OK experienced host moms (and dads), I need some of your advice.
Although I have had three Au Pairs, they have all ended in transition so I feel like a new host mother. Since this is the first time I am going into the AP relationship with the aid of other mothers as mentors, I thought I would ask for help.
I have always treated my Au Pairs as members of the family and even guests for the first few weeks in our home and have been told I have a tendency to do too much for them.
I have a hard time understanding how being nice can be bad, yet I see that my experiences have been less than successful while others that I see proceed smoothly so obviously I am doing something wrong.
In the past, I have always taken the first week the AP has been here to help her adjust to our home, shown her around our town, kept her busy if there are homesickness issues, taken her to the bank, school, DMV, etc. This time we have a welcome party planned for our new AP in conjunction with a friends. I limit childcare that first week and have them focus on getting to know the kids with fun activities and outings that I pay for.
The last au pair complained that I obviously didn’t need an Au Pair, so that probably was the wrong approach!
I try to be thoughtful and remember this person is new to our country and think how I would want to be treated if I was in their shoes, but why haven’t I had the same work ethic in return? I have a hard time believing that if you are too nice people will treat you bad, do you think that is true?
Should I be more strict in the beginning and just leave her with my kids to figure it out on her own? My new AP will be here in a week so I am just looking for ways to do things differently to ensure success. Thanks!
Host Mom, it’s a smart idea to look back at the approach you used with au pair situations that didn’t work out, so that you can establish a stronger relationship at the start. Good for you!
There is an important difference between "being welcoming" and "treating your au pair as a guest." Being welcoming means being warm, friendly, and reasonably attentive. Treating her as a guest means doing things for her, not having her work, and generally putting her needs before your own.
You need to adjust and refine what it means to be "nice". Kindness is good, doing everything for her diminishes her ability to learn what to do and how to fit in.
When you treat an au pair like a guest, you are telling her to relax and enjoy herself. But in truth, she is starting a job — an important job.
When you treat an au pair like a guest, even for the first week, you set up a situation where you are (in fact) telling her that she isn’t really going to be part of the family.. .she will always be a guest, there to relax and enjoy, but never to be fully integrated into what goes on in the family.
Also, when you do many things *for* the au pair, you take away her chance to take her own steps towards self-sufficiency, and to learn how to work things out. Sure, take her to the DMV, but show her where the bank is on the map and let her walk there herself. Even better, have her call another au pair in the cluster to help her out, so that she can make a new friend.
Au pairs want to know that they are needed. There has to be a real reason for them to be in your family, or else they will feel like a third wheel and then adjust their attitude accordingly.
Keep in mind that we develop competence and confidence by doing, not by being shown how to do or having someone do for us. S8imilarly, kids and au pairs develop their relationship as the au pair cares for them… they can’t get adjusted to each other well when it’s all about fun, or when mom is nearby to resolve issues.
You don’t want it to be ‘sink or swim’, but you cannot set your au pair up with sunscreen, lemonade and a lounge chair and then expect her to jump in the water on her own. Think about when you’ve started a job– what did you do (and what did your boss do) to make sure you got up to speed confidently? Take something more like that approach to balance out your inclination to be more of a hostess. Your responsibility in the first few weeks is not to make her comfortable or to make things easy, but rather to set her up to succeed.
Be sure to check out this post from last year: Ways to start orienting your new Au Pair: Advice for the first two days
Parents — advice? Jump in!