Janine Snyder, aka GoAuPair’s ‘Au Pair Sis’, has some insight to share from an AuPair’s perspective. Au Pair Sis and AuPairMom aren’t related, but we have a shared mission: we’re both working to help Au Pairs and Host Families strengthen their relationships.
When an Au Pair chooses to leave everything he or she knows behind to live with an American family, they have ideas about what their new family will be like. Maybe it is more like “hopes and wishes and dreams” because, after all, they know that, just like their own family, no family is perfect.
However, when Au Pairs find themselves sitting down for family dinner, swapping culture over traditional American food (sprinkled in with a dish or two that they proudly made from their home country) an image of a happy situation plays out in their mind.
How do we get to that happy situation?
Here are some things that an Au Pair hopes that his or her Host Family will know:
1. I Want to be a Part of Your Family
An Au Pair is leaving their family for an opportunity to be a part of yours. Even if you are only together for one year or two, an Au Pair wants to hold the memories of the time that you spent together in her heart forever and hopes that you will do the same. They want to stay in touch with you. They know that when they return to their home country, they will feel like a piece of them is always in their second home; in America with you. They will cry when they think about your children.
While they don’t want to be the only one who takes care of the family dog or cat, your pet will be their best friend and will most likely want to sleep in their room. Don’t get offended, they know who their people parents are! Your Au Pair wants to be your younger sibling, your oldest child or your closest confidant. They want you to trust them and be up front and honest with them.
2. I Love Your Kids
An Au Pair will know that it’s coming, but they will never realize how much they could possibly fall in love with your kids. They may not even want to fall in love so hard, but it just happens! They find that they want to spend some of their free time with them and hear from them when you are on vacation. They love that your kids will talk about the day that they will come for a visit in their home country.
“Hector? Oh my gosh, He’s my little boy. I never thought that you could love somebody else’s kid so much.” Au Pair Monica Hinestroza
3. It’s Okay With Me When You Want to Have Family Time
Au Pairs understand that sometimes you just want to be with your family and they want you to have that time. Really! They will not be insulted at all if you tell them that you are going to do something with the family or simply tell them that they have that time free. Also, they want you to understand that sometimes they will decline your offer to do something with the family during their free time and they want you to understand that too.
“I think we just know…when you are living with people, you can feel when they need space.” Au Pair Lucia Perez Palao
4. I Like Privacy Too
No matter how much your Au Pair loves spending time with you and your family, they want to spend time with friends or alone sometimes. Just like with their own family, they need time apart. In most families, there seems to be a closed door policy. If the Au Pair has a closed door or the Host Family has a closed door, it usually means that they need some privacy. That doesn’t mean you can’t knock, but might be an indication that they need some time to themselves.
If as a Host Family, you want more private time, providing a TV in your Au Pairs room or a mode of transportation for them to leave the house during their free time will help to give you more time with just your family.
Anna-Lena’s Host Mom would say to her, “You are always welcome to come, but you don’t have to.”
5. My English Will Improve, Quickly
Now that your Au Pair is immersed in the English language, she will improve every day. Typically, in 1 month from the time she arrives, you will notice that you are able to communicate with her just fine without any translating devices. Au Pairs find it easier to communicate when they are comfortable. Let her know that it is okay to ask you to repeat a word or phrase or ask you to slow down when you speak.
“She helped me a lot, the teenager, because we liked to talk.” Au Pair Caroline Azevedo
Wife Au Pair, Happy Life
Veteran families know that when the Au Pair is happy, the kids are happy. Keeping your Au Pair happy isn’t hard. An Au Pair will be happy if her basic needs are met and she knows that you care about her. When she feels like a part of your family and a team of mutual respect, she will be happy and will feel like a big brother or sister to your kids.
Au Pair Sarah Schmidt said that when one of her Host Kids is asked what an Au Pair is, her response is ‘She is like a big sister from another country’.
7. I Pay Attention to Your Moods
Your Au Pair will constantly be looking for your approval and want know that you are happy with her. If she sees that you are feeling sad or stressed and that is not your normal behavior, she may think that she did something that you are not happy with. This doesn’t mean that you have to always smile, but if you think your Au Pair might be concerned, tell that you have had a long day or there is something on your mind so that she doesn’t worry. She might even provide a listening ear or offer to hang with the kids so you can decompress.
8. Thanks Go a Long Way
Saying things like “thank you”, “great job” and “I love what you did when ________” goes a long way! It shows your Au Pair that you appreciate them and the effort that they are putting into your family. Your Au Pair will want you to know that when you show that you notice the good things that they do, it will encourage them to continue to strive to be great. They will also know that you care about how they are feeling; which is so important to them.
Her Host Mom told Sarah that it was not about how many kids she has or if she handles stress well it is about ‘how you do with the family and how you’ve changed everything.’
9. I Take What You Say Seriously
Your Au Pair wants you to be happy with the way that they are caring for your children and what you say goes, but what works for you might be a little too rigid for their relationship with your kids. Just like a friend or a big brother or sister might be a little lenient with the rules, your kids are looking for that some camaraderie with your Au Pair. It puts your Au Pair in a weird spot because they want to make you happy and your kids happy.
Maybe one extra cookie every once in a while is okay. Maybe 5 extra minutes of screen time can be allowed from time to time. If there is a little wiggle room with your rules, tell the Au Pair privately so that she can use this at her discretion.
10. Tell Me About Your Ex
Yes, swapping stories with you about your life before kids while sipping tea after everyone is asleep is a secret Au Pair wish, what she will really find helpful is hearing about your former Au Pair. Just like with any new relationship, she will probably feel a little jealous, so try not to gush, but tell her what worked and what didn’t. Better yet, prior to your former Au Pair leaving, ask her to write down a few things that the new Au Pair should know. Don’t forget to prepare your kids for the transition as well.
“It’s really important that their routine still goes on, it’s just a different person who does it.” – Au Pair Nicole Absolom
11. I Know How Many Hours I Have Worked
It is so easy to lose track of time when you are rushing to get home from work or you just want to savor those last few moments of your date night, but your Au Pair knows exactly how many hours she works. Just like you know what time she started, she knows what time she ended. It’s okay if you run over the time that you told her that you would be back, but just like you would expect from her, apologize so that she knows that you respect her time.
Also, be mindful of the amount of hours that she is allowed to work and don’t go over that. If you aren’t sure how many hours she worked, use a log or just ask her.
12. Please Don’t Make Me Ask for My Stipend
It can feel super awkward for your Au Pair to have to ask you for her stipend. If you have it ready to offer to her on the day that you agreed on it will show her that you appreciate her and she will appreciate you for not making her ask for it. Remember though, giving her a stipend is not the same as saying ‘thank you’.
13. I Want to Know About You Too
It may feel like you are asking a lot of questions about her life and her culture. The truth is, she wants to know a lot about you too, but isn’t sure if it is appropriate to ask. Talk about your past, your culture and points of view. She really wants to know!
“Long life best friends. That’s how it’s going to be.” Au Pair Chantelle Huyser
During your placement with your Au Pair, it is important to remember to set the expectations in the beginning prior to your match. Then, follow up with open-communication and a relationship of mutual respect. When these 3 things are in place, the little things that may cause tension between adults coexisting in the same home will remain just that, little things.
Janine Snyder has been working with Go Au Pair as the Au Pair Sis to support Au Pairs in the program and to share their recorded video interviews on her blog in order to improve the program for Au Pairs and Host Families. (The quotations are from different videos that Janine has created, which are lovely to watch. ~ cvh )
Janine incorporates her insights from Au Pairs along with her experience as a mom, her 12 years of experience as a nanny, and her years of experience serving the Princeton, NJ area as a Go Au Pair Local Area Representative.
A couple of these insights (okay, #10) surprised me — which ones are new to you?
(Note, if you’d like to Be Our Guest Poster email me with your idea! These guest posts are contributions from Au Pair readers, not paid or sponsored by any particular company or agency. As a way to help share the wisdom and connect the Au Pair Community, these posts do have links back to the site, company, or profile chosen by the writer.)