Au Pair Appreciation: Setting a high standard

by cv harquail on May 6, 2009

International Au Pair Appreciation Week

As shared by a Host Mom

Johanna was our first aupair, and set a really high standard for what we would hope for from the aupairs that would follow. She showed incredible judgment in choosing which aupairs to spend time with, and often chose to stick close to our family. Johanna attended birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and held my youngest niece, two hours after her birth. She embraced my mom, brothers, sister, and their families. Everyone in our family came to love her, and we all plan to visit her in Germany, in the future.

Johanna was flexible when we were dealing with medical issues in our family, and kept my daughter’s routine consistent when I was helping other family members.

200905061624.jpg

From the moment Johanna met my daughter, she was a devoted “big sister” to her. Johanna often took my daughter to church when she returned home from school. My daughter has had a strong faith since she was very young, and her faith grew through her time with Johanna. She delighted in my daughter, encouraged her when she was fearful, redirected her when it was appropriate, and showered her with love, affection, and attention.

Johanna read faithfully with my daughter, each day, during the year that I was teaching her to read. We had a little celebration after each 100 books; we celebrated seven times, as Johanna helped my daughter with more than 700 books during her time with us.

Johanna’s family visited for two weeks, and they poured love into my daughter, and I feared she’d be spoiled by the time they left. Johanna’s dad carried Hannah to the park, about a mile away. He stood, rocking her in a hammock for an hour and a half, not wanting to stop, fearing she’d awake. Johanna’s brother was 14 when he first visited, and if I could have arranged a marriage for my daughter, I’d pick Benjamin.

Our relationship continues today, six years later, and we’re so proud that Ms. Johanna is graduating with her Masters Degree in International Business!
Jeana writes the lovely blog Twice Blessed China Mom , where she shares lovely insights about being a mom and enjoying the treasures life brings us.

{ 34 comments }

Franzi May 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm

what a beautiful story! it’s great to read that you had such a great match with an au pair who knew what your family needed.

it’s very hard for any au pair to follow into such big footsteps!

Christine Connally May 6, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Great story. I have been enjoying the Twice Blessed China Mom Blog for a while now and added it to my blogroll.

As a community counselor, I love reading all of these great stories of appreciation that host parents are posting about their au pairs.

CV May 6, 2009 at 6:54 pm

So Christine, when will you add AuPairMom to your blog roll? ;-)

Christine Connally May 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Great idea! You add mine and I’ll add yours. : )

Lucky1 May 7, 2009 at 9:37 am

I just added the blog to the babycenter community board under the group: au pair / nanny care. This may generate some more traffic. :-)

CV May 7, 2009 at 11:35 am

Thanks so much Lucky1…iVillage is outside my area of online expertise ;-) so I appreciate it. Maybe we’ll get some host moms with problems we can solve quickly, and insights we haven’t thought of yet!

Hula Gal May 7, 2009 at 10:03 am

Any thoughts about how to find au pairs like Johanna? She seems exactly like the au pair we would have liked. So far I have been very disappointed with our au pair experience. We are first time host parents and have had 2 au pairs. The first one lasted 3 days and decided to quit the program and the second one is on her fifth week and is unhappy and has told us she is considering rematch. We’ve asked her to stick it out for a little longer thinking that maybe she is just going through culture shock. She’s no Mary Poppins but we have been happy enough with her. We have one baby that she takes care of M-F 8-5. Now I feel like we are walking on eggshells so we don’t upset her and she decides to rematch. But anyway, back to the topic, it is nice to read these positive stories about good au pairs. I wish there were more positive ones so I’d have hope that maybe the third time really is the charm!!

CV May 7, 2009 at 11:33 am

Hula Gal,
Readers have offered a lot of advice on interviewing… check especially the post “Share one great Interview Question” . Also, use the search box, with terms like ‘interview’ and ‘matching’, and also check the categories, like “Choosing an au pair”. If you still want some more questions, or if you want some suggested questions for getting at a specific issue, or a concern about interpreting and answer, holler back. We can offer more if you can drill down past the basics and into the areas that concern you most.
Also, think about anything that might have influenced both aps. … for example, you might have an odd house rule. Or, you may have forgotten to tell your au pair candidates how much your host parent partner likes to play Nickleback or David Archuletta over and over and really too all thru dinner. What could it be? Or is there a question you forgot to ask?

Calif Mom May 7, 2009 at 11:25 am

There are lots of thoughts on how to find the right AP. Just keep poking into the website. I know if I’d found this site earlier in our host parenting career we would have made different choices and avoided some heartache along the way.

CVH, I’ve already posted to all my listservs, but Appreciation week is a great excuse to post again. It is good to feel gratitude and appreciation for our support network, especially as we roll into Mother’s Day. I’d be a much grumpier mom if it weren’t for our AP! She deserves a lot of credit. It takes a (global) village to raise a mom.

Hula Gal May 7, 2009 at 11:52 am

Honestly I think both of the au pairs have been very immature and really unprepared for what their lives would be like here. I think my husband and I did not interview enough girls (only two each time) because we were worried that there would not be another one around the corner so to speak if we passed on the earlier candidates. We were very selective in our search criteria and then went with our gut feeling after the first interview and then had the second interview to confirm our instincts. Both girls were very nice and there were no red flags. The hardest part with the interview is the language barrier. All of the questions I have read seem very advanced concepts for the girls that we have spoken with. Maybe we should have had higher expectations for language ability? I also have found it difficult to find girls with very much infant experience. My LCC thinks we have had bad luck. We are a nice family that has spent a lot of time trying to create a comfortable environment for our au pairs. I can assure you that it is not about the perks as they have a car for their sole use, a bedroom that was renovated just for them with brand new IKEA furniture and Pottery Barn linens, computer, cable, and a tv in the room, and little household responsibility and every weekend off.

Franzi May 7, 2009 at 12:46 pm

@ Hula Gal, i suggest you don’t highlight the material bonuses too much as it sets the wrong expectations. interview more candidates (there will be more APs, trust me!) many APs worry about the same thing – will there be another family if i cancel this one or should i go with “actually quite ok”.

caring for an infant can be very boring sometimes and what girls forget is that there’s noone to talk to all day long, plus, there’s only so much activity with an infant. that what gets to many of them. that changes when the kid is a toddler, but for infants, many APs see this as the biggest challenge (w/o admitting it).
talk about this with your AP and the candidates you interview next. encourage your AP to have an active life aside from work (college, maybe church, hobbies). she should make up for the “quiet time” she has when she’s with the baby.

counselor May 7, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Hula Gal,
… Here is what the problem most likely is (unless you are severely restricting the use of the car = dealbreaker for most AP, or have some other expectations that she is not happy with). Also ask her, why she wants to re-match, of course.
You have only 1 baby. That can be boring to some au pairs. Make sure that the next au pair has been babysitting just 1 baby for a longer period of time (not just in the evening because bedtime) but for full days. That way she will understand what her days with just one small child will be like.
Also, you can have the current AP start a playgroup so that she can have a more interesting day.
Good luck!
MV

Calif Mom May 7, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Hula Gal — I never had an AP care for an infant, so I’d listen hard to what other moms here offer. But I do know that I’m not a “baby person” myself. (gasps of shock and horror heard over laptops across the country). Of course I loved my kids with serious Mama Bear love when they were babies, but if our first baby hadn’t gotten more interesting I would never have had a second one! : ) They are an awful lot of work that, frankly, doesn’t take a lot of brain power and yet does take a lot of ability to submerge your own needs and keep things in perspective. Endurance is the name of that first year’s game.

I bet the commenters above are on to something with the analysis of bored and isolated. That’s why new moms are at risk for postpartum depression — not just the hormones! Add onto that a language and culture shock, and I can imagine how hard it must be.

At 5 weeks I’m not sure I would give up on her. (And I’m the one who threw the backtalking AP who didn’t give the kids milk under the bus in a separate comment.)

Be glad spring is here; can you help her find the local park that the nannies and APs hang out at in the mornings? Library story time. Sign her up for a music class (look for the Music Together program — fabulous for both adult and child.) That may help. Also, yes, encourage her to find friends. Maybe your LCC can suggest to some other APs that they give her a call (my old counselor used to do that — kind of was a matchmaker between the APs).

When my own kids were babies and toddlers, I had a rule for any caregiver that the adult and child must leave the house every day at least once. It makes everyone happier. We still have this rule, but my kids are a lot older so it’s rare to even be able to stay inside all day. Even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store (obviously not for this AP at this point, but you see what I mean) or a walk around the block.

What’s your baby’s temperament? Is that a factor? my second child would have sent Mary Poppins packing… : ) And how old is this baby? Are the naps regular and predictable?

Now, even with all this, immaturity can be a real problem. It is a sneaky trait and very hard to discover, because it’s easily hidden by saying all the right things in interviews. I picked a couple real winners on that — and sadly, age is not a guarantee — we had a 25 year old baby I had to put into rematch at 3 months, and a 23 year old who was a spoiled brat. We walked on eggshells around both of them, and let me tell you, I’m done with that. There is a personality type that will work for your family’s particular constellation of needs at any given time.

what have you tried so far? besides tiptoeing…. : )

Hula Gal May 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Well, it just so happens that her best friend is matched with another family in our town so they are in the same cluster. Her friend had recommended her to us through our LCC. We liked her friend a lot, needed a new au pair because the last one didn’t last to even start one day of work so we interviewed her and one other who matched with another family because she wanted a different schedule. So she has her best friend from her home town here, she’s just joined a sports team that my husband helped her get set up with and she is signing up for a class next week, so last we heard. Nothing adds up with her nor our previous one so we are a little at a loss for words on both of our au pairs. Oh, my husband works from home so she does have company during the day but she spends all of her time in her room on her computer chatting with friends when the baby is asleep or she is off duty. We are fine with this as long as she gets the list of things done we ask her to do each day and she does. My husband lets her do her thing and does not interfere. My baby is surprisingly easy and very sweet. She takes regular naps and sleeps 12 hours a night.

Calif Mom May 7, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Hmmm. So much for my brilliant theories!

Maybe she doesn’t like having Dad in the house and it’s as simple as that. Of course she wouldn’t say that outright, but it might be cramping her style.

What has she said is the reason for her unhappiness and thinking about rematch? Was she in rematch to start with? Maybe it’s just the immaturity thing, and if her first rematch didn’t fix it, not sure what will.

(If my kids had slept like yours, I might have had more!! : ) Lucky duck.)

Hula Gal May 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Baby 411 is my bible. Anyway, she has actually did say that she does not like my husband. Not sure why because he is a good guy and has done a lot of helpful and nice things for her. She joins us for breakfast and dinner most days and she is friendly when we ask her how her day was or how her evening out was. Honestly, I’m trying not to get too hung up on the whys because they don’t add up to me other than her just being 19 and immature. I guess we’ll see if she will get out of her funk and get over it or decide to rematch. We are her first host family and it took her about six months in the system to get matched with someone. Oh and we were very clear that my husband worked from home in our letter and our interview. And I get to spend all of this time posting on this blog today because she is in her room sick for the third time in five weeks of being here and cannot work. I had to take a sick day because my husband handled it the first two times and needs to work a full day today. Well, I’ll check back in to you all and let you know if she decides to rematch. I honestly hope not but some bad feelings are starting to creep their way in to our relationship with her and it may get to a point where it will be hard to forget this period if she decides to stay her year with us.

Calif Mom May 7, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Um, not to be overtly negative, but if she decides to stay (and I’ve been in that eggshells stage) you will continue to be worried about whether she will slip back into funk. I humbly suggest you take a little more initiative and think about what YOU want. The 3rd sick day is a huge red flag. You may eventually end up in rematch at month 3 or 4.

fingers crossed for you!

FL mom May 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I was told by my LCC that certain cultures were “baby people”. I think they were Brazil and Thailand. Neither of those countries are known for exceptional English skills, so we always found interviewing difficult. In the future though, I would not let language barriers deter me from interviewing candidates from those countries. We found the thai girls exceptionally well prepared for the job. All the Thai girls we looked at had college degrees AND experience working in daycare centers.

Franzi May 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

my red flag? friend from home that you liked and upon whose recommendation you even started to talk to her. would you have considered her if there hadn’t been that other connection?
on the other hand, she might step up her game when you let her know that you expect more from her or will rematch because she would want to stay close to her friend.

another thing that goes along with the friend is that this particular friend might have talked her into being an AP because it’s such agreat opportunity and all. maybe your AP became an AP for the wrong reasons and now realizes that she made the wrong decision. the fact that she is sick for the third time could be an indicator for unhappiness, mental stress, imbalance both physically and mentally.

depending on what culture she is from, ask her straight (or a little more diplomatic) if she really wants to be an AP and if she wants to be with your family. it’s ok for her to say no, it’ll save you lots of problems later on. but if she says she’s in it, make sure she understands you want her to be in it for the long run.

Calif Mom May 8, 2009 at 9:34 am

good point, Franzi!

Hula Gal May 8, 2009 at 10:55 am

We are trying to take this one day at a time with her. Last night we were pretty fed up and were almost wishing she would initiate rematch but this morning she was up at the time we requested and was ready to work. I am trying to be patient and remind myself that she is 19 and is on an emotional rollar coaster which my boss reminded me as he has four girls between the ages of 26 and 17. I think the next time she says she is sick we may need to have a discussion about what degrees of sickness are necessary to say you cannot work. But I don’t want to be a meanie and make her work when she is sick plus I don’t want to get my baby sick too! It is a dilemma. Last time she was sick we did not make her make it up on the weekend because we don’t really need her on the weekend. But this time we are having a date night on Saturday and asking her to stay home which really means just watch the monitor because the baby sleeps. Because it occured to us that she might just be taking advantage of the fact that she can get out of working if she just says she is sick. I’d like to think she is not that sneaky because I can be a bit of a Pollyanna. She actually decided to apply to the au pair program and then encouraged her friend to do it too. Her friend got selected within 6 weeks of applying and it took her 6 months. Having her friend here did sway our decision as we thought it was a good thing that we liked her friend and we needed someone that we thought would not bail on us so fast like the last one and if she had a friend here we thought that was good insurance. This is why we are so confused about why she would want to even think about rematch unless she is just an impulsive, immature teenager who has no clue about consequences of decisions like that. I think this is where I am at in my thinking about why she makes the choices she does. I appreciate the comments and interest in my au pair situation. It is nice to get other host families and au pairs perspectives on this since my husband and I can come up with only so many theories before we just start feeling overly negative and then decide we need to talk about something else instead!! Oh she is German which we purposefully looked for because we are both straightforward and didn’t think we would be good host parents to someone who was timid. And boy she is very straightforward about things!
;-) We don’t mind this though. P.S. Sorry that I highjacked the posted topic.

Hula Gal May 12, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Just a quick update, things have greatly improved with our au pair. She has decided to stay and is more comfortable with my husband working from home. We are very pleased since we do like her and we are happy with her care for our baby. It has been a huge learning curve for me to have a 19 year in our home!

Dawn May 13, 2009 at 7:57 am

Great news, Hula Gal! I hope that things continue along this good path!

CV May 13, 2009 at 9:00 am

Hula Gal- thanks so much for the update… we usually wonder what happened, so it’s nice to hear that things are working out better for you!

Calif Mom May 13, 2009 at 9:28 am

I often remind myself that this is great training for when my daughters are teenagers! And evidence that the brain truly does not mature until 25 years old! : )

Hula Gal, I would caution not to let up on the communication. Weekly check-ins have really helped us help our AP.

Sunshine May 13, 2009 at 9:49 am

what a lovely story! its always lovely to read someting so positive about the au pair experience.

Hula Gal July 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Just thought I’d update you all again to say that we are in rematch. It is mutual and so far is amicable. Calif Mom called it on this one being that we are in month 4! Looking forward to starting fresh with someone new. Will keep you posted…

FL Mom July 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Please do! And don’t settle for Miss Goodenough, b/c your agency has plenty of wonderful AP’s who are right for your family. I’ll bet the current economy means there are plenty of great girls in rematch.

Hula Gal August 6, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Well our au pair left today. Things had been going very smoothly for the last 3 weeks after we agreed to rematch. She never found another family so she is returning to Germany. We found a new au pair who is in-country and wanted to extend in a warmer climate. Her host mom gave her a positive review and the host mom seemed to be a reliable reference. She was very candid. The girl is from Thailand so someone had mentioned above that a Thai girl might be the right match for us. We are hopeful. Well as I said things had been very smooth for 3 weeks and then the au pair freaks out this evening because she closed her bank account before receiving our money transfer and the bank told her they’d have to refund the money to us. So she gets all upset with my husband over it because we have no cash at home, she is leaving in 30 minutes and refuses a check. So I get home and she is boiling mad, why she is mad at us I do not know. I tell her I can write a check to her friend to cash for her but she sharply tells me no, she wants cash. So I tell her she will have to wait till I put the baby to bed. She is sitting on the chair with her arms crossed and very curt. So I put the baby to bed. Come downstairs, drive to the bank, she meets me there and I give her the cash. She is all smiles and as sweet as can be like her mood an hour ago never happened. To sum this whole experience up….we will never again try to work it out with an au pair that is showing signs of immaturity. We’ve been through it twice now and we’ll never do it again. If we continue to have these challenges with our au pairs in the future than we will consider other means of childcare. Life is too short to suffer the indignity of paying someone to treat you like crap.

Calif Mom August 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm

It’s one thing when a 2 or 5 year old, or even a 10 year old flips on a dime like that. Are you having a break before the new au pair arrives? You must both be exhausted.

I hope this works out for you! An extension is a great idea for you. She knows the drill, but at the same time you are providing her a more comfortable climate, so she will be grateful for that! Candid appraisal is good; you know she’s not trying to paper over things, so any big problems would be aired. Nothing in it for the host mom to not to be honest, since not a rematch when she’s just dying to get her out the door.

You must be glad no one picked up German girl. Not to be mean, but on behalf of those who need decent rematch candidates, thanks for not helping her get scooped back out of the pool! She needed to go home and grow up.

I recommend a glass of wine, and nice long shower to wash that girl right out of your hair! Tomorrow’s a new day.

FL Mom August 8, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Good luck, and let us know what happens. I have a good feeling about this one! Every Thai AP I’ve met has been kind and loving with children. We really enjoy their culture too.

HulaGal August 17, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Well, it is a whole new world in our house since our German au pair left and our new au pair from Thailand arrived. She is like a breath of fresh air. She is the au pair we’ve always wanted and wondered if it was possible to have. She is mature, responsible, enjoys being with our daughter, takes initiative, is interested in our lives as much as we are hers, she is very thoughtful, and even cooks! Her thoughtfulness is especially appreciated when instead of taking towels out of the dryer that I forgot about and shoving them into a pile she neatly folds them. She offers to make extra when she is cooking for herself. She is really fun to be around. And most important of all, our daughter is blossoming now that she is here and is attentive to her needs and interacts with her. All I can say is what did we do to deserve this? Well, we suffered through two bad au pairs to get to her and it was worth it! If you are unhappy with your au pair, please rematch. You will not regret it!

CV August 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Hooray Hula Gal! So happy to hear that the new AP is better…. you and your family deserve a good experience!

NewAPMom August 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Wow. That is wonderful to hear HulaGal (and gives me hope!)

Comments on this entry are closed.