Au Pair friendships are an often-overlooked factor in a placement. Sometimes, when we get caught up in our own lives and our own problems, we can tend to forget that our Au Pairs really need to have a life outside our homes. They need friends outside of the family dynamic.
We as Host Parents can (and should) try to make our Au Pairs feel like a part of the family. But every family member (our Au Pair or one of our children) still needs peers to relate to in order to be happy and maintain a healthy outlook on life.
“Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder”
For many of us, it’s been quite a few years since we were in our 20’s. But even now as adults, we still seek friendships with people our own age who are in similar circumstances. After some time spent with a close friend – away from family (or my children), I always feel energized. I see my children with fresher eyes… I mean, you can’t miss them if you never leave them.
It’s the same for my Au Pair and her friendships. When she comes back from time with her friends, she always seems happier and more excited. She heads straight for the children even though it is her time off.
The separation is something every person needs and should not be taken for granted. Au Pair friendships can help with this; time away from the Host Family is normal and healthy.
Not only is it good for your Au Pair, but time apart can be therapeutic for both parties. Everyone needs someone with whom they can vent experiences, problems, thoughts, and feelings. Often, when Au Pairs get together, they begin to realize they aren’t alone. They can talk about any issues with the Host Children or Host Parents, big or small, without judgment.
Talking is Healthy
Generally speaking, most Au Pairs are women, and in many circumstances, women just need to be able to talk about a problem to feel better, even though they really aren’t looking for an actual solution. Even if your Au Pair is griping about you (which, by the way, she probably is) to her friend’s sympathetic ear, it is healthy for her to be able to talk about her feelings, and it only serves to help you.
After a recent get-together with a friend, our Au Pair shared with us that her friend has some issues with the Host Mom about the weekly stipend. I encouraged her to have her friend speak with the Host Mother.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: Communication is everything in a successful hosting relationship.
Encouraging open sharing and working through issues is something I try to promote. I want other Host Families and Au Pairs to have a great year, just as we are experiencing.
Why would anyone on either side want to be miserable for a year just because they couldn’t communicate effectively? Sounds silly to me.
Host Parents Can Help Cultivate Au Pair Friendships
Au Pairs vary greatly in how socially active they wish to be. Some, like mine, are “homebody”-types, while others go out nightly. If it’s been a while since your Au Pair left the house to be with friends, or if your Au Pair doesn’t seem to have many friends, you may need to intervene slightly.
Remember, the dynamics of Au Pair friendships can vary, but the value of a good friend can’t be underestimated.
When I start to see that it’s been a while since my Au Pair has interacted with friends, I ask if she wants to invite anyone over for dinner. Or I ask, “What’s so-and-so doing this weekend? Are you getting together soon?”
You never know the reason. Maybe your Au Pair is hesitant to go out or have a friend over. Maybe she’s scared to ask to use the family vehicle, or maybe she doesn’t know how you feel about her having friends over.
If your Au Pair comes from a culture that is more reserved and shies away from open communication, as a Host Parent, you might need to encourage her along the way.
It also helps to show that you’re interested in your Au Pair’s friends. Inquiring about their lives, their host families, and their host children is an easy way to start a conversation about friends. If your Au Pair has a friend with host children the same age, maybe play dates can be arranged.
Our Au Pair’s friend has brought over her Host Kid on several occasions for play dates. I highly encourage the interactions and relationship, for both my son and my Au Pair.
Au Pair play dates can serve to socialize children and can break up the monotony of an Au Pair’s weekly routine… All good things… All good things.
I’ve Gotta Be Honest…
I find that dealing with the friendships of young adults can be very frustrating for a planner like myself. Case in point: last Friday, I asked my Au Pair, “Are you doing anything this weekend?”
“XYZ Au Pair wants to do something, but she doesn’t know what or when so I don’t think so,” my Au Pair responded.
However, the next morning, she springs on me, “XYZ Au Pair wants to pick me up at 2 to go to the mall.”
“Will you be home for dinner?” I asked.
“Can I tell you at 4?”
Okay, let’s just pause right there: I plan out my meals for every week the Friday before so I can make one efficient weekly trip to the grocery store. Having her tell me an hour before dinner if she will be home is not acceptable to me, and I told her as much.
To which she replied, “I’ll just eat at the mall.”
The making of last-minute plans and the changing of plans totally drives me insane, and if I have planned a meal for someone that decides at the last second she will not be attending, that also annoys me.
Then, of course, there is the confusion of… Who is driving? How far are they driving? Will my Au Pair remember to communicate to me when she has arrived and when she is headed back home?
(I know I’m a bit of a control freak, but I also feel as though I’m responsible for her while she is staying with our family… That, and sometimes she is also in possession of one of my large, expensive possessions… our vehicle).
Even So, I’m Here to Help Her
I’m not sure why people in their 20’s seem to have such a hard time planning ahead. Maybe it’s just my Au Pair’s friend, maybe it’s not.
But, regardless of the extreme annoyance that accompanies any planning with Au Pair get-togethers, I still try to encourage the separation from the family and the social interaction that she needs.
It’s always a good exercise to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Doing that occasionally with your Au Pair can only help you in your understanding of her situation and her needs as a person. Friends are an invaluable resource for anyone, and Au Pair friendships are something we as Host Parents should try our best to encourage and foster.