I was having coffee recently with two new au pairs. Both were doing well with their host families but not without some stumbling blocks. As we discussed the importance of differences in styles of communication and child rearing and stressed the “American” way of doing things, both (one from Germany, the other from Colombia) sat there shaking their heads as though to say, “yes, yes, I see that.”
Both these women have lots of experience with kids in their own country so were somewhat surprised at feeling challenged and appearing less than competent. The woman from Colombia told me, “…in Colombia we say ‘stop’ to a child and the child stops. Here I say, ‘stop…stop (a little louder), STOP’ and still they don’t stop!” She indicated that she’s learned to be “more flexible” with American kids, stressing the positive, giving options, and not using a loud tone of voice. The German woman told me that she finally realized (she’d only been here 2.5 weeks) that “…at home I was the child. Everything was done for me. I was always the child. I continued acting like the child when I arrived at my host family’s home and then one day, I looked around and thought,’ I’m not the child here; I’m the adult!’” An American might say, “well, yeah, what did you think,” but I wonder how much better we’d do if the roles were reversed. Would we be able to move into a stranger’s home, listen all day to a foreign language, bond with the kids immediately, gain control of all situations. Would we be able to “hit the road running?” My guess is NO!
So, let’s applaud these young women who take such a leap and trust that the net will be there.