Getting Back On The Right Foot When You Start Out Wrong

by cv harquail on February 8, 2014

Experienced Host Parents know that when your au pair arrives, you get him or her in action right away. Right Away!

Even though it’s tempting to let him/her sleep in, or to show her around your wonderful town, or to wait until his English is better before you start giving instructions on ‘how to do things’, your best strategy is always to get them working.

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We don’t want to get them to work right away so that we can maximize the amount of work we ‘get’ out of an au pair.

We put au pairs to work right away because:

  • People learn better when they are trying.
  • People are less homesick when they are busy. People get more connected to kids when they interact. And,
  • People feel happier when they have something meaningful to do.

The sooner you get your au pair doing the things you need her to do, even as she’s still learning, the better off you’ll be.


But New Host Parents?  It’s easy to start off wrong, and very quickly to get to a place where nothing is working. Nothing.

Such is the case with this HostMomInTysons. Don’t say anything about the Mercedes (!!) — just go straight to advice. Here’s her story.

Dear Au Pair Mom,

Our au pair from Sweden arrived a few weeks ago. She is nice, shy and very inexperienced.

The first two days she was here we took her out to see Washington DC. She had dinner with me and my husband at a steakhouse in Georgetown the first night. The second night she went out with me and some girlfriends.  We’ve given her our old car (a 2007 Mercedes) and an iPhone 5s– we want her to be able to get around and talk to friends and family.

I slowly started to introduce her to work the first week in our home by being home the first week.

In my effort to make her feel at home, I was cooking all her favorite foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, buying her all snacks and candy she could ever wish for.

Still she is super depressed and homesick, too depressed to work. She is crying all the time and texting with her boyfriend 24-7. We are talking about her depression until 11 pm every night.

She can’t be alone with the kids for more than 50 minutes unless they are asleep.

I have 3 kids under the age of 4 and I just wonder when this will stop, my husband is traveling and hasn’t been home for 10 days. In the meantime, I’m not sleeping, I’m just cooking for the au pair (she can’t eat any vegetables), trying to take care of the kids, bringing some positive energy to the household.

I hired her to help me but right now it feels like I have 4 kids to take care of instead of 3.

Will this turn around? Is this how the year will be?  I feel bad about telling the agency because I feel like I failed as an host mom. What should I do?

— HostMomInTysons

What should this Host Mom try, to set things to right?

If you know a new Host Mom, or a Host Mom who is welcoming a new Au Pair right now, send her this post! Use the Share This button, below.

See also:

Advice Wanted: How to set the right tone from Week 1
Ways to start orienting your New Au Pair: Some advice for the first two days
Homesickness and your Au Pair: How you might help

Image: Homesick, AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Wondering Grubb


Taking a Computer Lunch February 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm

My advice – get out of the house. That’s right, leave her alone in the house with your kids. She’s been in your house for 10 days and is settling into a role as a complaining guest, but that’s not what you need. Go somewhere for 4 hours. While it might feel like you’re punishing your kids, it’s sink or swim for your au pair. Give her a list of things to do with them while you’re gone: help them make their beds, do the breakfast dishes, go to the playground, make them lunch. Repeat this daily, gradually increasing the length of time you’re gone and the amount of work she must accomplish, until you feel she’s up to speed. And what’s this “can’t eat vegetables nonsense?!” Everyone can eat vegetables!!! In fact, you want her to model proper nutrition while she’s eating her lunch, so insist that she prepare vegetables for the children and consume them herself. (In my experience Europeans eat far more cooked vegetables than Americans – and are more likely to count potatoes as a vegetable. Many APs that I have hosted don’t try the raw salads that I prefer for weeks and sometimes months into their stay.)

When you’ve got her working at a reasonable level (and I’m thinking days not weeks) then contact your LCC. If there aren’t any other Swedish women in your cluster, chances there are several in the greater Washington D.C. area. Also ask your LCC to arrange to have some of the APs in your cluster that live closest to you to reach out to her.

Finally, stop being her mom. You need your sleep. Go to bed when you need to. Ask your LCC for advice on how to disengage from your role as cook and confidante without being cruel.

Should be working February 8, 2014 at 1:23 pm

We’ve never had it near as bad as this poster, but I have learned that I need to remind DH when the new au pair comes that *I* am in charge of training, and we shouldn’t start off with treating her like a guest. He’s such a softie/helper type, we have had conflicts where I feel like he “ruins” the au pair for us–like cleaning up after her “cleanup” of breakfast, and then 2 months in he complains….to me, not her. I’m the tough cop. Not terribly tough, but I pull out my “boss/manager” panties when starting up with the au pair to not fall into my usual counselor-friend persona.

Preventively speaking, it helps keep everyone on track when I set up and send to the AP ahead of arrival a “schedule of first days” (there’s a post on this somewhere on this blog). It does include downtime, show-around time, but also “driving practice on major kid-related routes”, “lunch prep orientation”, “laundry orientation” and stuff like that. For the first night we ask what the AP likes especially and make a celebratory welcome dinner, but that’s it. DH has learned, mostly, to obey my raised eyebrows and glares if he starts telling her “It’s ok, just leave it” when she starts to help out after dinner with cleanup. And he has learned, mostly, to keep his mouth shut when I explain expectations in my “businesslike” voice of how we like things done (and I do give myself a cushion–we are extra-tidy on AP arrival and even the kids know that we “want the new AP to think this is how we always are”).

For this poster, I’m with TaCL: It’s time to sink or swim. I’d contact the LCC *now* to tell her the story and tell her your plan to turn things around. If you think there is no hope, have the mediation meeting with the LCC so that if you decide to end things you don’t have to wait two MORE weeks.

With or without LCC/mediation, I would have a pleasant, warm-toned “come to [insert G-d figure here]” talk explaining that you need to quickly shift things, she needs to snap herself out of it, and you will help her by giving her meaningful, structured work and expectations and showing her what the AP year is. Basically I’d consider this her 2-week mediation period. And yes, get out of the house, make her be what you want her to be, and if she can’t do it, cut her loose and start over. It will feel like a relief if she can’t be even just 80% of what you want her to be.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 8, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I like the idea of sending the first week’s schedule in advance, thanks for the idea!

In general, since we use APIA, our APs arrive Thursday night, exhausted and stressed out from listening to English during the 3-day orientation. On Friday morning, I let the AP unpack and call/Skype home. At noon, I start training her in the care of the Camel, where things are in the house, and the routine. We expect her to stay with us through dinner, and then let her disappear. On Saturday, she joins DH as he goes grocery shopping (we’ve learned over the years that it’s far less stressful for her if she can’t pick out the foods she wants than to try to make a list in English). He uses this as an opportunity to test our her driving skills. On Saturday afternoon, they do a longer driving test, which includes highway driving, as well as navigating both small and busy roads,
parallel parking, three point turns. In only 2 out of the 9 APs we have hosted has driving been an issue. We expect that the AP will stay with us through dinner. On Sunday, if there isn’t a cluster meeting (our LCC usually organizes a fantastic “beat homesickness” day event in August, when the majority of APs arrive), then we tour our city.

For us, training begins in earnest on Monday morning. Usually the kids start school, and so DH hangs out for the morning routine and I come home early for the PM routine. That will be different this year, as the AP will arrive earlier, but also in the week that we prepare for a major milestone ceremony for child #2. Usually by Tuesday or Wednesday, the AP is ready to fly solo, and after a couple of weeks, DH and I are able to leave for work earlier than typical or stay later. I do think that working reduces homesickness, just as developing relationships with AP peers and making a life in her new, albeit temporary, home.

Should be working February 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm

OT: Where is Calif Mom? Did she leave the program or the blog? Or is she the same as CA Host Mom??

AussiePair February 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm

As a current au pair I 200% agree with all the host mom comments here. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT let your au pair start off too easily, get her working straight away.

I’ve been with two host families so far and in the first host mom stayed home to “show me the ropes”, in reality she just had me look after the 3yr old occasionally and taught me nothing about the routines or even let me try to feed/change/put to sleep the 5 month old. And instead of taking me to drop the 3 yr old at school she would take both kids and leave me to “rest”. This ended up being frustrating for me because in the second week when I was left in charge, I felt I should know the routine and just be gettin used to it instead I was having to contact the host mom constantly about the babies care routine and how to get places. I felt I couldn’t do my job properly and that I was annoying the host mom.

In my second family the experience was completely different, I got to work straight away (had a one day over lap with former au pair), I was taken to all the places I needed to know about or give the address and a gps to enter the information into. I felt accomplished, like I was good at my job and on top of everything. Among other things it definitely made for a muh more successful time.

I also believe being busy I the key, a family where you only have to work a few hours a day driving kids to and from school and very few other responsibilities might seem like an au pair dream job, but you WILL get bored, and when you’re bored you’re going to contact people at home more and you’re going to miss it more. I have seen so many au pairs head home because of homesickness and I honestly think it’s because they’ve had too much time on their hands and too much contact with everyone back home.

Julia February 9, 2014 at 3:24 am

From the point of view from an au pair who almost left the program the first week because of being home sick and a bit bored. Let her work. She will need the distracting. Finding her spot in your family is important.
But also help her to reach out to other au pairs. My problem was I came compared to the other au pairs quite early mid of July and the old au pairs didnt reach out to me because they were leaving in 2-3 weeks. There was one new au pair but she was on vacation with her family the first 10 days I was there. Do your kids nap a lot`? Mine was just over one and took a 3 hr nap every day and yes that was the time I was home sick the most because my family held back on the chores for the first week and I had almost the full 3 hours to be home sick. If there is a chance that she can drive let her take the kids to the park or do something that gets her also out of the house. I couldnt my car was broken in the beginning and we lived on a farm with no public transportation or anything else that I could do with the child,
Good luck

WestMom February 9, 2014 at 9:36 am

I feel for you HostMonInTysons. I really wish the LC would do a better job at coaching new HostFamilies. I am sure the first year is very defining for the hostFamily: if it goes well, they might be in the program for years. If it doesn’t, they may go through a string of rematches, get a horrible feeling about the program never do it again. Wondering if there shouldn’t be host family training for first time families? After all, the AP goes to training for 3 days, why shouldn’t we? Minimally, pls share a link to this site!

I totally agree with previous posters that the guest treatment has to stop. Make a schedule for the next few days, with very detailed instructions about what you expect her to do. Leave the house and do a checkpoint in the evening, give her positive reinforcement. In your situation, I would even assign her the preparation of 1-2 weekly dinner with expectations about a balanced meal. Maybe if she chooses her meal you may soon find out that she can actually eat *some* vegetables.

About the ‘texting the boyfriend’… I would suggest you keep an eye on that one. Is she texting while she is on duty? You might feel like its ok to let her connect home because she is home sick, but be careful not to set the boundaries too wide so she feels she can Skype or text whenever she feels like it. I don’t allow this during work hours.

First year is always a learning experience. It sets the tone for what kind of host mom you want to become. Don’t let this experience discourage you, but instead help you discover your expectations.

Best of luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 9, 2014 at 10:28 pm

If you have provided your AP with a phone and you suspect that she is using it too much during working hours, then run a report on it. Our handbook states no phone calls over 10 minutes during working hours, but one AP abused it by having a series of 10-minute phone calls. We pointed out that while she was following the guidelines she was breaking the spirit of them and it should stop so she could concentrate on her care. She got it. If I suspected that she hadn’t, then I would have followed up with surprise visits home.

Texanadian APMom February 9, 2014 at 11:32 am

I wish I had seen or received the advice to “ramp up” as soon as possible when your au pair arrives! Come to think of it, the host parent handbook did give a sample arrival / training schedule of about 3 days, but I admit I didn’t notice the timeline aspect until after I had concluded after going into rematch with our first au pair, that a shorter “ramp” is far superior to the long, long, LONG ramp up we had done with AP#1. Although I agree that the benefits to the au pair are plenty (keeping occupied, starting relationship building quickly, avoiding homesickness, etc), our reasoning for shortening the introductory period was to better protect US as a host family.

AP#1 had misrepresented his abilities from the start. I had to show him how to boil a pot of water. Twice. Like HostMomInTysons, I had taken on a role with AP#1 that over-emphasized the “Mom” part of Host-Mom. Because we did not expect him to complete his full duties in his first days, and instead were layering on far too slowly over weeks, we did not see just how deeply he had misrepresented his skills until several weeks into his year. Even then, I further made the mistake of taking on the burden of teacher/mother. Like previous posters, we did mistakenly told him “don’t worry about it” re: helping with his own dishes and meal clean-up in his first days, coming from a kind place of wanting AP#1 to relax.

The problem was, AP#1 took that to mean “don’t worry about it, or anything like it, ever!”. We were far too tolerant of his very very picky (and poor) eating habits. We handed over more control to our third vehicle out of wanting him to have a social life and avoid homesickness, and instead created an environment where he didn’t have to do his duties, he didn’t feel the need to interact with the family beyond his minimum work hours, and he racked a ton of miles on our vehicle as he was chauffering other APs around… In the end, we felt taken advantage of, stressed out, and like I couldn’t travel for work for lack of trust in the au pair to do simple tasks.

BTW, we HAVE an au pair so my husband has help while I travel!! Anyway, after 8 increasingly stressful weeks, we ended up in rematch and sending AP#1 home, because he was lying to us (and putting significant effort into it). In retrospect, I think he also felt hard-done-by, because our expectations in the beginning were so small, and though we told him week over week they would increase, he felt like we had “piled too high”, when really, it was a pretty straightforward job. So our “kindness” of not telling him to worry about it, not expecting his full responsibilities Day 1, and not limiting the use of our 3rd vehicle, ended up not helping him feel any better about the situation anyway!

AP#2 has been a completely different story. Granted, I think her capabilities were, in contrast, under-stated on her profile and in interviews; our approach was completely different. This might sound overboard to some, but after feeling “burned” by AP#1, my husband and I sat down, and set a list of expectations we wanted to see met, and by when – and like TaCL suggested, the timeline was DAYS, not weeks. That helped us make sure we weren’t looking for Mary Poppins, but that we could identify right away, rather than weeks in, whether we could be comfortable with me traveling for work. It worked almost like an evaluation / report card, of what constituted a “good enough AP”, a “really good AP”, and “Mary Poppins”, and if we weren’t getting at least “good enough”, we would take faster action than with AP#1.

We also sent a “what to expect in your first days” email to AP#2, which she appreciated. And like ShouldBeWorking said, we made dinner the first night special, but it was at home, with all the children, and not too far off from what was typical in our home. When she helped clean up, we said “thank you”, and she has been helpful ever since. We invited her to join the family for grocery shopping, attending my oldest son’s birthday party on Saturday, a family walk and playground visit on Sunday (which also happened to be the route I wanted her to start with for our 5 month-old’s daily walks), and for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My husband took her out both days for driving practice. I say we “invited” AP#2 for most things because we wanted to see whether AP#2 would be more proactive about involving in the family, so yes, a bit of a test, but she rose the occasion, and we were immediately feeling better about the experience.

I did take a couple of days off work to train AP#2, and Day 1 we went through our family handbook in detail, including examples, and touring the house. The house tour included showing how appliances worked, safety details, where everything was kept, etc. Day 2 I let AP#2 do EVERYTHING on her own, I shadowed and offered advice and corrections only. Day #3 I had taken off, but remained in the house so I was very closely available for all questions, then AP#2 was flying solo from that Thursday onward. Re: vehicle usage, we went ahead and installed a GPS for easier mileage tracking, and set boundaries on where the vehicle could go, and how often and during what hours it could be used.

We have been delighted with her performance as an AP, and have built a genuine relationship with her. She contributes to the household, keeps her place neat, seems to be connecting just fine with her family, and just last weekend exclaimed “I am SO not homesick!”. :-)

Being our first year, we were pretty disappointed with how AP#1 didn’t work out, but our optimism about the program is fully restored now, and a big factor was having the higher expectations immediately.

Lena February 9, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Human beings thrive when they know the boundaries and expectations. This is why children with overly lenient parents are brats…they are pushing to find out where the boundaries are, because they haven’t been given any. And this also explains why the au pair is struggling. During such a time of huge upheaval and change (leaving home, coming to a foreign country) au pairs really thrive on routine, structure, and knowing what’s expected of them. Frankly setting high expectations will help them through homesickness better than low. Also having a repeatable, predictable daily routine will go a really long way (just guessing here since it sounds like you aren’t working and the kids are so young that days might all be different…this is how it is in my house). Having a clear job to do, keeping busy, and seeing satisfaction in a job well done are integral parts to human happiness…just look at depressed, aimless, over-coddled children of helicopter parents, or trustafarians. People in general rise to expectations. She’s being treated like she’s another one of your charges rather than as an adult with responsibilities in the house, so that’s how she’s acting.

I was way too accommodating with AP#1 and it took MONTHS for our sons to grow attached to her, and I was STILL cleaning up after her 8 months into the year. I just wish I never had done it in the first place! She also had helicopter parents, we realized over the course of the year, and in selecting #2 we were very careful to chose one with parents who had likely transmitted the value of work and helping out within a family unit to her already. She came from a middle-class blue collar background, and was used to doing things like cooking dinner for her mom when she was working late. Another advantage with AP#2 was we already were in a pretty good routine, so it was easier for me to train her for the job (whereas with AP#1 we were inventing the job description from scratch). I’ve become so much more comfortable now doing things like knocking on AP’s door after she is done working to say, “hey I know it must have been a long day with the baby’s molar coming in and all, but could you please take a few minutes to straighten up the mudroom? It’s because the morning routine is so much more pleasant and quick when everything is organized and ready to go for school. Thanks!” And I’ll do this even if it will take her twice as long as me to clean up, or if I have to do it with her for the umpteenth time so she learns where everything goes. In the end, she will feel more confident and competent when she knows she is valued and doing a good job, and you are not seething with resentment. I speak from experience here :)

A word about privileges: I know everyone is rolling their eyes at the Mercedes and iPhone 5. We are in a similar situation, so I’m not rolling my eyes. But I’ll tell you why this is setting a bad precedent – they have NO appreciation of the value of what you’re giving them. We learned our lesson with AP#1, and changed our policy so she contributes $30/month for the data cost of a smartphone (we’re covering $15 for the basic cell phone cost) and we also have set more boundaries around car use. I know that’s not your issue here, but unfettered access is not appreciated as we had thought it would be.

But this is all advice for the future, when you have an opportunity for a fresh start. In this situation I think you should rematch and start from scratch with someone with more experience and who is older. She can’t handle the kids alone more than 50 minutes? Uh oh. Texting 24/7?? What employer, at any job, would be OK with this? She truly does sound like another child, which is the last thing you need! You’re losing sleep? This is actually quickly becoming a crisis situation. Yes, she may rise to the occasion if you have a come to Jesus talk, completely change your mindset, and start expecting her to do her job. But she will be shocked by the change, and it sounds like she isn’t really qualified for the job in the first place. It also sounds like she is not committed to the idea that this is a job. So maybe chalk this up to a learning experience for yourself and do the girl a favor and set her free.

Should be working February 9, 2014 at 3:57 pm

But pls update us if you do have a Big Talk. I’m always keen to know whether and how often BIG turnarounds happen with HFs/APs.

MominDelRay February 10, 2014 at 12:14 am

We are on Aupair #3 and have definitely learned from others and our history. The comments from AP’s and HP’s who say give the tough love and keep them busy are 100% right. I live near by if you’d like to chat or grab a coffee! Good luck!

NoVA Twin Mom February 10, 2014 at 9:51 am

OP – what agency are you with? APIA has a few Swedish APs in the area (our au pairs love the mall in Tysons so they’re there relatively often) but there aren’t as many Swedish au pairs in the area as you’d think. If you’re with APIA you might need to have your LCC contact the “next cluster over” to find some Swedish au pairs to befriend yours. I echo everyone else, get her working, but I also know we get along much better with our au pairs that have a vibrant social life – we all need a break from one another sometimes.

TexasHM February 10, 2014 at 10:03 am

Should be working I can’t agree more. In fact I waited a couple days to comment so I could take out emotion! Our first AP took months to get up to speed (terrible English, terrible driver) and one day I just had to kick her in the butt and tell her “you need to get a license by April 30th or we have to move on”. Amazing how she suddenly had time to study and passed the test. As a first time host mom I didn’t rematch for the same reasons (I failed, I didn’t try hard enough/everything) – so not true!!
I’ll tell you what another host mom told me that I should have listened to! She said you got an AP to help reduce the stress in the household. Is that what you’re seeing? Do you realize that with the right match you can have someone that not only jumps in and helps day one, but can train almost completely in 3 days? If I told you that 3 days into a new rematch AP you could have a third adult in the house that knows the routine and can be a major contributor how would that change your view of the current situation?
It’s hard to see the light from the bottom of this well, I know, you’ll see my name scratched on the wall next to you! I had 3 that were 4.5 and under at that time and felt like I was too exhausted to rematch and just wanted to get her to tolerable. You deserve and need more than tolerable. I promise there are great APs out there that have families that lied to them, mistreat them and in the worst cases abuse them and any one of them would kill to match with your family and would work hard and show their appreciation of your numerous perks.
I think this relationship would be next to impossible to fix, if you gave her a come to Jesus and she rose to the occasion would you be bitter/frustrated/feel like she was putting you on the whole time? I would! Plus honestly I think she won’t rise to the occasion, my guess is she will crumble and may even tell your LCC you are a jerk!
I vote rip the band aid off and I almost venture to say it can’t get much worse right?! Sending prayers and support your way!

Dorsi February 10, 2014 at 2:49 pm

This is such a good reminder! I have some specific things to add, but it will have to wait. This week is AP changeover for us, and I am just emailing her a schedule of the first few days based on some of the above advice..

Seattle Mom February 10, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I only have one thing to add: You are not required to cook special food for your AP. Your AP can eat whatever the family eats. If she doesn’t like it, show her where everything is so that she can fix her own pasta/toast/salad/etc. She probably will feel better having a little autonomy, so that she doesn’t feel so dependent.

Ok I lied, I have one more thing: I do think you got off to a bad start with this AP, but it sounds like she’d be a loser no matter how you started. She sounds immature and unable to function emotionally. She can’t eat vegetables? She can’t be left alone with the kids for an hour? What does she think this is, a vacation or a job?

Should be working February 10, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I would love to hear from the original poster how this AP was in matching. Did the shyness/insecurity come through at all? Was she enthusiastic about the program and the match with your family?

One thing I notice is that the APs are SO enthusiastic about the idea of the au pair year that they might seem more confident than they actually are. I don’t blame them for enthusiasm–the agency sells them on “their dream” and shows them the pretty beach and city pictures. And at age 18 (or 47) enthusiasm can seem to look and feel like commitment. And HFs can let themselves be misled by that. I wish I knew better how to distinguish enthusiasm from commitment.

I am already suspicious when an AP’s profile says, “trust me, your kids will have a great time”. Why should I trust her? I know it’s a rhetorical/language thing, but still. Enthusiasm is not commitment. I have even started to consider high enthusiasm as a possible NEGATIVE in an AP candidate. Because that enthusiasm-high means that there can be disappointment-low. These days I’m hoping for “even keel” in the next match, which goes against my usual preference for big smiles, but I’m thinking it might be a long-term better idea.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I will add that a lot of immature APs will agree to anything in order to match. I have found that young women that offer a degree of push-back have a sense of who they are. If you live in a candidate’s dream city, then chances are she’ll say just about anything to live with you (btdt). Over the years we’ve learned to ask a few questions that force APs to elicit answers (like – what was the last meal you cooked for your family – I want to hear that it wasn’t pasta!) Oh, I know that 75% of my APs have preferred a pasta dinner to just about anything else, I just want to hear that they are capable of cooking — and eating — something else!

I don’t think all is lost in this relationship, however, after all it’s only been 2 weeks. There are still 49. I agree with others though, have a come-to-Jesus talk and give her 2 weeks to lift her head up and start pulling her weight (and that does require you to walk away – okay to have a friend or neighbor pop in after a couple of hours on a spy mission). Meanwhile, line up back-up child-care because if you go into rematch, my guess is that she’ll be gone so fast your eyes won’t have time to blink. Call your LCC and invite her to talk with your AP immediately after your chat (sometimes young women have to be told that HP’s expectations are not unreasonable).

RepeatingAuPair February 11, 2014 at 1:17 am

I have been reading this blog for a while and I decided this is a good post to comment.
I came back 2 weeks ago as a repeating au pair, having the experience before helped me a lot about what I should consider in a host family and basically what to expect, obviously this time I didn’t believe or pay attention to all the sugar coated stuff that agencies sell to us in our countries, I found a great host family and I’m doing my best for them!
My thoughts about the OP situation. I don’t believe there is a pre set time to start getting your new au pair in the groove of job, it’s not only the host parents responsibility it’s also au pair’s, the au pair must know this is not a vacation, if you are a committed au pair you will start asking questions since day one, no matter how tired you are after training school or traveling, you’re the one going a new place and starting a new job, two weeks ago when I came here I just got into my self start mood and I start playing with the kids during my first weekend here, offer my host mom to put the dishes away, I didn’t care if I didn’t know where they go I tried to figure out by myself!
This au pair is acting too silly, immature and her behavior is not acceptable, I agree that there can be homesickness but seriously if you apply for something like this you should know what to expect.
I think OP should have a serious conversation with the au pair about her feeling about maybe go home, OP you didn’t fail as a host mom you’re doing your best but it seems like this au pair is taking advantage of you.

TexasHM February 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm

So a comment on enthusiasm in interviewing – this is exactly why we border on the dare to match side. Yes, we spend the first few rounds talking about the advantages of our scenario and asking open ended questions about what they are looking to accomplish here and what they think the experience will entail but once we get to the point where I think this could be the match for us I usually send a last couple of emails – one with my concerns about the AP (shot across the bow, I am looking to see if she gets confrontational or if she can take constructive/honest criticism and respond maturely) and one with some downsides to our family situation (3 kids, 45 hours, shares a car with us though almost never a challenge, we aren’t rich, we do expect them to participate in family holidays/major events, etc). Our current and last AP (both amazing) both responded acknowledging our concerns (validation), gave their rebuttal on why they don’t think it will be an issue or what they would do to make sure it wasn’t an issue (driving, lack of exp watching 3 kids for examples) and actually gave a rebuttal on our family downsides almost defending us as an awesome family! (Its great that you want an AP that wants to attend family moments, I am not coming to be an AP for exclusive car use so that doesn’t matter, etc) Obviously a smooth talker could probably respond in the same way but I fully intend to continue to do this and we have had a couple of close matches go south at these emails and in hindsight, we dodged a bullet. They either got confrontational or just accepted the concerns and didn’t give any rebuttal (gave up) and we want someone that is resilient because as we all know, this is a hard program at times even when things are good! There is homesickness and culture shock and days when the kids are insane and we need someone that can shake it off and work through it and keep their eye on the finish line.

Seattle Mom February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Wow that sounds like a great strategy. I think I put way too much out there right in the beginning, and the last few rounds of emails are way too “feel good” because I get a little insecure and start thinking “wow if she lasted this long I don’t want to lose her after all the time & energy I’ve invested in this potential match.” And that is the wrong attitude to take and it might be the reason why our current AP is kind of a dud… though a very nice, inoffensive, safe, dud that I do not forsee a rematch though if things go south we will.

Should be working February 11, 2014 at 8:01 pm

I put out my concerns about the AP and/or about us as a match very early, like in the first or second email. For instance: “I like your application, especially x & y, but one thing I wonder is whether you would be comfortable with my preteen since you have no experience with preteens.”

And in the first or second email I come out with the negatives, e.g. : “All host families have ups and downs. Let me tell you what some au pairs might see as ‘downs’ with us: 1. We ask the AP to speak her native language with the kids–but we promise that you will learn great English, especially if you make friends with people other than APs from your home country! And the ‘upside’ is that in a pinch or if you are having a problem, we can all speak your language, which makes things a lot less stressful. 2. The kids fight. Frequently. About who sits where in the car, whose turn it is for the ketchup, who was talking first. Normal and yet very, very annoying. 3. The older kids are preteens/teens and that is not something that most APs (and you) have much experience with, it includes moodiness and drama. They aren’t cuddly babies. But they don’t need diaper changes either.”

I always want to be MORE of an “I dare you” type of HM but I end up being warm and friendly anyway.

TexasHM February 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I wait a bit to break out those emails because early rounds I am asking my open ended questions and explaining where the heck Texas is and that no, we do not all ride horses to work and yes, we have things to do in a city of 7 million (don’t get me started!). My handbook and kids info document covers most of the stuff just mentioned (kids fight, curfews, etc), so when I fire a shot at them it’s a final test. I’m not rude, I just very candidly share my concerns – you’ve never left your home country so we are worried about you being homesick, you’ve never watched 3 kids so how do we know it’s not too much for you, etc. we have lost candidates by doing this and it’s hard on me when that happens but at this point, I see it works and better to find out it won’t work now than after they get here.

TexasHM February 11, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Plus if I am being completely honest I am also challenging them so that if one of those concerns is an issue they know that I see it coming and will be watching for it so agreeing to anything and hoping I won’t notice is no longer a viable strategy. We also historically used APIA so it was hard at times to see how serious the candidates were about us (vs stringing us along in case their real #1 pick doesn’t pick them so we can be their plan B) and this gives them an out.

This last round we had an awesome candidate respond with – I think you are right, you are a lot more conservative than me and I don’t think its going to work. Great! She went to a family in Chicago that gave her unlimited car use and no curfews and its working well. Her partying wouldn’t have worked for us and she downplayed it until that challenge email. Also, our very first AP fell apart when we challenged her so we felt bad and matched with her, guess what? She fell apart anytime things got hard personally or professionally. Second AP validated our concerns and asked how she could make us comfortable picking her and offered her own suggestions. Here, when there was an issue she asked how she could solve the problem and offered her own suggestions.

We are only a little over a week into AP #3 but it was a very stressful week (AP#2 leaving unexpectedly, chaotic schedule) and my challenge email to her included that and her response – life is difficult at times but there is no reason to think if we work together that it can’t still be a positive experience. The last week she has been empathetic and worked fantastically together with our departing AP, pitched in every chance she got with housework and playing with kids (even off hours) without being asked and has been a positive, consistent presence in the house.

I wish I could say I had a psych background and could explain why this is working for us but I don’t. It also plays into setting the tone for the relationship so that if they get here and we have concerns, they know how we will approach them (candid, constructive criticism with opportunity for them to respond).

Should be working February 11, 2014 at 9:09 pm

TexasHM, this is brilliant. You are making me think that somehow to evoke a little bit of conflict or tension in interviewing is a really good thing, to see how it plays out.

In fact, when I think back, with mixed-bag last AP we had a little tension in interviewing and she got resentful and eye-rolling (she mentioned she was thinking of getting a tattoo, I told her that her application said she had none and we wanted it to stay that way). We talked about it, even about the feelings it evoked, and it resolved well and I took it to mean, “This AP can talk about feelings and get over things”. BUT guess what–when she was here and things came up, she quickly got resentful and rolled her eyes, and then after LOTS of talking it got smoothed out. We loved her in many ways, but it was higher maintenance than I want with an AP. Even SHE said when she left, “You should get a less emotional AP next time,” which I find very funny.

So now I want to think of how to introduce a little tad of tension/stress into the interview situation in order to EVOKE the response-style I’d be living with, rather than just TALK ABOUT how the AP responds to stress.

HR people out there, you must have ideas about how to do this!!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 12, 2014 at 7:49 am

We ask our APs to give us an example of a stressful situation and how they solved it. It’s an open-ended question, but of course we are looking for a situation involving children. We have passed on candidates who gave answers about studying for exams. When the kids were younger we gave candidates a scenario that made them choose which child to care for first, but now that they’re teenagers that situation rarely arises anymore and we’ve dropped the question.

TexasHM February 13, 2014 at 11:57 am

Should be working – very interesting! I want to be sure and preface that in this challenge email we make it very clear that we think the AP is fantastic and its very much a tone of constructive criticism and concern as much for them as for us (we want an awesome match just like you and the last thing either of us wants is to go into rematch so we want to be honest with you about our concerns…). We frame it so that its clear its not personal (you look trampy on FB) and is grounded in legitimacy (we have two young daughters that imitate EVERYTHING our AP does so its important we have an AP that is aware and sensitive to that). We haven’t had that one yet BTW because trampy on FB wouldn’t make it to the next round but you get the idea. :)

Scandiamom February 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Looove your advice – seems that in the US you’ve gotten much further than in Scandinavia, where we live. We’ve had five AP until now, and very different experiences… I’ve found it incredibly hard to pick out the right persons just from the profiles.

As for the situation starting the tread, I do agree with the others saying it will be better to end it. The girl doesn’t seem to have the skills or matureness to comply with the job, sorry about that. However, you shouldn’t be put off, next time you’ll have learned how to make things better from the start!

Skny February 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

By the way Texas mom, I really like your approach. We are in the final matching stages with one girl (kind of informally already said she was the girl), but I have a few concerns like yours. I wonder if it is too late to send the letter exposing my concerns.
Between them, are the fact the girl has only watched one new born for a year, which is good as I am expecting, but never 3 kids 4 and under. She mentioned she doesn’t like chicken a lot (big staple here… At least 3 meals a week)… Between others. I may really write a letter to her today

TexasHM February 14, 2014 at 10:49 am

Skny I think its not too late. We usually do this literally at the 11th hour – after we have already decided to ask her to match. This response is the finish line. I could ask the APs but I would be willing to bet that they also knew we were about to ask them at this point. I would just be really honest and tell her that 3 kids 4 and under is HARD. We tell them their job is the hardest and most important one in our household so we take that decision very seriously. We talk about how tiring it is and that we want to set her up to be successful here and not overwhelm her and the culture change is a big challenge by itself. I wouldn’t worry as much about chicken (my previous AP “hated” shrimp and then ate the heck out of it here) but you might mention that chicken is very prevalent here and you eat it a lot and want to make sure she has other options – what does she normally eat? If its prime rib you need to set an expectation, if its ground beef not so much. :) All about expectation setting and asking her to take a hard look at her own strengths and weaknesses and tell you if she believes honestly she is up to the challenge.

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