How Have Au Pair Host Parents -As A Group- Changed Over Time?

by cv harquail on May 21, 2015

Once you’ve had your first Au Pair, you become wiser and more effective as a host parent.  We think.

We’ve seen the cycle of the au pair year ebb and flow. We know, individually, that we’ve gotten more savvy and more organized year after year. We’ve gotten less patient — or maybe more patient?– with each new au pair.

I’d argue enthusiastically that thoughtful Host Parents get better with each Au Pair relationship.

But what about Au Pair Host Parents as a group? How are we changing?

2997128547_e3cd753efd_mHost Mom KLG suggested in an email that she wondered whether host parents as a group have gotten more lenient with late night driving and car use, leading au pairs to feel more resentful of the fewer and fewer families with car curfews.

This made me wonder– have we, as a group of host parents– changed our views and our practices over time? When I was preparing my presentation for the Int’l Au Pair Association Conference in March, I spent some time reflecting on what’s changed in the Au Pair Mom community.

Are there any trends that we can see, looking over 7 years of conversations on this blog?

This blog isn’t a perfect reflection of trends in the Au Pair industry, to be sure.

AuPairMom readers are a relatively select subgroup of the au pair community. People come here to share advice on creating strong relationships, not just to vent about au pair problems. We’re a ‘pro-au pairing’ group.

Even though we do a lot of rehashing over the repeatable, predictable questions that most Host Parents have sooner or later, we have amassed a strong foundation of shared knowledge.  That means that our group can be helpful over and over as new host families and new au pairs enter the conversation with the same old challenges.

It also means that we as an AuPairMom community have developed a shared approach and a shared vocabulary that support us as we work to have great relationships without au pairs.

At the IAPA conference I also learned that many employees at Au Pair agencies are avid readers of the blog, even though they usually don’t feel it’s their place to comment in the conversations. Surely these individuals– and the Agencies they work for– have learned a lot from the 900+ posts on the blog.

But the question remains….

Has this lead to any collective learning by Host Parents? 

Two places where I think Host Parents as a group have changed their expectations of au pairs:

Au Pair Handbooks

Host Parents are now much more likely to have Au Pair Handbooks. Handbooks were more rare back in 1998 when I first began sharing the one that my DH and I had put together. Our agency at the time had a brochure with some suggestions about how to manage you au pair (e.g., using a time sheet, giving receipts for pocket money, etc.)  But there was no full-fledged, independent handbook.

When I first posted my sample Handbook here on the blog, it got hundreds– hundreds– of downloads.  In addition, we Host Parents have shared digital Handbooks directly with each other. These digital handbooks are easy to adapt to our particular families and also easy to modify as our kids get older and our concerns change.

Downloads of the Handbook samples here on AuPairMom have tapered off over time, in part I think because it became so much easier for Au Pair Agencies to publish sample handbooks to share on their own sites.   Agencies no longer had to consider the cost of printing and mailing paper books to host families.   Online, the costs of sharing downloadable templates and examples of Handbooks are minimal– so it’s easier for Agencies to recommend that Host Parents create a handbook.

“Reset” Conversations 

The second change I’ve seen is with the concept of a ‘reset conversation‘.  That’s a term that I first introduced back in 2009, and it’s proved a helpful way to label the specific kind of conversations about au pair- host family expectations.   I think that Host Parents are much more likely to have ‘reset conversations’ than they might have been 10 years ago, because we’ve made it such a normal part of the host family-au pair relationship, too.

More Realistic Expectations? 

One question that I wonder about is whether we parents have more or less realistic expectations of our au pairs these days. I know that our community on AuPairMom has gotten increasingly knowledgable about challenges in au pair-host parent relationships, even when we haven’t faced these challenges ourselves. We have a lot more to rely on that our own experiences (the “n of 1” problem of anecdotal research).

Has the Host Parent Community as a whole gotten more sophisticated? Shifted its concerns?

I’d love to hear from Host Parents about this question.

And, I’d especially love to hear from LCCs and readers at Au Pair Agencies to get their perspective on the families in their clusters over time.



WarmStateMomma May 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I’ve learned that there is an alternate universe where APs:

voice complaints
travel every weekend
become close to other APs
head out every night when the HPs get home
spend all their $$ and have no savings

It’s probably due to my location (outside the NE corridor and away from West Coast cities) as much as hosting APs from China, but I just had no idea that any of these things were common before finding this site. I’d be interested in learning how common this kind of experience is, actually. A quick look at the cluster info my AP received shows that half the APs here are German and most of the rest are from Western Europe or Latin America. I’m guessing that driving and cultural similarities drive this trend for my city but I could be way off base here.

Seattle Mom May 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I’ve personally experienced all of those things on the list except “voice complaints” – my APs have asked for stuff (like a specific weekend off, or a better cell phone) but nothing that rises to the level of a complaint.

Although I would say my current AP does only one of those things- “become close to other APs” and that is even marginal compared to our other APs. Partly it’s her personality and level of maturity, partly it’s because she doesn’t drink (but isn’t anti-drinking- she’s the designated driver with her friends & family at home), partly it’s that she’s one of very few APs from her country (Japan) in our metro area.

spanishaupair May 21, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Wow as an aupair i only did become close to other APs and at some level travel every weekend, i tried but not always possible. I dont like partying lr drinking neither shopping so saved quite lots of money thinking all trips i did.

And really enjoyed family time, sometimes on my second year was more complicated as i was studying online at the same time so sometimes have to rushupstairs to study, but at least tried having dinner with them when i was usually off duty already.

I dont know if being in Europe makes any difference

Schmetterfink May 22, 2015 at 4:08 am

My au pair year ended 15 years ago (this July)… in my au pair universe:

– au pairs partied and drank (I didn’t, but I didn’t party before and haven’t since)
– dated (I didn’t, but that was a personal decision)
– voiced complaints (often unheard though; I didn’t as I had nothing to complain about)
– traveled every weekend (well, maybe every other weekend but yes)
– became close to other au pairs (I still have two close friends from the time)
– headed out every night when the HPs got home (guilty, I did that 5 out of 7 nights)
– spent all their $$s and had no savings (because: traveling! I returned home with less than $300 in my pocket)

I was in the midwest and our cluster was made up mostly by Europeans (Germany, Finnland, France) but included one AP from South Africa and one from Australia and my closest circle of friends costisted of au pairs from Korea, Finnland and France. I think today you hear more about it because of the growing internet community… but all of it happened (I feel we partied/drank less 15 years ago but that might be due to my circle of friends and our somewhat rural location).

BearCo Momma May 22, 2015 at 8:33 am

So far our experience has been :

drink/party – all
date – all
voice complaints – one
travel every weekend – none EVERY weekend, but all travelled, some more than others
become close to other APs – all
head out every night when the HPs get home- none
spend all their $$ and have no savings – none

WarmStateMomma May 22, 2015 at 11:19 am

To be clear – I don’t think these are bad things, just things that my APs haven’t done that I read about a lot here.

Old China Hand May 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I live in the same AP universe as WSM… no APs for mine to be friends with, so no comparison point, though.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 22, 2015 at 9:22 pm

Back when my LCC had new APs matched up with APs who had been in the US for more than 6 months, my Chinese AP really, really, really benefited when she was a new arrival. But when came her turn to be the buddy? She told the new arrival that Chinese people didn’t really meet up with friends and blew her off completely. I immediately emailed the LCC and told her that I hoped she could find a new buddy for the incoming AP, because at that point my Chinese AP had retreated into a Buddhist temple – I think she found the differences between the US and China overwhelming.

WarmStateMomma May 28, 2015 at 10:37 am

The one thing I really nag my APs about is to be social because it seems much harder for them to interact with new people than it is for non-Chinese APs. I continually remind them that sharing experiences with other young adults is critical to having a good AP experience. I suggest that they invite a friend to a special event when I get free tickets, to watch movies at our house, hang out at Starbucks, etc. My success rate is only about 30% but my AP has raved about enjoying herself each time she has gotten a friend to join her for something. It’s a challenge to find inexpensive non-partying things she can do on a weekend night that a friend will want to do as well, but we’ve found some glow runs, outdoor musicals, etc.

Her last cluster event (indoor skydiving!) was near a mall and movie theater, so I suggested that she invite some APs to go there after the event (and helped her figure out in advance how to get there). She was gone all day and came home with a big smile.

Schmetterfink May 28, 2015 at 5:40 am

Old China Hand, are there really no APs for yours to be friends with or are they just not interested?

I was in a very small cluster (8 max) and found most of the others quite… not to my taste (I think over the course of the year I met the other four Germans maybe twice?) but still made one very close friend whom I still see regularly and who recently made me Godmother to her youngest daughter though we live 1.500 km apart. Through her and through my classes I met APs from other agencies – one who I miss dearly but can’t seem to find (even in this day and age) and one who now lives on the other side of the globe (8.500 km away). Without these friendships I simply couldn’t have managed and would have been extremely lonely.

While our LCC was not stellar (I actually had five LCCs during my year, only one was great, the first one completely dropped the ball and quit without letting us know, simply stopped answering the phone when we called) she did make sure to arrange AP meeting right after a new arrival and asked the AP that lived closest to get in touch with the new arrival and force them to go out for coffee.

momo4 May 23, 2015 at 12:46 am

Out of 8 APs (Danish, English, German, Spanish, Swedish, Thai):
–5 were <21 y/o so any drinking occurred at friend's houses and I didn't hear much about it. Of the 3 that were 21+, drinking didn't seem to be a big thing
–2 had BFs prior to arriving, one relationship survived the year, one did not (that girl subsequently dated in her 2nd year). 1 AP found a BF while here. 4 APs never seemed to date. 1 AP started dating online, dated men in their 40s, and had a BF who had drug and alcohol problems and was on parole (nightmare for us).
–7 APs became close with other APs. 1 AP thought they were all stupid and boring and only hung out with young moms she met at the park.
–1 AP voiced complaints, left for home after 2 mo. The rest made requests as necessary, but really didn't complain about anything.
–None traveled every weekend. More trips occurred in the late spring/summer but usually not more than a hand full.
–Disappearing when the HP get home has been fairly common, especially as the year progresses and they have more friends and plans. We really don't mind since it gives us some time and space to ourselves.
–Spending vs. saving seems to be 60/40. Eating out a lot (Cheesecake Factory!) and shopping for shoes and clothes have been very common, but so has saving for trips. 1 AP spent almost nothing and saved for a computer, travel, and sent money home (turns out she was working under the table at a restaurant in her free time as well). 1 AP spent it all on chocolate, starbucks and music concert tickets.

hOstCDmom May 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

only 900+ posts on the blog? are you sure that shouldn’t be NINE THOUSAND + posts..??

cv harquail May 22, 2015 at 10:34 am

968 posts as of today (not including pages and private posts).

you might be thinking of the number of comments? That would be 36,902.

hOstCDmom May 22, 2015 at 12:31 pm

yes – sorry, my bad! I mixed up “post” and “comment” — and thus thought, there are seriously waaaaayyyyy more than 900 “COMMENTS” on this blog! :)

Seattle Mom May 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm

I feel like this blog has helped me understand the host family & AP universe a lot better, though I recognize that it’s a subset of a larger universe that is not so well understood. I see glimpses of it in various groups on facebook, but even that doesn’t seem to capture the whole picture.

I think LCCs & agency staff would have the best view of how things have changed among the general HF population.

DarthaStewart May 22, 2015 at 9:27 am

My au-pairs have done all of the above, and I’m pretty sure they have at every point in our having au-pairs, whether it was in 1998, when we started, or now..

Mimi May 22, 2015 at 10:03 am

I think my local AP community has definitely gotten more sophisticated. Within my own cluster, we are overall a better organized group that now look at honing our onboarding techniques and look at big picture issues instead of being bogged down in minutiae. Our management styles have grown, too. Part of this might be a result of the age gap widening between us and our APs :) but setting limits and enforcing them gets easier with practice and I’ve learned a few things that will help me be a better parent for my children when they reach the AP age range.

Many of us now use technology to our advantage in ways we might not have when we first started out as HMs (interviewing, e-pay, communication, scheduling) and we now know how to deal with a demographic that have grown up with it.

Our social norms are definitely influenced by each other as a group. We are learning collectively and collaboratively about how to improve our AP experiences for us and our APs. Some of this means changing norms relating to the ‘amenities arms race’ and some of it means that we can be less restrictive with rules and regulations because we’ve become more adept at managing APs and dealing with conflict and managing expectations. I think that when you get into the ‘doing it’ in a productive way, you are able to take it to the next level and have these great experiences.

HRHM May 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm

I’ve been at this since 2008 and I have definitely changed dramatically (both as a result of hosting and as a result of this site) but I’m unsure of the HP community at large. I am perplexed at how disconnected most of us are from each other even when there is a large concentration of HFs in one area. The APs seem to have made a big move forward in connecting with each other via social media and cluster meetings, but not so much for HFs. I get the feeling that the agency subtly discourages HFs from forming relationships or at least does nothing to encourage it.

I see a lot of the same mistakes made by newbies that I made 7 years ago, so I don’t hink we’re more sophisticated than we were in the past as a whole. I do think the APs have gotten more “sophisticated” or shrewd – not always for the better, based on their interactions with the social media community.

I also don’t think APs as a whole are less tolerant of restrictions and rules now than they were before. If anything, my rules get tighter every year and I still manage to attract good candidates. I think if an AP is happy (otherwise) and the rules are reasonable, most find life in my home works for them. If they aren’t happy in general, the most lax rules won’t make them so.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 22, 2015 at 9:35 pm

When I became a HM 15 years ago there was no “Au Pair Mom” blog. In fact, I knew one or two other HM in my cluster – because my AP had some tight friends and we were invited to their HKs’ birthday parties. We had nothing in common (one HM was the same age as her AP and was sorely disappointed when they didn’t become BFF).

How have I changed? I’m a lot older than I was 15 years ago. One of my kids is going to high school in the Fall and the other, who is already in “high school” wears diapers and is still non-verbal.

Really, what I discovered is that my kids’ needs and mine as a HP change every single year. The interview questions that were essential when my kids were babies are totally off-base now. Same with the handbook. While my experience with each AP shapes my handbooks (both each AP’s successes and mistakes), so do the needs of my kids.

Finally, each AP is an individual. There is no “getting better” or “getting worse,” because each year will differ enormously. At some point, you’ll realize that you recognize the type of woman (or man!) that you’re interviewing and will decide whether that type has worked well in your family in the past.

What has changed? The fact that it’s possible to have a dialogue with APs and HPs and see the range of rules, guidelines, and experiences. If one can accept when one is out of bounds (and sometimes it’s really, really, hard), and see when the gut instinct matches those of others, then it’s possible to grow and be better at being a HP. Not every day, perhaps, but most days.

momo4 May 23, 2015 at 12:10 am

I agree 100%.
I’ve been a HM for 8 years, and every year has been different. I’ve gone from 1 child to 4, and from working 60-80 hours per week (including nights and weekends) to working 8 12 hour shifts per month. I’m older and more confident in general, so it is easier for me to set limits and not worry as much about what my AP thinks. My children and their needs are continually changing though, and so in some ways the only constant is my need for an AP who can be flexible, love my children, and help with housework (that last one seems to be the hardest to find). Each one of my APs has been different, so new issues are always coming up with them as well. I am more seasoned, but it seems every year brings an unprecedented situation that I have to figure out how best to deal with.

This blog has been a fabulous discovery for me because although there are many APs in my area, I really only know one other HM, and her personality style is so different from mine that I just can’t relate (and I suspect it’s mutual!) It is great to get the perspectives of other HPs and see how other people deal with things, even if it is not a way that would work for me.

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