3 Ways to be a Great Host Parent

by cv harquail on April 14, 2009

Here’s the first in an occasional series about Ways to be a Great Host Parent .

Sorry Tolstoy.

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 …

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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.Pretty Pink Daisy in Natural Light (unedited) on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1237833489745.jpeg

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…


Jeana April 14, 2009 at 6:29 am

Realizing that being an aupair is part of a young woman’s dream for her future is important. For our aupairs, spending time with an American family has been a stepping stone toward their next life goal. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time supporting our aupairs with their educational goals. Our first aupair returned to her home country after finishing her year with us, and then applied to be an international student in the US. She returned to the US and lived with us for two more years. She was not our aupair during that time; she was part of our family, and we were there when she received her Associates Degree. She went on to obtain her Bachelor’s Degree and will earn her Masters Degree in International Business in May. I’ve spent time tutoring our aupairs and their friends, and helped our last aupair on a weekly basis, with an online class that UCLA offered for aupairs. I’m an ESL teacher, and so this is probably much easier for me than other host families. I’ve really appreciated the aupairs that we’ve had who are committed to their education, for they’ve been great role models for my daughters. I want our aupairs to look back on their experience with our family and be very happy that they matched with us. I want them to succeed with their dream. I think a great host family remembers what it feels like to be a young person with a dream to fulfill.

Rayann April 14, 2009 at 8:05 am

I think there are some little things that go a long way towards being a good host parent: When you go grocery shopping, buy a few of her favorite things, even if no one else in your house eats/drinks them. Don’t make your au pair ask for the car or a ride everytime she’s going somewhere – just offer it to her.

Some personal things we do in our house – we take our au pair out with us if we’re going out with friends on an evening where she’s “off duty” and we have a back-up sitter. Also, she and I try to get out for some girl time occasionally and HD stays home with the kids. A trip to the mall, out for lunch, a margarita just the two of us at our favorite Mexican place…it gives she and I a chance to chat in a casual, kid free environment. Sometimes we “talk shop”, sometimes we chat about whatever – I think it goes a long way towards our relationship because it gives us a chance to be friends outside of the family environment.

Our AP is like a sister or very good friend to me – so I try to think of things I would do for/with my sister if she happened to be living in my home helping out with my kids.

Jasmine June 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Oh that’s exactly what I hope to find in a host family. I really don’t want the employer/employee relationship. I really want the experience of being part of a family and so many of you on AuPairmom seem to be awesome hostparents :)

Franzi April 15, 2009 at 2:37 am

this comment relates to host parents who would consider themselves looking for a “family oriented” au pair.
from a former au pairs point of view, i would say that a great host parent is someone who understands that the au pair comes to a country where she doesn’t know anyone and often enough doesn’t speak the language well. in this situation, the AP is experiencing so many things – good and bad – from seeing new and wonderful places, to seeing children grow, to being home sick. and especially in the first months, the AP has a hard time to tell her feelings to someone because of language barriers and lack of a social net.

APs can react strangely sometimes. they can be terribly tired, they can get irritated easily, they do the exact opposite of what you tell them. all of this can be attributed to the language and culture shock.

I am not trying to make excuses but to my mind a good host parent tries to find out why the AP is acting the way she is. if it is for personal reasons (homesickness, lack of social net, language) other steps should be taken than if she is really incapable. the “goodness” in the host parents shines in times of trouble. :-)

at the same time i believe that you have to step away from the idea of having a perfect match. nothing in life is perfect. any relationship requires work, especially when there are so many layers to an issue like it is the case in APing.
if you are willing to put in the effort (to a certain extend) and find an AP who is willing to do the same, you both will have a great year!

Jillian April 15, 2009 at 4:12 am

I think something that au pairs appreciate is uninterupted down time. When our au pair is off duty we respect that as “her time.” The kids don’t go knocking on her door and I, and HD, try not to ask things of her that can wait until the next time she’s on-duty.

I know that if I’m reading a book or taking a shower, or HD is in the study or changing the oil in the cars we just need that time for ourselves. So we try to always give our au pairs the chance to decompress and do their own things.

Calif Mom April 15, 2009 at 11:22 pm

I try to give her an afternoon off spontaneously whenever I can.

We don’t bother her when she’s off duty, and don’t let the kids bug her either.

I help them find the best places to shop for trendy/cheap clothes in our area as soon as they arrive so they can pick up items that they might need due to different weather. I purchase big items that they wouldn’t normally need in their home climate (a heavy coat, really warm gloves). I share as many of our things as possible — scarves, warm hats, tote bags, etc. — and my husband helps them find good deals on laptops and provides general ‘tech support’ through the year.

I try to support her making friends, but I don’t pry!

I help them navigate enrolling in college in a good class that will support their goals. And I help them find books cheap.

We are empathetic when mistakes happen, and don’t hold them against her. We encourage our kids to take more ownership as they grow older.

I provide a Costco sized bottle of midol! For some reason, all our APs have seemed to have really bad cramps, and I ensure that expectations are lowered during particularly dreary days for them.

We invite them on car trips to different cities, even if it’s not glamorous. They usually want to come and see more of America. I think it really hurts their feelings to be left home during spring break or other short trips when their AP friends are ‘going with’.

Darthastewart April 15, 2009 at 11:52 pm

We make a point of letting the au-pair know that if they would like to join us, they are welcome.
We are also always available for them during the day if they have issues, need help, or need a chin up. My little darlings have been less than “darling” this week, and it helps for her to know she can just hop on the computer, and IM me, and get some ideas for how to handle it, or just vent. She also knows I’ll follow up with the kids when I get home.
Which gets to the matter of discipline. We have 3 adults in the house, and whatever any 1 of them says, is followed by all. If the au-pair enacts punishment, we follow through, and vice-versa.

Dawn April 16, 2009 at 12:58 am

I try to always let my AP know how much I appreciate her, whether it’s for “going above and beyond” or “just doing her job.” I know how much it means to me when my boss acknowledges me for a job well done, so I am very conscious of trying to do that on a regular basis for my AP. There are so many little ways that she just generally makes my life easier and makes my home run more smoothly, and I want to be sure that she knows that I notice and appreciate those things!

On a related note, cvh, I think it would be great if at some point you could tee up a post about some of the really positive aspects of APing in general, and/or a post similar to this one where we can talk about “What makes a great Au Pair?” I’ve seen several places in the comments where prospective HMs have expressed concern about all of the “complaints” and discussions of some of the problems and pitfalls in the AP/HF relationship — it would be nice to have a positive thread to point them to as well!

CV April 16, 2009 at 5:50 am

Well, actually, there is a special announcement planned for the very next post… which will be the 100th post on AuPairMom. An anniversary celebration, if you will. Stay tuned…Friday….. cv

Dawn April 16, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Wow, 100th post! That’s very exciting! Congrats, congrats!

writingale April 17, 2009 at 7:32 pm

oh you all sound so LOVELY! I wish I am in the US!

I work as a live-in au pair in UK and here there is no culture program for a year… here it is like employer-employee… my family goes to work everyday and i take care of their three kids (when they are not at school)… my “shift” ends when the parents return arnd 7pm… and i go to my room to relax…

my employers are very nice and polite people but we don’t really talk much… they are pretty much dead tired when they come back from work… they don’t even interact with their kids, they go straight to their wing… naturally, not much talking… i’d love to have a hist mom who chats with me, takes me to shopping and advises me about men, lol.

May be I will come to US some time…! :)

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