What About Being an Au Pair Host Parent “Sparks Joy”?

by cv harquail on July 20, 2015

Sparks Joy?

If you aren’t one of the three million people who bought this book, or one of the 17 million people I’ve talked to about it, then you might not have thought about a possible link between being an Au Pair Host Parent and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Declutter-Tips-700x464

If you are one of those folks who’s gone past all the jokes about how to fold your tired socks so they get some rest and discovered the deep insights of Marie Kondo’s approach to life, well then WELCOME to this post.

I want to know how The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is changing your approach to being a host parent.

Over at my house, I’m in month 7 of a transformation sparked by The Life Changing Magic.

My  journey started when my neighbor Jody gave me The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up as a Christmas gift. She’d heard me say “Thank you for all your hard work and loveliness” to some faded cut flowers I was putting into the kitchen trash bin, and she thought I’d read about doing this in The Life-Changing Magic.

(Marie Kondo tells readers to say thank you to things they are discarding as a way to release guilt, engender gratitude, and send positive energy out into the world.  Which is exactly why I do this with faded flowers, spoiled plums, and any carbon-based thing that’s past its due date. )

When Jody realized that I hadn’t read the book and that I do this kooky thing with flowers all on my own accord, she knew I’d find a guiding spirit in Marie Kondo. First with clothes, then books, then gardening tools, I’ve been enjoying the process of sorting through to find what sparks joy for me.

I’ve been delighted and oddly relieved by the lightness that remains after letting go of so many things that no longer or never will work for me.  I’ve rediscovered clothes and jewelry that are helping me ‘dress for the day I want to have‘.

I’m using my favorite stickers and post-its now instead of waiting for some perfect event that needs one of my fancy folders.  I’m not buying (as many) things I don’t really need.

I can see the top of my desk.  Our garage has been relieved of old paint cans, flower bulbs from Costco that I never planted, and riding gear I’ll never fit my butt back into.  Friends visiting my house have been treated to a tour of our basement storage room, where I’ve pointed out the empty spaces on the shelves in between the emergency lantern and the extra vacuum cleaner bags. There’s even a rug on the storage room floor.  Why not? It’s really clean in there!

I’m tidying my way into a freaking miracle.

And I’m not alone.

I ran into Host Mom DMP in the “Kon Mari Adventures” Facebook group. (Yes, I actually joined the Facebook group.  …. I know… ). Host Mom DMP is having the same kind of fun on her own KMing adventure. She and I have been wondering —

How we might apply the wisdom of The Life Changing Magic to our Au Pair Host Mom experience?

We suspect that some of the parents, au pairs, and agency folk on AuPairMom might also be KMing their homes, since they are always looking for ways to do better, be better, and make a positive difference in their family lives.

Where to beginacf7af47b4421aa2a76d7a232c27ae0e

Marie Kondo asks you to take an item in your hands, look at it closely and ask “Does this spark joy?”

If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you set it free.

(Just like that Jonathan Livingston Seagull poster your older sister left in her room when she went to college.)

I’m not suggesting that you should set your Au Pair free if s/he’s bugging you right now– but I would like to know:

As you consider different parts of the experience of being a Host Parent, what — for you — sparks joy?



anon July 21, 2015 at 11:13 am

For me, I get laughter and joy out of the photos and texts that my au pair sends me throughout my work day showing me what she and the kids are doing. For example, yesterday they had a (not very successful) lemonade stand, but they had a great time making the signs, setting up the booth, making the lemonade, and trying to flag down cars. I wish I could have been there myself, but I am so thankful that this au pair is creative and energetic-getting the kids out of the house and trying new things at their pace and with their input. So much nicer than sticking them in a day camp every day of the summer!

ILHostMom July 21, 2015 at 11:33 am

When you develop a close relationship built on trust, respect, and humor. One of our previous Au Pairs was able to bring calm and order to our House of Madness and we feel eternally grateful. She is coming to visit for 4 weeks at the end of the summer and the excitement I feel is probably similar to my oldest child returning from college!

Host Mom in the City July 21, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Mostly, when I see how happy my kids are to have the close relationship they have with their child care provider. We are on vacation this week (we gave our au pair an extra week off instead of coming with us – her choice), and my youngest keeps talking about our au pair. She and our au pair are exchanging photos of their vacations and light-heartedly trying to one-up each other on who is having the most fun. Youngest has said a few times how much she misses our au pair and how she can’t wait to tell her all about our vacation. So sweet :)

Returning HM July 21, 2015 at 1:40 pm

For me, it’s when I see one of our APs do something that I know he or she would only be able to do, or even think to do, as a result of his or her year spent as an AP.

For one AP, it was driving her mom and sister to a big city 2 hours away when they came to visit. They had only known her as a scared, insecure young girl who was afraid to drive to new places, and here she was, all confident and secure and capable. For another AP, it was going home and starting university in a city far from home and getting an apartment on her own. This AP came to us straight from her family and HS and had never navigated a thing on her own before she came.

For a third AP, it was seeing him give of himself selflessly, without expecting something in return – a skill he definitely learned while with us. For another, it was watching her NOT get married in the year that she returned home – which was everyone’s expectation for her – but instead waiting until she found someone who would treat her well and respect her as an equal, a very rare relationship balance in her country.

I got to see our APs do all these things after a year spent in the US, in our household, learning from the experience of being far from home, in a new setting and new culture and being able to see something and say “that is who I want to become” and setting their minds to becoming that person.

This opportunity to see growth is what sparks the greatest joy in me about hosting and is why we are still hosting after so many years.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm

I love seeing our country, our home, our community through a newcomer’s eyes. I just love the excitement and freshness and hopefulness of it all. I also love how immersed my son gets when we have the right au pair.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 22, 2015 at 6:50 am

Most of our APs have fallen in love with The Camel. I just love watching them cuddle her, sing to her, and play with her. Although The Camel is a teenager, she’s just a big baby, and knowing that she’s both loved and safe puts my mind at ease.

Host Mom DMP July 27, 2015 at 4:11 pm

This is the biggie for me as well. Just having more people in the world who truly love and “get” my kids, flaws and all. We have aged out of the Au Pair program (although I can’t quite let go and am about to start as a new LCC!), but it still brings me so much joy when our former APs post on Facebook to share a random memory or wish one of the kids a happy birthday, and their words just burst with love and pride the way my own posts about my kids do.

cv harquail July 28, 2015 at 9:55 am

DMP- We’d love to hear about your adventure transitioning from a Host Parent to an LCC! Want to write a guest post about it? Keep us in mind and email me as soon as the idea of writing excites you. Or sooner.

Host Mom DMP July 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

Yes, I’d be happy to write a guest post, as soon as I feel like I have something worthwhile to say, LOL! Right now, I’m still just doing the training, etc. – once I’m actually “up and running,” I’ll touch base with you about doing a guest post!

IntellectualMom July 22, 2015 at 11:41 am

Our year is almost over with AP2, and there are many moments that spark joy: coming downstairs exhausted after putting the kids to bed to find she has cleaned up the kitchen, seeing the kids’ books organized nicely on their shelves and beds made, watching our AP deal gracefully with preschool tantrums without losing her cool, seeing her now strong bond with our eldest with whom the relationship was rocky to begin with… As others have said, I have enjoyed witnessing our AP blossom into a confident, wise and poised young woman!

Nina July 22, 2015 at 4:18 pm

With the great ones:coming home and seeing them excited about playing with the au pair or a project au pair came up with.
I also love seeing how the experience changes them, they grow up a bit, become more open …

Multitasking Host Mom July 22, 2015 at 10:05 pm

I just finished the book, and after spending just a few days following most of the steps, my house is looking tidier and I feel like I am breathing easier now.

What sparks joy for me as a host parent is….
– No longer having to stress about finding child care to cover random days off or monthly delayed starts for my kid’s school.
-Seeing the wonderful bond that my kids have formed with the AP. And seeing how the AP is truly enjoying spending time with them.
-Watching the AP be amazed by something I find common place. It definitely opens up my eyes and makes me appreciate the world around me.
-Hearing from my former APs years later and finding out what they have accomplished in their lives.

TexasHM July 23, 2015 at 7:52 pm

I was talking with AP3 on WhatsApp today and I was reminded of several things that spark joy for me in this program like:

How even though she had no children of her own, after a short time she could actually intuit when something was escalating or about to go awry and often before I could open my mouth would call out something I figured only I noticed like my youngest is tired and needs some down time or that one of them might not be feeling well because they weren’t their usual chipper self. (She was always right too.)

How protective our APs have been of my kids (to this day even years after their time with us) and how they have loved each of them for who they were and made an effort to connect with each of them on a deeply personal level.

How they have invested in my kids by teaching them not only languages and culture of other countries but also life skills and encouraged them in a way that they felt comfortable to try and accomplish things that I didn’t think they were capable of at their ages (but the APs never had a doubt!).

How all of our APs have gone above and beyond when miscellaneous crises have hit our household. Whether it was AP1 taking my kids when off duty (she insisted) so I could rush my husband to get stitches in his hand, AP2 thinking on her feet when my brother had a medical emergency in front of her and the kids (quick distraction and to this day they have no idea it happened), AP3 managing upset kids and HPs when we had an unexpected transition with AP2 and bringing a surreal calm to our household when we needed it most and AP4 keeping her head when having a playdate at pregnant AP1s house when AP1s water broke 4 weeks early and she had to hustle her to the hospital because AP1s husband and I were both over an hour away!

Anon for this one July 26, 2015 at 7:35 pm

This has been a very difficult year for me, and unfortunately the AP we matched with has not been a good fit for my family. At this point, the only thing that sparks joy is the thought that in a few weeks she will be gone, and we will have a fresh start with our new incoming AP.

So this is quite a timely post for me, because I need to be reminded that there are aspects of having an AP that can spark joy, rather than it being merely a dread necessity.

WarmStateMomma July 27, 2015 at 11:30 am

My toddler won’t go to sleep without the storybooks AP#3 ordered from China. She “reads” them to herself and spends hours snuggled up on the couch with AP#3 reading and discussing the stories. Watching my daughter have this experience I could never personally give her has moved me to tears on more than one occasion.

Our last AP accepted an incredible job with an international company after returning home. She handled a pretty shocking incident at work with such confidence, dignity and sense that I was incredibly impressed (and she was the first person to speak up in 10 years!). I don’t know how much of her response was attributable to her experience here and how much to her own awesome no-nonsense personality, but I know that she will be a great example for young women in her circle and she was a great example for my daughter. Having a person of this caliber in your “family” is one of the best parts of hosting APs and exchange students.

Someone else mentioned in a different post about APs making the kids feel “safe, special and loved.” All 3 of our APs have done that and I hope they have received that from us in return.

WarmStateMomma July 27, 2015 at 11:35 am

Another thing: AP#3 plans FaceTime chats for my kids with AP#2. I love, love, love that they maintain those relationships. APs 2 and 3 have even become friends online and message each other often about the kids, current events, politics (and probably us) even though they don’t have a huge amount in common.

so new at this July 28, 2015 at 8:06 pm

Can’t help but be jeleaus about the great stories here. I had a mediocre AP who needed lots of coaching, was forgetful, constantly lost her cool with my kids and whined all year long.

In retrospect, we should have rematched as soon as we saw the signs it would have made hers and our lives less miserable and at this point neither of us would be counting the days back until she departs.

I must acknowledge though that this experience brought some joys to my family. The flexibility of having someone on point on those crazy days, not having to run out of the office to get a sick kid, being able to sleep in a day or two. And despite the bad moments, I must say AP was loyal to my kids, even compassionate at times, when they were down about something.

I look forward to moving on and wish her the best

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