Au pairs often reach out to me to discuss concerns they have. The first question I always ask is whether they have brought it up to their host parents yet. The answer is normally no. I suggest to them to bring it up at their next routine check-in meeting with their host parents, because host parents can’t help with problems they don’t know about. A surprising number of au pairs tell me that they have no such check-in meetings with their host parents and many say they never even had them in the beginning of the match.
A lot of communication takes place via text. It is difficult to understand the intended tone of text messages and this can lead to miscommunications. This is especially true when you add in the fact that English is not the first language of most au pairs. There are subtle nuances in language that have positive and negative connotations and it takes many years to learn those things. When speaking face to face, we can see someone’s facial expressions and body language and that helps us understand what they are trying to communicate.
I realize many host parents have demanding jobs and are stretched thin, but these check-in conversations are important for a successful match. The biggest thing is putting that time on the calendar and sticking with it.
With au pairs living in their host family’s home and in many instances having two host parents, they often feel outnumbered and powerless. Many au pairs have a very hard time bringing up concerns to their host parents. And when host parents don’t ask how an au pair is feeling or how things are going, they often think the host parents don’t want to know.
Why is it important to create this open communication environment?
- Good communication strengthens your relationship with your au pair.
- It tells your au pair that her feelings, wants, and needs matter to you.
- It’s easier to address problems when they are small.
- It creates a less stressful/awkward environment in the home.
- It reduces the chances of a rematch.
Bonus Tip: If you cannot say yes to an au pair’s request or need to ask them to deviate from their normal schedule or duties, it’s always a good idea to give a brief explanation. Without any context these kind of situations can lead to assumptions and hard feelings, when there may have been a simple, reasonable explanation.
Image: John Benson (Flickr)