The best decisions in life start with just a small moment—a brief window of time where we take a leap, decide to do something bold, or speak up. When it comes to having difficult conversations with people you care about, all it takes is 20 short seconds of courage.
In those 20 seconds, you can be brave knowing that what you’re saying and doing will benefit you in the end. You can take comfort knowing that hard discussions don’t last forever—and that soon enough, you’ll be able to look back and pat yourself on the back for saying your truth and communicating your wants, needs, questions or concerns.
The au pair and host family relationship is often filled with difficult conversations. After all, you’re living together, working together and sharing most aspects of your lives with one another for at least a full year. It’s normal for people who are in close proximity to one another (and in close relationships with one another) to have disagreements or even arguments. But the good news is, there are ways to manage them!
At Cultural Care Au Pair, we get questions and calls every day from our au pairs and host families alike asking for tips on how to best communicate with one another. Over the years, we’ve become a bit of an expert on the subject. We’re happy to share our advice with you.
The only way to effectively communicate is when you are being 100% honest. Holding back your true feelings for fear of how they’ll be received will only cause more trouble in the end. It’s important that you be upfront and truthful about whatever it is that’s bothering you.
It could be the way one of your host kids is behaving when their parents aren’t around—or perhaps it’s a dispute between on- and off-duty time. Whatever the issue is, the only way to resolve it is by being honest.
Your host family cares about you and wants the best for you—they’re on your team! Do your best to keep this in mind when talking with them. It will help you maintain a calm, collected demeanor and will remind you to approach your discussion with kindness.
When you treat your host family in a kind and considerate way, they are more likely to respond positively. The best conversations occur when both parties are considerate of the other’s feelings, and do everything they can to walk away from the discussion with big, happy smiles.
Difficult conversations are difficult because they don’t always go the way you want them to—or because you’re told something you didn’t want to hear. That’s why it’s important to be patient and open-minded in your discussions with your host family.
Be open to criticism and feedback on your abilities as an au pair. And don’t worry if your host family has something they want to talk to YOU about—nobody is perfect and everybody needs to be told what they’re doing right or wrong in a new role. Just remember to be open-minded and accepting of what your host family has to say.
The best conversations aren’t actually conversations—they’re negotiations. They’re filled with back and forth dialogue and, most importantly, compromise. Au pairs tell us that it can be very difficult to approach their host parents with a request. After all, it’s not easy to talk about what concerns you. It’s all about being flexible and finding a compromise.
Just finding the right moment to talk to your host parents can be a challenge, especially if they have a busy schedule. This is another area where flexibility can really help.
Last but not least, it helps to study the way your host family communicates. Getting a better understanding of the way Americans talk and engage with one another will help you integrate better in your host family and tackle tough conversations.
Every host family has a different communication style. Some families deal with disagreement in a very soft way, others are more direct and outspoken, but generally Americans try to be very careful about not offending the other person. As a result, they tend not to respond well to a direct, blunt approach and may seem easily offended. It’s always a good idea to approach disagreements in a respectful, non-confrontational way.
When you are unsure about how to approach your host parents, the best way to get help in the U.S. is to ask for help. Americans have a very charitable and helpful culture. In some other cultures, when you need help, it is customary to state that you need something. Americans do not do things this directly and it can come across as complaining to just tell someone that something is wrong. So, to get the best response from Americans the best thing to do is “ask for help,” rather than tell them you’re unhappy about something.
Talking to your host family can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Maybe you are afraid of coming across as rude or demanding, especially if you are a non-native English speaker. Remember that there are several resources available to help au pairs through these kinds of conversations—from Cultural Care staff, to worksheets and helpful training materials, to your trusted Local Childcare Consultant.