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My bad Au Pair experience - and how I coped with it

by MarinaReading time: 4 min.
My bad Au Pair experience - and how I coped with it
We are really happy that a former Au Pair reached out to us to share her story when she heard about our mental health month. Marina (we changed her name to protect her privacy) found a Host Family in Switzerland through an agency and experienced a very bad Au Pair year. Read here how her situation became worse and worse until she collapsed. Thank you Marina for your courage!

Every Au Pair year is different: sometimes these days can be full of fun, joyful moments and new discoveries but sometimes they are full of sadness, homesickness or annoyance. When I found out that the team is launching a month of mental health, I wanted to share my difficult experience working as an Au Pair, since I believe that we can help each other if we open up to the world and share our difficulties. I would like to think about it as something like the #metoo movement, but among Au Pairs – a place, where more and more Au Pairs can openly talk about their problems and be sure that they will receive support.

Now I think if I only knew more then, maybe the price would have been lower…

Extending my Au Pair experience

My story began when I decided to extend the Au Pair program for another year (I worked as an Au Pair in Germany) and found a Host Family from Switzerland through an agency. I met the Host Mother and she seemed to be a very nice person - she asked me questions about my life, talked about her children and their everyday life. I felt that the family was good and decided to stay with them.
The very first morning in the Host Family, I got a slap in the face from a Host Child. Instead of asking the child to apologize to me, my mother said that I myself was the cause for the child’s behaviour - the child was simply not used to my actions. I did not know how to react as this happened to me for the first time.
Now, looking at the situation from the grown-up side of myself, I understand that this was the first red flag. In our society, the victim’s accusation is very common. Why didn’t she leave? Why didn't she just say no? What prevented her from defending herself?
Well, I can tell you precisely - when you are a young Au Pair, living in a foreign country and in a foreign family, it is very difficult not to believe that the reason of all the bad things happening to you is due to yourself, especially when you perceive adults as authoritative people. The child gave me a slap in the face - you were too assertive. Did I yell at you? You put things in the refrigerator in the wrong order. This kind of behavior was the foundation of everything - starting with childcare and ending with household chores.

I couldn’t do anything right

Not only the Host Mother, but also the Host Father acted the same way. No matter how hard I tried - and God knows, I tried - I always did everything wrong. I wanted to behave correctly so much that I completely forgot about what was right for me.

At that time, I became closed up, and when we had nice meetings in the apartment with friends I just fell asleep - my nervous system perceived this place as safe and tried to rest somehow. I felt depressed, it seemed to me that there was a stone in my soul and every day it became bigger and bigger - and one day this stone crushed me. We cooked dinner, talked well with the Host Father, when I suddenly scattered tomatoes - and this man started yelling at me as if I had broken an expensive crystal vase.

My nervous breakdown

I did not sleep well at night, and when I woke up in the morning, I realized that something was wrong with me. I could not open my eyes, I did not want to eat, and my voice wasn’t working anymore. I thought I got a cold and told the Host Mother about it. She allowed me to stay in my room where I spent the whole day, lying on the bed and just staring at the ceiling, without any thoughts in my head. For the whole week I felt like a zombie , slept a lot and ate very little. The worst thing was that I did not understand what was happening to me.

I decided to share the situation with a good friend of mine (he was much older) and he told me that it was a nervous breakdown. He made sense of the behavior of the parents and I could understand why this happened. Thanks to him, I realized that this was ongoing psychological violence, but most importantly, I realized that I would no longer allow myself to be treated like that.

You can only change yourself

I would like to say that everything went better then, but the fact is that you cannot change another person. I could not change my Host Family’s behavior, but I could change myself so I began to ignore their screams, no longer took everything too close to my heart, generally tried not to take everything they said too seriously. I realized that their problems were not my problems and I did not bear any responsibility for their reactions.

To everyone who reads this text, I would like to remind you how important it is to listen to your feelings, to your reactions and not to listen to those who say that you or something within you might be wrong. Please, remember that you yourself are the most important person in your life.
We thank Marina for her courage to share her story with the Au Pair community! Next week we're going to talk about the different types of eating disorders and how to deal with them as an Au Pair and as a Host Family.
Dealing with the Host Family’s petsby Sammy-Jo on 01 Oct, 2019Read More »
Eating disorder as an Au Pair - What to do?by Julia on 10 Oct, 2019Read More »
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