Here’s the first in an occasional series about Ways to be a Great Host Parent .
Whether happy or not so happy, not every host family is the same. We host families like to revel in our uniqueness and we like to think that, for the lucky au pair, our family is just the right one. But there are some ways in which all families are the same– all good host families, that is.
Every good host family is lead by one, if not two, Great Host Parents.
What does it take to be a Great Host Parent?
I’ve been keeping a running list of what it takes to be a Great Host Parent. I’ve summarized a few of these things, below, from the perspective of a Host Mom. For Host Dads, your mileage may or may not vary — and if you think there are ways that it’s different for a host dad, please weigh in with your comments.
Not every Great Host Parent has each and every one of these qualities– and why should she? We each can be our own unique combination of basic good qualities and eccentric elements of personal flair. But, I’ll be that you’ll recognize your Host Parent Greatness in one or more of these …
1. Respect Your Own Needs.
A Great Host parent is an emotionally healthy adult who knows what she needs, respects what she needs, and makes sure she gets what she needs. You’ve probably heard this before in a more colloquial way, in the phrase "If Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy." And it’s true.
That’s why you shouldn’t feel guilty about putting yourself, and your relationship with your kids and your partner, above the preferences of your au pair. If your au pair wants something that doesn’t work for you, your partner, or your kids, don’t do it. For example, if she wants to go to a dance class every Thursday at 4:30, but the kids come home at 3:00 and you work at home on Thursdays until 5:30, don’t say yes. Sure, you could stop work early, or try to work while the kids need snacks and a chauffeur, but is that really the best thing for you to do?
Even though you want to do well by your au pair, and respect her needs, remember that she is there to help your family. This doesn’t not mean that you should abuse your au pair, take advantage of her or ignore her needs. It does mean, however, that you should make sure your (reasonable) needs are met.
2. Remember that you don’t need to be the "perfect" mom, dad, or parent.
Sometimes we can feel pressure to be a great role model or to act like the perfect parent. This is especially true if one of your teaching methods is to ask you au pair to follow your lead. But it puts way too much pressure on you to expect to be perfect, and trying to be perfect (or at least not obviously flawed) can get in the way of you feeling comfortable and feeling authentic. It can also get in the way of your learning, if you (like many) learn from your mistakes.
It is okay to ask your au pair never to shout at your kids, even if you raise your voice at them occasionally yourself. You can expect your au pair to follow a specific set of rules that you can’t always hold to yourself. You’re allowed to do this, in part, becuase you have a much larger set of things to be responsible for. You know that if you didn’t have to go pay the bills, clean up the laundry room, supervise violin practice, drop the car off to be repaired, call your mother-in-law, find the Scholastic Book Club form, and buy snacks for tomorrow’s school celebration all while you’re thinking about the marketing plan due on Thursday, you’d have the energy and patience to keep your cool all the time.
But also, watching someone make a mistake, recognize her mistake and then fix it can be a great way to learn. It may not be so bad to have my au pair see me speak sharply to my daughter, and then apologize to my daughter, because this may model how one might recover when one doesn’t meet ones own standards. …
3. Don’t skim all the cream for yourself.
Find a balance between the fun stuff and the hard stuff of caring for your kids, and share both with your au pair.
Some parts of caring for children are particularly fun, like snuggling them awake in the morning, picking out their cute clothes, playing with them, taking them out for pizza or to the movies, and doing craft projects. Other parts of childcare are less fun, like doing laundry, cleaning up after breakfast, cleaning the playroom, cleaning the back seat of the car (a pattern here?), and waiting outside in the cold at the bus stop. Split these jobs with your au pair in a fair way. Neither you nor your au pair should do all of the crappy stuff, and neither you nor your au pair should do all of the fun, sweet stuff.
So that ‘s the first 3. I have at least 218 more on my list… how about on your list?
Here’s an invitation for everyone– Moms, Dads, LCCs and Au Pairs (even host kids!): What are some ways that someone can be a great Host Parent? Add to the comments, below…