This post was too controversial to be published by Go Au Pair on my guest contributor blog, but I feel very strongly about it so here is the unedited article in its entirety:
In my mind, it was always clear that hosting an Au Pair was the perfect combination of hosting a foreign exchange student in addition to hiring a live-in nanny. As such, we have been treating our Au Pair as a member of the family, inviting her to join us for regular errand running as well as making special efforts to take her to places in the area that may be of interest to her (such as the Mall of America, a local pumpkin patch, etc.) She is invited to our play dates, our dinner dates, our family functions, and every evening after the kids are asleep she sits with us to watch a movie or just to talk.
We greatly enjoy our Au Pair’s (Kati's) company and sense of humor, and I know for a fact that she is very happy here. Even though she’s only been with us for a week and a half, the kids like her, we like her, and we have progressed passed any awkward phases to where we are all co-habituating quite seamlessly. Because both my husband and I work from home and can interact with her all day, our situation is different than most, but even if we weren’t around 24/7, we would make a serious effort to socialize with her and to make her feel comfortable.
Unfortunately from what I hear from her about other Au Pairs, our harmonious situation seems to be in the minority. Apparently, about 40% of Au Pairs end up going through the re-match process which is traumatizing for both Au Pair and Host Family. Our Au Pair has many friends who are also Au Pairs (just as we have many friends who have children the same age as ours), and not every Host Family has the same mindset as we do.
Someone Kati knows has already re-matched because her Host Family was treating her like a slave: not talking to her, expecting her just to take care of the kids, and not taking her word over the manipulative words of their children. Another of her local Au Pair friends is so miserable that she is seriously considering going back home after less than two weeks because the family is treating her like hired help and not taking her feelings or the cultural exchange aspect into consideration at all.
It occurs to me that there was a time in our nation’s past when people were brought here from other countries and forced to work in large, expensive homes (in the south around the 1800’s), and clearly that didn’t work out for the best. Haven’t we learned our lessons from the past?
Frankly, it upsets me that Host Parents could be so insensitive as to traumatize someone from another country, someone who came to the United States to have a cultural experience as well as provide childcare. Not only are some Host Families being rude to another human being, they are not being very good representatives for our country either. If a Host Family is the biggest cultural influence that a foreign Au Pair has, but the family is mistreating her, what kind of outlook will that Au Pair have on our country for the rest of her life? Shame on them.
Of course I realize that hosting an Au Pair isn’t exactly the cheapest option for childcare, but just because you are paying for someone to watch your children, that doesn’t give you the right to treat that person like a slave or like anything less than human. If you are looking for a type of childcare in which you can personally detach from your provider, hosting an Au Pair is NOT for you.
Don’t get me wrong, hosting an Au Pair can be a mutually beneficial experience, one that is supposed to be fun for the family and also an enjoyable for the Au Pair. Before making the very life-changing decision (and I say “life-changing” because it is not only your life you’re changing) to host an Au Pair, you need to make sure that you fully understand the Host Family-Au Pair relationship. Understand that hosting an Au Pair means that you are accepting another person into your family who will share another culture with you and with whom you will be able to share your life and culture as well.
I do realize that Au Pair hosting is often sold to Host Families as cost-effective in-home childcare, but that aspect is just part of the overall package. Aside from the childcare aspect which is self-explanatory and understood, as Host Families, it is our responsibility to make our Au Pairs feel comfortable, to listen to what it is that they want to get out of their experience, and to try our best to help them adjust to our lives, our culture, and our families.
What helped me to keep in perspective that my Au Pair was indeed a person (other than the fact that I would NEVER treat anyone in a service industry as less than human) was that before Kati left from Germany, we received a private Facebook email from her father asking us to take care of his little girl. It was a sobering email, one that made us stop to think about her in a different light than we had been previously.
The simple message that I’m trying to relay is to keep in mind that if you are going to (or are currently hosting) host an Au Pair that he or she is someone else’s precious child, and please treat your Au Pair as you would one of your own. Good or bad, emotions are contagious; if you’re happy and your Au Pair is happy, your children will in turn be happy, and that will set everyone up to get the most out of the Au Pair hosting experience.
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This lifestyle blog is my outlet to share and advise about the things I love. I always have an opinion!