Is Your Host Family Handbook Too Long?

by cv harquail on June 21, 2010

Eleven Au Pairs and 12 revisions after first being written, our Host Family Handbook is now, officially, “long”.

Excluding examples of kids’ and au pairs’ schedules, and excluding the basic information about emergency phone numbers and the like, our rules/guidelines section runs 16 pages, with almost 4500 words.

Is that too long?

Host Family Handbook: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about … everything?

201006210913.jpgOver the years, each time some issue has come up, we’ve considered adding something about it to our Host Family Handbook. Some of these issues have generated rules (e.g., no using cell phone in car) while other times they’ve generated points of advice or information that have been part of the guidelines. (e.g., Please wear a modest bathing suit to the town pool.)

Once you start thinking about how your family functions, what your values are, what issues concern you with another adult in your house, what issues concern you with childcare, and what advice you have for you au pair to have a great year, you can really generate some pages. Lots of pages.

And, as you revise with each au pair and as your kids grow, the Handbook seems to grow too. Even if you take things out about preschool, you’re adding something about TaeKwonDo.

Comprehensiveness vs. Comprehension

A well-written and well read Family Handbook should avoid all the problems we’re ever anticipated, and prevent the ones that we failed to anticipate in previous years.

If an au pair were to read and comprehend all of the information in our Handbook, she would have a great sense of what we’re expecting, what she should avoid doing, and what she should focus on to have a terrific relationship with our girls and a comfortable experience in our family and our community.

Unfortunately, even with au pairs whose command of English is terrific, the chances that they comprehend the au pair handbook are probably lower that I’d hope. And that’s assuming that they’ve actually read it.201006210914.jpg

Yes, there are many techniques for getting your au pair to read and understand what’s in the Handbook, but perhaps the simplest technique of all is just to make the Rules and Guidelines succinct, with major points only.

[[ My DH says that our Guidelines sections are just too long. We should shorten them, delete the stuff that’s less important and leave only the top 3 rules.

Oh yes?, I reply. And exactly which guidelines would you eliminate (man who wrote over half the revisions in the first place)?]]

That whole idea about being more succinct is a good one… but it seems to ignore our desire to be both comprehensive and explicitly. We want to be explicit because we know that the more clarity we offer, the better we can advise and guide our au pair. Also, the more clarity, the better we can check our own assumptions and sometimes (re)consider whether they are reasonable.

On the flip side, the shorter your Rules and Guidelines, the more likely it is that you au pair will (1) read them, (2) figure out how to understand them, and (3) remember them well enough to follow them.

  • So what do you do, go for comprehensiveness or brevity?
  • How long are your Rules and Guidelines?
  • Do they seem too long, too short, or just right?

If your Rules and Guidelines are  too long, how would you go about making the whole set shorter?

201006210816.jpg

I have a few ideas, but I’ll hold on to them until we hear the wisdom of the group….

See Also:
R.T.F.M. Making sure your Au Pair Reads the Family Manual
What exactly is a Host Family Handbook?

Binder of DOOM! from hello lovely
Green binders from
nick findley
stack of journals from paperbackwriter

{ 43 comments }

PA AP mom June 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

We felt that our handbook was long too. What we did was make a section in the front of the most important rules that we keep right behind emergency phone numbers. It includes: always being outside with the boys, being in the pool when they are, wearing seatbelts, and other non-negotiable guidelines.

Behind that, we separate the sections by topic and put the remainder of the guidelines there for easy reference.

Calif Mom June 21, 2010 at 6:17 pm

HA! I nicknamed our first book “The Great Big Book of Everything” riffing off the kids’ show which was a relevant icon at the time. To those whose books have expanded through the years, I recommend something drastic–start over.

Inspired by an untimely death in the family–a hard drive with the original on it (yes, its successor is regularly backed up, thanks)–I had to start out re-writing ours this spring. It’s much smaller now, probably because I have a better idea of what the *really* important things are (though there’s no way there are only 3 top rules! Someone once suggested parenting that way, too, but I’m sorry, that approach leads to lawlessness and parental over-reliance on stiff drinks.)

I generated our new version by carrying super-sticky notes in my handbag for several months, and jotting down the things that made me think “Oh! I want to be sure and tell our new au pair that!” I decided to organize it into tabbed sections, by topic, as well (it’s still in draft so I can’t share a page count yet).

It starts with a page about our family’s tenets or guiding principles. Things like: Safety Rules are the Most Important Rules, It’s Always Better to Tell Us Bad News Right Away, Even if it Makes You Feel Like an Idiot, and You Are Not the Children’s Servant. This helps an AP figure out how we make decisions and what things are important, and the books comes across as not just a list of wacky demands. (I hope.)

Then come Topic pages, with the relevant, hard-and-fast RULES in a bulleted or boxed section at the top, with rationales, handy hints, and sources for more info listed out after that. I’m going to put in other source documents, like the guide to the new dishwasher, etc, right in the binder.

One concern is that now that both kids are reading everything, I don’t want their eyes to land on this binder, because they won’t like some of what I’ve written down! :-) So do I put the practical things like schedule, maps and instruction manuals in the binder alongside my guide to breaking up sibling fights? Or are they two different products? (Overthinking this?)

I think the order of topics is important. Right after our Guiding Principles, I’m going to start with at least a topic or two that the AP will care about a lot right away–like where she can keep her toothbrush, etc–so she will realize that we are aware of her needs and perspective rather than launching right into how the silverware should be loaded into the d/w, etc.

SotaGal June 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm

CalifMom, your possible over thinking has got me thinking… I think 2 separate things might be the way to go. One with the RULES and various instructions as kind of a master copy for the family and another for your au pair which could include how to break up sib fights, their schedules along with maps and directions. I might also put another set of the rules in there so that she has her own copy for reference.

By giving your au pair her own book she could also write in it all she needed to. In our daily routine that I give au pairs, I have had some highlight important parts of the kids day so they wouldn’t forget, one translate a few things into her native language and one learned better by writing things out so she re-wrote important bits in her own words. Might be a little more work in the beginning, but I think for any new au pairs after you first set it up, it would just be reprinting things/updating as your kids change.

cv harquail June 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

CalifMom & SotaGirl, I’m with you both. I think that the way to “simplify” is to segment… rules vs. guidelines, principles vs. specific-how-we-do-it.

West Coast Mom June 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Could one of you post the “how to break up sibling fights”? Cuz I could really use that one. ;-)

Calif Mom June 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

:-) Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish are a good place to start!

Seriously, I hand copies of Siblings Without Rivalry and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk to our au pairs….don’t know if they read them, but I figure it can’t hurt.

[And if good ol’ Adele’s advice doesn’t work, they lose screen time. ;-) ]

cv harquail June 28, 2010 at 7:34 am

See, I knew we were separated at birth. I give my au pairs these two books too– they are parenting manuals, plus good for the ‘rest of life’. I also included a summary of the principles of 1-2-3 Magic when the kids were young enough that time outs worked…

Taking a Computer Lunch June 21, 2010 at 8:58 pm

We have guidelines more than rules, and I must emphasize that because we do not have a curfew, our few rules have to do with smoking because I’m extremely allergic (my neighbor two doors away can sit at her patio and bring me to my knees). Actually in looking it over, I have more items inviting them to have guests, to cook meals, to go out with friends, than I have sentences that begin with Please do not…

5 pages of our AP handbook contain a list of The Camel’s medications, her medical conditions, the what-to-do-in-case because two of the medical conditions are life-threatening, and instructions to grab the handbook and run to the hospital with it if needed (no AP has actually had to drive to the hospital – The Camel always seems to be able to hold out during the day and collapses just when her parents are at their very best – not!). But with all that – we’re only 18 pages long (although I must say, some of the ideas on this web site will make it a little longer).

Keep the language simple – if you write in another language, could you translate it? If not, simplify. My advice – don’t write every last detail down – leave some of that for your verbal review. I do my best to soften my language – just because I was angry at the AP who forced me to discover a “rule” doesn’t mean the next AP needs to bear the brunt of it! Please goes a long way. Underline or bold only those rules you intend to enforce to the nth! One of my few underline and bolded rules is not to leave The Camel alone in the car by herself because she is trapped.

I keep instruction books for all my kitchen appliances in a notebook on a shelf in my kitchen – that way everyone can troubleshoot if needed. (And we keep a set of dual-measurement cups and spoons, as well as a scale – since a lot of European recipes are by weight to aid the AP in cooking.)

The one thing I’ve failed to do is to create a “Camel Cookbook,” – like – heat the hot dogs for 45 seconds at half power in the microwave. Someday.

The last page in our guidelines are phone numbers: ours, neighbors, doctors, hospitals, schools, and nearest relatives!

I happen to know my rematch threshhold is extremely high (as in I’ve threatened but never followed through – and only with one AP), and that has to do with length of time to get a special needs willing AP to take care of The Camel. I give three warnings to my son, and unless the AP did something to threaten the lives of my children, I have and will continue to give her three warnings too (current AP got warnings for failing to take initiative to learn to drive and failing to practice her spoken English enough to communicate effectively in an emergency – it only took one warning and she got the message).

I do not go into too much detail in how to handle my kids, as some of the sample handbooks here do. The APs in their first month watch us pretty intently and see how we do it. I also make them the adult-in-charge, and warn my son that their rules may very from ours (e.g. we let you go down and play in the creek with friends but if X says no, then don’t or there will be consequences). If the AP takes away a privilege, we follow through.

AUPAIR Momma June 21, 2010 at 10:17 pm

“assuming they’ve even read it” sadly I think this is true. My 2 jobs are both centered around ‘contracts’ and even people who need to know things and/ or pay lots of money for things do not read things. I think 2-3 pages should probably be the max

Taking a Computer Lunch June 22, 2010 at 8:47 am

You can insure that they read it by booking a time to sit down and discuss it a few days after their arrival. Don’t read it to them when you do, ask them to explain it to you, and then clarify. Most of our APs have really gone at it with their dictionaries, and make additional notations as we clarify. Do emphasize the items you most care about, for some it might be absolutely no underage drinking, for us it’s smoking. Then, after a month or two, as English improves and the AP settles into a routine, go over it again.

StephinBoston June 22, 2010 at 8:27 am

Our handbook is about pages long but it’s not crammed, simple to read and in different sections. All our au pairs have read it and have asked questions prior to matching. I must say they have also been very good at following the rules. I really try not to go overboard and I also do walk them through the handbook when they first come just to be sure we’re both on the same page.. I’m sure it will be easier with the next one who speaks fluent English, we’ll be able to zip through it. My au pairs have also appreciated the handbook, yep it can be overwhelming, but it’s also a great reference for them. So it’s more of a “You shall not…” book but more of a “Guide to survival to your year here”

Jan June 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

Oh my, our “handbook” is about 20 pages long. DH thinks this is way too long, but the true rules are condensed to about 1 1/2 pages. The rest of the book is about getting along with our family and in the US. One page is pretty much dedicated to shopping – addresses of various malls and thrift stores as well as the names and a description of the stores in our area.

Based on experience, I think having a book makes the year go well. Did not have a book for one au pair, and it felt like I was always having to tell her what she was supposed to do.

My 2 cents June 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

I don’t think any of your handbooks sound too long or crazy, and nor could they really. It’s your employee manual and one of the best ways to set expectations, so if you need more detail to reach understandings, then you need that. Reading and comprehending and agreeing to what is in our handbook I use partially as a screening tool anyway. If it’s just too much, or they don’t care, or they are too busy to do it, they aren’t the au pair for us.

I make sure they read it and agree to it before we match by specifically asking them to read it and be prepared to address any issues or ask any questions in our next call. In that later phone call I ask them questions to make sure they understood and agree to all the major things/things that they may not like/things that may become issues (e.g., curfews, overnight guests, the car policies). It’s all friendly and nice but still designed to make sure it is read and understood and to send the clear message that we take it seriously so you must too. Again, if it’s obvious they didn’t care enough to read it, or did not comprehend it and are making no effort to, then this tells me all I need to know about how seriously they will take their job.

NewAPMama June 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Our handbook isn’t nearly as long as some of yours. Maybe it should be. lol. But I can’t just write that much, nor do I want to dictate what my aupair must do during the day. Like someone else said, I give them the “musts” of the day (feedings, medicines, naps) and then let them schedule their working time they way they want it. They also have to do the kids laundry once a week, and change their linens. We have a section about the car, personal curfews, religion, and emergency contacts. I have also written what is acceptable for them to watch on tv, and dvd, and my personal childrearing statement. But that’s it. All and all, I think the whole thing is about 8 pages. Seems to have worked quite well thus far. But perhaps I have just gotten lucky.

Busy Mom June 22, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Our handbook is 20 pages long. Our mantra is “no surprises,” so anything that we think might cause an issue/make an au pair unhappy if dsicovered later is explained. It’s evolved over the past 12 years (we previously had live-in nannies), including a rewrite for AP#2 to make it more friendly in tone (less contract, more handbook) and simplify the language. It includes several pages on responsibilities, including everything from the need to occasionally empty the dishwasher (my kids usually do it) to the need to carpool and supervise playdates. It also covers the following topics: Guests. Vacations/holidays. Payment method & timing. Car rules. Schedule & hours including expectations for weekend work. Food purchasing policies. General food rules (i.e. junk food addicts will not be happy in our house). Samples of our weekly organizational documents. Confidentiality. Curfew. Au pair room rules. Rules about the house (e.g. no shoes). General discipline expectations (i.e. “big sisters” need not apply). Computer use. Alcohol. Phone use. Classes. Taxes. We aim to cover everything that an AP “should” ask about during the matchng process.

During the searches for AP2 & AP3, I emailed it to candidates. I’m sure it scares some away, but our feeling is that if a prospective au pair doesn’t like the details, she isn’t the right person for our family. DH and I are very organized and detail oriented :-) During the interview process, I also verbally cover many of the topics (particularly guest & vacation policies) to minimize misunderstandings. I should have emaled it in advance to AP #1, as it might have helped to avoid the major vacation misunderstanding (and resulting bitterness on the part of the AP) that we ended up having.

We save the super detailed instructions (e.g, screen time rules, appliance operation, emergency information, specific discipline techniques, bedtimes, maps, directions, lists of local activities) for after our au pair has arrived.

Should be working June 28, 2010 at 1:27 am

Uh oh, I’m at 26 pages, 8200 words. Yes, it is too long. But I do want APs to know before they come what to expect–in detail.

But each page is only about half-full and is in a list format, not prose. And with both APs I went over it in detail (over several days) but many minor and not-so-minor things got forgotten or ignored.

What use is the handbook if they don’t stick to it?

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2010 at 7:53 am

Because you can point out to them when a rule or guideline has been violated enough to frustrate or anger you. My big issue is smoking – and all it takes is one friend smoking in the stairwell under my daughter’s window to set me in a frenzy. After I cool down, I point out the rule that says smoking is to be done far away from the house, butts are to be picked up and thrown away so that i don’t have to find them. Fortunately none of my APs have been smokers – not even closet smokers, but their friends – oy!

You also have to decide what is really important and what can slide, and if it can slide, does it need to be in the rulebook?

Should be working June 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Our handbook contains ‘absolute rules’ (marked as such on the first pages, mostly safety- and car-related); and ‘expectations’ (marked as such, e.g. off-duty behavior); and ‘guidelines’ (things to play with kids, how to handle conflicts).

Because I have strong feelings about ALL the expectations and guidelines, and yet they are the fuzzy-area items, not as absolute as ‘no driving after consuming alcohol’, I think they do need to go in the handbook. Certain things can slide a few times, or if they were the only lapses I would accept it, but they are my ‘motherly preferences’. For instance, I wouldn’t fire an AP over packing lunch items I don’t approve of, but I really want her to know what kinds of things I do and don’t want my kids getting in their lunchboxes. If lunch gaffes were an AP’s only weak point, I’d be ok with that; but if it’s part of a pattern of not adhering to many not-so-important guidelines, then that would be a problem.

As it turns out, some of the things I thought were ‘absolutes’ are not, and vice versa. Turns out our au pair smokes sometimes, but in the end I’m ok with that as long as none of us ever sees (or senses it in any respect), esp. the kids. And likewise some of the ‘guidelines’ to playing have become ‘harder rules’ as I’ve seen how things work with the AP and kids (e.g. NO teasing of kids by AP, even though the kids sometimes say they like it).

Host Mommy Dearest June 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

Yes, I am positive our handbook is too long (as this comment likely is as well). Including the cover page and TOC, it is currently 35 pages and 11,700 words long. The handbook (emailed to candidates, as well as one in the kitchen and one in her room) is a 3 ring binder with tabs for the sections. If info/a rule needs to change or be added, we can just add a section or rip out that one page and replace it. I recently added the entire nutrition section after an AP couldn’t tell the difference between a protein and a starch to save her life, and my verbal explanation that one juice per day is plenty of sugar was not sinking in. The handbook is not all about rules – many of the sections are simply there to offer help – like how to contact your LCC, what to do if there is a fire, or things you might want to know about using the washer and dryer, and mapquested directions to the PO, the mall, and the university to list a few. If I were learning all new, important stuff, I would prefer to read about it ahead of time, especially if it is in a foreign language, then it is not all new to me when I get a walkthrough. Reading through something after a walkthrough really brings it home for me – since I can then put images to all the words. The pressure to remember every detail in each conversation is not there if I know I can refer back to written information after. That is all I am trying to accomplish by writing everything in the handbook. Here are the sections I include in our handbook:

Contacts / Important Phone #s
Children (Safety) First
Nutrition – Food & Drink
Fire and Medical Safety
Car Policies
Household Responsibilities
Household Appliances
Vacation and Holiday Schedule
Visitors and Guests
Curfews
Work Hours
Telephone and Computer/Internet Usage
General Communication
Educational Component
Smoking
Driving Directions

Should be working June 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

An HM after my own heart! I love the binder idea, with replaceable pages and index-tabs.

We have:

Safety rules & emergency info
Car rules
Personal car use
Host parents’ roles and responsibilities
General childcare guidelines
Food
TV, computer and videos
After school routines
General household tasks related to kids (e.g. tidy beds and toys)
Special weekday tasks (e.g. vacuum kids’ rooms on Tuesdays)
When you work during the weekend
Vacation time
Guests and nights
Off-duty behavior
Curfews
Your room and bathroom
General rules of the house
Money and savings (recommendation to put aside money in case of emergency!)
Work day cleaning details (e.g. what exactly a ‘clean kitchen’ is after kids’ breakfast)
Appliance instructions
Sample work schedules (in grid form, showing her hours for a typical school week, a week where kids have no school, and an atypical ‘other’ kind of week)
Lists of what each kid needs to bring/wear to school on each day of the week (e.g. gym clothes)

Calif Mom June 28, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Thank you thank you thank you both for the list of tabs! Criminy, I have so much more work to do on this.

I have another topic page drafted, titled “Security” and it includes rules/guidelines on both electronic and physical safety.

Electronic security: (never) sharing names, details or photos of our family on public websites (hypocrite, I know! ;-)). Don’t post on facebook that the whole family is going on vacation b/c a friend of a friend of a friend might be a nogoodnik, for example.

For house safety, it’s where the stashed key is, and the *do not* answer the front door if we aren’t specifically expecting someone (actual neighbors you’ve been introduced to excluded) rule.

Also info about where we will meet after small disaster like a fire, and after a BIG disaster that involves evacuation. Where the kids will be moved by the school district (parents–have you asked your schools this question? You need to know this!), where our disaster supplies are kept, a brief explanation of why there are N95 masks in the car, how to shut off the gas (I’m a Californian, remember?). Etc.

I *hope* this section helps our AP realize that we have tended to our family’s safety–including hers–and makes her feel reassured rather than just scaring her.

MommyMia June 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Something that just occurred to me while reading these comments, when a “walkthrough” was mentioned. A few years ago, we did a couple of very short video “tours” of our home and posted them on YouTube, mainly so that relatives out of our area could see our newly remodeled home. When one former AP asked after we’d matched with her to send photos of our home, we linked her to these, and I think it helped make her feel more comfortable after first arriving, as she was somewhat familiar with our house. However, I’d be cautious, as if the idea caught on and it became the norm, some APs might just shop around for the best digs. I can see advantages though, for visual learners, as it might stick more than reading a written manual, especially if their vocabulary wasn’t that great. If someone had time, they could do instructional videos (or at least provide links to that great “HowTo” website, demonstrating the operation of the washer/dryer/dishwasher, or other special equipment – I’m even envisioning “putting the kids to bed” – I’m sure our little drama queens would love to star in their own show. Heck, my older one even likes to film things herself – great summer project for an older child who’s bored!

Calif Mom July 19, 2010 at 12:05 am

My revised version just came in at about 40 pages, but it’s chopped up by topic for easy reference. HD laughed at my kitchen section (it’s the longest section of all), but feedback from AP is that she is happy to have the information and the thoughts behind my requirements and suggestions; she would much prefer to have more instructions about the things we care about so she doesn’t have to guess during the day, and then worry paranoid-ly that we weren’t telling her if something annoyed us because we were just too nice to criticize what she had done. Nope; just haven’t had anything to complain about (yet). And for that, I am both grateful and proud.

Grateful to this forum and especially CV for launching and maintaining it, alongside her ‘real’ job.

My family is living proof that the principles and advice shared here are absolutely “building better relationships, one host family at a time.” Not only that, but teaching host moms how to establish priorities, screen candidates, interview candidates, get ready for the arrival, and orient them to our home. We are having our best-ever transition to a new AP, and she is fresh from her country of origin (not a lovely girl found through rematch):

I hope it’s not too soon to say that I believe the streak is broken! (Take that, Pointy Boots, you insulting so-and-so!) ;-)

Euromom July 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

My Handbook is also quite long but I found that when I added graphics (teddy bears – beside baby care, pots/pans beside kitchen duties, and $$$ etc. I’ve added in smileys and page borders and it really looks so much brighter and less daunting (maybe even a little fun to read).

I use different coloured paper for the less serious areas and divide everything up. This detracts from the bulk

What’s great is that it does not look like a 40 page list of do’s and don’ts – it still is but it manages to do it with a smile – literally. :o)

some Au Pair July 19, 2010 at 11:17 am

The handbook of my hostfamily is also very thick.
After already over 5 months as there Au Pair the handbook fell into my hands again. (was cleaning the closet)
I re-read it again and was thinking about the last months and how my English has improved.

Until I came to the part: “helping with cleaning”
My hostmother wrote something like: clean up after the kids and make sure the kitchen/living room are picked up.
AND THEN I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME THE SMALL PRINTED SENTENCES: vacuum clean two times a week, dust two times a week and clean the fridge once a week.

O.o No wonder my hostmum hates me. She must think I am a lazzy a**. I NEVER vacuum cleaned more then 2-4 times a month during the first months and did the dusting only from time to time, lets not talk about the fridge.

Oh boy, I did not even know these things are my responsability.

NewAPMama July 19, 2010 at 11:45 am

Personally, I wouldn’t think they were your responsibility. They do not directly relate to childcare. Of course, as a member of the family, it would be nice of you to help out voluntarily, but I don’t think you would HAVE to do it. My aupair helps out because she lives here, but I wouldn’t write it down that she had to do those things. It sure is nice that she does though. :)

Taking a Computer Lunch July 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm

While I agree with NewAPMama that having you clean out the fridge, vaccuum and dust the common living areas seems a bit much, I do think this is a good reminder that we need to bring out the handbook every so often. We have rarely asked APs to bring it to the table or re-read it after our initial discussion of it, but with our current AP we did, because we thought she didn’t understand some of it. In the future, I think I might say something every couple of months, like, “I don’t have a problem with your work, but your English has improved, and I think it’s time for you to re-read the handbook.”

Melissa July 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I too think vacuuming, dusting and cleaning the fridge on a regular basis are a bit much, particularly if the dusting & vacuuming apply to areas outside of the kids room/playroom. We ask our APs to take care of child-related chores (kids laundry, wiping table after eating, putting away toys, dishes, etc). We don’t expect her to do any actual cleaning (dusting, cleaning bathrooms). However, we also make it clear that as another adult household member, we expect her to participate in helping around the house. I don’t list out specific chores in our handbook, but I do devote a short paragraph to it, along the lines of… ‘if you notice the kitchen trash can is full, please empty it’. When we were a new HF, I didn’t think to address this and assumed it was just common sense to turn the dishwasher on or vacuum up crumbs. Some of our APs did this instinctively, others didn’t, so we eventually added it to our handbook and talk about it as part of our ‘how things work in our family’ conversations.

West Coast Mom July 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hi Melissa,

Would you mid posting your paragraph about helping around the house? I’d like to add something along those lines to our book.

Thanks,
WCM

Melissa July 20, 2010 at 10:24 am

Sure! Here it is….

“As a member of our household, it is important that you feel comfortable in our house and feel as though it is ‘your house’ too during the year that you are living here. We want to think of you and treat you as a ‘family member’ and not a ‘guest.’ However, along with being an adult member of the household, we ask that you participate in keeping the house clean and organized. For example, emptying the trash if you notice that it is full, emptying the dishwasher if it is clean, or helping to clean up the dishes if you have dinner with us (the same things that HD and I will do and we’ll eventually teach the kids to do as well). It really just comes down to taking initiative when you notice that something needs to be done.”

Should be working July 20, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for this!

First Time HP July 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I can’t imagine asking our AP to dust and clean out the fridge. The only cleaning we ask of her to related to the kids and that’s just to pick up after them during the day. We also don’t have a handbook, which it seems like we are in the minority, and can see how that might help clear up any misunderstanding but hasn’t been an issue for us. We did talk through things so we are clear about expectations.

hOstCDmom July 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

We have a detailed handbook. We also go over it again, page by page, after about 8 weeks (when she has “seen” what we are talking about/what our family and kids are like, so our “rules” or “requirements” are much more in context. We do a first run through of the handbook, over the course of 2-3 days during the AP’s first week, but we send it to her when we match, so she has 4-5 months to read/review/translate before she even gets to the USA. Then we review line by line. We are a detail oriented family with many children, and very, very tidy and organized by personality, so we do care about a lot of little things and how little things are done. But we share these characteristics (and the handbook) in matching (fair is forewarned! :)) and then go over it in a more show and tell way.

We ask our AP to make the children’s beds daily, do their laundry (wash, dry, fold, put away), wash children’s sheets weekly (on a rota since there are quite a few), vacuum their rooms weekly, clean/tidy their playroom 1x/week, wipe down the arts and crafts table and all shelves in the playroom, tidy and organize all their books, vacuum their playroom, and clean AP bathroom (toilet, tub and shower) weekly. However, we give her ample time to do these kid related chores by building in 2h/day of her schedule that are for kid related chores when she is NOT caring for the children (during school/camp time). We need this kid related chore help to keep the trains running on time in our house, but again, all of this is made explicit prior to matching.

hOstCDmom July 19, 2010 at 1:15 pm

The above is separate/in addition to expecting her to DIRECT the children to clean up after themselves each day/throughout the day/at the end of the day (they are old enough to do so, but young enough to require drill sargent direction (!)).

That part of “tidying up WITH the kids is during times when the kids are around or under her care (we really strive for “with” rather than “after”, and train the AP on how to achieve with rather than after, since with young children it is often easier/quicker, IMO, to just pick up after them than make them do it properly…but the path of least resistance doesn’t necessarily yield the best results 18 yrs later (!!))

First Time HP July 19, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Wow that does sound detailed. I guess we just aren’t that detailed oriented. I can honestly say that I’d be hard pressed to come up with more than 12 rules let alone a 40 page manual. I’m not trying to say that one method is better or worse, it just isn’t something I could see myself putting together. We do have the AP instruct the kids to pick up after themselves such as pick up and put away their toys, put there dishes in the sink and so on. She has taken it upon herself to do both the kids and our laundry which is really nice especially since we’ve told her she doesn’t need to. When it comes to washing sheets and vacuuming we manage it ourselves. She’s jumped in a number of times and cleaned the kitchen or other areas in the house as a way to help us out and because she had some extra time which is really nice.

BlstMum July 20, 2010 at 11:18 am

HOstCDMom,
Your posts have been so helpful to me, and I’ve been surprised to read how much we have in common–5 young kids (all readers), limited media usage (no TV), and specific high expectations for AP. We welcome our first AP next month, and I’m still trying to work out how to best communicate how we run such a tight ship without being overly controlling and micro-managing. Thanks for all your wisdom!
BlstMum

Should be working July 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

If my kids’ rooms were tidy enough to see any of the surfaces, I would ask an AP to dust the kids’ rooms, and also to ‘clean out the fridge’ if that meant throwing away kid-related food (which is almost everything) that is old or past date. I would not ask the AP to wipe out the fridge unless she had caused a mess in there (e.g. loose lid, item spilled).

I do ask the AP to vacuum the common areas because our living room is also the kids’ playroom, and my son’s ‘installations’ are in hallways and dining room and so forth. The kids are the only ones who make crumbs, drop tiny pieces of paper, etc., on the floor so I think it’s ok to ask her to vacuum those areas.

But our AP says she hates our vacuum cleaner–and she’s right, it stinks–so she pretty much refuses to vacuum, but is willing to sweep (doesn’t happen that often though).

hOstCDmom July 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Perhaps, if it fits your budget, you should give her $X and send her out to buy a vacuum cleaner she likes, with the note that once she has her favorite kind she will be expected to use it…often… ;-) (in the kid related ways/areas, of course)

Calif Mom July 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Ooh! Empowering *and* subversive! love it. it might work, too.

Should be working July 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Great idea, thanks!

Europhile July 19, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Our handbook is not a proper handbook. It’s four pages long and contains the following short chapters:

*Typical day
*Work hours, pocket money, vacation
*Primary au pair responsibilities (all kids stuff)
*Responsibilities around the house
*Getting around
*Things HP pay for, things AP is expected to pay for herself
*General “rules” around the house

The whole document usually gets updated when we are in au pair search mode, but I have managed to keep it within the four pages. It’s pretty streamlined, but doesn’t leave anything of importance out. We have not had any major issues with any of our four au pairs, so this has served us well.

I have learned to communicate very directly with my au pairs, so if there are things that I think need to be improved, I address them directly in person (even if I have to say the same thing five times — I just do it). I don’t want a lot of language that doesn’t apply to every au pair clutter my document and scare some applicants away.

As a side note, we are finding NONE of our four au pairs has had any issues bonding with the kids and they all have taken excellent care of them. Where we have had issues is more with personality stuff — au pairs that were very quiet, didn’t like to contribute to conversations — in other words, just aren’t very interesting or fit into our family in terms of intellectual curiosity. We are now quite explicit about personality traits we are looking for (not in the “handbook” as much as during the search process). The household things — while nice if you have somebody who is very organized — can be taught and learned. Personality is what it is, and won’t change much over the course of one year.

darthastewart July 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm

The part about what the ap pays for and what we pay for is a great idea!

ThinkAboutThisIdea January 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I’d be very disappointed/lost if my HF give me a handbook with just a few information. I see the handbook like a manual, where we can learn about the family and the the community, that give us some kind of security.

And if a AuPair what to write to the family some considerations too, what could we do?

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