Au Pair Handbook: Describing “Give and Take” Philosophy

by cv harquail on May 23, 2015

One in an ongoing series of posts on very specific information to include in your AuPair Handbook…

HostMom MeanwhileInCanada writes:

I am currently in the process of revising the section of my handbook on give-and-take & related attitude (it’s in the section on “being part of the family”).


I know there have been multiple discussions on AuPairMom about this issues, but I’m having trouble wording it for handbook purposes in a way that might not be misinterpreted as me trying to take advantage of an au pair.

I would love to read some examples from actual handbooks so I can adapt it. I feel like I can’t get it not to sound petty.

Any advice & wisdom appreciated.

Image from Meg on Flickr


AuPair Paris May 23, 2015 at 2:43 pm

If it were me, I simply wouldn’t write it in the handbook. You can feel out an au pair for a generally helpful attitude, basic empathy, etc, etc in interviews. I seriously believe that any person with basic empathy and basic decency will help out a family in need, within reasonable bounds! But if you write anything like “we will treat you as part of the family and in addition to your stated responsibilities, we will expect you to help out as part of the family in your off-duty time”, it doesn’t sound like “please help us out in emergencies, and be a good housemate!”. It really does sound much more like “since you live with us, don’t expect free time, unless you’re actively out of the house!”.

Since that is exactly what you’re worried about, I’d recommend maybe writing something about good housemate behaviours (cleaning up after oneself and being kind and polite to kids and parents even when off duty and tired and grumpy) etc, instead. If you really, really want to push the give and take angle, I’d recommend starting up-front with “we will bend our rules to your benefit, sometimes, because we appreciate the give and take nature of the au pair programme!”
(I think to most host parents – and to me – that makes it sound, up-front, like the au pair isn’t expected to necessarily follow the rules. Not a good idea. But that’s why I’m against putting anything about give and take in writing! Because if you phrase it in the opposite direction it really does scream “we don’t expect to treat our au pair in a rule-abiding manner” to us too.

I am *totally pro* give and take in an au pair/host parent relationship. I just think if it’s mandated in the handbook – written down and so on, it becomes less an issue of good will, happy relationships and an excellent experience for everyone, and more a tacit acceptance of rule breaking – in whatever direction. Best to leave it unstated in writing, and feel it out in interviews instead!

meanwhile in canada May 24, 2015 at 1:59 pm

op here. yes, this is exactly my struggle. it’s not even about “breaking rules” as such and more about being flexible and understanding, I think. I think framing it in terms of what family means for us plus bringing it up during interviews is the route I’m looking at.

AuPair Paris May 24, 2015 at 3:02 pm

I like ShouldBeWorking’s idea too – of giving concrete examples of times this give and take has happened (including the whole “we were so grateful we…” bit). That makes it a lot less like “this could be any kind of overwork!” and more “ah, I see – emergency situations and goodwill.”

Jennio May 23, 2015 at 4:07 pm

This is a timely question/post for me. My husband and I are deep in the process of selecting an au pair… really, I think there is only one for us. No others compare to her even though I have dutifully screened numerous candidates.

We have an unusually flexible lifestyle: HD works from home and runs his own schedule, I’m a homemaker but I’m busy and at 40 feels so OLD now. We have a 9mo daughter and another baby on the way this Fall. Our schedule is partially predictable but highly variable. Our pitch to the au pair is that this is not a job but a lifestyle. We expect to be her USA family and she will contribute as if she is one of our own. On the flip side, we want to make sure she succeeds and is happy, so we will make sure she has ample study time (her #1 focus). I think some of this gets lost in translation because of how unorthodox it is and we can’t give exact, specific examples. We are able to glean valuable information from her when she speaks of her home life with her parents… respect, doing her share, general attitude. Those comments say a lot about her personality.

I am creating a handbook type of document that outlines safety, security, health & medications, cell phone usage rules, etc. (all thanks to the tips on this website, btw). I have created a section called house rules and those explain by example the “give and take” relationship (or at least that’s what I’m going for). I explain in these examples that whatever behavior I have listed is a customary and normal expectation in the USA. We will go over these examples via email and skype before we make our offer/selection. It is difficult. We really need a live-in partner vs. someone who is only child-task oriented. It’s not a far stretch, and most of our regular teenage babysitters do a great job of asking “do you need a hand with that?” or just doing these random tasks, but when inviting a stranger from another culture into our home it has definitely given us pause. It seems like all will go OK, but I am not the type who leaves these types of fundamentals to chance!

AlwaysHopeful HM May 29, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Jennio, when you way you want a partner rather than someone just child task focused, what does that mean? While au pairs do contribute to the household, their primary role is with respect to the children. If you are expecting a lot of non-child related assistance, it could be problematic for you if the au pair becomes dissatisfied in any way because your arrangement may be outside of the spirit of the program. If you and the au pair are quite happy with the arrangement, I guess there’s no issue, but I would always be worried about upsetting the au pair with anything for fear that we would be “outed”.

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Jennio: It sounds like you have a wonderfully clear idea of what your needs are and what you are looking for in an AP which is a great way to start. Let me make 2 suggestions however, based on my experiences with APs over 8 years and the birth of 3 of my 4 kids:
1. Be ABSOLUTELY sure that your AP understands exactly what you expect before you match. If you are asking her to do anything that is not traditionally part of the AP expectations (eg non-childcare related work) remember that she may not realize that her responsibilities lie outside the norm until she comes here, talks with other APs and realizes that they don’t have to do some of what you are expecting her to do, and they may even tell her “that’s not part of your job!”. This may lead to serious issues, so be sure that everyone is on the same page from day 1.
2. Consider an older AP. Personality trumps age and nationality, but experience living away from home, having to show up for a real job, paying bills and actually having to do every little thing for yourself around the house really make a difference if you expect your AP to see what needs to be done and help out without being told every time. I’ve had many lovely, enthusiastic 18 y/o APs, but there is definitely a learning curve for them as they come to realize that their mom is not in the background somewhere making life runs smoothly for them.

Shouldbeworking May 23, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I would love to hear how other HPs stipulate or suss out this quality. I agree with Au Pair Paris that HPs should not imply that they want to exploit the AP. But I imagine it would be possible to describe previous events with au pairs as examples: “Once when HD hurt his back I had to go to the Urgent Care with him unexpectedly; our AP graciously stayed with the kids past her work hours, and we were sure to make them up to her the next day plus give a little extra time off. How would you have felt about that scenario if you were the AP?”

Problem is, AP candidates often have distorted views of how they would react. It’s different when they are here, get homesick, get annoyed with HKs, have friends to go out with. Then they might not, in the actual scenario, be as give-and-take as they present themselves in interviewing.

WarmStateMomma May 23, 2015 at 5:55 pm

I agree with the others about the difficulties of making this a written policy. We try to verbally thank the AP when she does extra things. When we provide her with some kind of gift or extra time off, we tell her that it’s to let her know that the extra things she does for us are noticed and appreciated.

SKNY May 23, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Not sure Host Parentd but Au pairs certainly are.
When I came, I knew almost nothing. I had a flip phone (no data at that time), no GPS and I had to copy mapquest directions in a notebook. Laptops were still expensive and I was unable to acquire one until my second year.
We had a harder time communicating, meeting Au pairs, and I was always afraid to pass my 100 min limit on the cell and pay extra.
My Au pairs have no idea of what mapquest is… They all bring their smart phones from home, and easily get their own service when I give them a regular dumb phone.
They also are able to find and connect with previous Au pairs within minutes of me adding them to my profile, and by the time I get to interview they already have a run down of my family…

Taking a Computer Lunch May 23, 2015 at 8:52 pm

I’m not at a computer with access to my handbook script (by the way, I’ve kept every single version – is that anal or what?), but I do have some sentences that key the AP in to the fact that we’re looking for a family-member relationship rather than an employee-employer relationship (some times the AP prefers the former, sometimes the latter).

I do encourage APs to come up and say hello on their days off (e.g. on Sundays DH and I often go to a discussion group, taking the Camel with us, and return home around 12:30 – we encourage the AP to come up and say hello if she’s home). We also encourage the AP to come up on weekends after she’s Skyped with friends or family back home. Now, the Camel sleeps directly above the AP and she’s a noisy child, so to protect the AP we go to great lengths to keep her out of her room on weekend mornings (it’s possible now, when the kids were babies the house was configured differently and it wasn’t possible to stop little feet from running throughout the house), but we warn APs in the handbook that 11 am the Camel will be permitted to return to her room (important in the cooler months, irrelevant in the warmer ones). Now, I’ll be honest, only a couple of APs came up on weekend mornings, picked up the Camel and put her in her room, then chatted with us while they made their breakfast. More often than not, the Camel woke them up at 11 (or later) when we put her in her room to play with her toys there. It doesn’t mean that we disliked the APs that didn’t come up or that they disliked us. (My guess is that they really intended to catch up on as much sleep as possible.)

Now, there is plenty in our lives that doesn’t appear in the handbook. I wrote recently about AP #3, who noticing a piece of metal sticking out of the Camel’s neck, drew my attention to it on a summer day when I returned home from work, and agreed to work extra to take care of child #2 for a few extra hours (after working a full day) while I rushed the Camel to the hospital (the Camel had emergency surgery the next morning). That AP had been living with us for 13 months at that point, and had seen our flexibility with her (including the time she went to the beach over 200 miles away and didn’t make it home on time on a Monday morning because she was too sleepy to drive – miffed yes – but better a well-rested AP than an AP injured or dead because she fell asleep at the wheel). She assented readily, having benefited from our flexibility with her. Had we written it into our handbook, “There will be times that the Camel has medical emergencies and you will need to work a 15-hour-day,” you better believe she would have chafed. That same AP recently posted on FB how much see missed us – 8 years after she left our home!

Every AP wants to know that her HF will follow the rules, especially if she’s from a well-organized European country that offers newly matched APs an opportunity to meet women who have returned from their AP year. If she’s headed to the U.S., then she wants to know that you’ll follow the State Dept. Regulations. Putting in your handbook how much you want her to help when she’s off duty will not be productive.

You can, during the interview process, ask leading questions (non-yes/no) that will indicate what type of family member she will be (does she eat dinner with her parent/s, does she help with housework/how much of her free time has she spent with her family in the past week/is her family supportive of her decision). Listen to all of the answers to your interview questions and take notes, because while each candidate will put her best foot forward, she will reveal a lot about her personality and how she lives her life.

I know this is a long-winded response, but personally I feel that family-member status is earned, not granted. By that I mean, the more you fold your incoming AP into your family life and events when she first arrives, the more she’ll behave like a family member throughout her year (less so as she makes strong AP friendships). Knock on her door, invite her to join you. Wash the few dishes she leaves behind if she washes the odd wine glass or dish you leave behind. Take vacation time so she can attend a concert that’s really important to her. Build a relationship of trust, and you’ll find that you have an AP who has your back in a pinch, when you really need it.

momo4 May 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm

I do not try to put anything in my handbook about the give-and-take accommodations that are part of a healthy AP-HF relationship. Although it is one of the requirements for a good year, I do not think you can mandate it, because at it’s heart it is based on mutual trust, respect and affection.

Hopefully my AP comes to me with an inherent understanding that flexibility may be required at times, as we get to know each other we both develop trust that the other person will not take advantage of us, and if I’m lucky we develop a real sense of loving connection to each other such that we really want to help each other out even if it is sometimes an inconvenience. But there isn’t really any way to mandate this as part of the relationship. It develops or it doesn’t.

If (heaven forbid) I end up with an AP who is too self involved to see when I need help or accommodation, too selfish or immature to offer it when it inconveniences her, too focused on protecting herself from potential abuse to bend the rules on occasion, too lazy to extend herself beyond the minimum requirements of the job, or who simply doesn’t really like or trust me, nothing I have written down in my handbook is going to change that.

As a HPs I have to earn my AP’s trust just as she has to earn mine. She has to really believe that when I ask her to do something extra, I am not taking advantage of her. Give-and-take is a nuanced and delicate matter, and it’s success is entirely based on the context of the relationship and prior history, neither of which have had a chance to develop properly at the point when I are giving my AP the handbook.

I see my AP Handbook as something of a cross between the 10 commandments and a tourist guide. I include my basic expectations for the AP in terms of their job requirements and responsibilities, notes about our family culture and norms (e.g. kids only watch movies/TV on Friday and Saturday) and useful information such as important phone numbers. If the AP is not fulfilling her requirements, it is good to have concrete expectations written down when discussing the issues with her.

But there are expectations that cannot be written down, because the they cannot be required. I expect my AP to love my children, but if she doesn’t, it isn’t like I can sit her down and give her a good talking to and “set her straight”.

I can set rules for my house and certain aspects of my APs behavior while she is there, but don’t think that it is necessarily helpful to try to put down in writing my expectations (and hopes) for the kind of personal relationship we will have except in the most general terms. To write that I expect to have a relationship based on trust and respect is one thing. To write that I expect (or really need/want) my AP to come to my rescue and work extra hours when I’m in a jam or that I will come to my AP’s rescue and give her extra time off or other accommodations whenever she feels she needs it is potentially problematic given the way it may be misinterpreted (they’re going to take advantage of me, they’ll give me whatever I want regardless of the stated rules/expectations, etc.).

That said, I do think it is entirely appropriate and important to bring these things up in conversation when I am getting to know my AP before and after her arrival. If I am looking for an AP who will go above and beyond (aren’t we all?) I need find one with the qualities that lead to this. I think the best I can do is be honest about what life in my home is like, what my needs are, and hope that the AP I get has the imagination to see that I may sometimes need a little extra help, and the willingness to provide it.

Anon for this one May 24, 2015 at 3:55 am

Hi, this is not exactly a give and take question but I’d just like to run it out there to see if there was maybe something else I could or should be doing. Our AP has fairly light hours, depending on what shift HD is on – and he can be home within an hour of the kids returning from school so there weeks when AP might do a 15hr week. On these weeks HD might go to the gym or do the grocery shopping, etc to make some use of the hours. I include all this all in the scheduled hours so AP has a routine.

But there are weeks when I am supposed to be home at xpm and I can’t get away from work (my hours are long and I regularly do 12/14 hr days (starting in the early early am) and this is when I really need that give and take. Because we are very very good to our APs and even with this, our AP hours are within limits and she benefits from a 3-day weekend.. everyweek..

But as I’m writing this I realise I should “build” those hours into the routine for my next AP and if they are not needed and I can get home at a reasonable hours then that’s a bonus for the AP rather than calling on the day to say I’m going to be late again..

Thanks all!

exaupair May 24, 2015 at 6:21 am

I’m not a host mother, but I would say that it would be a good idea to add 1 or 2 hrs to your APs shift to allow you that extra time for commuting problems and times when you simply can’t leave work as planned.
For instance if you usually get home by 6pm schedule her until 7.30.
In case you get home by 6 she will know she is still on duty and you will have some time to unwind, have a shower ect, before you take over. If you didn’t make it by 6 then you wouldn’t have to be sorry for making her ‘waiting’ for you to come home.

As a person with really demanding job and a small baby I’m still jealous that you even have a possibility of hosting APs. I’m in a secluded area, which would make me a no-go for most if not all candidates, and the only way we can manage is that whenever my partner can’t stay home with the baby (roughly 1-2 days each week) I take her to a daycare near my office, and after 4pm I simply take her to work with me. If his schedule changes i have to call in and work from home. Given that my commute is 2hrs each way, I can’t imagine how tough it will be when she gets bigger. Right now she’s too small to complain if something’s not right so a live-in care or a sitter is out of the question, since we are against spiking the house with cameras.

Lastly, the AP can work up to 45hrs/week so everything below that is a bonus. Don’t be sorry for scheduling her for more that 15 hrs each week, I bet she still has less to do than most of her friends.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 24, 2015 at 7:52 am

As a HF that has a light schedule most of the year (although I do start warning in April that the schedule will change from June to August in case it wasn’t absorbed by reading either the dare-to-match with us initial email or the handbook), I do build in – almost always – more hours than I need. I am grateful that my kids are no longer babies and I don’t max out on 45 hours every week. I build in extra hours and when I am able, the AP is done “early,” but if I have to work late, then she already knows that she is “on.”

Julie Dye May 24, 2015 at 10:19 am

anon, does your au pair then regularly work 12-14 hour shifts?

Anon for this one May 24, 2015 at 3:25 pm

My AP never works 12-14 hr shifts – that would be me :(

Julie Dye May 24, 2015 at 6:52 pm

That’s a long shift, mama. Hang in there!

momo4 May 24, 2015 at 11:42 am

My situation is somewhat similar to what you describe, but I always make sure my AP knows that she will be expected to work 45 hours per week (the maximum permitted by gov’t regulation). This is made clear up front before matching, and in the handbook.

In reality, my AP doesn’t always have to work 45 hours weeks, but I set the expectations high in the beginning because it is always easier to let her off early (arrive home early, give her extra days off, etc) than it is to ask her to work “extra” hours when I need them. I would rather have her feel grateful for the bonus time off, and thank her appropriately and frequently for all her hard work, than have her feel annoyed that she has to work longer hours than she expected and feel gulity myself when she has to alter plans because my work ran late.

NJmama May 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm

I do the same. My H and I both have long commutes – meaning we leave super early in the morning and come home 13-14 hours later (which is why we have an au pair lol).

each weekend I do the schedule for the following week. I do my best to guesstimate the time I’ll be home, and I usually allow for a little extra time. But if I’m in a particularly busy stretch, I may pad the schedule by adding two extra hours (saying the au pair will be done at 9:30 pm instead of 730 pm) just in case. And then I’ll write a note saying I may be late. Each day I’ll let her know once I’m on the bus about when I’ll be home. This way she can plan for the late nights but be pleasantly surprised if I come home early.

Anon for this one May 24, 2015 at 7:54 am

Thanks exaupair,

Just to be clear.. when I refer to 15hrs I should clarify – our AP “technically” works up to 35/40 hrs but in reality her active hours are much less, i.e. there are some mornings when both HPs are out of the house by 5:30am .

We do not expect AP to be up at 5am to sit around and wait 3 hrs for children to wake up so Au Pair has a monitor in her room and she can hear when the children wake up but realistically both AP and children sleep until 8am and yes we do class all hours as “work” for our AP.

But you’re right I should schedule in extra time to cover and just make it part of the course because I HATE calling to say I’m going to be late.. although it has never ever been an issue.

CAmom22 May 24, 2015 at 11:50 am

Just one quick word of advice based on my recent experience — I scheduled a couple of extra hours each night this last week because my husband was traveling and I’ve been super busy at work and was concerned I’d be calling every night to say I was going to be late (we’re well under 10 hrs/day and 45 hrs/wk). But I told AP upfront that these were contingent hours and in all probability I would be home but I wasn’t completely sure. He took that to mean he would be scheduled as normal and went ahead making plans for the evenings and spent the first few afternoons texting me several times at work to ask what time I would be home. I finally had to tell him to stop it and assume he was working until the scheduled time and once I arrived home I would tell him if he was getting off early or not. So to avoid the disappointment of actually having to work those extra hours, next time around I wouldn’t communicate it the way I did, so that if I arrive home early it seems more like a bonus than a drag.

momo4 May 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I have had this experience as well. If I tell my AP they “may” have to work later than usual they always seem to assume they won’t actually have to and make plans based on that assumption.
Getting those “when will you be home” texts always irritates me and adds stress to what is usually an already difficult day. One of the reasons I have an AP is so I won’t have to stress out when work runs late, so while I understand the AP’s desire to know exactly when I’ll be home, I don’t appreciate what feels like nagging.

NJmama May 24, 2015 at 9:26 pm

I think that’s why they should be scheduled to work longer. Then if you come home earlier it’s a bonus.

Host Mom in the City May 25, 2015 at 10:50 am

We too only use about 25 actual hours a week, so I always have “room” to schedule our au pair until 6:30pm (ours only work weekdays when we are at work). 9 days out of 10, I’m home by 5pm, but on those random days we have a late-day crisis, I don’t want to worry about getting home. A couple days a year, our Au pairs might ask if I know when I’ll be home because they want to make a plan, and I’m happy to accommodate. But I make it clear that they are to plan to be on until 6:30 if we don’t agree to an earlier time beforehand. It’s one of the major benefits to me of having an au pair – I don’t ever want to tell my boss that I need to leave at a hard stop time when something big is happening.

Seattle Mom May 26, 2015 at 1:08 pm

But you also have to not tell the AP “I might be home early” when you schedule them late because then they assume that you *will* be home early and the texting commences… even if the schedule is set for later.

My current AP is awesome about this. Even if we’re home “early” she assumes that she’s still on the clock and she’ll continue to play with the kids or read to them while we get stuff done around the house, cook, talk, read, whatever. We’ll tell her that she is free to go if she wishes, but she tends to stay on with the kids if she is in the middle of something fun with her- even when she’s off the clock. She has also been known to take them to the library after school and stay out with them past the end of her scheduled duty. My other au pairs have tended to watch the clock and disappear to their rooms as soon as their shift was over, or when we came home and said they were free. They would show up later, but after relaxing for a bit. I don’t blame them one bit- I would do the exact same thing in their position. But it is kind of amazing that our current AP doesn’t have that mindset.

I agree with others above that there are certain things you can put in the handbook and they will either be unhelpful or do more harm than good- trying to instill a “cooperative mindset” is one of those things. I also think you can’t figure out if an AP has this through situational interview questions- I think it’s the kind of thing you have to get a sense of indirectly.

The qualities that probably lead to that kind of cooperative give-and-take attitude are: flexibility, adaptability, social awareness, empathy, energy, positive outlook (not cynical or unhappy), and physical energy (a tired AP is less likely to feel like giving, though it happens). Even my AP who never spent time with us after her shift was over would go the extra mile in an urgent situation- she loved the kids and wanted to help us, but when we didn’t really need the help she was happy to go off and have fun.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 24, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Ugh. Scheduling is the hardest part for me. I “advertise” more hours than I typically use for all the reasons mentioned above. However, in reality, I don’t usually need all of the time. I don’t think my advertised schedule is any match for reality when it comes to establishing expectations. So, when I do need to use the extra time, I still feel guilty, even though I’m still under 45 hours, and the hours were stated at the outset.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 24, 2015 at 1:33 pm

My handbook includes a part of the family section, but it includes things like “please feel free to join us in the main parts of the house”, “please eat dinner with us at least 2x a week” and we support each other by attending important events, like birthday parties and significant sporting events.” In other sections, the handbook also clarifies that there are some responsibilities that are expected as a member of the household (such as cleaning up after self, sometimes emptying dishwasher, sometimes taking trash to outside cans), that do not count towards 45 hours. I agree with others here that it would be hard to capture or even screen for “be generous of spirit ” because it really is personality and situation specific.

meanwhile in canada May 24, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I am the op, and I appreciate the thoughtful responses. in Canada the rules are a bit different- we pay our ap an hourly wage less a federally regulated amount for room & board, so it would never be about the ap working above a specific number of hours. I had initially written something like “it’s possible we might be 15 minutes later than planned once in a while, but we’d ask for your flexibility in these situations because we will ensure you get to leave 15 minutes earlier another day.”
Having read the responses, I think I’ve decided to leave out the give and take section I was trying to draft and focus more on “what being part of the family means to us,” as well as including a few notes about flexibility.
Given that, I would love to see more along the lines of what Always Hopeful posted, ie. we support each other by doing x or y. Right now I have just a short section with a bulleted list. We are in the process of matching with our second ap, and there are so many things I realized in hindsight where we simply lucked out with our current ap (who has been really really wonderful) so I want to make sure to articulate my expectations/ideal scenarios in advance this time.

Mimi May 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I think this is a good solution. The give and take expectation can be a sticky bailiwick. Your idea of give and take vs the AP’s is not always going to be the same and until you have them living with you, putting this out there can lead to a situation where you may end up contradicting the HB. It is better to build privileges or a relationship than have to reduce or limit one.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 24, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Canada, I can post the full family section from my handbook when I get to a computer. I thought I would mention however, that it is a recent addition to my handbook, after reading post from the folks on this board– I want to say in February or March. I realized that I wasn’t clear myself on what I wanted “family” to mean, so I sorted it through in my mind and described it as best I could. I would recommend looking through those posts, then thinking about what you appreciate in your current, lucky situation, and making sure you capture that. I mention focusing on what you want only because I have run into problems in the past where I mimicked things that sounded right (for others) but weren’t really things that were important to me. It’s any easy trap to fall into when there are so many folks describing so many different approaches, and everyone sounds wiser and better experienced!

meanwhile in canada May 25, 2015 at 8:26 pm

I think this is a really important point, AlwaysHopeful. I know it takes a lot of self-reflection to even begin to define what “being a family” means to us. I just really like reading things other people have written to help me in that process. Rather than doing a copy-paste of something as unique as definition of family, I was hoping to read some examples to help me think about more concrete things that I maybe hadn’t initially thought of, such as your example “we support each other by attending event x or y,” which I hadn’t initially included.
But you’re absolutely right–while some parts of a handbook/expectations are recyclable from others, expectations surrounding family take some soul searching first.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 25, 2015 at 8:59 pm

And experience! It took me several APs to find the type of candidate that was right for us (and even so, as the mom of a teenager with special needs – we do a lot of setting – often the candidate tends to be “perfect” for us – be we have had a couple of APs who bombed – including one rematch).

AlwaysHopeful HM May 25, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Here is what my handbook says about part of the family and cultural exchange:

a. Part of the Family

We would like our au pair to integrate fully as a member of our family. In our family, that means that we will be interested in you as a person, and will probably ask you about your family, your friends, and your life in general. It may seem nosy, but we just want to know you better! We are a family that speaks our mind! Please don’t be offended if we talk excitedly about the latest political news or celebrity faux pas. We certainly don’t always agree with each other, and would probably become bored if we did!

In our family, we also support each other by showing interest in each others’ activities. So, for example, we would be excited to watch you play in a soccer match, and would want you to attend important events in our lives (such as school plays, important games, and holiday activities).

You will be an adult in our household, so you will have the rights and responsibilities that go along with that role. For example, you will not be required to ask permission to go out with your friends, but I would expect that you let us know you are heading out and give a general sense of where you might be and when we should expect you back. We will, of course, extend the same courtesy to you.

We would love to have our au pair join us in some of the fun and some of the ordinary activities we do. For example, S would probably feel very hurt if you did not attend his birthday party. We also welcome you to join us for any meals we prepare at home, and would appreciate it if you joined us for dinner at least twice a week. We rarely cook full meals during the day, but we usually like to sit down for dinner, since that is a good time to discuss the day and bond as a family. Although your room is your personal space, we hope you will feel completely at home and comfortable sharing the whole house. Feel free to watch television or play video games in the family room, read in the sunroom, or shoot baskets in the basement. Also, you are always welcome to join us in board games or other casual play at home or activities around the local area.

b. Cultural Exchange

We are excited for you to learn about life in the United States, and we are excited to learn about your home country. We will invite you to join us for traditional American holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween and the Fourth of July (Independence Day), and we will be happy to help you learn about US politics, US culture, and our own family traditions.

We celebrate traditional US and Christian holidays, and would be happy to have you share in these experiences. We belong to and occasionally attend a protestant church a little distance from our house. Church services are on Sundays at 11, and we attend some, but not most weeks. If you want to attend church, we would love for you to visit our church with us. However, there are also many other churches and other places of worship near our home. If you want to attend religious services for your own religion, we will help you find a church. Of course, you are not required to attend any religious services, if that is your preference.

We will enjoy learning about you— your language, music, your culture, your family and history. If there are holidays that you celebrate at home that we do not have in the US, please tell us about them so we can share your holiday or special event with you.

If there are traditional foods that you would like to eat, we encourage you tell us about them so we can try to find them in the grocery store. And, you should feel free to make them to share with us.

I will provide you with guidebooks and maps to borrow for the local area so that you can find your way around more easily and take advantage of the many, many cultural opportunities available here.

Some of the main holidays that we observe are:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Third Monday of January)
President’s Day (Third Monday of February)
Valentine’s Day (February 14)
Easter (March or April)
Mother’s Day (Second Sunday in May)
Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
Father’s Day (Third Sunday in June)
Independence Day (4th of July)
Labor Day (First Monday of September)
Halloween (October 31)
Thanksgiving (Third Thursday in November)
Christmas (December 25)

The most special holidays for our family are Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Halloween. Even if you are not scheduled to work on those days, we will want to share those holidays with you as a member of our family.

b. Birthdays

S’s birthday is [date]. He has had a couple of birthday parties that were very special for him! If S has a party this year, you will be invited along with other members of our family. We hope you will come! For adults in the family, we sometimes celebrate with low-key dinner and cake at my house or a relative’s house.

meanwhile in canada May 26, 2015 at 8:38 am

Thank you, AlwaysHopeful! I especially like the list of holidays/activities. I think that will be a helpful addition for me. I put together a bucket list that included some of our traditions, like local festivals and parades, but putting them in the handbook would be good, too, just to avoid potential issues/hurt feelings. My ap had no idea that Mother’s Day was celebrated the way it is here (as in, it potentially matters a lot), and was really surprised when I asked her to be present for a dinner during which she had already made other plans. Having it in the handbook would be good, I think.
I also think the birthday thing is really important, because birthdays are so important for kids, and our son just adores our ap & would have been so hurt and upset if she hadn’t made time to take part in our birthday trip for him, even though she wasn’t working.
Thank you so much for this!!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm

I do my best to write the entire next month’s schedule by the 20th of the current month. In my handbook, I ask the AP to be flexible with us, and we will, in turn, be flexible with her. We might get invited to a party as a family that frees her from a weekend night. We might return home earlier from work than she was scheduled. On the other hand, the Camel gets sick easily. An AP who had plans for the day might suddenly find that she’s staying home and cuddling an aching child who doesn’t understand why she feels so badly – and is not entertained by TV. We might discover that child #2 has a concert or commitment that requires parental attendance. When we ask the AP to change her schedule during a weekday, we do our best to give her the weekend off (not to stay under 45 hours – to be generous).

On the flip side – we have bent over backwards for excellent APs to go on travel trips (occasionally the weekends of the travel trips are very inconvenient), attend concerts, travel with friends, and had extra time off when they go above and beyond.

Compromise is just that – a two-way street.

TexasHM May 25, 2015 at 4:12 pm

A year or so ago I went through our handbook and actually took this and several other sections out. Why? Because I felt like a “handbook” should be more of a reference guide and collection of instructions and topics like this and others that are more one time discussion and or things I am interviewing for would be better suited for the interview process, just my opinion.

So, now our handbook is very much that – a collection of instructions/helpful info on topics split into sections (TV/Internet, Car, Phone, Safety, Guest Policies, Vacation, etc) meant to serve as a reference guide throughout the year. Have a friend coming to visit and can’t remember what I said about guests? It’s all in there. Need a reminder what the poisonous snakes look like? Photos are in there. Thinking about requesting vacation? Check the tab first to see what you should think about before booking anything.

Now back to the original question, round one I send a list of about 15 questions to candidates (mostly open ended trying to get a feel for what they are looking for in a match) and then if I like the answers I respond with an explanation of why we ask/what our expectations are and a part of that is a few paragraphs on the relationships we have had with our great ex-APs.

Here is an excerpt: “We have had great relationships with our APs. I have let them borrow my clothes for special events, they have cried on my shoulder over boys and we laugh and gossip like sisters sometimes. We like it that way. Our kids are bonded to these girls forever and our first AP lives close and visits us regularly and we message with the second and third AP at least every few days. In fact our first AP got married to an American and she is actually pregnant and working as our nanny until we get a new AP! We have been making lists of baby names and looking at baby clothes! :)

Our AP has a busy and hard job but we are an active family that truly loves our APs with all our hearts so we would like to think that they get back what they put into the program with us. Our AP is ALWAYS welcome to go with us ANYWHERE we go. If she doesn’t want to go, that is completely fine too. We have never had an issue with this and if we progress we would let you talk to our previous APs to ask about this and any other questions you have.

Important for us – an AP that represents our values (inc morals/religion) to our kids when we are not there and is a true family member. Someone flexible with a positive attitude that works hard and plays hard. Someone that appreciates our efforts and realizes you get what you give in this relationship. Someone that wants to go to the girls dance recital and my sons Super Bowl football game but also is independent and does things on her own and makes friends and makes an effort to get a lot out of her experience. Someone that has goals and makes plans and is open minded to try new things, be spontaneous and not afraid to share ideas.

We try to go on little “adventures” when we have time and we have lots of family traditions (state fair of texas – largest in US every October, ICE! exhibit in November, University Easter celebration every April, July 4th Bash at the lake, family Halloween costumes/trick or treating and Fall festival, etc) and some weekends we take a break and just have kids sports and go see a movie or ride bikes or swim in the pool and have friends over. We do occasionally stay overnight on a weekend trip. Like Labor Day this past Sept we went to this awesome resort in X city with a waterpark and our AP had a blast. We also go camping with boy scouts at least once a year and visit family/friends for a long weekend or this year we have run up to a city called Branson (its like Christian family Las Vegas) for spring break and then we went on a spontaneous weekend trip there and then went with my husbands entire family there for Thanksgiving because everyone (AP included) loved it so much!”

I have found that its better for us to describe in detail the relationship we want and hope that APs screen themselves out (many do actually but usually more due to our religion than this). The alternative is trying to do like you were saying and add it to the handbook or ask if they understand but without context you are right, it could sound abusive or suspicious so we just explain in detail what member of the family means to us throughout the interview process and with the exception of a rushed match where I claim temporary insanity :), this has worked extremely well for us. I was telling my husband the other day – you know how many books tell you to write a list of qualities you want your future husband to have so you can focus on that and recognize it when you see it? That’s kind of what I am trying to do here and it seems to be working. (Knock on wood). And for the record, yes, my husband list did say 5″11 or taller, dark hair and light eyes, great sense of humor and great with kids (along with 100 other things) and yes, my husband is all of that! ;)

TexasHM May 25, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Ok my new AP just told me that CCAP talks about this extensively during orientation. I asked her to expound and she said “they discussed scenarios like if the baby was crying before your start time and you don’t hear anyone going to her – go get her! and if your HPs get stuck at work or there is a traffic jam tell them no problem and don’t be legalistic about them being late on occasion”. She also said they make sure to say “be flexible but don’t accept abuse” and made it clear that if they see a pattern to talk with the HPs about it and don’t let it become the norm. She said it was discussed every day of orientation and made clear that a major reason families get APs is for the flexibility and that the families really need the AP to rise to the occasion when necessary and be generous in spirit. Brilliant! Virtual high five to CCAP for spelling this out for the APs before they arrive to their host families!

Seattle Mom May 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

I’m really glad to hear that is part of CCAP’s orientation…

Mimi May 26, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Ditto. Although I must say that it’s still all about perspective. What one person considers felxibility could be another’s example of abuse.

meanwhile in canada May 25, 2015 at 8:34 pm

TexasHM- thank you so much for this!! This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to read. Truthfully, I have modeled my matching process after yours as best I could–a number of rounds of emailing followed by a few rounds of skype. Here, our agencies don’t give a whole lot of guidance for the matching process, and I have heard from a number of candidates that they have actually appreciated the opportunity to reflect on some more in-depth questions before skyping. It also seems to make the skyping less awkward, because we feel like we know each other a bit already. I didn’t know you send an initial 15 questions (!!!). That seems like a lot to me. I have been sending questions 5 at a time, but that does mean that follow ups are a pretty time consuming process. I would love to know what your initial list of questions is, and more info about how you structure your “phases,” because your description makes so much sense to me. I have scoured the blog, but have not found a concrete phase-by-phase. Would you consider sharing that with me?
One of the issues I have is that I simply have a MUCH smaller candidate pool than you do in the US, and it always hurts a little bit for that reason when we cut somebody loose because of something that I could probably convince myself might be okay. Having a process in place helps with this though.
For me sharing a family definition at least in theory is paramount. I honestly don’t want someone who is only interested in being family when it suits them, like when we’re going on a trip or something.
Thank you again for your comments!

AlwaysHopeful HM May 25, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Totally agree that these are issues that should be worked out in matching. I use my handbook (which is waaayyy too long) during matching because I feel like it gives a sense of who we really are, and has a lot of the “little” things that I might forget to mention but that might be important for an au pair to know. In fact, I tell au pair candidates that it is long, but that is because I tried to incorporate almost everything someone might want to know about what life is like as an au pair in our home. So, in that way, it is more of a guide than a handbook, with some handbook-y elements. After my last rematch au pair who confessed that he never read the handbook after matching (and likely never read past the car rules during matching), I think I will still keep the format, but send pieces of the handbook at a time and discuss them along the way. My last 2 matches were quick ones (rematch), but I feel pretty hopeful that this one will be around for the duration, so with any luck I’ll have more time during matching for something like that. I’m also wondering though whether I should separate out the handbook-y elements in to a separate section or sections, to help it serve better as a quick reference guide. Hmmm. Hopefully, I have time to figure that out!

meanwhile in canada May 26, 2015 at 8:43 am

I am admittedly very new at this (we are currently matching with ap #2), but I also have a lengthy handbook/guidebook hybrid, which I dispatch in pieces during the matching process (Caring for the children/safety, being part of the family, our home and neighbourhood, the car and driving, etc.), so as not to overwhelm potential candidates. I am also just a person who likes to write things out/make lists, etc., so this helps me feel as though I am covering the important stuff.
In the same vein, I do feel it is very important to articulate in writing what expectations are beyond the specific job of caring for my children, so neither the ap or we are disappointed. Sending it in pieces also helps to frame subsequent discussion/ap questions, and seems to make sure that we are covering the ground I think is important, because I find in the moment of skyping, I sometimes forget exactly what I need to say, even if I have detailed notes.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 26, 2015 at 9:12 am

TexasHM– this paragraph is pure gold:

Important for us – an AP that represents our values (inc morals/religion) to our kids when we are not there and is a true family member. Someone flexible with a positive attitude that works hard and plays hard. Someone that appreciates our efforts and realizes you get what you give in this relationship. Someone that wants to go to the girls dance recital and my sons Super Bowl football game but also is independent and does things on her own and makes friends and makes an effort to get a lot out of her experience. Someone that has goals and makes plans and is open minded to try new things, be spontaneous and not afraid to share ideas.

Thanks for sharing it!!

TexasHM May 26, 2015 at 9:22 am

I send a summary of our handbook during the interview process that covers the topics that are relevant at that moment. Meaning I took out several sections that talk about area safety, things that were specific to our home/area, and put all the sections that essentially had rules or policies together. I also have a separate kids document that talks about each child and gives the AP an idea of our family and personalities. After we match, I send the handbook in sections over time (they’ve already seen the summary so this is just more in depth) and when they get here we review it in total. When I used to send the whole thing I used to get questions about the washing machine and microwave and other things that didn’t make sense to discuss until arrival and weren’t really critical to interviewing so that helped spawn my decision to cut everything out but the policies for the summary.

Meanwhile in Canada, it’s funny you should ask, I actually just finished reviewing my interview process and mapping it out/organizing everything and I sent a note to CV, I don’t want to hijack this thread with the steps and templates but happy to summarize it into a guest post if CV thinks that would be valuable. And I was downplaying when I said 15 questions its actually more like 17 primary questions with a couple if so explain additional questions. :) As we all know, there is never enough time and especially with time differences and a limited number of candidates to interview at once I need to cover a lot of ground quickly to see if it even makes sense to continue talking. That first round gives me a good idea if I want to continue with them and my round two gives them a good idea if they want to continue with us so I try to get through those two exchanges as quickly as possible. A good majority of the pool is eliminated in those first two steps which saves me a ton of time. It also means we don’t Skype with that many candidates (2 this last round as a family) and that the kids don’t get worn out meeting potential APs and that we have crossed pretty much every bridge/topic before seriously considering matching. I first Skyped with about 4-5 this last round but only two got to speak with our previous APs and kids/DH. Rinse and repeat until we find the one! First AP we had two candidates, second AP we only talked to her and made a decision very quickly, third AP (rematch) I only talked to her and made a quick decision (remember even when I say quick I still follow my process and do every step), fourth AP I didn’t follow my process and it ended in rematch, current AP we talked to two candidates. So as crazy as it sounds, I want less candidates. I want them to opt out or I want to find something that isn’t a good fit upfront and not waste a lot of cycles. I want only one or two to be able to make it all the way through my process. Saves us tons of headaches and time and helps us focus on only the candidates that appear to be awesome matches for our family and not settle on anything less.

TexasHM May 26, 2015 at 9:32 am

Ok I can’t help it! Here is my 12 step matching process: :)

1. Send email template #1 (open ended AP questions)
2. Review email #1 answers and decide go/no go
3. Send email template #2 and area links/info email (our explanations and area)
4. Review email #2 answers and decide go/no go
5. Skype session #1, review AP application and ask Skype questions list, mutually decide go/no go – offer handbook
6. Send Handbook, ask them for go/no go to Skype again
7. Skype session #2 – discuss handbook, if go then briefly intro kids/get vibe, if go then offer them to talk to past APs
8. Candidate talks to former AP(s), ask AP and previous APs for go/no go to Skype with kids/DH
9. Skype #3 with kids/DH, ask them how they feel about potential match, ask to send challenge email (we like you very much, can we send you some candid concerns?)
10. Send Challenge Email
11. Review Challenge Email responses and decide go/no go, schedule final Skype session
12. Skype #4 – Offer Match, if accepted notify agency/click link on website

Host Mom in the City May 26, 2015 at 9:35 am

Another vote for not putting it in the handbook, but rather just stressing it during matching and then letting it happen naturally. We start out by purposefully taking an interest in our au pairs’ day, by being flexible ourselves, by demonstrating ourselves how we want the “give and take” to happen. We’ve found that three out of our five completely got it and rose to the occasion. One was a quick rematch that was completely not cut out to be an au pair, and the other took our generosity and kept taking and taking and not giving throughout the year. Honestly, I don’t think a paragraph in the handbook would have helped her understand – it really comes down to just who the au pair is as a person. Either they get it or they don’t.

TexasHM May 26, 2015 at 9:36 am

First email to AP candidates:
Dear (AP candidate),

I am a host mom looking for the next awesome au pair for our family. We have had three wonderful au pairs, two extended with us and our third asked to extend but then got an amazing opportunity to go to New Zealand so we were so excited for her and are now looking for our next family member! I have a few questions for you before we start Skype-ing. I want to make sure we have clear expectations on both sides and several conversations before discussing matching! I noticed on your profile that you seem to be (fill in why you liked their profile here). We would love to learn more about you to see if we might be a good match. If for any reason you think we would not be a good match for you that is totally ok, but please let us know right away so we can release your profile! We are looking for our new au pair to arrive ___________ but we do have a little flexibility. If that timeframe doesn’t work for you please let us know how close to that you could come and we will see if we could make it work!

What would the perfect host family for you be like? (# of kids, ages, benefits/amenities)

What are your expectations of your host family?

What would your ideal schedule look like as an au pair?

Have you lived away from home before? If so,where and how long?

Have you ever been to the US before? If so, where did you go, why and when?

Do you expect anyone to come visit you while you are in the USA? If so, who/when?

Where/how do you want to spend your vacation time in the US? Do you already have plans?

What do you want to study while you are in the US?

Do you have a particular area of the US you would want to live in? If so, where and why?

What do you think will be the most difficult thing about spending a year in the US as an au pair?

What do you know about (your state)? (Your city)?

Can you tell me a little more about your religious views? Do you want a family that is active in a church? Do you plan on going to church in the USA?

What do your parents/boyfriend think about you joining the au pair program?

Do you have any plans for after you return from your au pair year?

How often do you smoke?

What do you normally do on the weekends/in your free time?

Do you have an au pair video? If so we would love to see it!

I would be happy to send you more information once we get more detail from you. I want to make sure you feel like you can honestly share your answers instead of being guided by our information. Please feel free to ask us any questions you would like too and if you are not interested in our family that is ok just please let us know right away so we can release your profile for other families to see and so we can move on to finding our match as well.

Thanks in advance!

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 9:25 am

Wow Texas HM, that’s an impressive list of questions. I bet you screen out lots of girls who are too lazy to take the time to answer them all :) Thanks for sharing.
My process is a lot less refined than yours, and I’m always looking to improve it.
Out of curiosity, what agency are you with?
I’m with APC, and when I select a candidate to interview, they immediately get access to my family’s whole profile which includes how many kids we have, where we live, what the APs schedule would look like, etc. In turn, their profile includes a good deal of the information you list ask about in your initial questions, but rarely gives me any idea of who they really are, and one of my frustrations when reviewing profiles is how they all seem to say the same things.
I also always worry that AP candidates are just giving me the answers they think I want to hear, so I really like the idea of getting them to tell me what they are looking for before they know too much about what we’re offering. I think your questions are a great way to start that process, but I’d have to find a way to absolutely minimize the info on our profile for it to work, and I wonder if that would be a big turn-off for candidates. APC also really doesn’t have many candidates from Europe (my preference for several reasons), and having 4 kids and living in a non-vacation-destination city limits the number of interested APs even further. I’ve chosen my AP for the coming year, but I’m considering switching agencies next year so I’m interested in hearing about how the process works with other agencies.

Mimi May 29, 2015 at 9:40 am

I have the same problem — 4 kids, podunk NE town, IQ needed. We’re with CCAP and they have a good selection of candidates from all over. However, I’ve found that rematch pickings are often slim for IQ APs as most of them have a safety issue or inability to deal with smaller children that has sent them into rematch.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 29, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Momo4, I have the same issue with the HF profile being so extensive. I was with APC a year ago, and only seemed to have to give a little info for my profile. I was shocked when I switched to CCAP and found that the profile asked for much of the info that’s covered in my handbook (such as car rules, schedule, vacations, guest policies, curfew, etc.). When candidates access your profile, they know a tremendous amount about you. Of course, that’s if they’ve bothered to read it, and if they haven’t, you probably don’t want them anyway! I still think TexasHM ‘s list is fantastic– it’s just that the candidates are likely answering with some idea of the “right” answer. FWIW, in my recent search, I used both APC and CCAP, and i found that APC has increased the amount of info HFs are to put in their profiles. Still not as much as CCAP, but definitely more informative than before. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing because it helps APs and HFs avoid wasting their time with obvious mismatches, but it does increase the possibility of an au pair attempting to skew her answer to the right one, rather than making sure this is the best fit.

TexasHM May 30, 2015 at 12:14 am

Ok, answers first: :) Yes, it does weed out those that wouldn’t seriously consider our family for whatever reason having a lengthy first email list so I do get some “I want to live in CA” or “I want fewer kids” quick replies which is fine, better upfront than wasting each others time. Great candidates usually appreciate that we want to know what they are looking for in the experience and love that we ask so the pool is usually split – about a third bail out, a third compliment us for asking and a third just respond.

We are currently with CCAP. We started with APIA, were there a little over 3 years. Pros – large pool, pretty hands off here (if that’s what you want) Cons – our invoice was never right and I mean NEVER, and as a HM in a not AP top 3 destination (I think top 3 is NY/DC/CA I have never had an AP say FL as another poster mentioned) the open matching environment frankly sucks for us. The strong candidates are talking to many families at once, they compare perks because the families try to outdo each other and it stresses me and the APs out. Now, if you are in a desirable AP location this could be a big pro for you as the APs would likely fight to be your AP! I also HATE the way they market the program to APs (yes, I have seen the program materials the APs get and see). It’s “make lots of money, live in a family that takes care of you, travel the US and you just have to watch kids”. All my APIA APs had to be reset as far as expectations (by me) and they swear about half the APs they knew from orientation ended up in rematch (3 APs told me this same ballpark without hearing it from others).

We had an AP family emergency/rematch situation and regional director was a nightmare so switched to Interexchange. Pros – non profit, exclusive matching so the candidates seemed to take the process more seriously, they seem to really want to do right by the APs (vs $$ machine) Cons – SMALL pool, it took us more than 3 times longer to find someone, she didn’t work out (our only burnout rematch) and our LC was disastrous (cluster is TINY now). We went into rematch and looked for 3 weeks for any AP that could drive and didn’t see a single candidate (small agency = small rematch pool). I think they are a good agency, we just had a nightmare LC and right now we don’t have the flexibility to be with that small of an agency.

I called CCAP at the same time to find out how many drivers they had in the pool (36). How many over 21? (27) Yeah but how many want to go to TX? (Actually there are two, one that says please stay in DFW and another that says somewhere warm – TX, AZ, CA). Via the AP community I had talked to CCAP twice before about being an LC (when we weren’t with them) and all my documents were from CCAP but we didn’t go with them originally because I thought they were more expensive at first glance (not the case in practice). Pros – largest US agency, seem to really care about the APs (keep in mind I have seen their LC orientation info), invoice was correct, matching coordinator was AWESOME (no help at previous two), exclusive matching so the candidates seriously consider us before passing and they are the only agency that has direct offices/employees in all the countries they host from. Why does this matter? Because the other agencies use recruiters which is where I feel the APs get “sold” whereas CCAP doesn’t have that incentive. I saw the CCAP AP materials and they were night and day from the recruiters/APIAs. They also had online childcare and safety courses they had to take before leaving their country, lots of additional screening, profiles were more detailed and their orientation frankly ROCKS compared to the other two. They have professionals create the coursework based on ESL learners, it takes place at St John’s and they role play tons of real scenarios and expectation set repeatedly. I asked new AP how many of her peers from orientation (over 80) are in rematch today (shes just shy of a month here) – answer = 1! ONE! My two cents – expectation setting and education has a direct correlation to successful matching. Plus only agency where almost everyone I have talked to is currently hosting or has hosted or was an AP!

Lastly, you are dead right. For this interview strategy to work, I keep the profile info to a minimum. I don’t expound, answer in quick yes/no, I have a summary for our profile that gives a rough overview (number of kids, location, etc) but also explains we have a handbook and more detail we are happy to provide if interested. After email one I provide a lot more info so it’s usually fine.

I have not used APC but I will be honest, I looked twice in their rematch pool and it was nightmarish – no joke APs with 3-4 car accidents, AP that was accused of being “too harsh” with kids and more recently an AP that was caught on video physically abusing a child (yes, she was put in the rematch pool). That was enough for me to never consider them again. Plus their refund policy is horrible and I had a friend with them 11 years, her AP got married and they jerked her around and wouldn’t refund her! 11 YEARS with them! First rematch and not her fault!

All this is just my experience, take it with a grain of salt. New host families I strongly recommend CCAP because their documentation and onboarding/support is top notch but they are also sticklers for the rules so if you are that family that doesn’t want the accountability APIA or APC are better bets for you honestly and so much of the experience varies based on your LC and regional director as well. If you need a big pool go CCAP or APIA. Exclusive matching CCAP for large pool, IE if you have better backup care options than we do. :)

TexasHM May 30, 2015 at 2:00 am

Whoops CCAP cons to be fair – they charge and book AP travel from orientation to HF home and they have a 1.5 consecutive day off rule (agency rule not state dept rule). Not a dealbreaker for us based on our current priorities but can see how it is for some and it is one more rule to remember and check when scheduling. Another plus – they comp and incentivize their LCs based on feedback/surveys received from both APs and HFs so great LCs earn more and win trips so this appears to build longevity as we had 3 LCs in 3 years at APIA and then a brand new LC at IE (who now just left after 16 months) but our current LC at CCAP is going on 11 yrs and is moving and another local LC is taking over the area who I believe has hosted herself and has also been doing it for many years (7-8?). Their cluster is literally 5-6x larger than APIAs here and 15x larger than IE so if you’re in an area where that is important to you I would find out cluster sizes in your area and weigh that in to your agency consideration.

NJHostDad May 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

Our handbook has also gotten shorter every year by removing items that we talk about in the interviewing process and when they arrive, like what “part of the family” means, the types of activities the boys like, etc. We are down to safety, process, and practical issues like who’s responsible for the car deductible in which circumstances, phone usage/replacement, etc.

I’ve been long remiss in not thanking TACL for the guidance over the last 6 years, every post i read from TACL i think “of course!” and it’s been helpful in the practical approach of knowing your expectations, communicating your expectations and listening to your au pair’s. This recent paragraph is great, and is key.

I know this is a long-winded response, but personally I feel that family-member status is earned, not granted. By that I mean, the more you fold your incoming AP into your family life and events when she first arrives, the more she’ll behave like a family member throughout her year (less so as she makes strong AP friendships). Knock on her door, invite her to join you. Wash the few dishes she leaves behind if she washes the odd wine glass or dish you leave behind. Take vacation time so she can attend a concert that’s really important to her. Build a relationship of trust, and you’ll find that you have an AP who has your back in a pinch, when you really need it.

thanks TACL.

NJHostDad May 27, 2015 at 11:38 am

Thanks to TexasHM for sharing her matching process, it’s always interesting to see how others approach it, and as an engineer i appreciate those who have a step by step process (even if it’s a 12-step process).

We start by having me go through every applicant on the system (we are with APIA) from a list of our potential countries (Western Europe excluding England/Ireland). Since almost all candidates from those countries have videos i do use those as a screening tool — it’s possible for me to decide not to pursue a candidate based on the video (for example, there are no mentions of children beyond the obligatory “I want to be an aupair because i love children” line). I then read the letter and interview looking for the following things that seem to indicate a fit for our family (note we have 3 boys, ages 10-12, so tutoring/homework help is essential)

extensive driving experience, swimming experience, nonsmoker
Intends to study at University upon return, and has at least some idea of field of study
Studied English, math and a science in high school
Has tutoring experience
Has taken care of multiples of school age children
Had leadership experience in groups like scouting, church groups or summer camps
Has stuck with something over multiple years like an instrument or an organized sport
Has siblings, preferably some younger
Shows confidence in her video

I usually see about 60 applications over the 2 weeks of our initial search, we will normally send an email invitation to Skype to about 5 or 6.

Our initial email is one paragraph, inviting them to Skype if interested.

Our first Skype session is 30 minutes, laying out our family and approach, and asking some of the types of questions TexasHM has in her first email. We’ve found that asking about plans while she’s here — where do you want to visit, what do you want to do for your educational requirements — is a good indicator of how much of a self starter someone is, if they’ve thought about their plans and have done research that’s a good sign.

If the first Skype session goes well we encourage them to send us questions as they think about what we talked about, and we strongly encourage them to Skype with our current and previous au pair. If we get no questions, and if they don’t take advantage of skyping with previous au pairs, it’s disqualification even if they have interest. (this is fairly rare, though).

If our current and previous au pair like them (and they take this very seriously, these are “their kids” by this point) we offer to skype a second time. Since the candidates have talked to 2 of au pairs they also have a good idea if they are still interested. We are usually down to 2, maybe 3, and we go into this skype session just as having a conversation, with no preset questions. This is now more about how our personalities would mesh as opposed to would they be able to perform the fuctions of an au pair. Usually by the end of the 2nd round of skyping and taking a couple of days to think about it, we have a decision, and schedule a 3rd skype with our preferred candidate to offer the position.

We have had 2 years when we really came down to the wire with 2 strong candidates that seemed equally fit. The first time, i was re-reviewing the interview writeups and noticed that for one, the interviewer had ended the report with “after the interview she stayed and we talked like old friends”, and that was enough to throw the decision to that candidate. Although all 6 of our au pairs so far have been liked by our friends, that one is still the “favorite” of those outside the family.
the other time it came down to the wire, we sent an email to each with a question that addressed what we perceived to be the sole weakness of each, and we were bowled over by one’s response, who was able to convince us this was actually a strength.

Good luck to all.

TexasHM May 27, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Do you mind if I ask why exclude England/Ireland and why only western Europe? It also sounds like you get APs on their gap year so I am assuming you host 18-20 year old APs? And I am guessing the high school studies are so they can help with homework? I was going to ask if you hosted bropairs having 3 boys that age but I see you are with APIA (they don’t have bropairs unless that has changed). Interesting! Thanks for sharing!

NJHostDad May 27, 2015 at 4:27 pm

One of our close friends who had hosted au pairs for years before we got started had a rule that if English was the first language of the candidate she wasn’t interested since she felt they did not have the added motivation to stay for the whole year to achieve a greater proficiency in English. As it turns out, there are very few candidates from Ireland and England, especially matching our criteria.

Western Europe because of a couple of cultural factors (recognizing there are individual differences). My wife and I are both engineers, we have a direct communication style and appreciate having an au pair who is also direct, so there’s less chance of being yes’d when its actually no, and if something is amiss we hear about it. Also, with 3 boys, we want someone who will be the boss and not accommodate or defer to them. And we want someone who will agree and actually abide by the same rules we use with them. Having said all that, it probably will not surprise you that even though we have interviewed candidates from Sweden, France, Italy, Holland and Norway, every au pair we have selected has been German.

The high school studies are primarily to help with homework, but we also fit better with someone who is academically inclined and who values learning. If not, they would go insane on some of our vacations which are essentially field trips for history.

Our first au pair had just finished university, and was 22/3, while the others are all gap year 18/19. All have been very mature, we’ve never had any drama.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 28, 2015 at 6:16 pm

TexasHM, my one no-religion au pair from Germany (east) was warm and funny. He wasn’t strict, but he was confident in his leadership (and really likeable), so my son listened to him. He had no issues with our level of religion–even said bedtime prayers with my son sometimes. I don’t think he would have been comfortable with a lot of religious items throughout the home, though. That may have seemed too in your face. Oh, and I had to restrict car use for a while, and he didn’t complain at all…. of course he knew it was justified by some things he did, but that’s another story! ???? Anyway, there may be a German au pair for you yet!

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 9:57 am

Most of our Western European APs have arrived already speaking excellent English, one of our APs actually was English, and we’ve never had an issue with anyone wanting to leave early.
Although APs always say that improving their English is one of their main reasons for joining the AP program, I really doubt that it is a primary motivating factor for their decision on whether to stick the year out. I can see the argument that it might be added motivation, but I think that when APs do want to leave early, it is probably for myriad other reasons that have nothing to do with their level of English proficiency.
We choose Western European APs for similar reasons to what you listed, but have had APs from several countries, and our best AP ever was actually Spanish.

TexasHM May 27, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Very interesting although I disagree on the correlation between English as a first language and likelihood of completing the program (I had the same assumption when I was a new HM). Over the last 4 years I have known 6 English/Irish APs, all 6 not only stayed the entire first year but NO JOKE 5 of the 6 extended and finished a second year with the same family and the majority of those stayed beyond two years in other capacities so I am beginning to wonder if there is correlation with that region and extension! :) Thanks for sharing!
I have always not so secretly wanted a German AP but have found that our family personality doesn’t seem to align well for most German candidates. In fact our current AP has a German AP friend we like and I asked her the other day where in Germany I need to look to get someone strict but also warm and with a good sense of humor that would be ok living in a Christian household. She actually laughed out loud and told me not to bother and that I was better off (with our current South African AP)! Oh well! :)

Schmetterfink May 28, 2015 at 4:20 am

She is right ;)
While you will be able to find such a person you’d have to look real hard.

North – Strict, good sense of humor (if you appreciate a dry and dark-ish sense of humor that is) but will usually start out distanced (it’s not that we are cold but we need our time) and it’s not a very religious area (though I didn’t mind Granny blessing the food, family and family friends while I was in the US and my host family went to church regularly I would most likely not have been a good match for a family in which religous life played a bigger role).
West – Good sense of humor (especially if your think about the Rhine area), warm but I don’t know about the strict and Christian part (my husband is from the area and while he went to church regularly and my MIL is a bit more catholic than the Pope, I’d still not think he is fit for living in a Christian family in the US).
South – Warm, Christian, strict… I don’t know about the humor. But then I’m from the North and our favorite jokes usually pick on Bavarians ;)
East – Strict but you might find it difficult to find Christians and I don’t know about warm. The only friends I have from the east have no sense of humor at all (which isn’t true just that what we consider humorous doesn’t necessarily match).
[How a German stereotypes Germans 101]

We just don’t usually come across as very warm-hearted… which doesn’t mean that we aren’t. We just need our time to let our guards down and adapt to the American concept of “warm hearted” (it works, I promise, I learned). If you screened for a Christian au pair from the Cologne area you might end up lucky. But (generalizing 80.000.000 people…) while you won’t find it difficult to find someone who fulfills three of your four requirements your AP’s friend is most likely right in that it will be much quicker and easier to find someone who satisfies all four somewhere else.

NZ HM May 28, 2015 at 6:33 pm

I find the German AP’s response interesting, Texas HM! We are somewhat looking for the same thing but from the other direction: we are not religious but don’t mind someone who is, any faith, as long as they are tolerant, don’t mind us not being religious and don’t try to impose their ideas on our children. We are looking for German APs and find it very hard to find any that either don’t have any links with church (a lot of Germans, who want to be APs, seem to be active in their church communities, go on church camps, Sunday school, etc.) or understand what ‘not religious, at all’ actually means (again: a lot of Germans, who want to be APs, seem to be active in their church communities, go on church camps, Sunday school, and but don’t seem to FEEL religious, i.e. they don’t appreciate what atheism or even agnosticism actually means in practice).

It’s not uncommon for German households (esp. in the Catholic areas (South) and hardcore protestant areas (North west, dutch border)) to have Christian decorations around their houses. I would think it would be easily possible to find a German AP to match your criteria, but you don’t want to be looking in certain areas. The strict and religious (and this often goes hand in hand in Europe) are usually VERY strict and VERY religious and this often doesn’t go with a sense of humour or flexibility or even fun… Where I grew up in the North West people look at you funny when you go for a walk on Sundays or do anything ever so slightly pleasurable. We used to say: kids are put away on Friday night and taken out again on Monday mornings (no fun to be had over the weekend).

The bigger problem might be a very negative perception about religious Americans prevalent in Germany!

TexasHM May 28, 2015 at 11:12 am

Schmetterfink – interesting! To be clear, we don’t screen for faith, I was more saying that they would have to be a flexible/open minded agnostic/non religious AP to tolerate living in our house. We don’t make APs go, there is no pressure whatsoever but we do say prayers before meals and have scripture decorating our home and the kids do talk about our faith and we would expect the AP to not contradict but their faith is a personal journey. We have had two ex-catholics, an Easter/Christmas catholic, a devout Catholic (burnout rematch) and a Christian. There was no correlation between their faith and success in our household but there absolutely was a correlation between their flexibility/openmindedness and success here.

Every round I try for a German and I would guess 8-9 out of 10 almost immediately reject us because of our faith. I get responses like “I don’t go to church so I don’t want to match with a family that goes to church” or “I would be uncomfortable living in a home with crosses or scripture on the wall” or my least favorite “my parents don’t think I would be comfortable living with Christians”.

We had a french AP that took awhile to warm up (to us and strangers) but I could tell all along that she had a good heart and cared about my kids so we were very patient with her and by the end I joked with her “first I can’t get you to say more than a few words and now I can’t get you to SHUT UP!!” so no worries on a warming up period. :)

Strict = isn’t a pushover that will let my kids do whatever they want. We had to really push our Brazilians hard to set boundaries, not so with our French AP or South African AP and I am guessing this will be easy to find in a German (based on stereotypes).

Totally fine with sarcasm and dark humor (my first and second languages!) as well documented on this blog. I will keep fishing as we don’t discriminate by country anyway but I would LOVE to find a german match at some point. The German friend of my AP told me to go get an Australian next instead. :) As we love to match with APs from countries we would like to visit (plan to do that when the kids are teens) I would be totally fine with that too! Thanks for the insight!

AuPair Paris May 28, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I’ve had some interesting experiences with my Catholic family, as a non-religious AP. Interesting like funny and fascinating, not like horrible, or sacrilegious! I went to a Christian primary school and know all my bible stories which helps – interestingly the kids don’t know any, really, despite going to Mass every week! I’ve never been to Mass, and it might be really different from CofE services, but they must just switch off. Today I asked them about the story of Noah (we watched a song or two from the Prince of Egypt and it just came up…) and they were just like “animals? And a boat!”, but had no idea about a flood! I thought they might be new testament focused, but while they know about and pray often to Jesus, they don’t know the stories at all! Not even the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, that most people in England know, religious or not.

So, that’s strange, though they haven’t been signed up for caté yet. But in any case, I consider myself really open-minded about this, but I think it would be hard if I weren’t allowed to be open too. The kids have asked me directly if I’m Catholic, if I believe in God, and I answer honestly, which is fine, because the family is mixed of believers and non anyway. I tell the stories in a “it’s written in the bible that” and “Christians believe” kind of way, and if the questions get to the point where I feel tempted to answer them from my viewpoint, I write them down to remind the kids to ask their parents later. They’re at the age now, where there are a *lot* of “but why..?” questions – they are starting to figure things out for themselves and question their own faith and why they believe what they do… Especially since they are seemingly so confused about what it *is* that Catholicism is/that they are believing in! And I know that some of my responses wouldn’t be appropriate. I think I’d struggle if I couldn’t simply say “my logic on that one comes from not believing in God, so you’d better ask your parents!”. If I had to try and figure out what the proper “Christian” response would be, and use it, and defend it, I’d totally fail.

TexasHM, do you ask your au pairs to refrain from discussing their non-belief around your kids? Or is it a matter of just agreeing to differ/not contradicting the kids’ faith? And would that be different if kids were younger or older? And would you think about hiring faithful APs who come from a non-Christian religious background? (I’m sorry – so many questions, but since I have been telling so many bible stories lately, I really am interested by these queries! I see no problem with a devoutly Christian family hiring a Christian au pair out of preference or anything, I just find it fascinating the way different people negotiate these kinds of things!)

SwissAuPair May 28, 2015 at 4:54 pm

@TexasHM: I’m also one of the AP that do not want to live in a “religious” house where the family asks me to practise any religion related thing. This is also what I wrote in my application and what I would tell the family right away if they would ask.

I would not be comfortable with a family where I have to pray before we eat, and I would not be okay to do that with the kids when HP are not at home, because this is not what I believe. I could not go to church with the family every week, I might would attend for special events like christmas, but nothing more. And I would feel like living in a church when there is religious stuff everywhere in the house. Children asks a lot of questions and I want to be allowed to tell them the truth. When they ask me if I believe in god, I want to tell them that I don’t and if they ask me why not I want to tell them about the evolution theory that I think is true. I feel that children should be allowed to see other points of view and that there is not only one “right” religion.

I hope this does not offend you or an other religious person, because I just wanted to show the reasons why I would not be comfortable in a very religious home. And I would like to ask you: How should your AP answere the kids questions about religion if the AP is not religious or has an other religion?

Mimi May 28, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I know your post was directed at TexasHM, but I just wanted to point out that what you might consider “truth” may be only true from your perspective or belief system. Truth can be a very subjective thing, subject to interpretation or currently accepted thinking like the earth being flat, vaccines causing autism, and fabulous MILs existing.

SwissAuPair May 29, 2015 at 12:29 am

This must be a missunderstanding. When I wrote ” I want to be allowed to tell them the truth”, I meant that the parents should not force me to tell the children that I believe in god. I want to tell te truth and the truth is that I don’t belive in god. I would NOT tell the children that my view is the truth and the only right thing to believe in. I just don’t wnat to hide my pint of view.

And of course, there are moments you should just agree with the kids: I had a HK loosing a beloved Grandma and asking me if I think that the grandma has a good “life” in heaven and if grandma is watching her and protecting he like mom told the kid. And I just agreed, because I’m note so heartlees to tell a 5-year-old that I think her grandma is most likely just dead and doesn’t exist anymore. (And specially because no one knows, and there is no science that could find out what really happens when it happens)

momo4 May 28, 2015 at 11:19 pm

@SwissAuPair: Although your post was directed I TexasHM I wanted to respond as well. I find your comment interesting, because I see where you are coming from, and I personally have strong feelings against anyone imposing their religious views on another person, but at the same time, in our house we always take a moment before meals say a verse or sing a short song expressing our gratitude for the food, and I have never considered it to be asking my AP “to practice a religion related thing”. I have never told any of my 8 APs that they have to say/sing it with us, but none of them have ever seemed to have a problem with it although none of them were what I would call “religious”, and at least one was atheist. For my children, it is a comforting, calming mealtime ritual that they carry out even when I am not there and they would be confused and distressed if our AP refused to be part of it with them.

We respect religion and believe ritual is very important, but we don’t consider ourselves religious per se, at least not by American standards. I believe in God, but my husband is agnostic. We don’t go to church (even at Christmas) since the church I was raised in and am comfortable does not have a branch where I live, we don’t have religious symbols around the house (unless you count a Christmas tree and Easter eggs) and we don’t read the bible or quote scripture. God does come up in conversation with the kids though, and it’s hard for me to imagine how it wouldn’t. While I would have no problem with my AP discussing the fact that they do not personally believe in God with my 10 y/o, I would definitely not be comfortable with my AP telling my younger children that “there is no God”.

By American standards we are definitely NOT what would be considered a “religious” family, and yet clearly you would be uncomfortable in our house. So I’m curious, so you look for atheist families to match with? Or just totally non-practicing families? Incidentally, like the majority of Americans, we believe in evolution AND God, and do not consider these beliefs to be at all incompatible.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 29, 2015 at 12:12 am

In SwissAuPair’s defense, I think what she meant by “truth” is not pretending to believe in something she does not. I get that, although I think of it kind of like Santa or the tooth fairy. Even if you don’t believe in them, you dont tell the kids that you don’t! In terms of *what* to say: this hasn’t come up for many of our au pairs. However, if it did, I would think the au or could tell the child that Some people believe x (what the child believes ) and refer my son to me for the explanation.

SwissAuPair May 29, 2015 at 12:38 am

This is exactly what I meant, thank you!
I just want to add that it also really depends on the age of a child what you can thell them and how you want to explain.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm

We are a Christian family that prays at bedtime and for some meals, and talks about God freely, but we rarely go to church. Of my 4 au pairs, 2 had “no religion” and one was atheist. The fourth (who went into rematch) was strongly religious, and attended church and small group meetings regularly. I don’t require oir au pairs to attend our church with us (only the atheist has– his choice! Our Christian au pair had his own church), but I do ask them not to say “there is no God.” So far, that hasn’t been a problem for us. At my son’s age, he tends to worship our APs, and I believe statements like that could influence him more than intended. He does understand (or at least I’ve told him) that there are different religions and people believe different things, but I think the idea of NO God coming from someone he admires so much would be too much for him to process. I definitely don’t believe in strict adherence to anything “just because” but I don’t think young kids are ready for a lot of individuation, deep thinking and religious exploration. At this point, he learns from me, and he can absorb other influences later.

On the other hand, we don’t do a lot of discussing Bible stories. Our talks about God are more about what/how we believe Him to be, and less about learning the stories. So, I’m not sure he would know who Noah was either!

TexasHM May 28, 2015 at 6:13 pm

AlwaysHopeful thanks for summing up in a way I seem unable to do! :) This is dead on:
“I do ask them not to say “there is no God.” At my son’s age, he tends to worship our APs, and I believe statements like that could influence him more than intended. He does understand (or at least I’ve told him) that there are different religions and people believe different things, but I think the idea of NO God coming from someone he admires so much would be too much for him to process. I definitely don’t believe in strict adherence to anything “just because” but I don’t think young kids are ready for a lot of individuation, deep thinking and religious exploration. At this point, he learns from me, and he can absorb other influences later.”

AuPair Paris May 28, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Interesting! I wouldn’t never say to my HKs “there is no God”, but I have said “I don’t believe in God” (when directly asked). To me that feels more like “we have different beliefs and that’s ok”, rather than “your beliefs are wrong and mine are right!” (which is what I get from a “there is no God” statement. But that might just be semantics? Not sure.

In any case, I love bible stories, and at my primary school we heard them *constantly*. Every assembly pretty much had a vicar coming in to tell us a story from the bible and a moral lesson related to it. So it is interesting to think of a Christianity that is differently focused. What do you use to talk about God with your son? Is it more of a big picture/big concept thing?

Returning HM May 28, 2015 at 10:03 pm

We are Jewish culturally, though pretty much non-religious. Funnily enough, we do say grace (hold hands and say “blessings on the mealtime”) before dinner — I haven’t really ever thought about this before, but I guess that could be taken to be religious but really isn’t. We also light candles on yahrzeits (year anniversaries of parents’ deaths) and things like that. And we go to temple a couple of times a year but mainly because it’s social rather than for the religious aspect.

All of our APs have been some version of Christian, but all have been interested in our celebrations (we celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays because I grew up mixed-faith) and all have been extremely respectful. The interesting thing was when my mom was dying several years back, my children were young and had a lot of questions about where she would go and where my dad already was. Our AP at the time was Catholic and answered very matter-of-factly that my dad had likely already “come around again” and that my mom would as well. It was so adorable to see my children looking for who my dad might be in his “new life,” and after their beloved Rara (my mom) died, they spent a lot of time trying to figure out when she would “come around again” too. Our AP at the time was so innocent about her explanation – obviously the children asked one day and she answered according to her belief – and it just stuck. My husband (totally Jewish) and I (mixed) were touched by her seeking to answer their questions and not at all offended that she had introduced a concept (reincarnation) that we didn’t really embrace, mainly because it ended up being such a comfort to the children. In the end, we stuck with that story for the time surrounding my mom’s death. It was a very peaceful and sweet explanation from an AP who had no idea she was introducing an idea so foreign to our religion!

Anna May 29, 2015 at 9:18 am

Reincarnation is not foreign to Judaism at all (i am religious Jewish)

UKAu Pair May 29, 2015 at 9:30 am

No, but it’s totally foreign to Catholicism… How odd.

TexasHM May 28, 2015 at 6:10 pm

All great questions! Ok, so to start we make all of this super clear in interviewing so the AP can decide if they want to live with us or not. We seriously interviewed and were ready to match with an atheist at one point (timing didn’t work out). Turns out she isn’t what most would consider an atheist (her parents did not have a faith and therefore did not raise her in one), she was what most would consider an agnostic (maybe there is a God, maybe not I don’t know). Anyway, we had lengthy discussions about scenarios (she wouldn’t be expected to pray at meals but if she could bow her head and be quiet for the few seconds while the kids or one of us say it that would be appreciated). We would ask that she not tell the kids that God was not real or didn’t exist (they were too little at that point to process it all) and if they asked anything that made her uncomfortable she was asked to just tell them to ask us or say she didn’t know or tell them it’s none of their business! ;)

We are totally fine with hosting other faiths and learning about them (I studied world religions in college and found it fascinating and our church teaches courses about the differences in our faith and others – so far I have taken Mormonism and Atheism courses to better understand those as there were not in my world religions studies) and I had a phase in life where I claimed to be an atheist (and yet I was cursing God) so there is no “right” answer or faith for us as far as APs go. I was raised Methodist, my husband was southern baptist, now we are evangelical (probably closest to traditional baptist). We are fine with discussing other points of view as well (with us). One of my best friends is a “fabulous gay atheist” as he would say. :) And yet I would never worry about him telling my kids that God doesn’t exist because he would never do that out of respect for me and our faith and I expect the same courtesy from an AP. And SwissAP I get that you were saying you want to be able to share YOUR truth, totally get it. That is why we are so candid about all of this in matching. If an AP slipped up and told the kids something that didn’t jive we wouldn’t rematch over it, we would just point out the angst/confusion (if any) it caused and ask her to be a little more cautious with them. Right now I have a new AP that is learning to slow down and manage her cursing (nothing really bad but all those borderline words that our kids call “bad” like damn, stupid, hell, ass, etc) so it’s not that different. The kids or we immediately react and she’s quickly gotten it under control. Our intent is not to block them from the real world, but to not confuse them either and give them time to learn and process our faith so that they can someday compare that and make their own faith decisions.

We are pretty blessed in that we go to a church that does teach the kids, so much so that we are often shocked at their retention (unlike when I was a kid – I had the Noah/animals/flood down but imagine my shock to learn as an adult that he was a drunk!). My daughter at 4 told us the entire story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendigo (including why the king threw them into the fire – “they refused to worship idols and the king before God momma”, why they didn’t burn and pronouncing their names perfectly multiple times. We were floored.

Our son recently asked to be baptized (he will be 10 in October) and we initially discouraged it. We had a lengthy conversation about this and have had conversations with him about other faiths including atheism (he’s older and mature so it was age appropriate with him). He made it very clear that he knows other people don’t believe and what many alternatively believe but he also knows what HE believes and what he “knows is true” and wants to pursue further. Who are we to argue with that? We had one AP asked us to baptize her and join the church. We initially refused and had several conversations before agreeing. It’s not our place to tell our kids (or APs!) what to believe. And as the kids get older this will be less important to us. Just like I don’t screen for APs that would be good with babies anymore at a certain point I won’t worry about APs contradicting our faith either (assuming we are still hosting then).

To answer the rest we have hired alternative faith APs (to me, Catholicism is an alternative faith although I realize many other regions in the world would consider it the same!). There are MANY differences (ask those APs!) :) and it was fine. Plus like I said we had two ex-Catholics as in hated the church and wanted nothing to do with it. Our current AP is the only christian we have hosted actually out of 5 APs (and her faith was not a factor in our decision) and the devout Catholic was actually our most religious AP and worst match. As far as a faithful non-Christian AP we would just discuss everything openly (like we did with the agnostic) and see if we could find a way to respectfully live together and support each other. I would not want to impose on their practices (if she needed to be off a certain day or time we would want to respect that but also be honest if we couldn’t) and would need to know they would be supportive of ours and not contradict. Assuming we could net all that out somehow then we would be fine with hosting them regardless of faith. Afterall, at the end of the day my savior is a Jew that socialized with samaritans, gentiles and tax collectors so who am I to judge or pretend to know better? :)

PS – I have a fabulous MIL. ;) My mom on the other hand is a sweet soul but drives me crazy like no one else can!!!

AuPair Paris May 28, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Mm, if I were to match with a religious family, I’d want a heads up for what to do while family praying time was happening! I know it sounds stupid, but I once got told off by a friend’s mum because I didn’t say grace at her Birthday party – because I didn’t know at that point whether the polite thing would be to mumble along, to close my eyes, or to just stay silent and wait for them to finish! At school we all had to hold hands and recite “for every spoonful and every plateful, please Lord make us truly grateful”, which is not exactly what my strict, serious and old-church friends’ family did…

So that’s the sort of thing that would put me off matching! Not a disrespect for religious people, but a fear of putting my foot in it all the time. On the other hand, I ran a gospel choir for a long time, which involved going to sing at services every Sunday, so I’ve got a lot more used to it all since then – though I expect each church is different.

Do kids learn the Noah-was-a-drunk type details at Sunday school?! I remember sitting through a few church services about Jacob and Esau and thinking “oof… This Jacob’s not being such a stand-up guy right now… Isn’t he the hero of this story?!” and wondering how kids (with often very black and white, good guy and bad guy mentalities) processed those kinds of disconnects!

AlwaysHopeful HM May 28, 2015 at 7:47 pm

AuPair Paris, that black and white/ good guy and bad guy mentality is exactly why I would not want our au pair to say there is no God (or even, I don’t believe there is a God). Au pairs are good guys in his eyes, so one of 2 things (or both) may happen. 1) he may begin to question himself and the foundation of his belief which can be very scary and sad for someone so young, or 2) he may throw the au pair into the bad guy category.

As for what I teach him…it’s not that we’ve never discussed any, it’s just not a focus. Of course he fully understands the meaning of Easter, but mostly we talk about God’s power and love and presence. It just kind of happened that way, but i like that he has the backdrop first before really focusing on the various stories.

Our au pairs usually excuse themselves before bedtime so generally those prayers are not an issue. I would not require an au pair to pray, but like TexasHM, I would ask that they be respectful while we did. The only time is was uncomfortable was with our first au pair– the first time we had dinner with my parents, I pulled my mom aside and let her know that AP had no religion — because my parents have a habit of calling someone out for the prayer and they would have done so to make her feel included! Since then, they’ve grown accustomed to our non-religious au pairs!

NJmama May 28, 2015 at 8:19 pm

What a fascinating thread!

I think we have had our biggest cultural exchange (in a manner of speaking) this year with our Mormon au pair. I am a “not great Catholic” – I’m sort of going through the motions with the kids (ie, they go to CCD and are getting their sacraments but we do not go to church weekly). My husband was born Russian Orthodox, raised Methodist and is now agnostic.

I will admit I was hesitant when I first started talking with our au pair – and I thank TexasHM for her advice. i told the au pair upfront we are not religious but are respectful. One thing I think that helped is that she didn’t grow up in a place where there were tons of Mormons. The “give and take” has been outstanding on both sides – she told us it was important that she find a church locally and go regularly. My husband found one nearby and emailed her about it while we were still interviewing, and that impressed her. Also we’ve really made it a priority to give her off for church services, both on Sundays and during the week. And she in turn has been super appreciative and flexible when we needed her to be.

I was worried she would be super offended when we slipped and cursed but she has been laid back. She doesn’t push her religion in any way and is patient in answering questions. Plus what’s not to love about having a an au pair that doesn’t curse, smoke, drink or dress provocatively. If anything the one part that can be confusing to my kids – and was before she arrived – is the idea that not all Christians believe the same things or go to the same church. So this has been very educational in that regard.

We absolutely adore her. We once had two missionaries to dinner and they prayed before the meal and did a little teaching after – nothing heavy. It was all very sweet. The funniest part about that weekend is that there is a Jehovah’s Witness that comes to the house maybe once every 4 months. She’s very sweet and I figure… If she wants to read a little scripture and pray for me what’s the harm? Well the day before the dinner with the missionairies the Jehovah’s Witness stopped by and I wasn’t home, so they did a little prayer for my agnostic husband. Then my oldest had to serve Saturday mass and I couldn’t take her so my agnostic husband did. And then on Sunday we had the missionairies and the prayers, and he felt he had his dose of religion for the next decade lol.

I guess the upshot of this and all of the other examples is whether or not a family or au pair is religious doesn’t matter if both sides can be open-minded and respectful.

WarmStateMomma May 29, 2015 at 12:30 pm

TexasHM – maybe the way to approach religion in your recruiting is to say:

We have hosted APs from countries x, y, and z and have maintained great long-term relationships with them. Our family is active in our church and discusses our faith often at home. We have welcomed APs who have not shared our religious beliefs into in our family and found that the religious differences add to the cultural exchange. We do ask our APs not to contradict what we teach our children about sensitive issues – such as religion – and to refer any religious questions to us. If you are as open-minded as we are about living with someone whose religious beliefs are different, we will get along very well!

AuPair Paris May 29, 2015 at 5:20 am

This is all fascinating – I think religious difference makes for a real cultural exchange. I think I come at the religious angle from the fact that my eldest is ten now, and bright, and challenging, and her siblings follow her example. So if she asks me a question, I answer it to the best of my abilities, knowing that if something doesn’t gel for her, she’ll ask her Dad and then pass the response down through the ranks! I’d have a very different approach if the kids were very young, or even just very quiet, and biddable. I know mine will question *everything* I say as it is, so I worry slightly less about messing up – though I still try really hard not to.

Someone further up said that it’s important to know when your own beliefs are secondary to giving comfort, and that I completely, 100% agree with. Unfortunately, the children’s great grandmother died while they were on holiday with their grandparents last summer. Their grandmother was in bits, understandably, and told the kids that she was sad because her Mum had gone to heaven. At which point the five year old cousin of my kids – who is a handful, but also only five, and too young to understand and empathise fully – said “no she’s not! She’s in the ground! She’s not in heaven! She’s under the ground, being eaten by worms!”. I think it was the sharpest I’ve ever been, telling him “no, that’s her body. Her soul is in heaven!”. Though I did go and talk to him about it more gently later on, and explain why it’s not nice to say these things when people are upset. I think he was mostly just disconcerted by seeing an adult authority figure so unhappy, and acting out to see what would happen/test his security – he did already know he shouldn’t say it. But it was not a good situation!

Funny thing is, his parents are *much* more religious than my kids’ parents. They are true, all-the-church-activities, prayers-before-bed believers. So I wonder if the five year old was also continuing some kind of early rebellion with his comments!

UKAu Pair May 29, 2015 at 7:59 am

Poor five year old! Is it possible that he’d heard something from someone else and was trying to work out which was true?

I was a similar age when my grandmother died and for a long time afterwards believed that she had gone to live on the chimney of our house. I’d obviously internalised the “she’s gone to heaven but will be watching over you” messages and rationalised them into something that I could understand.

AuPair Paris May 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

I know – bit of an au pair fail! He was routinely a very, very naughty/difficult child, and he said it with a big mischievous grin, but I shouldn’t have snapped at him! I’m certain he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. But in any case, he wasn’t too damaged by it, and I did have a proper, quiet chat with him later!

cv harquail May 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm

For what it’s worth, one of our au pairs taught my girls that dinosaurs died put because Noah couldn’t fit them on the Ark. As a scientist and a Christian, this incorrect lesson was a problem for me, so I had a talk with our au pair about hewing to a more conventional set of topics about dinosaurs– e.g., that they are not related to dragons but that dino fossils found in the Middle Ages encouraged myths about dragons. We actually had to have that “agree to disagree, and don’t bring this up with the kids” conversation.

Mimi May 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Last spring, my cousin who lives in Alabama called me to gripe about her son coming home telling her that his science teacher taught his class (fifth grade) that dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. My Austrian AP didn’t understand why my cousin (who is a theistic evolutionist) was so upset because the AP believes the same thing and doesn’t believe in the fossil record. This was the only time anything like this has come up and it hadn’t occurred to me to talk about this beforehand, but it was never an issue for us.

UKAu Pair May 29, 2015 at 7:56 am

This thread is fascinating!

I was born and raised Catholic (church every week, prayers before bed, Catholic school, all of that) although we never said grace- that seems to be an American thing, Catholics don’t really do it, although my grandfather is a CofE vicar and he always says grace.

I gradually fell out of love with the church under the last pope- the anti-contraception, anti-sex, anti-LGBT messages contradicted my personal beliefs and feelings. I adore the current pope but unfortunately I think the damage has been done- I haven’t been to church in years. My mother, who at one point wanted to become a nun, no longer believes in God after the death of someone very close to her and so as a family we are no longer religious- as far as I am aware the only one of us still to attend church is my brother, who was an atheist by the age of 10 and has only recently changed his mind.

I have au paired for religious families, but would feel very uncomfortable having to participate in grace. I’m happy to talk about God to the children (although Catholic teaching doesn’t always mesh with that of other denominations) but if they asked me directly I would want to be able to tell them that I don’t know whether God exists or not. Actually, religion as a whole is one of the reasons I have never really considered au pairing in America- I don’t think that faith should have an impact on politics or on teaching of science in schools and there are some states (particularly the ‘bible belt’) which I would really have problems with.

NoVA Twin Mom May 29, 2015 at 8:19 am

I’ve been reading along and really have to get to work – but I just have to pipe in that there are a whole lot of Americans that agree with you that I don’t think that faith shouldn’t have an impact on politics or on teaching of science in schools. We’re just not the ones that make it onto television. :)

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 8:24 am

I’ll second that!

Mimi May 29, 2015 at 8:25 am


UKAu Pair May 29, 2015 at 8:38 am

Oh no, I do realise that! I didn’t mean it to sound like I was lumping you all in together! I know that because America is federalised teaching isn’t standard across the country as well, so the more liberal states I’d probably be fine with, but I couldn’t in good conscience work in a state where the Creation story was taught as fact in science lessons, especially if I was supposed to help children with their homework.

TexasHM May 29, 2015 at 10:56 am

Ok now I am actually VERY sorry I even opened up. First of all, there are only TWO states in the US that even allow creationism to be discussed PERIOD (Tennessee and Louisiana) and even in those states not all schools do, they just have an option to in addition to teaching evolutionary science if they desire so there are ZERO states where the creation “story” is taught as fact in science lessons so whether you lived in a liberal or conservative state wouldn’t make any difference. Last I checked evolution is a THEORY as well so neither are taught as factual even in those two states! So as someone that lives in a giant state in the bible belt (not even born here) I DO have a problem with ignorant people stereotyping this state/region/country so please, do yourself a favor and google before you post blanket statements about a country/region/policy you obviously know very little about.

I have long suspected exactly what NZHM pointed out: “The bigger problem might be a very negative perception about religious Americans prevalent in Germany!” And I have been told as much by several of the German candidates I have interviewed but I do not at all think that point of view is exclusive to Germany as I have heard similar comments from several other European countries as well.

I think NJMama hit it on the head here: “I guess the upshot of this and all of the other examples is whether or not a family or au pair is religious doesn’t matter if both sides can be open-minded and respectful.”

Making blanket statements about the US, the “bible belt” and christians is absolutely not the definition of open minded or respectful so luckily as you so nicely pointed we won’t ever have to worry about you coming to our state which you “would really have a problem with”.

To the APs that were respectful and open minded I thank you for the discussion.

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

TexasHM: I don’t think you should be sorry at all. You bring up excellent points, and I think it is really important that negative stereotypes be confronted and addressed.
Misperceptions about the role of religion in America are common, and how are people to learn they are wrong if they do not have the opportunity to learn otherwise?

ScientistHM May 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm


Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?

It is both. But that answer requires looking more deeply at the meanings of the words “theory” and “fact.”

In everyday usage, “theory” often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, “I have a theory about why that happened,” they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

Many scientific theories are so well-established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed. For example, the theory of gravitation predicted the behavior of objects on the moon and other planets long before the activities of spacecraft and astronauts confirmed them. The evolutionary biologists who discovered Tiktaalik predicted that they would find fossils intermediate between fish and limbed terrestrial animals in sediments that were about 375 million years old. Their discovery confirmed the prediction made on the basis of evolutionary theory. In turn, confirmation of a prediction increases confidence in that theory.

In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.

NJ Mama May 29, 2015 at 12:10 pm

It would be a shame if an au pair chose not to match with a family in either Tennessee or Louisiana — or any state for that matter — because of fears about religion and living in the “bible belt.” Tennessee and Louisiana have such tremendous cultures. Gosh I’m thinking of the music, the food, the people … and yes the religion.

What would be so difficult about bowing your head and staying quiet while someone prays in any religion? Look I’m probably more agnostic than Catholic — but I appreciate the good intentions of people, and I would never turn down anyone’s offer to pray for me or express how thankful they are for their food, their family, their company. I’ve also welcomed opportunities in my life to attend places of worship. What’s the harm?

One of the best things about living in another country is learning about their religion and culture. When I was 20 I went to Tel Aviv University for a semester. I and other students were invited to attend a seder. I think there was one other non-Jewish student there. I had learned to read a little Hebrew by then and was asked to read one of the prayers. It was a wonderful experience and I was so happy to be included. It would never occur to me not to go because I’m not Jewish or that I wouldn’t want to pray with a Jewish family. My first German au pair was also invited to a seder at a family where her friend was an au pair. She was so touched that the family included her as well – and this Jewish family had a German au pair. So yes, I think there are German au pairs who would be fine in a religious family. It makes me sad to think that there are people from any country who would turn a family down based on that.

And why does it matter what they teach kids in school? Is an au pair really going to get in a big debate over evolution and creationism with an 8-year-old? Couldn’t the au pair say that there are different theories about how the earth was formed and leave it at that? I’m sure our history books don’t teach about world events in exactly the way they’re taught in other countries. Is this really a reason not to match?

I’m sort of rambling here. But here’s the thing: Being liberal isn’t the same as being tolerant. And I think tolerance is a big part of the “give and take.” Certainly, I understand if an au pair wouldn’t want a host family “pushing their beliefs” onto her. I also understand families who wouldn’t want an au pair pushing her beliefs onto their children. It goes both ways. But I also don’t think it’s all that hard either. And I think it’s something both sides should be able to size up during the interviews.

Mimi May 29, 2015 at 4:56 pm

TexasHM, my comment was not directed at you, as I always appreciate your thoughtful posts and the opportunity to learn more about my fellow HMs and Americans. momo4 is right about the need to address stereotypes and misperceptions.

I only wanted to echo the sentiment that I support a separation of church and state as well. Our forefathers intended this, but in reality they were a pretty homogenous bunch and I think it’s easy to talk about a separation when you have the kind of broad societal standardized belief system that the US is lacking today. I think that’s a good thing and is a large part of why we like the AP program.

I wonder if the negative perceptions of German APs might be more about the unfamiliar? Most Germans are either Catholic or Lutheran and I suspect may be skeptical of anything outside of their mainstream experience or are really predicated on emotions and personal faith. (Do they still have religious instruction as a required subject in German public schools?) I have heard from several of my former APs that some of the religious-political rhetoric from the US reminds them of earlier periods in European history, which are looked on unfavorably. Maybe one of the German APs here can weigh in.

TexasHM May 29, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Mimi – I read your comment as you said, that you were in support of separation of church and state – no worries!

For the record, we are in the same boat as momof4 in that “we believe in evolution AND God, and do not consider these beliefs to be at all incompatible”.

And if we focusing solely on evolutionary concepts and not my point – mass stereotyping and discrimination – then we also need to point out that there is a difference between evolution as a concept (that organisms have at times changed and continue to do so) which I think the vast majority of Americans (myself included) would never argue (as fact) and whether that alone is the sole source of all life but again, that wasn’t the conversation in the first place.

“Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.

—National Academy of Sciences, Science, Evolution, and Creationism[19]”

UKAu Pair May 30, 2015 at 3:10 am

Ouf. I wish I’d never said anything.

I apologise if I have offended anyone. Reading back, I can see that what I was trying to say and the way I expressed it were very different.

To be clear, I would never turn down someone if they wanted to pray for me. I wouldn’t have a problem living with a religious family and I welcome the chance to learn about other faiths.

There is a huge negative perception about religious Americans over here and I apologise for perpetuating it.

WarmStateMomma May 29, 2015 at 11:49 am

Just an FYI – the Bible Belt is not a wasteland of Christian-version-of-the-Taliban villages. The largest city in the US to have an openly LGBT mayor is in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Houston, Texas is the 4th largest city in the US and Anise Parker is serving her second term as mayor. She frequently mentions her partner and has pushed for greater rights for LGBT employees in Houston.

Some of the most diverse, cosmopolitan cities in the US are actually in the Bible Belt.; NY/DC/CA are just the most well-known outside the US. Also, many families who host APs in religiously conservative areas are actually looking for someone who can bring a different perspective to their family from the local norms.

We hosted a Chinese AP who surprised us by wanting to explore Christianity while she was here. We told her this would be a good place for that since there are hundreds of churches of different flavors nearby, but that we would not be participating in that with her. She went to a couple of events, enjoyed herself, but didn’t mention it again. I went to an early morning mass at Notre Dame as an exchange student just for the experience (it was beautiful) and I think she was just exploring American culture in a similar way.

I didn’t grow up in a religious home but my in-laws are religious. It feels uncomfortable to be there when they are doing something religious because it feels unnatural to me. I’m not bothered by their beliefs and they are respectful of me, but I feel like an awkward onlooker.

There are 300 million+ Americans and 300 million+ ways to be an American. TexasHM is an evangelical Christian; I’m an atheist, and we have the most wonderful, supportive discussions offline. Americans live side by side with people who are different from them and that’s one of my favorite things about this country. It’s so much richer and more complex than you can imagine until you’ve really lived it.

momo4 May 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Beautifully said!

NJ Mama May 29, 2015 at 12:25 pm


NoVA Twin Mom May 29, 2015 at 8:19 am

Oops – that don’t think that faith SHOULD have an impact…

NJHostDad May 29, 2015 at 11:57 am

Anybody want to discuss politics next? ;-)

NoVA Twin Mom May 29, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Wait a few months for the next big election :)

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