3 Qualities of a Fabulous Host Family

by cv harquail on October 16, 2011

What makes a host family fabulous?

And, how is a fabulous host family different from a pretty-good host family?

From what I’ve seen, all fabulous host families demonstrate three core characteristics:

  1. Clarity
  2. Flexibility
  3. Positivity

1. Fabulous Host Families Demonstrate Clarity

— A fabulous host family knows what they need for a great family- au pair relationship. And, they know why they need what they need.

The more you can clarify what you want (e.g., athleticism, language skills, adventure attitude) and the more you understand why you want it (e.g., keep kids active, develop a family’s second language, be fun while traveling) the easier it is for you to find an au pair that fits these needs.  You’ll be able to identify characteristics and skills that are critical, and those that are less important.

2. Fabulous Host Families Demonstrate Flexibility

— A fabulous host family demonstrates flexibility when little things and big things come up. Flexible families are able to find many different solutions to help them and their au pair achieve what’s most important.

Once you have clarity, you need flexibility. You need flexibility to adapt to the specifics of your au pair, to the changing needs of your kids, and to the evolution and maturation of your au pair-host family relationships over time. Flexibility helps you and your au pair connect across differences, work out disagreements, and move past disappointments. Flexibility allows you to grow.

3. Fabulous Host Families Demonstrate Positivity

— Fabulous host families demonstrate a positive orientation.

Fabulous host families can always find a way to follow the advice of my hero Tim Gunn and “make it work”.

Fabulous families demonstrate positivity by looking for the silver lining in every storm. Because they positively expect a silver lining to be there, they find one. A positive host family creates opportunities where others would see problems. The high hopes, high spirits, and ‘can do’ attitude of a fabulous host family are infectious. Their positive orientation buoys the family and the au pair.

Are there other qualities that you think separate a fabulous family from a merely good one?

Share them below:

Image: Fabulous ? All rights reserved by The Constant Day-Dreamer


newhostmom October 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Our first au pair kept saying at the end that she loved how “open-minded” we are. I think she meant something similar to flexible, but she loved that we accepted (and enjoyed) our differences, loved that we never said “no” immediately (like when she asked for more than 6 total weeks of visitors – we made it work because she was so awesome and responsible and we were excited to meet her friends and family), loved that we were excited about trying new things (food and activities from her country, touristy stuff she wanted to do that we had never done, etc), never judged her for any of her choices, etc. I think she appreciated that we understood that everyone is different, that we appreciated who she was and what she needed given her young age. Not sure that’s all that much different from what you’ve listed, but it was a word she kept using.

I’d be interested to hear from the au pairs out there – what makes your family awesome?

German Au-Pair October 18, 2011 at 12:50 am

I bet you first au pair was from Germany?
We had this on a different post and I was surprised that “open-minded” doesn’t really seem to mean anything to Americans. We learn this word at school.
But yes, you totally got the meaning right. Open-minded is not really flexible but “open for new, different things/persons/experiences”.
Other translations for the word we actually mean would be (according to the translating program) broad-minded, liberal, outgoing.
It also means without prejudices.
Basically the opposite of judgemental.
I hope that helps ;)

And I think everyone who gets himself a person from a different culture into their house (and vice versa: au pairs need to be open minded, too!) should be open minded.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 18, 2011 at 7:39 am

Open-minded does mean something to Americans – it means being willing to accept new ideas. However, most au pairs use open-minded when the American usage would simply be open – which we use for acceptance of differences in others without passing judgment, being willing to try new foods enthusiastically, being willing to try new activities eagerly. Someone who is open seeks what is new and different. They may be open-minded about it.

While almost all APs are thrown into a situation where everything is new and different, not all are open to them. I had one AP shut down and retreat when faced with the drastic differences between her culture and American culture. Many have replied “It was nothing special,” when asked how they enjoyed a new activity or a different city. Some even spurn new foods.

Not all Americans are open-minded or even open, but chances are your HF is, or they wouldn’t have sought out an AP for their childcare. And your HK will be – because after an AP or 2 they’ve been exposed to a variety of cultures, foods and ideas. It may make them open-minded about the world.

German Au-Pair October 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Okay, thanks for clearing that up. Yes, the direct translation for “open” means the same and German, too but I’d say they mean the same here.

I’ve never hear the “nothing special” part, but many many au pairs seem to be extremely judgemental about the cultural differences they experience.
Today I told my hostmum that I find it very interesting how often Americans say “excuse me”, even when they only walk by you and don’t touch you or stand in your way. She asked me wether I thought this was a good or bad thing and I replied, that it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just different.

And that’s how I try to view everything here. Some things seem bad or weird in my eyes and some things seem a lot better here but I try not be judgemental and just note that it’s different.
I really don’t get why someone would choose coming here and then judge everything that is different from what he or she knows…it’s not like that the fact that there are cultural differences is a great surprise to any au pair…

Taking a Computer Lunch October 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm

On my way home from work, I thought about another way many of my APs have used open-minded when Americans would have used open, and that is in the context of American’s striking up conversations with them because they are curious about where they are from and what they are doing in the United States. (Mind you, those generally tend to be extroverts.)

A colleague at work talked about cultural differences within the United States. Some of my colleagues demand that I acknowledge their presence, and it is considered a snub not to say good morning or hello, even if I pass by them with other things on my mind. Au Pairs who live in the south, may find that casual acquaintances who see them on a regular basis will engage them and expect acknowledgment and direct eye contact.

German Au-Pair October 19, 2011 at 12:34 am

Interesting…I would not use open-minded in that context but also open. Because as I said, I (we) learned that open minded was basically the word for the opposite of judgemental and open is not the same. (I also have to correct myself, it is NOT exchangeable. In the context you mentioned before we would learn that there is no difference between open and open-minded but with your new example I see the difference and it wouldn’t occur to me to use open-minded.
Have all of your au pairs been German? I’d be very interested in finding out if this is only a German thing.

And yes, coming to the South was quite a cultural shock for me and I bet I’ve stepped right in it for several times now when I was not greeting the women from the neighbourhood because I’ve simply never spoke a single word with them. I was a little shocked when even the schoolbus driver, whom I never had any contact at all with waved at me every single morning :D

AnotherGermanAuPair October 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Just after I read your post I started thinking about “what make my family awesome”. I’m here since 14 month (I extended for 9 month in the same family) so obviously I think my hostfamily is really awesome but I never really defined why they are awesome. But when I look at my Au Pair friends I always think that I have the better family ;) I guess that is because they totally include me in there family life. When I have my day off they and they are going out for dinner they always ask me if I wanna come or they call me when I am not at home. They know that I have a life next to my hostfamily so they ask me about my friends here, invite them to dinner and ask a lot about my life in germany. At the beginning I wasn’t really sure if they are still so interested in my culture, because I am already their 4th Au Pair from germany but soon I figured that it wasn’t like that. Because although we all have the same culture, of course there are a lot of regional differences, and some of them I didn’t even know ;)
I have to work on the weekend a lot (so I get my day of during the week) but they often do something fun and take me everywhere (I have to work on the weekend because I have a stay at home mum and two boys with special needs, so it is hard for one person to do sth fun with them) All in all, also because I have a stay at home mum, I get more included in the family because she is always there and we “work” together. Because she is home, my hostfamily is pretty flexible, clarity is not really a strentgh off them I have to say, but that is okay, although it made my start a little difficult. I would say I have don’t have a “typical” hostfamily but sometimes that’s what makes them so awesome!

HRHM October 23, 2011 at 11:24 am

It’s funny, because when the AP program started, it was marketed just as your experience has been – as a “mother’s helper”. I really think that the change to “independant child care worker” has not been for the best for the AP or the HFs. While it’s changed for a legit reason – more “2 parents working” families want someone that can watch their kids and be flexible, both sides need to understand the limitations. APs are NOT professional child carers, most have no REAL experience independantly being responsible for kids (bathing, cooking meals, enforcing rules, putting to bed, brushing teeth, giving meds, small-scale first aid). Many have babysat (watch TV,play games, feed already prepared food that Mom left) and many have volunteered in a kindergarten (color, take outside for play, supervise lunch), but these are a small sub-set of what we expect our AP to do every day. I do think that the ideal host family recognizes the limits of what APs come to the table with and are prepared to patiently teach all the additional skills with lots of room for slip ups, mistakes and just being bad at some of it (Oh, the laundry! :) I guess that’s part of the clarity and flexibility put together.

German Au-Pair October 24, 2011 at 8:31 am

Once I read your comment I felt like you said something I couldn’t really point my finger on.
But another thing that makes my hostfamily fabulous is that they treat me like a person. They get that I want to make the best of my year, too and try to make things easier for me by giving me half the day off when I want to spend a weekend somehwere.
My hostmom takes over homework and/or dinner when she’s home early and has no important work to do from home, even when I tell her that I’ll do it. (Honestly, if I had an au pair I don’t think that I would let her have off earlier. I’d be around but I would still have her do her job and be happy that I can relax from mine being home early.)

But what is REALL awesome is that, so far, they haven’t yelled at me or blamed me for things I didn’t do (and I cannot see them doing that…)
So many other au pairs told me that their hostparents yell at them when they’re stressed out and like to blame them for not doing something, I have not been told to do before. Of course my hostparents come home stressed and crabby too sometimes and when I notice I back off, but they NEVE take it out on me.
When I made a mistake or I’m insecure about a minor thing they just tell me it’s okay.
So the bottom line: they are treating me with fairness and respect.

Should be working October 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Now that’s a topic–The Laundry! Does anyone under the age of 25 know how to sort laundry, not put delicates/bras in the dryer, and use different settings for whites vs. darks? Or have I missed something and nowadays these distinctions don’t matter??

German Au-Pair October 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Most people under 25 I know, know exactly not to put bras in the dryer (I wouldn’t even put them in the washing mashine) and at least in Germany even children know that you cannot wash whites with darks ;)

Taking a Computer Lunch October 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I ended up putting a chart in my laundry room – not because the kids white and darks got washed together (they’ll outgrow the clothes quickly enough that I personally don’t care), but because items that irrevocably shrank in the dryer made me wince. (Or items, like bibs, ended up on the line outside – want to see water roll off a bib – put it on a line!)

BLJ Host Mom October 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Always remembering that this is HER one year abroad too. To remember to think of how you would feel looking back 20 years from now. Did you work hard? Yes. Did you get to see everything you wanted too? Yes. Did you feel welcomed and safe? Yes. Was it the best year it could be? Yes. We hope that we can get an AP who says yes to all of these questions when they go back to reality.

Fabulous host families (other than the 3 above, which I totally agree with!) remember that this CAN be mutually beneficial (though probably in a different way than what the brochures say) and are not only thinking of their own needs.

I tell APs that when I am interviewing. This is your one year here, don’t just say yes to everything a family asks you because you are worried this is the only family who might want you, really think about what you want, and make sure it is a good fit for both of you.

BLJ Host Mom October 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm

*to not too. Proofread much? Not an important quality for a perfect host mom. wink wink.

newhostmom October 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Good point, BLJ Host mom. I think fabulous host families are realistic about why au pairs are really here. Young women do not become au pairs primarily to babysit American children. So keeping in mind that yes of course, they are here to watch your children from your perspective (and it is their JOB), but they are really here to experience America, learn English, and have fun!

German Au-Pair October 18, 2011 at 12:44 am

While I instantly felt that our personalities match right at the first phone call, what really helped me in the first weeks was that they made me feel comfortable asking questions.
Even when I could tell by observing their reactions, that my question came at an inconvenient time, their answers never really made me feel like not asking again.
I like that they make things very clear and that my hostmum is always available via texting (even when she’s not I know it’s okay to text her and she will answer as soon as she can).
Other than that it’s all those smalls things that were mentioned several times before. Like taking me to family trips, telling me when I CAN but really don’t WANT to come, offering me everything they can give and so on.

While I agree with the original post, I still think what makes a hostfamily great is the right personality match. I can totally imagine other girls feeling uncomfortable with my family for certain reasons, but for me they are just perfect.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 18, 2011 at 7:50 am

I would add ORGANIZED. A good HF thinks ahead, plans, and discusses future events. My APs may chafe at times at the work – it’s no easy task caring for a disabled teenager, but I plan ahead. By the 3rd week of the month, I am able to schedule her work for the next month, and write it on the calendar. Before I do so, I ask if there is a particular weekend she would like to be off from work. She gets to write the hours of classes she will take and concerts that she wishes to attend, and then I adjust accordingly.

Each week I lay out expectations for the week to come, so she understands what is different, what is expected of her. When I need to adjust her schedule I warn her as much in advance as I am able (sick kids aside). While my AP generally has complete access to the “AP car” there are some weekends when HD and I must go in different directions with the kids, and we schedule the use of the “AP car” into the calendar so she is able to plan ahead.

So many times, what I hear as complaints from her friends, is that their HF don’t adjust the schedule in advance so they are not able to plan to join friends in activities on weekday evenings or on weekends. Their family has them “on call,” which they don’t mind when they are needed, but chafe when they are not.

I am flexible where I am able, and return expect the same of my AP.

Ex Australian Au Pair October 25, 2011 at 3:27 am

Positivity for sure!!!!!

I had a host mum who was all about hate. “I hate New York, it’s not worth visiting”, “I hate Disneyland, why would you plan to visit there?” (because when you are living in another country, you like to do these stereotypical things..)

It is a minor thing but really got to me!

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