November 13, 2013

How to navigate the holidays with an au pair

2 minutes
Cultural exchange

The holidays are a magical time of year, but they can also be a stressful time.  You may be preparing for travel or visits from friends and family, cooking elaborate meals, planning gift lists, and shopping for the kids and other loved ones.  It can also be a bittersweet time for au pairs who are thinking of friends and family who are far away and missing the comforting holiday traditions of home.
Before all of the holiday planning gets too hectic, take a moment to consider how to make the most of the holidays this year and avoid some frequent pitfalls of the season with your au pair.  We’ve compiled a few tips to make this holiday season full of happy memories.
Discuss your holiday plans and traditions
Traditions that seem completely normal to us may be surprising and new to au pairs.  Remember that this is likely to be their first experience of Thanksgiving, and be sure to use this opportunity to discuss the meaning of the holiday with your au pair.  It can be a great opportunity for kids to participate, and perhaps for them to teach their au pair something new.
Be specific when it comes to your plans for the holidays, so that au pairs know what to expect.  Explain how you celebrate the holidays and who is involved, so they know something about the other friends and family members they may meet.  Let them know if your plans include meals, outings, religious services, or other activities and whether the au pair is invited or expected to attend and how they can help.  Be clear whether they will be “on duty” for childcare, or a guest, and how they can participate.
Set expectations about time off
Since the holidays often mean regular schedules are disrupted, remember to discuss your au pair’s work schedule specifically, and decide in advance when he or she will be expected to be on duty.  Recognize that your au pair may also want to spend some time with friends, so ask for an RSVP to any of your family plans in advance so you both know which ones your au pair will attend and when your au pair has other plans.
Create some guidelines for gift-giving
Gift giving can be especially stressful for both host families and au pairs.  It’s a good idea to come up with some ground rules for gifts ahead of time, to relieve some of the anxiety.  For example, set a budget of $10 per gift, and encourage your au pair to give homemade or free gifts as well.  For example, your au pair could make a book of coupons for some of your kids’ favorite activities.
Help with homesickness
Au pairs may need some extra TLC during the holiday season.  Encourage them to set aside time to keep in touch with their families and friends back home.  At the same time, it’s important that they feel involved in life in the USA as well.  To that end, you might encourage them to contribute a favorite dish to your holiday meal or get them involved in decorating the house or other family activities.  Simply talking about what they miss about holidays at home and helping them to get excited about the new experiences they will have can help as well.