February 8, 2019
Growing Up as a Host Kid
Au pairs help parents raise confident and culturally-curious children.

Former host child Lauren Dunne from Hopkinton, MA loved having au pairs while growing up. It’s a good thing, too, since her parents enjoyed hosting them so much that they welcomed a whopping 14 of them over the course of 10 years!

You see, Lauren has an identical twin sister—and when the two of them turned five years old, their parents decided that something needed to change. The Dunnes were working full-time, and knew they needed reliable but flexible childcare for their twin girls. While comparing the cost of daycares in the area, they realized their options were both expensive and inflexible.

So they researched the cost of an au pair. They were delighted to learn that the cost was fixed, regardless of how many children they had and their ages. “They knew that welcoming an au pair would be an adjustment,” says Lauren. “But it allowed my parents to have more flexibility at work. My mom ended up traveling quite a bit while we were growing up, and if we didn’t have au pairs, I don’t think she would’ve had those opportunities to further her own career.”

From the time Lauren and her twin sister Courtney were five, until they turned 15, they had au pairs from all over the world—Sweden, Germany, Mexico, the UK, Poland and more! According to Lauren, each and every year with an au pair was different and special in its own way. She remembers her au pairs were always there to greet her after a rough day of school, or to gossip with during their teenage years.

British au pair with host children

British au pair doing Lauren’s hair

Her au pairs would often help her and Courtney get ready for school dances, play board games with them on snow days, and drive them to gymnastics competitions. “It always felt like we had a ‘cool older sister’ at home who actually wanted to play with us,” says Lauren. “That was my biggest takeaway. I felt taken care of by my au pairs in a very loving and meaningful way.”

Of course, cultural exchange was a big component of Lauren’s au pair experience growing up. Her au pairs were always welcome to bring their friends to dinner or to family gatherings—so they had the chance to meet many, many au pairs over the years. The opportunity to meet new people from all four corners of the world broadened the Dunne family’s perspective, and turned them into global citizens and culturally-curious people.

One of Lauren’s favorite memories of cultural exchange at home was when she was 8 years old. She woke up one morning in December to discover that Santa had come early! It turned out to be her German au pair, who was introducing them to the tradition of Sinterklaas—a custom on December 6th every year when St. Nick comes to your home and leaves oranges, gold coins, and candy in children’s shoes. “I was very happily surprised,” says Lauren. “It was an especially lovely and memorable experience for my entire family.”

German au pair with host children

Lauren and her twin sister, Courtney, with their German au pair

For the Dunne family, having their au pairs’ families over for Christmas or New Years was an another amazing part of having them in their home. Their Polish au pair, Monika, had her family over for Christmas one year and stayed with the Dunnes for several days. “Monika’s parents did not speak any English but they were both brain surgeons, so my dad insisted on having Monika translate an elaborate conversation about their work over Christmas dinner,” recalls Lauren.

“That was a very special Christmas and to this day one of my favorite memories of having an au pair. By the end of dinner we all felt like best friends despite the language barrier.”

For most host children, the benefits of an au pair stay with them for the rest of their lives—and Lauren is no exception! Thanks to Lauren’s au pairs growing up, she is unafraid as an adult to overcome communication barriers in creative ways. As a kid, Lauren and her sister didn’t have Google Translate; rather, their au pairs and them would often laugh and smile awkwardly until they could understand each other.

“I also think I’m far more patient because I understand that communicating with ESL au pairs can be challenging at moments, and that you’ll need creativity and humor to get past it,” says Lauren. “From a very young age, I learned how to give directions to my au pairs and help them navigate the complicated backroads of my small town.”

“To this day,” she continues, “I still rely on my teacher mentality in most situations that could be frustrating to others.”

Today, Lauren works as a Matching Specialist for Cultural Care Au Pair. Her job requires her to navigate tough situations and language barriers with au pairs and host families every day. It’s her experience as a host child that she credits for her career path—and even for some of her experiences in school.

“I have a deep appreciation for those who leave home to live in an unfamiliar place,” says Lauren. “This is not easy and every au pair is very courageous for taking this leap of faith. I think it’s helped me overcome my own homesickness when I’ve spent time away from home.”

“I’m also an advocate for helping ESL students,” she says. “Throughout college I mentored and tutored ESL high-schoolers who were expected to succeed in the same way American students were. I don’t think I would have had the sympathy and appreciation for the challenges they faced had I not had au pairs.”

Having au pairs throughout her youth turned Lauren into a fearless traveler from a young age. She didn’t see exploring other cultures as scary, as so many others do even into adulthood—instead, Lauren saw it as an opportunity to make friends everywhere she went.

Swedish au pair and two host children

Lauren and Courtney with their Swedish au pair

When she was 15, she boarded a plane with her sister and traveled the Netherlands for three weeks. Lauren credits her au pairs with giving her the confidence and passion she needed to make that journey. Growing up with au pairs made her excited to explore the world and understand the unique perspectives of different cultures. It even inspired her to major in Anthropology so she could focus on cultural diversity and globalization! Lauren now has an even deeper curiosity to understand and empathize with people from different places, and every day, she looks forward to moments in which she can diversify her own perspective.

Thinking back, Lauren realizes that having au pairs provided the flexibility her family needed in order to be successful both at work and home. “My au pairs were always empathetic and extremely caring when I was arguing with my parents or sister—and they created that ‘older sister mentality’ that helped me feel supported in my day-to-day,” says Lauren.

For Lauren’s parents, they knew she and her sister were cared for. According to Lauren, her and Courtney were generally very happy to spend afternoons and evenings with their au pairs—and this, of course, reassured their parents. They always took comfort in the fact that they were leaving their children with someone who wasn’t just a childcare provider, but a trusted friend and extended member of the Dunne family.

Even now, the Dunnes keep in touch with their au pairs. Between social media and annual holiday cards, they’re able to stay in one another’s lives and continue to feel like extended family scattered across the globe. While they haven’t gone overseas to visit any of their former au pairs yet, Lauren loves the idea of an au pair reunion. “One of my old au pairs, Jeanette, actually lives in Minnesota now. She has two children of her own now, so I’m excited to visit her one day and see her adorable family!”

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