When your Au Pair confides in you … about something awful

by cv harquail on June 11, 2010

This is a heavy topic for a Friday. Apologies in advance.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe that there are just as many young people who become au pairs to escape something as there are those who become au pairs to find something.

Au Pairs who are escaping are fleeing from acute personal disappointments, painful family dynamics and oppressive social conditions. Often, you’ll have no idea that your au pair has been a victim of one of these situations, or that s/he is fleeing from one of these situations, until s/he breaks down crying in front of you for (what you think is) no reason at all.201006111321.jpg

In conversation with my own au pairs and also with their friends, I have learned about fathers having affairs with sisters in law, uncles being murdered execution-style over land disputes, children being sexually and emotionally abused by grandparents or neighbors, childhood friends committing suicide, children being beaten by family members, teenagers cutting themselves, and self-destruction through eating disorders.

And, lest you wonder which of my own au pairs experienced any of these, with the exception of the uncle’s murder, each of situations was experience by at least two au pairs I have spoken to personally. The world is really that horrible.

Nothing has pushed my protective mamabear buttons as much as hearing these stories from the lovely young women who have been part of our family’s life. I have often wondered how to help, other than by simply listening. I have pondered whether to offer advice, considered whether to follow up with questions, looked for instances to demonstrate that life can be different, and sought out resources ranging from self-help books to counseling to offer them. I have driven them to the doctor, held their hands, and hugged them as they’ve cried.

When your au pair is struggling with difficult news from home, or a local situation that has called up bad memories, it can be hard to know what to do with this knowledge. Maybe some of this pain is continuing to hurt her, and to hurt her interaction with the world.

When I was talking about this issue recently with another parent (who does not have au pairs) she asked me whether, in any of these situations, I thought that an au pair’s experience ever influenced her ability to care for my kids. For example, can an au pair who was regularly “punished” with a belt strap or a hairbrush remain calm and kind when kids are misbehaving?you can make difference.jpg

I firmly believe that none of our au pairs or their friends responded in this way to the children they have cared for. Rather than seeing a direct influence, I’ve perceived (or imagined) something more indirect– an inability to trust, or be open, or believe that you can be loved.

What I have tried to do, in each of these cases, is demonstrate to the best of my ability that there is love in the world, and that there is enough love in the world to help with this hurt. I can’t fix the political situation in Botswana, but I can listen to and believe the fear, and remind an au pair that she is safe here and that she can trust police officers.

I can model (to the best of my ability) forgiveness of my children and especially forgiveness of myself when I completely lose control. I can apologize. I can argue fairly with my husband in front of our au pair and reconcile in a loving way. I can buy healthy food and comment on her lovely personality and not on her physical appearance.

I can remind her that she is strong, and that what happened before doesn’t have to happen when she goes home.

When your au pair has confided in you, what was that like for you?

Did it push your buttons, nudge you to intervene or quietly move you away?

What have you worried about? How have you been able to help?

secret heart from Kaitlin M

{ 77 comments }

juliana June 11, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Very good post! you seem to be a good host mom =]

SBW June 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

This is a hot topic for me and I’d love some feedback, thanks for the post CV.

My AP told me, in a startlingly offhand way, about having been sexually abused as a child by a much older member of her extended family (male). I expressed concern and sympathy, asked some gentle questions, but she didn’t offer much more information. I tried again later, in a gentle way, and again nothing more. She is quite reserved (but a great AP) and I can’t see pressing her to say more nor raising any idea of ‘talking about it with someone’ the way we might in the USA. I feel sad about this and worry how it might have affected her as a person.

But a more pressing issue is this: How do I handle things when her family stays with us later this year, a visit already planned (it was my invitation! argh!) and tickets bought? The offender she told me about is not one of the visitors, but her story–which must have required some denial in her immediate family–makes me not like this family at all. And above all I am concerned that one of the visitors could also be an abuser. So are my kids in any danger from the visit? I don’t know much about sexual abuse in families but I gather that there is a risk factor that if one generation abuses, so might the next.

Asking her whether there was sexual abuse by any of the visitors could be very offensive (imagine someone in effect accusing your beloved father/brother), and even if she said “absolutely not”, I would still be nervous about it. So my plan for now is to be COMPLETELY present during the visit (at some inconvenience to myself), including baby monitors in kids’ rooms.

Am I overreacting? Any other ideas?

NoVA Host Mom June 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm

No, you are not overreacting. You are being a mom. You are having strangers stay in your house. Yes, they are family of your AP, but really they are still an unknown third party.

They will be guests so regardless of your feelings for them, you will be polite and welcoming and cordial. They do not need to become friends with you for you to be a good hostess for your AP’s guests.

It might be offensive, but if you feel you need to ask, then do it. Let her know that you want to trust what she says, but given the information she has shared, you have to be thorough and ask her this uncomfortable question anyway. Remind her that you are not trying to pass judgement on her family or make them uncomfortable in any way, but as a parent you need to determine the safety of your children, and knowing that she loves them as well, you know she will answer honestly.

As far as risk to your kids, honestly there is always a risk of nearly anything, sexual assault, falling down the stairs, whatever. Pedofiles look like anyone else. Is it possible, since you are taking the time off to always be around, to give her their visit as her vacation time? Phrase it in a way of allowing her to more focus on her guests rather than trying to divide her time and attention between your family and hers. If not, then certainly when the family is playing tourist for the day and AP is working, the kids are fine. And I don’t know the age of your kids, but certainly if they are verbal then an reminder of good touch-bad touch could be helpful, along with a reminder to always come tell you any time they feel “uncomfortable” with a situation or person. Use age-appropriate wording.

E2 June 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm

SBW,
We had a male relative of our au pair visit, and I made her take vacation during that time so the male relative would not be alone with my kids. We ended up actually being very comfortable to him. I don’t think you are overreacting at all!

NewAPMama June 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm

But did you tell her before he came that she had to use her vacation time? Because if that was not the case, and this originally did not count towards her vacation time, changing that now is not fair.

SBW June 13, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I’m practically begging her to take extra vacation time when they visit and have made non-subtle suggestions for 2-3-day trips from here. She is not excited about doing that and wants to stay with us and work while the visitors tour.

For my own sanity I’m mostly worried about nights. Will I not be able to sleep, listening for unusual movements or noises.

NoVA Host Mom June 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I think that you need to just give her additional vacation time (above her 2 weeks) and simply make the decision to not schedule her for any hours during their visit. If it will give you piece of mind, then so be it. It is not up to her to establish her working hours.

I do find it odd, however, that you are offering extra vacation time and she is resisting. I can understand not wanting to take trips elsewhere, as I am guessing the family is staying with you to help save money on the visit, so unless you are willing to put them up in a hotel, you need to take the night shift (but the baby monitors are a great idea).

NoVA Host Mom June 14, 2010 at 10:44 am

Sorry, and you should be honest with her about why you may have seemed to change about the guests. Just let her know that you trust her and are not trying to judge, but that you and she both need to do what is in the best interest of your children and that you as the parent must feel comfortable about your children’s safety. Let her know that you know it is likely overkill and you are probably over-reacting, but that you are only going to be more comfortable having males who are strangers staying in the house if this is what happens. Important!: Put it all on you so she does not feel guilty about being honest with you about what happened in the past (sometimes us moms just gotta take the hit for the team).

E2 June 14, 2010 at 12:12 am

Oh, yes. We asked her to take vacation time way ahead of the visit. She was being vague about whether or not she’d actually take the vacation, so we talked with our local area director who talked with her about taking the time off. She had only a month left in her stay and had not taken any vacation yet.

Should be working July 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I have a big, and ugly, update to offer on this story: AP recently told me about having been beaten up, frequently, by her father growing up and as recently as last year. He also beat her mother and at least one of her brothers. These beatings included kicking her while she lay on the floor, punches, and belts, plus at least one threat with a knife. Part of the very tearful conversation about all this included her resignedly saying that she deserved some of it because she had been so rebellious. I reiterated firmly and many times that no child deserves any physical punishment no matter what they do. I explained that some kids who are abused come to think that they are responsible because it is so important for a child to feel connected to parents that the child would rather take responsibility for being victimized than to lose their sense of dependence on and love for their abusers. A little over my head here with the psychology, but I wanted to emphasize that it’s not her fault, and yet it’s normal that she would feel like it is.

In this context I flat-out asked if her father ever sexually abused her, and she said no. But she did detail some of the beatings–and how her mother told her not to call the police, because it wouldn’t help anything.

These people are coming to visit and stay in my house in a few days. I told AP that if anyone does anything remotely threatening or injurious that I will call the police. (And honestly, I would be delighted to do so.) She assures me that the father is charming and nice to ‘outsiders’ and I believe that–she was sure that no one suspected that there was such violence at home.

I’m so sad and disgusted. She said she never told anyone before about all this. I told her that I have seen therapists in my life to talk about terrible things, but this is not anything she was interested in.

Melissa June 11, 2010 at 4:48 pm

This is a very interesting topic. One of our former APs disclosed to me that her boyfriend back home (who she was still in a serious relationship with, at the time) once hit her during an argument and treated her in a very controlling way, from what she described to me (jealous of her friends, told her what to wear/not to wear, need to know where she was at all times, etc). I felt very torn, because on one hand I certainly wanted to try to help her see herself in a more positive way and have the self-respect and confidence to realize that it is just not ok for someone to treat her that way. She was a smart, honest, caring young women and certainly deserved much better than that. However, I was also frustrated and worried because of the lack of her good judgment and self-esteem that this seemed to demonstrate. I did have other concerns about her judgment as an AP – long phone calls while working, not knowing that she had to take her cell phone (provided by us) with her when out with kids, etc. Nothing major, so far, but this revelation just seemed to support my concerns and didn’t help my image of her. Also, the boyfriend would call our house ALOT, sometimes 7 or 8 times in the span of 10 minutes (we could see on the caller ID it was him and I generally didn’t answer if she wasn’t home, thinking he would have the sense to then call her on her cell) and sometimes at odd hours. It drove us, and especially my husband, nuts, but she didn’t seem to realize that there was anything wrong with this and we had to have multiple conversations with her about it. I wanted to be supportive and a good listener for her, as she didn’t have a strong friend network and she was more of a emotional support for her mother than the other way around, however, I also didn’t want to blur the lines too much between “friend” and “HM/employer”. She was a good AP, but often needed direction or coaching and I feel like it would have been harder to have those ‘feedback’ conversations if I became too much like a friend or substitute mom. In the end, she would up breaking up with the guy, thankfully. In part, due I think to the increased confidence that she developed during her time in the U.S. and the knowledge that she could make it on her own and that there was a world of opportunities out there for her. Last I heard, she is teaching overseas somewhere, hopefully single or in a healthy relationship.

Anna June 11, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I don’t know if it qualifies as awful, and this is probably a request for a similar topic.
What if your au pair tells you something after arrival, that you feel should’ve been disclosed earlier, on her application or during the interview?

One of my au pairs said she doesn’t have a boyfriend. When she was here, she said she had a long-term boyfriend, but broke up with him for a year to come here, just before leaving.

Another au pair told me that shortly before becoming an au pair, she completed a program in a weight loss clinic to get to the normal weight (she was clinically obese before). Applications do have a question about past medical conditions etc… hers disclosed nothing of the sort…

Another au pair was on BC pills yet the line in her application where it asked whether or not she was on any prescription medications, said “no”.

All of those might not be huge deals, and far from awful, and not influence the year together at all, but still feel to me like … I think I ought to have known…

former au pair June 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I think that the line for prescription medicine is often intepreted (by both APs as doctors) as only refering to medicine the AP needs because of a certain medical condition. This usually does not apply to BC pills. My personal opinion on this is that there is no reason why an au pair should mention that she is on BC pills, but I know that there are different opinions on this topic and I accept those other opinions.
Sorry for going off topic a bit.

aria June 11, 2010 at 5:59 pm

To be fair, none of the situations you mentioned above sound like anything an AP would maliciously keep away from you… though I don’t know specifics. What I mean to say is that I see how they can be rationalized, if in a sort of “lying by omission sort of way.” < Which I guess is your point!

Also, the BC point you brought up actually really caught my eye- maybe this is dumb, but since you mention it, I never thought of that when answering a question about being on prescription meds!! Yikes. So I'm pretty sure I'm also guilty of that one!!

Anna June 11, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I agree, those were not malicious and relatively minor. Two of those girls were my best au pairs ever! But, I can see a case where some things could become a problem… Like the boyfriend back home who was broken up with for a period of time… They did get back together briefly when she returned after her year here. It is not something that would prevent me from matching with this girl, but I think it would be more honest to say, yes, I had a boyfriend but we’ve just broken up, instead of plain “no”.

kat September 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm

well surely when you ask whether she has a boyfriend /which is a very personal question anyway/ you cant expect a full history of her past boyfriends surely?! if you need to know that – ask specifically that!

Amelie ex-aupair June 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm

I would tell my HF about anything concerning my medical history or about any medical conditions I might had… (I told them I had very severe respiratory allergies, for example, and that my mom and grandma had breast cancer)

But honestly… I was on the pill when I travelled to the US to be an au pair (I’m on the pill since I’m 18, I’m now 25), and I took them during my whole year there, but I didn’t feel like it was their business to know.

That’s quite personal and, in my opinion, totally irrelevant.

Host Mommy Dearest June 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I agree. I was on the pill in college and I didn’t tell my mom about it and wouldn’t have written about it on some application. I consider myself a very honest person, but I would consider my contraceptive choice no one else’s business but my own.

anonmom June 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I understand an au pair’s desire to keep her personal life personal- but knowing as a host mom that she is on any form of medication birth control pils included is important should there be an emergency. We had an au pair- never sick in her life aside from colds, etc, who ended up needing emergency surgery. I knew she was on bc piolls, and that was helpful, as she needed some medication during and after the surgery. Just something to keep vin mind- there are other reasons to be on the pill aside from birth control- eg: acne, regulating periods, etc.

NewAPMama June 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

With all due respect, Anna, I do not believe that the aupair who completed the weight loss program was under any obligation to disclose that, unless it was something as drastic as a gastric bipass surgery. People who are that overweight are most likely embarassed, etc. She might of felt that that was something in her past that she moved on from (by losing the weight she demonstarted a need for change), and thus didn’t feel the need to tell you. I don’t blame her. Unless the program was mandated by the doctor, it’s not really a medical condition. And as far as the aupair who was on contraceptive pills, that is not exactly your buisness. It is something very personal and private. While she may become a member of your family, during matching, you are a virtual stranger, and may not be comfortable giving intimate details like that. If she was on an anti-psycosis drug or something of that nature, that would be different.

MommyMia June 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I agree with you, NewAPMama and Amelie. I’m always amazed to applicants list BC pills, because I don’t consider that relevant. Now, if the AP suffered from severe PMS symptoms or was debilitated two days a month due to severe menstrual cramps, I would consider that relevant, because it could affect her performance (and I would wonder why she wasn’t on BC pills to lessen the severity of those symptoms, which is, in fact, why many non-sexually-active young women do take contraceptives! And newer pills allow you to only have a few periods a year, which is something I wish were around in my younger days!)
sorry to continue off-topic, cv

Anna June 11, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I agree those things are minor. That’s why I phrased my post as more of a question. I don’t care if my au pair is on BC pills, but in this country it is prescription medicine.. so maybe the agencies can clarify this question, that the answer to it excludes contraceptives. In this country though, it will cost her a lot of money out of pocket to refill it, and if I don’t see any prescription medicine mentioned on her application, I will not tell her to take enough supply with her for a year to avoid potential huge expense.

About the weight loss program – could go both ways, but my au pair’s case it was serious and under doctor’s supervision, and she did start gaining weight back quickly as soon as she arrived here…

MomAnon June 11, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Anna,

Once upon a time I would have said that the weight issue would not be an issue for me, but now, based on a bit of experience, I think differently. I think obesity can indicate an au pair who has self esteem issues, embarrassment about her body, food issues, etc. all of which one might not want passed on to one’s children. I don’t think that I would reject an au pair because she/he were obese, but I think I would probe a bit further in the interview if there was an indication of obesity. I think a weight loss program is a medical issue that should be disclosed.

Anna June 12, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I agree with you on this point, and think that of all the issues I mentioned in my post, this is the one that should’ve been disclosed.

When she arrived, she did display some strange eating habits , and she was the only au pair we had who dressed inappropriately when working with children. We ended up in rematch after 3 months because she did have issues that made me unable to trust her with the kids when no adult was home… Whether or not they were related to the weight problem I don’t know, but I do feel I didn’t have the whole picture.
We are also a super-health and diet-conscious family, so to us an active (not necessarily thin!), like-minded au pair is a huge plus, if not a necessity.

NewAPMama June 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Actually, women can get contreceptive pills at Planned Parenthood for as low as $20 a month, so it is not that much of an expense.

Anna June 11, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I didn’t know!

NewAPMama June 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I work at a very progressive highschool, and so this kind of information is made available to the student population.

Chev June 11, 2010 at 10:28 pm

^That’s good to know, when i extended i got my mum to fill my BC prescription back home and bring it over with her so i would still be good for the rest of my time here.

OB Mom June 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

My only experience with disclosure of awful stories came when I was telling an AP that we needed a rematch. She had difficulty connecting with me, DH, and the kids and didn’t interact with us much at all. After a couple rounds of constructive conversations and peptalks, I had finally “had enough” so told her that we needed to rematch. She then said “but I can’t go back home! People have done bad things to me there and because of that I have a really hard time trusting people and getting to know them”. I was in shock, while she didn’t exactly say she had been abused, there was some type of undercurrent there.

Looking back, she was incredibly pretty and many men (the letchy Dads all >25 years older than her) would often try to talk with her, and her discomfort with them and the attention did suggest there was some sexual abuse somewhere in her history. I felt really bad then, but realized that her problems could not be my problems … I had given her several chances and mutual trust is the most important part of a AP/HF relationship. She did move to another family, but within a few months that ended and she went home. Some people aren’t meant to be AP’s and escape is not the solution to their problems. I just hope that she can get the help she needs to deal with whatever demons are in her past.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 11, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Our first AP’s uncle and cousin were gunned down in a revenge shooting. Even though we had no money, we offered to pay for her flight home to attend the funeral, but she refused. So all we could do was be willing to listen if she wanted to talk about it. As a child she had been through the most of all my APs, and yet she was the most kind-hearted and capable of taking care of infants. I don’t think abuse = abuse. If it did, the world would be a pretty awful place.

I’m the HP that APs come to when they have STDs, but HD is the softer-gentler parent, and the one APs tend to pour their hearts out to when they are working through problems. I tend to handwash the wood floors on the 1st floor every couple of weeks thanks to The Camel’s ability to launch her meals when she thinks she’s choking, and ironically that’s went most of my APs have poured their heart & soul out to me.

And yes, ladies, if anything happens to you during your AP year hear, Planned Parenthood is the place to go – fees are on a sliding scale, and a good clinic will not moralize. And for HP whose APs are on the Pill – personally, my opinion is better that they are on the Pill than not. I assume all my APs are sexually active – I’d be more worried if they were not, quite frankly!

The bottom line – I try not to tell my APs what to do (although it hasn’t worked this year), but to think about what their options are and what is best for them.

Calif Mom June 12, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Yes, PP is terrific source for straight information and respectful discussion of important matters.

However, PLEASE remember, host moms and APs alike, that BCPs do not protect you from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases! (Gonorrhea is on the rise in US cities. HPV is something to be aware of, too, and decide if you want the vaccine.)

And, for smokers or people with family history of blood clots, BCPs are a *terrible* idea. So don’t fib to the doctors or nurses! ;-)

Aupairgal June 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I would say this is up to the discrepancy of the host parent to talk to an aupair about this, but STD’s are not as common in many (not all) western European countries as they are in the States.

NYAuPair June 11, 2010 at 11:05 pm

WOW – that’s all I can say. Reading your words brought tears in my eyes..you mention something that I really missed over the past year with my hostfamily.
I don’t have a difficult background – but yes, there were situations I was down. And YES – you could read it on my face that I’m down. But NOBODY in this family had the warmth to try to help, to try to make me feel better, even with a little hug.

It’s a gift you have, you seem like an incredibly sensitive, warm and toughtful person to me. It’s wonderful to read the words you write!

some Au Pair June 11, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Not every host family is strong and loving enough to care also for there Au Pair. I am really thankful that there are some warmhearted families who make the life of there Au Pairs a bit/a lot better.

franzi June 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

isn’t it amazing how much value just a hug, or a kind word can have? my first host family was very cold hearted and i did have to get used to that. the first time (still in the rematch process) that my then to-be host grandma saw me, she gave me a big fat hug. and i cried for an hour just because she had the warmth and personal ability to care.

this is a suggestion i have for all host parents, also those who want to keep a more distanced relationship to their ap: show your ap some warmth. a gentle word, a hug, a warm and genuine smile can do very much for your relationship and the ap’s feeling of being welcome in your family.

NJMom June 12, 2010 at 6:47 am

All of my AP’s have disclosed various things over their year but the worst was probably our first one. She had grown up in Bosnia during the war and had seen a lot of bad things. Luckily where we lived was a relatively safe area but she remembers being driven away by her aunt in a car and watching her mom and baby sister staying behind. They were evacuating her first because of her age. Then her father turned alcholic and physically abusive. MY AP was the protector of her family and ended up getting a black belt in TaeKwon Do in highschool. She took her anger toward her situation and family and made it positive. She was extremey attentive and loving toward my kids as well as hard working so I never worried (OK, maybe a tiny bit) but I really don’t think that she would have done anything to my kids. She would lament, after watching my husband hug and kiss my girls, how much she had missed out by having such a nasty father. That broke my heart. I just listened to her and encouraged her to NEVER be in a relationship with someone who hurt her. I think she learned a lot about healthy marriages here. My second AP also had an alcoholic dad (not abusive though) and he eventually died from it. She was less careful in her boyfriend choices but luckily kept it outside our house. I have always been careful to review discipline strategies with my AP’s upon arrival because they have never been exposed to “time out” concept and may think it’s OK to use berating language. They have all been highly coachable in this regard.

anonmom June 12, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Here is a jump off question- what about ‘disclosing’ to your AP something you believe they should know? We had an AP who did not have anything listed medically aside from glasses ,etc. During her year, she exhibited symptoms of Parkinsons disease or some other neurological disorder. At first, it was not as noticeable, but as the year progressed if was much more apparent. Another mother (a nurse) noted it and asked me about it, as did another parent with medical experience. My husband and I spoke about it- it did not affect her abilities that year- but she did have hand tremors, head tilted and looked almost like a bobble head (don’t mean to be funny-) but we felt it was not our place to say hey- you may have a dfebilitating life threatening disorder, get it checked out. She never disclosed anything medically- I even asked her about her medical history under the guise of another excuse. At the end of her year, I basically suggested that she make an appointment to see her dr for a check up. Just figured I’d throw this in there along the lines of disclosing personal information!

Amelie ex-aupair June 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

What about things the family should inform the AP before arrival but they don’t?

One girl I know only discovered she was suppose to take care of a boy with autism when she got to the family’s house (she wasn’t prepared, couldn’t deal with the kid, and it ended up in a rematch).

What about your family you HP tell or don’t tell your future au pairs?

AnonMom this time June 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

there is one thing I didn’t tell one of my future au pairs, that some might think I should’ve. I was pregnant when matching once, but very early in the pregnancy. I had a history of many pregnancy losses (many more than I have children), so I didn’t tell the au pair I was pregnant. I didn’t even tell my current au pair at the time that I was pregnant.

The au pair switchoff occured when the pregnancy was about 12 wks…… My departing au pair didn’t know – not from me (but turns out later, did know, because she heard things, but she was very discreet). I told my new au pair when I was about 16 weeks pregnant.
Sadly, I lost that baby at 20 weeks pregnancy… So in the end it didn’t affect her year here. But we did have another young child (under 2), so she was infant-qualified.

Next year we were planning a pregnancy, and we did tell it to the agency (because we needed to match with an under 2 au pair just in case we have a baby during her year), and we did tell the au pairs we interviewed with that we were planning to get pregnant.

Jan June 14, 2010 at 7:35 am

I am so sorry about your loss. I am guilty of the same thing – I didn’t tell our future au pair that I was pregnant because I was concerned that I would have another loss. I think you have come up with a good solution in saying that you are planning on getting pregnant.

Poor AuPair July 9, 2010 at 12:40 am

I match with my family with 2 boys, 3 and 5 years old, first thing my HP told me when they pick me up from the airport, we are having another baby… 3 months later the new baby were girls twins!!! I don’t really think they found out that morning she was pregnant, but maybe for fear that I don’t accept the job anymore, cuz they really needed someone…

SotaGal June 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

One thing I know I have a hard time communicating during the interview is when most of our family time takes place. We have an 8 year old and 3 year old twins so most any thing we do together on the weekend takes place in the morning. I always just assume that au pairs know this, but I guess if you haven’t lived with young kids you probably wouldn’t know this. I also forget that the US is different in that many other countries do things so much later in the day. Our kids eat dinner early in comparison, dinner by 5:30 then bath and bed by 7:30. With twins we have become slaves to our schedule and I do manage to make that well known. I need an au pair that can stick to the schedule, not loose track of time at the park only to forget lunch and naps.

MommyMia June 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I agree, our structured, scheduled time for young kids is often not understood by AuPairs and it can be tricky to get them to realize the importance. I don’t mind if they don’t want to join us on weekend mornings because they’ve been out late the night before, but that does mean they miss out on some fun activities that we do at that time, too. (They also may not realize just how early some young children wake up in the morning, and we try to keep the noise level subdued, but I’m not going to ask the kids to tiptoe around just because the AP sleeps until 11 or noon!) And our kids’ bedtimes do seem early to many of the APs we’ve hosted, but they should learn that naptimes for little ones and enough sleep for grade-schoolers is really important to their development and their mood, which affects everyone in the house!

Taking a Computer Lunch June 13, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Earplugs make a great stocking stuffer, or even an item in a welcome basket.

Az. June 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I wish someone had pointed that out to the parents of the four year old I looked after – despite them having a strong opinion on just about every other aspect of parenting, he regularly went to bed at 10pm or even later! And he refused to have a nap the next day! He was constantly cranky and demanding and when I brought up the issue of naps with the host parents they just said “don’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do.” Grrrrr!

Sota Gal June 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Wow, I live for our kids’ naps…. I am a huge believer that sleep begets sleep and I cringe at the thought of the day our twins will no longer nap. IMO, a 4 year old should not be the one to make those decisions. Sure, he can choose clothes, park to play, whats for lunch or whatever but someone needs to be the adult on the sleep front. My brother was like that with his kids and they were miserable to be around. They wouldn’t even put their kids to bed when they were little, they’d just let them play until they crashed on the floor.

Aupairgal July 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Plus you just have to take naps in the afternoon if you live in Austin. Except for swimming it’s too dang hot to anything else!!

Taking a Computer Lunch June 13, 2010 at 11:02 pm

While my typically developing child was a regular sleeper, he stopped taking naps between 2 and 3 (boy did I miss them on the weekends, but then I realized I only saw him on the weekends and started to enjoy the long days) – but we had a long quiet time with him in the evening starting at 7 that invariably resulted in us falling asleep while we read to him. We lived for the couple of hours in the evening without him, but that required a great deal of concentration and organization on our part, and I must say, not every parent has it in them.

The Camel, on the other hand, is an erratic sleeper, and until she went on a microdose of Prozac regularly screamed through the night, ripping her hair out until her scalp bled. Her brother shared a bedroom with her for three years and as a result can sleep through just about anything. Our APs got earplugs. HD and I got the nightshift. The Camel was grouchy, ill all the time, and slept like a stone at irregular hours night and day. HD and I could not control any of this (not saying our situation is anything like the HF you experienced, but not every child comes with a good sleep clock. Fortunately our APs understood this.)

Wheelchair Bound Mom June 13, 2010 at 4:56 pm

[[Note to all— This specific example now has its own post…. after reading the comments in response to this one, go over to the new post and join the convo there. Thanks! cvh]]

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 June 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm

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.

Chatelaine Mom June 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

When I was an exchange student in France, it turned out my host mother had MS and was wheelchair bound. We went everywhere in adapted handicapped buses, very interesting– if limited– way to see a new city. She taught me how to cook, or perhaps I volunteered because I sensed she needed help, and thus developed great French macrobiotic cooking skills. I loved her dearly. She could be very angry at times, leaving me wondering what I had done wrong many years after– it seemed I had said or done something tactless, but this was easy enough to do, since no one talked about her condition or really explained what was going on. I think more information is always helpful. I may be an exception– I turned into a professor, I do like information– and I find that our au pairs have often preferred to ignore the information I provide, which is OK. I like that you show them pictures, that sounds like a great way to do some casual disclosure with being aware of their initial information overload. But finding occasions for more information *along the way* is more important than it may appear on the surface.

NewAPMama June 13, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I personally feel like you should tell them in the rematch. If you are showing them photos that have you in a wheelchair, they are bound to wonder why. I know if I saw the mom in a wheelchair, my first thoughts might be that she might be more of a burden than a help. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings. I think you should just be honest, and tell them what you just told us. That it doesn’t affect their job, nor does it define who you are. I would rather be told something like that straight from my employer/host mom than find it out through their old AP who may or may not give correct info.

Az. June 13, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I agree. It wouldn’t automatically mean that I would pass on your family, but it’s one of those things that I would like to know in advance.

NewAPMama June 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I’m sorry. I meant in the matching/interviewing process. lol. Not rematch! :)

Wheelchair Bound Mom June 13, 2010 at 10:22 pm

If my prospective AP is thinking I need to be a physical help to her, she is for sure not the right match. If she’s wondering if I am going to be helpful in other ways, or if I might be a burden to her, I really think my former APs are the best ones to answer that. Yes, they may get info about my medical condition wrong, but they certainly can answer questions about how (or if) it impacts day to day life as an AP in my family, which is what the prospective AP needs to know anyway. I disagree that finding out the info from the wheelchair bound mom as to the impact on the AP is better, as many HFs lie about how life is in their house. I would think getting info on how things really are from past APs who have been with us one year each would be more useful to an AP. My point of view might be biased. I don’t think it is similar to TaCL’s scenario, since the AP is not caring for me and we don’t require any special needs qualifications. Yes, my medical condition is very visually apparent because I am in a wheel chair, but I think there are many scenarios of medical conditions or otherwise out there that are less obvious, have more of a pronounced impact to the AP, and are more easily and frequently actually hidden from au pairs. Frankly, I prefer to live my life focusing on what I can do rather than what I can’t do, so I sort of refuse to focus on that topic as there are many other, better topics to discuss both during matching and after they arrive/during their year here.

aria June 14, 2010 at 8:12 am

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 June 14, 2010 at 9:25 am

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 June 14, 2010 at 9:35 am

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 June 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

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.

aupair21 July 9, 2010 at 5:39 am

I think maybe if I was the au pair you were matching with and you didn’t really talk about it in the interviews, I would perhaps feel like it was something that should NOT be spoken of and I would perhaps be afraid to mention/ask about it or be afraid to create awkward situations.. I dont know, I think you should mention it, but not make it a big deal.

NewAPMama June 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

“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 June 14, 2010 at 10:57 am

I didn’t think I argued, I thought I expressed my unique point of view and opinion that may be different from yours. I appreciate your input, even if I don’t always agree with it. Isn’t that ok? I would still like to express my opinions, even if they continue to be different from yours. Just because I don’t like some of your advice doesn’t mean some won’t get incorporated into my approach or it won’t influence me in some way. Did what I wrote really warrant your response about me not asking a question?

NJMom June 14, 2010 at 10:39 am

Does it get discussed at any point? If not, I would say this is like the elephant in the room problem. You seem to have developed a philosophy and way of coping with this which is positive (i.e., not letting this rule your life) so why not discuss this philosophy with them? If not during the matching, then do you discuss it upon their arrival?

NewAPMama June 14, 2010 at 11:02 am

If you choose to feel that way, then so be it. But I think most people see that you are repeatedly trying to argue your point, to the point of comparing acne to a disability. You asked whether or not you should inform an aupair of your disability, and we said yes. Yet, you continue to “share” your opinion on why you feel you don’t need to. That is generally called arguing. But, thanks to the First Amendment, you can continue “sharing” your opinion.

Wheelchair Bound Mom June 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

ok, sorry.

CS Nanny June 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

Having traveled a lot around the world, I have seen the conditions a lot of disabled people face outside of the US. We are fortunate here that most buildings, public transport, etc., are handicap accessible. Sadly, in a lot of other countries, this is not the case. A disabled person does not enjoy the same quality of life. So, if you aupair comes from one of these countries, she may not realize that you will not hinder her ability to do her job, or require special help. I am sure you are very independent, etc., and I really admire your attitude. Hearing all that from you, and telling her/him about the strides the US has taken to insure (almost) equality for the disabled will help her understand you, your family, and the American culture in general.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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 June 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm

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.

Wheelchair Bound Mom June 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I wanted to drop this, but in rereading you implied that I said people with acne have a disability. I do hope that it was clear that my comparison was to show that I think acne is purely a visual thing, and the only impact to the AP of me being in a wheelchair is the visual that she sees when she looks at me. I’m sorry if you already took my comparison that way and took offense anyway.

Wheelchair Bound Mom June 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

I agree, thanks for your supportive comment.

Mumsy June 14, 2010 at 4:29 pm

In late February, we matched with our new au pair who will be arriving in our home in July. A couple of weeks later, I found out that I have cancer and was rushed into chemotherapy as the cancer was immediatly life threatening. While trying to deal with all this, I also had to worry about what our new au pair would do once she found out that she would be coming into a situation that was very different from what we had represented.
In the end, I waited a month before emailing her the news so that I could have some idea of how our lives had changed and so that I could tell her exactly what it was that would be different. I offered her the opportunity to speak to our current au pair about the situation as well as to the agency’s local counselor. I also offered her the opportunity to back out of our match. I would not have been too disappointed if she had backed out as I felt that we were offering her something quite different from what she had signed up for.
Her reply was astoundingly mature and well thought out. She had obviously thought about how she was going to cope with me being in chemo and the new dynamic in our home. She proactively volunteered how she saw her role differently and explained to me how she would need to step up more than we had expected her to (before we knew about my cancer). I think we have matched with a real gem.
Our current au pair has been with us 100% of the way through this life changing experience and has really stepped up to provide additional support in every way she can. She has been so very supportive – just what you’d expect from a member of the family.
Even before the cancer diagnosis, we have always been very transparent with au pair candidates and have set out our high expectations upfront. This helps us sift through the mismatches and find the right person for our family. I think it’s important to set expectations and to give them a good sense of what they are in for – the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. That way, they can make an informed decision when it comes to matching. I expect the same honesty and transparency from the candidates – I have found most to be forthcoming.

cv harquail June 14, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Mumsy,
That kind of response from *anyone*, much less someone who doesn’t really know you all yet, is pretty encouraging. And, how wonderful that your current au pair has responded to the situation by being even more supportive…which is what you’d hope would happen if anyone in the family (you or her) needed help.
My experience has been that people generally ‘step up’ if you expect the best in them, so that if we expect our au pairs, kids, spouses, etc. to find a way to make it work, they usually can. But this will be a tough adjustment for you all.
Are you recovering well from the surgery and finding ways to rest and get your strength back between treatments? I’m hoping so. (I think I’m allowed to speak for the group and say) We’re all wishing you well and sending (our own particular versions of) good wishes and/or prayers. cv

Mumsy June 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

CV – thanks for your good wishes. I am doing very well and although I am not yet “out of the woods” I am on the right path.

Morgan June 25, 2010 at 6:16 am

Hello
I had a similar case with one of the two aupair girl I had.
I talked about this issue with my aupair agency respecting the aupair girl’s privacy. They really gave me good advice on how to deal with it. And thanks to them the rest of the stay was great for both the aupair girl and us.

cv harquail July 8, 2010 at 6:59 pm

SBW,
One of the best things we can ‘give’ our au pairs is a sense that they can get past horrible things in their lives, and that there are people out here ready to listen and support if they/we can. I also like to think that, not only when we are at our best but also when things are at their worst with our kids, we can still model for our au pairs a better way to manage family tensions. It’s good for her that you can tell her that being beaten isn’t ‘normal’, and it’s even better to show her a home where violence is simply, clearly, absent.
cv

Marie Therese September 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Absolutely excellent article, the topic is kind of heavy though.. I am 20 years old and I just finished my au pair year with a very lovely hostfamily in beautiful California. First, I need to say I wish there would be more people out there like you or my hostmum. Throughout my year I formed many friendships with other au pairs. And some of them had the same problems as you mentioned in your article. They fled from poor countries with poor conditions, had personal problems like depressions and self cutting behaviour. These au pairs also tried to find support in their hostmums.. ineffectual.. what happend after the au pair explained her feelings and fears? The hostparents asked for transmission to get a new au pair..
On one hand I can understand the hostparents. They consider their kids as their very first priority and dont want to risk any kind of irritation to them which influences the childs development. But on the other hand, I think we need to start to help each other and start to be more human in order to live a life in harmony!

Host Mommy Dearest September 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Marie, while I agree we should try to help each other, & of course living life in harmony is ideal, it is not realistic to expect that support from a host mom is going to resolve a friend’s depression or mental illness. In my experience, all the love and support in the world along with some of the “best” professional help out there may not be able to resolve depression. Those professionals warn that loved ones may do all they can to help, but the depressed family member or friend may still take their own life. I wouldn’t leave a mentally ill loved one responsible for my children for up to 45 hours per week, nor would I leave my children with a mentally ill AP for 45 hours a week, no matter how much I loved her. Taking care of children is very stressful, and a mentally ill person needs professional help and not the stresses of being an AP. It seems like it would be in the best interests of the HF, the kids and the AP if she took care of only herself for a while, so it actually makes sense to me that the HF would want a different au pair. I really hope your friend, either through the agency or her family or friends, was able to get some professional help.

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