How to help your kids adjust once an au pair or caregiver leaves.
Au pairs can become a big part of your kids' lives and the bonds that are formed can often be compared to that of a big sister (or brother) to the children.
When a non-family member comes into your family’s life in such a way that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without having them around, saying goodbye is hard for everyone involved.
Read more: 6 lessons I learnt as an au pair
6 true confessions of an au pair
As a former au pair, I dreaded the thought of having to say goodbye to all of my au pair families who I was fortunate enough to become close with. I know that for the parents and kids, it wasn’t always easy, especially on the last day, but I’m thankful that my relationships with all these families were meaningful enough to leave me a little bit teary on my last day.
As your au pair’s departure date approaches it’s important to start preparing your kids for the adjustment period, so that things can run as smoothly and normally as possible from then onwards.
Here are some ways to help ease everyone into the transition;
Have a 'weaning-off' period
Towards the last few weeks of the au pair's contract or working period, discuss shorter hours with your au pair. You'll probably have a new caregiver who will take over once your current au pair has left; try and overlap their hours. If she usually works an eight hour day, try negotiating half days in the last month and slowly decrease the number of hours spent with the children each day. My last au pair family had me do more errands and admin for them than childcare during the weaning off period. It was a great way to keep up my hours and still get to see the kids.
In my final few days I would see the kids for a couple of hours a day and spend the rest of the time doing the family's grocery shopping, helping with the family-business or running other errands like dry-cleaning and stocking up on things I knew they'd need in the next few weeks (nappies, wet-wipes, the kids' favourite treats etc).
Talk about it
Kids perceive things very differently to adults. They usually know when something's up or when something is changing and they can be extremely sensitive to it.
The biggest mistake is to not be honest with your kids and to prolong telling them until the last day. In my case, the parents and I were open with the kids and explained to them that I was going to be starting a new exciting job and adventure, and in the end the kids were excited for me (and still are) and understood that I'd still be around to visit (just not as much)
It's also important for the parents to maintain open communication with their au pair, and for every one to stick to the same plan leading up to the last few days. This prevents potential melt-downs and major upsets from happening once the children feel the change in routine.
Keep it light
I personally don't believe in big, good-byes and a grand finale on the last day. While it's good for everyone to accept the change and to have some form of grieving, try and prevent the situation from becoming overwhelmingly emotional.
Perhaps acknowledge the departure by doing something as simple as a family lunch out with your au pair, or tea out in the garden. Your au pair will probably be feeling all kinds of emotions too and will want to stay strong and composed for you and the kids.
If you want to do anything special for your au pair to take away with her, a photo-compilation or picture frame is a meaningful idea, but save it for afterwards. I remember the last day of my last au pair job well and even a hug would set me off. The parents were also emotional so we tried to keep everything light-heated and as normal as possible. Try save the sentimental gestures for after the kids are in bed.
Plan a distracting event to break the pattern
If possible, try and time your au pair's departure with the school holidays so that you and the kids are able to have something else to look forward to once your au pair has left.
Plan an exciting family outing, or even a trip away to keep the kids occupied and their attention away from the big change at home. Kids are very resilient and you might notice changes in their behaviours (bedwetting, tantrums etc) once the au pair has left. Be mindful of this and be caring without allowing bad habits to become a real problem.
Some other ideas to keep the kids distracted;
Rearrange their rooms. Make a big deal about moving their bed to the other side of the room to get them excited about something.
Visit relatives. Grandparents are always comforting and kids look forward to these visits.
Plan an outing to the park, aquarium, beach or somewhere that stimulates a different focus.
New books. With every au pair family, for me, there was always once book that was read over and over by the au pair and no one else. It might be a good idea to reserve reading that book for after the kids have adjusted and settled back into their routines and replace it with a new book in the meantime.
Keep in touch
If your au pair isn't leaving the country, offer for them to come over for tea and a visit the weekend after they leave. This helps reassure the kids that their former au pair hasn't vanished from their lives completely or abandoned their bond.
It can be tricky for kids to understand that the au pair will have to leave again and not come back in the morning like they used to, but reassure them by explaining once again, that she will be visiting again from time to time.
Throughout my years of au pairing I've been very lucky and blessed to have been able to remain close to all of these families. Not everyone will understand the real bond that is formed between an au pair and the kids but when you spend enough time with any family, it's hard to call it a job when the bonds you form are often stronger than the bonds you have with your own family.
How do you help your family adjust once someone close has left?