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