Choosing the Right Au Pair, Expert Advice from CalifMom

by cv harquail on June 23, 2012

CalifMom has been a key part of the AuPairMom community since Fall of 2008. She was one of the first au pair host moms to contribute wise advice, regularly and generously, on many of the toughest situations. Every now and then CalifMom leaves a treat in my inbox — a guest post. Here’s her latest…

For those of you who are new here, I — CalifMom – have had an especially bad track record when it comes to matching.

Our 3 best au pairs (who each extended; I’m not a bad host mom, just a bad selector of au pairs): all from rematch. Which, if you do the math, means that we had at least that many au pairs who left/needed to leave our family. Let’s just leave it at ‘at least’ because every time I do the math I feel like an utter au pair mom failure.

We found a way to save the spring, bringing in a family friend for a stop-gap end of the school year visit. She leaves soon. We had to find a new au pair. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

This time around, my husband decided that my preternatural tendency to really like most au pair candidates — some might call this cockeyed optimism, or a deep-seated need not to disappoint others and to be liked — was going to be held in check. unicorn.jpg

He let me update the “I Dare You to Match With Us” letter, which has morphed into more of a “We Really Are Honest About Our Challenges, Which Makes Us a Great Family For The Right Kind of AP” letter.

I find that this baring of all our worst attributes actually makes au pairs more interested in us. I think the subtext is that we are not looking for a perfect au pair, being imperfect ourselves, and that we will be understanding of their foibles.

But the emphasis in interviewing is all about finding the right fit.

My husband normally believes that I should be doing most of the au pair management. And yet, he manages a large team at work. I do not. He hires well. I am one of those senior advisors who cajoles and leverages the things I need from others in a matrixed environment. I don’t do a lot of hiring.

So hub stopped seeing this as a learning opportunity to be foisted on me for my own good and instead took charge of the interviewing. (Thank all that is holy!)

In the process, here’s what I learned (irony much? :-) ):

1. Skype is your friend, even if you haven’t had a haircut in months.

Luckily, you don’t have to look great on Skype, because the field of view is pretty small and the fidelity is terrible. Let’s hope they don’t upgrade to HD any time soon. After we hung up with our first skype interview I mentioned that this would have killed our very first favorite au pair, because she admitted to us later on that her dad was listening on the extension and telling her what to say in English during her interview with her original host family. I met her in person and loved her energy as a rematch, and my kids were little so the language wasn’t as big a problem. My kids now get really frustrated at not being able to understand au pairs with less-developed language skills.

2. Start with an important but casual-sounding icebreaker. For us, being foodies, it was “So, are we interrupting lunch/dinner/breakfast? Did you get a chance to eat?” The au pair looks confused but it’s an easy question so they build confidence in speaking in English as they reply. Then he slides into questions about their favorite meals, what they like to cook, etc.

What he’s listening for: signs of picky eaterness, unhealthy or undisclosed dietary habits (like the flameout we just had who insisted on fighting a pre-diabetic status by eating huge quantities of fruit and fruit juices and drinking half and half, not milk (not even whole milk). From a glass. Wives tales are us!).

We want to be sure they will eat leftovers, because besides being a big red Princess flag, would mean they would be unhappy with 2/3 of the meals in our house. My whole family feeding plan is based on cooking big when I do cook, and reassembling CV’s famous “encore presentations” during the week.

So asking about what they like to eat was very much on purpose, even though it sounded random and top-of-the-head. Very casual.

3. Shift between light and hard questions.

DH also explained that when he senses the au pair is getting too stressed by harder questions, it’s time to shift to something lighter. “It shouldn’t feel like the inquisition.” He had several easier questions in mind for that. What do you like to do with your friends, your favorite kinds of movies, that sort of thing. (There’s a big difference between au pairs who only watch chick flicks, frequent the art houses, or have seen every vampire movie ever made.)

How big was your high school? is another really useful one to provide context around their own attitude toward school. Supervising middle school homework is a HUGE part of our AP’s responsibilities now, so this is a big priority in hiring. Again, something that never mattered much when the kids were little but we have to pay attention to now.

4) Sibling relationships.

Any time they mention a time when kids were not behaving or sibling fights came up, he would probe harder. “What did you do to bring peace to the land again?” These are the questions that got harder for the girls.

5) Always ask them what questions they have. And, don’t just save that for the end of the conversation.

You would not believe how many were happy to answer our questions, but then said, Oh, your letter had so much in it, I don’t have any questions at all. (Buzzer!) Sometimes they had really good questions that took our conversation in a new direction.

6) What do your parents do for a living? (one of those easier questions to answer that also helps you know something about what kind of workload she is expecting.) Also gives you a sense of what her expectations are of moms and dads who work.

7) Which follows into What do your parents think about your au pair year?

(Listening for too-strong of a relationship with their mom. IMHO, au pairs whose mommies “are their best friends” are not the best au pairs for me. I need a helper, not a third girl.)

8) What’s the thing that excites you the most about au pairing?

(They all have the same basic brochure-based answer, but if they don’t mention kids it’s all over.) And the corollary: what makes you the most nervous about being an au pair? (Responses to this give you great insight into their personality as well as how realistic they are about the situation before them.)

9) When are you able to come to the States?

This may be very different from what the profile says. “I want to be home for my mom’s birthday so can you wait another month?” is a very important request to know about.

10) Don’t hesitate to say no.

Also, we interviewed MANY au pairs this time and didn’t hesitate to say no to even the really nice ones if they didn’t seem to have the right mix of skills. I consoled myself with the knowledge that setting them up for failure is a much worse hurt than declining them politely after an interview. Which is worse: not getting a job you interviewed for, or having a boss you can’t stand and starting to look for work in six months? We’ve all been there…

I followed all my own advice. Now we just have to see if we picked well this time!

We’ll know in September, when the dreaded third month starts to roll in.


Tali June 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Well, its nice to see what host families look for, and I’m already matched and living with my amazing host family, so I just wanted to talk about one of the topics above, if the girl is like “mom is my best friend” it means she wont help? lol
my mom is kind of my best friend and my best support always, and I take care of 3 little girls of 5, 3 and 1 year always helping when I can.

I think that if you chose someone that doenst have that much of family connection, they might not be that much lovely with the kids, and not the best fit if you are looking for someone who will be cuddling and loving your kids
just my opinion

lolo June 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

hey tali…
i get your point and i absolutely agree with you!
i love my mom and she is my best friend but i’m a good, hardworking, caring and confident AP! and guess what? i’m that person because of my wonderful mom…

AFHostMom June 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm

CalifMom said not those girls are not the best APs for her. Not that they’re horrible people. And I get it–it’s a happy middle ground. If you’re too dependent on your parents, you (general) will likely be both homesick and bad at taking the initiative to help out. Conversely, if you can’t stand your parents, it’s a red flag too.
Some of my criteria for a good AP are probably, objectively, very weird. We ask what their favorite color is (no black, TYVM, unless it’s clear that the candidate is not emo/goth/always depressed and constantly will blast heavy metal like AP1), and we prefer APs who have traveled but not yet been to the US. There is a method to that madness too.

anna June 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm

well the experience i made with my au pair friends w, the ones who dont have their mom as their ” best friend” are the party girls, get drunk almost every weekend, make bad choices about men etc. the ones who have very good relationsship with their moms are more family orientated. so if you want the au pair to be a part of your family, au pairs with moms best friends are most likely better. if you want your own life, with no au pair who interups, then choose the other kind. my hf for example asked me how my relationship with my mom is, and i told them she is like one of my best friends. they said its wonderful, because their mom also means a lot to them. of course since they are married not as much anymore, but moms play a big role in their life. just think about, if you want an au pair who cares very well for your kids, are most likley out of a family with a great mother- daughter relationship. good luck!

Tristatemom June 25, 2012 at 8:52 am

Have to agree with Anna here – our current AP also has a close relatioship with her mom and sought that with me. I don’t mind it because I want the AP to be part of the family and I don’t have a problem with asserting myself if I need space :)

One other thing regarding CalMom’s post (very good btw, had to laugh at the comment about the ‘learning opportunity’ that is so my husband too), the food, the FOOD!!! Is that a touchy subject or what?? As I have said elsewhere, our current AP is great. However, lately, the food has become an issue. I don’t have a problem buying things just for the AP (within reason and my budget) but it seems that our AP has found a liking for what the kids eat. It has now happened a few times that I am completely out of a component for the kids’ packed lunches. That is frustrating. Since we are near the very end of our AP year, I am biting my tongue. Meanwhile, in an effort to spent zero money on weekends, she packs huge bags of food when she is out and about. Even when her friends get together and contribute something for a picnic, she will just take what we have at home while the other APs buy stuff – sigh.

CalifMom June 26, 2012 at 12:14 am

I have the AP do all lunch packing. That way she gets to deal with unhappy kids if she doesn’t manage the supply/demand well.

The grocery situation you describe sounds frustrating. I always smile to myself when the timing of an au pair’s plans for Sat evening evening may hinge on whether there is steak marinating. I try to look at it as a way I can help her stretch her budget. I mean, I did the same thing when I was living at home but mobile and sort of independent.

How long until ‘almost done’? You might want to ask her to let you know in advance when she is going to an event that requires extra food so you can stock up. That’s a perfectly reasonable request, and one you can frame so it sounds accommodating, not just tired of feeding the whole group. And you can pick up potato salad on sale and be done with it. She doesn’t get to pick what she takes. Put sticky notes on things you are saving for kuds’ lunches, or encore dinners. Pink or fancy sticky notes are friendly seeming and effective.

Tristatemom June 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Those are good tips, thank you!
The right attitude about things that can be annoying helps a lot.

CalifMom June 26, 2012 at 12:25 am

I do have a very close relationship with our recent, successful AP. I think I’m closer to her than she is to her mom in some ways; we talked every night, we really understand and validate each other. She really is like an adult niece to me. Closer than my own nieces in college, really!

It is not that we are a distant family. For me, it was a red flag that they expect me to DO everything for them. I can’t have an au pair who needs me to micromanage. Close relationship is very possible with an independent, take-charge kind of au pair. Those are rhe ones I do best with. Because honestly, if I have to spend precious bandwith micromanaging their schedule, I’m shortchanging another part of my life and responsibilities. (I suck at logistics. Takes me 3 times longer and I still mess things up. It’s a key responsibity for our au pair. Woe betide the AP who asks me when the library books are due: Not. My. Job.)

Seattle Mom June 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I don’t think a great mother-daughter relationship is one where the daughter would describe her mother as a “friend”…

Our AP is close with her mother, but she is definitely not her friend- she spent 10 days with us so I got to see the relationship up close. And our AP is wonderful, very family-oriented, responsible, has dinner with us every night but goes out with friends on weekends, not a “princess” or a “partier”.

CalifMom June 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Than you! Exactly!

Bou July 18, 2012 at 2:07 am

I would have to disagree with Anna. I do not have the greatest relationship with my mother, but consider myself a responsible and independent person. I do not make those mistakes you had generalized about people who do not have great relationships with their parents. I think considering the relationship an au pair has to their parent(s) may be severely limiting. There are too many people who do not fit the mold people like to assume.

Should be working June 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

The casual-but-important icebreaker is great. You can learn a lot by just asking what your call is interrupting. Our treasure au pair told me she was just cleaning her older brother’s room, because she was so happy he was coming home from university and wanted it to be nice for him. SCORE.

The ‘what do your parents think about au pairing’ is important for me not because of the too-close-to-mom phenomenon, but because it usually shows right away the general relationship to the parents, which is important. An AP candidate will reveal that she is being defiant in being an au pair (which might be ok, depending on the situation) or that she is looking forward to escaping her family (same, although doesn’t sound good to me) or that they don’t have much to say about her decisions (depends).

NonCoastHostMom July 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I agree that the “what do your parents think about becoming an au pair” question leads to responses that provid valuable insight. Our current AP’s answer reflected the balance that Seattle Mom alluded to above. To paraphrase briefly, while her parents did not fully understand her strong desire to spend a year in the US and would of course miss her, they were supportive.

Posie June 25, 2012 at 11:17 am

I’m going to jynx myself here with our next match but we’ve had two really great matches so far and really used Skype very little. I find it so awkward, and English is my first (and only) language! We use Skype more as an opportunity to see how the au pair reacts to the kids (or does she even care to see them) and to see how good her English really is. We don’t ask any of the “hard” questions or quiz her about things but use it as an opportunity to tell her what we are doing that weekend, what we like to do in our city, etc. and then find out more about the things she likes to do. Keeping it casual feels more relaxed for us and I feel like we get more honest, “real” answers to our questions…which even if they are “soft” questions can tell you a lot (movie lover=good, nightclub lover=bad) :)

Seattle Mom June 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Do you ask the “hard” questions through a different medium- either phone or email? I’m wondering about this, because I used skype very little for my first (and only) match. I actually matched with our current AP after matching, because my computer happened to break in the middle of matching and we were in a time crunch to find an AP who could get here SOON. We talked on the phone once and exchanged a few emails. I think I broke every rule in the matching book, and ended up with a fantastic AP. But I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and I dismissed a lot of candidates before settling on “the one.”

I really had no method for my search, except that I was looking for someone who “seemed nice” and had good toddler experience, and seemed like they could handle two little kids all day by themselves.. and also someone who seemed happy and trustworthy and kind of interesting. And not stupid.

This was before I ever read this blog, and now I’m worried that I might have too much knowledge about this whole matching thing, and maybe I’ll over-analyze :)

Seattle Mom June 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm

D’oh- I actually *skyped* with our AP after matching, I did not match with her after matching…

Posie June 26, 2012 at 10:16 am

Yep, we do several rounds of more difficult questions (mixed in with the casual ones) via email. We also send our list of non-negotiables which includes things like “we will seek rematch if you are unable to drive safely” etc. some of our questions get a bit repetitive I think, but we want to make sure they understand our expectations and we are getting fairly honest answers.

We are in Seattle too! Wonder if our au pairs know each other!

Seattle Mom June 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Lol, maybe! Our AP is French, hangs out mainly with the French APs in town but has a few other friends.. one from her training group (Cultural Care).

How many APs have you had? Do you find that they are honest about their driving skills when you put it like that- have you ever had an AP honestly say they weren’t a safe driver? Our AP is our first one, and we are sticking with European APs because it’s really important for our AP to be a safe driver- they have to drive the kids to preschool about 20 minutes away through some traffic (from Greenwood to Queen Anne). I’ve heard too many horror stories about APs not being good drivers, so that’s my one major anxiety. My husband wants to stick with French APs, but I think that’s unnecessary and too limiting. I’d like to go with other continents too if not for the driving issue.

Posie June 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

We’ve only had two, but they didn’t lie about driving. We’ve had one European Au Pair and one from Thailand (our current) and the driving on the wrong side in Thailand worried me, but she had her license for 5-6 years and drove a few times per week and turns out she’s a great, careful driver…just took a few weeks for her to adjust!

CalifMom June 25, 2012 at 11:54 pm

To clarify–

Au Pairs, I certainly am not saying I want an au pair with a bad relationship with their mom. But I do think that in your late teens/twenties, it is developmentally appropriate to be ‘best friends’ with people who are not your mom.

And usibg that description was a consistency among the 3 Princesses we’ve had so far. As another commenter pointed out for me –thanks!– that may not be an issue for other families.

I was trying to show that with a little easy strategy a busy mom on skype can get quite a bit of information on all the different aspects of “fit” that we have to pay attention to.

You do have to know what you need. Interestingly, I’m a very hood judge if people, too, but not au pair profiles! Once I meet them, I know if we’re in trouble pretty quickly. But we don’t get to meet them in person, except thru rematch or a Year 2, if you get lucky and get someone local.

It really does get more complex as the kids get older. There are simply fewer candidates with experience with the preteen set. For us, this time around, the kids care more about language and ease of communication. I care more than ever about not bringing anyone who says “fat” or worships “thin” instead of “strong”. Again, when we had a toddler it didn’t matter that our wonderful au pair was out clubbing until dawn every weekend. She WAS reliable and trustworthy when on duty.

It’s all about knowing yourself and your family.

Au pairs, this isn’t really about “fair”– because, like I tell my kids, fair does not mean everyone gets the same thing. How boring that would be! This is about how we approached the challenge of maximuzing the chances that we will find someone who is good for our family and who will love being with us, too. YMMV. If you have not matched yet, you should be thinking about what you need, from a host family, too.

Gabi Strautmann July 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm


I don´t know if everyone will accept well, but I agree with what you said.

In general, the AP “candidates” ( at least in Brazil) are too young, and not understand the responsability of to be an au pair. So, they think that it´s just to go out of mom´s home and play with kids. To be the older sister and transfer the dependence to the host parents.

I´m 25 and have a GREAT relashionship with my mom. “Everything” about values and good life wass teached for her. But still agree with you.

Actually I´m at AP program…probably my applicattion wil be online in few days and I hope can I find a host family that I expected!

ILHM June 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

The “seasons of an Au Pair” article should be expanded to include month three. It really is miserable and I don’t know why…..our month 3 is September also – good luck!

Mumsy June 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm

3 months is very significant as it is typically when culture shock hits and everything that is different suddenly becomes overwhelming. Typically, it can take a few days to a couple of weeks to work through.
Basically, when you uproot and move into another culture, you spend 3 months enjoying all the new and exciting things. And suddenly, the stress of the new (good and bad) suddenly hits in one day and it is very overwhelming. Especially if you’re not expecting it.
Having lived in various countries around the world, I have experienced the 3 month “end of the honeymoon” phase of culture shock a few times. I would always tell our new APs that if they felt stressed/blue at the 3 month mark, it was normal and that we would support them emotionally. Without fail, each of them assured me it would not happen and then it did. And we supported them emotionally.

Gianna June 26, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I am guessing that the ” my mom is my best friend ” situation is a cultural or urban myth – something that some aupairs may have been told is a good thing to say. I would find it uncomfortable in a conversation but for a different reason . I think it sounds like p/r spin as opposed to an honest response. Just another thought in the mix

Dorsi June 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

My shouldarematched Au Pair had an unhealthy and close relationship with her mother. She was truly her “best friend” — she spent every evening on Skype with her, instead of going out with any of the Au Pairs in our area. Her vacations were spent with her mom (who traveled twice from far far away to see her). While I consider myself close to my mother and travel with her, I have developed functional relationships with peers as well. I do not consider her my best friend.

My better Au Pairs (and we are on #4) have had close but parent-child relationships with their mothers. They Skype often, their mothers are often worrying about them and telling them what to do, but they are not “best friends.” I feel like this terminology has really struck a nerve with the APs on this site — there is a difference between “good friend” and “good mother” — unless you are a greeting card.

OB Mom June 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I think another “telling” question that is easy to answer is “What do you want at a job/career later in life”. After an AP that was very self centered I realized that I want someone that wants to be a teacher. Our household is very scientific so it was even better when she wanted to be a biology teacher. Turns out she was the best AP we have ever had. This year I tried looking for another biology teacher, but there just weren’t any … our final 2 candidates included someone that wanted to be a veterinarian (caring and science oriented) vs. a social worker for families with troubled kids (caring and likes kids). We certainly don’t have troubled kids, but did end up chosing the latter. (We will also know by September if it was a good choice or not).

I do agree with the OP that things change a lot between younger kids and the tween-agers that need more help with homework and more “advanced” conversations. For that I agree that Skype is really good. It also allowed us to get a sense of the candidates sense of humor (something also greatly appreciated by Youth and Tweens). If they make funny faces or tell jokes with the kids to get them to smile (probably good at all ages), that is also very telling. I don’t really think I need skype to see how they communicate with me, but do want to see their interest in the kids.

It is important that all AP candidates “be themselves” and not try to make themselves into something that a host family will want.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I find that as my typically developing child ages (because The Camel is The Camel – not mean that she doesn’t grow and develop – she does) I have to add material to my guidelines about how to deal with ‘Tweens.

Tweens need to know where fun ends and trouble begins, but they also need to know that the au pair is one their side. My tween is a boy, and nothing gets informaiton out of him faster than tossing a ball, engaging in some other physical activity – including playing on the Wii. Anyone who comes into my house thinking about spending afternoons on arts and crafts projects is out of luck!

Our LCC once gave me some good advice. Once older children have had au pairs who have excellent English skills they have little tolerance for those who struggle. They’d rather function independently than work their way through beginner communication struggles. If your family has a high tolerance for beginning or intermediate language learners, then it will probably continually work as your children grow up. For families like mine, where the focus is on practical experience with children who have special needs, tolerating variation in English ability means my typically developing child tunes out and argues “The au pair is for The Camel.” (Yeah, dude, until you want a lift.)

Anna June 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm

OB mom, its funny how we look to repeat a successful experience looking for a similar au pair.
Our new au pair arrived a week and a half ago; over 21 girl from Sao Paulo, our third au pair from Sao Paulo (out of 8 total). So far I feel she is going to be one of the best ones. Out of three au pairs who completed a year with us, two were super great, one was average. The super great ones were also from Sao Paulo. I think next time I will just ask to see a candidate 22 or older from a divorced family, from Sao Paulo city, and not waste my time LOL.

EU.AP June 27, 2012 at 3:28 am

What about asking about their personal opinions for disciplining and raising children?

I know lots of au pairs who feel that their host families are way too “soft”, and even one au pair who will openly admit that she believes fully in hitting kids for discipline (to clarify, she doesn’t hit her host kids). These au pairs all seem to have rocky relationships with their families, and kids.

Should be working June 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Good point here. My family is MUCH ‘softer’ on discipline than our northern European AP’s country. I don’t mean that they hit and we don’t. I just mean that we ‘cave’ more easily. We don’t always stick to the principles of things, even when the principles are right, because harmony and getting past a crisis are sometimes more important. I found the APs (from that country) are much tougher on sticking to principle. I admire it, sort of, but sometimes find it inflexible. This is REALLY hard to suss out in advance of matching, I would say. I guess the interviewing issue here is finding out whether the AP is at least willing to follow your way of doing things rather than sticking only to her own way.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm

DH and I have very different parenting styles – I come down on my kids like a ton of bricks and he’s the easy parent. We tell our au pairs that it’s okay to set their rules and discipline. If they tell me that X lost TV for a week for his behavior, I follow through. I also expect X to apologize honestly once he calms down.

I think unless au pairs are in family situations where the parents don’t want to parent at all, then they have to adjust to their HF’s attitudes towards discipline (as long as it doesn’t border on cruelty). If the AP finds herself in the position of trying to parent an ungoverned child, then rematch is probably the best option for everyone.

And, no au pair’s discipline program should include hitting a child – that’s a fast ticket home.

CAmom22 July 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm

EU.AP this is a really good point. Although the APs I have had have all followed our discipline procedures (which do not include hitting our children), our current AP, who very much believes that hitting kids is an appropriate form of discipline, has had a much tougher time following through with alternate forms of discipline. I think you get used to what you know so even though we have given her many options for discipline this comes after 18 years of herself being disciplined regularly by the hand so she struggles with how to effectively use other forms. She goes from calm to shouting very very easily, which I think is simply a reflection of the environment in which she was raised. Her time is up soon so this time I plan to be much more careful and look not only for someone who will respect my methods but for someone who has a similar mindset and whose own childhood discipline was similar to my children’s. If she doesn’t believe in a HF’s methods I imagine the entire experience can be very frustrating for an AP (as I think it can be sometimes for my AP) and unpleasant for everyone else, particularly the kids.

Should be working July 4, 2012 at 2:57 am

CAMom22, that sounds like a challenging year for all of you. Can I ask you if you knew in advance that the AP had been disciplined ‘by hand’ as a kid? I always ask APs how they were disciplined, and I wonder if I would get an honest answer if it involved hitting.

JJ Host Mom June 28, 2012 at 9:08 am

Calif Mom, thanks for writing this article. It has some good reminders in it, and I’ll definitely refer back to it the next time we’re in match mode.

However, we, too, have had bad luck – 4 out of 5 matches have now ended early. This time we looked for replacement au pairs from two different agencies, talked to at least four candidates, and came up dry. We’ve just been through one thing after another with au pairs and don’t have the energy to take risks right now, and let’s face it… no matter what questions you ask, or what information you garner ahead of time, it’s always a risk.

So personally, I’ve decided to drop out of the workforce temporarily and stay home with the kids myself. I realize that I’m very lucky I have that option.

I want to believe in the au pair program. I know it can be great. We’re traveling abroad right now and were able to meet up with our favorite au pair in her home country, and even after a year and a half apart, the kids recognized and bonded with her immediately. I imagine she’ll be in our lives forever. That’s what the au pair program is about. But all the other stuff in the middle that just makes me shake my head… well, we’re tired.

For the record, I have managed teams of people, and been in charge of hiring, and I make great hiring decisions in the workplace. But I’ve consistently made bad au pair hiring decisions, no matter what methodology I use.

Calif Mom, something you said upthread struck a note with me. You said that you expect your au pairs to be independent and take-charge kind of people. I do too, and have really never found an au pair that’s as independent as I need her to be. I have never had an au pair who is capable of keeping track of when library books are due, or even where they are, for example.

But I wonder if that’s where I (and maybe Calif Mom, and others like us) have gone wrong? I wonder if the kind of people that choose to be au pairs just aren’t independent or self-driven by nature, and that host families who have better success with the program tend to be more hands-on micromanager type people? That’s really the only thing I can think of. Maybe I’m just expecting something that the au pair program just can’t deliver.

Should be working June 29, 2012 at 2:36 am

JJ, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a string of bad experiences. Makes me nervous about our incoming AP in August!

CCAP includes a ‘personality profile’ in the applicants dossier, using the DiSC test, which is apparently similar to Myers-Briggs. The ‘report’ is pretty truncated, so I went online and studied the test (including paying $40 to take it, and then make my husband do the same) to understand better what the truncated CCAP report really meant. I felt like it was an eye-opener and explained a lot of my experiences with APs (and other people).

One of the main things I learned–which I suppose I could have figured out on my own, but whatever–was that the personality qualities that go together with patience, empathy, team-orientedness and compliance with rules don’t much come in the same package as somebody with leadership, go-getter, initiative-taking qualities. And other qualities most often come in ‘sets’ where certain desirable qualities might exclude other desirable qualities.

Our ‘leader’ AP was great at getting the kids on outings, discovering things in the area, enthusiasm, passion, figuring out how to persuade us to go to the Grand Canyon including researching cheap options. But she was also stubborn, bossy, a little chaotic and sometimes not very patient with the kids. Our ‘caretaking’ AP was patient, well organized, and fair but not so passionate or motivated. The personality profiles from the test perfectly predicted all this.

No solution to offer in this, but I think that now I would look at the personality profile (obviously while interviewing candidate carefully to assess its accuracy and make my own judgments) and consider whether the kinds of weaknesses indicated on that profile are going to make me crazy, or whether the AP is at least someone willing to work on those things.

If I had a 4/5 failure rate, I’d be gone too. So far it’s 1/3. Knock on wood. Keep us posted.

Seattle Mom July 27, 2012 at 3:33 pm

This is a really interesting insight- I’ve wondered how to use those DISC profiles! It’s very timely because last night my husband and I skyped with a prospective au pair, and we did not like her personality. She was great for us on paper, but in person (at least on skype) she seemed rude and pushy. She kept asking if we were bored and insinuating that we didn’t like her. Actually I was disposed to liking her until she started saying all those things. And I think there might have been a clue to this in her DISC profile.

I just looked at the profile for our current AP, who we love. She is the peace & harmony, social acceptance type. I guess this is what we should be looking for, after screening for the other things- childcare experience, maturity, work experience, etc.

Do you recommend taking the test? I’m interested in seeing the questions, though I think I can predict what my results would be :).

Should be working August 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I’m having trouble getting this answer to post, have tried for several days.

YES, if you use CCAP take the DiSC test, study the 15-page report you will receive that explains not only your own, but also the other 15 personality profiles. From that you can easily identify which profile an AP candidate’s report is referring to (CCAP give you a truncated report that emphasizes just the positive qualities). It’s not the whole pie, but it’s a piece when it comes to judging the candidate’s personality.

We stick with CCAP for two reasons: The DiSC profile for matching, and the possibility for contacting former HPs when interviewing a rematch AP.

LuvCheetos June 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

I think you do have to micromanage (which is exhausting) and to be able to accept that things may not be done exactly as you like them. I figure as long as they are done reasonably ok, I’m happy, although that has been a challenge with our last 2 au pairs. Our AP is leaving next week. We hve another coming a weeks and a half later. If the next one doesn’t work out, we’re finished with the program. It would not cost us much more to hire a part time sitter. We have stuck with au pairs becuase we wanted someone who would be closer to the kids and more like family than a casual sitter, but the tradeoffs have been too much for us with the past 2 APs.

I agree. It’s always a risk. I put a lot of thought into our matches (although that’s harder to do on rematch). I’ve had some success and some failure. I’m too exhausted from work to micromanage and I didn’t have to micromanage our great AP. I’m thinking maybe she is the exception. We tried an older AP this time and I’m anxious to see how that goes. I’m hoping that solves the driving, drinking and maturity issues. Our great AP was 21 and the 2 bad ones were 19. The new one is 24.

Wish me luck!

Melissa June 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm

We’ve on our 7th AP (with 2 rematches). Some years have been great, some have been a struggle. Here’s what I’ve learned works best for us in terms of matching criteria (at least most of the time, fingers crossed). We place MUCH more emphasis on personal characteristics than childcare. I do try to confirm that they indeed like children and have had at least enough experience to know that they can likely stand being around my kids for extended periods of time. Other than that, I don’t really care what ages of kids, how long, whether they want to work with children in the future, etc. The struggles we’ve had with past APs have always been linked to things like immaturity, too much partying, not taking initiative, poor attitude, not following direction well and not helping around the house/acting like a family member. So my rationale is that I find it MUCH easier to deal with a person that I actually like, acts like an adult and has a good attitude – both personally and toward her work & responsibilities, than the ‘I-love-kids & I-want-to-be-a-teacher, but-I-can’t-figure-out-how-to-be-helpful-without-you-giving-me-specific-directions-all-the-time’ type. If I find that I don’t really like our AP as a person and she is difficult to live with (takes advantage of house rules, doesn’t clean up, mopes around, has a lot of drama), that even if she is good with the kids, everything about the whole situation irritates me & frustration abounds.

So our weird little mix of criteria to try to find that perfect AP is:
Over 21 (I’ve found that our best APs have been 22-24 yrs old) – so that we hopefully weed out the party girls & don’t have to worry about underage drinking issues, completed university (or at least some college) & lived away from home for some period of time – which hopefully indicates committment, independence and maturity, and at least 2 years of driving experience. We also are very particular about country, and therefore only look at candidates from a small handful of countries, mostly because we fall into that category of trying to repeat our good experiences with APs from the same mold as our past great APs. All of our APs also had really great English, so I know we won’t have comprehension issues to deal with, and come from a similar culture. It usually takes me a while to find candidates to contact, because not many fit those criteria. But I usually feel pretty good about the ones I contact and wind up interviewing about 2-4 (over the years I have come to DREAD all the time and energy that those calls suck up and try to limit them by doing as much pre-screening as possible).

Like CalifMom, I too have a tendency to like most candidates at first glance, so I really try to stick with my criteria and not try to justify anything that seems odd (I find that if I’m starting to like a candidate, I try to wave away anything that sticks out). I’ve learned to pay attention to any possible red flags. A biggie for me is a candidate’s pictures. If they have lots of party pictures, lots of inappropriate dress, no family pictures, or if anything just seems weird, I usually pass. If I had to pinpoint one thing that our best APs had in common it would be that I’d say they would all make great employees. Not in the sense that we think of them as employees – we always treat our APs as part of our family and our best ones have fully embraced that. But in the sense that they will have the qualities that will enable them to likely be successful at whatever it is that they do.

Zoey June 28, 2012 at 4:21 pm

As the topic of driving experience came up – I am interviewing an APs at the moment. One of them seems great: 22, college education, good references etc. She has four years of driving experience, but being from South Africa, she is used to driving on the left side of the road, drives a manual car and has never driven on snow before. We don’t get much snow, but at some point she will have to drive in those conditions. Have any of you had an au pair with the same situation? How did it work out?

Zoey June 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm

oops, scratch that “an” :)

Pokermom June 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm

My AP is from S.A. and the driving hasn’t been an issue at all. It took her a little bit to adjust to driving on our side of the road, but once she adjusted, not an issue. We do not have snow here, so I can’t answer that for you. My AP is lovely and I would choose someone from there again in a heart beat. Good luck!

Posie June 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm

As I said above, our AP is from Thailand and we were concerned about the driving on the other side thing but we decided to make sure we gave her a few extra weeks of practice before having her take the kids out and get her license. She said it took her about 2 weeks but she’s adjusted now and is a great driver. She had also only driven a manual and hasn’t been hard for her to learn the automatic. We actually also have a manual car but thought it would be easier for her to use the automatic.

Zoey July 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Thank you both for the input!

FaithfulMom September 3, 2012 at 9:41 am

Zoey –

I realize that this post is probably reaching you too late to be helpful, but I have also had an AP from SA and driving was a BIG issue. It was my first AP from a country in which they drove on the left side, and I put in her driving lessons the minute that she landed with that in mind. Several hundred dollars worth of lessons later, she STILL had a major accident with the car during her first month. Perhaps it had to do with the change in traffic patterns, perhaps it was just her own personal inexperience with driving in general – who knows. At any rate, we rematched (based not just on that, but also on other issues) and I have decided that I can’t risk one more potential driving distraction for the AP; I’ll go with APs who have leared to drive in countries where the traffic rules are similar to the US.

Seattle Mom June 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I think I have a similar mindset to you, though I’m still new to this process so I haven’t developed clear criteria. The first time around, I read those applications very carefully and threw away a lot because they just didn’t seem like a good fit. Honestly I didn’t even realize something was a problem for me until I saw it in the application and had a negative feeling about it. I think I may regard childcare experience a little more important because my kids are still so little and really depend on having someone to take care of them. My kids are also kind of sensitive and I want someone who is going to be nice to them and love them.

I’m curious: which countries have worked best for you? Right now our AP is from France and we love her. DH wants to stick with France, I want to consider other countries. I thought we would stick with Europe because of driving, but it’s good to see that it is possible to get a good driver from elsewhere. I guess it’s important to be really thorough when asking questions about driving, and make sure they have been driving for a few years if not from a country with strict tests. Snow isn’t much of an issue for us because we only tend to get one big snowfall per year and everyone stops driving then, but we have lots of rain :).

Should be working June 29, 2012 at 2:40 am

I agree with personal qualities vs. childcare experience, although of course some of the latter is important. And my kids are older, so that makes a difference too.

My top criteria, objective and subjective, are: older sibling in a bigger family with younger siblings of both sexes (I have both flavors of kid); sense of humor, i.e. seems to like to laugh and smile. I think those together are the biggest. Then come other things like driving experience, has had a real job. And also what region of our AP country–we know the country well and northerners are just not as warm and friendly. We want a southerner or westerner.

Posie June 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm

One other thing we have looked for is actual work experience…like the good old 8 hour days type work experience, not the odd summer job or lots of babysitting.

Our AP actually told us that some of the other APs she has met so far have been struggling because they’ve never really worked before and didn’t realize how hard it would be (she has worked full-time for several years doing a variety of things so she hasn’t found working 45 hours a week a major shock to her world!)

Seattle Mom June 28, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I really agree with this.. our current AP has worked full-time for a couple of years, and I think it really helped in the beginning when the job was soo hard. She hasn’t been to university but she does have plans and ambitions, things just haven’t worked out the way she hoped (that’s why she became an AP- to get good experience so she can get into a training program to jump start her career when she gets home- it so happens she wants to work with kids, and she is great with them).

NonCoastHostMom July 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm

This was one of my bigest concerns when interviewing for our first AP – she came at the beginning of the school year and would be home with my one year old son most of the day — I know how isolating that could be. I asked about work experience (she had had a full-time summer job in a factory), length of time spent alone with young children (she had watched an infant full-time for a weeklong stretch on several occasions), and being alone in general.

Should be working June 29, 2012 at 2:50 am

Here’s a question to try to figure out whether all our machinations and diagnostics and tea-leaf-reading at matching are worth anything:

When you have had a bad experience with an AP, was it for any reason that you suspected might be an issue during the interview phase? Was it at all foreseeable and in the range of suspicion, or a completely unexpected issue? And conversely, have your suspicions about weaknesses in AP candidates shown themselves to be unfounded more often than not?

Tristatemom June 29, 2012 at 8:34 am

Interesting question.
With the two bad APs we had, I can say that I rushed the process of matching. With the first AP, our first ever, I was just making to many naive assumption and if I had interviewed her like I do candidates now, I think I would have picked up some of the “bad” traits. The second AP was a total rush: We had actually picked an AP but I had a hard time tracking down her references (this was in brazil). However, we and the AP had expressed mutual interest and it seemed just a formality with the references. To my surprise, after speaking with the references, I went to click on ‘match’ with APIA and I could not find her profile anymore. I called her and she had picked another family because we were taking so long (I am talking a week here) that she was scared she would not get a family :( After that I only had 4 weeks to pick a new AP and I rushed the process and ended up with a bad AP. Oh well, now we match by March/April for a July arrival and take plenty of time.

Anna June 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm

This is the KEY question. IMHO the success with the program depends on the right match. I am on our 8th au pair; we have had 4 rematches and 3 girls who stayed a year. In all the bad matches, except for one, I was able to trace the reason to a mistake or lack of thoroughness on my part, or in hindsight, saw a red flag that at the time of the interview didn’t seem to be a red flag (but now I know better).

So with all of that, I feel I can screen for things that made most of our bad matches; except for that one that really threw me for a loop! The girl was a compulsive lier, but lied so well I believed her to the very end, and she came across very sincere, energetic and friendly in person. This made matching very scary for me afterwards. I dealt with it by devising some surrogate criteria to screen out girls like her. She was young (19) and a D-student (that I found out after her arrival). I now only will talk to girls over 21 who at least have some college and are at least a B student (yes, I ask about grades about the guise of figuring out how their system is different; I also ask about their favorite subjects and their grades in them, and if they like to read, and what kind of literature they like to read).

Boys Mama June 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Anna, after 2 good and 2 bad APs I totally agree with you about the school performance… Good grades make good Au Pairs. I can’t figure out how to ask about this in the interview, though. What sort of icebreaker questions might you use on the topic? I can see asking about favorite subjects and future goals, then just come right out and ask what their grades were like?

Anna July 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I don’t dance around it, from me this question comes naturally. I am straightforward and we are a family of over-educated people (both me and my husband have advanced degrees).
I ask which college she goes/went to, what was her major, and what was her GPA, usually in this order. Then if the system is different than ours, I ask her to explain what is the grading scale in their country (so I can figure out our equivalent), and share what the grading scale is in our country. Then I ask her what her favorite subjects were, and what her grades were in them…

Should be working July 3, 2012 at 2:18 am

How good do ‘good’ grades have to be? Like top grades or just ‘fine’ grades, like our B+? I would wonder if a top-grade candidate might be too achievement-oriented, frankly. Great quality in a person, maybe not so much for an AP. (The DiSC personality test shows achievement-orientation on a sort of see-saw with patience for tedious tasks and loyalty to team.)

Anna July 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Should be working, there is no “reply” option to your post below, so I am answering here. My rule of thumb for “good” grades is B and above, an average grade around B

With my kids getting older, there is not much tedious work around here (except laundry, but kids are supposed to help with that). But if an au pair cannot help my oldest (entering her third grade) with some homework, or reading is not something she likes to do, she instantly loses respect in her eyes, and will have problems with her for the rest of the year.

Should be working July 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm

These are really different screening criteria than mine, interesting!

I’m really hoping #4 will be as good as #3. I *feel* like I’ve improved my learning curve on picking APs. But who knows. Definitely I would not have picked the first one (who got sent to rematch).

Anna July 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Well, these are not the only criteria I use, they are part of the mix.
I also look for independent, extravert, outgoing, warm personality, fit and sporty, or at least strong; good driver, engaging with my kids over Skype, and the one who is excited and wants to come to our family (this became very important to me too.)

Busy Mom June 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm

We have very similar first screening criteria to Melissa and focus more on personality than on childcare experience. Because our youngest is 10, personality ends up being very important and the main ‘skills’ we look for are driving & cooking ability. We’ve picked 3 terrific APs (#2, #3, #4) based on the following core criteria:
– some college/completed college
– 21 by the time they arrive in the US
– solid (duration & frequency) driving experience including highway driving experience (we ask tons of driving questions including specific destinations and then look them up on a map, by highway, I mean high speed with exit ramps). The only way we’ll even look at an AP who codes herself an occasional driver is if she’s been driving for 4+ years.
– lived away from home (a measure of independence both so she will go out and explore on her own and not turn up her nose at taking out the trash)
– superb English skills

Our newly added criteria is the most difficult to find: loves to cook. Having lucked into 3 APs who enjoyed cooking and were creative cooks, my 3 little gourmands won’t tolerate an AP who recycles the same recipes week to week or one who expects to serve them pasta every day.

We also look for APs who don’t come with complications. E.g., if they state in their profile that they want to be on the West coast or have special dietary limitations, we just don’t bother.

Once they meet those screens (few do) AND express interest in us after reading our very detailed profile letter (even fewer…), we look for someone with whom we ‘click.’ During the search for AP’s #4 and #5, we interviewed 1 person and matched with her :-)

We rushed into matching with AP #1 because we didn’t understand what the pool was like and thought we wouldn’t find anyone else as good as she was. We relaxed on the college requirement (she went the vocational route which turned out not to be a good fit for our family) & thought that any AP would be competent at cooking as all of our young American nannies were. Lessons learned. We also didn’t skype for that one because we didn’t know about skype. Further lesson learned. She wasn’t bad, not anywhere close to rematch bad, but she just wasn’t a great personality fit with us. She respected our house, schedule, cars, etc., so could have been much worse. To answer Should Be Working’s question, we didn’t have an inkling of this issues during the interview process, but our process & criteria were flawed & rushed.

For AP #5 who will arrive in August, we relaxed the lived away from home requirement, but she met all others in spades (her video included pictures of the meals she’d prepared!) and we have a really good feeling about her. We matched understanding that she may need a little more hand-holding as she gets to know people.

Our mix has been 1 German (the less than stellar AP), 2 Brazilians & 1 from France. I’m location agnostic as long as she can meet the requirements above, so some countries drop out because they don’t have a robust enough highway system to develop the driving skill to our requirement level.

We share lots and lots of information during the email exchange and interview process. Handbook is 20+ pages at this point and covers everything from car use to responsibilities to schedules to where to take classes to vacation dates. Organized young women love it. Those who are’t don’t, but they aren’t for us anyways.

SingleHM July 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

How much input do you give your kids in matching?

I have found an AP that I really like and we’ve talked a lot and seem to have good potential, but my son says he didn’t like her and his “instinct says no”. BUT…he’s 6.

When pressed, he couldn’t say what he didn’t like about her. She skyped with him and was genuinely interested and engaged him…but perhaps he was in a bad mood?


Should be working July 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm

How many have you interviewed? How many has he seen on skype?

I would not let my kids have a say in the AP choice. It’s just too much responsibility for them, and gives them an illusion of control that they don’t really have or should have. The only reason, in my view, to let the kids skype with the AP candidate is to see how the candidate reacts to the kids and deals with them, NOT vice versa. And even then, I’m not sure it’s worth getting my kids hyped up, positively or negatively, for some kid-centered reason.

(I’m thinking of how my daughter would have absolutely been persuaded by any AP candidate with long, princess-like hair; or my son charmed by some ‘fun’ AP candidate who could ‘play’ on skype but not take serious responsibility.)

Busy Mom July 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I agree with SBW and I have two teenagers and a 10 year old! My husband and I watch the interaction on skype. We make it clear to the kids that the decision is mommy’s and daddy’s. At these ages, and after having had 4 successful au pairs, I would listen if they had specific concerns and we would discuss those concerns, but I wouldn’t give them the impression that they are overly influencing the process. They are also old enough to feel guilty if they lobbied for an AP who didn’t work out and I don’t want them to have that burden. It’s easier to find someone who can find things to talk about with a 12yo than a good employee, so Mommy’s criteria trumps.

Should be working July 3, 2012 at 2:27 am

BusyMom, I’m now studying your selection procedures–4 successes and one early failure is a great record.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 4, 2012 at 11:38 am

I also agree. The Camel doesn’t have a say, but because she has exceptional special needs, she weeds out the good-time party girls for us. My son is generally disinterested in the process (AP #8 will be joining us in a few weeks), but he enjoys watching the videos and having me read their application letters. He generally sees the AP as someone who cares for the The Camel and not for him (although we were surprised recently to discover that AP #7 made his breakfast and told him to stop being lazy).

The personalities that work better for us are APs who take initiative. The one who said “I don’t drink because I want to drive,” turned out to be a take-control dynamic presence in our household. The one who said, “You sound like a great family, but I want to have three telephone interviews before you call me,” turned out to have a great head on her shoulders. DH and I take turns taking notes as the AP answers our questions, and the way the candidate answers what we ask turns out to play a huge role in our decision-making (I’m not saying whether or not she answered the questions “correctly” but what she revealed about herself in answering them).

Our questions are mixed from the easy to answer “Do you like cats?” to the more complex, “Tell me about a difficult situation you experienced and how you solved it.” (AP candidates who select a childcare situation over a candidate worried about taking an exam score higher with us, but there is no bad answer to the question.)

DH and I are not concerned with our AP’s desire to go to clubs (some have been ready to roll out the door when we’ve come home from an evening out while others have been ready to roll into bed), whether their boyfriends come into the house, and we’re happy enough to feed their friends dinner as long as they’re pleasant company and willing to contribute to the conversation. We’re pleasantly surprised when they can actually cook, but don’t expect it (I lived off cheese on matzoh most of my first year of grad school because I was too hungry when I got home to wait – so I understand completely.)

Our bottom line is “Can the AP keep The Camel safe?” which is no easy task. While we prefer to live with extroverts, we have had successful years with introverts. We’re not perfect and we don’t expect our AP to be either. Like any relationship, each AP comes to our home with different needs and abilities and we roll with the change as we instruct her how to achieve a successful year in our home (we expect the training to last a month). Hosting an AP is a huge risk, and I know I’ve had better luck than most (partially thanks to The Camel), but I’m not looking forward to the day when it is no longer an option for me (because The Camel’s needs will surpass her high school years).

Anna July 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm

As a mother of a boy who just turned 6, you have to know your child.
My son last year was terribly disappointed that his new au pair wasn’t blond, he screamed all the way to the airport that she should go back to her country right away and he wants a blond au pair from South Africa (at his tender age he already prefers blonds).
We ended up having a good year with the non-blond au pair from South America.

But, if the reason your son gives is not so silly, I would sleep on it, look over the girl’s application again and look for red flags, talk to her references, continue talking to her, and maybe arrange for another conversation with your son at a better time for him.

Single HM July 2, 2012 at 11:14 pm

This time I have Skyped with about 7-8, and my son has seen/talked with 3. The one I am considering talked the longest with him and was very engaged with him. I didn’t have to prompt him to talk, she asked him questions and got him to talk.

He also has requested an AP with blond hair. I asked him why, he just liked it. So, I think that’s part of the problem with this AP…she has brown/red curly hair.

Should be working July 3, 2012 at 2:23 am

Anna, great story. My then 5-yr-old told me he hoped our next au pair would “wear lipstick and have a ponytail”. Oy.

Gianna July 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm

What if the host parents narrow it down to one, two or three and then see how the kids react to candidates who have already passed all the parental criteria ? To my mind, no point in placing with someone with whom the kids have an issue even if is whimsical. I agree it is too much responsibility but soliciting the kids’ input on a very limited range might be helpful

Should be working July 3, 2012 at 2:31 am

CCAP used to force the one-at-a-time selection, so this wouldn’t have worked for us. I think I still have a one-at-a-time mentality though. It’s not about which candidate is BETTER, it’s which one is the RIGHT one for us.

I realize CCAP had to give HFs a multicandidate selection process because of competition from other agencies, and probably the one-at-a-time method was for the benefit of the agency (costs, efficiency) rather than for the families, but I think it really helped me focus on what I liked or didn’t like about a single candidate. And it made me really listen to my own inner doubts or positive feelings. So essentially it’s still my method of selection.

I wonder how much the agencies have studied the mindset of internet dating in arranging their selection process? AP selection has a lot in common with that, weirdly. And from what I know from single friends, the problem with internet dating is that there are always more candidates out there, so it’s hard to get focused on one person.

LuvCheetos July 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

We do let our kids have input. I think I’d let them veto becuase if they are not ocmfortable, the whole thing fails. However, if they want a candidate you don’t want, you can always tell them she matched with another family and is no longer available. For us, buy in from our kids really helps smooth the transition.

Surlymom July 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm

We matched with an au pair and during the interval before she came to the US, she asked if her parents could meet us over Skype. We said “sure.” We had a very funny conversation with her parents while our exasperated and embarrassed Au Pair rolled her eyes in the background. They were hilarious. And what’s more important, as my husband pointed out, this let us know that she was precious to them and that while she was an Adult, they cared that she was going to a stable and responsible family. We felt better about her after briefly meeting her parents and I suspect they felt better about us. Moreover, it reminded us that this isn’t just about employment….it is about cultural exchange. Her family and my family will forever be connected in some global way. We’ve not been in contact since but if, god forbid, there was ever a crisis and I had to be in touch with them, I now feel comfortable with it and I think they feel the same. That being said, it didn’t make my AP a baby or irresponsible. She’s been mature and thoughtful. We’re beginning the process of selecting our next Au Pair and I don’t think it is appropriate to ask to meet her parents. But, if after selecting an AP, I might let her know that if HER parents want to get a glimpse of us, that’ll be just fine. after all, if my daughter was going abroad, even as an adult, I’d like to just get a glimpse of her family.

LuvCheetos July 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Tha family can be great insight to what the au pair is really like. Our first au pair’s family came to America to visit while she was here. They stayed with friends and only came over for cake and coffee (our AP didn’t seem to want them to spend too much time with us). They were delightful and so much like the AP! The whole family was funny and engaging. I think it helped us see why she fit so well in our family because we got along so well with her parents. I think we had a similar dynnamic to her family dynamic at home.

TexasThreeTimeHostMom July 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Holy Cow! Our fourth au pair arrives in late July and I am keeping my fingers crossed that I did a better job interviewing this time. So far we are 1 great, 1 burnout after 10 days, and 1 barely making it through her 7 months with us.

Should be working July 4, 2012 at 3:01 am

The tea-leaf assessment: Did the reasons that the bad APs were bad come to you as a surprise, or were they things that during interviewing you had some suspicion of?

TexasThreeTimeHostMom July 12, 2012 at 11:24 am

10 day burnout – no tea leaves during the interview process. We even had a work friend who lives in that country go meet her face to face and she got rave reviews! The current barely scraping by one, yes, there were signs in the tea leaves but we were in a desparate rematch situation so it is what it is. I am counting the days though….Woot!

Runner Mom July 6, 2012 at 12:53 am

What if you match and then have buyers/HM-regret? I made my decision and have matched with a girl that I’ve talked to several times, and “checks” out and she seems great, but she’s not coming until end of September. What if there is a girl that shows up now after I’ve matched that might be a better fit? I have a friend that’s with another agency and she’s showed me other AP’s profiles (I haven’t told her I’ve matched already) and some of them also seem great. I also haven’t told my current AP that I’ve matched…she seemed lukewarm on my choice (l liked my choice better than her choice and my current AP is just *OK*…so I’m trying to do better next time).

How do you get over this? What do I tell others that I haven’t told yet that I’ve picked someone? I know there will always be something better/later…and to “un-match” is quite costly. Any advice on this??

Taking a Computer Lunch July 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

Stop looking! You’re working yourself into a tailspin! You’ve made a good match! When friends show you potential candidates, tell them you’ve matched. Tell them you don’t want to make a big deal about it, because your current AP has a few months left with you. As for your AP, tell her. My guess is that your incoming AP and she are FB friends if they’ve had any contact (I know #8 friended #7 almost immediately after we matched, which makes it easy for me when #8 has a question I can’t answer – I tell her to ask #7).

I don’t have any close friends who have au pairs, but this time we matched relatively quickly (for us – it still took us a month – The Camel did her usual weeding just by being The Camel) and without angst. We didn’t tell friends, in part because we matched more than 4 months before our current au pair departs (seems like a death knoll to start talking about #8 when #7 is only 3/4 through her year). What we’re finding is that friends and family seem quite surprised by it, and now that we’re less than 2 months out, the time is going to fly (there’s the formal family picture to be taken and the goodbye barbeque to be scheduled and suddenly it seems as though there aren’t enough weekends left).

us au pair July 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

from my point of view, that would be very unfair.just imagine we would do that. tell our future hostfamily that we found something better. a lot of au pairs give up their job,apartment etc. they count on your final decision. i also think you should stop looking and tell everyone that you matched already. there may always be something better. and sometimes we just think there is, because getting an au pair, or hostfamily is ALWAYS a risk.

Calif Mom July 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I had thought so at first, too, but Nope: the flame-out weird eater and the recent princess both said this, and meant it. They even sleep in same bed ad rheir moms at home. Talked to moms on skype daily, for hours, and much more than they did with their friends. Just not right for us.

1mom2boys January 30, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thank you for this site. I am so nervous, yet truly excited, about having an Au Pair this year. I have had a college gal who has been watching my boys for the past 2 years. She’s on her way to grad school.
I’m a single mom, Physician Assistant in surgery, with two boys (6 and 5) adopted from Russia. I am just starting to see profiles that meet my timing, July. I don’t live in a very glamourous place, and I have to laugh when I see posts about the AP going out…it’s cold here with plenty of snow and ice, the city a little quiet, but we are a fun family.
One of the basic things I can’t get past is picking an age! Does that matter? I read the profiles see the videos and get drawn in to the energetic quircky fun…18 year old? Yikes! but then someone said to me-she could sure keep up with you and your kids….

thanks again all, as I write down notes for interview questions, prepare to skype, I am so greatful for this site.

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