I am surrounded (ya know, at a distance) by friends and neighbors who are trying to balance caring for their kids while working full-time jobs from home without any help at all. It is a lot for any family to juggle with daycares closed, nannies sheltering-in-place at their own homes, grandparents staying a safe distance away and partners who also work full-time.
We are very lucky that since our au pair lives with us (as au pairs do), she continues to provide childcare for our family. Although I am on maternity leave right now (which also is a blessing to be counted) the plan was always to have our au pair continue to work her normal schedule so that my 3.5 year-old and my 2 year-old wouldn’t feel a huge impact of change when their baby sister arrived. Instead, their schedule and routines would stay the same and they would roughly get the same amount of attention as they were used to already. But, things have changed.
Day-in and day-out, there are 6 humans in this house who pretty much never leave. (Same, same around the country, I know). The kids don’t seem confused by this but genuinely pleased to have everyone in close proximity. If I could count on them having vivid memories of this time (which I’m sure that I can’t, given their age), I could presume that they would recall it as a great bonding experience with their parents, siblings and beloved au pair.
I couldn’t be more thankful to have an au pair right now. Although I know it is tough on her to be cooped up inside our home, I am so thankful to have her help and companionship during this scary and difficult time. We love our au pair and get along with her so well – having her during this particular time has granted our family a sense of normalcy I couldn’t have anticipated needing as much as we do. The kids still get to see her bright and happy face every morning as predicted, they can count on her for fun and games all day long, and us parents get to enjoy her company, her help, and the routine she brings to each day that would otherwise lack all sense of regime right now. She is a break of warm sunlight in the gray clouds of tension that can be two worried, tired, anxious, parents (handling a newborn and juggling the rest of life) amid a global pandemic. I am also thankful to have her in our house, which means she is not in her own home country that is going to greatly suffer. I feel like in some way, we can and are protecting her as much as we can.
While your au pair continues to support your family, here are some ways you can support your au pair during this difficult time.
Privacy and Independence During Her Time-off
Our au pair has a great set-up, as we have a seperate in-law suite that offers a sense of privacy we couldn’t offer her if she was directly inside our tiny little home. However, if she were, we would still do our very best to make sure our kids did not disturb her during her time-off. Try to ensure your kids don’t barge into her room, knock on her door, or otherwise “bug” her while she is not working. It is important that even though she cannot leave your home, she feels like she can “get away” by having a safe space of her own she can count on to be quiet and alone if she chooses. Maybe even have the kid’s help her make a cute “do not disturb” sign she can hang on her door when needed.
Talk to Her
Ask her how she is doing in all of this. Ask her about her family, her country, her friends. This is such a scary and challenging time around the world. Letting her know, on a regular basis, that you care about her and how she is doing – as well as her family and close friends – will go a long way. Tell her how you are feeling and offer encouragement, support and comradery.
Sharing with her and allowing her to be open and honest with you is a great way to be a support system to her. Go out of your way to let her know how much you appreciate her help, positive attitude, and presence. Let little things go – this is a hard time for everyone.
Respect Her Feelings
This pandemic is hard and scary for everyone. There is no doubt that your au pair could be worried for her own safety, or that of her family and friends back home. Ensure you listen, hear and respect her concerns and anxiety should she have any. You are a prominent pillar in her life right now and she’ll look to you (whether you know it or not) to feel verified and understood.
Give Her More
Ask her if she has ever wanted to take an online class you can help her with by sponsoring all (or some) of it. Or, do the research for her to find a free one. Brit & Co. was offering tons of creative classes for free at the beginning of all of this – and our au pair was lucky to snag a fun class right away! Since then, she has downloaded an app to learn guitar (with the one we have in the house). We totally applaud her autonomy in finding hobbies she can do from home – but if she wasn’t such a self starter – I would definitely try to encourage her to find things she enjoys doing and help her do it. Perhaps it is more reading, writing, crafts, an online educational class, learning an instrument, taking a virtual yoga class or something else. Whatever it might be – do your best to help facilitate it. It will (happily) occupy her time, energy and mind during her downtime.
Make Sure She is Connecting
It is important that your au pair still feels like she has social interaction and a strong connection to others outside your home. Make sure she has the tools to connect with her friends and family in a meaningful way – whether that is lending or giving her an iPad, Amazon Fire, iPhone, laptop or just helping her download apps on the phone she already has. With all the products out there like the Facebook Portal, Facetime, Zoom, Bluejeans, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp – there is no shortage of ways for her to connect over WiFi.
Go Out of Your Way
Before all this began – there might have been a comfortable distance between you and your au pair. She might have done her job with the kids during the day and retreated happily to her room in the evening – venturing out with friends for dinner or movie, or traveling during her weekends off. Now – life is different.
You and your space is all she has – physically. Make sure it is as comfortable, warm and welcoming as can be. Invite her to family dinner, movie or game night (if you don’t do that regularly), offer her a glass of wine and hangout on the couch (if she is old enough and off-duty, of course), talk to her, invite her for a walk around the neighborhood. Ask her if she needs anything special when you venture to the grocery store or order things on Amazon. Go out of your way. Like, far out of your way. Even if she declines sometimes, or every single time, it is the thought that counts. Continue to think of her, consider her and be kind to her in every opportunity.
Give her Leisure
Ensure you aren’t breaking the rules of the program by overworking her just because she can’t leave the house. It is important she still has the same kind of time-off, if not a little more. Also – make sure she has access to screens to watch shows or Facetime/Skype with family and friends. Ensuring she has the ability to “netflix and chill” (or what have you) is important to her mental health!
Make Sure She Gets Out
If you live in a neighborhood that is safe enough for walks, runs or bike rides (i.e. you can stay far enough away from others and your neighborhood is indeed actually safe for all these things on their own merit) — make sure she does it! Offer to go for a walk with her, or to tag along on a family bike ride. Getting fresh air and perhaps some sunshine is good for everyone. Ya know what is even better? Exercise.
It is really easy to be overstressed, anxious, and go into a deep dark rabbit hole of doom and gloom right now. There is a lot of doom and gloom currently out there – or on our horizon. There is no doubt about the struggle and suffering we are all going to endure to some degree. There is a lot of panic and stress about the uncertainty of the time ahead and when the world will be or feel “normal” again. Try to keep these thoughts and feelings to a minimum around your au pair. Although you should be honest and sincere in conversations – when it is possible avoid being super negative, or excessively vocal about your own anxiety regarding the virus, healthcare system and the economy. Share positive stories, thoughts, feelings about life and try to focus on happiness, laughter and smiles – especially around the kids – when it is both genuine and possible.
Remind Her: This Too Shall Pass
This pandemic won’t last forever. And neither will her visa. She wouldn’t be cooped up in your house forever, but probably the safest thing for her to do right now is to stay put. Make sure she knows why the rules are in place for social distancing/sheltering-in-place and remind her that ‘this too shall pass’. We are all in it together. You and her sure are!