First Time Host Mom Asks: Extension Au Pair or Brand New One? (Poll)

by cv harquail on March 4, 2012

Can you remember back to when you were a first time host parent, still trying to figure out how you could make this au pair thing work for you?


We have a family friend, MD, who’s wading into this for the first time, and she asked me to ask you:

If you were a First Time Host Mom, would you prefer an Extending Au Pair, or one from the regular applicant pool?

Would you recommend an Extension Au Pair or a new au pair to a first time host parent?

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My friend HM Cindy thinks it’s a bad idea to match with an extension au pair when you’re a first time host mom.

HMCindy believes that most extension au pairs are set in their ways, already molded by their first host family and usually unable to be flexible and to adapt to a very different host family. And, she also worries that an extension au pair already knows how to make the situation work for her or him, and thus might have more influence in the host family-au pair relationship than s/he should.

But I disagree.

I think that choosing an extension au pair — when you can talk with his or her previous host family — might make many parts of the au pair-host family relationship easier to establish. Extension au pairs already know the country, have learned enough English, have gotten driving experience (if that’s been part of their first situation), and know what they’re in for as part of the family that also does important paid work.

What do you think?

If you were advising MD,would you suggest that she look at extending au pairs first?

Image: Pretty Girl in Cherry Blossoms, ??? Some rights reserved by Stuck in Customs


Should be working March 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Interesting question. As a first-time HM I wanted an extension au pair because I was insecure about how the au pair arrangement worked and wanted someone experienced, who had already succeeded with one family, and who was known to be good with kids and a dedicated au pair.

As a more experienced HM I want a first-time au pair so that I can be the authority on how things work and get the mileage of that excited first few months of a first-time au pair. Extension au pairs to me would now seem jaded, less moldable, and so forth.

Both can work out for a new HF, it depends on what the HFs main concerns are, and both can also fail. I think I tend slightly in the direction of an extension au pair with a very good reference from a family that seems to have similar needs and parenting styles. Selecting an au pair from the newbie pool is otherwise just too daunting and the HF can learn the hard way what they need to look for.

Both can also fail, as well, for reasons beyond anyone’s control. When we were first time HPs with desires for a well-recommended extension AP we got something close to that–a rematch au pair from a HF with a financial crisis, but it ended in rematch for us because that family’s standards were apparently different from ours and we found the AP sullen, trashy and not interested in us, although the previous family thought she was great. But the benefit for us was that she actually understood what her job was and did it ok. That rematch taught us the difference (which took me a few months to realize) between an ok au pair and a great au pair, and that it’s worth it not to settle.

Actually having thought it through I would change my vote to extension au pair preferred unless the HF has a good sense of how to select an AP. The selection is such a huge criterion for success, and yet it has relatively little to do with the process of training and welcoming an au pair, so I can imagine that an AP pre-selected as ‘good enough’ for one family is a less overwhelming place to start.

AFHostMom March 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Hm, I voted for brand new AP, but thinking about how badly we bungled selecting our first AP (and some of the applicants we’ve interviewed), I think the last paragraph of SBW’s comment is really critical. Some applicants really aren’t cut out for the job.

NewHM March 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I now know that AFHostMom’s last sentence is SOOOO true. Some candidates know how to “sell” themselves but are completely incompetent au pairs. That was our princess AP who we went into rematch with after 4 months and just 2 weeks later she skipped the program and agency, hired the lawyer (wealthy parents are paying the fees) and is partying in Miami. We learned to be more selective and less trusting and at the same time not to let agency pressure us about matching with candidates after viewing them for a week.

NoVA Host Mom March 30, 2012 at 3:50 am

Wow, our 1st AP skipped out too, taking with her another AP-friend who arrived with her. Minus the weathy parents, ours was a princess too. She was who taught me just how much of a relief “Rematch” can be. It should never be feared. That is what makes me lean toward the Extension AP as someone’s first.

SingleHM March 5, 2012 at 12:44 am

I am a HM in my first year.

I chose a new AP for my first. I had the option of looking at extension APs, but chose to look at new APs because this would be a first for both of us. I felt if I would have picked a Year 2 AP, they would have a one-up on me on how things worked and a pre-determined idea of how the year would work and I would be at a “disadvantage” of sorts.

Not that I think it’s a bad thing. I wanted to figure stuff out, as well…what I need to do differently next time, things I would seek out in future searches, etc. I think, for me, that if I had picked an extension AP, I would not have had the same experience that I am having now.

But I do hear/see a lot of rematches, so I know you could pick a “bad match” either way.

3grtkidz March 5, 2012 at 1:58 am

If you are in one of the highly sought after areas such as Calif, NY or FL you may have better success with a extension au pair who wants to experience different parts of the U.S. (Both of our great au pairs from No. Europe were new au pairs so I do not have personal experience with the extension).

SoCalHostMom March 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I agree with this statement. Being from Southern CA, we were in a position to get an OUTSTANDING extension AP. She was our 3rd AP, though. Our first was a self-match through Great Au Pair (I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS ROUTE), which ended up in a crash/burn after 1 month. She was a great interview and a lousy au pair. Due to needing childcare ASAP and not wanting to go out of country, we matched with an in-country au pair that was going through rematch. The experience with her lasted out the year, but wasn’t great, since she was extremely shy and the personality match on the HP/AP level just wasn’t right (she was great with the kids, though). Our final AP ended up being a friend of AP2 from her previous east-coast town. She was able to come visit us at our home during AP2’s year with us and allowed us to get to know her a bit. We also got a glowing recommendation from her LLC and prior host mom.

I think my biggest caution going the extension route is that when their time is up, their time is up. I’d have loved to have our last AP for another 6-18 months and I know she’d have loved to have stayed if the circumstances were right, but her visa was up, so it was time for her to go home.

We’re now out of the au pair program, but would consider it again… Next time I’m not sure what I’ll do. I very well may go the extension AP route again, especially considering I’m still gun shy from my first two failures at interviewing.

Former HostMum, now overseas March 5, 2012 at 4:29 am

We had 3 new Au Pairs and 2 extension Au Pairs. Extension Au Pairs were terrible.
I would go with a new one.

Should be working March 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Can you please elaborate as to what was terrible and what you think it had to do with being an extension au pair?

Former HostMum, now overseas March 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

Extension ones were both from previous homes, rematched but we were not allowed to talk with previous HFs. Call us naive! They kept comparing us to previous families) they earned more money, bigger house etc) and the were also just bad Au Pairs. 1 left my 4 yr old alone in the swimming pool whilst she took my 2 yr old upstairs to change him, doors closed etc and many other instances, too numerous to mention.

Anna March 14, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Actually rematched au pairs are called “transition”. Extension au pairs are those that successfully completed a year with another host family.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I would agree, however if you ask enough questions of the HP, you might find that the sentiment is similar. The AP was fine, but not great enough to stay in their home another year (I know many families haveposted in this group that they don’t extend ever, but I’m not convinced they make up the majority of why extension APs seek another family in their second year).

The difference from an extension AP and a rematch? Sometimes it’s thin – either the AP or the HF makes it work for the year, and sometimes the truth lies elsewhere.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2012 at 8:35 am

I think it is best to be open to both new and extension APs. Our first AP had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her home country – what could be more perfect for a first-time HM over her head with a medically fragile special needs child and an infant who had developed bacterial meningitis in his first weeks of life? Had I excluded new APs, I would have never seen her application.

In the 11 years my family has hosted, we have never matched with an extension AP. We require a special needs willing AP who can drive.

Talk to other HMs. Sit down with your spouse. If you haven’t selected an agency, then contact a few and ask to speak to other HP. Read through the handbooks and the pages on potential interview questions here – that will help you understand some of the issues other HF have faced and may help you frame your questions.

If you decide to go with an extension AP, then interview agencies to see if they will let you talk with the previous HF or the LCC. Don’t let yourself be placed in a situation where you have to take the AP’s word for why she is not extending with her current HF. She may honestly want a change of venue, or there may be mitigating factors that led her current HF to explore a new AP.

Gianna March 5, 2012 at 9:53 am

If an extension aupair wanted to see a different part of the country, I would consider that a good reason to pursue the discussion. If , however, an aupair wanted to extend with a different family in the same part of the country, I would not dismiss her out of hand but I would have some questions .

Does she have a boyfriend for whom she is staying on ?
What were the problems with the first family since it would clearly be easier to extend with them.
Are they the ones who did not want to extend for good reason ?
Does she have a job off the books and this program is covering her insurance ?

Except for the job, none of these concerns are certain dealbreakers but I would want to know the whole story. I have no idea if the agencies allow aupairs to extend with different families in the same area ; that would be interesting to know. I see extension aupairs promoting themselves on various websites like Great Aupair and some of them seem very good.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm

AP #5 told prospective HF that she wanted to live in another part of the country. The only reason I gave prospective HF as why we chose not to extend was that she never got a US driver’s license and her driving skills had never progressed above advanced beginner. (Had she tried she might have acquired a US license – barely.)

The one quote I gave her, knowing that it would be the one HF quote the agency would put on her page “She is excellent with special needs kids and a great cook.”

90% of prospective families did not ask me more than the one “Why didn’t you extend with her.” The 10% that did, got an earful. In the end she extended with a HF that refused to let their APs’ drive and were from a similar cultural background. It was a better fit.

My recommendation – if you can’t ask questions of the HF, then ask to speak with the LCC. Press the AP on issues that are important to you (e.g. if you need a driver, then ask her how many miles she drove her first set of HK around, where she was required to take them, etc. But also ask, “Do your HP permit you to borrow the car?” “Are you permitted to drive anywhere?” If not, who imposed limitations and why. Always ask if she has a US driver’s license if you need a driver. (Because any AP seeking an extension year who hasn’t bothered to get one may have issues with self-motivation.)

Ask questions, probe. If you can’t speak with the HF (and believe me, there might be some legitimate reasons why a good AP doesn’t want you to speak with the HF – DH and I have acted on behalf of several APs whose HP operated with a strange set of rules) – then ask the LCC if you may speak with other HPs who know the AP.

You’re the one holding the check, so press until you get the information you need to make a good decision.

Hula Gal March 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Of our five au pairs, the first two were first time au pairs and did not work out at all and went home (one within a few days, the other within 3 months), the third was an extension au pair who came with a glowing recommendation. She was our best au pair and we still regard her with fondness. The fourth au pair was a pre-match through Great Au Pair and had serious personal issues and we decided to rematch after 6 months. Her childcare was ok, good enough, but not great. The final au pair was a rematch from another family due to the host mom going back to work. Her childcare was good but she could be pretty harsh in personality and very stubborn. After all of the variety in how we came about finding our au pairs, our preferred way remains through extension, second would be through rematch (with an au pair coming from a generally positive rematch situation). We had pretty dismal success with au pairs brand new from their home country. The culture shock and expectations they came with were hard to overcome. Hate to say it this way but we would rather get an au pair that was “broken in” by another family (and I mean that kindly).

Posie March 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I think this is probably fairly dependent on the Host Family’s personalitites too. I could see the appeal of an extension for your first, since they are “safer” in a lot of ways.

We are nearing the end of our first year as host parents and I am so glad we matched with an au pair who was as naive to the whole process as we were! Looking back now we would never have chosen this au pair but she has been really great and we have learned a lot from each other.

If I had originally matched with someone who knew the ropes better, I think I would have let myself get pushed around, then felt resentful, and it wouldn’t have worked. That’s just kind of my personality. If I were a more assertive person, I could see it working out better/fine.

Now that I’ve done it (and we welcome AP#2 in May) I would consider an extension, but I would want to talk to the family directly, no exceptions. If the au pair isn’t willing to give their contact info or the family isn’t willing to at least exchange a few emails…red flag.

I am curious as to why other posters absolutely exclude the extensions….

Tristatemom March 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm

We have had 4 APs total, 1 came via a rematch, 1 was a short-term extension, and 2 came the traditional route. The extension AP was great in that she knew the ropes, had all papers, was a great driver etc. But, it seemed to me that she wanted her second year to be less work and more perks. She had a boyfriend and we really missed out on the part-of-the-family aspect. I would not do it again.

PA AP Mom March 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I have had 3 first time APs and one rematch AP. 1 very bad first time, 1 really great first time, 1 above average first time and 1 pretty good rematch. I personally don’t think I would want an extension AP. The first time they said “but my last host mom did this” it would be the end for me. It reminds me of my son saying “but toby’s mom lets him do…..” I’m not Toby’s mom, so get over it!

I guess I like the benefit of training the AP for my specific family situation. It’s more work in some ways, but it’s just what I prefer.

Seattle Mom March 7, 2012 at 12:40 am

I didn’t answer the poll because my answer is- I’m not sure. I feel like I’m too inexperienced to give advice in this area, but I’ll tell you my limited experience here.

I’m a new HM, on my first AP who is direct from her home country. And I feel like we got incredibly lucky- we love our AP, and she is great with the kids. When we were matching we didn’t really have time to be too picky. I had a job starting immediately and needed someone as soon as possible. So I was looking at all possible APs from my agency- extension, rematch, and new. I decided that I would go with whoever seemed good to me. At first I really wanted someone already in-country because they could get to us sooner, but I think we were matching at an awkward time of year (around the holidays) and the pickings were slim. No one seemed appropriate to our situation. It was actually a really frustrating time because my placement manager kept putting people I just got a bad vibe from in my account. Once we found someone good, we jumped on her application, even though we knew we would have to wait several weeks for her arrival. I was really afraid of ending up with someone I didn’t like, or who wouldn’t treat the children well.

So I don’t know.. I kind of feel like I didn’t know what I was doing in the matching process (it was before I discovered this blog) and I got lucky. But I do get what people say about having a new au pair who is really excited and not yet jaded about being in the US, our AP is so enthusiastic about everything, it is fun to be around. She loves our city and does all the touristy things we haven’t had time to do. We love seeing it through her eyes.

TiredDad March 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

First, your poll is too simplistic. It’s all black and white, no shades of gray. In actuality, it depends. On the children, on the au pair, on the host parents, and probably even the LCCs.

When we started this journey, we were going the nanny route. I have mentioned the AP program to my wife, and she listened, but decided that a live-in just wasn’t right for us. So, we interviewed any number of people, some qualified, most not, and pared down our choices. We made an offer to what we believed was the best candidate, and she accepted. A week later, she re-neged on the whole deal, saying she couldn’t possibly move, insure her car (which she didn’t need), buy her health insurance, etc.

We had about two weeks before my wife had to go back to work from the birth of our first child, and we had no nanny, no relatives, no support what-so-ever. I floated the AP idea her again, and she said she’s try it. I knew that the only way we’d pull this off in the time frame was to find an in-country au pair that, for whatever reason, was looking for a new family.

So, when you think it, while in a slight panic, you can’t really think up any good reasons why an AP would be switching Meaning it’s just going to be a bad situation. Axe murderer, child abuser, criminal record, band camp refugee, you name it…

Well, in reality, here’s what happened. We contacted two large AP companies. Both LCCs called me back within 8 hours. One of them had a suggestion for an AP within 48 hours, if not the next day.

Her suggestion, I’ll call her X, had initially been placed in California six months prior. She had a couple of fender benders, and California auto insurance being what it is, it was decided that she needed to be placed somewhere w/o a requirement for driving. So they shipped her out east where we have subways. She was then placed in a family where she was like the sixth replacement AP with some kind of family from hell. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t want to, but suffice it to say, that some families are so dysfunctional that bringing babies and all that isn’t going to help. Throwing in a stranger to help, or rather a string of them, can’t be helpful either.

So, at this point we know mostly about the driving issues, and not the other issues with the rematching family. We really don’t have much of a choice, and we figure if it doesn’t work out, we’ll bear through it for a couple of months and take out time with a rematch.

Well, X was more than we could have asked for. At the end of six months, we extended her for a year. We selected a new AP and she could only stay a year due to graduate school commitments. AP #2 is wrapping up in a couple of weeks, and we have a new AP coming in at that time.

We considered an in-country AP, but here’s the thing. They have maybe a two week window of time where they can actively look, and then if they haven’t matched, they have to go back to their host countries. I’m not sure why the AP companies aren’t more helpful in helping their in-country APs in this regard, but neither of the two companies we have worked seem to be very proactive. We tried announcing on FB and elsewhere that we were looking for an in-country AP, but didn’t get any nibbles. We started looking in early for an April start date, and the few in-country APs that I would have wanted to talk to showed up and disappeared almost immediately, which meant somebody snagged them quickly. So, I think you’ll just feel rushed if you go the in-country route.

As far as extending a current au pair, well, you have to be very honest with yourself and ask if they are doing a great job or not. If your not impressed by their attitude, abilities, and relationship with your kids, why renew them?

Taking a Computer Lunch March 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm

You’re talking about rematch APs, who do only have two weeks (is that a State Dept. reg? – I think it is – they have to be employed to legally stay on a J-1 visa) vs. extension APs. Extension APs have a much longer time to find a new family for their extension year, and depending on the AP and HF the agency will stretch it past their comfort zone to help the AP find a match for their extension year (they went to bat for AP #5 – I think she finally found a family 2-3 weeks prior to the end of her year with us). In our agency, APs usually get their extension/flight home paperwork just prior to month #8. They usually have 1-2 months to find a new family (by the time their extension paperwork clears and potential HFs view their applications a month may have passed), which may extend if the LCC is on their side.

Year 2 or Extension APs may feel like rematches but they’re not. They are in-country, but they are not under the same gun as APs in rematch. There are many reasons why APs and HFs decide not to extend with each other: personality, skills, location, job loss, maturing children.

DH hates the annual round of interviewing candidates, making selections and the stress of training a new arrival (yes, I know, due to The Camel, our beloved special needs child, we have a steeper learning curve than most HFs). He would take an okay AP over a new AP most days (but even he agreed with me that AP #5 would be better off with a new family).

I had the opportunity to fill out a HF sheet for the one AP who wanted to extend but we did not. If you are considering a Year 2 AP, read between the lines on that sheet. Ask to speak to the HF, and if the agency says no, then ask to speak with the LCC. Your family may be a better fit for that AP, but the only way to find out if she barely scraped through her first year is to ask.

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