Advice Wanted: How to set the right tone from Week 1

by cv harquail on May 13, 2009

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.

Hawaii 5 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1241656033866.jpeg

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!


Lidi May 13, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Thank you for posting this question. I was, literally, going to post a similar question a couple of days ago. Our first au pair will be leaving next week, after having been here a bumpy nine months. We’ve matched with a new au pair that will arrive at the end of June and I’m also wondering how we can do differently to ensure a successful year. I also felt that we were generous, kind, welcoming and reasonable, and instead got an attitude of entitlement and resentment.

I appreciate the advice on not treating au pairs as guests, since I think that was my initial mistake. I think it sets that expectation from the on-set and then (at least in my experience) she was surprised and angry when I asked her to work.

This time around I sent the au pair manual when we first started interviewing new au pairs and tried being extremely clear that we expected her to carry out her responsibilities (clearly listed in a chart: “clean girls’ room on Thursday,” “clean bathroom once a week”, “clean your room”, etc.) aside from the daily schedule with obvious duties such as taking my older daughter to pre-school, nap schedule for the baby, etc.

I plan on spending only a couple of days with the new au pair, versus a week, in which time I did most of the work (my fault). My mom will also be here (not sure if that’s really wise, but she helped me decide our old au pair really had to go after she visited with us for a month) to help her adjust.

Overall I think the first week or two will really set the tone and I would also advise against doing “too much” for the au pair. I also took our old au pair to the DMV, the social security office, the bank, etc. and that didn’t amount to much apparently. I just hope this “tougher” attitude won’t backfire. It’s really against my nature to not be more helpful.

Good luck and I would LOVE to hear how it goes, since our new au pair will arrive a little later than yours.

Anna May 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm

You seem to be confused on how to combine the member of the family and working relationships into one. I think general tips will be harder to digest than a real plan.
I will give you mine, and I think if you follow it somewhat, you will be better off.

I am a working mother, and I cannot take a week off to coddle my new au pair. She arrives Thu night and I have to be with her the first three days, so I am taking that Fri off, and spend Sat and Sun with her and the family too. On Monday I return to work and she is on her own (with all of my phone numbers and instructions on call with the smallest questions)

I also advise (if you already haven’t) to write a handbook, it is a job/relationship manual of sorts that spells out expectations and rules. It will include all emergency contact info, local info (banks, DMV), your house particulars (i.e. how to operate washing machine, etc.), typical work schedule and responsibilities, any specific info about your children, and you work and personal expectations and responsibilities to each other. Also rules about things such as car, phone, curfew, vacation, payday, schedule, etc. I also include local maps, information about local transportation and educational institutions

When my au pair arrives, I plan to welcome her, introduce her to family and kids, feed her dinner, and give her my handbook to start reading, and give her the tour of the house and the first explanation on how things work. On Friday will be a typical day of work for her, except I will be home with her and the kids and showing her things along the way. First time maybe doing it for her (food-related tasks, its particular in our family), second time watching her do it. Child-related tasks I will have her do herself right away, with me watching and available to help. When kids are in preschool Fri morning, I will test her driving and show her where bank, library, social security office, etc. are. Saturday is her first day off, I will invite her to join us on our trip to the synagogue if she wants, and Sunday she will spend the day with me and the kids on outings.

Sunday night we will have the meeting to go over the handbook together and answer her questions, and give her a schedule (full time schedule) for the week, and very detailed instructions.
I plan to take her on the first few grocery shopping trips, to show her what we typically buy and where, and find out what things she needs us to stock that we usually dont. This way she’ll be able to pick up some staples during her work hours if we run out.
Tuesday night we have a meeting with the LCC to go over the first meeting paperwork etc. That’s all.

Of course I will be nice and solicitious, answer all her questions and be generous with advice and chatting, but I go to work Monday and she starts work her first day here, Friday.

Bottom line – her first full day with your family is her first day of work. The first three days you are around and are available and helpful to various extent, but by the end of that third day she should be ready to be left alone with the kids for a full day.

Dawn May 13, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I think CV has hit the nail on the head with the distinction between being “welcoming” and treating the AP like a “guest.”

Here’s a brief sketch of our “new AP routine.” I think that we are very welcoming, and definitely let our AP know that we are happy that she is joining our family, but w do not treat her as a guest.

With our agency, APs arrive on a Friday afternoon. We all go to meet her and welcome her with flowers or balloons and a welcome sign made by the kids. We drive home and show her to her room, where there is a welcome basket waiting on her bed, along with our handbook, which I point out to her and tell her that she doesn’t need to look at it right away, but should plan to spend some time looking at it over the weekend so that we can go over it together on Monday. I explain that it may look like a lot (it’s LONG!), but that I thought it would be helpful for me to put as much as possible in writing because it’s easier to digest it that way rather than having all of that information thrown at her verbally. I show her where her bathroom is and then give her a bit of time to get settled, telling her to come on up to the kitchen when she’s ready to see the rest of the house. When she comes up, the kids and I give her a tour of the house and just generally chit chat and try to make her feel welcome. Assuming she’s not too tired, we take her out to dinner that night.

Because our AP’s normal work week is M-F and because my hubby and I have flexible enough schedules to allow us to take time off during the week to orient our AP, we don’t have her do much actual “work” on Saturday and Sunday. I tell her that she does not need to set her alarm, but when she gets up, we’ll start showing her where things are and how things work around the house and where a few places of interest are in our town. I would characterize these weekend days as “new employee orientation” as opposed to “on the job training.” The OJT starts on Monday.

Monday, I have her “show up for work” at the kitchen table at her regular work time. This is basically a full work-day where I show her the kids’ normal routines and what I expect her to do with them and around the house during her work hours. This first day, she is basically shadowing me as opposed to having primary responsibility for the kids, although I ask her to do specific tasks along the way (i.e. why don’t you change the baby’s diaper while I run this laundry basket upstairs). When it gets to be the time when I typically arrive home from work, I will point that out to her and then explain that I generally get home at X time, but then she is still on duty for about another 30 minutes to give me time to change clothes and just decompress a little. So then, after that 30 minutes are up, I let her know that she is “off duty” for the rest of the day.

Tuesday is basically the same as Monday, except this time the roles are reversed — instead of her shadowing me, I am shadowing her. She has primary responsibility for the kids and her other tasks, but I am right there to kind of talk her through it.

Wednesday, I am there but I make myself scarce, so that she’s basically doing the job on her own but I’m there if she has questions.

Thursday and Friday, I’m usually back at work, but my hubby takes the days off. He typically runs errands, etc., so he’s not around all day, but he is available by phone if the AP has questions, and he pops in frequently to see how things are going.

katerina June 27, 2010 at 7:14 am

what do the aupairs thing about the second day, which you describe as shadowing her? i would feel terrified by the thougt of it! someone watching me establishing routines and relationship with the children would feel me really nervous. perhaps less so if the kids were babies but still i would prefer to work it out on my own.

cv harquail June 27, 2010 at 9:55 am

Hi Katerina–
It’s less like “stalking” and more like “Being right there in case you need me”.
Most people need not only to hear something explained to them but also to have a chance to ‘do’ it, physically, before they feel like they know what is expected of them. Shadowing a new au pair allows for the au pair to try a task by putting into action what s/he’s heard, while having someone there to help, offer feedback, and also offer praise.
Since host parents aren’t allowed to be ‘gone’ during the first three days, shadowing the new au pair on day two or three is a good way to use the time to coordinate and learn to communicate with each other.
That said, if you are a person who prefers to learn and make mistakes & adjustments in private, you might ask for a little solo space, maybe with a parent in another room and available (only) if needed.

katerina June 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

i see your point! i guess it sounds worse than it actually is ;D

Anne May 13, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I’m a first-time host mom, and here’s what we did with our au pair. She arrived on a Thursday. We ordered pizza, and showed each other pictures of our families and friends. I gave her our manual. On Friday, the au pair shadowed me as I went around on my daily routine (storytime, lunch, nap, playground). On Friday night, my husband and I got a babysitter and took her out to dinner. Then over the weekend, we went over the book, went shopping, and drove to all the places she might want to know about. The au pair either drove or followed along on the city map I’d given her. Monday, I was back at work, but my husband worked mostly from home for 2 more days.
Our au pair jumped into working with the kids enthusiastically and confidently–but then she’s kind of a confident gal (which I noticed when we interviewed her).
Not that we did everything perfect–I do wish we’d emphasized some things more than others when training her.

Calif Mom May 13, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Oh, boy, I’m a too nice host mom, too. Just remind yourself that when Mom ain’t happy, nobody’s happy, including the au pair! That may help you get a little bit more managerial. I have learned the hard way that pushing myself to go into my zone of discomfort and make sure I get what I need from our au pair just plain works a lot better. I also have a MUCH better idea of what characteristics I need to select for to be a successful match with our family.

I would take the time to put down all the things that you have found unsuccessful–not to depress you, but to make sure that as you write your handbook you deal very clearly with these issues. It’s kind of a ‘fighting the last war’ response, but it seems to me that your comfort level will depend on it.

I have noted that some moms on this blog embrace the philosophy of starting out on the strict side of the continuum, then relaxing as you are more confident and the AP sort of proves herself reliable.

The other thing I would note is that there truly is no perfect. So don’t expect that, but set up some minimum standards, too, so that you don’t feel so taken advantage of.

I am learning to be a bit compulsive about instructions at the ripe old age of 40-something. Plan to give her checklists, written schedule, a notebook to keep track of what happens during the day (my nanny did this for years with us when we had a baby, and that really made a difference — we don’t do it with kids both in school now) and plenty of sticky notes in strategic places.

I would give your new ap a day to get acclimated and get her sleep organized (orientation is a whirlwind!) but then jump into it. Let her show you what she’s got!

Best of luck!

Anonymous May 13, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Music to my ears…. With my first au pair, I did everything that the agency told me. I was the mother figure inviting the AP into my home. I waited on her hand and foot. I made sure she was comfortable. She cried on my shoulder. Her mother called and yelled at me for telling her what to do. She consumed my life. My kids are not as needy. She called me 5 times a day at work, she wanted everything and gave nothing. The agency said it was an adjustment period and I needed to be FAIR. I drove her all over town, took her out to dinner alone, made sure she met friends, invited them over, had an au pair party…………..anything I could do to make her happy. It was a nightmare. A month later, she quit…………..she wouldn’t even stay the two weeks……….said I was horrible………..she hated my kids………and was rematched. Guess what………..the same thing happened with the next family……..and the next……..and the agency sent her home when the LCC said she is not staying with me again!!!!!!!!!!

I am now a firm believer in get into shape and this is what you signed up for. The kids make posters, and decorate the room with balloons, etc. but we make sure she knows the expectations up front and that we expect her to work her first week on the job.

We spend the weekend before she starts with administration stuff and driving. We spend a lot of time making sure she understands the driving rules, can drive on the “right” side of the road, and knows where she need to take the kids. My husband and I take turns and during the driving lessons we get to chat.

I have learned that I am not expect to be her “MOM” nor do I want to be. As a member of our family she is expected to carry her weight and do the same chores I expect of my kids. You are so right…………she is not a guest and neither are my kids or husband. Everyone has to chip in to make this household run……………the au pair included.

FYI – The worst mistake I ever made was taking off several weeks and taking the au pair on vacation trips and giving her time off to meet people when she first arrived. Another nightmare. They need to go to work right away and establish a routine. I have also learned to set firm rules which I can relaxe later on based on the au pair. Don’t give up everything up front. They will just want more. It is great to say………….thanks for everything, you did a great job this week and we really appreciate it. As a token of our appreciation we will change your weekend curfew to XXX, etc. or you can drive the car an extra XXX miles…….or whatever works for you. It keeps them wanting to do their job so they can earn a reward.

I would love to hear other stories.

Good Luck everyone

Jeana May 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

During the first week, I try to model the ways that I want our aupairs to handle things in our home. I try to remember that our aupairs may not have worked with a microwave, dishwasher, or washer/dryer, independently. I model how to use these items and have a gradual release of responsibility, so our aupairs are comfortable. I model how I want our aupairs to interact with my daughters. I try to help our aupair move through our day so that she’ll be able to be independent, soon. We go through the family book a few topics at a time, communicating priorities. My priorities are issues related to safety. I try to help our aupairs get a sense of our neighborhood. I also try to remember that our aupairs are experiencing jet lag; the body needs one day for each hour of time zone difference, so our aupairs are going to be tired for the first week or so after they join us. I also use this time to communicate that we want our aupair to have a wonderful experience with us, that there will be good days, there will be challenges, and I want her to tell me if there is a concern or problem.

Nicole May 14, 2009 at 1:32 am

Thanks everyone! It is so nice to hear that I am not the only one who has fallen into the too nice trap! I already have my family handbook prepared (It’s quite long!), and lists of things for her galore! I have enlisted the Au Pair across the street to help get her used to the area and introduce her to the nearby au pairs as well. The one downside that I did not mention is that we are all going to Disneyland 2 days after she arrives! Yes, I know how people feel about taking your new au pair on vacation and trust me, with our track record and with our last AP only lasting 2 weeks, we know it is a big risk, but I could not see leaving her at home and this trip was planned for a long time (Our last AP and her mother were supposed to be coming, lol!). So, I prepared her as much as possible that this trip is very much an exception and that the real work will start as soon as we get home and I hope she will bond with the girls during the trip. I so enjoy reading all of your comments, thank you!

Momof boys May 14, 2009 at 8:49 am

Just curious if anyone does anything differently if they are hosting an ext. Au Pair?

Pearl May 14, 2009 at 11:07 am

I made the “too nice” mistake recently, too. We explicitly addressed questions in our pre-matching conversations with our current (soon to be former) au pair about whether she realized that she was signing up to take on a challenging job (caring for three young kids, well-behaved but active), and she confirmed that she was committed, etc. I think I set a too-nice tone, however, even before she got here, by emailing with her all the time. She confided her hopes and fears to me, and I responded with maternal, encouraging advice. I thought that establishing this sort of open communication would be beneficial to our working relationship, after having trouble with my last au pair being much less than frank. The kids and I made homemade chocolate chip cookies and sent them to her au pair school, and we welcomed her with flowers and signs and a big, celebratory family dinner. We treated her very kindly and respectfully.

Then, she read our host family guidebook, came to the shocking realization that she was an employee rather than an exchange student and quit on her second full day on the job (after I stayed home to share the work with her for a week and model ways to handle the kids and their schedule). Although I know the guidebook is detailed and could be somewhat overwhelming, I’ve gotten feedback on it from our au pair agency and was told it was not unreasonable, and would actually serve as a good example. So, my mistake was not the guidebook, but the kindness.

I really appreciate the detailed advice from some of the moms who’ve commented already, and will never take off a full week of work to train an au pair again.

Nicole May 14, 2009 at 11:24 am

That is almost EXACTLY what happened with my last Au Pair. I was in near constant contact with her as well as her mother prior to her arrival and actually felt like a friend. Her mother actually had a trip planned to visit before she even got here. It seemed like she would be the perfect fit, until we asked her to work. As soon as she read our handbook, also detailed, and saw her schedule, she hated it here, told us there were families that required less work, gave more to their au pairs, that our kids wouldn’t listen to her (after 2 days!), and left. I definitely learned my lesson because not only did I try everything to pick a perfect match and make things great for her transition into our family, in this case I had felt we were friends as well so it was like a double hit. Although I like the AP coming, I have not spoken to her nearly as much and have to really work to not keep too much distance from her as a reaction to the last experience. Sometimes this AP thing can really be hard!

Dorsi May 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Maybe we have been lucky — I was pretty easy going with our AP on arrival. She didn’t work unsupervised for the first month (we had a 2 month old at home — so she couldn’t work without someone in the house). I took her to bank, SSA, grocery shopping, etc. (Our AP does not have access to a car, so I don’t think it was unreasonable to drive her around). If she had been the ‘wrong’ AP, she might have taken advantage, but she was so eager to prove that she was an asset to the family, it hasn’t backfired at all. We are now in our 5th month and have a stable, comfortable relationship.

I do think it helped that our (German) AP was not the type to share feelings and related to me as an employer right away. (That is not something I can take credit for — she is introverted and serious). Part of our success lies with having (by design or by luck) selected someone who is perfect for our household. So, while I would focus on making a good start, the AP you selected will be a big part of your success.

Good Luck!

Franzi May 14, 2009 at 5:07 pm

if you send your manual to the AP via email, i’d suggest you make it clear that this is a set of rules and though they may seem harsh at some point, there is a reason you put them in your book. encourage the AP to ask back.

i know quite a few APs who were overwhelmed when they received the 30something-paged manual in the first email. with the result that the family came across as micromanagers – because the first contact was a “hi, this is us and attached is our manual. hope you like it. ask when unsure”-thing only.

also, when your APs arrival is drawing close, let her know that she is supposed to work from day one. yes, you will support her and show her around and do all the explaining, but you do expect her to get to know her responsibilities.

i suggest you take her to the administrative places such as bank (to open the account, only after she has her SSC or number), DMV, maybe college because for these places your support is likely to be needed. but also make sure she makes contact with other APs in the area to do the follow up visits by herself/with them.

Anne May 14, 2009 at 8:29 pm

I’d like to second what Franzi said. An au pair acquaintance of our au pair’s left almost immediately, after getting a set of rules such as “no doing laundry on the weekends” and other things that seemed very specific and strict. They might have been perfectly nice people–our au pair seemed to think so–but they came across as controlling.

Also, I agree with Franzi about taking your au pair places that they need support. I really wish I could have taken time off to take our au pair to the college, because the bureaucratic run-around she got was difficult for her to manage.

Nicole May 15, 2009 at 1:47 am

Well, with our new AP arriving tomorrow, I am hoping that either I have chosen well this time or that my luck has greatly improved.

In reading everyone’s advice, I really don’t feel like I have done much different than those of you who have been successful. My handbook is reasonable, I have compared it to many others, we are very relaxed about when things get done and do not attempt to micromanage the house. I definitely agree that places with bureaucracy require our support and have lots of experience in that department, lol!

As Franzi recommended, I did tell this AP that there will be a lot of work once she arrived and actually did all I could to try and talk her OUT of coming here. I figure since she still wanted to come join our family she must be a good match. I will keep you all posted in a few weeks and again thank you for the advice.

Franzi May 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm

@anne, i think i was misunderstood. i didn’t mean to say “drop the book on her and let her digest it” but rather explain that every rule has a reason so while it might seem like a lot and some things seem strange, the family has a reason for that rule. so when the AP asks back the family can explain why she shouldn’t do x y and z. if there was a bad experience with a previous AP, share it because the AP needs to know that you are trying to adapt and improve

Meghan June 2, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I wish I’d posted this same question a couple of months ago. Our first Au Pair is arriving on June 12th and I’m on maternity leave until July 20th. I had planned to spend the month plus acclimating her to our house, kids, the city, etc. We also plan to take her to our cabin at the end of June (provided she wants to come) for a week long vacation. Now I’m really worried. Any tips on how I can still make this work? I’m not a very authoritative person…this may be really tough. Also, our new baby won’t be 12 weeks until the end of June so she cannot be left alone with him until then anyway.

Nom Deplume June 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Sit them down, go through the manual with them, and use the rules for communication I learned, which is (1) tell them what you are going to tell them; (2) tell them, and (3) tell them what you told them.

Also resort to authority–point out that the rules are not really just yours but the town/state/federal government’s rules.

Point out to them in very clear terms that you are trusting them, and any breach of that trust is going to damage your relationship badly, perhaps irreparably. Tell them that, for the good of your child(ren), you won’t hesitate to demand a rematch and put their butt on a plane. Tell them very clearly “there are no second chances where my children are concerned.”

Put every single expectation you have, including lights and power use, cleaning, what constitutes personal car use and work use, personal hygene, etc., in your manual. Get them to read it and sign it, acknowledging that they understand.

Point out the real cost to them in terms of food, utilties, auto insurance, etc.

When you see something you don’t like, nip it in the bud. It’s harder to take care of later if you don’t.

A-Mom-ymous June 2, 2009 at 6:21 pm

WOW. Nom, I’m pretty sure I would not last a week at your house. If I were to be talked to in such a heavy-handed and authoritarian way before I even had a chance to find the bathroom without getting lost, I would be very unhappy.

You say you tell them that it’s important for you to trust them, but do they feel met halfway? I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s just the way it comes across in writing. It sounds like you have had some irresponsible or immature APs come through your door.

CV June 2, 2009 at 7:39 pm

A-M-y… I think NomDP was responding to a post further up, where the au pair was recalcitrant and unwilling to take direction– not to the post immediately above about a brand new au pair. Either way, I think you’re wise to give her the benefit of the doubt. … It can be very difficult to describe how to be firm and clear without sounding a little heavy, I think.

But your bigger point is important too– we need to balance the guidelines/rules with a sense of the opportunity and fun as we discuss that the year will bring.

Jenny August 11, 2009 at 3:59 pm

SUCH great advice! I’m always too nice, we’ve been emailing a lot and I’ve been preparing a lot to make her comfortable, though I’ve already sent her my handbook of all that is expected of her and it’s pretty strict.

With the live out nannies we’ve had, it is such a balance because for me, while I don’t need more friends, if I don’t feel friendly with her, it starts to feel like a bit of an intrusion. I imagined this being the same way, except I am no longer dealing with a peer but more of a adult child.

You ladies really are wonderful thanks for your posts! Wish me luck, she arrives on Friday.

NewAPMom October 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Something I did this time that I saw elsewhere on the site – I created a “schedule of the first days” that tells the au pair what we’ll be doing the first couple of days, when she needs to be up and ready for duty, and when she’ll have time to herself. She hasn’t arrived yet but she already told me she appreciates that.

Question – some of you said that you had the au pair driving right away. Our last au pair didn’t drive so this driving thing is all new to me. If they were driving right away, then they didn’t yet have their US driver’s license, right? So that means you were okay with letting them drive on their int’l license? I know it’s a moot point for German drivers but how about drivers from other countries? I was planning to have her get her US driver’s license before I let her drive but it sure would be nice to be able to have her drive from the start… Thoughts?

MommyMia October 30, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I would check with your auto insurance company. They vary on requirements; ours simply asked for a photocopy of the AP’s intl license, and if possible to obtain from her country, a record showing her driving record (any accidents, proof of completion of required tests, etc.). To us, it mattered less what type of license they have (as long as they have one!) and more on them demonstrating good driving skills when we go out with them at first to learn their way around our community and how to get to our kids’ activities where they will be driving weekly. I think everyone feels a different level of comfort driving in a new locale, with a new vehicle, initially (I know I do, when renting a car on vacation!) so we make sure they’re feeling confident, know how to read a map (how old school are we?! OK, program the GPS, which I’ve barely learned to do in my vehicle!), how to pump gas, etc. In our state, the AP must first obtain a SSN, which can take 4-6 weeks after arrival from abroad, then take the written driver’s test and pass (most have had to take more than once) and then the actual driving test, so it would depend on how badly you want her to drive sooner for you. Our first AP never did obtain a US license and it wasn’t a problem; a more recent one got a traffic ticket and it also wasn’t a problem for her (except financially) using her overseas DL.

Sara Duke January 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm

My husband always drives with new au pairs to assess their skill level. Those who are competent to drive on their own, get a quick lesson from him on how to orient themselves (e.g. how to get back home). The two who have not have had to prove themselves to get keys to car.

Personally, the more you do for your au pair, the less she’ll be able to do for herself. Let her find the DMV, sign up for the ESOL exam and register for classes, let her find her way to the social security office. Invite her to join you on routine family trips (e.g. the local library) and make a special point of taking her grocery shopping (it’s hard to memorize all those food words, but she’ll know what she wants to eat when she sees it).

We great our au pairs with flowers and then give them a vase to put them in her room. We make sure the room is stocked with office supplies, stamps (who writes anymore), a flash drive, and our handbook. We make sure her bathroom has a wide variety of toiletries, tampons and sanitary napkins, as well as calomine lotion and tylenol. We buy samples from the $1 bins at Target.

I’ve always let my au pairs sleep in on Friday (they arrive on Thursday evenings from a 3-day orientation in our agency), unpack their bags and set up their bedrooms. I usually have them watch me feed my daughter for the first time, so they learn that “the camel” needs persistence on the part of the feeder (and to wear old clothing, otherwise “the camel” will ruin new clothing when she spits). On Monday they get the morning routine from my husband, and then they are on their own. (Fortunately they have my fast-talking son to assist them when they have problems with the g-tube).

aussiegirlaupair October 30, 2009 at 4:29 pm

In both my previous aupair jobs I didn’t drive straight away, not for the fact that I had to get a US/Canada license it was more the fact I arrived in the middle of winter with heavy snow and I had to drive on the otherside of the road!! My second Job I was driving alot quicker, but it was a big adjustment with thos elements. I have just signed up for a repeat year with CC for next year and know I will be much more confident driving straight away.

I agree with letting your aupair know you expectations straight away in my first job my sechdule was so up and down, I had a hard time adjusting as did the kids, although i think the host mom needs to be at less a little supportive especially in the first few weeeks of adjusting to life in aa new job, family and country and guide your aupair if the expectations are not told up front. I had been in the country less then 3 weeks was extremely homesick when I was yelled at in the middle of a restaurant for not going into the HM room to search for the childs hat. I had searches the rest of the house but thought there room was off limits.

NewAP Mom November 1, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Indeed, I did call my insurance company and she can drive temporarily on her int’l license. Thanks for the suggestion, MommyMia.

aussigirlaupair, I’m sorry to hear that experience had such an effect on you. I think that small mistakes and misunderstandings like that are bound to happen at first. How else could you learn?

aussiegirlaupair November 2, 2009 at 7:27 am

I agree I learnt alot, I stayed the whole year with the family and had a wonderful time. It would however been better to have spoken to me in a private setting instead of a restaurant and was told of my expecations straight up, I admit it didn’t help that I was homesick but the situation could have been dealt with better.

Frustrated HM!! April 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Hello all, I have been lurking on this site for a while, appreciating the wisdom from fellow HMs. We are currently hosting our first AP and are new to all of this. She is a great AP in many ways and we have gone out of our way to show our appreciation and make her experience positive and rewarding. We have provided her with full use of a car, a private bathroom, extended cable tv in her room, personal computer, cell phone, flexible schedule, weekends off, and many dinners out. I go out of my way to express my appreciation for the job she does, and I make a point to let her know when I feel she has done a good job. I also find myself cleaning up after her frequently, but again, she is great with our kids so I say nothing about the crumbs on the counter and dishes in the sink.. My problem is that she NEVER says thank you for anything ‘extra’ that we do for her. While she is always pleasant, she does not appear to appreciate our efforts to go the extra mile. We live comfortably but we are certainly not rich, and I am hurt that our efforts to treat her well are not met with appreciation. I have also invested an incredible amount of emotional energy into her, making sure we meet weekly to talk about how things are going (and praise what is going well), learning all of her friends’ names and making sure that things were going well for her socially, opening our home to her family, etc. I studied abroad when in college and I am constantly putting myself ‘in her shoes’ and trying to make sure that she is happy and comfortable..
Needless to say, I am starting to burn out, and find myself becoming resentful by what I feel is a lack of appreciation or recognition for our efforts. She comes from a very wealthy family–something I didn’t fully realize until more recently, and I wonder if she feels disappointed that there is no housekeeper or cook as she is used to having back home.
Not sure if I need to readjust my expectations and start looking at this as more of an employee-boss relationship. I certainly don’t feel I can ask for her to change her attitude, because she really isn’t doing anything wrong. I am just wondering if others have encountered this dynamic and how you have dealt with it?

My 2 cents April 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

I could have written this post when we had our 1st AP! Our first AP was this same person. We went out of way, way out of our way (big mistake as you can gather from this entire post), to make her feel welcome and an “equal.” She did not thank us for much of anything the first 6 months she lived with us.

Honestly, looking back, while I do think it was partially her disposition, I also think it was her culture. I won’t name the culture because I don’t want to aggravate stereotypes that are already out there, and there are aspects to the culture in my experience that are better than ours. But let’s just say she came from a country not known for being warm and fuzzy and big on the please and thank you’s. And the reason I am pretty certain her expressed lack of appreciation came from culture was because in the second half of our year she was regularly saying please and thank you, as we do her in the States, and shared with me that everyone here is “so nice” compared to back home where they don’t smile as much and don’t try to help out. Obviously, there was some rubbing off happening culturally. And it made me realize that people can be grateful without necessarily gushing their thanks as many of us do in the States.

Advice? Rather than explode, which is the point to which I almost got with the lack of expressed appreciation, try making it obnoxiously obvious that you expect a thank you. An example: make a big deal of any accomodation and then stare at her — “I thought of you when I was at the drug store and picked up your favorite candy bar, thought you would really like that after a hard day, you like it don’t you??” Stare, stare stare. Unless she’s a complete idiot, she will realize what you are really after and will start the habit of expressing her gratefulness.

Another idea? Share with your LCC and suggest she make a point at the next meeting that the APs need to say please and thank you for even the smallest thing. I guarantee this will not be news to your LCC, but may be news to some of the APs who are from more reserved cultures.

Another piece of advice if you are really daring? Just tell her that a thank you is expected whenever someone does something out of their way for a person. I used this once when she didn’t thank a relative of mine for something. She was mortified and said thank you at least 5 times later. It was painful, but it woke her up.

former aupair May 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I think I know what culture you are talking about and it’s where I’m from. The language spoken in that culture does not rely as heavily on friendliness and politeness as (esp. American) English does. This is not meant to be judgemental, it is just a linguistic fact. In that language you just don’t say “thank you” and “please” as often. Also, if an au pair (esp. with “that” native language) says “give the water to me”, that is not unfriendly, that is the literal (almost word by word) translation of the native language equivalent of “w/could you pass me the water, please?”. That last phrase tranlated literally into THAT language would be over the top concerning friendliness in most “family / friends” situations. Often, this is a question of what is idiomatic in the au pairs native language and it takes a long time to not only learn the words but to also learn how to use the right phrases in the right situation (these differe quiet a lot between different lnaguages). This is of course an aspect of culture but cultures differ as well. Learning to speak idiomatically (including prosody) takes an even longer time. So try not to be offended if your au pairs appears to be unfriendly, it is usually not meant that way.

CS Nanny May 28, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Thank you for writing this. I wanted to say something along those lines, but I wasn’t sure how to put it. I think HF’s expect their AP’s to react to things the way an American would, but often times do not fully understand the language/culture their AP is from.

katerina June 27, 2010 at 8:04 am

this is funny in a way as it bring memories from the time when i was an aupair in the coutry we are talking about. after a year in england i would kind of translate english sentences into ‘the’ language and it didint take long for the kids to talk me out of that. why do you say ‘could you please give me the butter’ and ‘thank you’. then they simply said, after i tried to explain, we dont say that in ‘this country’. the most polite way at the table to ask for a thing to be passed to you would be ‘please butter’ with no thank you afterwards.
and i had a lot of situations where i felt the hm was harsh to me and i had to remind myself that thats the way they talk.

PA AP mom April 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Our last au pair didn’t appreciate anything. She was always comparing what she had, or didn’t have to the other au pairs and their families.

I sat her down and told her that we were trying out best to give her all the luxuries that we could afford. I then asked her, flat out, if she wanted to be part of our family or if she wanted to look for a “better” family. She said she wanted to stay with us.

It became more and more of an issue over the year and we stuck it out because we were afraid of a rematch. It was miserable for the last 4 months when she constantly spent all of her off-duty time with a more wealthy family for whom her friend was an au pair.

If you can move past it, then go for it. If not, better to deal with it now.

Anna April 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I think in your weekly meeting, while starting with praise, you should add requests or ask her to fix certain situations.
I have not done it with our au pair because she is so fantastic, but I feel she also feels it “beneath” herself to sweep the kitchen floor, and I thought I could live with it, but as the year is almost over, it is driving me nuts.

She came here to work, do cultural exchange. Our culture is different as in even wealthy families don’t have full time housekeepers. Part of her responsibilities include cleaning up after herself and the kids. I will be more detailed with our next au pair – this time I put in our handbook “leave the kitchen the way you found it”, but apparently this is not clear enough. So for next year, I will spell out decrumbing the placemats, sweeping the kitchen floor, and wiping the counters clean and dry, and taking out the trash on the way out.

I think first, you should convince yourself that you are right in your new requests; that she is not “not doing anything wrong”, but she is indeed falling short in her responsibilities. They don’t only include being a governess for the children, but doing light housework; this is clear in program rules. And cleaning up after oneself is our cultural value. Then you can nonaccusatorily (while you still can ;) ) bring it up in the meeting. Explain it as a cultural difference, don’t put blame on her, put it as a clarification of your expectations and her responsibilities.

Taking a computer lunch April 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm

At some point the AP ceases to be a guest and starts to become an employee/family member. As a new HF, it is easy to fall into the trap of bending over backward, but you don’t need to keep on doing it after the immediate get-to-know-you phase. At some point everyone has to start living their lives, and part of this is picking up after oneself.

So, in your next quiet moment, when the kids are not around (rule #1 – never ever dress the AP down when the kids are in ear shot), start a conversation with, “I like it when you… and end it with … it really annoys me when you don’t wipe the countertops and clean up after yourself. I really like having you life with my family, and I don’t want this little problem to become a big deal to me. Please pick up after yourself.” You’re AP will figure out where the boundaries lie, and where there is give-and-take.

Keep having regular chats–and be willing to listen to her–and if she doesn’t improve, then start to think rematch.

Busy Mom April 20, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I agree with the comments above regarding specificity in both the handbook (ours lists trash, wiping counters, and vacuuming daily) and the discussions. I had to add wiping the placemats during one such chat. I open with positive things, discuss changes/issues with my kids an how to handle them, and then close with a handful of requested adjustments of her. Make sure you tell your au pair what you expect and what you need.

In terms of appreciation, I would, however, like to hear “Thank you” a bit more when we do those extra things like take her on outings or out to dinner. I mean, I thank anyone (including family members) who takes us out to dinner. Our former au pair was not much of a thanker either. Genertional? Cultural?

I don’t receive (or really expect) tangible signs of appreciation for household amenities, car, etc. Your au pair may also not know to appreciate what you’re doing until she compares it to other’s experiences. For example, my au pair thanked me for taking her to the bank sever al months after I did it…after she had taken her friends to the bank!

You may never receive overt signs of appreciation, so you mayneed to adjust your expectations, and scale back on the energy you’re putting into this so you don’t burn out.
Since she’s been here a bit, she may not notice and you’ll be less resentful.

Calif Mom April 20, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Sounds like the dreaded Princesses have appeared again. I’ll *never* bend over backward again. I practically try to scare off new prospects, my hub made me edit our last new version of the host family letter because he said I was daring them to join our family and we really aren’t that bad. :-)

Computer Lunch offers a great approach. And Anna, too. (I was a little annoyed tonight when I was scrubbing runaway toothpaste off the shelves inside the medicine cabinet. Yes, we have a housecleaner, but she doesn’t do this, for her own reasons, and I have repeatedly mentioned that the kids and AP need to take care of it. Those little things that you think sound really petty at first can build in annoyance over the course of months! Better to start out with higher standards than try to impose them later!)

“Start as you mean to go,” is sound advice with any new project, or a new AP. You absolutely MUST hold those weekly meetings! Institutionalize them; yes, they feel awkward at first, especially if your AP’s English hasn’t gotten comfortable yet, but believe me, it’s nothing compared to the awkwardness of having to call special meetings to discuss things you’re not happy with later on. Better to have this neutral ground already established. You’ll be surprised what you learn about how you can help your AP, too. Some things are really easy to provide. For our current AP it’s chocolate chip cookies and strawberry ice cream. Done.

Also, please read the post about not traveling with a brand new AP. (More advice I wish I’d known way back when.)

In general, your AP may not yet know these nice things you are providing are “extra” — what you are providing is the norm, at least until she meets a lot of other APs and figures things out. But hopefully by then she will have settled in and realize she is lucky to not have to deal iwth total control freak, workaholic wacko host parents. Instead she will realize she has a very thoughtful host mom, and that will go a long way, when she starts hearing stories from other APs! :-)

Euromom April 21, 2010 at 3:59 am

I agree with Calif Mom – never bend over backwards and I do not automatically include my au pair in treats out like dinners – I know that it is hard to exclude but I always let her know well in advance that we plan to do something and ask her if she would like to invite her friends over or something like that – as in she has her own time with her friends and sometime we need family time alone.

We do have family days out which she is invited to but I make it very clear to her that this is a treat for all of us – and I expect her to appreciate it – which she does.

I believe you need to pull back and stop praising – you state that you thank her for every little thing she does – stop right now – yes praise her at the end of the day – “good job today” but not thank you thank you thank you – all day long – you are giving her all the power in the relationship – like she is doing you a favour – and she is feeling entitlement.

I also think that you may have given her too many perks to begin with – I always start off with the basics and reward as I go along – if it is deserved. I know that that cannot be changed now but next time – give the very basics and reward – and you will see appreciation.

For now – you need to change the dynamics of the relationship – for instance when you come in and there are dishes in the sink – just say “I’m going to read a story to the kids/have a shower/anything, could you please sort out the dishes in the sink/clear the kitchen”

Then remove yourself from the room – if you get any answer such as “I’m not on duty, etc, etc.. simple response is .. it should have been done when you were on duty… it is part of your duties, etc etc”

Do this across the board and see if it helps, also try get HD to do it once or twice as well so it is not only you who is the big bad wolf.

I hope this helps.

My 2 cents April 22, 2010 at 9:16 am

Excellent idea for handling the little stuff that she should do but doesn’t. I do the exact same thing. If I come home and it’s not done, I say something like “on your way out the door, would you finish X, or clean up Y.” It’s awkward, but they really get it, especially when it starts to eat into their free time. I also leave specific instructions the next day for all the stuff that didn’t get done the day before, and add to the list for that day. Also, a lot of times I’m not the first one home, so I have to resort to bringing up stuff casually the next time I see them.

All of this is awkward, but you must do it to break bad habits and to reinforce your expectations. It’s just like any other manager-employee relationship really. There’s some differences in expectations, some slacking that happens over time as folks get comfortable, and then attention needs to get called to something, and we all move on to better things.

HRHM April 21, 2010 at 7:43 am

Our most recent AP also never said thank you, not in an entire year – I’m pretty sure it was a cultural thing. I didn’t really care so much (although it would have been nice) What I DID care about was having to pick up after her like a third, dirtier, less grateful child! You don’t say how far you are into this, but trust me it doesn’t get better. If she is used to a domestic or her Mom picking up her detritus, you are the new biotch! I spoke with AP2 multiple times and she just never “saw” it – not the sticky crap on the floor, not the crumbs on the counter, not the mold in the cups in her room. Our new AP is not perfect, but I can’t tell you how much stress it removes not having to constantly be cleaning up after her. I wish I hadn’t stuck out the whole year with AP2.

And just remember, you don’t need to come from a rich family to never have lifted a finger – AP2’s Mom was still making her bed at 20! :)

AMommyMous April 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I totally agree with HRHM. It gets to be even more annoying when you were told during interviews that “I can’t stand clutter” or “I’m a very organized person and have to have things just so” only to constantly have to say “Could you please make sure all the toys are off the playroom floor at the end of your shift?” (And it would be nice if they could be in their proper, labeled bins instead of all thrown together in a heap wherever you can find an empty spot!)

HRHM April 21, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Ha, ha! AP2’s application said “I like the place where I live to be very clean” I guess I should have read that as, “I like someone else to keep it that way!” :)

Calif Mom April 21, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Oh, thank you! So glad it’s not just me–all the art supplies have clearly labeled bins. The kid herself loves organizing, and all I am asking is for AP to just remember to have her do it.

“Dump it all into a heap in the 20 seconds after you hear my car park in the driveway, before my key hits the lock” is not listed in our handbook, last I checked. I remember those mad scrambles from when I was a teen myself.

Our next AP says she likes arranging shelves at her part time job, so I’m hopeful that we will have a better balance next time. It’s tough, because we are not such neat freaks that a neat freak could possibly stand living here, but I really need the AP to help teach the kids these habits on a daily basis when I’m not here to do it.

What does help with this is the time-honored checklist on the fridge, titled: Things to be done before Mom/Dad get home.

AUPAIR Momma May 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I had no idea it was ok to expect an aupair to take the trash from kitchen to outside. Is this ok?

CS Nanny May 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Why wouldn’t it be? I mean, logically, they are helping to create the trash! It is also a normal household chore. The children also create the mess, so it is child-related. I wouldn’t have a problem asking an AP to take out the trash.

Busy Mom May 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I agree. “Part of the family” cuts both ways. We don’t make it an assigned chore, but a task that is part of taking care of the house and needs to be done regularly by all the adults. Our handbook states “Take out kitchen trash or recycling when you notice one of them is full.”

AFHostMom March 1, 2011 at 10:24 am

exactly–you can’t have it both ways. Either you are part of the family (meaning you pitch in with family chores to a reasonable degree), or you are not (meaning don’t get ticked if you don’t enjoy the same privileges that contributing household members do). Our just-rematched AP drew a bright line between her on and off duty hours which I can understand because it IS exhausting to care for little children all day, but if you are in a common area and help make a mess, or eat dinner with us, it’s just common courtesy to help clean up/clear the table. Otherwise resentment builds up. And you bet any adult in the house should take the trash out if he or she sees the can overflowing and no one else is around, even though that particular task is my husband’s “official” chore.

Seasoned Host Mom March 1, 2011 at 11:47 am

I know this is an old string, but I thought I would put in my two cents on one small area that’s been mentioned but not emphasized.

At least one poster above said that she puts her au pair to work the morning after the evening of AP’s arrival. I am ALL FOR not coddling an AP (having learned that lesson the hard way), but I do think a period of rest for a new AP is a necessity. Our AP#2 (our Mary Poppins) told me a few weeks after her arrival that orientation was a stressful, exhausting experience. Girls were put 4 to a small hotel room (resulting in a very poor night’s sleep), in training most of the day, given really poor quality food during that time, and as a result, most left orientation hungry and tired, on top of the inevitable jet lag they were feeling when they arrived in the U.S. I think it is only humane, therefore, to give your au pair some good food and a full day to rest before starting the work routines. A well-rested AP will process information and deal with homesickness much better than a sleep-deprived AP.

DarthaStewart March 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

You’re not the first one to have heard that- I’ve heard it too. My current au-pair arrived to our home starving. She was so excited to just have spaghetti for dinner- real food, and plenty of it for once. I really felt bad for her, and will endeavor to warn the next au-pair about that.
Why is it that we pay the agency so much for the program, and they cram these girls in so tight, and don’t feed them well for that week?

Taking a Computer Lunch March 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I agree. I tell my APs to sleep in, to come up for breakfast when they feel like it (I usually have a prior exchange about the foods they like to eat for breakfast, so I have them on hand), to call home, and to unpack their belongings and set up their rooms. We usually have them come upstairs to see me feed The Camel, to change her diapers, to go on a walk with her. I might do some housework, so she has time alone with the kids while I am in the house, but it’s low-key. We go over house stuff – this is where the garbage is kind of stuff. They’re so exhausted from the training right after a late arrival to the US, that they’re in no shape to be caring for my children. These days the AP arrives the weekend before the kids start school, so HD and I start the real training on Monday, with he staying home in the AM and me arriving early in the PM until the AP is on her feet (usually Tuesday, quite frankly – it’s much easier to interact with children without parents in the way).

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