Your Au Pair Handbook: Can it help you screen for the right candidate?

by cv harquail on November 1, 2014

Your Host Family Handbook can be a good tool for screening prospective Au Pair Candidates.

2145053688_18922419cf_zHandbooks generally outline the concrete expectations of a host family as well as the particular rules and parameters that an au pair is expected to work with.  Sure, a long handbook might seem daunting to an au pair candidate, but at the same time it will add a level of detail and specificity that should help him or her understand the family they’re considering.

Plus, if you are interviewing au pairs whose first language is not English, having the handbook gives them a chance to translate and mull over the meaning of certain expectations in a way that’s hard to do over skype. Or even email.

Host Mom 4thTimesACharm thought she’d share her family handbook with the rematch au pair they are considering after their manny went ‘into transition’.

But from the (new) potential AP,

Her first sentence in response to receiving our handbook was “It was a bit much for me and very detailed”.

[She is in rematch and apparently previous HF didn’t have a handbook.]

I’m a bit put out by this remark and my first reaction is to let her go despite all other communications having gone well (though she didn’t have particularly many or good questions for us either) – am I wrong and should I give her another chance? (challenge her over lack of questions?)

She is German – anything that might have gotten lost in translation?

 Thoughts about what this says about the Au Pair? Advice for this Host Mom?


MGMom November 1, 2014 at 11:08 am

I wouldn’t be too put off by her comment. Having lived overseas in a different language, I would have found such a manual completely overwhelming. An au pair in rematch needs to know what are the most important things about your family – a 10-point bullet list. She can learn the details later. Make sure she knows not only the best points about what you’re offering, but also the (potentially) worst. And be very clear about what YOU need and what are your non-negotiable requirements.

Should be working November 1, 2014 at 12:11 pm

It might be helpful to know that Germans, in my experience, tend to be blunt and direct in a way that may sometimes come across as rude to most Americans, who are raised to “be nice” and “say it nicely” and so on. So the charitable reading is that she told you exactly how she felt when she got it: “Wow, this is a lot, and so many details.” The advantage to this is that, in my experience, as an AP such a person would let you know what she really thinks, not nurse grudges behind your back, and would probably also be fine and non-defensive with you being equally direct, as in: “You left the kitchen not fully cleaned up. Please wipe the counters and sweep after the kids have their lunch.” The disadvantage is that bluntness and directness might feel harsh to you and your kids.

It could also be–covering a big range here–that the candidate is not motivated to learn everything about your family; doesn’t understand how valuable a detailed handbook is; would be a lazy AP, would push back on things you ask of her; or would over time with you learn the American form of politeness; and so on.

In other words, that exchange alone isn’t enough information, at least for me, to know what to do. If diplomacy and American-style politeness are important to you, it’s a big signal to pass. If you would be ok with blunt, it’s an opener to a conversation. Let’s say you explained to her (esp. if you are her first HF match) the value of the handbook (no surprises, better view of the job) and it was clear she “got it” and thanked you–big plus. For me, having had mostly German APs, I wouldn’t drop the match but would see how she reacts to the conversation that develops out of that exchange.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Breaking her response into two parts, “it’s very detailed” would be a welcome remark to me, because it would suggest she read it and at least tried to absorb it. I would be less comfortable with “it’s a bit much.” I would definitely ask what that meant. Did she find it too micromanagey? Did the rules seek too restrictive? Did the tasks or life in our family seem overwhemling? Or, maybe it’s just “a bit much to take in quickly during the rush-rush rematch period. Many possibilities here.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily give up on her, but do listen to your gut. If something about her is rubbing you the wrong way, that may be a signal that the match is not right for your family, even if on paper all is good.

Nbhostmom November 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Another thought, how strong is her English? I didn’t realize until our current AP (who’s English is conversational but grammatically not great) that AP handbook was too much for her understand. She spent hours and hours with a translator trying to go through it until she came to me to explain her problem. She also used very similar words saying: “it is too much for me” meaning “it is too much for me to understand on my own language wise”

I’d suggest clarifying what the AP wanted to convey with her words. Our AP is also German.

OP here November 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for the responses. I know I didn’t put much background info but as I was hijacking an older thread (Thanks CV, for bringing this to the top of the pile!) I didn’t want to write a lot, neither do I want to distract now from the actual topic of this thread by going more into the pros and cons of this AP (let me just say that we send the handbook late in the interview process and I hoped for more in response to receiving it).

I don’t have a problem with blunt but feel exactly like AlwaysHopefulHM: the ‘a bit much’ irked me and ‘it’s very detailed’ would have been better followed up with some comments of what she (the AP) can see herself getting out of it. I am also worried that the handbook is only the tip of the iceberg, albeit a very very big tip. There are activity planners, checklists, calendars, etc we use, that are not specifically in the HHHB (mentioned by nature but not by name / no examples shown) – thinking just now: they should probably be in there!

Yes, I am a micromanager, not by choice but by necessecity – over the years I found it causes less grief and stress despite additional time needed and so far no AP of ours has shown enough initiative, motivation or organisation skills of her / his own despite detailed handbook, i.e. it was never enough to say ‘we need you to plan activities for the kids ahead of time and actively engage with the kids while looking after them’ so out came the activity planner/ schedule. The last AP who was ‘shocked’ by the amount of detail in the HHHB (German again ;-)) ended in rematch after many a conversation starting with ‘but it’s in the handbook…’

I will try to get more explanation from the AP and see if she can redeem herself.

4th time lucky?! November 1, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Thanks for the responses. I know I didn’t put much background info but as I was hijacking an older thread (Thanks CV, for bringing this to the top of the pile!) I didn’t want to write a lot, neither do I want to distract now from the actual topic of this thread by going more into the pros and cons of this AP (let me just say that we send the handbook late in the interview process and I hoped for more in response to receiving it).

I don’t have a problem with blunt but feel exactly like AlwaysHopefulHM: the ‘a bit much’ irked me and ‘it’s very detailed’ would have been better followed up with some comments of what she (the AP) can see herself getting out of it. I am also worried that the handbook is only the tip of the iceberg, albeit a very very big tip. There are activity planners, checklists, calendars, etc we use, that are not specifically in the HHHB (mentioned by nature but not by name / no examples shown) – thinking just now: they should probably be in there!

Yes, I am a micromanager, not by choice but by necessecity – over the years I found it causes less grief and stress despite additional time needed and so far no AP of ours has shown enough initiative, motivation or organisation skills of her / his own despite detailed handbook, i.e. it was never enough to say ‘we need you to plan activities for the kids ahead of time and actively engage with the kids while looking after them’ so out came the activity planner/ schedule. The last AP who was ‘shocked’ by the amount of detail in the HHHB (German again ;-)) ended in rematch after many a conversation starting with ‘but it’s in the handbook…’

I will try to get more explanation from the AP and see if she can redeem herself.

Skny November 1, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I get the same problem. Both DH and I work job that requires us to prep. I just wish an Au pair would come prepared. Most mornings my Au pair wakes up 5 min before her work time and is preparing herself breakfast when I handle her the baby. I even feel kind of guilt like I have to apologize for her to throw the baby at her during her breakfast.
I do wish they would have a plan and sit down with the kids. None have. I have considered making a detailed hr by hr planning but seems a little crazy. Maybe with next one

Boys Mama November 1, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I used to get that too, until I started putting it in my handbook. Something along the lines of “You are expected to be dressed for the day with your own breakfast eaten and cleaned up PRIOR to the start of your shift. Done.

old au pair mom November 1, 2014 at 11:36 pm

I have 4 older boys and I can so agree with this comment. up and dressed and feel free to drink your coffee while you corral the boys. No guilt for me when I run off to shower or whatever I choose. When was the last time you went to work, and then made your breakfast and ate it before anyone came to you with work issues? Same for dinner, not to hijack the post, but eat what is planned or wait until you are done, just because I am home or nearby doesn’t mean you can start to prepare a separate meal for yourself.
Along the lines of your discomfort, I tend to hire women who seem happy to fly by the seat of their pants, changing up their days with different errands, jobs, adventures, I would be wary of someone who found my methods “too” undetailed! Years ago we had 2 german au pairs but they just were not favorites, so we have never gone back. Try and get an idea if it was just the amount of the material or she felt she would have to report on her activities daily and that she would not have flex to do what she wanted with the kiddos.

exAuPair November 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

“When was the last time you went to work, and then made your breakfast and ate it before anyone came to you with work issues?”

Today :D
While I agree that it’s a great idea to let an au pair know what is expected from her… that’s actually my daily routine. I work an office job (no customer contact, very few people actually stopping by before 9 am or so) and I start at 7 am. I just can’t eat that early. Thus I sleep half an hour longer, get ready, go to work, make myself some coffee, turn on my computer, have a cuppa, answer the first emails, get a the most important things off my desk and then have breakfast around 9.30/10 am. Nobody minds and really, nobody notices. And even if they did, they wouldn’t care.

I hold a side job on the weekends and if I start working at 9 am (when the store opens) I get a 15 minute breakfast break around 10.30 am. It used to be a smoke break but since most people no longer smoke it’s a coffee and sandwich break now.

But as I said I think it’s important to let an au pair know that you expect her to be dressed and groomed and fed when waking the kids because for them it might make just as much sense to have breakfast together with the kids or shower and get dressed when they are out of the house. If you don’t want them to do that you have to let them know.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I’ve never dictated to my au pairs that they need to have had their breakfast before the start of their shift, and in 13 1/2 years of hosting, only one AP ever had breakfast before the start of her 6:00 am shift. Granted, my kids are now school aged and the AP has 6 1/2 hours between the end of her AM shift and the start of her PM shift, so if she wants to wait until the morning childcare is done to eat breakfast, then that’s fine with me. (Like exAuPair, I wait until my morning break at work to eat breakfast, because I, too, want to sleep until the last possible moment before I start my commute at 5:30 in the morning!)

I think it’s okay to tell your AP “If you want to come upstairs the moment you take over from me for the day, don’t expect to eat breakfast right away. There may be childcare tasks that need attending when your shift starts. If you’re hungry, come up early and eat your breakfast before you take over.”

Old China Hand November 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I have in our handbook that if the AP wants breakfast it has to be before she starts her shift and that she has to be dressed and ready for work. With our first AP for the first 10 months she was here (of 18), my son was napping twice a day, with the first nap at 9 am. So AP would go running before work, come back stinky, then shower and eat breakfast during his morning nap. That was fine until he stopped taking a morning nap. Then she would postpone doing things with him until after she ate. We don’t let our kids snack between meals and so in addition to wanting her ready to work when she starts work, I don’t want them seeing her eating when it isn’t their meal time. I also don’t want her eating stuff that they don’t eat when she is feeding them because it messes up their eating. She is welcome to cook something else for lunch during their afternoon nap, but I don’t want her eating fried rice for lunch while the kids are supposed to be eating something healthy. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to lay out expectations for work preparation as long as it is upfront.

HRHM November 2, 2014 at 11:36 am

My kids are older, but that line is in my handbook as well. I walk freely out the door, expecting her to be ready to take on the day. My current AP handles this well but that wasn’t the case with prior APs.

Anonymous in CA November 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm

OCH makes such a good point about not wanting kids to see AP eating something unhealthy! It NEVER would have occurred to me to say anything about this to AP, either in a handbook or verbally, until I learned (after the fact) that AP was apparently taking child to 7-11 every day so that AP could get soda, gum, and candy! This just isn’t what we do in our family. In the future, IF we host again, I will be explicit about this stuff.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 5, 2014 at 9:24 pm

AP #10 (gone after 10 weeks) once ate french fries with honey mustard on top for dinner in front of child #2. I tried my best to keep my voice neutral as I asked “Is that all you’re going to have for dinner?” As she was in charge of feeding him dinner the next night, I took her aside and said while she was welcome to junk out, her diet was inappropriate for him, and asked her what she intended to serve him. #2 is a teenager, and complained about all the sugary crap on the AP shelf (we’re the family that allows the kids and AP to have separate shelves for their favorite foods – this after an AP and her friend plowed through special chocolates that had been given to child #2). Child #2 has been a far more eclectic and adventurous eater than ANY of our APs – with one exception.

At this point, child #2 gets himself ready for the day and out the door on time. I figure the AP is an adult, and if she wants to lift The Camel (a much smaller teenager) and get her ready for school on an empty stomach, then that’s her business). The Camel is also not going to notice or comment on what the AP eats.

AussiePair November 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Just a word on this. If you want your au pair prepared and ready to go in the morning try to facilitate this. Make it so that she can have her breakfast without pitching in to help with the kids. I know that I come out of my room usually 15-20 minutes before I officially start work in order to eat breakfast and be ready for work, however more often than not I end up helping to get the kids breakfast, brush hair or any number of things. My host parents are fine with me eating breakfast while working, so it’s not a problem. But just something to keep in mind :)

Repeataupair November 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Personally I always have thought that prospective families that I have liked do not share enough. Being in contact with a family is an exciting time for us, I love hearing about everything, that is what makes us have a better understanding of how life is in your family. Before matching here is what I would love to know:

– Detailed schedule (in vacation and in school time)
– Detailed house rules (from curfew, vacation day use, phone use, how much you want the au pair implied in your life, etc)
– What you expect from the au pair around the house

Of course along other details out of the handbook about your kids, what they like to do, if they get screen time, etc.

A good au pair will have many questions, I think every email I sent, I was sending at least half a dozen question regarding everything and nothing, it’s important to get to know the au pair position as well as the kids, but I learned from experience it’s also important to know the parents.
My suggestion though (for other times) would be to cut your handbook in different themes and to send them along emails as you get closer and closer to an eventual match. Not every information is important right away but getting a progressiv point of view on your family is easier I would think, especially sometimes we can be overwhelmed with contacts coming one after the other. Last time I had 6 families contacting me in 4 days while I was in vacation, dealing with all of it is not easy, you must know since you have probably more contacts to deal with.

AuPair Paris November 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I am someone who learns by reading, mostly, so a big handbook would have been very useful to me when I was choosing my family – but not everyone’s like that, and I don’t think it’s especially a bad sign that this au pair found it overwhelming. Though it’s a bad sign that you already feel annoyed and affronted by what she said – it doesn’t bode well for you guys gelling well if you’re already feeling uncomfortable with her. Is this a like… Final choice situation? It’s her or no one? If not, I’d keep looking. The match period is awkward, but everyone is on best behaviour. If you find her rude at her best, then when the bloom’s rubbed off and the kids have been acting up, and she’s ready for a holiday, but still has a full week of work (or whatever), you won’t get along at all. Also, while I’d find a handbook useful now, if it had been presented to me in French before I got here, there’s *no way* I’d have managed it. I was an ok-ish communicator, and I understand, but a big text… I just wouldn’t have got it.

As others have said, this can be a cultural thing. I have a German friend here, and I have really had to change the way I talk about things. She speaks good English and we both speak French, but like… If she asked to come over and I said “Oh, I don’t know… I’m a little tired…” she’d come anyway – and maybe give me some advice on keeping my energy levels up. She asked to play the piano while the host family were putting the kids together, and I said “I’m not sure now is the best time to perform a concert!” just jokily, and she very seriously turned and said “Oh, just one then!” sat herself down and started playing. Loudly. I had to very clearly say “you can’t play that now. It doesn’t belong to me and the children are going to bed.” I mean, an anecdote isn’t data, so it might just be that she’s a little funny with cultural signs, rather than a German thing. But it does match the stereotype!

German Au-Pair November 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm

The stereotype is pretty accurate and so is your description. While I made a conscious effort to pick up on subtle cues, I find it really stressful and frankly, sometimes choose to stop trying.
“You could go to the park” is a suggestion to me and not an order. “I’m a little tired” would lead to me coming over and either try to get more awake together or just hang and be tired together. And while I see how one could have picked up on the concert-remark, I honestly never would get “don’t come” out of “I’m a little tired”. In mky culture, if you are too tired to have company, you say “I’m too tired to have company.” Plus, in my experience, Germans may be harder to approach but once you’re friends the bond is pretty strong and many things become acceptable -like trying to persuade someone to go out even though he just said he doesn’t want to. When you’re in a friendship, you really need to make your point cristal clear.
I find it really exhausting to constantly try to read into what people say because there’s always this risk of over-interpreting. I pride myself on trying to reflect on things that happen and trying to read people well, but I didn’t get that my HP had a serious problem with me for almost a year because they had only talked about it in a joking, sarcastic way. Germans also like to randomly complain about things, even when those cannot be changed or don’t really matter. Even when we don’t expect them to be changed, we like to complain a bit, with was an issue between me and my HP as well. They received it as a wish to change, while I just mentioned it every now and then.
Even if we try really hard, many of us will never master picking up on all those cues or get paranoid trying, so please, discuss this with your AP if you notice it. She might feel embarrassed for a moment but she will appreciate being told directly and given the chance to change before the issues pile up.

As for the comment…saying it’s a bit much is just German-blunt and I personally would never read it like “the fact that you have this hand book is a bit much” but as “It’s overwhelming for me right now”. I would not dismiss her because of this comment.
However, I agree that if you’re already annoyed by her, you might want to either pick another au pair or -if her qualifications are that good and you like her otherwise- talk to her about that cultural difference.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Interesting. I tend to use the phrase “I would prefer that you…” My previous German au pair read it accurately, but perhaps I should be more direct with the current one. He told me that in Germany, if you are doing something right, your boss will probably say nothing. You just know it’s right because otherwise he/she would yell at you! Hmm… I’m not a yeller, so we’ll have to find another way!

The thing is, usually, it really is that what I’m suggesting is what I’d prefer. If he has another way of doing it that accomplishes the same goal, that’s fine, too! For the record, I would be mortified if I said I was tired, and someone tried to energize me! I would probably say something like “I said I was tired! What makes you think I want to do even more tiring things?? Let me sleep!” Lol!

German Au-Pair November 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm

“I would prefer…” is different though. It suggests that YOU want it done that way. Phrases like that, on occasion, I might ask “Would it be okay if I did X instead” but not just ignore the request. Suggesting something in the “why don’t you…” way is basically what a mother does to her bored child. If you say “Why don’t you…?” it’s perfectly acceptable to decline the suggestion and do something totally different.

Funny side note: a conversation that just happened today. Friend: “Are you free today?” Me: ” I am, but I feel terrible because I have the worst cold ever.” Friend: “I have hot drinks and tissues waiting for you”. Totally normal here. Since I really was sick, I had to explicitly say I didn’t want to come because I didn’t feel like it.
Fortunately, German bluntness works the other way round, too. If you don’t want to hang with you friends because you’d rather sit at home and do nothing, that’s absolutely acceptable to say.

WarmStateMomma November 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I’m visibly pregnant and it’s sooo easy now to avoid networking or social obligations. All I have to do is say that “I don’t feel up to it.” Fantastic! Is this what it’s like to be German? :)

AuPair Paris November 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Ha! Don’t worry German Au-Pair, we’re learning from each other. I’m learning to say “I’m sorry but I’m too tired to hang out today”, and she’s learning to understand that when I say “Oh… I’m not sure”, it’s a weird, English way of saying “I don’t want to do that”. It’s exhausting for us all. (For me, because being blunt like that has been seen as impolite and off-limits for my whole life. It’s so hard to force myself to believe that I can say “no thank you, I don’t want to see you today because I’m tired and want to be alone” without being seen as rude and hurtful. And her, for all the reasons you already know.)

But. Good friendships are worth the effort!

German Au-Pair November 7, 2014 at 11:29 am

Haha, I love cultural exchange. “I’m not sure” would always be followed with persuasion here.

@WSM yes! :D we only do that with people we know at least a bit and not when it comes to birthday invitations or bigger events. But besides telling people you don’t want to hang out is perfectly acceptable and actually preferred. I have heard people complain “I wish she would just say she didn’t want to instead of coming up with excuses all the time” sooo many times.

Old China Hand November 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Totally not about Au pairs, but this discussion has made me wonder if some of the issues I have had with a German collaborator interacting with my American undergraduates is cultural. In one case it ended with a student bribing themself out of an unsafe situation overseas. Interesting perspective.

AuPair Paris November 1, 2014 at 5:28 pm

To bed. Putting the kids to bed. I’m not sure I’ve posted a single comment on here without some stupid mistake like that.

AnnieBananie November 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm

First off, I didn’t get a handbook in either of my families and depending on the length of yours, I can see the problem here.
About the “a bit much”: in Germany we tend to say that something is “zu viel” which translates to “too much” and it is used to express overwhelming sensations. Sometimes when I get a lot of information at once or many things happen at once, in a way I can’t process it right away I say that it is “too much”. I think that was the girl’s statement. There were so many informations in the handbook, so she needs some mire time to process them.
On the “detailed”: Firstly, it shows that she read it which is a good thing and secondly,it doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Maybe it was more meant as a “Wow! This is really detailed, you put a lot of time and effort into this!” Statement.
Lastly, you complain about her not having (good) enough questions. Maybe all her questions were answered through your handbook?

insearchofAP November 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm

As a fellow German, it makes a lot of sense what you say. Didn’t even think about the “direct translation”-meaning- thing..

TexasHM November 2, 2014 at 8:43 am

We had a similar experience last interviewing round but the candidate took it one step further and said she didn’t think we would be a good match. I asked her for more feedback to help our process and she said “none of the other families had handbooks and it was a lot to take in” and she’s “more casual”. We were very put off as well. Not by her disinterest in us, but the fact that she was looking at going halfway around the world to live with total strangers and didn’t feel like she needed/wanted any specific details about the role, kids, etc. Our handbook doesn’t micromanage and it is a screening tool but largely because we feel the info in there is very beneficial to prospective APs. There are rules for rules sake, there’s examples and advice from previous APs, info about the kids personalities and our general philosophies. Hardly “too much” and like OP any AP that read it and didn’t LOVE it (all our great APs have raved about it and read it multiple times before coming) would be crossed off my list. In this case as others said, ask her to clarify. If you think it’s a cultural thing then show her all your checklists and whatnot and see if that sends her running for the hills! :)

HRHM November 2, 2014 at 11:39 am

I wonder if APs in this camp aren’t looking for a more superficial picture of the year so that it will be easy to rematch by saying, “I didn’t know X, Y or Z before I took the match” If they see/hear all the details, they have no out if they arrive and decide they don’t like something.

TexasHM November 5, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Just saw this HRHM and you nailed it. That’s actually why I screen like this – to call out anything I see that could be a weak point so they have to confront it and can’t use it as an excuse later or say they didnt know it was important. Yes, fluke things happen but APs know before they get here what we expect, what we offer and what will not be accepted so it does weed out those that arent ready to look at things head on and make an informed commitment.

DarthaStewart November 2, 2014 at 10:11 am

Gosh- I think I’d probably keep fishing. To me, her response is similar to what I’ve gotten from so many other au-pairs and they’ve ultimately turned me down. I like it that way- Dare them to match with us, scare them a bit during the interview, and it gives them a very clear idea of what we’re like. It has also meant that we have a fairly high success ratio since we started doing that with our interviews. (I think I saw that suggestion on this blog, actually)

Anonymous in CA November 2, 2014 at 11:26 am

We don’t have a handbook currently (I know we should), but we have a very detailed schedule for vacation times (which includes activities I actually really want my child, who has mild movement / developmental challenges, to engage in on a daily basis, and includes a reliable and predictable structure for each day, which is something that for my child is really important). We have a less robust but still pretty detailed schedule for school times. Our soon to be departing AP received the schedule at the start of summer, read it, acknowledged it, said OK, then proceeded to utterly disregard it. I didn’t realize she’d disregarded it until a couple weeks later when I asked, “How’s such and such activity going?” To which she replied, “Oh, we haven’t been doing such and such activity.” Just like that. No apology, no explanation, no statements like “oh, I must have misunderstood,” etc. I gathered myself, explained that I made the schedule and really do intend that she follow it, to which she said, ok.

We had a few other similar experiences like that with the schedule over the summer, the school time schedule, then the schedule for Fall break in October.

Needless to say, I was furious.

So, when I see a comment to a detailed handbook like, “It’s a bit much for me,” I immediately think that no matter how detailed the handbook or the schedule, she might be someone who, like our departing AP, will simply disregard it, over and over. I’d be overjoyed to learn that this prospective AP will not be like that.

ReturnAupair November 2, 2014 at 11:59 am

When i was in the matching, i turned down a family just because of reading theire handbook. Their where some reason for that.

1. It was the first email i got from the family. The first thing i read was, please look at our videos and our handbook. It was just nothing i could feel symphatic.

2. It was a micromanagin handbook. They made sure everythign was planend. Like playing outside everyday from 9 to 10. Nap beetween 11.30am and 1pm, laundry at this day, cleaning the kids room on that day. Its felt like they dont belive i can make good desciions with the kids and cant plan my week. But i lived by my self for a long time i do know what to do and how to plan. Also i felt like, what if we play something nice and we have to interupet and play outside. Then its nice outside, we have to go inside for cleaning ….

3. I dont want to hear about all the rules in the first mail. Its scares me no personal contact but knowing everything about the job.

When i matched i got a family without handbook and no rules for me. And its worked out great. I planed every week fun stuff and educating stuff, we where sponatnius when the kids wanted to do something. We got our own routine. And the Hostfamily just let me do it. I made the household when the older kid was reading and the younger ones made naps, on one day i wasched and dryed. The next day i fault and put the clothes away. I teached them to keep theire closes orginized or let them help me tyding up. With a handbook where everything must be always the way the parents thought about it, would make me unhappy.

Sometimes one handbook is good for a special aupair who needs more help, who has las experienc but theire are girls, who just know what to do.

LondonMum November 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I can understand your perspective. After a few emails and skyping, I would send out an outline of the job and what the daily routine would be with the kids schedule etc but that’s only a page and a half and I don’t send it unless I’m seriously interested in the AP.

Personally I don’t have a handbook as I don’t like to micro manage and I would actually screen for an AP who could plan their own week and do the household chores when they wanted but it must all get done. Out of our 7 APs, 6 have been proactive and run the show themselves but 1 was not able to think or organise herself at all. For this AP we were a bad match, she was frustrated that I didn’t give her instructions, and I was frustrated that she had no initiative or common sense. (She once rang me at work to ask if she should cut a pitta bread longways or width ways!).

I guess some HFs want to know every detail of what’s going on with their kids during the day, and that is their prerogative, some people are naturally more anxious or maybe less confident in the ability of an AP, especially at the beginning. An AP of mine commented that I never texted her when I was at work to check on her. It never occurred to me to do that and I would only text if there was a specific issue and I would expect her to only text me if she needed to tell me something specific. I did ask her if she wanted me to text each day and she laughed and said no, she liked that I trusted her to do her job and be great with my kids. We were a good match but I’m sure for someone who likes to micromanage, it would have been a disastrous match!

I guess this shows the importance of the screening/interview process as we are all different and require different things for our families!

TexasHM November 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I wanted to jump in really quick and say I completely agree with ReturnAupair and understand why she decided that family was not for her – HOWEVER – I don’t think having and using a handbook during the interview process is a bad thing and in a way, she just proved it.
For the record, our handbook does not include any of the things she mentioned (micro schedules, how and when to clean, etc) and we don’t send it upfront. In fact we go through at least 3 rounds of open ended questions to get to know the candidates before we even offer to send our handbook.
The handbook we send during interviewing is 100% designed to help a candidate figure out if she would be happy here and if she would be a good match. While I did mention the candidate above that decided to pass on us, EVERY other candidate has written back long emails of praise and thanks. Yes, we try to be organized and have process but no, we are not micromanagers. In fact yesterday current AP borrowed vacuum to hit a spot in her room and said “you know this is the first time I have vacuumed my room?” LALALA she has been here for 9 months and she is awesome so there are things we overlook.
If I were an AP and I had a couple families reaching out to me (I am not a fan of free for all system, one of many reasons we switched agencies) and one seemed organized (not micromanaging) and the other seemed disorganized or unprepared it would be an easy decision for me (yes I am generalizing a lot).
Maybe I am hypersensitive since I have been beat up a lot by other HPs for having a handbook but funny – those other families have had rematches and now every one uses a handbook too so I wish it didn’t so often have a negative connotation. Its not a rule book, its not a stringent set of guidelines and charts, its a handbook – a guide for what we expect, what they should expect, how to handle certain scenarios and successfully navigate the program year. Only once have I ever pulled it out to reference (first AP that was disrespectful and breaking rules) but our APs use it all the time. Ex: current AP wanted a friend to visit from home and reread our handbook section on guests before asking. When she came to us she said “I reread the guests section and completely agree and understand and would like my friend to visit for 10 days.” We had zero issues. Ok off my soapbox! ;)

LondonMum November 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I just wanted to say that I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a handbook, it obviously works for a lot of people so that’s great. I was just saying how I’ve never done one and it’s been fine for me, and that’s great too! Your interview process seems very thorough and I know many contributors on here have asked for your advice/questions and I’m sure it’s been very useful to them as the process can be daunting and I dread it every year!

I was just giving an example of how I approach the handbook issue and how the whole system works for me. As I said, we’re all different so matching with the right AP/HF is sometimes tricky!

Old China Hand November 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I have a handbook that is fairly detailed because I am a detail oriented person. My kids are on a pretty strict schedule with meals and naps because my kids do well with the structure to their day. So, the handbook is detail oriented and provides structure for the AP. It also has lots of information about the restaurants in town, the things to do, where to find out about free classes, and other stuff like that. The super detailed “this is how to wash the diapers” is for later. APs from China tend to be older and have lived on their own a lot (normally at boarding schools since middle school) but always in dorms. From my experience living with Chinese girls who had always been on their own but in dorms since that age, they need more structure in their lives than western girls who have lived on their own. Anyway, the handbook is the same level of detail as I left with my father in law when he took care of my son for 4 days while I was at a conference.

I love using the handbook while matching because it lets me see if my detail oriented personality will go well with the AP I am interested in. If she freaks out about the handbook, she will probably think I am micromanaging her. If she is excited that I am organized, then she will probably be more organized about her end of the bargain, like telling me in writing how long the kids napped and what they ate for meals.

Clearly there are APs for every family, right? Those of us who are detail people find the detail people as APs and the handbook helps with that.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 2, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Ha ha! This is actually my biggest concern with our handbook. I don’t want to mislead an AP into thinking we are very organized and structured, because we’re fairly unstructured and only occasionally organized, and having a person with us who needs that structure would drive me crazy! I do like having a handbook, because it spells out a lot of information I might otherwise only give in the moment (which would be tedious for us both), but I worry about the signal having one sends!

TexasHM November 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Agreed on all of the above. That’s why I think its a great screening tool. If you are micro and they don’t like your micro handbook – probably not a good match. If you are lax and they want micro again – probably not a good match. At this point in the program (4 years in) and being someone that likes to learn from my mistakes the first time we do have a process for almost everything at this point (AP onboarding, AP departure, AP interviewing) but that has come about organically (I wish I had had this site upfront and could have done what we do now the first couple of rounds!!
As AlwaysHopeful mentioned I agree that the information in the moment gets tedious and they feel like they never master the job plus at this point I like to send them as much info as possible before they arrive to jump start their ramping up and its working (so far). And I figure if we plan to stay in the program at least a few more years its worth jotting down notes/working the process to save myself some time/headaches on future rounds.
I also think its super different US vs everywhere else. There are US Dept of State rules and often additional agency policies that have to be managed as well as whatever household guidelines you have. I think that structure also encourages handbooks as we have to practically write them (profiles, AP letters, agency interviews) during the process anyway.

WarmStateMomma November 3, 2014 at 11:35 am

We gave AP#2 a handbook with a lot of detail and rules, which we’ve relaxed quite a bit since 90% of the job gets done without any reminders and I don’t want to be a nag over the remaining 10%.

We revised our handbook to include more detail for the AP#3 search. The Chinese APs just come with a different set of life skills. We now only consider those who lived with their families during high school because AP#1 hadn’t lived with a family very much (boarding school from a young age) and had trouble adjusting to family life. I now don’t think of having lived in a dorm as having “lived on their own” since dorm life in China seems to be so different from dorm life here.

I have our search narrowed down to three great candidates right now and I’m dreading telling two of them no. Message me if you want their info – two are with Go Au Pair. The one with the least driving experience sends me ideas of crafts/foods she’d like to make for my toddler – way more initiative than I’ve ever seen in a Chinese AP.

Skny November 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Unfortunately many Au pairs can’t plan their weeks/days alone. I hate this part. I am terrible micromanaging because I don’t usually realize something wasn’t done until too late.
The reality though is that only one of my Au pairs was able to plan her day and get all done. The one before wasn’t. The 2 after neither. Which means I am often left without clean clothes for the kids during weekends (even though I have said over and over I like to have nice clothes clean for weekend), or kids are placed to bed at 4 vs 12 (although I have explained that interrupts sleep), or do nothing with kids all morning and decides to take them swimming an hr prior to work time being done, return home too late and complains of overtime (why did u take them at 3 and not 9am?).
Problem is, when a family start (like me) with: this is what I want you to do on a week, as long as it is done I don’t care when, it is hard to push back and say: sorry but from now on you will do this in the morning, that in the afternoon, this on Mondays….
So yes, my next Au pair will receive a detailed schedule on her handbook and will have to follow it for a few months before I allow her to be free and do whenever…

Old China Hand November 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm

I agree. It’s easier to start with: diapers on Tuesday/Thursday, clothes on Monday/Friday, this is how to serve meals… then to go to that after the diapers aren’t being washed or the sheets aren’t being changed. AP1 regularly told me that she was so happy with how detailed I was with information because her friends didn’t know exactly what hours they worked and what chores they had to do. I like having the written record in our daily check in sheets because then we can have some documentation about what we were asking her to do and what hours to work. I was annoyed about the whole thing until I realized that my friends who have kids in day care have to do a whole page of written info each day the kid goes to day care anyway. AND the kids don’t nap at the right times and aren’t allowed to wear cloth diapers. :)

HRHM November 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

I have this philosophy as well. I start with a tight schedule because out of all of my APs, only the current one has come out of the gate being organized enough to not need a lot of micro managing. Some get it as the year goes by and then I back off and let them do it at their own pace, some do not and I just enforce the handbook more rigorously.

I would give anything to always have an AP that doesn’t NEED to be micromanaged, but just because they balk at a detailed handbook, doesn’t mean they don’t NEED it, in fact, it may indicate to me they need it MORE than the candidate that doesn’t mind it.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I have a handbook, which I send during matching to APs I think could be a match. I tell them upon sending that the HB is very long and may seem overwhelming, but I’ve tried to fit in everything they need to know. Mostly, it includes information about our family, parenting philosophy, the area, house/ car rules, emergency numbers, etc. We don’t inclue appliance instructions, or the like. It does include 2 fairly cursory “sample” schedules, because I want (need!) the au pair to have the freedom to think on his or her feet and be flexible. One is a typcial school day schedule, with a couple of absolutes (must leave for school by this time) and some suggestions for how the hours could be divided (“this might be a good time to have HC take a bath”). The other is a broad list of responsibilities, with an indication of how frequently they should be tackled (daily, weekly, occassionally). It also indicates which things we consider work, and which we consider being part of the family (e.g., emptying dishwasher). With APs 1 and 2, this level of detail worked out fine. They each welcomed the handbook, but found their own ways of getting the job done. AP 3 needs considerably more handholding, so at the suggestion of folks on this board, I’ve also given him a couple of sheets where I’ve broken the components of the job into several detailed steps. We’ll see if that helps. The funny thing is, the handbook has become longer and more informative as I’ve gone from AP to AP, and only the last has struggled with knowing how to handle day to day activities. Maybe that means that a less detailed handbook attracts a more self-assured AP, while a less secure one looks for instructions spelled out in excruciating detail. On the other hand, i also suspect that AP 3 really hasn’t carefully reviewed the HB, so maybe the level of detail here is irrelevant!!

AlwaysHopeful HM November 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm

As for 4th time, I think you have enough of a bad twinge that it makes sense to move on. Applicants are like trains…there’s always another one coming! Hold out for one that’s going in your direction! ????

Nina November 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm

From the Au Pair point of view I find handbook very useful. Although prior to matching I didn’t even realize such thing existed. I just thought my HM is just very thoughtful… Three families contacted me and only family that I matched with had this tool. Or maybe the rest was not interested enough in me. Anyhow I liked it and even now I read it from time to time. Now more for the amusement because I know my family better and previous AP too (at least from the stories I have been told). And as we know HB grows because every AP gives you some examples of troubles.

Generally I liked the life philosophy part where HF explains their point of view on different aspects of living and raising children. I knew the family was a good choice for me because we shared all of the values. And in fact the handbook seems very strict and reading it now I am surprised it didn’t put me off. The real life job is so much easier then all the rules and regulations on the paper!

NZ HM November 2, 2014 at 8:48 pm

We have a handbook and do send it during matching. We call it a guideline or reference tool (for us as much as them) outlining our expectations (on the job and as a flatmate), routines, houserules, parenting style/ behaviour management, snack and meal ideas, ideas for things to do with kids, weekly schedule. If it weren’t written down (as a handbook) I would still need to convey all this to the AP in one form or another (before or after arrival). If she is organised and on the ball she will write notes to herself while I tell her. This way (with exisiting handbook) I don’t forget to mention important things and the AP doesn’t need to write it all down. And – as has been mentioned before – no bad surprises if the details are discussed before matching (in theory anyway)! Whether it’s done through emails or have one big document – same difference. The AP still needs to (and should want to) know what’s in store for her. And I agree, it gives the AP an idea of the HF’s level of organisation (and the HF insight into the AP’s depending on her reaction) and that is a great screening tool in itself.

I do think whether you have a detailed schedule and routine you need the AP to follow not only depends on your and the AP’s attitude but also very much on the personality and age of the kids and your parenting philosophy, e.g. toddlers and preschoolers being suckers for routine and predictability to a degree that could bring tears of boredom to a lot of older kids’/ people’s eyes. Like OCH, I need our AP to adhere to very strict meal and nap times with limited amounts of exciting play in the afternoon because I know that way I will have a happy and manageable children at the end of the day.

Old China Hand November 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm

+1 Well rested children are basically the number one priority in my life. (I’m not kidding, I have given a lot of thought to this…)

insearchofAP November 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm

I am in the process of interviewing APs and we will definitely prepare a handbook. That being said, it won’t be of the micromanaging sort. I just talked to an AP, and asked her about what she liked and what she didn’t with her current family. One thing she found very restricting was the detailed schedule laid out in the handbook. She has an hourly plan that does not leave any room for creativity and spontaneity.

I would also say that there is a difference in culture. I’m German myself, and taking care of children is much less structured than in the U.S. Raising children in Europe and in the U.S. is very different. So this might have surprised her.
I wouldn’t let her go, but give it a try.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 3, 2014 at 9:42 am

Insearchof, would you be willing to elaborate? When you say that taking care of children in Europe is less structured, what does that look like? I’m especially curious, because my current, German AP seems to have had a very strict upbringing– far more strict than my own, or my son’s.

London mum November 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I think I know what she means. Europeans are perhaps stricter on behaviour but expect their kids to be more independent in the sense that they should be able to entertain themselves to some extent. Therefore there is probably much more freedom for kids to choose what they do. We tend not to “schedule” our kids so much and parents probably allow a bit more freedom to the kids. However, there is much less tolerance for bad behaviour and kids need to know how to behave in different social settings (one difference I noticed is the level of noise kids in US are allowed to make in public spaces! )????

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Americans are just louder, period. After a year of living in Europe, I became accustomed to speaking in lower tones. When DH came to visit me, I kept saying, “Keep it down, everyone can hear you!”

As a parent deemed permissive (my kid rode the bus alone first, the Metro with friends first, plays video games that other parents won’t let theirs own), I do recall chafing at the over-scheduling of sports and play dates. I grew up in a village where we ran up and down the block to organize a baseball game when everyone was done with chores and just played together (using my Dad’s saws and hammers to build tree forts). In urban areas, it seemed that if you wanted your kid to learn skills, you had to sign them up a young age when they preferred to just drop and play in the dirt. We tried to let child #2 just “be” as much as possible and praised him for not bugging us constantly to entertain him.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 3, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Ah, thanks! This makes sense to me, and helps me understand a little better why my current AP does (or doesnt do) certain things. It’s one thing to hear generalized statements that Americans are permissuve, or structured or whatever, but without a model for comparison, that alone may not bridge the cultural gap. We are a pretty loose family in terms of structure, so if something non-critical didn’t get done because, say, it was the first warm day in a week and they “needed” to take a long bike ride, I would be fine with that. And, my ideas of what behaviors are bad are possibly appalling by Europen standards!

But really, this is helpful to me even in knowing how to describe our family, parenting style, etc. in the handbook. So again, thank yuu!

Should be working November 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I agree with Londonmum that German APs (and Germans) do expect kids to achieve autonomy, and set autonomy as a goal, much more and much earlier than U.S. people. So they don’t supervise them as much. On the other hand they also have somewhat higher expectations for how they behave. So it’s not stricter vs. less strict, it’s just a different emphasis, in my view.

For Germans our kids are terribly spoiled (and they are, I confess, a bit spoiled), because we don’t urge them constantly to do more for themselves. To us the Germans seem “stricter” or maybe “tougher” because they seem to us to expect a lot from the kids according to what they thing kids should be accomplishing.

So InsearchofAP puts it well–Germans are less structured than Americans but have higher expectations, we are more structured but focus less on achieving autonomy.

Repeataupair November 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I am french and I feel the same way. I am coming after a brazilian au pair and both the parents and the kids say I am a lot stricter than she was.
But to me it means doing was I ask when I ask for it, not climbing on a roof when we are at the park (?!!), not putting your food in the trash because you changed your mind, be respectful of others, clean up when you are done doing something, and if I get rules from the parents I am respecting them. The thing is, I also came as the parents decided to change the kids routine, no more screen time during week days (except Friday), no more chips and such as snack. Not as much sugar…
The combination of both has been hard on the 10yo, the youger two are adapting better. I set some schedule so the kids know who feeds the dog and when, which day they can have juice with dinner, how much screen time I am giving them on Fridays before the parents come home, etc.

Yes, it would be easier to sit them in front of a screen and do what I have to do, but I’d rather work a few extra minutes to finish folding the laundry because I was busy doing a craft activity or taking them to the park than having every chores done and not have been engaging with the children. And I encourage them to play legos, with the dog, soccer in the backyard, read or whatsoever when I am making dinner, laundry, etc. As an au pair I want them to learn autonomy, but I also want them to have some good time with me.

Old China Hand November 4, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Where can I find a Chinese au pair with this attitude? :) Seriously, we have trouble with Chinese au pairs and boundary setting. This is the type of thing I try to instill in my kids (well, the toddler really, since the baby is a baby) but our AP always told me that I am too strict. I don’t see why I should let my kid throw his dinner on the floor so that we give him other food.

WarmStateMomma November 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm


A guy I know with a lot of Chinese cultural experience says that the Chinese (generalizing a billion+ people, I know) don’t assign moral agency to kids until about age 5. Then the hammer comes down.

Chinese AP#1 would let my daughter do anything she wanted because she didn’t believe that adults should set any limits that make a young child cry. One example: she wouldn’t prevent a 12-month old from running around the house smearing blackberries into the carpet because the baby cried if the AP tried to take the blackberries away or bring baby+berries into the tiled kitchen.

Old China Hand November 5, 2014 at 9:24 am

That depressing. I always thought it was age 2, so I’d been hopeful that would be the case with my 2 yr old, but maybe things are relaxing a bit. It just seems so hard to rein in a 5 yr old after letting them run wild.

German Au-Pair November 9, 2014 at 8:10 am

I have heard that we are much more rigid when it comes to setting rules and insiting on having them followed. The whole concept of “pick your battles” was something pretty new to me and while it totally makes sense, it took some pretty strong self-monitoring to adhere to that.
We don’t have all those after school activities and our schools end much earlier than yours do. From grade 1 to 4 1pm is the longest kids have to stay in school and usually only one day a week max. (They do offer after school care until 3-ish though.) While one or two hobbies are the norm, we make sure to allow for playtime and meeting friends and we praise children for being able to entertain themselves with toys or books or crafts for long periods of time. Plus, when we grew up -and in many areas still today- we allow children much more freedom when it comes to being out alone. It was absolutely normal for us to leave the house in the morning and come back late in the afternoon, just wandering around, playing with friends etc without our parents knowing exactly where we are.
Before we went to our sports practice, we got to go shopping in the city center (small city, but still) and we were expected to be there on time period. If we forgot our shoes, we had to practice barefoot, which was disgusting and next time we wouldn’t forget.
If you forget something, you have to deal with the consequences, no one will bring you lunch or shoes or clothes. We have saying “what you don’t have in your head, you have in your legs” and my HM was mortified when I said it to my 14 y/o.
Children have to actually endure being uncomfortable every now and then. When you go sightseeing, your feet will hurt. If you are tired, that’s not a valid excuse for bad behavior. (We do see how it correlates and excuse it in our minds but we don’t teach the child that being hungry or tired makes you behave bad.) Between meals, there is no snacktime. You can manage being hungry for a bit.
My kids didn’t even know what time they had practice because they never had to think about it. They didn’t have to pack their lunches or gather their equipment for music and sports.

Of course not everything applies to every German or every American, but generally speaking, as a culture, our focus is definitely on teaching children how to be self-reliant as early as possible -but at the same time play like a kid as long as possible.
As an example, while I stilled played with uncool toys when I was 12, I also took care of my baby brother for an entire day while my parents had to go to a funeral. There were other people in the house in case of emergency but I was alone with him in the apartment and responsible for feeding, changing diapers and putting him down for naps. That was normal.

London mum November 9, 2014 at 9:02 am


Tristatemom November 3, 2014 at 11:04 am

We started out with no handbook and then had a bad match and the HB became thick :) It was our way to try and protect ourselves. Over the years, however, I have learned that I don’t need a rule book if I find a great match because our rules are mostly common sense rules. For example, we had a curfew to restrict our party AP but her bad work ethic still showed itself in plenty other ways. With our good APs, they may have had a late night once in a while but they were generally rested enough to begin work the next day and didn’t need a curfew.
I do, however, clearly communicate (orally) the job duties when interviewing and on the job. After a short while, our APs know what is expected and we don’t need lists, guidelines etc. They only thing I continue to do (but wish I didn’t have to) is organize my kids’ weekly “social calendar.” We tend to have APs that cannot seem to plan a fun day for the kids but this is also reflected in their own social life (i.e. they need others to come up with ideas).
Much like LOndonmom, I am not a micromanager and need the AP to be able to run with it – and let’s face it, this job is not rocket science.

Host Mom in the City November 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Does anyone else have a handbook that’s essentially been totally ignored by all of their au pairs? I mainly use mine as an initial training tool, and then it’s all but forgotten. I end up re-explaining pretty much everything in the first few weeks anyway at least once or twice (e.g., no nuts in the kid’s lunches per school rules) and then again a few months in (e.g., we are happy to have out-of-country visitors, but I will require that you take vacation time while they are here).

And honestly, for our two excellent au pairs, all the “rules” went out the window anyway because I would have basically done anything for them (e.g., how to count the two weeks of vacation – if they’re great, I happily give them as much as I can). For my awful au pair and my current good but not great au pair, I’m a bit more rule-reliant because I don’t have the trust I had with my two great ones.

When a handbook expectation is broken, do you bring the handbook out again and say “remember this?” or just talk about the expectation again without the assistance of the handbook?

WarmStateMomma November 3, 2014 at 3:41 pm

We’ve relaxed a lot of rules for current AP, but I’ve asked her not to tell the candidates she’s communicating with about that.

Seattle Mom November 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

I think we have the same situation with our handbook. It’s great in the beginning, and then everyone forgets that it exists. But that doesn’t bother me, because it sets the tone for the year and explains our philosophy.

Basically, we’re not really rules people, we have no curfew and we expect our APs to be mature enough to self-police so that they are able to work and can keep themselves relatively healthy. This is all spelled out in the handbook. We also have a general idea of the schedule, rules about overnight guests, please be quiet at night, the quirks of using our old cars and make sure you tell us if you sense something is wrong, etc etc. Our 2 great APs picked up on all of this stuff as time went on and the HB was really just an orientation tool. Our current AP is just dim and nothing really sinks in, most of the stuff she gets wrong isn’t in the handbook- it’s all common sense that seems to be slipping more and more as time goes on. We’re now counting the weeks :).

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm

For the dim AP who needs more and more job coaching the closer she gets to the end of her year, have a quiet “reset your attitude” conversation, telling her that when she does her job well you can let the little things that annoy you slide, but when she needs constant job coaching it signals to you that the relationship is over.

Sometimes I think APs need to be reminded that in order for the door to remain open for a return visit, they have to do their job their entire year.

As most of you know, I give an empty box to outgoing APs. Ones that needed constant job coaching receive a smallish box that takes several weeks to reach its destination. The best APs get a huge box sent airmail (so that it’s waiting for them when their travel month is over). I expect to spend $150-200 on the box. If I spend less than $100 it means the love just wasn’t there.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I think we’ve had this discussion elsewhere, as in just read the [your favorite word here] handbook!

The only AP who said I had no rules, was the one who took the time to thoroughly read it, and mark it with German translations for the terms she had to look up. The rest regularly made me say “But it’s in my guidelines” their entire year.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 3, 2014 at 10:59 pm

First 2 au pairs made themselves very familiar with the handbook in the beginning, then didn’t really need it because we don’t have a lot of rules, mostly just information. Current AP appears to not have read it. When something occurs (good, bad pr neutral) that’s referenced in the handbook, I mention it (such as “you probably saw this in the handbook, but…). I even mention it from things not in the handbook (“this is something that didn’t make it into the handbook, but you should know…”). I do this because I want him to always refer back to the handbook as a primary source.

Host Mom in the City November 4, 2014 at 7:13 am

I like this a lot – thanks! “You may remember this us in the handbook…”

ILHostMom November 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I wouldn’t disregard her if all else has gone well. She may have just been stating the obvious, which Germans are very good at. I would go through and highlight for her what your biggest priorities and non-negotiables are.

We were recently considering a extension candidate and we gave her our handbook upon meeting in person (she was local). We decided not to go with her because it seemed like she didn’t have a good relationship with multiple families she had Au Pair’ed for. She later took pictures of the handbook and sent to the regional counselor trying to say we were breaking the rules by doing X, Y, Z. I couldn’t believe the vindictiveness! Obviously we feel like we dodged a major bullet.

NJ Mama November 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I am one who sends the handbook out after several email exchanges and perhaps even a skype interview — ie, more toward the end of the process. My handbook is not nearly as detailed as others. I sort of have 3 parts — house rules, a typical schedule, and childcare guidelines, which were more important when the kids were younger.

The one I send out always is the one about house rules. I preface it by saying that some of them will seem really obvious or tedious (like please lock the door when you leave the house). But others are important to us, like a curfew when the AP has to work the next day or if they’re not working and they’re staying out all night they have to shoot me a text to let me know that they’re OK and they’re staying out with friends, etc. I will tell them that not every family has house rules — or some families have house rules but no curfew or a different curfew, etc. I tell them that this is something they need to think about — whether or not they want a family that has or doesn’t have a lot of rules or structure. I think a lot of the APs I have interviewed had never really thought about it before. I also tell them that if they have questions about any of them they should ask. I’ve had some who have taken a look at the rules and said — no that’s not for me.I want to be with a different kind of family. And I really respected that. But I have had more who have read them and been fine with them. When I was in rematch I found that most APs really appreciated knowing the rules up front, and they also seemed to like how I did the weekly schedule.

I rewrite my childcare guidelines every year before matching, because the needs of my kids seem to have changed so much as they get older. The guidelines are more of a discussion about nutrition (really try to be healthy, encourage fruits and veggies, but also have a very picky eater) as well as a discussion of the way we discipline the kids and strategies in dealing with my anxiety kid for when she gets stressed out. That’s a whole separate document for me. And I don’t think I have every sent all three at once, but I may have.

I think whether you schedule in every hour of the day has to do with how old (or young) your kids are and whether or not you’ve ever had a babysitter who got overwhelmed and didn’t have backup plans in mind. Early on I was blessed with two APs who would feed off of the kids’ imaginations and play along in these elaborate story lines when playing with dolls or pretending they’re all in school and what not. But they also had some great ideas for when the games petered out or the kids started fighting. Because of that, to this day my kids get really excited to plan a day of play with the au pair when they have a day off from school.

But I also had au pairs who wouldn’t keep up with the laundry and never seemed to have a fun idea that got the kids excited. In that case I definitely had to intervene, and I came up with much more detailed schedules. This also corresponded to my kids getting older and wanting to be in more after-school activities. and when i was in my really bad stretch my kids went to a lot of after-school activities. And I had to do a lot of the planning for when the kids had off.

So it can really go both ways. And I also think that if an AP has that spark where she/he just loves playing with the kids, you don’t need to plan every hour. And if they’re really organized they’ll know ahead of time that the baseball uniforms need to be washed today for the game tomorrow.

But to get back to the OP … I wouldn’t necessarily drop the AP if she said that she was too overwhelmed by my house rules or it was too much to read. But I would keep it in mind as you are interviewing other candidates. And if after a few days she still hasn’t read it then maybe she’s not the AP for you.

Seattle Mom November 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm

After reading through most of the comments and seeing the various cultural perspectives and arguments, here is what I suggest to the OP:

1. Agree that the HB has a lot of information, but let her know why it is useful/important for your APs in your family. Ask the AP if she needs more time to digest the HB, and ask her when she will be ready to discuss it.

2. Ask the HP to let you know if there is anything specific that she doesn’t think she can agree to, or if she has any general issues with the HB.

Basically, see what happens when you turn the bluntness back on her- ask her for the answers that you want.

Then see how she responds/reacts, and do a gut check. Maybe she was just stating “wow this is a lot” as some have mentioned, in which case she might tell you the thing is unreadable and she will never digest it no matter how much time she has. Or she will say she needs a week and then can discuss it. She might say there are too many rules. Or too much information, and she doesn’t want to join a family that gives her so much information. Or she doesn’t like some of the rules or the way your family sounds. Or she will just tell you how long it will take her to think about it, then she will get back to you that it’s ok and maybe she has some questions. That’s really what you want to know, right?

I think coming back with a question and a chance for the AP to clarify what she meant is better than just throwing her back in the pile, since it is possible that she’s going to be ok with everything in the end. I can see being put off by the initial response and I would use that as data but not the determining factor.

Seattle Mom November 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

I mean ask the AP, not the HP… oops.

4th time lucky?! November 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm

A brief followup from OP: Thanks everyone for great advice, esp. also to the APs who commented and gave a view in onto the other side of the fence.
I have contacted the AP again, following the suggestions and utilizing some of the phrases you came up with (asking what exactly she meant by ‘too much’, if she saw a problem with the handbook and if so what that was, and pulled her up on lack of questions) – only to be met with 3 days of silence followed by a rejection. Apparently nothing to do with handbook or us but due to urgency to match (I think I mentioned she was in rematch).

Momto3Americans November 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

We developed out handbook when we were screening for our 2nd AuPair. Our first was only with us for 5 months then we decided to move on as she was with us due to the proximity to the main city near us and not the experience or our family.

When we had narrowed down our selection of AuPairs to the one we liked most we wrote a VERY comprehensive manual using the template from here. I added things that were important to us and even left in a lot of stuff that I thought was common sense or I didn’t really have such strong opinions on (like using the fireplace and driving on major roadways/highways). I gave it to the prospective AuPair and then followed it up with an e-mail asking if she had any questions. She immediately e-mailed back saying she was just reading it for the second time and had a couple of smaller questions but no issues with any of it.

As others on this site have said of their own interview process – I think I was just trying to make it sound as bad as it could ever possibly get (with the manual rules etc) and also was very honest about our rematch process – and that I hear the first rematch is the hardest (in other words – I won’t hesitate to rematch if this doesn’t work out again). The candidate ended up accepting the position here with us and she has been FABULOUS. She is more a friend/big sister/daughter than just an AuPair and my children all ADORE her. So I am a fan of the manual.

And only recently she was driving my parents, who were visiting, on an adventure trip around where we live (they got along like a house on fire and enjoyed visiting many places together that neither had seen) and mentioned to my parents that she shouldn’t be driving on the Highway. My parents mentioned it to me and I approached her. Apparently it was something in the manual that I copied that I left and totally forgot about!

Multitasking Host Mom November 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I definitely use the handbook as a screening tool when interviewing. As previously suggested on this blog, I only send an abbreviated version of our handbook (about 10 pages or so) since I understand that it is in a foreign language and we are all short on time during the matching process. I email it after our first Skype interview to au pairs that I am seriously considering as a match. I follow up a few days later by email just to confirm they got it. Normally I do a second Skype interview before we officially match and expect them to discuss the handbook with me then. If they had no questions or even worse didn’t read it, it would probably be a deal breaker for me. This is simply because I need an au pair to be vested enough in this experience to actually want to know what they are getting into by living and working with our family for a year. I want to know now before we match if there are any red flags for both our family and the au pair. I know it is not full proof. But I am trying to avoid the au pair who is just saying yes to any family and doesn’t realize that they will be an doing an actual job when they get here beside for the fun that they will also get to experience.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 5, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I send the full handbook (minus personal or confidential info) during the matching period. Usually, it is after the first skype call, so lots of folks may receive it. I send it early because I want the AP to know what’s in store and I don’t want to waste time for either of us if it’s not going to be a compatible match. When I send it, o explain that is is very long and in English and may seem overwhelming. I ask the candidate to email me when she or he has had a chance to review it, and then we will schedule another conversation. I use that conversation to go over any questions the AP has about the handbook, but I recognize that it won’t fully register un til the AP is here and the wordsame on the page have some context.

DowntownMom November 8, 2014 at 1:07 am

This is only vaguely retailed to handbooks and matching, but what is it about au pairs and baking?!! It is in nearly all letters, photos and videos. Baking cookies and cakes doesn’t have anything to do with cooking! To tie it in with the handbook… We nearly added a comment that we do not want our au pair to bake more than once a week (preferably every couple of months!) since we want the kids to develop healthy eating habits.

TexasHM November 8, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Our APs have mentioned that a lot of what goes into their letters/photos/videos is scripted by the agencies in their home country. Some countries/agencies are worse about this than others but there are certain ones where you could show me the video without telling me what country/area and I could tell you which one it is. ;) Those agencies often say that HPs want APs that can cook or bake so they need to show that (even if they don’t cook or bake) or they won’t be attractive to a family. I don’t cook, don’t need an AP that cooks, in fact none of our APs have cooked and that’s fine!

WarmStateMomma November 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

So true!! The Chinese AP videos all have the same format, including stock footage of the mountains and tea pots, a photo of the AP holding a platter of homemade dumplings, clips of the AP doing Chinese arts and crafts, and a few photos of her standing in front of a tourist attraction (grimacing with her parents or making a peace sign with her friends). Bonus points go to the AP who is wearing a different outfit in her child-hugging photos to indicate the photos were taken on different days.

DowntownMom November 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Thank you! This makes sense. I will ask our wonderful AP about the amount of “guidance” she received from the agency.

German Au-Pair November 9, 2014 at 7:47 am

I think we already had this topic on another post.
The videos really do get scripted and I actually know a case where one AP did a killer video that got her matched pretty fast but had posted it in a forum. A couple of months later another AP posted a video on her blog (back when they weren’t public) and she had copied the entire video, every single second of it, including pointing out the foliage (even though it was spring in HER video) and misspeaking and then laughing about it. We alerted the agency to that fact and they seriously said “well, I doubt the same families will see both videos”.
We have to say “Hi, my name is X and I want to be an AP in the US because I love working with children.” I would bet that 98% of German videos open with that line :D

NewbieAuPair November 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I wish my host family had sent me their handbook prior to matching.

Then I would have known that ‘only light housework as we have a cleaner who comes once a week’ actually means doing the entire family’s laundry, all the dishes, and cleaning the floors.

Although in saying that, the handbook says I work less hours than I actually do, and says I get most weekends off, both of which are untrue, so I guess it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

TexasHM November 9, 2014 at 12:19 am

NewbieAP, you’re not supposed to be doing HFs laundry and by working more hours are you going over the 45 per week? Either way, the handbook can be a tool as much for the AP as for us HFs. Have you discussed this with them? You sound pretty disgruntled and that doesn’t do either side any good. Either have a constructive conversation to resolve the issues or approach your LC to discuss. If those things don’t help you need to decide if you can accept the circumstances (if so, great) or not (then discuss rematch).

NewbieAupair November 9, 2014 at 1:06 am

Sorry, I should have explained, I’m not in the States, so there are no regulations on hours, duties, and I have no LC as I’m not with an agency. I have had several conversations all of which led to no improvements as the parents believe I am simply there to make their lives easier.

You’re right, I’m pretty disgruntled and I am looking at other families.

London mum November 9, 2014 at 5:21 am

I don’t know which country you are in [note: the OP is in the USA] but in UK you are not supposed to work more than 30 hours a week, only do light house work and have 4 weeks paid holiday a year. I think you should mention these points and if they are not responsive, then it sounds like you need to look for a new family. Good luck!

NewbieAuPair November 9, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I’m not in the UK either, I’m in Australia.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no official regulations on hours, duties, holiday pay etc here. If anyone does know that there are, and could post a link, I’d be very grateful. But I’ve spent hours searching the Internet and come up with nothing, so I have come to the conclusion that there are none.

I found this, but it is all just guidance, not law.

NZ HM November 10, 2014 at 4:24 am

We are in NZ and chances are the rules are similar to Oz so I had to have a look – on aupairworld re info on NZ and on the Australian government sites:

Firstly, the information provided by aupairworld on NZ is bogus. Aupairs here enter the country on a work and holiday visa and as such are classed as a regular employees when they work as aupair, i.e. they are protected by the NZ employment law which sets guidelines as to how many hours they are allowed to work per day/ per week, how much leave they are entitled to etc. Officially, they can not work here as an AP without having an employment agreement.
And as far as I can see from the AUS websites it’s exactely the same over there (working holiday or work and holiday visa, employment law / agreement; maximum hours, which seems to be 38hrs per week/ 8hrs per day, minimum wage (difficult for AP as board and lodgings and tax will have been deducted to result in pocket money), 4 weeks leave per annuum pro rata):

Do you have a contract?

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