A large number of au pairs, perhaps even a majority, become au pairs in the US as a way to escape something at home.
They may be escaping a bleak economic outlook, a scarcity of jobs post-high school, intense political strife, or an unsafe environment. Many au pairs are escaping bad family situations, including their parents’ divorces, infidelities, emotional problems, and controlling behaviors over their children.
Recognizing that an au pair might be very happy to be away from her home country or her family of origin is not to suggest that these women and men are not genuinely interested in caring for children, living with a host family, or exploring life in the US. But it is important to recognize that there are often problems back home, and these problems will have a negative impact on your au pair.
When a ‘child’ ‘escapes’ from a bad family situation, what is already a bad scene at home can become unstable. Parents, siblings, and others may make demands on your au pair that your au pair cannot figure out how to meet.
Thus, when an au pair confides in you that s/he has a problem ‘back home’, it’s one of those times when you have to think about what kind of parent-employer you can be to her or him. Your au pair may need some personal support, and s/he may also need some nudging to keep doing the au pair job well.
Let me tell you from my experience– this can be very hard to do.
Here’s a request for advice from a host mom whose au pair is being stressed out by a problem ‘back home’ with her mother. The set up of the host family situation is a little complicated, with a total of two au pairs for a family with six kids, so I’ve deleted some of the details. In general, the host family is concerned b/c they don’t have the work or financial flexibility to deal with yet another rematch.
Dear AuPairMom Readers —
I need some advice. I have not dealt with this issue before and can sure use some help.
Our AP is 20 years old and from Germany with a Kurdish heritage. She is a delightful young girl who does very well with our children. She is prompt, kind, warm- hearted and responsible.
She comes from a family of 5 children. ( she is the 4th child). She has described her cultural and family background as being very strict. At home in Germany they have to be home before dark, they are not allow to sleep over at friend’s house. ll of the siblings live at home the oldest being 25 and the youngest 16, they are not allowed move out until they marry. They are not allowed to have a boyfriend or marry outside of her family religion.
Only two weeks ago she was told that she had to separate from the boyfriend of 6 months because he was not Yezida even though he is Kurdish. Her sister wouldn’t speak to her because she was dating outside of the families wishes. The sister said, if you do not end the relationship I will tell on you.
Our au pair suspects she might be the only Kurdish girl in the AP program.
But here is the big problem:
Our AP’s mother is homesick for her daughter. The mom back in Germany goes into the AP’s empty bedroom every day and cries for hours that she misses her daughter so much. She tells her daughter that she picks up articles of clothing, perfume or whatever is in the AP room to feel close to her. She has expressed to my Au-pair that no one helps her (the mom) and she needs my au-pair to be home.
She relied on my AP for everything, the mother is lonely and so heartened that she is here. The mom has limited resources. She is poorly educated — she can not read nor write or drive. She can not pay bills or venture anywhere without her husband or children. I can accept that the mother may be unable or willing to learn or to manage on her own. But, I am upset about is that the mother asks the Au Pair to return home next month.
Every time my AP speaks with her mother via phone or msn she cries. The mother makes my Ap upset and has her feeling bad about being here. Tonight our Au Pair was in tears again and said she didn’t feel well today. I ask her why and she said it was because her mother missing her so much. My Au-pair is NOT homesick, she has never traveled anywhere and is doing very well here. I think she is very happy to have some freedom and not be under the direction of her family.
I am afraid that the mother will put so much negative pressure on our Au Pair that our Au Pair will return home early. She has been upset about this several times and I think she mentioned it to me several times. Tonight really got me worried when she was upset yet again. Any thoughts?
What can I say to her to help both our Au Pair and the mom?
We have 6 children in which 4 are teenagers and two smaller children. I own a business and so does my husband, so both of us are very busy. We can’t image having to screen for yet another au-pair and upset the smaller children again.
I feel like we have been on a roller coaster with this program. We have alot to offer to our AP’s and not meaning material things. ( yes, they get wonderful perks ). How can I prevent this lovely girl from going back home?
I appreciate if you could post a bit of this to see what kind of feedback I would get from other HP.
Pa Mom of two au-pairs
Photo: Hole in the Heart from EltonHarding. Please check out his beautiful images on Flickr.