We all want to be generous, and we all want to be appreciated.

And, there’s nothing like having a third car for your au pair to use to make you aware of the tension that can exist when you want to be generous and want to be appreciated.

When we bought our first Volvo wagon to give our precious new baby a fancier, safer “ride” than my 8 yr. old Nissan, we decided to hold onto the Nissan and use it as an “Au Pair Car”. Like the archetypal “station car” in a John Cheever story, the Nissan was intended only to get you there and back safely. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, but it ran well, was safe enough, and was in great shape.

Our first au pair drove respectfully and safely, as did our second, third, and fourth au pair. It wasn’t until our fifth au pair made a right turn from the left lane and smashed the front fender into someone else’s that the car started to look kind of junky. And it wasn’t until our sixth au pair that the third car was taken for granted.carkeys.jpeg

Up until that sixth au pair (who was in every other respect a FABulous au pair), I really loved having that third car. It seemed like a nice ‘carrot’ to tempt a desirable au pair. It relieved me of having to coordinate my driving plans with my husband’s or the au pair’s, and I was never blasted out of my seat at ignition by a radio set at high volume and tuned to a heavy metal station.

Quite an assortment of benefits!

But, when I discovered that our sixth au pair was driving to another state to follow her boyfriend’s band, explicitly and implicitly ignoring the rules about car use, I realized I had let it go too far. I had traded that sense of “one less hassle for mom” into “just another thing I’m supposed to have. And I can use it as I darn well please, thank-you-very-much.”

So, we had to set up few new practices and rules. Here are some of the things we did, and that you can try, to reduce the sense that the “third car” is something your au pair is entitled to.

We changed the way we talked about the “Au Pair” car.

1. We stopped calling the third car “the au pair car” or “your car”. We started referring to the car as “the silver car”. [Also, my husband and I trade off who drives which of the other two cars when we are home, so we don’t have a situation where one car is “Mom’s” and one car is “Dad’s”, leaving the third car implicitly to be the “Au Pair’s”.]

We began to vary who drove the car, so that it wasn’t always and only our au pair who drove it.

2. I started driving “the silver car” occasionally when it was last in the driveway or just more convenient (as long as I wasn’t putting out our au pair. It was and is still critical for her to feel that she is more or less free to come and go when she’s not on duty.)

3. I put a car seat in the back seat, and another spare car seat in the trunk. This was in part to make it possible for the au pair to take the kids somewhere in the silver car in an emergency, in case my husband and I both had taken the other cars with their car seats. Although our au pairs almost never took the girls anywhere in the third car, the car seat was another kind of reminder that this car was for the extended family, not just for the cute single girl and her friends.

4. When Grandma & Grandpa came to visit, they got dibs on the silver car too (never when our au pair was off duty). I paid for their gas. This way, the car was used as an ‘extra car’ for whoever needed it, and the need was negotiated. This helped make it less hers alone, and more like the 3rd car.

We asked our au pair to take a little more responsibility for car.

5. Also, we made it a practice to have our au pair take her car (oops, I meant) the third car out of the driveway in the morning to park it on the street, to continue to re-park it on the street when she went back and forth during the day, and then to pull it into the driveway last thing at night.

This helped me and my husband not have to be car jockeys when we needed to get out of the driveway in a station wagon, and it also made the station wagons easy for the au pair to use for the kids when she was on duty.

6. We asked our au pair to take the car to get its oil changed and to check the tire pressure… in her on-duty time.

While this tactic might seem like a way to have the au pair take ownership for the car (and it may have done that) this was intended to encourage her to think of the car as something that cost money. We didn’t ask her to pay for the oil changes (we paid for that and other maintenance) but we did ask her to pay to have the car professionally washed and vacuumed. (Of course, when my parents in law came, I took the car to the carwash myself.)

We treated the car like an expensive and valuable family possession, not like some hand-me-down.

7. We reinforced the rules for using the car. We had always had the car curfew, a weekly mileage guideline and limited travel radius (7 miles around our house… including the nearest two malls but not including New York City). We began to be more consistent about applying these guidelines.

8. Also, we set up some guidelines around car-pooling with other au pairs so that other au pairs didn’t take advantage of either our au pair OR the third car. We didn’t want our third car to into the au pair clusters’ taxi, with our sweet au pair expected to drive everyone else. More on that in a forthcoming post.

9. We made it clear how much the car cost, and discussed it as an ‘on the job benefit’.

Grunge car

We told our incoming au pair how much the silver car was worth and how much extra it cost us to have a third car insured with an under-25 as the main driver. That really helped establish the car as an “extra”, that we paid for it, and that it wasn’t something to be taken for granted. (Check the post on the cost of having an au pair to see how much this nets out to.)

Being Generous & Being Appreciated

Despite the fact that having a third car for our au pair is pretty generous, I’m sure that any au pair can find someone else with a nicer material situation. (Be sure to read the post on avoiding the “Amenities Arms Race” and the competition with other host families.)

We live in a town where there are many au pair families wealthier than ours, whose au pairs drive expensive SUVs and never pay for their own gas.  But there are also au pairs driving clunkers, sharing a mini-van, and riding the bus, the train, and the bike. For every au pair with a fancier ride, there’s another au pair who’s glad for a lift to Target and who is happy to chip in for gas.

There is often a tension between wanting to be generous and wanting to be appreciated… for both host parents and au pairs.

This tension doesn’t have to be resolved just by managing the use of the spare car(s)— we can be generous in other ways (comfy room, occasional latte, a flowering plant on a rainy day) and ask that the privilege of a car be appreciated.

Ultimately, there are au pairs who will feel entitled and au pairs who will feel privileged. Happily in our family, we’ve had 9 au pairs who appreciated and enjoyed what we have been able to provide for them, and only two that behaved in ways that would have embarrassed their moms if their moms had only known.

It’s important to remind your au pair and yourselves that while there will be host families for whom the cost of a third car is nothing, for some of us that third car is an extra expense that is hard to justify.  We are now in the process of selling that third car, and so things will be changing in our family. With my husband commuting by train and my desire to reduce expenses, having a third car just so that I can avoid the hassle of negotiating who gets a car on Saturday afternoon (with two kids at soccer and an au pair off duty) seems like too much. But I’m ready to work on that.

For starters, I’m trying to make sure that I offer the material things that we can afford, and be even more generous in ways where money is irrelevant.

Are there other ideas that you have for helping your au pair appreciate the privilege of a third car? Do share…

Here is the original query from CT Mom:

How do you deal with use of the car when there is a 3rd car? We have a 3rd car, so obviously there is no need to “share” the car. Our current au pair is new (our last one just ended her year with us) so we’d like some ideas so this doesn’t become an issue this year.  For those with 3rd cars, please share your car rules! Thanks.


Au Pairs, Don’t Even THINK About Driving For Uber

by cv harquail on January 18, 2017

When I saw the first mention of this in the comments several weeks ago, I was surprised.

Au Pairs driving the Host Family car as a second job?

What Au Pair would even presume s/he could use the Host Parents car to drive on off-duty hours to earn some extra money?

carsWith the Host Parents’ car?  You know, the car that’s worth thousands of dollars, that costs thousands per year to maintain and insure? The car that’s a lifeline for the family and the Au Pair? The car that’s a privilege, not a right?

I sent the commenter an email asking for “the rest of the story”, but imagined that there really wasn’t much of a story to tell.

Then today, I received this email:

I recently rematched my au pair, for many reasons (lying, falling asleep on the job, complete inability to cook or drive, etc.). When she returned her smartphone, I found messages on it showing that she had signed up to be an Uber driver, using my car!

The good news is that I never allowed her to drive my car, because I had her evaluated by a driving instructor when she first arrived. She got the lowest possible score on every single skill on the driving evaluation. Still, she was planning to take driving lessons at her expense (I don’t need a driver for the kids), and she clearly planned to work for Uber or a similar company in the future. My insurance doesn’t cover driving for Uber, so it would have been a financial disaster for me if she had gotten in an accident while doing so.

Have other host moms run into this? I never thought I needed to include “no driving for Uber or any other commercial purpose” in my au pair handbook, but I certainly will now!

Au Pairs, if you are thinking this just might be a way to earn extra money — forget it.  

There is almost no way that an Au Pair could meet the requirements for an Uber (or Lyft) driver. A driver must be:

  • 21 years of age or older with 3 or more years of US driving experience
  • Or, 23 years of age or older with 1 or more years of US driving experience

Beyond the age & experience requirement, though, the insurance requirement is something that an Au Pair just might be able to meet.

An Uber or Lyft driver has to be listed by name on the insurance policy of the car. (Most of us put our Au Pairs on our insurance policies, of course, if our au pairs drive our cars more than once a month or so.) So, an Au Pair who was older (23+) and extending (with 1 yr US driving already) and who was on the Host Parent’s car insurance policy could conceivably sign up…. but oh, what a bad idea.

What a bad idea.

Au Pairs should not be working jobs other than their Au Pair hours. It’s against the State Department regulations, and it muddies their relationship with their Au Pair responsibilities.

See: 6 Reasons why your Au Pair should NOT work a second job

And, Au Pairs shouldn’t be putting miles on the family’s car(s). It is expensive to maintain a car, and expensive to repair a car, and these costs fall to the Host Family.

See:  6 Ways to Limit the Au Pair Car to Protect Your Au Pair
The 3rd Car: Avoiding a sense of entitlement

Seriously, are there really Au Pairs who’ve driven for Uber?

If so, we might want to start mentioning this in our Handbooks…..


A prospective Au Pair from South America emailed last week– she has applied to be an Au Pair with Cultural Care, but hasn’t found a family.   She’s wondering — is there anything about her video that might be turning families off? Is there anything she could do to improve her video?

I don’t want to set up an expectation that I’ll post candidates’ videos on Au Pair Mom — but — I think that, this once, it might be interesting for us to talk about what’s in this video, and what we might also be looking for.

What do we really want to see in an au pair candidate’s application video? 

This candidate’s video is quite nice. It looks like someone with good camera and editing skills helped her with it. (Note all the shots where someone else is capturing her actions– and how well framed everything is.) I don’t believe that videos need to be this polished in order to be effective.

A few things I really liked where the scenes where she is playing with her dog (meaningful to me, since we have a dog that we want any au pair to love), and where she is coaching the cheerleading team.

My one concern I won’t mention yet– let’s see if anyone else picks up the same one. ( In any case it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker.)

watch here: 

I haven’t put the candidates name or country here, to help keep the conversation a little more ‘just between us’ on the blog.

Here’s a snip from her email:   I started the  process over 8 months ago and I don´t have a family yet. I’m really worried  because I was hoping to travel to a Host Family in March.  I think my profile is really good and I have the experience.  Please watch my video and say to me if there is something wrong. Thanks!

What do you all think?  What would you suggest?


How to Make the Most of the #WomensMarch on Washington or Anywhere: Tips from Feminist Activists

by cv harquail January 13, 2017

In a rare bit of cross-posting, I want to share with you something I wrote for my consulting blog at FeministsAtWork.  I know that not everyone in the AuPairMom community is interested in progressive US politics, so for some of you this post won’t feel personally relevant.  However, since all of us stand to benefit […]

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Finding an Au Pair: Too Much Detail in Our Host Family Letter?

by cv harquail January 3, 2017
choosing an au pair

When it comes to writing the materials you use to find and match with an Au Pair, I’m all for being comprehensive. I’d much rather lay it all out for a candidate (and for myself) so that s/he can make an informed choice about whether or not to pursue an interview with us. I’d prefer […]

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Can Foster Parents Host Au Pairs?

by cv harquail December 31, 2016

Over the transom comes a very rare email — one with a question we’ve never addressed before!  Good way to start things up again, methinks. A Foster Mom writes: I was recently told by an agency that they are unable to work with our family because we are foster parents. We feel discriminated against. Is […]

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Intervene, or Not? Our Rematched Au Pair is Misrepresenting Herself to Potential Host Parents

by cv harquail December 13, 2016

We always, always recommend that Host Parents get current references when they consider rematch candidates.  This Host Mom’s situation explains why. Dear Au Pair Mom —  I’ve trying to figure out whether, and how, to interfere in a situation that I’m sure will become a problem. Our first Au Pair was a epic fail.   […]

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Au Pair Scam: Latest Example

by cv harquail December 13, 2016

Hi Folks– Ever wonder what “Au Pair Scams” look like?  We remind Au Pair candidates to never, ever send anyone money to secure their place as an Au Pair, after only exchanging emails.   While many international recruiters/ au pair agencies will place ads and send emails to find potential au pair candidates, NO REPUTABLE […]

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I Want To Marry Your Au Pair. Do You Mind?

by cv harquail November 29, 2016

I love, love, love romantic stories. Especially when I have some inside scoop. Though I have no idea who the fellow is who emailed with this question, I’m only posting it on the condition that we get THE REST OF THE STORY and at least a photo of the happy couple. But first, Romeo needs […]

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Our New Au Pair is Too Quiet: She Hardly Says A Word

by cv harquail November 28, 2016

We’re enjoying a visit from one of our former Au Pairs, and a friend of hers.  Although both of them speak English well, I’m aware once again of how challenging it can be to interact across language differences, as well as cultural differences, and even family norms. With communication challenges, I always prefer it when […]

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