Au Pair Asks: How should I expect to act around my Host Family?

by cv harquail on November 6, 2010

Dear Au Pair Moms,

What is an acceptable way to act around the host family? is it more like a work environment, or would, for instance, an au pair treat the host mom like a real mom, and tell her most things about her social life outside of the au-pairing job?

Is it common for families to hang out with their au pairs after dinner time as a family on week days or weekends, watching TV together or playing cards, etc.? What kind of situation should I expect?

286988969_29057a0ed8_m.jpgDear Au Pair-

This is exactly the kind of question you need to ask potential host families when you interview each other during matching!

Every family has a different definition of what it means to be “part of the family”. Every family has its own set of common behaviors, expectations, and ways of treating each other. And, every family will have its own set of preferences for when they will want you to join in actively, when it’s up to you, and when they might need some time alone as a family and as individuals.

Before you ask these questions of a family, ask them of yourself.

Keeping in mind that you’re only guessing about what you might like, and there may be a wide range of families you’ll feel fine with, take the time to imagine what you think would be a perfect kind of interaction with a host family.

Talk to other au pairs about what they expected of their family, what they liked, and what they didn’t.

Think about how you’ve been when you’ve gone over to the homes of your friends and hung out with their families. What kind of environments did you like or not, and why? Allow yourself to consider what you might like, and then talk to families to see what their ideas are… only then can you make a good match.

Being part of the family and being an employee in a work environment are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

A family can be very warm and loving to an au pair and still expect her to work hard and try hard when s/he’s on duty. A host mom can feel very close to you and still five you direct and specific feedback about when you need to bay your phone bill or use the washing machine. So, think about the kinds of employment situations you’ve had that you’ve liked– do you like getting specific directions? Regular feedback? To-do lists? Or do you like going with the flow, figuring things out by yourself, working independently unless you are told otherwise?100026991_162e359baf_b.jpg

When you match with a host family, you need to match on both “family environment” and “work environment” because you are working in a family and living with people who you also work for.

More ideas?

See also:

Part of the Family: What does that mean to you?
Part of the Family: The Au Pairs’ Perspective

Sharing Your Hosting History with a new Au Pair
Birthday Parties for Host Kids: Should Au Pairs Be Expected to Attend?

Negotiations and love songs from
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Negotiations and love songs from
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Taking a Computer Lunch November 6, 2010 at 9:54 pm

You’re a young adult now, and even though you are still your parent’s child, your own relationship to your immediate family is changing, especially once you leave your parent’s home and board the airplane. What do you like about your own relationship with your parents: (do you like playing cards with them in the evening?, do you wish they were less nosy about your evening plans?, do you enjoy family dinners?) While you’re not going to replicate your parents’ relationship with your new HP, it should inform your questions to potential HFs.

If you are not your family’s first AP, then this is an excellent question to ask the current AP, especially once you decide what being “part of the family” means to you. Don’t just ask “What is the HF like?” but really think about what is important to you – is the family unhappy when the AP doesn’t join them for dinner? do they invite her to join them on vacations and holidays? do they encourage her to join them in their weekend plans? do they actually sit down and eat a family dinner in the evenings?

In the 9 1/2 years we have hosted, our relationship with our APs depends on several factors, including these: 1) where they are in their year (new arrivals are homesick and need the distraction of our family life while those who have been here a few months have friends and make plans); 2) where they are in the their life (recent high school graduates are fresh from home, while college students may have lived in their own apartment or dormitory and have less need for the intense home life), and 3) their personality (quiet APs are more likely to retreat to their bedroom while extroverts are more likely to sit with us or invite friends in).

Jennifer November 7, 2010 at 8:20 am

Remember that the relationship takes effort on both sides. We have had AP’s that wanted privacy, be gone all weekend, go to their rooms or out as soon as we got home, etc. They never asked what we did on the weekend or were concerned with our lives at all. This really results in an employer/employee relationship. Then all the sudden one day the AP wants to tell me all about her weekend and doesn’t understand why I might not have time… she is totally out of sync with our family and has no idea what’s going on. You get what you give. If you want to be part of the family, then be part of the family.

PA AP mom November 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I agree with TACL (like usual).

I want my au pair candidates to talk to my current au pair. They can give a better idea of what we are REALLY like than I can. The candidate might feel more comfortable asking more difficult questions to the au pair than to me.

IwIsHIcOuLdSpEaKmYmInD.. September 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I am an au pair, a really lucky one. I came here with a nice family, they treat me like a part of the family, the are always nice and friendly with me. The kids are a little bit spoiled but I just love them like if they were the siblings i never had ( I am the only child). I have a beautiful relationship with them, It is a little bit difficult to make the youngest one to listen but he eventually listens to me and does what i ask him to do. My host parents always take me on vacation with them, they include me always in their family get-togethers, I appear in a lot of family pictures, I am facebook friend even with my host mom’s nieces…etc…also I have to mention that they gave a really expensive (and my dream come true) camera as a birthday present and paid for my photography class at college.

Everything in my new life in America is perfect except for a little detail….They do not really respect my “off time” i mean, I don’t wanna be misunderstood or neither seem ungrateful, my point is that I work without an schedule (even if I been asking for one), what implies that from Monday to Friday I am working more than 55 hours and still working on saturdays from morning to evening.

I am don’t have the 1 and a half day off. I have sundays off tho. However, if one sunday i don’t have plans and I stay home they ask me to watch the kids while they go out for a bike ride, or they ask me to fold towels… they have even used phrases like ” hey, Sul now that you are off could you wash the dishes!!!!!”…. or the other day happened that it was Wednesday night I was off after a loooong day and I went downstairs to drink water, and they asked me if I could pick THEIR dirty plates, rinse them and put them in the dishwasher ! ..thing that i would be happy to do when i am on duty… i dont know what to do I already talk to the lcc but she didn’t do anything…should I rematch after 7 months???

HRHM September 15, 2011 at 9:31 am

I think you need to look around at what you have, what your other AP friends have and decide what is most important to you. I know that they are breaking the rules by having you work more than the agreed upon hours, but they are obviously rewarding you handsomely for your “flexibility”. If you really feel like this is all one-sided (they never pick up your dishes and put them in the dishwasher, they never would fold your towels and put them away) then you could try to talk to them about it. But I warn you that it will probably lead to them feeling used and hurt (you were perfectly happy to accept expensive vacations and gifts, but now that you have them, you want to change the “deal”). Although many will disagree – think about how much they spent on all this stuff for you, divide it by ten dollars per hour and that’s how many extra hours they’ve “paid for” with their largess.

As far as rematching, I think you would be crazy. First, few people will want an AP with only 4 months left. Secondly, you don’t know what you might end up with and this family seems to treat you very well overall.

If you want to minimize the hours abuse, your best tactic may be to make yourself less “available” Start letting them know (a couple weeks in advance) that you have plans on the weekend (make some if you need to!) so that they know that you won’t be working. If they balk, sit down with them and calculate where your 45 hours are going to be worked (if they don’t use them up during the week, they are within their rights to have you work half a day on the weekend all but one weekend per month).

You also need to clarify what hours are “working”. In our house, it was the APs job to empty the dishwasher every day (not as the AP, but as a member of our household) so if she did this in the evening, it didn’t count toward her 45 hours at all (smart APs did it while the girls were eating breakfast and therefore during their AP hours) Same goes for cleaning your room/bathroom, and other “member of the household” stuff.

Either way, I think rematch should be your last option – the devil you know is better than the one you don’t – and this devils seems not so bad. Hopefully you can work it out to everyone’s satisfaction.

DarthaStewart September 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

^What she said.

I think you’ll just need to be “less available” for extra hours, and just get yourself out of the house. You may also need to sit down and figure out what your schedule is, and stick with it. You’ll probably have to stick with it.

I’m not saying that what they are doing is right- but it is what it is. If you break the match now, you’ll likely be going home. – And no, it isn’t right.

IwIsHIcOuLdSpEaKmYmInD.. September 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for the advices, I will talk to them in a really nice way about that I mean I don’t have any problem working and helping them as much as they need me to, because that is what I am here for. However, I am really tired at the end of the day because literally I work since I wake up until I go to sleep. My kids are 9 years, 7 years and 6 years they do not go to school, they are home schooled by a teacher who drives to our house, however they go by turns; I got two of them when the other one is in class, then I clean the house, and do everybody’s laundry, feed the dogs and the cats, drive the kids everywhere..etc. However, even if I have 3 host kids we always have 7 or 8 kids at home because my host mom’s friends let them to play everyday, every season so it is really atypical when I only have my 3 ones. CONCLUSION… at the end of the day I am so tired that I dont feel like driving anywhere to have fun…and weekends are jus sundays to do anything because all of my friends work sadly my american experience is just being at home all the time. My host mom is a housewife and she sleeps a lot or she just goes to the club for hours, sometimes when she is at home reading magazines or drinking wine I am working… I really appreciate what they do for me but I am just overwhelmed …. sorry if I complain a lot but I am just an au pair not a machine

Taking a Computer Lunch September 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

You have a legitimate complaint, and after 7 months of being willing to work more than 45 hours per week, it will be difficult to reel it in, but the first thing to do is to ask for a schedule. When your hours are over, then you need to step up and say, “You know I would love to do that for you, but it’s time for you to take over. I’ve been working since … o’clock, and I’m done for the day.” In order to break them of the habit of making you work every minute you’re around, you may well have to leave. Go to the local public library and sit and read. Meet a friend for a quiet cup of coffee.

Also talk with your LCC, if she is generally supportive. If your problems persist, then you may need to bring her to the table for a chat with your HP. And yes, it may be possible to go into rematch after 7 months, but you’ll need your LCC on your side to help you find a HF.

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