Is Having Our First Au Pair Supposed To Be This Hard?

by cv harquail on October 16, 2015

A brand new Host Mom writes to share her distress.  

Her Au Pair has been with them a whole two weeks now, and things haven’t fallen into place.4292858717_9d901336a1_m

Her toddler’s unsure about his new caregiver.

The Host Mom’s unsure about how to coach the new Au Pair.

The Au Pair’s unsure about how to manage when the child is desperate to interrupt the mom while the mom’s working in her home office.

The Host Mom issues instructions, like “Make some lunch.” and “Take him to the park.”, that the Au Pair doesn’t quite execute.

The Host Mom’s starting to notice all the things that the Au Pair said she was in her application — a good driver, a non-smoker, a person with her own ‘get up and go’ — that the Au Pair is not demonstrating.

Is having an Au Pair supposed to be this hard?

It depends.

If you’ve prepared yourself by:

  • Reading about other host parents’ experiences so you know what reality looks and feels like,
  • Creating an Au Pair handbook,
  • Orienting your Au Pair comprehensively, systematically and slowly,
  • Identifying what matters most to you, and reminding yourself to let the rest go,
  • Having a plan or routine to calmly manage the rough spots as they come up,
  • and more

then YES it’s supposed to be this hard.

If you’d done few or none of these things, being a First Time Host Mom would be even harder.

Truth is, having any kind of caregiver whom YOU have to train and supervise is hard.  Unless you outsource the management of your caregiver to a childcare center, or send your child to someone else’s home for childcare, all of this falls on you.

It’s the tradeoff we make for having the flexibility of an Au Pair and the comfort of having our childcare in our own homes.

When you’re a first time Host Parent, your own learning curve is HUGE.



You have to approach it as an opportunity to clarify what you want as a parent, what you want from a caregiver, and what priorities you’ll reinforce as you adjust.

All of us who are Host Parents have had those moments when we’ve wondered:

Is the work of having an Au Pair worth it?

We forget about the work involved in taking a child to a childcare center– getting yourself and your kids into the car on time, paying the late fines when a meeting goes overtime, managing yet another round of colds, dealing with the second or third new employee this season, and filling out the darn forms.

We forget about the work involved in managing a relationship with a professional child care provider– finding a certified nanny, adjusting to considering the concerns of another person with an adult life, family obligations, and career goals.

First Time Host Mom, you’ve gotten this far.

You’ve found an Au Pair and welcomed her into your home. You think you’ve done the bulk of the work of making it work… and you have… and there is still more to do.

Host Moms and Dads, any advice for her?

Ideas for helping her mom-up and take on this challenge?



See also:
First Time Host Mom Overwhelmed by Regret: Can She Fix Her Mistake?
How to Fix It When Your Au Pair Starts Out On The Wrong Foot
Ways to start orienting your New Au Pair: Some advice for the first two days


Image: Miniature cake by Stephanie Kilghast on Flickr 



Anna October 16, 2015 at 10:18 am

It depends. If the au pair is not demonstrating things she said in her application like “good driver” and “non-smoker”, then she plain lied on her application, and she may have lied about experience too, and not had enough experience with kids to be able to manage.

I have had au pairs who were off and running after a Friday and a weekend of training. I have had one au pair, probably one of my best ones, who arrived when I was on a business trip and my parents were visiting, and my parents trained her for a Friday and a weekend. She was flawless, in doing everything from food prep to being able to distract my kids and find a common language with each one of them, from the very beginning.

Of course not every au pair is like that. It may be a combination of you not training her in sufficient detail (don’t forget, she is new not only to your child and your family, but to our language and country), or it may be that she is just not a very good au pair.

Multitasking Host Mom October 16, 2015 at 10:55 am

I will second that being a first time host mom is hard!

Before we starting hosting au pairs, we had college student babysitters working about 15 hours a week…covering the time where the kids were not in preschool. When we decided to switch to APs for child care, I honestly just picked someone who had a nice personality and had occasional babysitting experience. After all, that is what criteria I used for my college student babysitters, and they worked out just fine…

Let’s just say that the first time with an AP did not go as expected. The word I use when looking back on that first year with our first AP is “Overwhelmed” . She was overwhelmed that everything was so different with the culture and language, and that working 45 hours a week was alot of work. Frankly, she was overwhelmed that the rosy picture of playing with sweet little kids who did everything you wanted them to do, was simply not the reality. I was overwhelmed that she needed to really be trained on things that were obvious to me. Frankly, I was overwhelmed that the rosy picture of an AP who would just know what needed to be done, was not the reality.

We actually almost gave up on the AP program that year, but didn’t due to the fact that I didn’t have an alternative child care that would give me the flexibility that we needed. Mostly, due to this blog, I learned how to write a handbook (I totally think this is the most important thing that every host family needs…maybe I should write a guest post about that;)) I also learned to focus on what I need and what my family needs for an AP. Our last few au pairs have been great. And I think that it has worked out well because; a) they already had the necessary skills in place…or at least previous experience that they could pull from to develop those skills b) I am now prepared to spend an intensive weekend training (with handbook in hand), have weekly meetings to check in if anything needs to be corrected (for both myself and for the AP), and I have developed a few checklists (in my field we call them “job aids”) that will help them get through those few crazy weeks when the APs are feeling overwhelmed (example: a list of what things to put in the kids lunchboxes with a few alternative selections in case something is not available or variety is need.) I have found that once the AP feels like they have a strong foundation with what the job exactly is and how to do it, they are much more comfortable after a few weeks to take initiative. Then I don’t have to hover since I really hate to micromanage and my goal with the AP is that they become for the most part self sufficient.
To the OP, I do feel for you. Please don’t give up. CV’s list of bullet point must haves is spot on. Spend a little time putting these in place, and your year should/hopefully improve. Good luck!

Mimi October 16, 2015 at 11:41 am

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the screening process. Yes, you’re going to get APs who lie on their application, but a rigorous screening will expose some of them. Careful and thorough interviewing is a must. The times we’ve had problems, we had settled or been less than thorough. The first time, we had to break a match to succeed AP#4 when I got pregnant and needed to go back in the IQ pool, the second was when AP#5 flaked for warmer climes and I was due to go back to work from maternity leave without a back-up childcare plan.

Both situations were time sensitive and we rushed our process. Had we taken the time and been more thorough, there is a strong possibility that AP#5 would have rushed her placement with someone else and we would have avoided a match with someone who just wanted to get to the US on the same time table as her friends and was looking to find her perfect location/family (in that order!) when she arrived. We also would have learned that AP#6’s parents had just separated and we would not have matched with her.

NewAPMom October 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm

We made similar mistake with our first AP. She seemed like a nice girl, and was, but we didn’t really know the right questions to ask. She was fine with the children, but not always a self starter and not very smart. I work in a field with pretty intelligent people, so it was hard to work with her! I learned from her to be very specific and explain exactly how I wanted things done. But I also didn’t want an AP I had to micromanage. So the second time around we were much more picky and found someone who is smart and fantastic with the children.
As others have said, if she lied about being a good driver, etc, that’s a different story.

NBHostMom October 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I think the most important lesson I learned when I was a first time host mom was the need to for unambiguous and specific instructions in the first few weeks with a new au pair. Initially I felt extremely rude and blunt, but it helped a lot (with our well qualified, good intentioned but confused and overwhelmed au pair)

Instead of: “i think the kids are getting hungry soon, maybe we should start think about lunch” I changed to: “the kids eat lunch at 12:00. Start preparing an item from the list I gave you at 11:30.” Although the first sentence was much more comfortable for me to say (socially speaking), it was too vague for intermediate English skills held by an overwhelmed person. Over the year, as English improved and routines are established my instruction become more generalized, but for the first 4-8 weeks, my instructions are clear and precise.

Try: “Please take the kids to park X now and stay for 60 minutes. Do you know how to get to the park?” In my world, I’d then watch the au pair. Does she make sure the kids have jackets? Appropriate shoes? When they walk down the street is she engaging with the kids? If she gets a “yes” to all the questions, she probably has good childcare instincts for you to build with some good coaching in the short term on routines and expectations. If she’s missing the basics like making sure kids are appropriately dressed for weather, she may be missing childcare skills which is an entirely different situation.

Anna October 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm

NBHostMom, wow, you opened a whole new perspective for me. I always give instructions bluntly and directly…. I didn’t think it was not nice, this is just how I speak when I need something done.
My (good) au pairs have thanked me for it, they appreciated my host family manual and clear directions.

NBHostMom October 16, 2015 at 2:18 pm

This is interesting to me as I’ve spoken to other host mom’s about this, I think it tends to be one or the other as a natural communication style. For me, I have a tendency to speak in “big picture” to our au pairs which I really need to be careful about in the beginning weeks (e.g I say “remember so and so has dance lessons tonight “… When is I should say “make sure so and so has eaten a healthy snack, has her dance clothes on and is ready to be picked up at 4:30”). I personally don’t like to be micromanaged and I don’t like micromanaging others. I think that tends to come across in how I communicate instructions, which is not particularly helpful to a new au pair tying to learn the details of her job.

Mimi October 16, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I’m also a blunt/direct communicator because I work with the AP age group professionally and have found I need to be. I do brief meetings at the beginning and end of their shifts, which makes direct communication more efficient. I’m also a huge fan of the CCAP daily communication log idea (although I hate the new format so I modified the old one for us). I also use a family calendar in the kitchen (which is also online). I find that writing down the things that need to be done for the day or that need attention takes some of the guesswork out of what is expected for the AP.

CAmom22 October 17, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Mimi, could you expand on the CCAP daily communication log idea? What is that? Like NBHM I tend to naturally be very “big picture” in my communications and have also found that just doesn’t work with APs, particularly in the beginning. Any tools that would help are very welcome!

Mimi October 17, 2015 at 8:50 pm

CCAP has a spiral bound notebook that is a daily communication log. The version we started with was a 8.5 x 5.5 book with emergency contact info in the beginning and info on each of the kids. There were daily summary pages separated into a special instructions part on the top of the page (lines you could write on with done check boxes after) and a bottom part with lines and the header “Today.” There was also a weekly summary page.

The new version is a full size 8.5 x 11 spiral bound notebook but it’s set up differently. The beginning info is the same, but it’s got a calendar feel to it with time slots for the day to day notes. There is a few lines for general info at the bottom and a new feature for both HP and AP for signing that payment was made every week.

Since my AP is scheduled for regular hours M-F, the calendar doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t have enough room for the general notes I leave and for the AP to takes notes, too. What I’ve done is copied the old style on one side of a 8.5 x 11 sheet and the other half is a “Baby’s Day” sheet where the AP can write down food/drink consumed, diaper changes, nap times, etc.

A typical day sheet goes something like this:
Special Instructions:
-Please give Baby a bath today. Clothes are laid out with a clean towel. (check)
-Light snack for the boys today since we are eating early (scouts for the twins). (check)
-Please make sure HK#1 does his homework then his chores before going out to play. I left him a note with instructions but you can have him call me if he gives you trouble. (check)
-Please fold the laundry in the blue basket and have the twins put the folded clothes away. (check)

-Hope you had a good time last night. :) Library classes for the baby start this week. The printed schedule is on the cork board. Class will start at 9:30 Tu/Th so make sure you have time to get Baby ready and out the door in the morning.
-There are leftovers in the refrigerator that you can have for lunch and there is also lunch meat. We also have a ton of eggs from the neighbors so please help eat them.
-HD will be home first tonight and will be making his sausage pasta dish for dinner. We will eat at 6:00 because the twins have boy scouts tonight.

I go over the daily sheet before I leave for work and reinforce some things as needed, like reminding her the light snack is so that they will be hungry enough to eat an early dinner. When I get home I look at the sheet for any notes she has about the day and look at how’s the baby’s day went. If there were any problems (with behavior or logistics) we address them then and there.

Old China Hand October 18, 2015 at 8:46 pm

I am also super detailed in training and my host family book. I have a book made with daily sheets and fill in notes every day. I train ap to fill it in too. So we can all be on the same page about the day (literally and figuratively). It’s awesome.

I think that the systematic training is super important for a good year for everyone. If you expect the ap to turn up ready, you are likely to be disappointed.

That being said, lying about smoking would be instant rematch in our family.

CAmom22 October 19, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Got it; thank you. This requires a lot of work but on the other hand would probably have made my last year (with AP#4) so much easier. thanks!

Mimi October 20, 2015 at 12:49 pm

It’s part of my night time routine to look at the next day and what’s on the agenda for things so it works well for me, but it might not work for everyone. Even with APs who were up to speed very quickly, I still used it for the duration of their time. I find that it helps everyone stay on the same page. (HD even cheats by peeking at the log to see what’s on for the day…if only he were as trainable as the APs!)

Taking a Computer Lunch October 16, 2015 at 9:09 pm

As someone who has been hosting for 14 1/2 years, and has an interview for a potential AP #12 this weekend (fingers crossed – because to me every penny I pay is worth it!), hosting is work. Like any other relationship – marriage, partnership, parenting – hosting is work. Real work. Assume nothing. OP, while other HP might call the fiction your AP put in her profile “lies,” I call it “Putting her best foot forward.” Your job is to pull the reality that she can do the job out of her.

That being said, I can imagine that nothing undermines an insecure, new arrival more than a WFHHM (working-from-home-host-mom) because right behind that closed door lies the truth, the answers, the easy way out.

I agree with the other HMs. Be simple in your language. Be direct – what sounds like a sergeant’s orders to your ears, will be language your AP understands – you may introduce nuance later. And after you issue orders, ask, “Now what did I say?” to make sure it was really understood. An aside, I had an AP whose best friend, 9 months into her stay, swore up and down she knew how to get my AP and my kids safely home from the pediatricians – a 20-minute drive from my home. 1 1/2 hours later, it appears I should have asked, “Tell me how you’re getting home.”

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes with your first AP. It’s natural. Never having hosted, you don’t know what your ideal personality in an AP is. However, you may demand that your AP do her job, rise to the occasion, put her cell phone done, and interact with your kids.

Have frequent “reset your attitude” conversations. If your AP is not rising to the occasion, then invoke your LCC. A good LCC while remind an AP what is a reasonable expectation – and, when necessary, participate in a benchmark reset-your-attitude conversation.

And, if your AP is a smoker and omitted that fact from her application because she really did intend to quit. Give her a time limit and clear boundaries for smoking. For me, smoking on my property (esp. leaving the evidence behind) is a no-go. Smoking in front of my kids would be a call to the LCC to retrieve the AP. I make this clear before matching – and I’ve never had an issue, because I believe the APs who really do smoke see my handbook and guidelines for a successful year, and think, “No way.”

A handbook is a must. With each AP you host, you’ll edit. As your children age and their needs vary, you’ll end.

If I had had this Blog when I started hosting, then I would have stumbled less. This is a great group of women and men. This is a great group of HP and APs. You’ll see that what is acceptable is a continuum and not a hard-and-fast rule. You’ll figure out what works best for you.

But no matter how sweet the brochure pix – hosting, like any other relationship is work. It requires compromise. It requires lines in the sand. Is it worth it? Hell yes! I wouldn’t be seeking AP #12 if it weren’t!

FirstTimeHM October 17, 2015 at 3:32 am

TaCL, I do hope you’ll find your next au pair. If anyone deserves a good one it’s you and the Camel.
Even if the Camel ages out, you can still find an au pair for your 2nd and have her care for the Camel as well. I hope that can keep you and your family happy for an extra year (or hopefully two).

AlwaysHopeful HM October 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

TaCL, THIS is why you can’t leave us! You have been such a consistent source of wise, practical guidance. You’ve taken care of us, and we need you! I so, so hope that this interview pans out and you’re on the way to finding your next pair. From where I sit, you need and deserve flexible support for your family, and I pray you find it, even if only for one more year.

Mimi October 17, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Fingers crossed!!!!

Old China Hand October 18, 2015 at 8:48 pm


Taking a Computer Lunch October 21, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Good news – it took 12 weeks, but just as we had given up, there was one more candidate – and she wanted a chance to work with special needs kids. One more year of AP flexibility (and spending a lot of money on childcare ahead of us).

And, for the record, we were told yet again: we could have the 2.5 hour morning shift in our Medicaid nursing statement, but chances were that absolutely no one would fill it long-term. We were also denied any weekend hours whatsoever, because I’m the only parent required to work weekend hours. I give up holiday money willingly for the opportunity for DH and I both to leave for work in the morning before The Camel, which means having a family dinner with child #2 (and frequently the AP).

The Camel is nearly as old as some of the youngest APs we asked to interview us. Sadly, our years in the program are more limited than we anticipated.

NJ Mama October 22, 2015 at 9:41 am

TACL – I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found an au pair! I wish you all of the luck in the world. I hope that all of the great advice and wisdom that you have imparted on all of us comes back to you in the form of finding great care after the Camel ages out of the program.

WarmStateMomma October 22, 2015 at 10:28 am

Congratulations! I wish there was an AP program for adults who needed company and care.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 22, 2015 at 10:58 am

So do many of my friends caring for spouses and parents! (I run a caregiving support group at work, so I get to hear all sorts of stories.)

WarmStateMomma October 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I thought I read about a program like that in Ireland maybe. It would have been great for a few people I can think of who just needed someone to talk to during the day and make sure they didn’t leave the gas on.

cv harquail October 22, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Thank goodness… we get to keep you for another year.
Prayers answered.

Old China Hand October 22, 2015 at 6:31 pm

I’m so happy you found someone! Great for all since we get your sage advice for another year.

FirstTimeHM October 23, 2015 at 4:30 am

TaCL I do hope your au pair will turn out to be wonderful, you deserve that.
In my country there’s a profession called ‘companion-lady’ , they are not necessarily nurses but are mainly there to take their boss/charge everywhere and help them as much as possible to lead a normal life.
In my country there’s a type of nurse that is especially trained to give care at the patients house, and during their training they need internships as well. I’m not sure, but that could possibly be an option for you if you age out of the AP program.

LuckyHM#3 October 17, 2015 at 9:46 am

As more experienced HMs have all said above, it’s really normal to struggle as a first time HF. I believe it’s helps you to crystalize your requirements and desires for the next AP. Like most things in my life…lol, my experience was the other way round. We had had nannies before, live-in and live-out and our AP1 came from a very bad rematch situation. She was great so i figured i was born an expert in this. I didn’t really have a handbook given how fast we matched and never got to it because she just got it. She appreciated that i didn’t micro-manage her and i told what needed to be done and she did it. But must importantly, she loved my kids even when she may not like me because i couldn’t agree to a specific want:-). Fast forward to AP2 who only did the most basic, who needed to be micro-managed and didn’t have the natural warmth and generosity of spirit that i took for granted. We lasted 2 months before we called rematch. So i came here to these wonderful HFs and got your insights and really drilled down to clarify what our ideal AP would be like and went ahead to select for that. Our HB is long at about 20 pages, i started with emails and questions before Skype. I clarified some reasons why we would rematch immediately like smoking because we have asthma in the family and cigarette smoke is a big allergen for my kid with asthma. We clarified what we mean by give and take etc. What we fly in return in an amazing AP3 who is just barely 20 vs much older for the first 2. She’s 3 months into her year but she continues to exceed our expectations and we have already done much more for her than the others. But she’s appreciates every little thing. Note i understand what HFs mean when they say when it’s works, it’s great. She loves my kids.

When i look at AP1 & 3, what they have must in common is that generosity of spirit and natural warmth and experience taking care of someone that depended on them. AP1 is the youngest child but she spent the last few years being the primary carer for an elderly parent with some health challenges. AP3 has a younger sibling who is 12 years younger with working class parents so had cared for the sibling every day while parents worked. And they both did this while going to school FT. As a result, very close to their families. AP2 never cared for anyone, didn’t seem to really like her family and loved her pets more than anyone else in the world ( she said so). She would have phone calls where she would berate her mother for not caring for her one of her pets exactly like she specified.
Now we know better and ask questions to address these qualities. In hoping we can repeat the magic next year. Hang in there.. It gets better

HRHM October 18, 2015 at 5:08 pm

So, yes it’s hard. It’s a ton of work, especially with the first AP, when you are, in essence, training her while also training yourself! However, just because it’s hard work, doesn’t mean that what you’re going through is normal or should be tolerated. A have only had one AP so far who’s application was not 95% fabrication and wishful thinking. Sadly, I now (after 7 years of hosting) know better than to believe what they say. “Good driver”, “self motivated”, “strong swimmer” are all matters of opinion. You will rarely find any person who would readily describe themselves as a bad driver, lazy and unsafe in the water, LOL! Specific questions must be asked in the interview. There are some great threads here with the laundry list of ways to suss out where they drive, how often, what weather, etc. Same goes for other bahavioral traits. I actually look for lifeguard certified young ladies (or swim team, etc) because we spend A LOT of time in the pool and ocean and I want someone who’s not only safe, but loves it and wants to be in there with my kids.

As for smoking, that’s fact, not opinion. My handbook (as stated by PP) states clearly that we will not tolerate any smoking by our AP, even in her off time, even away from the house. It’s an offense punishable by immediate rematch. Your tolerance my differ from mine, but I can’t stand the smell and now that no one can smoke in a club or bar anymore, if I smell it, I know she’s been smoking. It’s important to be clear about this in matching, because all of my AP interviews have included questions about smoking in clubs and parties and almost every “non-smoker” AP clearly thinks it’s ok to smoke in these situations and they don’t consider themselves smokers despite doing it every weekend.

If your LCC is any good, enlist her to help you sit down with AP and begin the reset conversations. Nip this early or rematch. Don’t spend the whole year trying to drag her up to performance level. I did and it’s a pain I would never repeat.

hOstCDmom October 18, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Q: “So ‘Prospective AP’, besides in a bar or club, where do you smoke”

I find this Q helps discern what I really want to know. i.e. “Oh, no I never smoke anywhere, not even in bars” or “Nowhere, other than bars or clubs” In both cases the APs uniformly self-identify as non-smoking…but only the former is OK with me. YMMV.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 18, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I don’t call it fabrication or lying, I call it “putting her best foot forward.” The average au pair knows she is competing with a lot of other average or above-average APs. She is encouraged by the agency to pad or outright lie. And I agree with hOstCDmom, our job, during the interview is to discern the difference. It can be hard to tell what is just the candidate’s lack of linguistic ability, and what is a real lack of knowledge. My favorite question that DH made up, “What was your favorite experience in caring for children with special needs?” Because, that cuts to the marrow – either she really likes caring for children with special needs or she agreed to the interview because we were the best prospects at the moment.

Make the interview quirky. Ask her what three adjectives her best friends would use to describe her. Ask her what was the last meal she made. Ask her what she did on Friday night. Ask her to describe what she did that day prior to the interview. The one question we have clung to for 14 1/2 years is “Describe a stressful experience and how you handled it.” The candidate who talks about exams is automatically out. At the end of the day, you want to know more about her personality than her experience, so throw her a curve.

Oh, and in 14 1/2 years not one of my APs has been a smoker (oh sure, a few might have had a cigarette or two in a bar) – but convincing friends and family to really move away from the house to smoke – that has been a trick!

WestMom October 18, 2015 at 7:26 pm

I think there might be a few other challenges involved here, and I would advice OP to assess the full picture to see if the AP is really the only problem here…
1) Is this mom just returning to work for the first time since her child was born? How does she feel about going back to work? Is that causing extra stress?
2) Is the working from home arrangement new? How well is the home set up (separate room, having a closed door, treating like like going into the office and not coming in/out multiple times per day, which can be confusing to the toddler). Can that be improved?
3) Is this her first time managing a household employee (or any employee). Not everyone is born with good managing skills. But it is definitely something that can be learned.
4) This is a first time HM. We all know there is lots to learn in that area as well! Has she clearly set expectations about the hours and responsibilities? Has she set up a clear schedule with proposed activities? Has she empowered the AP to take charge while she is on duty?

Of course, this might be a poor AP but it’s hard to assess from this short intro. I would be careful about blaming the current situation on the new AP without considering all the other factors that might be causing stress and friction. I would suggest that this mom carefully assess all these factors, because trying to solve the AP problem in isolation might not really solve the larger issue.

NoVA Twin Mom October 19, 2015 at 9:25 am

I’d want to explore the mechanics of work from home here too.

Until very recently, work from home didn’t work for our family. If the kids knew I was home, they wanted ME. The au pair could do nothing right (in their eyes), and I knew it was harder on the au pair if the kids knew I was home. It led to me hiding from my own kids if I were ever home, texting when I wanted to go in or out of the house so that the kids could be distracted and not realize I was there.

The worst was if I was ever sick. We coordinated texts so I knew it was naptime so I could go out to get food.

What finally worked was setting up an “office” in the garage, of all places. We tried it when the Pope was in town and anyone that could possibly work from home was encouraged to do so for those two days. It worked great because I packed my work bag exactly the way I normally would, left the house on time, and didn’t reappear at any point during the day. We still texted back and forth (for instance, the girls wanted to ride bikes, so the au pair texted me and the bikes “magically” appeared outside the garage when they went out to play.) It worked so well that I’m considering recreating the office this winter when we get “snow” days and are offered the option for unscheduled telework (in quotes because this Midwest girl can’t get over cancelling school/work when there’s no actual snow yet… but I understand why it’s necessary here).

Honestly, OP’s best bet may be to try to “disappear” for a couple of days to see what happens. The au pair may not be taking initiative because she’s not sure who’s in charge. As much as the au pair seems unable to plan now, try giving her some freedom and see how she does – maybe she doesn’t want to step on your toes. Give her a list of “approved” activities if it makes you feel better (library story time, kids gym type place, walk to a nearby playground, even an outing to McDonalds or Chick-Fil-A to play in the climbing structure for a while).

As for the driving, is she truly a bad driver, or just not as good as she made herself out to be? If she’s truly dangerous, then that’s a rematch-worthy issue. If she just doesn’t make the same decisions you would but you think your child is safe, consider some driving lessons to “polish” her skills. That wouldn’t be free, of course.

Finally, smoking. Can you get to whether she is smoking or her friends are? That may be a bad choice of friends, and be worth a conversation with the LCC about introducing her to some new friends.

As long as you don’t find your child in danger, stick with it – it really does get easier with time. Believe it or not, less micromanaging may be in order! Try it for a week – probably the worst thing that will happen is more TV than you’d be OK with, which won’t hurt your child for a week (but shouldn’t happen for a year). But realize that working from home, while it sounds like the “best of both worlds”, doesn’t work in some cases.

maybe future host mom October 18, 2015 at 7:47 pm

I have zero experience with aupairs. But I supervise lots of young folks at work and will echo what NBHostMom said about the need for being very specific. Don’t assume her priority is the same as yours. Instructions to “make lunch” may be interpreted as anything from a gourmet meal to opening a pop-tart.

WarmStateMomma October 19, 2015 at 2:19 pm


We had a tough first year hosting APs. After the first year, we had a MUCH better feel for how to screen for our particular family and how to get the year started off properly once the AP arrived. Our second AP was fantastic and our third AP is a dream come true.

A few things to try:

Unless she has amazing English skills, speak directly and avoid all idioms, slang, conditional verb tenses etc. Think of how recipes say “add 2 cups of flour and stir” instead of “would you mind adding some flour and giving it a little introduction to the other stuff in the bowl.” Say her name before issuing the instruction so she tunes into what you are saying. It can be awkward to be so direct, so I just add the word “please.” Example: “Sara, please take the baby to the park from 10 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Bring her X as a snack”

Daily and weekly checklists give her a reminder of what needs to be done and she can focus on the tasks rather than mental translations of the 10,000 different ways you may orally ask her to wash the kids’ clothes.

Food chart – depending on your kid’s age, you may want a chart that lists the food groups you want your child to be getting every day, along with an indication of how many servings of each. We have a laminated page on our fridge and we add tally marks for each category as she eats a serving from that category. So if my husband feeds the baby fruit all day long, I know we need to switch it up next time I feed her. We spend about 10 seconds a day on this chart, so it’s super easy.

Anything else that you need done in a specific way – make a chart or checklist that is actually used daily.

I don’t have good solutions for working from home. The times I’ve had to do it (or stayed home sick), I’ve been most successful when the toddler doesn’t know I’m home. Obviously, that’s not a good solution for someone who does it regularly. If you can work outside the home (at a Starbucks maybe?) for a few hours here and there to give your AP a chance to establish herself as the adult in charge in your home, that might bear some fruit. *This would probably be a good topic for its own post.*

LuckyHM#3 October 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Also, i have found that with AP3 that had the least developed English skills of all our APs to date when she arrived that WhatsApp is a great resource. APs love WhatsApp way more than text and I can see the blue check marks to confirm that she read it so i can follow up immediately to make sure she understands. I usually do this at night against the next day’s plans. I repeat my verbal instructions by sending her a whatsapp message with the same info. She’s able to use google translate when she’s unsure of what I mean.

2ndTimeHM October 19, 2015 at 2:42 pm

I can totally relate to this. Our experience with our first AP was the least to say discouraging and it got us pretty jaded about the whole program. We are also a HF with one parent working from home, which makes things harder instead of helping (that was how we had imagined before hosting) for sure.
We host AP2 now and had a non-aupair live-in-nanny in between while we were waiting for the new au pair.
Our AP1 had some personality flaws, nothing we could fix. She was dishonest during the interview process including her boyfriend serving as a reference. She was not able to follow instructions well and she was trying to get away with the minimum. She was not interested in getting to know us at all and that made our communication really hard. We ended up in a graceful rematch after 1 month but we kept housing her for an additional 2 months until she had found HF2. Looking back, we wasted a lot of energy by not moving on earlier. This I learned from our experience with AP2, which is what I have always imagined it would be. Meanwhile, AP1 had ended up in a rematch after another couple month with HF2, so all of our good intentions trying to make things better were for nothing, she could not complete her year anyway.
AP2 is an entirely different story. She is hard worker, a keen learner, she loves kids, she is interested in new things and she is excited about the cultural exchange part of the program as well. She is a loving caretaker not only to our kids but she would get out of her way for everybody in the family. She honestly cares. She has been making a huge effort to be part of the family from the minute she arrived. This has made everything to flow so easy and naturally, even the initial learning/adjusting phase was a breeze.

Lessons learned:
1. be more thorough during the interview process, don’t rush into a decision and listen to your gut instincts about personality traits – lot’s of things can be solved, but personalities can not be changed.
2. if things do not work out well, give it a good honest try to resolve issues, but also set a timeline and move on if things do not get significantly better. An AP is supposed to help you, not to give you problems. Seriously.
3. the work-from-home situation is STILL a hard part in hosting an au pair and it is still a learning process for all of us, but with a co-operating, proactive AP the situation is way more manageable then it was before. We have to come up with new ideas including changes to work schedule but seeing things working otherwise makes it easier to adjust. Having an AP is definitely teamwork.

calihostmom October 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Working from home (and especially learning to do so!) with an au pair in the house can be emotionally exhausting, particularly for an introverted parent. If you need to come up with specific systems and be very clear about them, do it sooner rather than later. There’s no harm in saying to your au pair, “Now that we’ve had [X amount of time], let’s have a talk and discuss the ways we can improve the situation.” Then be very direct.

I finally had to ban my au pair and child from the part of the house where my office is. I also had to tell her, “Just because I’m not chasing the child out with a broom doesn’t mean I am happy that she’s in here. I’m saying hi and waiting for you to come and remove her.” Because I don’t want to be “mean mommy” for the two minutes at a time I see my child. In general it works, though we have slip-ups from time to time.

But personally I have found it very hard. Managing someone else’s personality, quirks, shortcomings, time, and then being roommates to boot — it’s definitely a challenge. What has helped me is that I try to keep in mind the cultural exchange element. Without that element, my standards would have compelled me to say “you’re fired” about a dozen times. Instead I talk myself down by reminding myself that it’s a learning process for everyone.

WIHostMom October 26, 2015 at 11:24 pm

I am a first time HM, and I can completely relate to this! I definitely didn’t anticipate the amount of time, effort and work it would take to train and manage an au pair. Plus, I was not very thorough in my first selection process, since I didn’t really know what I wanted or how to screen effectively. I jumped to a quick decision, and ended up with a male au pair who is requiring a lot more micro managing than I would like.

He is well intentioned, and my boys adore him. But his attention to detail is poor, he is disorganized, he lacks creativity about coming up with activities and ways to engage the kids. Today, he failed to be home in time for when the kids get home from school. That’s not okay! I’m constantly on a roller coaster about making this work, and whether I would want to try again after this year or figure something else out.

I think I need to be more direct and work on some of the bullet points suggested above. I like the idea of the daily book, but I didn’t like the CCAP book I received. I may try to replicate some of the ones that have been described here.

I appreciate knowing I’m not the only one going through this, and I’m grateful for the advice and support here!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 27, 2015 at 9:03 am

Time to ask for a conversation after your kids are in bed. There are plenty of conversations elsewhere on this Blog about the sandwich talk – the boys love you, but you need to be reliable, you can do it! Me, I call it the “reset your attitude” talk. This is a job, you need to do it, and here are the benchmarks you need to meet in order for me not to go into rematch. Then, I invoke the LCC (I’m fortunate to have one of the best) so she can follow-up with a telephone call to see how everything is going and to make it clear that my expectations are reasonable.

Agencies sell APs on the adventure, which is why when I send out my “dare to match with us email” I use the words, job, task, and work. Remind your AP that you matched with him to work and that the adventure comes during his free time, not during his working hours.

TexasHM October 28, 2015 at 10:37 am

Particularly for male au pairs (because they are less common) rematch can almost promise a ticket home so he should be super motivated to not only meet – but exceed your expectations. I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with the management role. Our APs are family members so over the years I have had to learn how to put the boss hat on and separate the two. We just a couple of weeks ago had a reset conversation with current AP and I wish I had done it sooner. Often times you have to spell it out. Between ESL, the age group and lack of full time experience with multiple children there is often a big gap that you need to bridge. I have made checklists (literally the following things need to be done everyday before you finish your shift and check it everyday until they get it), given them “assignments” (have him fill in the detail in the schedule for the week if you can – enablement and you check during weekly meeting) and directly told them – you need to come up with an after school activity for Wednesday.

My bigger concern in your post was not being there when kids got home from school. I would make it explicitly clear (we just did this because AP was oversleeping her alarm) that it CANNOT ever happen again and could be grounds for immediate rematch (depending on severity). I don’t know how old your kids are but if they are littles you just explain that you absolutely have to be able to trust that he will be there everyday, early! Worst case scenario if you love him and he can’t get it together schedule him to start earlier and give him something to do – IE start at 230pm instead of 3pm and those 30 minutes are to do laundry and make a snack. Even if you do this, it needs to be explicitly clear that there are certain things that can never happen. Period. You have to be able to trust him. If you can’t trust him you have to get someone you can trust.

As a part of our reset conversation template (yes, I have one now) we start with this:

You have THE most important job in our house. If you are not successful or do not complete all the AP duties, it impacts the entire household. Our work suffers, the kids act out or miss or show up late to activities or worst case scenario – are endangered. You have A LOT of really positive qualities and strengths and we are excited to be a part of your AP year and see the growth and experiences you will have over the coming year. As you have seen, we have a lot going on in our household of six and NEED your help to manage this household.

Expectations – we expect 5 major things from our au pairs:
1. That you will put our kids first and ensure their safety
2. That our kids get where they are supposed to be on time or early
3. That they arrive prepared (proper attire, supplies, etc)
4. That we (HPs) are able to work effectively
5. That you complete all your duties so that we (HPs) are set up for success during your off hours

I explain that these are in order of importance and then next I list our concerns, give examples and explain in detail. I finish the sandwich as TACL says with highlighting again how much they have already accomplished/grown and will continue to grow and experience things and telling them we are here for them if they need anything or have any concerns (support). I print it out, have them read it and see if they have any questions or want to discuss and then I have them sign it (just to drive the point home) and I email to the LC just so she is in the loop so if, God forbid, things tanked we would already have documentation that we had tried to mediate and can save time going into rematch.

I’ve only had to do this twice (should have a couple other times). Current AP is crushing it now. She admitted she had gotten a little too comfortable and apologized and has gone above and beyond ever since. Hopefully you will have the same outcome!

Dorsi October 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

This is a really great post. Missing an afterschool pick-up/not being home is huge. Unless there were extenuating circumstances, I would rematch after a second time. When I had decided to rematch with my princess, I was having a lot of guilt. Before I told her about the rematch, she forgot to pick up two kids at preschool – it didn’t change the outcome, but it totally removed all my guilt.

LuckyHM#3 October 28, 2015 at 1:07 pm


I think I may rematch after missing a pick-up once unless there was extenuating circumstances and you called me or DH as soon as the circumstances became evident to you. Drop-off and pick up is pretty much the main responsibility of my APs. If an AP cant do that safely and on time, then its not the right fit since I can have my kiddos in all day pre-school and after-school care

Taking a Computer Lunch October 28, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I’d like to second TexasHM’s points. If you only have school-age children (and therefore absolutely do not need an AP to work 9 1/2 hours a day), then schedule him/her to start 1/2 hour before your children are expected to return. It’s a great time to empty the clean dishwasher, clear the dish-drainer, fold & put away laundry, or do other small tasks. If he/she must walk somewhere to meet a schoolbus, tell him/her to arrive 5 minutes early and practice speaking English with the other adults at the bus stop! With school-aged children, you have the luxury of having the AP start 15 minutes before/after you really need them – to give you enough time for a check-in conversation at the start & end of their shift. Use that time constantly until you see that your AP is ready to rise to the occasion and be the 3rd adult in your household!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 28, 2015 at 9:04 pm

One more thing – I’m one of those HF who does not have a curfew for the car or the AP. All 11 of my APs have overslept at least once. Most never did it a second time. The AP who pushed back the most on the responsibility of being an AP – chafed at the chores, chafed at the crap actually having to work put in her lifestyle – got told “If you oversleep one more time, then I will impose a curfew 8 1/2 hours before your next shift is schedule to start” (in my house that would mean 9:30 pm). We never had another issue about being ready to work at 6 am again. (Although she did require constant job coaching throughout the year – and never developed common sense.)

TexasHM October 28, 2015 at 10:10 pm

TACL that’s very interesting! We are on AP4 and she’s the first to ever oversleep! And it’s happened 3 times so not a fluke. Fixed now. We don’t necessarily have a curfew but we do explain during matching that when AP comes home late we wake up (alarm panel in our room by bed) so a party animal wouldn’t make it in our house. (I also don’t quiet kids at 7am on weekends.). We explain we are usually in bed around 11pm so much later and they are waking us but since it’s during the week our aps are never out even that late. Weekends if they are going to wear it out we ask them to crash at a friends. Car has midnight curfew so they either get in by then or ride with friends and crash. This is the first AP I have suspected was saying up very late doing whatever on the computer (watching movies, skypeing) and for awhile was doing the 630-730am get kids off to school and then went back to bed (fine with me). When that became the norm and we had 3 oversleeping incidents we had to have a chat. Like I said, she’s completely turned it around but I DREAD those conversations, thus the creation of yet another TexasHM template! ;)

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