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Communicating with the host family

Communication lines between the au pair and host family should always be open.  In our experience, however, many young Filipinas find it difficult to express themselves, especially if they disagree or want to say no.  There are many possible reasons for this:

  • They want to avoid conflict, and choose not to say anything rather than risk evoking a negative response.
  • They respect elders and authority figures to a degree that makes it difficult to go against a perceived hierarchy.
  • Although they speak English, they feel that they cannot adequately express how they feel in a foreign language.
  • They feel a debt of gratitude to the host family, so they feel they shouldn’t complain when they have already been given so much.
  • They think that complaining might be perceived as being over-demanding or lazy (having bad work habits), and this might push the host (employer) to annul the work contract.
  • They would rather be quiet than risk being reported to authorities.
  • They feel embarrassed about not being able to fulfil an expectation, thinking that the problem is their own inadequacy, rather than the host family’s unreasonable expectation.
  • They need the money to fulfil an important goal, so their own suffering pales in comparison to the needs of others (for example, a sick parent or a sibling going to school).
  • They have no one to back them up and provide moral support.  They are far from their family and friends, and they do not know anyone else who can help them.
  • They have the misconception that an au pair is a maid / servant / domestic helper, who must do heavy tasks for long hours.
  • They believe that life is hard and unfair, and that’s just how it is.  Things cannot be changed.
  • They think they must simply bear any hardship, and if they are patient and work harder, things will somehow get better in the end.
  • They do not want to admit to themselves or their family and friends in the Philippines, that things are not going well, they are not happy, or they are being abused.  There are many possible reasons for this: they do not want others to worry; they do not want others to say ‘I told you so’ for making a bad decision about going abroad; they do not want to dispel the illusion that being in Denmark/Europe means living a wonderful, happy, and exciting life.
  • They mistakenly believe (or are told) that they are of a lower station and therefore cannot complain against those who belong to a higher social class.
  • Like  many other young people, regardless of race, socio-economic, or cultural background, they have not yet developed a degree of self-confidence or self-esteem that would allow them to be assertive in saying what they want for themselves.

Many of these fears and anxieties are unfounded.  In general, Danes value discussion and debate, and are able to maintain professional working relationships despite disagreements.  They want to hear if they had done something that caused offence, so that standpoints can be clarified and relationships can be improved.  On the other hand, there are unfortunately cases where host families see the au pair scheme as a a way to hire a cheap live-in housekeeper without having to pay the mandated hourly rates.  There are also cases where host families treat the au pair as inferior because she comes from a poor country or belongs to a lower social class.

Babaylan DK focuses on helping Filipinas improve their self-awareness, perception of self-worth, and level of self-esteem and self-confidence.  During meetings, we encourage au pairs to speak up and participate.  We want Filipinas to feel that they are not alone, even when they live in remote parts of the country, far from others in the Filipino community.  We want to be accessible during crisis situations, help when we can, and refer au pairs to agencies that can mediate between them and host families if the conflict cannot be resolved within the home.