Does your Au Pair call you Mom or Dad, Ms. or Mr.?

by cv harquail on July 9, 2013

Just when I was thinking there were no more new questions about being an au pair, this one comes across the digital transom:

I’m a soon to be first time au pair and I have a quick question for you.

What’s the best way to address my host parents?


My instinct is to call them by their first names. They’re about the same age as my brother and are young, laid back, energetic and super friendly.

Mr & Mrs So-And-So seems way too formal, Mom & Dad seem way too intrusive (and also ignoring my own parents).  Host Mom & Host Dad seems far too distant and/ or silly.

Yet, I worry that calling my host parents by name might come across as rude or disrespectful— even though that is absolutely not my intention!

Any suggestions?

I’ve always just assumed our au pairs would address us with our first names.

For all the reasons this AuPair mentions, the other options just feel odd. We want to create a personal relationship, and so Mr. or Ms. or Dr. is just too formal– too much emphasis on the employer-employee dynamic. First names feel more familial.

I’m fine with au pairs referring to us as “my host mom and host dad” when they sing my praises to discuss me with others.

Is there anyone out there for whom a first name basis doesn’t work?


Host Mom in the City July 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I’ve never even thought about this :) Never had to say “please, call me [first name]” or anything. Both of our au pairs have called us by our first names and refer to us as their “host mom and dad.” That seems completely comfortable. If it matters, we both just turned 30, so we are on the younger side of the parents in our area at least.

MidAtlantic Host Family July 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Agreed. It would feel weird to be addressed as Mr. And Mrs. It also may send the wrong message to our kids when we are trying to empower our AP to take charge with similar authority to us. We are also around 30.

CA Host Mom July 9, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Us too. We’ve always been addressed by our first names. When speaking to our kids about their grandparents they use the nick names (Papa, etc.) that the kids have for them, but they also address our parents (the grandparents) by their first names. Grandparents might be the only occasion where it wouldn’t be strange to hear an AP refer to Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so.

Should be working July 10, 2013 at 2:59 am

Hey, so what’s it like being 30 and having an AP? We are the age of our AP’s parents (they had kids early, we had them late). I wonder if it would be harder if we were so close in age. What if the AP is 25 and you are 30??

Host Mom in the City July 10, 2013 at 8:14 am

With our first, we matched when I was 26, so I could have matched with an au pair the same age as me. That probably would have been weird. But as it was, I don’t think there’s been any difference between having a big age gap or not. Even though it’s only a handful of years different, 26 and married with two kids, a full-time job, and a house is worlds apart from 20, just graduated HS, doing an au pair “gap” year. So I don’t think either of ours have seen us as peers.

CA Host Mom July 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm

We are also in our early 30s and our next AP will be only 6 years younger than I am. I have wondered how this might impact the relationship that I have with her … I haven’t seen comments discussing this on APM … wonder if there is enough to say to justify it’s own post?

Skny July 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm

My first Au pair was only 3 years younger than I was and it was interesting… Because I was still mom and she was still Au pair, and she really just saw me as an employer/host mom. Had I expected friendship, it would have been disapointing
Now as an Au pair maaaaany years ago, my fourth host mom was 6 years older and we were great friends. Still are nowadays

Taking a Computer Lunch July 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I attended a HF orientation before my 1st AP arrived. One of the HMs in the room was 23, with multiple children, and the same age as her arriving AP. She had been expecting friendship, and I think sorely disappointed by the employee-employer relationship and more than a little jealous of the freedom her AP enjoyed. The AP spent more and more of her free time at my house, complaining that she was being charged for ice cream she served to friends, hated being told she couldn’t wear makeup in the house (even just before going out), and tired of the comments about her clothing. When the AP skedaddled I lost touch with the family.

Host Mom in the City July 10, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Yeah, even when my AP was a handful of years younger, I never expected a friendship. That seems like it would be a mistake. We do embrace the “treat your au pair like a family member” philosophy and have tended to be happy to spend a lot of time together. But more as an older aunt/niece type relationship than a friend.

MommyMia July 10, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Hey, Should be working, glad to hear of other “older parents” like ourselves! We do disclose up front, however, that we will not be pseudo-parents to our au pairs.

Our six au pairs have always addressed us by our first names, and my dad and stepmom have said upon first meeting “Call us Jay and Kay, not Mr. and Mrs. X” so that’s been easy. When we’re with friends, the au pairs will usually start off mimicking me to the kids, “Please ask Mrs. Y if she’d like some water,” and they’ll also speak up and say “Oh, please call me May. Mrs. Y sounds so formal!” or something similar.

M July 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

My first one was very young, so she was 9 years younger than me. The next one was 2 years younger than me. Another one was 4 years younger. We did face some issues in the last case. I think AP felt to be too much of a “friend” and “equal” enough to try to play the game on her own rules. Sadly, we had to break the match.

All my APs call me by name. I think they also refer to me by name when talking to their friends.

micagb July 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Actually, my *very* first AP was 6 mos older than me. I was 25, she was 26. But as a business professional and mom of 3, and she was for the first time not with her parents, there was no problem. We had a great relationship.

Had a 6-year break from AP’s, and now 11 years older than my AP. My first was more like an “aunt” to my kids, this one is more like “older cousin.”

Both called me by my first name, to address the original question.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Absolutely by the first names. If we want the AP to be an adult in our household we can’t have her using titles. I’m sure all of our APs have used “my HF” or “my HM” when discussing us with their friends.

We’re now in our 50s and the same age or a little older than most of our AP’s parents. When we started hosting 12 1/2 years ago we were much younger than their parents.

Momma Gadget July 10, 2013 at 8:35 am

“.We’re now in our 50s and the same age or a little older than most of our AP’s parents. When we started hosting 12 1/2 years ago we were much younger than their parents.”
How’d that happen?!!!! LOL
We are also in ( or very soon to be in) our 50’s.It was a shock to me realize that I am older than my last AP’s parents… after all I am way too young to be the mom of another adult!!!!

Seattle Mom July 31, 2013 at 5:41 pm

DH is 51 and older than all our APs parents so far- but close in age to our former French APs parents who came and stayed with us for a while, and they all got along with him very well. I’m “only” 38 so I’m not old enough to be any AP’s mom, but definitely older than a peer. A nice in-between age.

Emerald City HM August 1, 2013 at 11:55 am

I’m only 36 and have an 18 year old. ;)

It was a little weird having an au pair last year that was only like 8 months older than my son, because I was close to old enough to be her mom. However our current one is well into her 20’s so I am at that nice in-between age with her.

spanishaupair July 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I have always called my hostparents by their name, to the kids mum or dad, and with others hostmum or hostdad. I have never thought about using Mrs and Mr or whatever sounds so formal

Momma Gadget July 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm


PA AP Mom July 9, 2013 at 10:47 pm

All 5 APs called us by our first names when speaking to us, but referred to us as “host mom and host dad” when speaking to their friends.

Multitasking Host Mom July 9, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Several years ago, I remember starting my first post college job, and finding it a little awkward calling my boss by her first name. Up until then I had called all adults, including neighbors, friends of my parents, and teachers, Mr. or Mrs. Last Name. It did take me a second to realize that I had now graduated to the-same-level-as-the-adults status, and we were all now on a first name basis.
Then we moved to the deep south where it is more respectful to address everyone as Mr or Miss First Name. Now that took me sometime to get use to also;).
Of course, like most people are saying, our AP calls us by just our first names and refers to us when speaking to other people as her hostmom or hostdad.

Should be working July 10, 2013 at 3:02 am

On a non-AP-related note, I WISH it would occur to my kids to call adults “Mr.” and “Ms”. My daughter broke out in giggles when we visited some more old-fashioned friends in another part of the country and I said to her, “Why don’t you tell Mrs. X about your trip?” I like the formality, but if I introduced it unilaterally in our environment my kids would look like weirdos.

Momma Gadget July 10, 2013 at 8:51 am

I love giggles. Our kids always address other adults ( parents of their friends, our friends etc…) as Mr & Mrs , unless invited to call them by their first name.
When you introduce your HC’s friends parents to your AP – do you refer to them as Mr & Mrs or use their first name? We stumble over this in the beginning but usually go the formal route unless they are our close friends also.

hOstCDmom July 10, 2013 at 9:06 am

Interesting – we have 6 kids and they range from 7 to 15 years, and we REQUIRE our children to call all adults Mr or Ms EVEN WHEN they say, “oh, call me John/Mary”. Our children are instructed to tell such adults “my parents do not permit me to address other adults by their first name”. Similarly, I correct my children’s friends that they are to call me Ms Smith (or DH Mr Jones – we have different surnames), if they use my first name (I do it casually, but directly “Please call me Ms Smith, that is what children call me”), and I introduce myself to children as Ms Smith, not Mary.

I would say that in the area we currently live in about 1/2 to 2/3 of children call adults Mr/Ms, so this isn’t unusual. In the area we used to live in, my children were in the distinct minority – probably only 10% of children, if that, called adults Mr and Ms, but we stuck with it and still insisted that they do so.

We do this for a number of reasons –
– to inculcate in our children the habit of respectful address
-to make distinct and obvious that adults are not their peers, and as such are in a different class and should be spoken/communicated with to differently/more formally (i.e. you talk to/email/text Ms Jones/Coach Green/your English teacher differently than you do Ms. Jones’ daughter or son!)
-to create a distinction, albeit superficial, that helps them gauge if adults are attempting to be their peer in ways that are inappropriate – as in call me Bob….why don’t we watch the game and have a beer…let’s do X and don’t worry I won’t tell your mom/dad…etc.

We consider our APs to be adults, and they call use “John and Mary”, and our AP is the exception for our children in that while she is an adult, they call her by her first name, because she lives with us and is a member of the family meriting a special, more intimate forms of address.

Short Au Pair July 10, 2013 at 6:51 am

I’ve worked in kindergartens here in South Africa, and all the staff members, regardless of age, call each other by their first names (or in front of the kids, Teacher First Name). It comes naturally to me to have that relaxed first name basis vibe.
When its in appropriate I call elders or authority figures just Sir or Ma’am, no surnames or anything.

DCAuPair July 10, 2013 at 9:22 am

In reverse, I have a friend whose previous host kids had to call her Miss *first name, as instructed by their parents. I don’t think that really fits with the nature of the au pair program.

hOstCDmom July 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

While this isn’t our style, it may be that the HP did this in order to instill in the kids a sense if respect for the AP? And to designate her as an adult, not a peer, and someone they had to obey?

Returning HM July 11, 2013 at 10:51 pm

This is a cultural thing in some parts of the US. In the Washington DC area, where we lived until a year ago, it was standard to call nannies, activity leaders, and other adults who weren’t moms to my children’s friends Miss first name. This manner of address is taught to children as a form of showing respect. I can see how it might feel weird if you’re not used to it, but especially in the South, this is just completely expected.

DCMom2One July 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm

We are in DC as well. My five year old uses Miss or Mr *first name for his swim instructors, teachers and care providers and such. I think it adds a layer of authority and respect and helps in how he listens. Our first Au Pair arrives July 25 and I intend to have him address her with Miss *first name. I am not sure about how she address me though.. I noticed one of his teachers used to call me Miss * last name and now that we have known each other a year and a half, she has switched it to Miss *first name. Which is more personal and familiar, which I think is great. Well I have a week to figure that out … :)

CO ex au pair July 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

I was an au pair 2 years ago, and when I arrived to my very firts host family (a really mean one btw….) the HM asked me to call her Mrs… and to call her husband Mr.
I felt like a servant not only because of the title thing, but also for a lot of other reasons.
When I rematched to me second host family (coolest family ever), I call them by their first names.

ExAuPairAnon July 12, 2013 at 9:20 am

Same story here. She’d already signed her e-mails during the matching process with Ms. X. But me, only knowing Americans from TV imagined myself arriving there, her giving me a big hug and saying something like “Call me XY(first name)”.
Well, that was SO NOT how it went. And today I know that those Ms. X-emails should have been a sign of warning to me. Calling someone Ms. and Mr. X is just not right in a situation where you are supposed to be anything even remotely close to a family member.
A little later when I’d already realized that I would not be able to stay in that house of theirs for a whole year and rematch was pretty much decided on, I talked to her about this failed expectation of mine. She told me about some former Au pair they’d had, whom she’d allowed to call her XY and who missinterpreted it, wanting to share clothes with her as if they were BFFs. Well… I guess there’s always going to be weird people out there.

Johanna July 10, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I always called my hostparents by their first names, and all the other au pairs in the area did too :)

6 years ago July 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I called my hostmother by her fisrt name, – Viviane, as she suggested, and although her close family (husband, her parents) called her Vivi, I never did. I wasn’t THAT close to her.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 11, 2013 at 9:24 pm

That’s funny because several of my APs had cute nicknames which I just couldn’t bring myself to use. We did use nicknames with some of our APs, including the Chinese AP who couldn’t bear to hear her name being butchered, but most of them we called by their full names.

Ligia July 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

I used to call my host father by a short version of his name. But that’s how everybody called him, that’s how my HM talked to me about him, I think it’d be kinda weird to use the real name.

Ah, and all the kids were called by short versions of their names, so I think that was something common for them.

German Au-Pair August 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I used my HM’s full name in writing but after a while just switched to using her nick name when talking to her as I HATED pronouncing her name.

Aupair2013 July 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I´d never call anyone of my HF Ms,Mr… that´s the way you talk to your boss and if they ask you to call them that way means you´re an employer not part of the family.

Always call them by their first names, but when talking to your host parents you should be aware of not talking to them like they were your friends, always showing respect and manners.

Refering to the kids, always mom and dad to them.
it´s weird to say it but more to call them for the first name infront of the kids, like, they would think, who are you talking about? haha

Very easy, isn´t it?

Skny July 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm

My first hostfather was called Rob by all, and introduced himself as such. In my accented way I called Robbie (I did the ie or e end on every word that ended with consonant.
My host mother used to be very mad because it felt too intimate, although hd said to not call him Robert.
At the time I just couldn’t see the difference (as I cannot still – 10 years later – tell the difference between sheet and shit, or party and potty). My husband tries and tries but for lack of better explaining, my “brain” cannot hear de difference.

LookingFowardToBeAP July 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm

hahahaha that’s hilarious!! poor HM. may I ask what’s your native language?

German Au-Pair August 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I BET it’s Portugese or something like that?
My Brazilian friend asked her host mum if she could carry her purse…except she pronounced it “pussie” which caused great laughter.

Skny August 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Yes, it was portuguese

Returning HM August 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm

My children said “mix-ed berry yogurt” instead of mixed berry for years, thanks to having Brazilian APs. I loved it :-)

German Au-Pair August 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I was so sad when my friend finally learned how to pronounce delicous right. Her way was just so much cuter and we kept saying it to her all the time.
I love that accent and kept wishing I had that one instead of that hard, embarrasing German one :D

LookingFowardToBeAP July 13, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Well! One more thing to add to the “Things to think about before leaving” List!

In my family we use a very formal way of refering to others, specially elders, I talk very formally to my aunts and grandmother, so I think it will take some getting used to to be on first name basis, but thinking it the other way arround I would be far more confortable if the family refer to me as “Meli” instead of Melina or Misses Melina,

Lil Java HM July 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

All our Au Pairs call us by our first names and my kids call our AP by their first names. For me, it would be odd and feel very formal for someone living in my house to call me Mrs. I also feel by having our AP’s call us by our first names it makes them feel like more of the family. When they talk to their friends, they refer to us generally as their HM or HD if their friends do not know who we are.

Birgit July 16, 2013 at 2:45 am

If you want the AP to be part of your family let them address you they same way as your children do.

monica July 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Agreed! Anything else seems ridiculous to me.

monica July 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I have never heard an aupair calling the hs anything else but their first names.
Anything else sounds ridiculous to me, plus lets not forget that aupairs are considert as part of the family.

justagirl July 23, 2013 at 8:01 pm

yeah but keep in mind thar in some cultures its considered as disrespectful to call an elder by their 1st name. im 18 i dont call my 26 year old sis by her name cause its seen as disrespectful

German Au-Pair August 2, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Really? What culture are you from? That’s interesting. What do you call your sister instead?

justagirl August 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm

isorry for taking so long to reply. am angolian but was born in south-africa & was raised here & i still live here but i was raised mostly with my angolian heritage. if the person if female you must put mana before their name. like for instance if her name is tanya you must say mana tanya & if they are male you put mano infront. it is just a form of respect to people that are older than you for atleast 3+ years or sometimes 2 it depends on how strict your parents are about it. so i never call an older angolan by their names. but in south africa majority of people also dont call way older people (especially those that are mothers & fathers) by their names they put auntie or uncle (only when its informal) infront even if you dont know them the you just say aunti or uncle rather than saying mrs or mr.

justagirl August 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm

linguists believe that the word mano & mana derive from the spanish words herMANO & herMANA which mean brother & sister. sometimes elder people also cann younger people mano & mana. & if you dont know the persons name you could just say mano or mana depending on their race so its basclly just calling them brother or sister. hope i answered your q :). if u have any more feel free to ask

justagirl August 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm

i meant to say depending on their gender

DarthaStewart July 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm

My au-pairs have all called me by my first name. – I’ve never thought about it.

As far as what it’s like to be younger and have an au-pair- it never really made much difference. I was 25 when we got our first au-pair, and I have actually had an au-pair or two at the beginning that were older than me. Any weirdness was purely in my head, honestly.

The Young One August 13, 2013 at 2:57 am

When I arrived I was 18, my HP were somewhere in their mid 30s and at the first ‘family meeting’ we had, they smiled at me and explained, that if they would’ve had a child in their first year of dating I could’ve been their daughter – and I was welcome to use either Mum/Dad or first names.

It took me a while to adjust, but after 9 month I’m actually calling them Mum and Dad, sometimes that even slips out of the family and my LCC thinks it’s adorable – I’m just glad they’re actually seeing me as a child (of someone), it helped quite a bit getting over the homesickness because it made it easier to connect to them.

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