Thanksgiving Is Not A Spectator Sport: How Will You Involve Your Au Pair?

by cv harquail on November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving is a time when all Host Parents find that they need to get into the ‘Cultural Exchange’ mode. 


You can’t just plant yourself on Grandad’s Barcolounger hogging the remote, expect everything to unfold the usual way.  And, you can’t expect that your au pair will feel as comfortable as this kitty (left) if her/his only role is to sit and watch.

Having your au pair with you is a terrific way to shake up the family routine AND do a little culture jamming.

In addition to finding a way for your au pair to participate, you’ve got to explain:

  • The politics of colonialism and conquest, and our general cultural denial of same
  • Why there is a 1-800 number for turkey cooking questions
  • Why in your family some people watch TV, other people cook, still others don’t talk to each other, and yet it’s still fun

And more….

Momma Gadget suggests these questions to get a conversation rolling:

1. Are y’all hosting Thanksgiving?

2. What is your Au pair contributing to the celebration?

3. What are you most thankful for?

Her au pair volunteered to make frozen french fries — certainly popular, but in her words “I told him needs to put a little more effort into it. LOL”


See also:

This Thanksgiving, Teach Your AuPair Real American Values with #GivingTuesday
Thanksgiving Buffet of Gratitude
10 Days of Work that Might Surprise Your Au Pair
Tips for Family Fun at Thanksgiving


Attribution Some rights reserved by Muffet



TexasHM November 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

1. No but we are headed to my parents house for an extended family thanksgiving bash.
2. We’ve never had the APs work or given them a specific role in the past but we have explained the holiday in detail and described what we think they can expect – great grandpa will likely fall asleep after the meal, my brother at some point will pick a fight with my dad and someone will drink too much, she will hear a lot of our family stories (again) and try some of my moms great dishes like ambrosia, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes. :)
3. I am most thankful for my Lord and Savior and my friends, family and the feedback and support of everyone on this site! Have a blessed holiday everyone!

FutureAP November 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

I am going to visit my host mom family for Thanksgiving, although they asked me if I wanted to come and I am the one who said yes, I am a bit nervous to feel out. My host family is really nice but I met the grand parents only once and the exchange was brief and I never met any of the other people who will be there.

I’d be happy to help for anything, cooking, setting, cleaning, but at the same time it is hard to take initiatives when it is a house you don’t know but I don’t want them to think I am just here to put my feet under the table while everyone else does the work.

If your family is doing the same, I think that would be a good idea to talk to the au pair about who is who, how does Thanksgiving happen usually in your family, what family traditions you have, etc. I think those are questions I will ask myself so I have a better idea of what is happening.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 25, 2013 at 11:14 am

The phrase, “How can I help?” goes a long way. Also, even if you’re given the day off, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on TV, play a board game with the kids, or take them outside for a walk (or a snowball fight – depending on where you are going). It will make your family extra grateful and extended family praise you.

The holidays, even when they are not your own, are tough for any au pair. Even if your offers to help are met with rejection, use the time to talk to family members. Ask them after their favorite (or worst!) Thanksgiving memories to get the conversation rolling. If football is on, ask someone to explain the complicated game (and revel in the absurd number of advertisements).

Oh, and if no one has explained Black Friday to you, ask about it!

Momma Gadget November 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Thanksgiving is the one holiday we insist that our APs join us for.
For our family it is a bigger deal than even Christmas because it it not tainted with the commercialism, or pressure of gift giving.
1. We are going to my mom’s , and my extended family and any friend who are without a place to go to celebrate will be there
2. Mom cooks the Turkey,stuffing, sweet potatos with marshmallows( a yearly debate!) , and everyone else (including the AP) brings a side dish or dessert. I bring one of my grandmother’s old recipes and am in charge of gravy.
I like Texas HMs idea of describing how it goes down- Women will be in the kitchen- Boys will be watching football. There will be ridiculous amounts of food, and everyone will stuff themselves to the point of bursting. Everyone helps clear the table and put away the leftovers. If the weather is not horrific, we will all go for a walk at the nearby nature trail. When we get back we’ll play a few board games or poker, watch more football and laugh a lot…. and then stuff ourselves again with Dagwood size turkey sandwiches.
3. My family had a rough year this year. I am very grateful that everyone made it though relatively sound- a big move, chemo, back surgery and a big job loss. I am especially grateful to our AP for the extra help he gave us during crisis times.

FutureAP- Just ask and volunteer- How can I help you? Do you need help with the cooking, setting the table, passing h’ouerderves etc…
I am sure your contributions will be greatly appreciated!

Taking a Computer Lunch November 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

We’re hosting (I drew the short straw for the day after Thanksgiving, which is fine – it’s quiet).

While we don’t ask the AP to prepare a dish on Thanksgiving – we want to introduce her to our traditions, we do ask her to prepare a favorite dish for Christmas.

It’s been a tough year. The Camel, our beloved child with special needs, stopped walking and we are grateful that with a lot of PT, she has started again. Extremely grateful that AP #9 is hard-working and thoughtful – our year with her is going so quickly – especially compared with party girl #8.

Emerald City HM November 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

1. I tried to host, but all of our friends bailed on us. We don’t have family that lives nearby, so I did try to do a friend thing. Instead I’m going to throw in a turkey and cook up some carbs. Our girls are young enough it’s really not going to be a big deal at our house.

2. We were not planning on having the au pair help out, because now it’s just going to be like another meal at the house. We did explain black friday to her and suggest she might want to see if any of her friends are participating if she wants to experience that (we never have, but our first au pair did).

3. I’m most thankful for my husband, I’m so glad to have a wonderful man who is involved with the girls and doesn’t avoid the not as fun parts of parenting.

Should be working November 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

We’re hosting, but it’s small.
AP doesn’t have to contribute but I have asked her to attend. Things not going well these days, ugh.
Thankful for healthy, mostly happy children and family.

Angie host mom November 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Au pair will be cooking, serving and doing the dishes for our family

Haa haa haa haa haa haa haa

Sorry, had to make the joke, a lot of my friends who don’t have au pairs think that is what au pairs do. Seriously, I’ll be cooking but the whole family including au pair will help. It’s a communal work and play day.

Host Mom in the City November 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Au pair is really excited about Thanksgiving. We’re traveling to my husband’s parents’ house about an hour away. I am bringing a lot of dishes and she volunteered to make a typical Christmas meal dish to bring too. She’s really excited about trying all the America foods.

All three of my au pairs have happily wanted to come to Thanksgiving dinner. I would think it would be kind of weird if one didn’t. Thanksgiving is such a quick, easy cultural exchange day – a little cooking, one meal together, and that’s it. It’s not like Christmas or something like that where the family might travel and spend a week somewhere they don’t even want to be (lol) – I can see an au pair not dying to be included in that :)

Our first au pair also wanted to make a dish to share and happily pitched in with the cooking just because she liked cooking and was in general a person that liked to feel useful. Our second didn’t volunteer to bring anything, didn’t offer to help with anything, and sat around awkwardly during the meal including when everyone else was cleaning up.

If an au pair was wondering, I would suggest volunteering to make something (but not be put off if they say no – sometimes hosts have the meal carefully orchestrated), helping with the cooking as a family togetherness gesture, and at dinner, at least doing your best to be engaged and chatty with the extended friends and family. Definitely difficult to do – I appreciate that – but it will go a long way for your host parents to see you trying rather than sitting there looking like you wish you were anywhere else.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I have had APs return to the US just to have another Thanksgiving. We always welcome them back!

Personally, I think Thanksgiving is easier on APs than Christmas. Christmas celebrations often are compared (negatively) to the ones at home. It’s just not the same. But Thanksgiving is another holiday altogether. (I agreed with the poster above that indicated some of the ease comes from it not being a gift-giving holiday.)

Skny November 26, 2013 at 7:22 am

I agree. As An au pair I had a great time at thanksgiving. It was new and fun. The family members really wanted me to experience it and made an extra effort for me to feel welcomed.
As for Christmas, it was a desaster. We went to a different side of the family I had never met before. I was homesick and it was different from home. We spent 2 days there, and the kids had enough cousins, friends, etc around that they didn’t care for me at all. The adults were all busy catching up with relatives they had not seem in months.
It was 10ys ago, before iPhones and no laptop.
So I was miserable, locked in a house with people I never seen before (and barely acknowledged my presence), missing home.
The year after (my second year) I just had a celebration with other au pairs (one host family was away and allowed the meeting). We cooked home meals, did a china auction, and hanged out together.

Old China Hand November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I am feeling so guilty for leaving our AP here while we go out west for Thanksgiving. But we can’t afford to take her with us and offered to pay for half her ticket if she wanted to pay for the other half and join us. She has friends here who take her to church weekly and have adopted her as part of their family. They are having her spend the weekend with them. She and I did go to the Interfaith Thanksgiving on my campus and we both enjoyed that very much. But I do feel a bit pathetic that I can’t afford plane travel for our AP, but we really can’t. :-(

Angie host mom November 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

She’ll be fine and happy, don’t worry about it. Tickets are so expensive around the holidays! Just make sure she understands you aren’t flying first class :0) and aren’t ditching her on purpose.

Seattle Mom December 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

We had Thanksgiving at our house, though we didn’t do much of the cooking- my MIL came with the turkey & a side, DH cooked the sweet potatoes and made a salad. We don’t go crazy with food, that’s not our style- though there was more than enough to eat and we still have leftovers. So it was just our family, AP, and my in-laws (MIL, FIL & SIL). We also lit the menorah for Chanuka and had a birthday cake for SIL.

Our AP had the day off and joined us for dinner after being out with friends. I think she may have gone to her boyfriend’s family’s house first but she is private about her personal life so I’m not sure. She worked on Friday so that DH and I could have some time together & do some shopping.

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