Choosing Your Next Au Pair: Beware of the Contrast Effect

by cv harquail on September 7, 2010

A host mom who’s looking hopefully at a rematch situation writes us for advice … Her soon-to-be-ending match has been plagued with personality conflict.

Now, she has a choice between two promising au pairs– but what criteria should she prioritize? On the one hand, she needs a good driver, and driving skills can be taught. On the other hand, she needs someone she feels comfortable with. How should HopefulAboutRematch choose between her two options??

As she chooses, HopefulAboutRematch might want to keep in mind is whether or how much she is being influenced by The Contrast Effect.

The Contrast Effect

201009071337.jpgThe Contrast Effect is a psychological bias where something looks more ‘better’ or more ‘worse’ based on the features of what came right before it. For Host Parents choosing their next au pair, the contrast effect can make us more sensitive than perhaps we should be to the presence or absence of a quality that mattered in our previous au pair relationship.

When we’ve had a great relationship with an au pair who loves ice cream, we might look for another au pair with the same love of ice cream, hoping to re-create the good relationship. Similarly, when we’ve been troubled by an au pair who can’t read a map, we may make map-reading our #2 priority. In both these examples, the contrast effect would be working to our disadvantage.

That said, we may honestly believe that our previous positive relationship was all due to one criterion– and so it would make sense to maximize on this.

For this HopefulAboutRematch Host Mom, her experience of what didn’t work with her previous au pair may be making her put more weight on that characteristic than she otherwise might. But then again…

What advice can we offer HopefulAboutRematch both on the specifics of Driver vs Personality and the more general concern of the contrast effect?

What do you think?

Hello and help!

I am a first-timer reading your blog, wish I had read it 5 months ago before I chose my current, soon-to-be-rematched AP.

On paper she was perfect — had more childcare certifications you could possibly amass in her short professional experience as a nursery school teacher. She seemed cheerful in photos and on the phone, but fast forward 4 months living with her, and she is passive aggressive, depressed bordering on morose, and I just don’t like her as a person — we have horribly “off” chemistry, and she plays ‘victim’ to me every chance she gets.

I am relieved we are in a re-match process, and hoping to find my next au pair FAST (although I don’t want to rush things, I only have 8 days to choose a new au pair to make the next “drop” window for my agency, which only brings au pairs over once a month).

I have two candidates I really like, both Eastern Europrean. One is Russian, one is Serbian. Both speak decent English, and are on the more “mature” side — one is 25, the other is 23. One has experience with multiple children (two sets of twins), the other has experience with only one child at a time.

The AP candidate I prefer has less driving experience than the other, while the other AP has more driving experience AND multiples experience (I have twins, so this is somewhat important but not required). I am wondering if it is true that even candidates with less driving experience can quickly learn after a few months of intensive US-based drivers ed courses?

The reason I am struggling with my decision is that the deal breaker with my previous AP was NOT a matter of driving experience, or qualifications – which she had plenty of. For me, it was a totally cultural and chemical mis-match, so I’m realizing that while driving skills are something that can be taught / learned and paid for to “fix” (sometimes), the cultural and chemistry fit is either there, or it’s not there — so which is the more important thing to hire for?

Thanks! — HopefulAboutRematch

Image: Contrast 1 from Rebecca_bexxi on Flickr


JJ Host Mom September 7, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I think you have your answer – when you typed “the candidate I prefer,” that’s the one you should hire.

Depends on how old your twins are, but as a mom of twins myself, I’d say that the biggest challenge of twins is doing two things at once, which is really mostly a challenge when they’re being bottle-fed. Once you get beyond that, it’s more intense than watching different-aged siblings, but not rocket science. “Multiples” experience is a nice-to-have experience, but not having it is not a dealbreaker, IMHO. Plus, experience with 7 year old multiples who are in school all day has nothing to do with taking care of infant twins.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that hours of experience, whether it be childcare or driving or whatever, is basically meaningless. I have no idea how they calculate it but after having talked to a number of different candidates all over the range, I’ve seen no consistency between actual probable hours worked and the stated total hours of experience. Instead I tend to look at kinds of experience. So with childcare, that would be watching similar age-ranged children, total hours worked per week (date-night babysitting a couple of hours a week for a year when the kids are primarily sleeping is not nearly as valuable as being a camp counselor for 45 hours for two weeks straight and being solely responsible for entertaining a group of ten kids, for example.) With driving, I look at whether the au pair has ever driven kids around, and if so, try to talk to the au pair’s reference who entrusted that au pair with driving their kids around.

Your post brings up an issue that I’ve been struggling with lately, that may or may not be at the root of what you’re conflicted with. I’ve realized that the kind of qualities I need from an au pair (organization, autonomy, meticulous) are kind of at odds with the qualities my kids need from an au pair (spontaneous, fun, full of energy). Our last au pair was organized, autonomous and meticulous, and she was a great fit for our family. But my kids are a year older now (2 year old boys) and have so much energy – they need someone who can really wear them out. So we chose a male au pair who is spontaneous, fun, and full of energy. I think he’ll be wonderful with the kids, but getting him to read the family handbook before he got here was a challenge at best, and I can already foresee that I’ll either have to let go of some things,or have to be more hands-on managing that I was with current au pair. But will it drive me crazy, or will I be so thrilled with my kids’ happiness that it won’t bother me? I just don’t know.

cv harquail September 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm

JJ- love that distinction between what ‘kids need’ and what ‘host mom needs’ from an au pair– I’ll set that up as its own post…. cv

Calif Mom September 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

JJ– the answer is both! You will be both thrilled that the kids are worn out from a day of doing interesting things, AND you will be annoyed that the playroom/living room/kitchen is a disaster zone. And you will have to let go of some things, AND you will have to manage things more than you are used to or comfortable with.

That doesn’t make it bad, but anticipating where the sticking points will be can help you reduce your frustration when they arise, and maybe even (if you’re really diligent) help you figure out systems or approaches to use ahead of time to prevent some of those sticking points from happening.

IMHO, the APs who are believers in order and structure can be fine drivers and “organizers of days” but can be real pills and sticks-in-the-mud and dare I say, haranguers of joyous children.

Original poster — you can’t put much weigh on the the hours of experience, as JJ mentions, but don’t put too much weigh on the the experience driving, either! Not to get too negative, but I haven’t had great luck with the cultural fit of APs from that region. One hated kids, just wanted to get to the states, both were really negative and a drag to have around the house; everything American was stupid. In general I am a tiny bit suspicious of 25 yo’s who want to be au pairs–delve deep into their reasons for coming, and trust your gut if they seem to have patched together some childcare experience just to get here. Twins are not easy! You need someone who has a *demonstrated* love of children, not just photos of herself with her bf from high school who got knocked up (though of course that can happen, and I am not judging, I’m just describing my own experience with desperate APs from this region. And yes, my biases are waving big red flags right now.)

Have you asked about rematch au pairs who are already in the states? You could at least talk to their current host family and see what the problem was. Our two easiest APs were both from rematch in the states.

Keep asking questions! Glad you feel relieved about going into rematch; that’s a good sign, and it will get easier at some point in the not so horribly distant future!

Melissa September 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Regarding the Original Post, I agree with JJ Host Mom that the OP seems to already be strongly leaning to the ‘preferred’, not as experienced, candidate. I too think that evaluating experience is not as clear cut as it would seem. My worst driver had the most years of driving experience and some of my best drivers had the least amount of experience in their home country. What I look for is the type of driving the person has done (all rural? mostly highway?) and the driving culture in their home country – as we’ve seen in recent posts, driving in China is VERY different than driving in the U.S. We choose APs from a country that seems to have a similar driving culture and even though they drive on the other side of the road, we haven’t had driving issues, thankfully. Also, this is rather subjective, but the APs personality and attitude plays a big role for me. My most independent, capable, mature and conscientious APs have also been our best drivers. And the same goes for childcare experience. I don’t put as much weight on the amount of experience, but look more for someone who seems to have the soft skills (albeit usually hard to judge from an application and phone calls) that are important to us. I feel that I can always show an AP how to change a diaper and feed a baby, but I can’t do much with someone who winces at getting their hands dirty and doesn’t have the initiative/common sense to check the baby’s diaper without my direction.
Regarding the contrast effect, it is hard sometimes to distinguish what’s really important and what may be disproportionately blown up in your mind due to your recent experience. Our last AP was a huge partier and spent absolutely no family time with us, so I went overboard during my search this time to make sure that we found someone who wanted to be part of our family and not here primarily to drink and party. My husband jokingly warned me to be careful that I don’t find someone who is so opposite from our last AP that she has no social skills at all and wants to spend every waking moment with us. :-) Luckily, it seems to be working out so far!

NJMom September 8, 2010 at 6:23 am

I would go with the gut-feeling “preferred” candidate. I find what Melissa touches on interesting, too. I have had three very good, responsible au pairs: i.e., no disasters, and I do need driving au pairs and all of them have driven our cars extensively. HOWEVER, in looking back on my interviewing, I never made the driving a big issue. I always focused on their overall characters, their honesty, their true interest in being an AP, the type of activities they did at home (did they show dedcation to their school work, etc.) Maybe it’s a coincidence but I got three good drivers. The first one from Eastern Europe was probably the least experienced but was very careful. She did have a couple of minor fender benders that resulted in a scrape to the car. The second one was a great driver. Our third is very good but still had an annoying minor accident where she bumped the front of the car into something and caused a bit of damage. We joke that they have all left us a souvenir on the car! But I never doubted their abillity to transport my kids and they never abused the car on the weekends. ALways had it by back by 11 pm. So perhaps there is a correlation to mature, responsible AP and decent driving or at least the ability to be coached into good driving. This long-winded post is meant to say that I think you should go with your preferred candidate. She may be a better driver anyway! She’ll have to relearn a lot of driving skills here in any case so hopefully she’ll be more open to feedback. Good luck.

momto2 September 8, 2010 at 6:41 am

I had no idea about the “contrast effect” until reading this, but I can attest that we fell into this category. Our first 2 AP’s were good people, but were softies on discipline and were not fond of exercising or playing outdoor games with the kids. Our kids grew quite restless during summer vacations, and we decided this time to look for someone who was more active and could set limits. We are the family as noted in a previous post with the AP who made our kid sit at a table for 2 hours to finish the food on his plate b/c the AP thought he was being wasteful.

In contrast to the first 2 AP’s, our recent AP was quite the athlete to the point of being obsessive about it, both for herself and for our kids–(it’s like they were in boot camp!) Of course getting her to sit down and read a book with the kids or draw a picture on a 100 degree Code Red Day was impossible. And as far as setting limits, we found her to be simply punitive and downright mean–quite the contrast from the kissy, huggy AP’s we hosted for 3 years before that. There was not an ounce of love or compassion inside of this AP that we could find. She didn’t seem to even like the kids, and was quite mean if the kids tried to hug her or sit by her. She was very cold. Clearly we overlooked the fact that despite the 1st 2 AP’s deficiencies, their strengths were in their abilities to connect with the kids and make them feel loved, safe, happy, etc,. Needless to say, after continued problems with this AP (most recently withholding food as punishment) we decided to call it quits. We came to the conclusion that at our kids’ ages, their need for nurturing and compassion was far greater than their need for an AP who could do 8 hours of Extreme Sports on a hot summer day. We will start over, being certain not to make the same mistake again.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 8, 2010 at 7:14 am

I’m right there with you in the “contrast effect.” Our last AP never got beyond the advanced beginner stage of driving (she could drive safely enough that HD let her out in the cars alone, but her parking skills remained abysmal all year), she never seemed to mesh with our typical child but was quite devoted to our special needs child. Getting her to have a conversation with HD and I was like pulling teeth.

Having had two beginning drivers, I would say, follow your instincts if you have the time and energy to invest in mastering driving. If you don’t, forget it. It’s not just about sending the AP to driving school and being done with it. Driving is a process (recall those days with your own parents as you learned to drive), and getting a license is just a benchmark to say that it is basically acceptable. If you live in an area that gets snow accumulation, then you’d want to make sure your favorite candidate has some snow driving experience – otherwise you’ll be logging in the hours teaching her how to drive out of a skid.

Ironically, when my kids were babies we had all the time in the world to teach an AP to drive. Now that they’re school age, they both have after-school and weekend activities that make scheduling a nightmare. (Even scheduling DH time to drive with a new AP to assess skills took some doing!) So yes, while driving can be learned, you and your DH need to openly discuss how much free time you have to insure that your beginner driver acquires the skills she needs – and whether she has the financial resources and willingness to split the costs with you – unless you intend to pay 100%.

Deb Schwarz September 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

In looking at my 3 C’s: competency, character and chemistry – looks like one is definitely better on competency (two sets of twins – wow!, and driving), how about character? – can you get a sense of what their values are? How their parents raised them? Mantras that they were raised with?. I can’t stress how important Chemistry is – have you done a Skype interview with both? (I have recently found that a Skype interview is MUCH better at getting at the chemistry and the personality of the au pair than just a phone call).

I think beyond any of these – attitude is key. Which of them seems more positive and keen? Sometimes Eastern Europeans can be on the negative side (glass is half empty) – it’s a cultural thing – did you get that vibe at all? The driving thing can get in the way of all of these, so one suggestion that I might have is to have them assessed in their home country. It might not be completely valid (the instructor might want to help them out), but might give you peace of mind that they can get up to speed and how long it might take.

BTW, CV – I am soooo guilty of the contrast thing – I always look for the one thing that the last one didn’t have – e.g. a neat freak if I’ve had a slob, and one that is a good disciplinarian if I’ve just had a “push over”. After 16 au pairs, you’d think that I would look at the total picture, but it’s a natural thing, I guess.

On another note – to my long term APM friends – funny news…..the show “Super Nanny” is coming to our house next week to vete us for an upcoming show (given that our kids fight ALL the time). I’m a bit nervous about airing our dirty laundry – but what the heck – it might help! Does anyone know anyone who has been on the show? If so, email me and let me know if they had a good experience or not.


Mommy Mia September 8, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Oh, Deb, I love Super Nanny! You’ll have to let us know how it goes if you’re selected. We’ll look forward to watching you, and we’ll all be able to empathize. I’ve often thought our family would be a great one for Jo to straighten out!

cv harquail September 9, 2010 at 5:54 am

SuperNanny? Is Jo coming to your house to get ideas? While I can’t imagine that you (really) are that in trouble, who wouldn’t want Jo to come over and just offer a shoulder to cry on once and a while? Your family would be a very different challenge than the usual, given two APs and two HPs and needed to coordinate behaviors and approaches.

I’d watch that episode, Deb, but I’m still holding out for your book. ;-)

anonymous for this September 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I’m posting anonymously because I’m embarrassed to share what our LCC and friends learned the hard way over the years. Russian and other Eastern europeans have a notoriuos rep for only wanting to get here and find husbands or otherwise plan to not return home.
I thought u should know this for what its worth.

AnonResponse September 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I disagree. I have perhaps heard this about Russian girls specifically and know a couple of anecdotes that prove it out but I know of many Bosnian girls in our cluster as well as Hungarian, Czech and Polish girls who have been amazing APs. (In fact our first AP from Bosnia could have stayed here but went home to be with her boyfriend and family after completing a successful year as an AP.) I think to say “eastern europe” is painting way too broad a brush. You have to interview VERY carefully with this part of the world but I don’t think it’s any different than Latin America, for example.

Calif Mom September 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm

I’m fine with an AP looking for an Mrs. on the side — I’m NOT fine with people coming here and joining my family who don’t enjoy kids and aren’t positive presences in my home. My Brazilian APs have been fabulous AND looking for love (preferably with legal residency). My experience with Ukrainian and Bulgarian APs was HORRIBLE. They hated kids AND they were also looking for love with legal residency.

Is that statistically significant data? not by any stretch. Is it fair? no. Will I look at an AP from that vaguely general part of the world again? nope. Sorry. But my health and happiness depends on minimizing the things I have to worry about. That’s low-hanging fruit. I know it’s not fair, but it’s my short hand. I need short hand helps; that’s why I have an AP.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 8, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I don’t think the idea of emigrating permanently is limited to APs from Eastern Europe. I think many young women come from countries where opportunities for them are limited by class, economic and social conditions, or political strife think of emigrating. When confronted by the myth of streets paved with gold and the reality that everything in the US comes at a price, many APs choose to return home. Of the 6 APs that I have hosted, 4 have thought seriously about staying, but to date, only one has permanently emigrated, and that was AP #1 whose past experience as a pediatric intensive care nurse gave her marketable and desirable skills. AP #2 nearly stayed for love and I talked her out of it (and the truth must have been in her heart or she wouldn’t have listened), AP #3 nearly stayed for the better economic opportunities a US college degree would have given her but had to return home when family conditions changed. I think AP #5 would prefer to stay in the US, at least temporarily to study (she has extended with another family). AP #6 just arrived, but like #4 has strong bonds to home and has a commitment to return to start university in a year, and we’ll see where this year takes her.

I think it is possible to weed out those seeking what we used to call “M.R.S. degrees” from those with a serious love for children by paying attention to their experience, choices in their education that indicate a love for children, and a discussion of their life goals – can they supply an answer to “What do you intend to do when you complete your AP year?” It’s not a yes-no question, and it’s okay for you, as a potential HP to press your candidate to provide a substantive answer.

2boys2girls September 8, 2010 at 10:57 pm

What a thoughtful and well-expressed post!

Nina January 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Call the references personally and ask a lot of questions: how did they play with kids, what are they best in, what are they worst in, have they ever driven with them in the car. Call all references available.

When it comes to Eastern Europe: Au Pairs usually do not have as much access to the car as in Western Europe. So check that out: do they own a car? Whose car were they driving? How often, how far?

It is hard to find the right Au pair. We just started with a new one and realized that even with good Au Pair we were rarely satisfied in the beginning. Last year this time I wanted to rematch with our Au Pair who turned out to be among the best just had a different approach of adjusting.

We usually try to find Au Pair who worked in a daycare for extended period of time or took care of kids for any time but full time.

Ask the Au Pair what they would play with your kids? How they envision their day, etc?

Interview until you are sure you know who to choose.


Pearl September 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I made a major mistake once with an au pair I chose primarily because her personality seemed the exact opposite of the outgoing au pair I was then having major problems dealing with. Although I continue to think that it’s good to learn from your mistakes in this way, I did so blindly. In other words, I chose to overlook what I would have otherwise decided were unacceptable weaknesses in the second girl (lack of babysitting experience was the main one, I’m embarrassed to say) and to give her the “benefit of the doubt” only because of how much her personality was different than that of her problematic predecessor. I compounded the problem by building this second girl up in my own mind as the solution to our au pair problems, so that when she came I briefly discounted the complaints of my children who told me she was terrible. The end result was that this new au pair quit after day 2 on the job (ironically, largely due to major influence by the previous au pair) and brought us through a really tumultuous rematch situation.

The moral of the story for us was that we should not compromise “must-have” qualities like competence just because a candidate appears to have a personality different than an au pair that didn’t work out. Hold out for someone who you’d choose even before your bad experience. Even though it can be hard to get through a gap period, it’s worse to jump from the frying pan into the fire. We’ve been lucky (and persistent?) enough to find two of the sweetest, most competent, ideal au pairs since learning that lesson a couple of years ago.

5kids=AP September 8, 2010 at 11:43 pm

We were once forced, due to a rematch, into an 24hr decision to make an agency deadline. It did not turn out well. We had about 6 candidates to choose from and we chose a candidate who was an AP previously in the UK. She got glowing reviews, but she was by far the worst AP we ever hosted. I would’ve been much better off w/out help during that month of extended searching than what I put up with that year. Some agencies are also a tad lenient on the deadlines, as long as the country they’re coming from can get them a quick visa. And fwiw, I have twins, too, and have never had anyone w/twin experience.

Shana Medah September 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

As I read through the comments, it comes to mind how much what we call “personality” is influenced by our culture – especially the way people communicate their ideas. For example, when I first began working with Russians, I was shocked by how they talked to each other and to me. When I listened to them talking to each other, it was loud and very expressive – I always thought a fight was about to break out. They would also tell me, “You’re wrong” point blank, with no softening words, when they disagreed with me. My feeling, and the feeling of many of my colleagues, was that they were rude and obnoxious. However, I realized after a while that this was their normal form of conversation – they didn’t seem worried or upset. I realized I was measuring their “personality” by my own standards of appropriate ways of talking and disagreeing. I had to learn to talk and listen to them on their terms – then help them learn how they were perceived by Americans. It is true that certain people just don’t have personal chemistry, no matter where they come from, but it’s also interesting to consider how much of the chemistry is determined by one’s cultural definition of an agreeable person.

Calif Mom September 10, 2010 at 10:31 am

Thanks for this post, Shana!

I completely understand and appreciate this framework for thinking about cultural difference. But having personally found that a Bulgarian and a Ukrainian were *terrible* matches for our family, it kind of doesn’t matter that their personality wasn’t the source of the mismatch, but the cultural differences were at the core of the issues.

These individual people chose to deal with our cultural differences in ways that made us feel horrible as a family and weren’t ultimately acceptable to me (and I’m willing to put up with quite a bit of ‘style’ differences). These conflicts came to a head in one case after 3 days, and in the other, after several months of accommodating complaints but never being able to satisfy the AP. So while I appreciate there is a big cultural difference between the world those girls grew up with and the one my girls are being raised in, I really don’t want to emulate it!

I’m sure there are AP candidates from families that diverge from the cultural norms of their native countries and actually would mesh well with us, but I wouldn’t know how to find those outliers, and I sure don’t have time to try and suss them out of the databases. So for us, we’re just going to skip those cultures we know aren’t a good fit and focus on finding candidates from the cultures we’ve had success with. And I just don’t have bandwidth to feel guilty about that, with sincere apologies in advance to everyone from those countries who is loving, patient and curious about the world (as opposed to judgmental about it).

Shana Medah September 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Calif Mom,

To be sure, the job of negotiating cultural differences falls as much on the au pair as it does on the family. Part of the cultural learning process is knowing how to handle the differences in a constructive way, which it sounds like your former au pairs di not do. It does require effort, and if you don’t have the time to devote to the discovery process, it is perfectly reasonable to look for candidates with whom you have more in common. My comment on personality and culture was in no way intended as criticism, merely an observation.

Shana Medah
Co-founder/Director of Training
Jamana Intercultural

HopefulAboutRematch September 10, 2010 at 2:42 am

I am SO thrilled to have posted for advice, and many thanks to all of you for your insightful and heartfelt comments. Amazingly enough, my DH and I interviewed the more experienced twins- and driving-savvy AP and both felt comfortable offering her the position b/c we felt it would be better for the children to have someone more competent behind the wheel (we have fairly intensive driving requirements, including freeway driving). However, after spending over an hour on the phone with the “chosen AP” whom we thought was also feeling a good fit with us, we asked her if she would be interested in being our AP if we offered her the position, and she totally hesitated and said that she wasn’t sure b/c we were the first and only family that she had interviewed with, and she wanted to ‘shop around’ so to speak for a few other families!

Needless to say, my DH and I were totally surprised by that response, especially considering we had such good conversations over 4 separate Skype sessions. I wouldn’t think an AP would be willing to spend that much time asking questions or getting to know a family further if she also was thinking of waiting it out for a few other families to come along, is that strange or what? So we basically backed off and asked our agency for advice, and asked them to clarify for the AP what the matching process is like. While I understand an AP can always decline a match due to lack of fit from her perspective, I wonder whether the AP had expectations of being wooed by several eligible families where should could have her pick?

We are now leaning towards the AP whom I felt the better chemistry/character fit with, but who had less driving experience and has only take care of single children, not twins or siblings in the same family. However, her willingness to be “gung ho” and commit to daily driving lessons with her father before coming over, and her eagerness to go above and beyond in committing to the guidelines in our handbook we share, just totally WOWed us – and we are really impressed.

The other thing I will mention is that the AP candidate who essentially “lost the position” that was hers to lose was more stereotypically direct/blunt about what she was and was not psyched about doing for us (not psyched to work on Saturdays although we needed her to, not psyched we wouldn’t give her full car priveleges while off duty, since we need the car for shuttling kids, etc). Our now-top-choice AP, however, is almost the exact opposite of the stereotypes I’ve read posted here – she is gentle, affectionate, warm, kind, REALLY loves children in a genuine and deeply felt way – she has totally won me over, and she wasn’t really even ‘trying’ that hard – just being who she is, and so I think it is a match! Any advice either way?

Taking a Computer Lunch September 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

One of my best APs did exactly the same thing. I think it is very mature not to rush into matching with the first HF that calls. She ended up being extremely thoughtful but also assertive (which is what I need in an AP – it turns out I’d rather go head-to-head than have an AP give me lip service or require being told what to do).

However, if the AP with whom you attempted to match is already balking at the schedule and the limitations on access to a vehicle, then it appears that she has another family in mind. The schedule is the schedule.

My advice, if you’re matching with a beginning driver, just be prepared to build driving lessons into YOUR schedule for the first few MONTHS. It took our last AP three months to get up to speed, and then she stopped driving for the winter and we had to spend several weeks getting her back up to speed in the spring. Driving lessons will take you part, but not all, of the way.

Darthastewart September 10, 2010 at 8:53 am

I think I’d go with the one who was more “excited”- gung ho about getting lessons, and preparing herself for the au-pair year. I wouldn’t want to match with an au-pair who initially was balking about hours or working conditions. The hours are the hours, and that is what it is.

One thing to consider is that au-pairs from certain countries really do get a bazillion host families calling them, and it can be a very tough decision.

calif mom September 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

totally agree–flee in fear from the immature one who decided to go shopping. She would be horrified after 3 weeks with your schedule and she meets other APs in the area, and discovers that some/many of them have school-age kids and zero work hours in the middle of the day. Sounds like a potential princess. ANY pushback about cars or schedule during the interview process is a yellow flag at best, IMHO. Would you push back on a boss about how soon you might be promoted before you’re even given a job? What would that say to you about a employee candidate?

(I’m not sure that Russian and Serbian APs are in big demand, but that could be a regional variation.)

You cannot train enthusiasm. If you can’t meet anyone already in the states, then grab the enthusiastic/good chemistry one and don’t look back. Just start planning for good transition.

And remind yourself that there is no perfect; in our current au pair, I had sought someone who understood that schedule and actually doing homework are important. But along with that trait, I am now having to address the idea that just because a child is distractable does not mean she is bad, and that harping on little ones doesn’t really improve their performance, or make anyone, including the harpy, feel good. I’m having to teach her other ways to motivate and try to share my wisdom–that few things are really catastrophes. (see recent post on the contrast effect! :-) )

So my point in that little side venting (thanks for entertaining it) is that each AP really is different, and in transitions the hosts, too, have to make adjustments and re-calibrate.

Driving is teachable, but not instantly, as TACL pointed out so well above. But spirit and enthusiasm will carry you through a lot of other situations.

Rematch is so hard! But at the end you’ll come out of it much better off, so keep breathing!

NewAPMama September 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm

In my opinion, an AP should shop around. Families get to see other potention AP’s applications, and speak with multiple at a time. Why shouldn’t an AP have the same opportunity? They are leaving their home to come to a new family, and they should have the same right to speak with a few families before choosing one. You want the best person to care for your children/become part of your family, and the AP wants the best family for her year here. Why is that a bad thing? I’d be worried if the AP wasn’t picky at all. That would show she doesn’t really care about becoming a part of a family. She just most likely wants a visa.

MommyMia September 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I’d be a little concerned about the fact that no other families had interviewed your initial preferred candidate, unless her app. had just been posted and presented exclusively to you…perhaps other families saw something that was a red flag simply in reading her information? It sounds to me like you have found a good match, because the enthusiasm and warmth, as well as accepting the given schedule will go much further in the long run toward a successful year, IMHO. And the fact that it didn’t seem “forced” or like she was putting on an act trying to impress you says quite a lot! (and I have interviewed dozens of au pairs, and absolutely look for all the qualities your new choice has) Good luck, and I hope it works out well for all involved.

SotaGal September 10, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I don’t know that I fully agree that an AP should shop around… Yes, we have the advantage of seeing multiple applications and even multiple interviews but in the end a large part of it really is the connection that is felt between both sides. I think to have a comparison is nice, to see if you really can trust your gut, but I also think that most (at least the mature ones IMO) can confidently make the decision that is right for them without the benefit of multiple interviews. Those that shop around for something else – perks, location, schedule, number of kids – are perhaps opening them up to an unsuccessful year. This too, is my opinion and tend to run in the other direction when an interviewee balks at something that we’ve presented to them.

We are welcoming AP #6 (haha – now I have a new name for you EC!!! :) ) and he will be our third AP that has only interviewed with us. I have high expectations too – the other 2 that matched with us without doing any other interviews were GREAT au pairs.

Deb Schwarz September 10, 2010 at 11:46 am

Attitude is KEY! Sounds like you made the right decision… just work on her driving (maybe she can take lessons in her home country before she leaves – I’d ask for that as part of accepting her) and you’ll likely have a GREAT au pair year. Please keep us posted on what happens!

HopefulAboutRematch September 11, 2010 at 1:33 am

Just thought I’d update you all that the “Going Shopping AP” wrote a nice email to us today thanking us for all the time we spent getting to know her, saying what a lovely family we are, and that she will be trying to interview with at least one more family before making a decision about us. I wrote back and told her we were moving on with another AP and wished her the best, and she said she would stay in touch as we are also now Facebook Friends.

That’s the other thing I wanted to mention, perhaps in a different post, is that how many of you Host Moms befriend your AP or potential AP on Facebook prior to having her come over? I suggested it to the two candidates we were looking at, and they both gladly accepted, which gave me a view to their personal life, photos of friends (many more than what gets shared via the application), and also a better sense of who they really are as people “behind the curtain / application”. It also gave them a sense of who I am as a person, what we do with the kids as a family, and overall interests based on my Wall posts and family photos.

While it may seem strange to some to “friend” your AP via Facebook, my thought in doing so was that I would find out much more about them to help me decide their character (for example, do they swear or post inappropriate photos of themselves online? do they claim not to be a ‘party girl’ but then have drunken photos of them smoking with friends, though claim to be ‘non-smoker’?) etcetera…

Just curious if anyone else has friended their APs online, and whether you feel this is too much an invasion of their privacy?

The other thing that impressed me about our chosen AP was the willingness for her to befriend me on FB (actually, she was the one who asked me initially if she could friend me, so I could view the FB photos she had posted of herself with the kids she takes care of). I found out she truly is as wholesome and grounded as her application conveyed her to be, which was a relief!

My outgoing un-matched AP has a FB page, and according to my former nanny who is now FB friends with her, she has been complaining for a while about her living situation with us, which is totally unprofessional and irksome. Can’t wait to get her out of my house as soon as she is re-matched (or sent home due to lack of matching…).

Happy to be moving on!

Gianna September 11, 2010 at 8:49 am

A problem with Facebook is that it works both ways. Yes, the AP’s privacy can be invaded and so can yours. Now, she may choose to post indiscrete pictures but that is a matter of choice. On the other hand, you did not choose to have people complaining about you online. I do not friend my aupairs. It seems like a reasonable boundary to protect everyone’s privacy.

Melissa September 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I am a big fan of viewing each others Facebook page during the matching process. While I agree that it can feel a little too personal, it is a very good way for me to get a much more ‘real’ picture of her than I can get from the limited information on an application. I use it primarily as a screening tool to help me identify any red flags. It never occurred to me to do this until one of our APs and I ‘friended’ each other (after she was already here with us, not during the matching process) and she quickly figured out how to block my access to her wall posts and particular photo albums, because her conversations with friends were filled with tons of profanity (she and her friends usually addressed each other as “Yo B***ch!” or “S’up Slut!” – classy, huh?!) and a good majority of her pictures were drinking, smoking (she said she was a non-smoker on her application), suggestive photos with her girlfriends, etc. She was with us a while at that point and turns out she was a good AP in terms of childcare and had a good, pleasant personality and we made it through the year. But, we had many irritating issues related to her personal life throughout the year and I would have seen her in a very different light if I had saw her FB page prior to matching. I never want to have to deal with another ‘partier’ again, if I can avoid it, and FB is a great way to screen for that, which is otherwise very difficult to get from an application. Once we match and our AP is here, I really don’t even look at their FB profile much.

MadredeDos September 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I agree, Melissa. To me, it’s all about the overall impression, which can tell you a lot about their lifestyle. I don’t mind when they block out my access to their areas, but that can also be a signal that they may have something to hide. I DO mind them posting photos of my children without permission and making rude comments about our family (news flash, girls! — some of us can read and understand other languages, or use dictionaries!). A former AP of ours who was sent into rematch had some R-rated photos of herself and friends, but the capper was one she posted of herself behind the wheel of our car with an open alcoholic beverage container right next to her! We had other issues, too, but this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

PA Host mom of Two Au-pairs September 13, 2010 at 12:23 am

I agree with Madrededos comments on FB, we have had similar cases where the AP was drinking but underage. Since most of my au-pairs never heard of FB prior to arrival, We ask them to sign up to view pictures of our family and to keep in contact prior to arrival. AP’s that have a FB during the matching process you really do get a sense of what type of person they are by seeing photos, comments etc about their daily life. I remember not matching with a girl for this very same reason.

My question would be do you delete them once they arrive? this sounds rude and ignorant for the HP, however now we see things in a different prospect when they post comments persay, about how are trying to be happy due to homesickness, or god please help us, foul language etc, When the information is most post by them it posts for everyone to see, regardless if you look at their wall. Any suggestions?? delete or keep them as a friend?

Europhile September 13, 2010 at 1:37 am

I have ambivalent feelings about FB when it comes to APs. All of my APs have befriended me (I tend not to befriend them), so that’s worked out alright (and interestingly, our favorite AP was also the one that restricted our access). That said, I wouldn’t actively befriend them. I personally haven’t deleted any of our APs — it is a great way to stay in touch, and I also never post inappropriate stuff on our APs on my FB page. But I know that HD has also been befriended by our APs, and he clearly doesn’t like the party girl image that our current AP once in a while displays (which I can tell is not entirely her, she’s pretty straight laced, she is simply trying to prove to her friends back home that she’s having a great time).

So in a nutshell — I won’t befriend them, but I will accept it if they befriend me, and haven’t had to delete anyone quite yet.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 13, 2010 at 7:54 am

I have been befriended by AP applicants, and I’m probably disappointing to them. I have a couple of pictures of my kids on my wall, but otherwise my FB is about my work with caricature and cartoon. In fact, I joined FB to communicate with international cartoonists. I use my personal email to send out personal information – I really don’t want everyone being able to read every detail of my life, especially something my typically developing child might find mortifying. I am friends with most of my former APs, and they are currently doing some really interesting activities.

However, as a HP, I’m pretty forgiving about the occasional youthful indescretion – we all make mistakes. None of my APs have done anything egregious – that I’m aware – and all have been well-aware that my utter lack of curfew is a privilege. I’m more concerned about the quality of the child care they provide than about how they spend their personal time. If they do something I wish they wouldn’t, I try to speak to them calmly about the implications of their choices. If I saw a FB page that was indiscreet, I would mention to the AP that while it might be fun to post party pictures to impress her friends, that she should keep in mind that everybody will be able to see them – including her current and future employers, and that they might not be impressed with the image she was presenting of herself. (I know here in the US, employers regularly look at FB and that it has an impact on whom they hire.)

Carly September 14, 2010 at 5:41 am

When I was an aupair and arrived on my firstday my old hostmom compared me constantly to there old aupair and would winge about the old aupair constantly to me. It kind of created distrust and extra pressure for me and just made me feel generally uncomfortable about hearing about this girl I really dont know and wasnt in a position to comment. I can understand if it was that bad but really I didnt need to know.

Should be working January 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I need a sanity check from all you experienced HMs regarding the ‘comparison effect’ while starting matching (another category of postings, CV: “Sanity check, please!”).

We love our current fabulous au pair (CFAP). I find myself drawn to candidates who resemble her in many ways, some of them superficial, I think. And I have one candidate (call her R) who resembles CFAP in many ways, except she is said in references to be a bit shy and reserved (but also friendly and warm…). So I can’t tell whether I’m excessively biased toward her based on her similarities to CFAP, some of which might be superficial and unimportant. Or are they??

Perhaps even more than that I realized that I don’t have a lot of experience with ‘normal’ matching. With CFAP it was love at first sight: wonderful video, interviewing confirmed, and she is wonderful. Prior to that we had only dealt with atypical matching situations (rematch au pairs only, quick turnaround).

So for instance:
I find myself drawn over and over to au pairs who, like CFAP, have unposed, casual closeup pictures, warm smiles, and plain brown unstyled hair (I guess for me ‘brown unstyled’ codes as ‘unfussy’?). Superficial criterion/comparison effect, or actually a good criterion??

CFAP has several younger siblings. This I do consider more a good success predictor than a comparison-effect issue. R has two younger sibs. Another applicant (Q) has more sibs but is not as appealing (more below on that–comparison effect for the wrong factors??).

CFAP comes from a region of our chosen country that is known for warmhearted people. R comes from there. Comparison effect or good criterion??

CFAP is middle class, which we like because we don’t seem ‘rich’ to her. Now I check pictures for views of the house, and note parents’ occupations. R seems to be middle class as well.

So I feel like I don’t know how ‘sure’ I have to be with R. R isn’t love-at-first-sight like CFAP was but she feels pretty good to me, although I’m a tad worried she might be too reserved.

Meanwhile, though, there is another candidate (Q) who has 4 younger siblings, does not come from the same region, seems of a more modest economic background, and–I’m embarrased to say it–she looks to me overly made up in photographs and has a lot of photos in ‘national costume’ contexts that inexplicably turn me off. But she seems very outgoing and wonderful with kids. I feel like I *should* be pursuing her, but I keep coming back to R, although I’m worried about the possible shyness. (She didn’t seem shy at all on the phone.)

Sanity check. Are my criteria good ones? Am I doing a reasonable combination of gut and objective criteria? How much does each matter in matching? Am I overly influenced by CFAP’s qualities? Does ‘normal’ matching usually feel not as perfectly sure as I was with CFAP, or should I hold out for someone I feel more perfectly sure about than I do about R?

AFHostMom January 17, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Not sure if I count as experienced since we’ve only had 3 matches, and one is at orientation now, but I can relate to comparing applicants to a CFAP–or trying to avoid a past horrible fit au pair (PHFAP?). I tried hard to distance myself from candidates who were like PHFAP when we entered rematch last year. PHFAP was from Western Europe-so we focused on Africa and South America(which was probably the worst predictor, although the one we matched with was amazing). PHFAP had never had a job or lived away from home, and was the youngest. New match was a working class girl from a large family who put herself through college. PHFAP was 19. New match was 25. PHFAP drove and spoke English very well, and new match had very weak English and was unable to drive in the US. This was more a coincidence than a criteria, but it opened our app pool up a lot. THere were others as well but you get the idea.
Now, AP3 is inbound, from the same country as CFAP (or just departed former AP, for us), and same CITY, no less, also with weak English, also has held non-sitting jobs and is from a working class large family, but there are differences–inbound is 21, purportedly drives well (not holding my breath!). Looks nothing like CFAP though. I do think that her nationality, family life, work history and socioeconomic status are good predictors.
As for your criteria, I think you’ve identified the ones that are likely just indulgences/superstitions/however you want to describe them–the less rational ones, like the pose in pictures, and the national dress. I’d say that the region is probably not as relevant either but of course that depends on how pervasive the reputation for being warm-hearted is, and the sense you got from prospective AP.
FWIW–our just departed fab AP was definitely what I would call shy. But she was also very loyal, loving and focused toward the kids. She was (is) a welcome addition to our family.

Anna January 18, 2012 at 1:17 am

I think you should keep looking. I have had some bad matches, and some good ones – the really good ones invariably felt right immediately, it was love at the first sight of the application, confirmed in interviews.

My first unsuccessful match was right after our first ever (great!) au pair. We picked a candidate who seemed pretty good to me, but not love at first sight. But oh, she was from the same country as our number one, she was also tall, and had long black hair. She didn’t even look the same as her photos when she arrived, and my heart sank when I met her from orientation. Intuition, delayed. She was our first rematch, after 3 months.

I do think that photos criterion is valid – photos do a lot to trigger our gut feel of the personality, so yes, if casual photos with warm smiles draw you in, this is a significant criterion. If posed photos with national costumes turn you off, then there may be an air of superficiality and un-genuiness that you are picking up on.

I would rethink your economic background criterion though. We are middle class but very modest in our living conditions, and I found that true middle class candidates from other countries were too demanding and unappreciative of what we have to offer; they were also not those to pitch in since they were used to having maids. To me, rags to riches (or rags to education) story is a plus, compared to a middle class girl for whom the road to college was paved since before her birth.

I hope you have enough time to keep looking, don’t be shy about going through as many applications as necessary, maybe even register at several agencies, until you find a candidate that creates that “wow” feeling again. A tip – don’t read more than 5 or so applications at one sitting, otherwise your intuition will be dulled.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 18, 2012 at 8:07 am

If you feel like the match won’t be great, then trust your instincts (but unless something is horribly wrong with the candidate, don’t reject her entirely).

It is very hard to replace a beloved AP. We had the experience of having a lovely woman who fit perfectly with our family and was bilingual by the time she left. Her successor was timid (beyond shy) and lacked the self-confidence to push herself forward. When it came time to choose her successor, I know we turned some potential candidates with our bounce-back questions. In the end, the woman who came to share her year with us, was reserved at the beginning, but completely a member of the family and fluent when she left. Her successor is similar to her in many ways – from the same country, same education background, but much more reserved. While I think she feels comfortable with us, we find it very difficult to break through – so I think the differences are both cultural and personality.

Rule #1 – you are not “replacing” your AP. You are choosing her successor. (Only rematches are replacements in my book.) If you are worried that you only like this woman because she reminds you of CFAP, then tell her that she is a very strong candidate, ask her to let you know if she matches with another family, and interview someone else.

Rule #2 – Don’t rush into anything. Not only is it the AP’s “year” but it’s yours, too. APs put their best foot forward (we do it in interviews, too) and project the image of themselves that they think we want. If the image seems wrong, but the candidate is otherwise right, do a little questioning.

Rule #3 – involve CFAP in communication with candidates. Ask her opinion.

Rule #4 – sometimes the candidate who is your first choice choose another family. Look at the other candidates and see if you can live with them. Because of my special needs child, nearly all of our “first choices” rejected our family, however, the match always ended up being the right one. In 11 years of hosting, we were only tempted into rematch once… (and even the party girls who chose to live with us were hard workers!)

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