August 17, 2012

Leaning in and letting go: adjusting to a new au pair

2 minutes
Advice for host families

You have taken your role as a parent very seriously. You read all the right parenting books, fed your child all the right foods, and enjoyed every developmental milestone. You have spent countless hours researching the best childcare option for your family. Hours, if not days, have been spent on preparing your application, finding an au pair, and now the long awaited day has arrived. Finally you have your au pair in your home.
After the initial honeymoon period with your family, things start to get real. You notice that the au pair has a certain way of handling things that is not exactly your preference. She is not “doing things your way” and although she is not harming the children it still bothers you to some degree. How do you address it without coming off as overly critical? Is this something that you can let go of? Or is it something that needs to be addressed immediately to avoid any future discomfort?

In my experience as a psychotherapist, parent, and previous au pair coordinator, it seems that often the minor struggles with having someone new come into the household have to do with the ego getting in the way. As the parent we know what is best, right? If the child is still successful with a different approach does that mean yours was not the best way to handle it? I have found that we feel the need to control especially when we are fearful or apprehensive about something. We become attached to “being in charge” to quell the waves of our own inner turmoil. In order to sort this out, we must first be in tune with our own true feelings about sharing our most important job in life with a total stranger. Once we are honestly able to separate what is our own personal dilemma and what is truly a parenting issue, we can begin to guide the au pair in a different direction.

Open communication is the key to everything. I strongly recommend that families have weekly meetings and discuss concerns in a solution-focused and supportive way. Waiting until you are angry is never the most optimal time for communication. I have found that au pairs will often do things in the ways they have been taught. They are generally open to doing things differently if they have the information they need to do it as you expect. If you enjoy a specific parenting approach or parenting expert, share that information with your au pair. Send them to courses if it is very important to you that they do things a certain way. Let go of the things that are not a big deal to you. The more the you model acceptance of the au pair’s style, the more accepting the children will be of her and the happier your au pair will be!

Lisa Bravo
Program Counselor, Cultural Care Au Pair