Matching with an Au Pair: How much info to share about an Atypical Host Parent Situation

by cv harquail on June 14, 2010

Today’s Truth: Some of us are typical host parents, some of us are atypical host parents, and all of us are trying to be better host parents.

I’ve been wanting to write about atypical parenting situations for a while now, but a conversation over the weekend has raised a particular situation where we can consider this…

We know that when we are in the process of matching with an au pair, we get a clearer and more comprehensive psychological contract when we know what to expect of her and she know what to expect of her. That’s why we send out family handbooks, descriptions of kids, photos of neighborhood, and all of that ‘up front’ information.

But what happens when there is something ‘different’ or ‘atypical’ about your host parent situation?

Being a single parent, being a same-sex couple, speaking two different languages, going through a divorce, undergoing chemotherapy, parent being shipped to Afghanistan for the fourth time — all of these parenting situations are not that uncommon. Au pairs may already know families with these parenting set-ups, and may have reasonable expectations about what a family with that situation might be like.finelittleday blogspot com.jpg

Other parent situations? Not so easy to anticipate.

The kinds of parenting situations I’ve heard about that are atypical include separated parents where the kids (and au pair) go back and forth between houses, parents who are temporarily laid up with serious illnesses (strokes, broken backs, brain surgery), parent undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, parent ‘coming out of the closet’, and more.

Recently, one host mom brought up an atypical situation of her own: she uses a wheelchair. When Wheelchair Bound Mom described her situation and explained how she shares information about it with potential au pairs during the matching process, it prompted a whole conversation of its own.

I’m moving this conversation to this post, and will paste it in verbatim below. Then, those of you who want to join in can do so in the comments.

Let’s see if we can understand the pros and cons of revealing a lot of information or letting the candidate suss it out her/himself.

Keep in mind, too, that we each make the best choices we can for our own situations. We don’t know what a person’s experience is or has been with being in an atypical situation, so our first reactions might not fit well with ‘the whole truth’.

Here’s the convo:

Wheelchair Bound Mom
On the topic of not really outright disclosing things during match – I don’t tell potential au pairs that I have a disease that prevents me from walking and makes a bunch of other things like cooking or anything that requires fine motor skills really difficult.

My potential APs have access to 3 prior APs via email & telephone (although I have no idea what they tell potential au pairs), and I also give them access to bunches of pictures where some of them show me in a wheelchair. Almost all the time our au pair is on duty I am working my full time job mostly out of the house although sometimes on occasion as a WAHM, but I don’t think of my disease as part of who I am or who I want to be, so it’s rarely a topic of discussion.
Is there something unfair about me not discussing the fact that I am in a wheelchair? Our au pair only helps with the children following all the rules of the program and then some (although often with a 45 hour schedule), and is not required to help me with my handicap in any way (although she sometimes sees me struggling to stand & get the milk off the top shelf of the fridge and will offer to help). I am very lucky that DH picks up the slack (he is not quite a single Dad because I do lots of things – everything I can do – and I STILL think I am a great mom).
I read this blog a lot and chime in at times, but I don’t really discuss my wheelchair for a few reasons (including that I don’t think it is relevant to most topics, and I really want to remain anonymous and I don’t think there are that many HMs out there in a wheelchair).. Should potential au pairs be able to know about my handicap and pass on my family based on that?

Taking a Computer Lunch
I’m of the opposite mind, personally (and well, I’m legally bound by State Department regs. to inform potential APs that The Camel is a special needs child because it has a great impact on their year with us) – I tend toward being open. I have found that The Camel is a great separater – the party girls don’t reply to our introductory email in which we state outright that The Camel weighs 25 kg and needs some lifting and the ones who really love children do respond. (We’ve become fairly selective over the years and interview AP candidates with special needs experience – even if it isn’t similar to The Camel’s special needs.) It takes us some time, and we tend to interview 4-6 women before we make our decision. (We would interview men, but the Venn diagram of special needs willing men in our agency does not appear to exist.)

We follow people first terminology, The Camel is a girl with special needs rather than a special needs girl.

Your needs are different from mine, and my advice would be to ask your current and former APs if they would have preferred to have known about your having a medical condition in advance. That to me, would seem to be an important factor in guiding your decision. My guess, is that for good candidates, your having a disablity would be less important to them than the behavior of your children, working conditions, etc.

I don’t think giving a potential AP the head ups that you happen to be in a wheelchair is focusing on what you can’t do. I think it’s being upfront and honest. Not that ‘not mentioning’ it is dishonest, but I would definitely wonder, ‘Well, what else has she just ‘not mentioned?’ if I found out from another source.

This reminds me of my 1st HF- when I arrived, I learned that they *exclusively* ate organic food. Everything in the entire house was organic, and they were verrrry outspoken about it. I don’t really care either way, because the food was great, but I’m also a big fan of McDonald’s, and it made me really uncomfortable when they would go on and on about how superior their food choices were to people who ate non organic.

My point is- the organic food really didn’t bother me, and it really didn’t affect me, because I ate it and enjoyed it, but I think that’s a big enough ‘idiosyncrasy’ to include in emails beforehand, and it was left out. This family also left out many other ’small’ things that didn’t *really* affect me… but by the time I left, my overall impression was that they were not 100% honest.

Wheelchair Bound Mom
OK, I guess everyone thinks I should talk about being in a wheelchair during the interview process. That’s something to look forward to.

One difference between me and the organic food people is that I don’t talk about being in a wheel chair all the time, and I never, ever talk about it with people. I don’t think it’s superior like the organic food people, and instead it really SUCKS being in a wheelchair. It is not a choice like eating organic food, and I find that if I open the topic to people they say things I just have to deal with like “oh, I just don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t go for a jog. It helps me clear my head, I think I would go CRAZY if I were in a wheelchair.”

Oh yes, I have found that not talking about my being in a wheelchair clearly and successfully sends the message that I don’t really want your opinion on what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. Everyone has their way of coping and this is mine for this particular topic. I am trying to think of appropriate parallels for you, but I’m not sure there is something similar. What if DH had severe adult acne, should that be mentioned to potential APs during matching? The AP might think it is just a rash or bad sunburn in any pictures and not know it is permanent, should dad have to talk about his acne? Or maybe dad completely runs the household whenever mom gets debilitating migraines, or maybe she gets horrid menstrual cramping every few months and dad handles things then – should host families need to mention all of these things to APs, or is it ok for them to deal with these things as needed instead of during matching?

PA AP mom
I think you asked for opinions but then didn’t like the ones you got. (I am not an “organic food” person either, just for the record.)

I had a stroke back in February. I am not in a wheelchair, but I have some significant limitations (no driving, difficulty walking distances because of balance, etc). I am in the process of finding a new AP right now and I disclosed it immediately.

I am not suggesting that your wheelchair should be the focal point of your family’s application or profile, but I do think that you should be upfront about it. Wouldn’t you be upset if your AP was in a wheelchair and didn’t mention it and showed up at your home? You would feel like you hadn’t had the chance to make an informed decision. I think an AP would feel much the same way.

There are plenty of APs out there who don’t care if you are in a wheelchair and would still think that you are the perfect family for them.

Good luck!

Wheelchair Bound Mom
Fair enough – that is all true – and you are right I didn’t really like the opinions but I think it’s ok to express mine. It’s all true – except that an au pair can not be in a wheelchair because she would not be able to do the au pair job. Also, the wheelchair is not hidden during matching, it’s just not discussed. If she gets here and is surprised to see I am in a wheelchair, it would mean she did not look at our pictures.

I guess I could do a better job making sure they understand I am in a wheelchair – after all I would not want an AP who does not like me for that reason alone anyway.

“Also, the wheelchair is not hidden during matching, it’s just not discussed.” I think this is a contradicting statement. You don’t say anything, therefore you are in around about way, hiding the fact. Just because she sees the photos doesn’t mean she understands the situation. She may think you had surgery and it is a temporary thing. And I agree with PA mom. You asked for opinions, and because you didn’t like answers you recieved, you have to argue with us! If you don’t want to hear something that contradicts what you have already made up your mind about, please don’t ask the question.

Wheelchair Bound Mom
I agree, thanks for your supportive comment.

Taking a Computer Lunch
I would agree – as someone who has walked with crutches for temporary injuries and resulting surgeries in both the US and Europe, while public health is cheaper in Europe, attitudes toward people with disabilities are far behind the US, and facilities (e.g. elevators) that make life easier almost non-existent.

Most of the AP candidates that we interview assume that they will be caring for The Camel full-time (even Europeans), and are surprised that not only does she go to school for the same amount of hours as her brother, but that she receives curb-to-curb transportation (well, at least 99% of the time). Some are resistant toward feeding her in public, and won’t try until we bring them along for an outing and make no big deal about it. New APs need to be talked through the steps of transporting her, making requests for services (like opening the special needs locker room at the public pool), etc. that exist here.

You need not make a big deal of it. We are very up front about The Camel’s disabilities and needs (mainly because APs have to be able to pick up 25 kg briefly) in an introductory email, because we want out ‘party girls,’ women who are too tiny themselves to do the work, and those not interested to weed themselves out. We tend to interview 4-6 women, which is a considerable amount of our free time when we’re in the process – so we don’t want to waste it.

We do not reveal The Camel’s full diagnosis until the AP arrives – choosing to focus on the symptoms that affect their lives during the matching process.

But this is all just advice Wheelchair bound Mom. None of us are telling you want to do – just what we would do. You get to digest our advice as you make your decision whether and how much to reveal in advance.

Wheelchair Bound Mom
Thank you TaCL – that means a lot to me (as I wipe away some self indulgent tears while I type). Obviously this is a somewhat emotional topic for me and I do appreciate the input.

[Thanks to everyone for being respectful, kind, and willing to ‘give’ in this conversation so far. It is really hard to put our situations and our coping strategies out in the open– it’s so easy to misunderstand/be misunderstood .. and it is so hard to so, “Oh, you’re right” and then revise an opinion in real time. thanks. Comments are now open … cv ]


Pia Aupair June 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Maybe we should see the difference here. I dont think wheelchair bound mom is trying to hide the fact that she needs a wheelchair i understood that she just doesnt like to talk about that topic for personal reasons. and i think that is ok!
She puts the pics up and lets aupair candidates talk to past aupairs and i bet if an interviewed aupair would ask about her condition she wouldnt lie.
I guess atypical families do have a harder time finding an aupair then (on the first look) stereo type families do.
but maybe wheelchair bound mom should see it the other way around. if you actually mention you condition you are probably less likely to get a stereo type Aupair.

NewAPMama June 14, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I feel like if the situation makes your family unique, you should inform your aupair about it. Whether that is a disability, military deployments, etc. Your aupair is going to be spending a year of her life with you, and you should be upfront with them as much as you would like them to be upfront with you.

LilyAupair June 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm

This is a difficult topic and I can only say from my experience that being honest and upfront about a “special” situation in your family will ultimately benefit everyone. During my year in the US, my HM became very sick (a psychological problem). She became very unpredictable and her moodswings were very hard to take sometimes, even with me knowing why she was acting the way she was. I stayed with the family because I knew that her yelling at me, her not leaving her bedroom for the entire day even though it was my day off and other erratic behaviour wasn’t meant against me personally, but that she was sick – and I knew that in this difficult situation, the kids needed me.
When they searched for their next AuPair, my HD explicitly forbade me telling candidates about my HM illness, and even though I disageed, I never said a word because I knew he had told me about her illness in confidence. Consequence: none of the three AuPairs that came after me lasted more than 3 months. All said their reason for leaving was not being able to deal with my HMs moodswings and erratic behaviour as no one had explained to them why she was behaving the way she did. Ultimately, it was the kids who suffered, having to deal with a less than stable mom and new AuPairs all the time. I know that, had I just been thrown into this situation, I would have left as well, but knowing what I did, I could deal with it and make an informed decision myself that I wanted to stay – with all the consequences that carried.
I guess that is the point: being able to make an informed decision about matching with a family/an AuPair or not. To do that, both sides need all the pertinent information that might have an impact on their living together under one roof for one year. Problem is, everyone has different ideas about what is pertinent information, but in this case, I would probably advice on giving as much information as possible.

franzi June 14, 2010 at 2:45 pm

thanks for putting this up, CV. my mom is handicapped and therefore this is a topic that touches home for me.

i think that the fact that you are in a wheel chair should be mentioned during the matching process. it should never be the first thing to mention – you want an AP for the kids and not for yourself. but not talking about it would for me send the wrong signal. as applicant, i would wonder if you are hiding something because you “don’t tell”. i think anyone who is excited to talk to a potential host family and who is asking all sorts of questions about your family and lifestyle would feel confused if suddenly she sees you in a wheelchair even though it has never been mentioned before.

granted, she can ask about it but actually, some may shy away from it maybe not knowing how to bring up the topic. even many of my friends who knew about my moms disability had trouble talking about it. some because they never were exposed to disabilities, some because they were taught not to bring up medical conditions.
so maybe you would pass on a great candidate who just doesn’t have the guts to ask you about it.

so all in all, i think you should mention it, state briefly about how your lifestyle differs from that of a “walking” mom and allow the ap to ask questions. i like the idea that you encourage the conversations with your previous APs because that offers a way to ask many questions that would maybe make you or the future AP feel uncomfortable.
i think the wheelchair should be mentioned by you in a follow-up phone call, unless the candidate saw pictures earlier and brings up the topic. i think it’s rather easy to introduce the whole topic eg when you talk about driving, family vacations, your house. like a comment above mentioned, i also would feel very confused if i was your AP and finally arrived and saw you in a wheelchair and THEN find out that it’s a permanent thing (not just a recent injury).

the “the pictures tell” argument doesn’t convince me at all. if i was having pictures in my application where you can see tattoos and piercings but never mentioned a word about it, wouldn’t you feel that i wasn’t a good communicator because i don’t mention these things? i deliberately compare it to tattoos or piercings because i can imagine that the wheelchair to you is very normal and that everyone around you is aware of. but your potential AP is a stranger and lives thousands of miles away, i think it is a matter of good communication to talk about this during the matching process.

aria June 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I actually think the tattoo/piercing comparison is a good one. Imagine if I were an au pair matching with a family: say during the photo exchange process, I only sent pictures of myself in long sleeves and long pants, and we get along great. Now imagine I show up at the door wearing shorts and short sleeves and sporting tattoos all over my arms and legs. It doesn’t change anything about the person I was when interviewing, and it doesn’t change my ability to care for the kids at all, but it is a HUGE thing just to not mention.

Calif Mom June 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I agree with a measured disclosure.

I was in a car accident over a year ago, had a debilitating injury that left me out of work for 4 months, and while I’m back at work and mom-ing, my memory sucks eggs. That is a very relevant “incapacity” in our household, and it has ripple effects for everyone. I did tell this to au pairs we interviewed, but it certainly isn’t like “Hi, I’m Sally, and I had a TBI,” and everyone says “Hi Sally!” in reply…. :-)

My good friend drives a Segway to restaurants and shopping because of a neuro condition. Is her mobility an issue that has effects for those who share the household with her? You bet! Is it the first thing we think of when her name comes up? Nope. That would be her wicked sense of humor.

I have no doubt that you hate being defined by the state of your body. There were days I lamented to my neurologist that we should wrap my head in a big bandage so people would understand that I was not a blathering idiot while in line at the grocery and not remembering how to use the card swipe machine. People carry all kinds of pain around.

I think giving hints about the factors that are important in your family and home–whether organic food or obsessive exercise or a ban on certain kinds of TV or music–is ALL relevant, once you get to a certain point in interviewing future APs.

I hope this helps! It’s not easy…

Calif Mom June 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Let me fix that last paragraph —

“I think giving hints about factors that are important in your family and home…”

should read:

“I think giving people an accurate view of what life in your family and home is like–whether organic food or obsessive exercise or…..”

Because really, hinting doesn’t work, especially not for people who are not primary English speakers, and aren’t from the States. Expecting someone to read between the lines or understand broad hints is not fair to the AP candidates.

I totally agree with the commenter who said that anyone who is going to be frightened away by the prospect of an HM with mobility problems is not going to be the right fit for your family anyway. Plenty of fish in the ocean!

MTR June 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I have to say that disabilities topics are very hard to navigate. My AP’s brother is in a wheelchair, and although she has been with us for year, extended for the second year now, and we have a great relationships, I don’t know why her brother is in the wheelchair. She mentioned on her AP application that he is disabled, but did not say why. And we never asked. And now, because of her brother’s disability, her mom is facing a surgery (she tried to lift a 36 year old man/brother from his wheelchair and wrecked her spine). And I still do not feel comfortable asking about our AP’s brother’s disability, and although she talkes about her brother, she never voluntrees the detailed info, so I just leave it alone.

Franzi, I personally would not compare phycal disabilities to tatoos. It is just not in the same category. A nose ring is in the same category as tatoos. Pink hair is the same category as tatoos. Physical disability is not.

As for me personally, our family is not an atypical phamily, but we do have our quirks and I made sure the write as much as possible about us in the intro letter to au pair and in our handbook. I did not want any major surprises for our au pair after she came. As an example, I specifically wrote in both the letter and the handbook that I can be moody and stuff and that usually it would have nothing to do with her or anyone else in the family, so she shouldn’t take it personally, even if I grumble at her. It worked for us.

franzi June 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

i made the comparison because i felt that the wheelchair is very normal to the host mom and i feel that piercings and tattoos are (after a while at least) also very normal to the person having them. so normal that you forget it’s there. i believe that to the environment of WBM (wheelchair bound mom) doesn’t notice the wheelchair anymore and they don’t care because they see the person first and foremost. but an outsider who doesn’t have the possibility to get to know the person first is of course set on external factors. future APs read A TON into the pictures and emails that are being sent to them so i think it is easy to strike up a conversation about one that shows WBM in a wheelchair.

BLJ Host Mom June 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I think the way you stated it for us, in this forum was perfect. Something in your opening letter that is short and matter of fact will put the right AP at ease. Interviewing APs takes a lot of our time, and you shouldn’t waste time (yours or your prior APs) talking with an AP who won’t be able to deal with a wheelchair in the house. It doesn’t affect her job, but she might not know that if you don’t tell her. By discussing it upfront, you don’t have to discuss it again. You’ll find a great AP who knows how to and is comfortable to live alongside a disability, without judging, wondering, needing to talk about it more.

It could also be a matter of your new AP being comfortable with you right off the bat, right when she gets off the plane and sees you. And it seems to me that it might even lessen any anxieties for you, not wondering if she knows based on a picture or contact with someone else. You’ll know that she is expecting you to hug her sitting down rather than standing up.

It seems like everyone here is talking about being honest. I just think it is a matter of courtesy and future closeness. This isn’t up for discussion with someone on the street (I can see why you don’t feel like talking and talking about what people think about you being in a wheelchair and what they would do if it were them! I do like your attitude about that, you don’t mention it so neither do they), but this is sharing something about yourself with a young girl who will live with you as part of your family, caring for your most precious people, affecting all of you by the disposition she adds to your home. If a prospective AP would think or care about it being a burden for her in any way and not choose your family for that reason, then she isn’t the perfect AP for you. There are plenty of compassionate young girls who know how capable a mom in a wheelchair can be, and they will come to you with an open mind. Not wondering why you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk about it, even with someone who is about to move in. If you act like the topic is off limits, so might she, even if she’s seen the pictures or talked to a prior AP.

I wish you the best of luck in finding another great AP. I know that you can find some middle ground, and that doesn’t have to include something you don’t feel comfortable with. You are well spoken, concise, humorous (from what I see so far) and can find a way to share this in the best way, in order to find the perfect fit and closeness in your family, not in a way that makes it sound like this defines you. It is obvious from this short post that it does not.

Bruna June 14, 2010 at 6:25 pm

The only reason I would reject a family with a handicapped parent is if I feel like the person does not have a positive attitude about it. And yes, it is possible. I have a very very very close relative that is hadicapped, has a family, a lovely kid and keeps a wonderful attitude about what she CAN do. Never in my life (26 years…) I saw this person saying that it sucks to be like that or complaining about her condition. So with that example at home, I would definately not accept the job because you were not open to me about you condition, and that would give me the impression that you’re maybe depressed or revolted about it, and I wouldn’t like to be in a house with that kind of atmosphere.
It would be much better if you adopted the “Hey, I’m on a wheelchair, but I am a great mom, I still can and WILL play with my children, I do whatever I can to be as active in their lives as I can be and if it happened to me, it was for a reason, so I always try to make the most out of my condition” attitude. That kind of attitude would make me accept the job.
Just my opinion.

Calif Mom June 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Oh boy, Bruna! Attitudes are important, but this kind of person is very rare. And they may well be crying themselves to sleep at night. We cannot see inside another’s soul. Some of the “just smile your way through your illness” stuff can be very insulting to those who are grappling with a big shift in their identity.

There are clinical studies on both sides of this issue.

Happy people are easier for the rest of us to be around, though, that much is true! Would that I could be pollyanna! :-)

bumblebee June 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm

To me, you sound like a lovely woman. I think some other persons might have been a bit harsh with you. They keep saying it’s better to be honest. I believe the same. It’s better to be safe, then to be sorry.
But let’s not forget that you are really concerned about this matters and it shows that you care about your next AP’s feelings.
And I also understand why you don’t want to make a fuss about it. You don’t want to put au pairs off with this. It shouldn’t matter. It makes no relevance to the ap’s job. Or at least, it shouldn’t. But the real thing is that it does make. She might feel uncomfortable around you ( i, for example, when I met the first person in a wheelchair I didn’t know how to react, what to say, how to stand. i always had the fear of not wanting to make her feel sad about her condition, or to seem that I enjoy to much myself- we were at a pub.I have to say…I don’t know why, but I’ve never seen many persons in a wheelchair in my own country. Maybe they all just stay indoors, because they don’t even have facilities at the stairs (sad, but true). So, I’m not experienced with people with disabilities. Maybe your ap won’t be either.
But tell her from the beginning. If she will refuse the job because of this, then it means she is not mature enough, and if so, it’s easier for all of you to know where you stand.
If you say that you can do all the other things and still be a great mum, your ap can convince herself. She can take the time to read informations on the internet or to ask advices around her.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 14, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I think I’ve said enough, but I have one more story. The Camel had brain surgery when she was 5 to attempt to stop a progressive disorder and my son, then 3 had not been able to see her for several days while she was in ICU. When she was moved to Ward, a child life specialist took photographs of her, from the door, closer to the foot of the bed, until it was a bust portrait of her in her halo traction. She showed the pictures of to my son, and asked what was different about The Camel, and he responded, “She has new toys.” His sister being different was a given, but new toys were something with which to compete. (By the way, we all got so used to her that when she was released from hospital five weeks later we went to a local playground and I asked my husband, “Why is everyone staring at us?” Duh! We have the only person, much less child in halo traction they’d ever seen!)

So, Wheelchair bound Mom, if you ultimately decide that you do not want to discuss your condition with AP candidates, then how about a series of shots in which the wheelchair is increasingly obvious, perhaps culminating in a family portrait in which the kids are at one side of you and the wheelchair can’t be missed? That way, it becomes a non-issue to any AP that matches. The more places you are able to feature yourself and your family, the more it will be clear to the AP that it’s your mode of movement.

StephinBoston June 15, 2010 at 8:40 am

I can completely understand why you don’t want to talk about it or be defined by it, the wheelchair is not who you are. So I think I’d state it simply and explain that being in a wheelchair doesn’t change who you are as a mom, that you don’t expect the au pair to be there to help you and that’s it, move on to the next topic. She doesn’t need to know more, she has all the information she needs to make a decision about being an au pair in your family.

Jeana June 15, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I am a single, adoptive mom. With each of our aupairs, I’ve been an open-book. When I’m considering an aupair, I forward our family book. Within the family book, I explain how my children’s early life affects them NOW. Both my children worked with occupational therapists, physical therapists, developmental therapists, and speech therapists. My younger daughter has been home for four years now, and has had seven surgeries. Having me away from home, due to surgeries, has certainly affected our aupairs. I don’t want any surprises. If there is anything about our family that an aupair would feel uncomfortable about, I want her to figure that our while she’s at home, not down the hall in my home. I want to increase our chances of having a very successful match, by sharing everything I possibly can, when I’m considering an aupair. I don’t really want to share a lot of information about medical issues and therapy situations, but realistically, those issues will have an impact on our aupairs. I feel that doing this has helped me match with the best possible aupairs for our family.

Deb Schwarz June 16, 2010 at 3:59 am

Hmmmmmm….very interesting topic. In reading it, I realized that we have never disclosed ahead of time that my husband has epilepsy. It doesn’t define him so I share and understand wheelchair bound mom’s sentiments. Although having said that, it’s not something that an au pair can see in photos. Our first au pair (15 au pairs ago) knew about it before she came, and actually ended up driving my husband and our daughter to visit me in the hospital while I was incubating our triplets for the last few weeks (he had a seizure and couldn’t drive). I will be forever grateful to her for helping us through a very difficult time. Since then, to be honest, it hasn’t even occurred to me to disclose his disease to potential au pairs (luckily it is currently under control), but do mention it if and when the need arises during the course of the year. No au pairs have flinched. Interestingly, I just reviewed an amazing au pair application tonight to post on my website, and saw that the au pair has epilepsy (controlled) and there was a doctor’s letter re: it. So, I ask myself: why should au pair’s have to disclose medical info. and a host family’s doesn’t….just debating myself here…food for thought.

Wheelchair Bound Mom/OP June 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I really appreciate the advice on this topic, although I did feel attacked at first with what I felt were some very judgmental comments. However, as cv wisely noted, after I stepped back for a while and let it simmer, there are a bunch of things I can glean from the advice you all gave (and no, it’s not that the only reason I can share my opinion is our First Amendment Rights).

I am awaiting my next au pair’s arrival (AP#5+x), and although I think she will be awesome and my wheelchair won’t bother her, I seriously don’t know if my wheelchair came up in any conversations. I assumed our former au pair(s) would bring it up if it impacted their experience, but know I am thinking that they did not so that’s not enough and I do need to find a way to “work it in” to some discussion somewhere. I would not want her to think it was hidden.

Wheelchair Bound Mom/OP June 20, 2010 at 10:28 pm

What I have gotten for APs so far is due a little, tiny bit to skill in choosing, and a whole lot about good or bad luck. I have had mostly good luck with some bad luck in there, but I don’t *think* any of the APs that did not work out had anything to do with the wheelchair. I did ask 3 of my former beloved APs (in separate emails to each) a bunch of questions via an email something like this:

I want to ask you a question (or 2) about something I hate/despise talking about – me being in a wheelchair. I am wondering if it was a surprise to you when you first arrived that I am in a wheelchair or did you already know? I’m pretty sure I didn’t raise it as an interview topic since I don’t like discussing it. Do you think I really should? I guess some au pairs might chose not to match with us based on that – do you agree? I try not to focus on the negative in my life, and I definitely feel that the wheelchair is a big negative, so I try to cope by focusing on the things I CAN do and sort of ignoring (maybe some denial in there) the negative. Did me being in a wheelchair present a lot of issues for you that your au pair friends did not have to face? One more thing – when a prospective au pair contacts you about your year with us, does the wheelchair usually come up as a topic? Was it a topic you discussed with ? Is it strange that I hate talking about it, or does it make sense to you that doing so brings me down? Should I just suck it up and talk about it anyway? What do you think?

Wheelchair Bound Mom/OP June 20, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I decided to ask each if she minded if I shared her response and they were all fine with it.

AP#2 response:
Well, as I remeber it I think you told me on the phone when we we’re doing the interview before we decided on each other. I think I asked something, so you mentioned it.

I don’t think that you need to mention it to the girls that you get as a match – at first anyway.
When you do have accepted each other and the whole process is proceeding, you can mention it. But you don’t have to have a big talk about it. It would just be such a shame if someone would say pass beacuse of that they think that a hostmom in a wheelchair will bring them extra chores – Beacuse it won’t!

I never experienced that you being in a wheelchair gave me any problems at all.

I really want you to know that to me you are a rolemodel! You get out of bed every day without moping around beacuse you’re life is different, your’e a wonderful mom and a great hostmom.

So, I don’t think you need to discuss this – since it’s not a problem. And I don’t think it’s weird that you don’t. I don’t talk about things that make me feel uncomfortable or sad.

Wheelchair Bound Mom/OP June 20, 2010 at 10:32 pm

AP#3 response:
I haven’t told anything about it.

The only thing you said to me bofore I came was that you had an illnes. And later AP#2 and I started to email eatch other and I think that she said something about it. Im not sure. So I knew before I came.

I don’t see the wheelchair as a problem. Not at all. It’s the kids the au pair takes care of. And if I knew bofore I said yes to be your au pair, it hadn’t change my mind. Because when I talked to you and read your email everything felt good. So a wheelchair can’t change that.

Topics that and I spoke about was how you guys are. And how the kids behave. How musg different it is from . And how a normal day is. Nothing about a wheelchair.

It’s not strange that you don’t like to talk about it ! I totally understand.

When I spoke to my friends in ( during my time in the US ) they asked if I helped you with stuff too. So if you deside so say something to au pair be sure to say that they only take care of the kids. So that you don’t get any missunderstandings…

I remeber that I looked what did, and just copy some of that. Ex during fridays cook for you aswell as the kids and myself. ( plus it was nice to have lunch with you too, at the table :) when you were home ) And as you know by now I love helping out with everything that involves the kids. Like organizing clothes or toys.

I dont see any point that you should raise the question at first. Maybe just mention it later. Since it don’t have anything to do with the kids, I can honestly dont see the point.

Wheelchair Bound Mom/OP June 20, 2010 at 10:37 pm

AP#4 response:
Hi! I remember that you told me that you where in a whealchair the first time we talked. You know how I am..I am pretty sure that I remember the entire first interview I had with you, what you told me about the kids, about you and (DH’s) interets in sport, abbout you being in (country) and playing (your sport) and I also remember that when you talked abbout that you had played (your sport) I asked you and (DH) if you where doing any sports right now. When I asked that you told me that you where in a whealchair. So i knew it from he beggining but I almost din´t think abbout at all. the important thing for me was that after we talked I felt like you where the right family for me :)

I know that boath you and (DH) try to focus on all the positive things in life and that you do everything like any other family does. I learnt a lot from the two of you abbout how to focus on the positive in life instead of the negative, not only abbout you being in a whealchair but also when they where cutting of people at your work for example. I learnt a lot as a person from you during the year thanks to you allways focusing on the positive. I never felt there was any problems what so ever with you being in a whelechair. I did not notice any difference in my life with you guys in comparence to my friends life and I learnt so much from you.

I dont know if it is best that you tell it or not. You should do whatever feels good for the two of you. I feel that it was good to know abbout you being in a whealchair from the beggining. Not because that it would make any difference in my dessision or really make any difference at all. But I just like when all the cards are layd out on the table. Because just I felt good abbout knowing where you worked, that you work from home some times, how the kids are, how you live and what your likes and disslikes are and maybe the whealchiar also is a part of your life. So I felt safe going to you because I felt like I knew you allready and that you hade been totally honest with me abbout how you live your life. I remember that you just told me quick that you where in a whealchair and then we talked abbout aother things, and that was absoulutelly enought for me, I did really not need to know annything moore. But at the same time I absoulutelly understand your point of wiew with not talking abbot it becaouse you dont live your life based on you being in a whealchair at all and I when I know you I absoluttely understand why you would not bring it up in an interview. So you should do what feels the best for you. If you dont feel like talkning abbout it you should not do it because the most impotant thing is how the kids are and how you and (DH) are. I know that this was a superlong answer and I hope that you got anything usefull out of it. This is just my feelings abbout the family and my year with you and before. Your family has a special place in my heart and I really hope that everything workes out great of you with new au pairs in the future ;). I see you as my second family and I will always do.

Dorsi June 22, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I really enjoyed reading these — it is nice to see people look back with a bit of perspective.

hOstCDmom June 21, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thanks so much for posting the follow up and your APs responses (I realize it took time to put that together and share with everyone on the site!) Reading their responses really heartened me about people in general!

Former Aupair in the USA June 22, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Hi, I was an Au Pair and was matched with an amazing HF,they were up front with everything right from the start with their application and the phone conversation.I’m not saying that it was a breeze as there were times it was a bit hard but nothing that couldn’t be discussed and compromised/ negoitiated.
But due to unforseen circumstances (MH losing her job) I was forced to change HFs after 5 mnths,

Transition is the hardest time and I felt like i was being placed between a cliff and a snake and had to accept. The agency i was with was only giving me a day to decided on the families i was offered,i had no clue what i should be asking or looking for other than everything i had previously in my first HF.

My second HF wasn’t great from the start, I was given very little information about them in their application – HOw many people were involved in the care of there children( i had people coming into the home that i knew nothing about why they were there, but everyone else knew, including the children) they had lied over the phone about the use of the car- they had said i would be able to use it and i would be taking the children to activities which i wasn’t ( I know that it is the HF right to say if and when their car can be used, but to lie about it…..) and how many other APs were in my area- the nearest was a good 45 mins drive from me, among other things.Then there were problems after i got there that we had meetings about, that the MH refused to acknowledge – her childrens lack of respect to her and DH other people in the home,childrens swearing,what is considered AP cleaning and what isnt like cleaning out the refridgerator and then there were otheres that were promised to be improved but were never even started( hadnt shown a single ounce of improvement) and i tried to make it work, i tried to be involved but was treated more of an employee than someone who is there to love, look after and play with their children maybe even become a part of their family…..only stayed 2 mnths with them before leaving.

All I’m saying is please be upfront, supply as much information as you can, you may not get as many applicants as you may like but atleast you know that the women and men applying to become your AP are commited to your childrens and familys wealfare and happiness and want to be a part of your family as much as you want them too.

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