Are you really ready to be a Host Parent? The Host Parent Readiness Test

by cv harquail on May 11, 2010

We spend a lot of time on this blog sharing ideas about how to figure out whether an au pair candidate is actually ready to do the job, live in another family, and explore an new culture and country. But, we haven’t spent much time sharing ideas about preparing *ourselves” for becoming host parents.

We focus a bit on ‘them’, but what about ‘us’?

I think it’s pretty clear that some families should never try being host parents.

Host families that can’t clarify their priorities, can’t align around a shared child raising philosophy, families where the parents hate each other, families that are stingy either financially or emotionally — these folks should never be host parents.

room for everyone cathynichols.jpg
But what about the majority of us? We’re good people. We want the best for our kids and our family. We are willing to accommodate to our caregiver choices. We think we’re emotionally and psychologically able to do this.

Plus, we’ve read all the agency materials. We’ve looked at the host parent expectations and think we can meet them. We’re ready to go.

And then, your first au pair arrives. After about three weeks:

  • If we are lucky or self-aware*, we notice how much harder it is than we thought. We step back and think: what the heck have we gotten in to? What do we do now? How can we make this work?
  • OR, if we are unlucky and/or lacking in self-awareness, we don’t even realize what’s happening. We start feeling annoyed, overburdened and resentful. We start acting prickly; maybe even we’re mean. We treat our au pair as though he or she were the problem, when in fact the problem lies with us.

We realize– we just weren’t ready for this.

If only we had known that we weren’t ready.

That’s where we all come in. Can we put together what we remember from when we were preparing for your first au pair, and when s/he first arrived, and identify some questions that would help families figure out if they were ready to become ‘host’ families?

How can we make sure that we know what it means to welcome a young person from another country into our home, and into our lives?

Imagine that there was a Host Parent Readiness Assessment, and you were administering the assessment.

What questions would you ask to figure out whether a host parent or family was ready?

What questions do you recommend that all potential host parents ask themselves?

[ Once we generate a bunch of ideas, I’ll take all these questions and turn them into an actual questionnaire/assessment…
Note Weds 5/12 — this turns out to be one of the best lists of AuPairParent wisdom ever! wow!  cv]

Image: Room For Everyone, by Cathy Nichols. Go buy it on Etsy. You deserve some pretty art.


FormerSwissAupair May 11, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Can I live with another female? Am I okay with someone spending as much (or more, during the week) time with my children as I do?

Aria May 12, 2010 at 7:53 am

I love FormerSwissAuPair’s question about living with another female!! It seems to me that it’s something one might skip over, but I definitely wished I had asked myself this before becoming an au pair! Don’t underestimate the dificulty of having two unrelated women living under one roof taking care of the same kids- it’s hard!!

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 10:10 am

I was so jealous of my first AP – she got to play with my babies, while I went to work exhausted and came home exhausted and took over. She did a better job of managing the “bewitching hour” than I – both kids always cried at 4:00 and neither was satisfied – the one being held always wanted the other one to go away.

That being said, I was okay living with another female – it was a relief to have an extra pair of hands (but I didn’t catch up on my sleep for another four years!).

Anonymous Since I'm bashing my boss here May 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm

“am I okay with someone else having all the fun time with my kids” applies to nannies, too, and childcare centers, so I had dealt with that long before having to acclimate to hosting an au pair.

But yes, it’s a fundamental part of going back to work!

Haivng another woman in the house was just never an issue for me. Having someone in the house who didn’t already know all our foibles….well, that was important. (Aunts, grandparents, they already know our peccadilloes and issues that set us off. Like dishes in the sink vs the counter, silly things like that.)

English Aupair...x May 12, 2010 at 8:53 am

My first HF wasn’t ready and i don’t just mean mentally… i had to sleep on the sofa for the first week and a half whilst they bought furniture for the AP room then when i did finally get in there i had just a bed and a chest of drawers!!!… It’s a good job i’m not too fussy, but i didn’t expect the rest of my time there to go well. I never got paid on time, got told i had to babysit an hour in advance, needless to say i finished there after 2 months. I’m not complaining though as i’ve gone on to have two incredible experiences xx

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm

This is important! If you are someone who is *always* late, *always* scrambling to get the house ready before your mother in law arrives, you must be careful to pick an au pair who is laid back, or they will judge you harshly because they have never had to juggle Career and Husband and Children and Home. And they will likely be extremely unhappy. And leave.

I will not say that you cannot be a successful host; because you absolutely can. But you must not paint a too-rosy picture of your style, or describe your home and life as you aspire for it to be. You must be honest and clear, and choose your AP very carefully. Probe for flexibility and be sure your values align.

English Aupair...x May 13, 2010 at 4:14 am

The two families i have gone on to have since have never been completely organised, but theres a clear difference between laid back and completely not caring. I like to think i am very laid back but like you said they painted a rosy picture of how they lived and how i would be treated and it was nothing like that when i arrived. Considering one of the requirements is a room with a door which i didn’t get until way into the second week

Taking a computer lunch May 13, 2010 at 6:50 am

When we gutted our house to make a handicapped accessible bed & bath for The Camel, we put a brand-new AP suite underneath. As the building progressed, we asked the contractor when the rooms might be habitable. He picked a week in June, so we picked a week in August, allowing for delays. And then, there were delays, so much so, that we were breathing down his neck 48 hours before our AP arrived from orientation to complete the work! They finished the work with 24 hours to spare, and then we finished the furniture with 5 hours to spare! (There were touch-ups that they needed to do, but they always asked our AP for permission before they went into the suite.) She was good natured about it. Three weeks later, she reported having dinner with several APs who were complaining about their HF, and told me, “The only thing I could complain about was all the men working on the house.” The entire job wasn’t completed until 2 months after she arrived!

My 2 cents May 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

Are you ready and willing to confront and manage issues involved with a young adult woman for whom you are not the parent, but yet are (or you think you are — as I do) morally and ethically obligated as a pseudo-parent to take reasonable measures to keep safe and in a family environment? Issues such as sleeping over at a boyfriend’s, requests to drive cars on occasion beyond your usual city/area limits, going clubbing in very sexy clothing and the club is in a dangerous part of your city (why are the clubs always in these areas?? Cheap rent I guess).

There are a thousand gray areas that come up within the course of your year no matter what au pair you sign with and his or her personality. Are you up to the challenge of operating outside of your comfort zone in the interests of serving as a host parent within the definition of that title?

anonmom May 12, 2010 at 10:36 am

Are you prepared to share a bathroom, more hair in the drains, time etc. Are you ready to realize that the au pair is a young adult, and not a ‘child’- meaning you can’t tell them who to see, where to go, what to do on their time off. Are you prepared to have your children want to spend more time with the au pair sometimes, rather than you. Are you prepared to understand homsickness and depression in an au pair? Are you ready to be an emotional support system for an au pair? Are you ready to be a role model for another young woman [or man]? Are you prepared to have someone drive your car? Are you prepared for having to keep the kids quiet at times while the au pair is sleeping? Do you have the patience to understand that an au pair does not know every intricacy of your home, such as not to put a hot cookie sheet on the kitchen table without something under it? or not to use permanent markers on thin paper which bleed through to same kitchen table? Are you ready to buy extra food to feed another person?

anonmom May 12, 2010 at 10:39 am

I also should add-on the positive side- are you prepared to let an au pair care for your children and let yourself have some down time? Are you prepared for the ability to leave straight for work, rather than drop the kids off for daycare? Are you ready to be able to have sick care at a moment’s notice, if your child can’t go to school or daycare? Are you prepare to be told some honest truths about your own children or your owm ability to relate and or care for your children by an au pair? (This can be an excellent eye-opening experience)

And, are you prepared to open your mind, your heart, and your home to welcome another person into your family? If you are not willing to welcome them as a family member- and not just in words, but in actions, then you are not ready to host an au pair.

Jan May 12, 2010 at 11:17 am


Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Hairs in the drain=learning how to use a drain clearing “snake” tool rather than spending $150 on the plumber every two months.

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm

It’s not just buying food for another person – are you ready to accommodate just one more person’s particular likes and dislikes, allergies and intolerances. Can you shift your diet for the person allergic to shellfish or peanut butter because they’re the best candidate? Are you prepared to help someone learn how to cook foods the way your kids like them best (you only have to do this once – because after they get used to eating the first au pair’s cooking – that’s they way they’re going to like it the best, especially if they love her). If you take a teenager, are you prepared to feed her? Will you be able to bite your lip when you realize that she’s still developing and needs more calories than you do? Are you willing to go the extra mile to make sure she feels welcome to eat until she’s full?

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Seriously, this can mean buying a lot more steak than you are used to. It disappears faster than ice cream!

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Actually in our house it has been bananas and orange juice. My current AP is vegan and I’m a vegetarian, so it’s vegetables and plant proteins (not as cheap as buying chicken legs on sale). Usually after they start gaining weight, our APs hit the gym and cut back on sweets and ice cream.

I had one AP who would only eat green bananas, which meant that I was making a batch or two of whole wheat banana bread (with chocolate chips – I’m not THAT much of a health freak) every month!

Darthastewart May 12, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Yogurt and Orange Juice are two that have been huge in our house. Add in milk and cheese too.

We don’t do much steak, but yes, when we have au-pairs who want a lot of meat, it can mean another huge expense.

Jan May 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Oh, we used to go through 2 gallons of orange juice a week and another au pair couldn’t drink milk, so we had to buy soy milk. My husband would go nuts when he saw shopped and saw how much the cost!

Darthastewart May 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Are you up for dealing with a teenager?

Are you up for having your car wrecked? How would you feel about having your prize mixer broken? How do you feel about a mess in the kitchen left over from a mid-night raid the night before?

Jan May 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Or getting a call at 2 a.m. saying I’ve been in an accident and I’m at the hospital. Then seeing your smashed up car the next day on the news!

Should be working May 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Do you and your partner/husband agree on the desire to have an au pair?

Do you both agree regarding what are ‘dealbreaker’ (positive or negative) characteristics?

Have you tried writing, and agreeing on, a detailed handbook regarding safety rules, childcare guidelines, cleanup duties, car rules, off-duty behavior rules, food rules for kids, sample weekly schedules (e.g. one for a ‘regular’ week and one for a ‘school vacation’ week)? [I think this is the biggest item; if you can write out all your expectations–which took me over 20pp–then you can imagine everything that you will look for in an au pair.]

Have you thought through how you would handle it if, after 4-6 weeks and several goings-over of your handbook, you decided you are not satisfied with your au pair? Does your partner/husband agree as to how that would be handled?

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:21 pm

This is true, but I’m not sure how you could prepare for this in advance. It’s a bit of an oncoming train. If we had known this might happen instead of being blithely unaware when we first matched with an AP, I’m not sure we would have had the nerve to try it.

Darthastewart May 12, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Are you prepared to have another person play a significant role in your children’s upbringing, even if they do it totally different than yourself? Can you accept that different isn’t wrong?

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Yeah, but this will be just the first of many. Once your kids go to school, you realize you haven’t much of a say anyway. If it isn’t their teachers, it’s their friends. (And once they hit 9, their “inner Mom” pretty much stops talking to them – and you have to convince your AP that she’s part of the team to bring them back in line!)

Mom23 May 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm

This is one I learned the hard way.

Are you ready to let a bad or mediocre au pair go when you first realize there is a problem instead of the wishful thinking that if you just did xxx everything would be okay?

How will you deal with an au pair who is not the one portrayed on her application — the au pair who says she has driven for three years in a city, but can’t stop and drives in the center of the street, the au pair whose file says she loves to cook, but burns spagetti her first night of cooking, etc.

PA AP mom May 12, 2010 at 2:25 pm

This is a great one Mom23. I wasn’t prepared for this and it made for a really long and traumatic year. Now I was ready this time and it ended up working out well.

Nicola aupair May 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Hmm… she could have just burned the spaghetti because she wasn’t used to the kitchen. I consider myself a great cook, no boasting required I’ve got proof, but my host family thinks I’m a terrible cook because I can’t defrost bread in the microwave without burning it (I’ve always used fresh bread and hate frozen with a passion, plus their microwave was far too powerful and I lived without one for 7 years so I’m still getting used to them) and creating a horrible mess.

Bit off topic, but just had to put that one out there… It hurt my pride as a cook to know that they thought I was rubbish at cooking, because I stuffed up once! ;)

Mom23 May 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I was using this as an example, to illustrate a point. I am very forgiving at the beginning and understand it takes time to get used to how to operate some appliances.

Nicola aupair May 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm

haha, don’t worry I understand, just nursing my hurt pride ;)

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Nicola, just make a favorite dish or two using the equipment you are familiar with and “wow” them one day. Host parents are teachable!

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm

My favorite – we had an AP who had owned a car for 2 years and yet had purchased her driver’s license. We just had an AP who thought very highly of her driving skills and managed to do $1000 worth of damage her first day on the road. (We’re not talking about the adjustment curve for American urban driving – we’re talking about driving like an American teenager hitting the road for the first time – oh the agony!)

While HD goes for a drive with all incoming APs to assess their driving skills (only these two ever needed more work – 2 Europeans and 1 Brazilian were fine), we now warn non-European APs. If we assess your skills and decide that they need more work, you will be responsible for 50% of the cost of lessons. Our last AP spent over $400 of her own money before we decided that her driving was acceptable. They can choose to decline to interview with us.

Southern Host Mom May 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Are you prepared to say “No, that doesn’t sound like a good idea” and stand firm when an Au Pair makes a request that goes against one of the rules you have already laid out in your handbook? How about when she pouts and cries and tells you that all the other Au Pairs could do it? The best example I can think of was when our first Au Pair requested to drive our car to another state only two weeks before her departure. I don’t ever like to be the bad guy, but no possible good could come from saying yes.

The same Au Pair (at the beginning of her year) told us that she felt like she was “in jail” or “on Survivor”. Oh, the drama! Who knew that living the American Dream in Surburbia could be such torture! From our Au Pair experiences, I have a much better appreciation and understanding of how our American Dream can be someone else’s worst nightmare. (And I am a better person for it!) Perhaps the best question in this regard would be, “Am I ready to accept that an Au Pair may NOT think living with me and family is as wonderful as I do?”

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Oh yes, this hurts! The princesses can say some really mean, self-centered things.

Not sure I’m a better person for that! But I am indeed a better person for having learned from my earlier mistakes. I’m also a better manager at work. One must always look at the other person’s interests when figuring out compromises.

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 3:03 am

America is a beautiful country with some absolutely amazing things going for it, and I have been there and I would like to live there one day. I’m just confused about this “American Dream” that everyone keeps talking about. Are they referring to nice cars and big houses? Because the “equality” idea, well let’s be frank here, isn’t quite as true as everyone would like it to be.

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 3:06 am

Oh, forgot to mention: The “Survivor” thing is waaaay over the top. The “in jail” part I can only understand if she wanted to leave early and even then it’s a gross exaggeration and really should only be used as a joke. But I can’t believe someone could be so rude to their HF about their home :(

Southern Host Mom May 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

Yes, of course it was way over the top! But from her comment, I understood better that she was accustomed to having lots of excited, energetic people her own age around (like a college campus). I understood, too, that it was not meant to be rude or hurtful to our family (it took just a little patience and kindness to figure this out . . . ). It is hard to be in a house with a toddler and an infant all day. I think before her arrival, she imagined herself chatting with dozens of Au Pairs (and others) at various parks and venues each day. This is not what we had in mind, and is precisely why we tried to allow her maximum flexibility with her free time (including no weekend work-time). The best part is that we were able to work through it (though I wish I had the benefit of this website back then!). She even visited our family several years later and raved about her year with us!

To me, “the American Dream” refers to each person (and each family) having the freedom to choose their own “Dream” to work toward. For the most part, we can choose where to live, where to work, where to send our children to school, who we choose to associate with, and of course, how we manage childcare decisions for our family!

StephinBoston May 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I agree with everything everyone said. I’d add: “Are you OK with letting you fabulous, amazing, best ever au pair go at the end of her year? It’s hard for everyone when she goes but it happens.. You need to be ready for it.

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm

We’re nearing the end of Year 2 and I’m in total denial.

PA AP mom May 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Joining Calif Mom in denial land. I refuse to even acknowledge that my AP is leaving August 5th. I saw the flight request email and nearly lost it right on the spot.

Calif Mom May 13, 2010 at 10:37 am

Ours is done in early July and I’m already teary. Have not told our kindergartener yet b/c it is possible that our au pair has found someone else to sponsor her student visa. It’s very different conversation if she is still going to be in our area vs going back “home home”.

West Coast Mom May 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Are you prepared to buy gifts, make cupcakes and otherwise celebrate the birthday of an AP whom you think is “just ok” but your kids **love**?

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 3:07 am

Hang on, even a “just ok” au pair deserves a birthday celebration! Even if it’s small or only a gift, I’m betting that birthdays are terrible for homesickness (based on my own experience).

Darthastewart May 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

Absolutely. Every au-pair should have a birthday celebration, and a gift for Christmas/Hannukah, and be included in major family celebrations.

Jane May 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Also be prepared that after doing your best to make your au pair’s birthday a special day–balloons, home made cake, dinner out, gifts–that she will still be home sick for her family and proclaim how much better her birthday will be next year back in her home country, right to your face. Oddly enough, that same au pair came back to visit us the next year during her birthday–LOL!

Host Mommy Dearest May 13, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Nicola AP- I don’t think anyone has said that the APs don’t deserve this, I think WCM posted it b/c it is a question to ask yourself when considering your HP readiness. We did a bday cake/celebration and (granted, not very personal cash) birthday present and card for our AP during her 2 week transition that resulted from her repeatedly not following our handbook rules, lying to us, being generally not trustworthy, and doing lots of things that showed me she really just didn’t care about my kids. I could go on & on about that – but I digress. The point is that it is hard, but necessary, to put aside your disppointed feelings from blown expectations or essentially your true feelings for someone and celebrate their special day, but clearly HPs need to make sure that happens.

Nicola aupair May 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Well… it was implied…. *mutters*

No, I’m just kidding, although it did seem to me that West Coast mom was reluctant (or disliking) the fact that she had to celebrate an “ok” AP’s birthday. I probably read too much into it. But then again, I always have huge fun preparing any party no matter who it’s for (I love cooking) so perhaps it is tedious for some people. Anyway, thanks for clearing it up! :)

West Coast Mom May 14, 2010 at 12:20 am

Well here I am, to set the record straight, so to speak.

My kids *love* my AP. I do not. And she doesn’t love them back in the way that they love her, which is hard to watch. She’s a distant, moody person … ok (and yes, “just ok”) with the kids but very difficult to live with.

Nevertheless, I would *never* leave her out of our family celebrations and of course, made some extra effort for her birthday. We all woke up early, the kids helped make breakfast, homemade cards, we gave her some lovely gifts (although I don’t lover her, I know what she likes and buy her very nice presents), and cupcakes later in the day. She was her usual offhand self, seemed to enjoy it (I guess?), didn’t really thank us, was not effusive at all.

And I guess the birthday issue is really just an example of the way life unfolds, when you live with a “just ok” AP. And you really have to think about how you might manage the disconnect between the way you feel, and the way your kids feel.

And BTW, it’s a two-way street. AP was invited to our kids birthday parties, but didn’t bother to come. The first caregiver in their entire young lives to miss a birthday. Grounds for a rematch? No. But it kinda sucks.

Mom23 May 13, 2010 at 11:24 am

We have even have nice going away parties for our au pairs, even the ones who have not left on good terms (well not the one that snuck out three days before she was supposed to depart) so that the kids can say good-bye. They need the closure.

Same with birthdays. I think it is important to throw a nice party celebration, no matter how you feel.

Jan May 13, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I agree, and I think celebrating birthday’s goes a long way towards softening the relationship if it’s not as good as it could be.

We also have either a going away dinner party at our house with AP friends invited to spend the night or dinner at a restaurant of the AP’s choice with just family. We didn’t do this with our last AP, and I missed it.

Taking a computer lunch May 14, 2010 at 7:02 am

We always offer our APs a birthday celebration. Some have chosen a nice family dinner in a restaurant, while others have asked us to clear the deck so they could host a dinner with their friends. After the year in which DH said he would arrange gifts and gave our AP a nice pen – and then was surprised at her disappointment, I arrange gifts. If her birthday is near her departure, I give “the box,” which disappointed one AP until she realized how much she could cram into it and what a savings on her suitcases it was!

My current AP said explicitly and vehemently that she did not want a birthday celebration, and while I meant to organize a little something, it didn’t happen. I guess we’ll make a bigger splash for her going away.

Darthastewart May 14, 2010 at 10:54 am

Can you explain “The box”?

FormerSwissAupair May 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I think she means a certain size box that the AP fill with stuff, and then the HF pays to have it shipped to the home country. This is such a thoughtful gift, and I wish my HF had done something like that for me!! It would have been filled with shoes! lol

Taking a computer lunch May 14, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Exactly – I’ve mentioned it here before (perhaps under my own name). We give our APs the biggest box their home countries permit, either for their birthdays or as a good-bye present, intending for them to fill it with the belongings that they want, but won’t shed tears if it doesn’t actually get to its destination (I shipping stuff home from Ireland and not everything made it – my dissertation notes went as checked luggage insured for the amount of the year’s expenses). It generally costs me $150 or so to send it airmail and insured for the amount of the postage fees, so it’s a generous gift. Most of my APs don’t realize the full value of the gift until a) they pack and b) they see how much the postage cost when they get home.

Should be working May 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Question: Is Taking. . . Lunch the same poster who used to go by an own name? I understand why you would go with a pseudonym, I just wondered if you are the same person.

Host Mommy Dearest May 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

She may want to plead the 5th….. but there are mathematical odds at play here. :)

Az. May 14, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I believe so, given the references to her children :)

Taking a computer lunch May 14, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I am, and when I started getting explicit about not extending with my AP (before I told her face-to-face) I changed my name, in the event that she was reading this or her friends were.

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Are you okay with drawing odd looks and funny stares from strangers?

I had to get really good with my own feelings around having a stunningly gorgeous, tall, thin black woman toting my blonde, blue-eyed girls around. I realized tonight while we all schlepped to the grocery that I must have looked like a much different person than I really am to the folks in the market who stared. I was confused by the odd looks from the bachelors waiting in line with us at the prepared-food counter. Then I was quite pleased to realize that I had forgotten about the race thing. And happier still that my kids didn’t notice the looks because they were having too much fun. Yes, fun–at the grocery.

TX Mom May 13, 2010 at 10:48 am

I think you also have to be prepared to be a “people manager.” I have found that the skills I have developed managing AP’s has translated well to managing people at work. I hated employee/boss conflict and thus was manipulated by our first AP; I wanted my husband to do all the dirty work our first year. But, wth the 2nd AP I made a significant effort to improve my management skills and it has made our household much happier.
This site has also been such a blessing for making me a better “manager” since we HP’s often have similar circumstances with AP’s. I want a similar blog for my work environment! :)

My 2 cents May 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm


Calif Mom May 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm

This blog has made me a better host mom and a better manager at work, too. (There are days I get very tired of being in charge everywhere I go, though…My hub thinks I’m shirking when he gets home from business travel but really, sometimes I just need to follow someone else’s lead a bit.)

Like preschoolers, au pairs and young staffers actually *want* boundaries and direction; even if you think you are *delegating authority* it’s not the same.

So yes, new au pair host families should also sign up for HBR’s daily management tips! :-)

Jane May 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Are you ready to have your parenting skills criticized very bluntly by a young woman with no children of her own? I have found my APs do not hold back their opinions, and quite a few times I have had to hold my tongue from saying–“wait until you have kids of your own and we’ll see what you do in this situation.”

anon HM May 13, 2010 at 2:58 pm

On the positive side, becoming a HM has meant sharing some wonderful times with a young woman who has become a part of our family. I often feel like a better version of myself now that we have an AP, both because I’m inclined to be more patient, more polite, and less reactive to daily stressors when this family member/guest is present. I also feel that our AP anticipates the needs of my children in a way that makes me feel great about the match that we have made.
On the otherhand, we do not receive thank you’s for a dinner out, a fancy coffee, or any other little ‘treats’ we provide (such as a vehicle). I also have a hard time when I think about what my quality of life was in my early twenties, as a struggling graduate student and first generation college graduate in my family, making about what my AP makes per month, without ‘room and board’, a car, etc.. Perhaps because I worked my butt off, I do take pleasure in being able to provide luxuries for my family that my parents could not have dreamed of for their children. Just as strong though is my expectation that my children recognize their privileges and respond with gratitude, as well as an awareness of how hard we have worked to provide for all of them (including AP). This is where the delicate balance of family member versus employee is a difficult one for us.. If she were my daughter I would address the ‘please and thank you’ issue directly; as an employer, I have tried to model the behavior I would like to see in her (not successful thus far), and then try to overlook it because she is very good at her job..

JessicaLasVegas May 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

My husband has a very difficult time with not getting “thank you’s” for the extra things. To be honest, I don’t notice the lack of a thank you until he mentions it… frequently mentions it. Then I might get a little upset. But, then I wonder if it is a cultural thing. We have only had German AP’s.

Az. May 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I think it might be a cultural thing. I noticed that with my German HF – the first time I gave the kid a present when I arrived, in front of them, he looked at it silently then put it aside and never touched it again. You’d think they’d have said “say thanks” or something, but no. I was amazed they weren’t trying to teach their kid better manners but after a while I noticed that they rarely said thank you themselves when I did anything extra, or when they came home three hours late (without phoning me) and I didn’t complain. In fact, when I brought them back Christmas presents (worth about $80 in total) after spending Christmas at home, they acted more put out than grateful! But then again, I have German friends who haven’t acted anything like that…so who knows.

MommyMia May 15, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I’m going to have to opt for personal upbringing, rather than culture. Our German au pair is very gracious (thanks me for every meal and the extras), and three others in the past (one German, one Brazilian and one South African) were the non-thankful, entitlement queens, whereas another South African in our cluster was also extremely gracious and appreciative of everything. Good manners just don’t have the same valuation to some families, I think.

anon HM May 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Funny because my husband never notices it until I point it out to him! Our AP is from Brazil and I have wondered if it is a cultural issue, a generational issue, or both..

Az. May 14, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Definitely not a generational issue! I would never NOT say thanks for something (if anything I’m too effusive!) I think it’s about how you’re brought up – although I don’t know if that would be cultural or just reserved to how your own family brings you up.

Taking a computer lunch May 14, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Most of my APs have been very gracious for the little extras – an extra day off, a nice gift, topping off the gas tank, an extra phone card (before Skype). One AP thanked me for every meal, and when I said it wasn’t really necessary, she said that she thanked her parents. Just tonight DH said we’re getting spoiled because our current AP doesn’t really drive the AP car (she was just cleared to drive it a month ago after 8 months with us – reason #1 why we’re not extending with her). I said that we’ve never had a problem when we’ve needed both cars, most of our APs have realized that having nearly complete access to a car mans they’re much better off than most of their friends and are very gracious when kid scheduling means we need both. (That being said, I’m forever training my son to look people in the eyes when he thanks or apologizes.)

Taking a computer lunch May 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

How many AP candidates do you interview? We just interviewed 5 1/2 (one 3rd world phone call turned out to be a giant bust – we could hear nothing of the candidate’s answers and after three attempts, and a variety of phone permutations, gave up), having sent emails to about 30.

The Camel is self-selecting – you really have to love children to put up with the spit, the adult-sized diapers, and the heft to see the good parts – the sense of humor, the love of music, and the fact that water is a blast!

I just want a sense of whether parents of special needs children spend more or equal time in selecting candidates – it sure seems stressful every time we do it. This year, more than last, we’re sure we made the right choice.

We use APIA, which offers the Extraordinnaire option, and I must say, our 6th AP is coming, and we’ve taken Extraordinnaire’s 2/3 of the time. It’s their experience that makes them attractive to us.

Dorsi May 18, 2010 at 11:28 am

We interviewed 1 candidate each time (we are on AP #2). It sounds terrible when I write it down, but (defensively) I want to add that we are in a “view the whole database” system and I spend hours going through applications. Even though my APs have had decent English (one Ok, one great), I don’t feel like I get that much from the interview. This last AP had some surprising characteristics on arrival, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I could have sussed that out during the interview — but don’t know if it would have been possible. Maybe it helps that we have a fairly good situation for our AP (close to a pretty desirable city, one child, some travel — though no car, irregular hours, weekend work) — so the APs are eager to work for us?

HRHM May 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

We also interviewed only one this last time, but I think it was also due to the “view the whole pool” system which allowed me to choose where to start. Previously we were with CC and the PD would send us pre-matches that were the exact opposite of what we were looking for! Sometimes we’d reject them immediately, other times we’d get through the first phone call and realize it was no go.
I agree that if the AP wants to lie and is even remotely savvy (or has a good coach) there is no way to prevent choosing a bad apple. AP1 was a thief and I had no way to suss that out. AP2’s entire app was a lie (no experience with driving or kids) and apparently wasn’t at all worried that she would be expected to drive from day one?! And I also agree that the better your set up is, the more worried that you have to be that APs will say whatever they think you want to hear, to come. We lived outside of DC for some time and my first screening rule was not taking APs who said they wanted to live near DC!

Anna May 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm

In the previous years, I studied all the applications I saw very carefully, and zeroed in on the one that really wowed me as perfect for us, called the girl, matched. Those were very successful matches (except for one year where I felt rushed and matched with a girl whose applications seemed to just be OK for our needs, but didn’t impress me on this level).

This year was different. This year we were with the “view the whole database” agency, and I studied carefully 60+ application that fit my search criteria. I liked a few and loved one. I called all, the ones I really liked were not very responsive because they were almost matched with other families, and in the end did match with other families; the one I loved – just appeared in the database, I think I called her first, so we spoke several times before she told me that my situation will be too hard for her. I suppose other families are not fools either and see a stellar application, so I got competition and I lost.
The difference is that this year we have a new baby coming, making it 3 kids total, 6, 4 and newborn.
I also felt the time ticking and contacted quite a few candidates whose applications didn’t wow me quite, but were nice. Most I just spoke with once to realize they were not “it”, and some didn’t respond to my initial contact at all. So I’d say with this agency this year, I spoke or attempted to speak to about a dozen girls.

So the “view the whole database” system worked against me this year. My deadline for matching was coming up, and I wasn’t interested in calling the candidates who didn’t impress me completely with their applications. I am very choosy whom I contact, I think it is my intuition helping me and I trust it – when I do, I invariably get a very successful match. I couldn’t wait for another “perfect” candidate to appear in the database, and for another family to snatch her again.

So I went back to my old agency, that has an “exclusive match” system, where a matching coordinator sends the family applications (unlimited numbers at a time) of candidates who fit their criteria and are available at the time, and the family views them exclusively, and if they are talking to the au pair, hold her application for the whole time. Also this agency has applications that are more detailed and give a better whole impression of the candidate than “view the database” agency did.
I gave extensive feedback to the matching coordinator about every application I rejected, and she got us our “perfect” one within a week. We spoke, we both liked each other, we matched. So with this agency, the process worked for me so that I just spoke to one.

anonmom May 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I usually speak with a lot of AP’s. I have registered with more than 1 agency at a time to increase the applicant pool (although those agencies don’t know it), and have also corresponded with dozens over, where I got one AP to switch agencies and pre-matched with her- she has been my best yet. Usually, I like to email and speak with those that interest me, as the essays are only part of the picture- I like to hear them talk about what they like to do, etc, without being all business. This gives me a better view of the AP.

Calif Mom January 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I think I don’t understand, because I only seem to be able to find illegal applicants there. Is there a certain section or way to filter the listings? “Au pair looking for 500 a month to continue studies in states” is not legit, for example.

Anon-former-aupair January 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Have you tried typing the name of your agency in the keyword search . You get there by clicking on “AuPair” and then you can specify what you’re looking for on the left side (age, home country, etc). You can also choose which range of pay she is looking for and if she wants to work full or part time – that also weeds out illegal candidates.
I met my hostfamily on greataupair and we talked for almost a month before we matched so I think it is a really good way to get to know each other without the pressure of the agency. I had the same problem as you though – I found so many families (or they put me on their hotlist) who didn’t want to use an agency…

AFhostmom January 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Ah, so much to say, most of which has been said in bits and pieces already. :) Sorry, there are good things about my AP–my kids love her–but augh, some things just make my jaw drop. Or my skin crawl.
Are you prepared to (not begrudgingly)take your AP and her friend to a nice dinner that costs what you pay her in a week, and have her friend thank you, while your AP simply says “we should come here again?”
Are you prepared for the emotion of a teenager/young adult?
Are you prepared for her to be very territorial about her food (ok, I understand that), even though you give her some extra money every week for groceries and incidentals, and when your husband accidentally gives your 5 year old your AP’s banana, have it turn into a HUGE issue? And have your AP get your 5 y.o. involved in it instead of addressing it to your husband?
Are you prepared for an AP with unsavory habits like sitting on couch pillows and picking her broken-out skin?
Are you ready for the agency to tack on and remove, apparently at their will, random fees to your contract?
Are you ready for the awkward “you broke the rules” chats?
Are you prepared for HELLO KITTY EVERYWHERE?

Calif Mom January 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm

:-) You sound like you’re having a week like mine!

And for coming up with lame excuses every time she’s late, which is often, and making you feel like she thinks you’re her mother and can be fooled that easily (which you ARE NOT, and made clear from Day One)?

And for hearing her throw the kids under the bus instead of admitting minor mistakes that you wouldn’t even worry about except that she is trying to spin you about them?

And for her to prefer sitting in her jammies all day watching stupid movies with the kids on a no-school day instead of taking them outside for adventures, when she was TOLD to take them outside that day? By each parent? Separately?

Or my favorite, setting up playdates with HER au pair friends’ kids, even though the kids are 5 years apart in age and your kids HATE going to their house? I’ve had to explain that playdates means getting the kids together with their own friends, not for the APs to hang out! And then to have her ask to do it again the next day?!

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