3 Reasons Having an Au Pair Has Been Great for My Family

by cv harquail on October 14, 2009

We just got this lovely email from Jane, helping to remind us of (just) 3 Reasons why au pairs are great!

“Responding to your call for some positive blog posts, I’d like to share with the group some of my experiences that have made the au pair program worth the effort. I’ve had four good experiences and none that ended in rematch.

Like many others, I come to the au pair mom blog when I have a problem or to see that I’m not alone in my frustrations. But in the scheme of things, the problems I have had are on the same scale as the problems I expect I’d have with other child care solutions. Nothing is going to be perfect all the time. So let me share some good stuff!

I’ve learned a lot about German culture over the past few years, and I think my family has taught our au pairs quite a bit about American culture. This exchange does involve a conscious investment of my free time, which is sometimes hard after a full day of meetings and two cranky kids at dinner time.

jek in the box mugs.jpg1. Cultural Exchange over Meals

I cook every night, and while I know this is not possible for everyone, if you can plan a family meal on a regular basis it works wonders for improving your exchange experience. I use easy, inexpensive recipes from magazines like Quick Cooking, or I throw something in a crock pot that can cook all day with little prep time. I make sure my meals never take more than 30-45 minutes total when I get home. We all have to eat, so I’ve learned that this is a good opportunity to get in some socialization at the same time. After dinner, I am pretty much done for the day and want to retreat to my bedroom after the kids are tucked in.

At dinner (which is sometimes just me, the AP, and my kids because hubby works late), we have focused time to talk about our day and ourselves. I make a point to ask about my au pair’s friends and family back home—what are they doing this week, what holidays are being celebrated in their culture right now, how is the weather back home, etc. They enjoy the chance to talk about home—they’ve told me it helps with any homesickness. Some night we’re all tired and no one is talkative—that’s okay. Over time, the interaction really builds a close relationship. It’s also a good time for me to gently reinforce tasks and guidelines that might be slipping.

The fact that I cook has always been a huge plus for my au pairs. Our au pairs have returned the favor on many occasions by cooking our family German meals. My first au pair cooked for us once a week just because she wanted to share with us. We ate things I never knew existed and would have never found in a restaurant. Many of my AP’s friends are depressed by all the fast food and microwaved meals that their families eat. I gently encourage them to offer cooking a traditional meal for their families, or to talk to them about some simple meals they might cook together.

I sometimes invite my au pairs to have a friend over for dinner on the weekend. When my last au pair’s best friend missed having her first Thanksgiving dinner here (long story), we cooked a turkey for a second Thanksgiving and invited both our friends and hers. We did dinner, they did an amazing from-scratch apple strudel. It is one of my best memories of our year with that au pair and her group of friends. Sharing culture through food has been wonderful. I know we will receive a warm reception not only from our past au pairs but also from their friends when we visit Germany one day.

2. Active Listening and Sharing

Getting to know my au pair’s friends has strengthened my relationship with my own au pairs. My last au pair told me how impressed she was that I knew all her friend’s names and could correctly pronounce them (which did take time for some). She knew several host families who did not take the time to learn how to pronounce their own au pair’s name correctly. I ask about their AP friends here—how are they doing, etc, but I try to avoid gossip about other host families. Whenever my au pair tells me a story about something unfair a host family did, I listen and sympathize, but quickly point out that we don’t know the whole story. Letting my au pair talk to me about her friends’ frustrations and experiences gives me a chance to explain a host family’s point of view about certain situations—my au pairs always seem to appreciate getting this perspective.


My first au pair’s best friend had a host family who took very little interest in her—in fairness to them, they had crazy work schedules. I really only talked to her when she would come over Saturday nights when my au pair would “babysit” for date night—(kids were already asleep upstairs), yet I knew more about her than her host family (and we only had a date night once a month). When her parents came from Switzerland during her travel month, they stopped to visit my family, even though her friend, my au pair, had already departed on her own travel month. My husband and I had a unique opportunity to talk with Swiss adults we would have never met otherwise. We now have their address and an intent to visit. It took very little interaction with this nice girl to make a huge impact on her.

3. Sharing Travel Interests

I try to talk with my au pairs a lot about the places I’ve traveled to in the U.S. Since travel is one of the big draws for au pairs to do the program, I try to share as much of my experience with them as possible so they can plan weekend trips and their vacations using insider advice. I frequently ask them about the types of trips they would like to make and make recommendations for local weekend activities that are unique to our area. I forward them links to sites like TravelZoo and Expedia, and let them know when I see cheap airfare for a weekend getaway. All of my au pairs have told me that doing this has shown that I have an active interest in them, and that it really makes them feel at home. It doesn’t take much of my time to shoot them e-mail links when I’m surfing the Internet for my own interests. We don’t have the money to take them on trips ourselves, but we actively help them make their own plans.

At the same time, I’ve been collecting tidbits of information from my au pairs about the overseas places they have traveled to—places I’ve never even heard of before. I’ve seen their pictures and heard stories and have learned more than I’d ever get from a travel book. Now I just need the time and money for a European vacation!

Bonding over food, friends, and travel—these are the things that have transformed my au pair experiences from merely a childcare solution to a great cultural exchange with some lovely young women. It certainly isn’t easy to develop and maintain these relationships, and I’ve certainly felt that one year was enough with some of my au pairs, but overall the rewards of the program have been great.

Hope this helps!  Au Pair Mom “Jane”

Photos by Jek In The Box on Flickr. Go look, she makes such beautiful things!


NewAPMom October 14, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Thank you so much for writing this up, Jane. That is some great advice.

What hit home to me is that I did every single one of those things with my last au pair. All of them. I think she was just a bad egg. So hopefully with my next au pair, making the same efforts will have a completely different impact.

Calif Mom October 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Jane, lovely post! And I completely agree with you.

The dinner opportunity has been one of the things I find hardest about our current au pair–she has not wanted to eat with us since her very first day here. She will join us for big occasions, and she is not at all unhappy, it’s just her preference. She is an introvert, she has her big meal at lunch time–I’m not sure if there is any single reason for this preference (but I know it’s not my cooking, grin). Food is tricky (see previous food discussions)!.

But where we are successful is when I ask how things are going with her sister, and her mom, and make an effort to chat with her friends.

One friend called the other day to ask our AP to ask me about how to get glue out of the carpet. She was scared to death to ask her host mom. These things really do mean a lot. I have sort of a standing invitation to her friends, through my AP, that if any of them need to talk something through I will try to help.

Travel can be hard–once the APs develop a solid network of local friends, they tend to do their own planning. I do share coupons often. At work there might be a special offer for cheap sports tickets, or a really good sale and I will send links. I agree that showing you are sympathetic to their economic plight and aware of their interests can go a long way to show you are thinking of them sort of throughout the day, not just when you need them to do something for you, and also shows that you appreciate them enough to help them save money. Telling them about the haircutting schools in major metro areas has been a huge money saver and a way to get trendy haircuts in hip salons. A couple have appreciated this very much, and gone with a bunch of friends.

Thank goodness it was white glue in that carpet, and it eventually came out. My credibility was on the line. :-)

Nancy October 14, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Just wanted to mention that many Europeans eat a big meal at lunch and just a little/not so much for dinner.

an au pair October 15, 2009 at 4:30 am

Wow! My host family is perfectly nice, but they haven’t really made any effort at all as far as asking about my friends or family or even wondering if I’m homesick. My boyfriend is coming to visit in a couple weeks, and they literally know nothing about him besides his name. I wish they were more like all of you in that respect…I think maybe people here in Scandinavia just don’t talk about feelings very much, that’s definitely something I miss about the US.

A October 15, 2009 at 10:28 am

We do the dinner thing, and it’s been great for the cultural exchange. For example, I learned what Nancy said–that Europeans aren’t used to big dinners but typically eat large lunches.

Can I add my number one reason why having an au pair has been good for our family? It’s because my children (1 year old and 3 years old) are being taken care of together, not in separate classes like they will be once they start day care. Right now they are best buddies, and I don’t know if they would have been if they didn’t spend all day together.

Anonymous October 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I find that most aupairs are eager to bond with my children. The aupairs are excited to be here. True, they may not be as efficient or make the same judgement calls as a professional childcare provider but they are open to my kids and they play with them. They are not going home to children of their own at night to whom their first loyalty belongs. Now, granted, some of these girls
may crash up our car, mope around about boyfriends , etc. but most do not. That is why I love the program.
Another thing I like to do is help my aupairs stay ( very briefly ) with my extended family all around the country when the aupairs travel. The older people in my family in Florida, North Carolina, California, and Alaska love meeting these young people and I know that my aupairs are safe and well fed with my relatives. Several of their parents have invited us to stay ( very briefly ) with them if and when we ever get to travel abroad. My sister and her husband do travel quite a bit and parents of my former aupairs were delighted to reciprocate our hospitality.

Emma October 17, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Three reasons my host family is awesome:

1. From the first day they’ve treated me like family, like an older niece (for example) who’s come to stay and help out with the kids. Dinners are always (weekends no exception) as a family. If my friends want to come for dinner they are always welcome. If my host family goes anywhere as a family they always invite me along (the park, coffeehouse, downtown, vacation.) I’ve never felt less than welcome.

2. They respect my opinions and treat me like an adult (I’m 21.) When a problem arises with one of the children that effects everyone (like the 3yr old discovering pinching, or how to deal with the older child’s current rebellious phase) they include me in the discussion on how to handle it and care about what I have to say on the issue. And (I feel like abusing capslock here, but I’ll refrain) they always respect my authority. Always and often without question (I’ll always remember HD taking his empty hand out of the cookie jar when the kids told him I said none until after dinner.)

3. They’re all just genuinely warm-hearted interesting people. The kids are the sweetest and are fun to play with and HM&D can talk long after dinner still at the table, empty plates ignored, discussing food, politics, traveling, family, anything. The parents are very active in their children’s’ lives and are always interested in what the kids are doing, in playing with them, being home together. Its very warm and cozy, and I feel happy and lucky to be included in it.

Jeana October 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I adopted my daughters as a single parent and must work full-time to support our family. My greatest stress is childcare, and having another adult in our home, full-time, to be my backup has reduced my stress significantly. We went through a period when my mom was very ill, and our home life remained constant, due to our aupair. While I needed to leave suddenly, on multiple occasions, my daughter’s routine did not change. My younger daughter was three when you joined our family, three years ago. She had lost her Cantonese language at age two, then her Mandarin language, upon her adoption, at age three. Her transition was very traumatic for her and our family. Having another adult in our home allowed my older daughter to continue normal, healthy activities when my younger one needed her world very small, for a very long time. My children were born in China, and our last aupair and our current aupair are Chinese. I’m so thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to learn more about China, through our friendships with our lovely aupairs. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to visit them in China, in the future. Personally, I truly enjoy the opportunity to understand the political feelings of people from a different part of the world. I enjoy understanding their perspective on world events, and the conversations we’re able to have. I’m so thankful that my daughters have had very good relationships with young women that are responsible, loving, and focused on their education and building a solid life as an adult. Johanna, Dikun, and April have been wonderful mentors to my daughters, and I’m so thankful they’ve been three people who helped our family as my children have grown.

PA au pair mom October 18, 2009 at 9:50 am

I can think of SOOOO many reasons that I am thankful for my au pair, but here are the top 3.

1. Flexibility: If I have a patient that needs additional time then she is always willing to help out until I can make it home. If I need to run to the store after work and pick something up, that’s ok too. Last week when one of my boys was sick and had to stay home from school our AP was more than willing to rearrange her gym time to help me out.

2. Genuine caring: Our au pair asks our boys about their days at school. She also attends their sporting events. If she can’t attend, she always asks about their games and wants to see pictures from the games. If she thinks the boys are upset about something, she works to get them to open up about it and tries to help them feel better. A friend of mine recently had a stillbirth(1 week after AP’s arrival). She sent a card and helped me make some meals to take over.

3. Just being herself: Our last AP tried to put on an act in front of our family but our current AP is open and honest. I love that we can discuss our concerns, problems, successes, achievements and never feel like we have to censor what we are saying to each other. It just makes things so much more easygoing around the house.

As I said, I could go on and on, but these are the 3 biggest things. I love being a Host Mom to my current AP!!!!

My 2 cents October 19, 2009 at 9:26 am

1. Steady and flexible child care: You just cannot underestimate in dollars and emotional value what having a trusted individual in your home to cover for you is worth. Sick days, those “bank holidays,” the here and there things. I loved our daycare, but this is sooo much better as a working parent.

2. New (and improved?) family member: so exciting to have someone new around who can be a part of your family and share in all that brings. Someone to mentor, someone to learn from, someone to celebrate little milestones, someone to just chat with here and there. This was a HUGE surprise to us. We expected to want essentially a live-in nanny but have come to really enjoy supporting a younger woman who is for the first time leaving her home and all that entails. Our lives are so much more enriched and less mundane.

3. Someone to help do those little things that add up and take away from quality time with my family. Helping to unload the dishwasher, do the kids’ laundry, change sheets on kids’ beds, let the dog out/in, you name it. Our APs are definitely not house keepers in the least, but it’s all those little things they think to do during the course of a single day that really make a difference when you finally arrive home and want to enjoy your family.

Thank you to all the au pairs !

nannygps October 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

Very interesting article. We’ve had a few au pairs, all positive experiences. We’ve always treated them as part of the family and when they are living with us it’s also their home. So we’ve spent time with them over dinner, as well as letting their friends stay over at weekends. It’s worked very well for us.

Hula Gal October 20, 2009 at 2:11 pm

The reasons my husband and I have persisted with the au pair option for our childcare as opposed to a nanny or daycare is:
1. We get to know our childcare provider very well because she lives with us.
2. It is more affordable than a live-in nanny or a good live-out nanny.
3. The work hours are very flexible.
4. My one-year old daughter does not have to be shuttled to and from daycare each day and does not get sick from exposure to other children’s germs.
We finally matched with a wonderful au pair (after two not-so-great ones) so we are happy that we stuck with it. We are now reaping the benefits of the au pair program.

Calif Mom October 20, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Many many reasons!

Kids do best when they have solid, reliable people looking after them on a regular basis. For us, good au pairs are much better than a group setting. Our APs really know our kids, and become like junior aunties. (Right down to spoiling them, too, in some ways, which is okay by me.)

Au pairs generally have much a ton of energy. That energy is helpful in caring for the kids, but it energizes me, too, just being around her. APs remind me what it’s like to be early 20’s.

APs remind me to be grateful for what we have in this country, and the advantages my kids enjoy even if they do not have as many as “all the other kids at school”… :-) Explaining American life is a good exercise in remembering that we are all citizens of the world.

Flexibility, stability, friendliness, “more than a job”. All these things are advantages over traditional nannies and certainly over group childcare settings.

We are trying to figure out if we can get by next year with the Educare program. Just adding up the costs of summer camp and aftercare for two kids, plus before care for the one who’s school doesn’t start until after 9:00, and au pairs still make cost sense.

Until my hub and I BOTH have flexible schedules, we won’t be able to do without childcare for awhile. I saw the kids in the aftercare program the other day. They were stuck in the “all purpose room” at school, with a bunch of peers and some way-too-perky young supervisors. At 5:30. Made me sad. My girls got to run home with their AP, play with the dog, eat cake and do homework before mom got home. Little one was splashing happily in the bath. Our AP was singing a goofy, made-up song, having a ball herself. This is much better for everyone.

PA au pair mom October 20, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Another “hurrah” for my au pair. I got sent home early from work due to illness by my boss. I took some medicine and laid down for a nap. When I woke up, homework was done, kids were eating dinner and there was some soup for me, nice and hot on the stove. The laundry was also started.

I thanked her, gave her the rest of the evening off (2 hours early) and sent her to Starbucks, for a hot chocolate, on me.

Can I say it again…..I LOVE MY NEW AU PAIR!!!!!

NewHostMomtoBe October 23, 2009 at 1:09 am

I am not a hostmom yet, but I am very grateful for seeing this post. I hope to be able to write down the things that make me happy about our AuPair. The reasons that you guys listed are some of the reasons why the AP program ‘called” to us. Thanks for sharing! :)

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