Easy Ways to Get to Know Each Other Before Your Au Pair Arrives

by cv harquail on April 3, 2015

Once we’ve matched with each other, Host Families and Au Pairs usually have a good bit of time to wait before the Au Pair physically joins the family.

We’ve already shared a bit about how often we like to check in with each other between Match and Arrival.   We agree that keeping in touch is smart to do.

It helps to have an easy way to ask and answer those random questions about getting prepared:

Do I need to bring a hairdryer? Have you ever taught someone how to ride a bike?

instaBecause I’m such a big fan of systems and organization, my predisposition is to think of this pre-arrival time as a chance to get a head start on training and orientation.

Send the handbook! Send a Google map of all the local playgrounds! Scan and send the manual for the washing machine!

Too Much Information is… Too Much

But the more I think about it, this more I believe that sending handbooks alone is a bad strategy.

First of all– your au pair isn’t “on duty” yet. Is it really smart to ask her to work already?

Second of all– it can be kindof hard for your host parent to start orienting a new au pair if she’s already fully involved with the au pair already under her roof.

Finally, it can be hard to coordinate schedules so that you can talk directly with each other.

I don’t want to add to the work of preparing for a new au pair relationship by suggesting that you make a huge effort to get to know each other before you’re on the same continent.

So what are some lighter, easier, asynchronous ways to begin to share with each other?

Pinterest or Instagram6a00e54fdb9f7e8833017d3e4d8d2f970c-450wi

Both Pinterest and Instagram are lightweight, easy tools that send out gentle bits of information and self-expression via images. Images are easy to make, and they are SUPER easy to enjoy.

If you and your incoming au pair follow each other on either of these platforms, you can exchange thousands of words with just a few photos and hashtags.

Images of the wild turkey that showed up in your neighbor’s backyard?  Photos of the cookies you just baked? Yes yes yes.   

But not Facebook

It’s likely that what you normally share on Facebook is too personal (e.g., Why women over 40 should never wear flats!) or irrelevant to an au pair  (e.g., your neighbor’s latest rant about the Board of Ed).

tumblr_lu407oazyL1r4vn34o1_500Some of your Facebook stuff also needs a whole lot of context before anyone else can appreciate the joke (e.g., how you and your college roommate swap pictures of Feminist Ryan Gosling –years after that meme has gotten tired). Your au pair may not even realize that you no longer actually don’t have a thing for Ryan Gosling.

Stories on Vine and YouTube

Another option would be to use Vine or YouTube to share little stories.   Stories have both a beginning and end. They can’t go on forever, so you can feel comfortable ending them, too.

(I can never figure out how to hang up politely on Skype. Can you?)

Stories have the added advantage of being kid friendly.  Au pairs can video a little story of their favorite stuffed animal that they’re bringing with them, and put it up on YouTube for host kids to watch. toddler

Au Pairs (and Host Parents!)  can also use less English-dependent tools like Vine (or Instagram) to string together a few images that convey a story a child can enjoy.

See me buy ice cream! See me lick ice cream cone! See me drop ice cream on floor. See me buy another ice cream cone. Learn that nothing gets between me and my ice cream happy.

For their part, Host Kids can tell stories to incoming au pairs via Skype.  If they are older, kids might use your smartphone to take a few photos of their favorite toys.

(Bonus: you can send these to Grandma too!)

Have you found other ways to ease into a relationship with your new au pair or host family?

Dear AuPairMom — I’m a future Au Pair in the US. Two weeks ago I matched with a beautiful family, the host parents are just so nice! I would really like to keep this amazing relationship we have created (since we have been e-mailing and talking in Skype for almost a month as we have been matching.)

The thing is that I don’t really know what to do now that I have to wait about two months to be with them, I was wonder if you can give me some advice to keep in touch without bother them.

I just want us to know better each and let them know that I’m really interested in create a nice relation.   Thank you in advance!


See also:   Help Your Incoming Au Pair Visualize Her Adventure
Interpreting the Lanugage of Lag Time: Emailing Prospective Au Pairs
Welcome Your Au Pair With A Custom Google Map

Felt woodland creatures from YouGoGirl Blog.


TexasHM April 3, 2015 at 10:49 am

When our rockstar au pair left in December she took my phone and loaded the app WhatsApp so that we could stay in touch and I have to say it’s been awesome! It basically allows you to text and send photos and videos as if they were on a cell phone in the United States as well. Not only does our incoming au pair already have it but our other ex au pair outside the US uses it as well. The app is free for the first year and then I believe a dollar or two dollars the second year but I would happily pay 10 times that at this point. You just give them your phone number and they can find you to connect. (Or find them but honestly technology is not my thing). I find this is so great because then when I’m out at the kids softball game and I snap a quick picture I can share it with them or if I think of something while I’m out that reminds me of them I can text them a note or if I have a question or want to be able to leave them a voice message I can easily do that and get a lot more out of a voice message because I can hear the tone in their voice without having to be at home and use Skype or use Skype on my mobile and have it eat up my data and the person has to be there to answer. It’s been awesome and because of its ease-of-use and convenience we already feel like we know our next au pair better then we have known any of our previous au pairs before arrival! It’s also nice because some mornings I wake up and have messages from France Brazil and South Africa! :)

NoVA Twin Mom April 3, 2015 at 12:04 pm

We use a similar app called Viber. What I like about Viber is I can send 10 pictures at once that automatically download into my phone’s memory and accessible to me later (like when I want to make gifts for au pairs later…). We also use it for sending larger videos than can be sent through the “stock” programs that come on phones.

We also use this app while our au pairs are here so we can see what goes on during our girls’ day!

German Au-Pair April 3, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Whatsapp allows me to keep in touch with pre-teen. I asked my HM to make sure my girl got it and I love it. It’s hard to actually talk to her about anything meaningful but via whatsapp it feels natural to just share random pictures, videos, short audio clips, anecdotes… You don’t even necessarily need to give or receive a great response. I love it.
It helped me connect with friends as well…you just send those little things, like that shirt at the store that you think that person would like or the crazy position your cat slept in (there are a gazillion pictures like that between me and my HC). This app has made it possible to maintain a relationship with her without trying to hard, without it being awkward when it comes to ending the conversation (I find this way harder in emails…with skype you have “Gotta go” in emails it COULD go on forever…)
BTW, I do not get paid by whatsapp to endorse them :D I simply love this app.

Emerald City HM April 4, 2015 at 11:14 pm

Out incoming au pair suggested it and I like it a lot.

Didi April 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I really like this topic. I believe there is so many au pairs seeing their hosts like some superior employers and fail to connect with them.
Au Pairs often feel like you are their parents and they need to be very careful how they act and behave around you, and taught by mine and my friends experiences, I think it is very important to focus on getting that friendly relationship and casual conversation even before your au pair arrives.

Exchanging few emails, whatsap app, Skype, sending some photos of current events might be good start.

Maybe start a conversation about her packing,what she doesn’t need to bring, what will she do as soon as she comes, and trying to show you are not a parent, but an employer and a friend, hopefully a family to her and that could create bond which can lead to her wanting to be better for you and kids.
I think that sending handbook prior meeting might be not as good solution, since it could lead to au pair feeling overwhelmed and take whole au pair experience as huge chore.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 14, 2015 at 10:47 pm

I agree about the packing email! One very curious AP set the stage for all of her successors. I now preemptively send out a “packing email” so my AP doesn’t pack a hair dryer, sheets, and towels which will unnecessarily take up extra room in her suitcase.

For a long time my APs arrive in August, which is beastly in my city. I warned them that they’ve never experienced summer like we have it – and need clothing for both being outdoors as well as the chill of the over-air conditioned mall and movie theaters.

In my experience, few APs are prepared for the extremes of American weather, whether it be sleet, snow, a brutal arctic chill, a tornado or a hurricane. If your incoming AP is not from a climate similar to your own (and how could she be?!), then you’ll need to warn her what to pack immediately for her arrival, and what she might as well wait to buy in your community. The Brazilian AP needs to know that no winter coat she purchases will keep her warm in New York and the Chinese AP needs to know that she’ll be overly hot if she expects to wear her down jacket indoors in January.

If you need your AP to bring a family-friendly swimsuit, then warn her! If you’re going to a family wedding to which she’ll need to wear a modest dress, then warn her! In my experience, APs think Americans are far more casual than we are (yes, we’re slobs, but we do know how to dress up!!!) – it must go with the Cheesecake Factory!

AnonMom April 3, 2015 at 1:01 pm

We use an app called 23 Snaps. It is basically like Facebook, but with the specific purpose of sharing photos/videos of your kids (you tag your kids rather than yourself). We invite only family and close friends, so it’s a way to share stuff about your kids with the people who really want to see it in a secure way, without sharing with all of the random people on Facebook that you haven’t talked to in years. So we invited our current and incoming au pair as soon as we matched. We post 3-5 times a week, so allows the incoming au pair to see what we post and get an idea of what’s going on with our daughter, without the pressure of having to respond to each one if she’s busy with school.

Seattle Mom April 3, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Those are very good points about facebook! I’ve always used that, but it’s inadequate for all the reasons you mention. This last time we matched it became even more clear, because I couldn’t understand *anything* my Japanese au pair posted and I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand what I wrote either. We liked each other’s pictures though- I could tell that she was a sweet, wholesome girl because of her pictures of herself with friends. And she shared my pics & videos of my girls with her mother, which I thought was pretty cool.

I don’t want to start on pinterest or instagram just to connect with a future au pair- I don’t use them now and I really don’t need to get into that! I am going to look into whatsapp, I like that it is person-to-person.

German Au-Pair April 3, 2015 at 11:01 pm

It can also be a group conversation with as many people as you like. My friends all have an extended family group in which they share information that might be interesting to all of them.

TexasHM April 3, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Piggybacking off the OP note – the other thing I like about WhatsApp is you can see when the messages are delivered and when they are read or listened to (double check they got it, check turns blue they read it, microphone turns blue they listened to your voicenote) and like imessage (but universal) you can see if they are in the app or recording or listening in real time. Not because I want to stalk them but if I send a message and don’t get a response I can also see if she has even seen it and if so, when. And vice versa – sometimes I am super busy for a couple days and can’t get to it but she doesn’t worry because she can see I haven’t looked at it yet. (The OP asked about keeping in touch without bothering the host family.) It also (at least on my iphone) saves all the pictures and videos from the app into my phone camera/video roll so I was keeping them as another HM mentioned so I can print them and put them in her room for arrival.

AlwaysHopeful HM April 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm

Just so I understand what’s app– is it basically like Facebook messenger, except that you don’t have to be facebook friends to use it?

TexasHM April 4, 2015 at 8:48 am

Essentially yes. There are no logins or profiles, just phone to phone communication (inc international) for free.

WCO HD April 3, 2015 at 9:11 pm

So my wife and I are expecting our first born pretty soon and then our first au pair later in the summer. We matched very early (like back in November… crazy early) but like many new parents we are kinda freaking out about having all of our ducks in a row as soon as possible. Anyway, we have had tons of time to get to know our au pair better in the meantime. For us, this has been a great thing! We use email, facebook messenger, and skype. Email mostly just for occasional links and videos, but we fb message usually at least a couple times a week, and skype once or twice a month. It’s amazing how much the AP already is starting to feel like family and she hasn’t even arrived yet. For this being our first time at all of this (including the parenting!), we feel like we’ve really lucked out. To us, it feels like with having so much open communication with her so early on that it will make the transition period when she arrives that much easier.
And facebook messenger definitely seems to be the best way to stay in contact for us. We share pics of events and talk about anything interesting going on in each other lives. With messenger it doesn’t have to be anything long and drawn out. Just quick lines here and there for updates and ‘how’s your week going’ kind of stuff. It’s made us and the AP much more at ease and comfortable with the whole program and with each other.

DCBurbTwinMomma April 4, 2015 at 7:49 am

I’m the weirdo who sends our house book to potential au pairs before interviews so they won’t be surprised with our rules and I can tell from our conversation whether they bothered to read it or not. So the au pair my family selects already knows the driving/vacation/scheduling rules. After we match, we then send an e-book on DC, a map of the burb we are in with fun facts (e.g. This is the bike trail we tried to concur last summer–this year we’ll do better). We also send personal pictures and I big hit has been photos of their future room, future private bath and areas. Our most recent former au pair talked to the new au pair via What’s Up almost daily with photos of the local Latin scene. They’re from the same home town (coincidence) so their families met to give the new au pair assurances that we are above board people. I lucked out here with their connection. So my photos have been everyday life things while the intra-au pair chat has been about where to get free English classes, where to find Colombian food, what clubs are hot and introducing her to a built in clique of other au pairs. It works. I highly suggest What’s Up and involving your outgoing au pair (if the relationship was positive) during the transition time. I found out new au pair really likes M&Ms and made sure she had a stash upon arrival and sent photos. Little things.

Good luck all!!

Multitasking Host Mom April 4, 2015 at 8:43 am

We actually do the same thing with our handbook. I send a some what shortened version of our handbook (but still with enough detail to get a picture of the job of being our au pair) after our first Skype interview. Then when we do a second Skype interview a few days later, it is a big plus towards me choosing that au pair if they ask me questions about it (ie this means they read the handbook and know what they are getting into.)

Old China Hand April 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm

I send the handbook after 4 back and forth emails with questions and before agreeing to Skype. It’s important to me that our AP be willing to read it, ask questions, and think about our restrictions (like no car).

WarmStateMomma April 6, 2015 at 2:58 pm


Multitasking Host Mom April 4, 2015 at 8:53 am

Before our APs arrive, I normally send out a few updates about our family via email every week or so. Plus I have a few stock emails that address frequently asked AP questions such as what to pack, etc. But I am finding that email is not always the preferred method of communication with APs. I am admittedly not very tech savvy…only post on Facebook occcasionally and am not on any other social media platforms…so I like that these apps sound easy to use and the messages go directly to the person you are sending them too. I will look into these messaging apps next time I am in the matching cycle. Thanks for the suggestions everyone.

UKAu Pair April 4, 2015 at 11:30 am

Whatsapp is a fantastic way to keep in contact, both before, during and after the AP’s time with you.

With my first host family we matched nearly a year before I arrived, and their AP at the time and I emailed back and forth for months. It meant that I really knew what to expect, and also means that I have a new German friend! The AP and I met for the first time in Paris last year and this year we’re hoping to go travelling together. I’d highly encourage the outgoing and incoming APs to talk as much as possible, especially if they’re very similar personalities.

Kiki April 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Our current au pair introduced us to Whatsapp, so we’ll be using that to communicate with our next au pair, who we just matched with. She doesn’t arrive until August, so I know we need an easy way to communicate over the next couple of months. While I look forward to getting to know her more as we eagerly await her arrival, I’m trying to find the balance between sharing the fun stuff with her, like sending her pictures of the kids and showing her what we’re up to, and using this time prior to her arrival to prepare her for what is going to be a challenging job. How do you find that balance between getting to know each other while not giving the impression that our kids are always happy and smiling like they are in the pictures I send?

TexasHM April 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm

We do several things. 1 – send custom Google map so they can start getting familiar with the area
2 – add incoming ap to our family scheduler (Cozi) so she starts getting the weekly emails and can get familiar with what a week in our life looks like and ask questions and familiarize
3 – we use a summary version of our handbook during the matching process that includes the critical roles and information that would be of relevance to them during matching and then after matching I send a full section at a time of the full handbook. For example the summary handbook has two paragraphs about vacation with things like please ask as early as possible and it must be approved before booking anything whereas the full vacation section also includes examples of what past au pairs have done examples of our previous family vacations and budgets. We ask them to ask questions and let us know if anything surprises them. This way when they arrive and we go through the entire handbook together this information is already familiar to them and it’s not just pouring on while they are drinking from the firehose. It also helps to balance the fun getting to know you and excitement with actual work related information and on boarding.

TexasHM April 4, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Oh! And 4 – we have them take the online driving course while they are still in their home country so we have their certificate for the written test when they arrive.

WarmStateMomma April 6, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I followed your advice and purchased the online driving course before AP#3 arrived. The English was a challenge (unfamiliar vocabulary) and taking the course before arrival meant that she had time to give it her best effort. When we agreed to drop her off at another AP’s house 45 minutes away this weekend, HD had her drive the whole way (even on the interstate!) as part of their driving lessons and said she did fairly well. He thinks a few more weeks of driving lessons should have her ready to take the kids everywhere.

Texas5TimeHostMom April 6, 2015 at 11:27 am

TexasHM, which online driving course do you use? I’ve used one but it’s not the best…curious about others! New Au Pair is coming in August. It will be #6 for us!

TexasHM April 6, 2015 at 4:59 pm

We have always sent the idrivesafely course (they have them for a lot of states, maybe all 50 I dont know). That’s just the first one I ever used (web search) and the APs liked it and gave us good feedback so we stuck with it.

Mimi April 6, 2015 at 4:06 pm

We use email, FB, Viber/WhatsApp and Skype (whichever they prefer) to continue to communicate with APs before they arrive. We aim for one email or message a week with highlights from our goings on and we Skype periodically to give the boys a chance to talk and get comfortable in advance. In the past, we’ve included our then current APs, but we will be AP-less until #7 arrives in July. Our latest match initiates regular contact with us more frequently than we’ve experienced in the past and we’ve let our oldest (almost 11y/o) respond to some of these so she can develop a rapport of sorts with him.

We try to be careful about bombarding them with images/info before they come but try to make them feel included in the family before they arrive. We share holiday or outing photos with them and talk about the occasion with them so they have context for future outings. We don’t always share just the good stuff, although we do somewhat sensor the not-so-good things. I have included an occasional pouty face photo (they’re terribly cute sometimes!) with a blurb about the situation that produced the pouty face, and sometimes we will make subtle mention of common challenges we face. For example, yesterday we sent a picture of the kids all zonked out in the car after spending Easter on the road this weekend and the caption was “I prefer this to the poking and whining we usually get with a 2 hour car trip!”

We also send an abbreviated version of our handbook during the matching process, so closer to arrival we send the full version and talk about what to bring and what to leave behind.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 14, 2015 at 11:04 pm

In general, I try to keep pre-contact at a discrete minimum. I have found, over the years, that we all present ourselves at the best through written communication, and who we really are is revealed in person. In 8 out of 11 APs, it turned out perfectly.

What do I want to see? The prom pictures – yes! I want the AP to share her life with me. I want to know all the people to whom she is traveling to say goodbye. That way I know if she has grandparents, favorite aunts and uncles, and best friends who might make an appearance during the course of her year (I’m one of the HP who loves to host).

I’ll share details on the AP’s terms. “It’s 38 C here today” (rather than 98 F which means nothing to her).

Two weeks out, I send the “what to pack” email that starts with “You must feel both sad and excited right now – I imagine you’re saying ‘See you later’ to your relatives and best friends while packing for your year in the U.S.”

One week out, I want to know hardcore facts that will help ease the transition into my household – what does she want in the fridge and pantry for breakfast and lunch on her first day in my house (on her second day she’ll go shopping with DH). We’re more than happy to stock up on favorite yogurt flavors, favorite breads (as much as we can simulate, anyway), fruits, veggies, etc. We want the AP to be able to create a breakfast that comforts and satisfies her – because, quite honestly, once she comes down from the high of being surrounded by 100 APs in orientation to the low of being alone in our house for an entire year – the landing is going to be rocky.

And, after hosting 11 arrivals, no matter how much you think you know your AP before she arrives – you don’t.

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