How does your professional expertise influence your Host Parenting?

by cv harquail on April 3, 2014

All lot of us au pair moms and dads have interesting professional experience.

I know from emailing many of you ‘behind the blog’ that we have doctors, lawyers, government service managers, someone who does pr for a city, customer service managers, law enforcement officers, a judge, school teachers, accountants, strategic consultants, small business owners, a few entrepreneurs and at least one graduate of a famous chef’s academy.

Yet, very rarely do we call upon our professional experience when we share ideas about au pairs and host parenting.

Why is that?  I know that for me, the book learning related to being a management professor tends to make everything more complicated. My brain hurts when I think about applying theories to our everyday practices when, so often, what we really need is empathy and common sense.

But how about with you?   I’ve wondered for a while, so when I was exchanging emails with a regular contributor a few weeks ago, and her title showed up in her email signature, I decided to ask.

This mom, dear reader, is a “Human Resource Professional” with a specialty in “Performance Management”.

“Yes, CV it’s true”, she replied. “My job is to help supervisors get their employees engaged, train them to communicate expectations and handle difficult conversations, and advise them on what to do with poorly performing employees.”

Does it help you much with your aupairmom-ing? I asked.

“I think it’s actually made me more neurotic as a host mom because I know all the studies and best practices of how to manage employees, so I over-think things.  
I think that contributed to our failure with our fourth au pair – I kept think that if only I managed her better, she would be a better au pair. But sometimes you’re just not a good fit with someone, and I needed to have known when to just pull the plug. 
I don’t ever tell anyone at work that I “manage” an au pair, and I don’t tell my au pairs much about my work.  But being a host parent has immensely informed my work in the office, because I know for a fact just how hard it is to give someone feedback, help them set goals, and hold them responsible. “

Parents, what’s true for you, when it comes to bringing your work experience into your host parenting?  Does it help, or is it irrelevant?


Mimi April 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I work at a large state university, so I spend a ton of time with the AP age group, and in various capacities I’ve had anywhere from 5-120 student employees at different times. I do a lot of training and documentation for employees/ student employees, so it’s helped me organize training that’s helped us be very successful with our 5 au pairs over 7 years. (It’s also probably the reason my handbook is long!) I also supervise professional employees so conflict resolution and job performance is something else I have a lot of experience with (unfortunately). Sometime like the contributor above I start to over-think things, but then I focus on the demographic instead.

I think my work experience gives me a different perspective into what this age group’s expectations are and how they respond to work and life pressures. I think that some HF forget that these au pairs are often young people who are away from home and on their own for what may be the first time in their lives (much like my college students). They are trying to find their adult identities along the way and often making mistakes as they go.

I’m sometimes surprised by reactions here and in my HF group to certain situations that I thought would be predictable given the circumstances. But it’s predictable for me because I’ve learned that even the most mature and responsible au pair will often do something irresponsible or immature, just like some of my best student workers have. Life lessons are learned this way. My goal as an employer and as a HM is to help them minimize the scale of the lesson and help them be successful in the goals I’ve set for them and the ones life has in store for them. It’s good practice for me as my own brood ages, too.

Momma Gadget April 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

“even the most mature and responsible au pair will often do something irresponsible or immature” Really great Points!

Mimi April 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm

(I should also add that in one of my previous lives, I supervised professional and student bus drivers. Best experience for those drivers who were less than honest about driving experience!)

Momma Gadget April 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

I think my professional experience has been fairly helpful.
As a senior creative person for my company, I’ve travel extensively and have to communicate with multitude of non- native english speakers.
1. Makes me quicker to understand the gist of what someone form another country is trying to say, even when they are struggling to find the correct words.
2. I learned( the hard way) that “yes, yes, yes” is not always a positive affirmation of understanding.It could also mean “I have no idea or hope of understand what you mean, and I am too embarrassed to ask”; or, “you are out of your F’ing mind, I’m not doing that, but it would be impolite to tell you so”. Always ask the same thing another 2 ways to make sure.
3.Having travelled , and been an exchange student, I am very empathetic to how hard culture shock, and home sickness can be.
4. My negotiating experience has come in handy to show APs how to stand up for themselves when someone has fallen short in a service or item they purchased. It is often surprising to people from other countries that we return things if they are not as advertised…we don’t just chalk up the loss as a”learning expense”.
5. Having managed creative staff, I am pretty good at guiding people to a solution, while letting them find their own path, and tolerant even if it is not the way I would have done it. That is actually a double edge sword for me- sometimes I am too tolerant of an AP, thinking they are just approaching things a different way, only to find out they are in fact just doing whatever they feel ( or don’t feel) like doing.
6. Having travelled I am more aware of the things we Americans do that are annoying, and also have an Idea of things that are special about our country that APs really need to experience .

WestMom April 4, 2014 at 8:28 am

You are me!

I also manage creative staff on various projects. I think I have learned to recruit and train efficiently which has helped me in my AP selection (no rematch so far in 5yrs… Knock on wood!). I am good at communicating expectations and providing constructive feedback without hurting feelings. This has helped in our various ‘check ins’ and ‘reset’ conversations’. Working between business and technology, I also know a trick or two about negotiation. I am a mad planner and document everything. Our weekly AP schedules are detailed, and shared in advance online. To piggy back on the last topic, on the few occasions where we have a Friday or Saturday night event without kids (once per month maybe), it is likely on the calendar a good month in advance. I have never seen any pouting over of Saturday night bbsitting, but perhaps it’s because it is communicated so far in advance…

One drawback of my professional experience (or personality?) is that I have very high expectations… This has made the AP selection process a bit more difficult each year. I have to keep in mind that APs are young and inexperienced (life-wise at least). They will probably not do things to the level of quality I demand of myself and my employees. Just something I have to remind myself every once in a while…

HRHM April 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

That last paragraph really resonates with me. It is probably my number one reason for dissatisfaction with the AP program. In my work, there is an expectation of perfection and I am devastated when I make mistakes or do something less than 100%. It has been really difficult to NOT be able to apply that same measuring stick to APs.

Should be working April 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Other way around for me: Having an AP has made me better at the (minimal) management work I do on the job. It’s great “training wheels” for when I do, in a few years, likely end up having more managerial responsibility. I think it has helped me so much to practice communicating on a friendly-but-managerial level.

My “commonsense” is way too attuned to other people’s feelings and not enough to the needs of the situation. So I’ve had to actually slow down my reactions in dealing with AP matters: not to immediately work for friendly, harmonious relationships but to start with what needs to be done and work backward from there.

Owing to my work I do have international experience, though, and that is very useful for dealing with APs’ cultural differences and (mistaken) expectations about life in the USA.

Seattle Mom April 6, 2014 at 12:13 am

Yes, me too.. I’ve learned a lot about managing people from my au pairs, and my first instinct is to make people happy rather than to meet my goals/objectives etc. I’m still dealing with that at work. I think I’m a better AP manager than I am a manager at work- but I don’t really manage people at work (outside of unpaid interns) it’s more dealing with situations as they come up and making the right decisions… hard to describe without being specific. But I am kicking myself for saying “yes” when I should have started with a “maybe” and then gotten to “no.” I’m in the middle of some awkward things I could have avoided. Ugh.

TexasHM April 3, 2014 at 9:57 pm

I’m in enterprise sales and I do think my experience helps but probably not as much in a managerial sense. My biggest compliment is when the AP arrives and says “this is exactly like you said” and at work, I hope my customers would say the same. I mediate with clients so tend to be able to discuss difficult topics without emotion and focus on the win/win. I also (habit) tend to read into body language and phrasing so I’m not usually surprised when AP approaches about something bothering her and more often I tend to ask them what’s wrong and they are surprised I know something’s up. I also tend to get asked to talk sense into them or their friends at times. :)

mom of multiples April 3, 2014 at 10:04 pm

I love this question (and this community!). The crossover from professional to personal is literal for me, as I work with several people from my au pair’s home country. Familiarity with her language has been very useful, and she knows I’m interested in her country and culture from multiple angles. More generally, I’m a professional communicator, and I have constant practice working through language barriers both at work and at home. There’s a pleasant familiarity between the two settings.

Dorsi April 4, 2014 at 12:56 am

I have never managed anyone other than my Au Pair. I sooooo desperately wanted to have the “We need to rematch” conversation via email — her English is terrible and I knew it would be a terrible surprise to her. However, I did the grown-up thing and sat her down at the kitchen table and spoke my mind. It was super painful. Hopefully, I have taught her a lesson about how the world should work, what it means to treat someone respectfully. Also, I had to face up to my own fears/dislikes.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 4, 2014 at 7:16 am

My 13 years of hosting APs is my management experience. I’m a direct person while DH is more polite – it balances well. Both of us lived and traveled in foreign countries extensively and are curious about the world, which helps manage newly arrived APs dealing with culture shock and the grief of separation from their families. Over the years I have learned to be pro-active in my management – encouraging APs to see things that are special or typical of my city, warning them of impending changes in the schedule (like now is a good time to have that “your schedule is going to change radically in the summer, so don’t be holding off on all those places you want to go” chat). And, of course, after hosting 9 APs, I realize how hard it is for everyone to say goodbye, even when things aren’t going particularly well and you just want to be rid of each other.

Momma Gadget April 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

Being proactive ! Great point. In the fashion world we work 1- 1 1/2 years ahead.I am so used to thinking about things far out in the future, that my APs look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that this year will fly by. Or when they start in May that they really need to book summer classes to have enough credits to have the option open to extend the following winter.
I push them to put themselves out there and make friends/ get involved right away.
I am a terrible nag come 6 months , telling our APs to make a bucket list and work into the schedule the things the really want to do/see here because the end of their contract will be here sooner than they think. Every single AP has told me, they thought I was right.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 4, 2014 at 1:16 pm

What a great idea – to push an AP to schedule things they want to see as their countdown begins. This is the time of year when our family schedule ramps back up – school concerts, festivals, tournaments, etc., that keep us out nearly every night of the week until school ends. If the AP wants to slot something in, she’s going to have to take a close look at what’s already on the schedule!

anonamomma April 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Momma Gadget – I think we were twins separated at birth.

I too push my APs from the interview process to seek out the things they want to achieve and to plan when in their time with me they might be able to do them and when they arrive – we “action” that plan from Day 1.

I have a Family Planner in the kitchen which contains the family’s plans for the year – it has babysitting/school holidays/family days etc on it – it also has cool things like our hobbies, festivals, etc. The Planner is constantly updated with whatever comes up – and we write in the trips/classes etc that AP hopes to do so there is a nice reminder there for her… it works really well :) It also means that AP must plan her life around me (and not the other way around!)

I love having a “plan” and I share this with my AP – and I know that sometimes I am a pain in the a$$ about seeing something through but I have never ever had an AP come to me and say … why or why did you make me go to that festival.. funny that… :)

TexasHM April 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Sidenote I recently got introduced to the Cozi app – where have I been! It emails the family schedule to us all every sat night, we can all update, sends reminder texts or emails, it’s color coded for us visual learners and they have a mobile app. LOVE this!!!!

AussiePair April 4, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Cozi is great for shopping lists(and for sending the au pair shopping if she has a smart phone with the app installed)

anonamomma April 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

My professional life is about striping issues down to their core and fixing them (not always possible) and I tend to take this line in my host parenting style..

I am usually brought into fix situations that have gone to far – which means standing back and seeing what exactly is going on and who needs to do what to bring it all together again.

I believe in being fair and just but I am by no means a pushover and my family’s needs will always trump an AP’s wants.

APs find me very easy to read and they know 9/10 what my answer will be to most of their requests. They also know that I am positive and a problem solver. I don’t believe in blame or guilt.

All this combined makes me super approachable. I’ve been told by my friends that they’ve always known where they stand with me. I won’t tell you that something’s okay if it’s not and I will help/support you if needed.

As some of you have noticed I am very blunt – to a harsh degree..

The particular trait have served me well in both my professional life and in my host parenting style.

I am also very perception and like TexasHM I can see when something is bothering an AP and will approach them – I can also see issues brewing and tend to nip them in the bud – which relates back to my profession…

anonamomma April 4, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Not great at spelling though :(

Momma Gadget April 4, 2014 at 3:49 pm

LOL ! The only thing worse than my spelling is my typing… which is usually about a half a sentence behind where my brain is.

Cali hostmom April 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm

I work in a creative industry where collaboration and cooperation are key. So I feel that’s made me pretty flexible and determined in terms of working to find solutions that are satisfactory to everyone. If you have two people working on a project, you have to find a way to make sure both parties feel appreciated, respected, and invested. I have learned to look for ways to address problems in a creative manner rather than being dogmatic about my person views.

This has also taught me that there are sometimes things that you don’t want to bend on, and you have to stand up for them and fight for them.

Additionally, I’ve learned that you have to be nice to the people who work for you. Because in two years, you could be working for them. Which doesn’t translate exactly to the au pair situation — I’m not expecting my au pair to be my boss anytime soon — but I treat her with the fairness and openness I would hope to receive myself.

Old China Hand April 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I’m a geology professor in real life at a small liberal arts college and most of my research is in China. So between teaching undergrads, having them as employees and student researchers, and spending tons of time in China, my professional life spills over into my au pair hosting. I also grew up in Hong Kong and have lived in China 3 years since finishing college… so I guess that’s both professional and personal. In any case, I can’t imagine adjusting to living with someone who isn’t from China because the cultural differences would be so foreign to me. Sometimes I forget that my AP has had a very different college experience from the one that my students are getting, but generally I understand what her experience was like too. Most of the Chinese APs are out of college, so a bit older than my students, but generally not really more mature or more able to take care of themselves. Being a prof with an au pair seems like a really great set up in terms of classes, being used to advising and helping someone to think ahead, and access to peers.

Seattle Mom April 6, 2014 at 12:23 am

I don’t think my current profession helps much with managing my AP.. except perhaps that I have had a bunch of college-aged interns over the last 2+ years when I’ve also been hosting similar-aged APs, and the two groups are similar.

The fact that I was a peace corps volunteer helps immensely though. I served in Africa and I haven’t had any African APs (yet) but I have been in the AP’s shoes- new country, language, culture.. need to balance work with fun & exploration… and I lived with a host family while I was in training for Peace Corps, and my living situation for my 2 year assignment was a quasi-host family arrangement. I wasn’t exactly independent, and at 22 I didn’t mind. In some ways Peace Corps was much easier than being an AP- I had more free time and fewer job responsibilities. I made my own schedule. No kids to take care of! But… it was harder in that I had to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do, more boredom, the cultural gap was much wider (compared to Europeans in the US), I didn’t have electricity & running water and certainly no car for goodness sake!

Emerald City HM April 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm

My husband and I have to somewhat keep ourselves in check when it comes to this. We are both engineers and I think that inherently makes us terrible at management (think micro-management). We also have high expectations and get a little (ok a lot) frustrated when it seems the au pair (or even my teenager) doesn’t seem to “get it”.

However, we are also union officals and activists in our union and I do think that helps since we have to run meetings and attempt to work in harmony with people that have varying goals and perspectives all the time.

Comments on this entry are closed.