that you have not been able to make a social life for yourself. However, if you intend to stay home when you head home for Christmas, you must tell your HP in person before your departure. Sending them an email from home will sour your relationship completely and most likely irrevocably.

It is difficult to go home and return – two of my APs told me so upon their return (I was fortunate that our relationship was good enough to compel them to come back – at the time they were toddlers, so it would have meant leave-without-pay for me as I struggled to find someone to care for my special needs child). I was grateful that they care enough to come back to our home.

Even though you find your HP cold, you might just ask them for a heart-to-heart. Tell them how lonely you feel, how isolated. I had one AP who broke down in tears (she was the only one to arrive early in December – something I’ll do my best NOT to have happen again). Later, she told me that it helped to hear that I cared about her well-being. We went out of our way to help her stay busy until she was able to develop a network of friends and build a life for herself.

AnonHM Europe December 5, 2011 at 5:11 am

If you decide to leave the family you should tell the family as soon as possible. Although the termination period is only 2 weeks, it will put the family into big trouble if they find themselves without childcare even for a few days. Of course the family is angry, when the AP leaves early. That’s quite normal: You spent months looking for a good AP and then it hasn’t got the guts to live through homesickness but gives up after only 3 months. (That’s the way I would put it…) Right now you are experiencing the typical “culture shock”, part of the cultural exchange. It will grow better. In January you will have help and you will be more energetic after seeing your family back home. Sommer will come, people will be outside, party, swimming – winter is the time to spend at home. How about your language-abilities? Do you attend language-courses? The host-family has to pay for the transportation to the language-school! Ask your host-family what you could do on the weekends! Public transportation is very good in Germany and with the “Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket” you can visit any City for little money. Start travelling, you will meet people! Use couch-surfing! Everybody will be depressed after spending 3 month with only babies and 2-year-olds…
If you decide to leave, the fair thing would be to tell the host-family at once and offer to come back until, say, February so they can find a new person. Please also remember the kids. Although the baby won’t unterstand it, the 2 year old will miss you if you leave (for ever!) without properly saying good-bye.
Good luck!

Debbie December 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I really feel for you …it must be an awful situation to be in. I would personally look to see if you can change your flight at a moments notice (incase they get spiteful and kick you out) and if you can give in your notice. Even if they are cold and distant for the next couple of weeks it cant be any worse that it is already and you will know in your heart you had done the right thing.

AupairAbroad December 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm

@ HomeAfterChristmas — Where is your host family located? I’m an au pair in a miniscule village in Schleswig-Holstein, if you like, we could try getting in touch!
I know exactly what you’re going through. I’ve been here six months and feel like I’m coping well, but I also knew German before I came here. I also keep myself busy during the week: I go on walks when it’s not too crappy out, do yoga, dance in my room to pump myself up, color (even when I’m not with my kid), write, read, work on German grammar and vocabulary, find new German music, borrow my family’s DVDs, try to watch a bit of TV with the family. I try to regularly skype with a few friends and family from back home and keep up with current events around the world. Especially with it getting so dark, I now get easily tired and don’t always feel like doing much. I found meditation to be very effective for combating loneliness and would go crazy if i didn’t do it everyday! The family also has a cat who’ve I’ve become close with and would die now without some ‘cat therapy’.
The best advice I can give you is make a routine to get yourself through the week and take advantage of your weekends off! My family is like yours, reserved, serious, and there’s not much genuine interaction between them, let alone with me! Keep trying to talk to them, even if they’re reticent. What bigger cities are near your village? I know we don’t get a lot of pocket money, and in a village you spend a chunk of it on transportation to GET OUT, but try going on weekend trips. Depending on your region, I could recommend places to visit. Try going to a couple museums or historical sites to learn about Germany’s interesting history and culture. If there’s a university somewhere near you, check out the surrounding campus area to meet students; younger people in Germany are typically approachable, open-minded and speak English well. There could be an English Stammtisch (regular meetup) for students who want to speak English. There could be Sprachtandems (language exchange) for students who want to meet native English speakers. Check out couch surfing; try to meet more people your age in the area that would let you crash at their place when you visit! December is also a GREAT month for day trips to other cities. Go site-seeing during the day and check out the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) at night. Try seasonal specialties, like Glühwein, gingerbread, roasted almonds, and other festival food Germans love. Count down the days until you visit your family with and Advent’s calendar, or introduce your kids to your own holiday traditions.
I’d recommend you stay at least until the other au pair comes. You might hit it off with her and then have a designated travel buddy!

Aupair in Germany December 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I KNOW THIS! I’m a 23 year old Aussie girl and my host family here in Germany are not even IN the village – we live on a farm!

I’ve been here almost 11 months now and the first few months were HARD. However, there are a few really good ways to meet other Au Pairs/people your age here. Have you done a language course? Thats an obvious way. You didn’t mention how far from the nearest city you are – I’m lucky in that I’m not too far out and I can get into the city easily enough. Theres also a Facebook group called Au Pairs in Germany – that’s how I made my first friend here :) You can just post on the wall asking if anyones in your area or scroll down and see if someone else has already.

I hope this helps – it’s not easy. I’d love to get in touch if you need a chat – I’m in Niedersachsen but I can also travel (and I’d love to!) and I know au pairs in a few other areas too. Enjoy your trip home for Christmas!!!

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