You Know You’re A Great Au Pair Host Mom When…?

by cv harquail on May 6, 2014

Celebrating (Au Pair Host) Mother’s Day


Do you ever have one of those moments when you say to yourself,
                      “Gosh darn it, sometimes I *am* a great host mom!”?

Go ahead, admit it.

Or better yet, tell us about it, by filling in the rest of this sentence:

I know I’m a great host mom when…


image: Family Portrait, by Ken Bosma


PA AP Mom May 6, 2014 at 11:56 am

I’m not a host mom anymore since my kids are older but we did host 5 AP’s (mostly) successfully.

One incident with our second AP made me feel like a great host mom. We went to NYC for a weekend, just she and I, to see Mamma Mia for her birthday. We met up with some of her AP friends and she introduced me as “this is my friend *insert my name*”. To hear her say that I was her friend made me feel wonderful.

Seattle Mom May 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Aw that is sweet!

WarmStateMomma May 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm


Seattle Mom May 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

When I talk to my AP about something that might be a bit touchy to get her to change the way she does something, and not only does the conversation go well with no hurt feelings but there is long-term change and everyone is happier as a result.

Angie host mom May 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I’m not a great host mom. I’m just an ok host mom. But, I try. I still get grouchy, I still forget to say all of the thank yous I should, I forget to write down what we talk about so it is clear, I forget to pay her til the day after payday, and I’m 5 minutes late fairly regularly, and sometimes the schedule doesn’t come out until Monday. But I try to make sure she is happy and hit the big things that are important for her. If she’s got a class, she can take it – if she needs a weekday off, we can figure it out. If she likes a brand of yogurt, I buy it.

NJmama May 6, 2014 at 6:45 pm

AngieHM I am the same way! I’ve also resigned myself it the fact that I’ll never be mother of the year either. But I try to be the best mom and host mom that I can be :).

Angie host mom May 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hit submit too fast.

So I only know I’m a great host mom when I hear about how awful some other host moms are! LOL

MaleAuPairInTexas May 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm

hahaha that was a great one lol

Host Mom in the City May 6, 2014 at 3:17 pm

You know what I’m working on? I’m a great host mom in the beginning. I take the time to think about how to make my au pair comfortable upon arriving, I buy her special things, I am patient and kind with explaining how to do something, I check in with her to see if she might need anything, I say thank you and praise her when something goes well. I make sure the house is extra clean and that I am a good role model for parenting my kids.

But of course, overtime, things slip. I forget to say thank you. I don’t clean the bathroom on my normal schedule. I am impatient with my kids in front of her. Etc. Nothing terrible, but certainly not taking care of the relationship to the same degree as I did in the beginning.

So I am working on being the host mom I want to be throughout the year, and not just at the beginning. Remembering to say thank you throughout the year, remembering to give specific praise when she does something really well, remembering to pick up little things she likes when I’m out, etc.

Funny because I know we’ve talked repeatedly about how our au pairs typically start out great and then go downhill from there after three months or so. That’s why I always tell people to just rematch in the beginning if you’re having trouble in the first couple of months – it never really gets better, whether you’re talking about a great au pair or a bad one. But we as host parents should probably consider that we also have this same downward trend as we get comfortable and our true selves come out…

AussiePair May 6, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Obviously not a host mom, but… Do you know what I think makes you all great host moms?

You open up your homes, your lives, your families and often your hearts year after year to complete strangers, you put your trust in these people and trust them with your most precious possessions and you TRY. You try to be the best host mom you can be, you look for advice and think about what you can do to improve your situations (and not always for your benefit, often for your APs). This is what makes you all great host moms, your kindness, caring and thoughtfulness!

Momma Gadget May 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm

As my kids would tease- “Maximum Tear Value”.
Thank you for that very nice post.

Seattle Mom May 6, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Wow- thank you for writing that!

WarmStateMomma May 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm

What a thoughtful post! Thank you.

Momma Gadget May 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

You know your decent host mom when:

-Your Au Pair says at thanksgiving how grateful he is for the best host family ever.
– You come home after dropping the Au Pair off at the message ” Thnks for a great experience” scrawled across the refrigerator in alphabet magnets.
-Your Au Pair still Messages/skypes with you 4 years after they’ve gone home.

LondonMum May 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm

It’s true that you are a great host mum when they come back to visit a couple of times every year, even 4 or 5 years on!

When their mother sends you a special Christmas gift to thank you for being so good to their daughter, even though you’ve never met the mother!

When they make you a special photo album of all the photos they took of themselves with your kids over the year and give it to you as a leaving gift.

When they make you a “recipe book” of all the dishes from their country that you enjoyed and hand draw and paint a picture to go with each recipe!

And also …

When you are making dinner for 10 guest due to arrive in 20 minutes and your AP says “I bought this maxi dress today and it’s too long but I really want to wear it tonight”! So you quickly pin it up, get her to take it off, run up the hem on the sewing maching and press it for her … then get back to making the dinner!

Seattle Mom May 6, 2014 at 11:54 pm

I need to add one more- you know you’re a great host mom when your first AP emails that she got an email from the agency about signing up for another year and she’s considering it- but only if she can come back to your family!

(of course my HK have something to do with that too)

HRHM May 7, 2014 at 3:36 am

… I take the time to learn what my AP’s “currency” is. For some, it’s a small treat from the grocery from their home country, for others an extra day off on Friday for a weekend to travel, for others it’s inviting their friends to have dinner with our family. Each AP is different, has unique needs and wants. I try to get to know them well enough as individuals so that the things I do are things they actually need and want.

Momma Gadget May 7, 2014 at 8:59 am

‘AP currency’- brilliant!

TexasHM May 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm

5 love languages! Spot on!

Mimi May 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Hugs, happy tears, and thoughtful little gestures are nice, but what always makes me feel successful is seeing how an AP has grown over their time with us and knowing how I helped shape that.

Old China Hand May 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm

I know I am a good host mom when my AP says that she likes the way I did x, y, or z thing with my son and she wants to do the same with her child in the future, even though she didn’t agree with it at first.

I know I’m a good host mom for letting my AP take the midday class she wants but I will never do that one again.

I am trying to work on constructive criticism. And pay checks on time. An event from this week is weighing heavily on me. This sort of starts with our AP burning herself fairly badly over the weekend (on an extra day off we arranged for her to attend a workshop) and going to the ER. We spent a lot of money on burn and anti-scar creams to help her heal better. We had somewhere to go for a reception and dinner Monday night. So we had our AP work late and put my son to bed (he goes to bed at 6, so it wasn’t that late) and then arranged for a babysitter to arrive after that. I explained all this to our AP and to the babysitter. When the babysitter arrived, the AP didn’t answer the door and the babysitter let herself in. She texted me but I didn’t get it because of no service where I was (I checked my phone!). When we got home we learned about all this. I was pretty pissed at our AP and she said she didn’t go downstairs when the doorbell rang because she thought the cleaning lady was still there (no way that could be the case) and she was in a bad mood due to burns and her period but she figured the babysitter was ok because she knew what to do and my son was in bed already and we don’t go into his room once he is in bed for the night. She texted later that she had done something wrong and was spending the night at a friend’s house to talk with her friend and think about it. When she came home in the morning I made her write an apology note to the babysitter, which I also wrote in, and then I bought a coffee gift card for the babysitter and sent it off to her. I told our AP that her upcoming plans for a longer-than-allowed vacation and the previous week’s extra day off (which she wants to work off with extra hours that had been tentatively scheduled for when she now wants to go on vacation) weren’t a right but a privilege and she better do a good job with her work to be allowed to go. I also told her that we wouldn’t rematch over this even though some friends of hers have gone into rematch for similar seemingly small things. She got all sullen with me for the rest of the day and this morning. Today I explained to her that I had figured out a way for her to make up the extra hours later in the summer so she could take the vacation. After she went to class this morning and came to pick up my son I confronted her about her mood and asked if she was still mad at me. She said that she had been because her vacation is her right (true) but that the particular timing or the length (2 extra days) isn’t, so she was over it. But I’m wondering if I over reacted or if I did something wrong with the whole situation.

WarmStateMomma May 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Treating the babysitter to an awkward night and then treating you to her sullen act sound immature and petulant. You called her out on her bad behavior without overreacting in my view.

As an aside, you may want to suggest Midol (or something similar) for her. My APs viewed their periods as pretty debilitating until they discovered this stuff.

TexasHM May 7, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Sidenote I don’t know if any of you use Chase bank but they have this AWESOME feature even if you aren’t a Chase customer that you can use called Quickpay. I just set up a recurring payment for every Friday and they are paid! I get an email when she has accepted the money but otherwise I do nothing. I now pay the landscaper, meal delivery and friends with this. We go out shopping and AP wants a cute shirt but forgot her wallet? I send her a request in 3 clicks on my smartphone and she accepts on her phone and its paid before I checkout. Godsend! Anyway sorry to hijack just got me thinking when you said pay them ontime, I got to be horrible about that and felt terrible guilt until I started doing this!

WarmStateMomma May 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Yes! We autopay her weekly stipend because otherwise we will not remember to timely pay.

Seattle Mom May 7, 2014 at 5:16 pm

We do something similar through the Bank of America.

HRHM May 8, 2014 at 8:18 am

And us through USAA and Ally bank. I think almost every bank has a free bill pay or transfer function. All my bills would be late without it. They will wire transfer or send a paper check.

Host Mom in the City May 8, 2014 at 9:24 am

Agreed – we’ve done this for years (that is, autopay our au pairs’ stipend every week). I can’t imagine remembering to have cash on hand once a week. It also eliminates the awkward cash hand-off every week.

NoVA Twin Mom May 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

We do too – and we phrase it as incentive for the au pair to go to the bank ASAP and get an account! Makes life SO much easier.

Angie host mom May 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Was AP home when the babysitter arrived or did she leave the child in the house alone? or was she home and just asleep? Midol/Pamprin put me down for the count, coupled with pain medication for burns which can hurt, I can see her sleeping through the doorbell and not wanting to say it.

The only person who can scold me about my mood when I am in a bad mood with cramps is my husband, and that is just a reminder that I need to remember how I’m acting! Anyone else – up to and including a boss – would get verbally shredded. I would be miserable afterward but I don’t think I could help myself.

Should be working May 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I can see why you were annoyed at the AP, and it doesn’t make so much sense that she didn’t answer the door. Was that the “something wrong” that sent her to the friend to discuss and stay over? I don’t understand that part.

On the other hand, the way you describe “making her write” an apology and threatening to rescind an upcoming vacation, and telling her that you wouldn’t rematch (but hinting that you could), together all sounds quite punitive. By that it means that you don’t sound like an adult dealing with another adult, or even an employer with a worker. In my view talking to the AP like that might invite sullen teenage reactions instead of mature, responsible ones. Scolding is hard to react to in a mature way.

Also to ask “if [you are] still mad at me” is not a professional way to talk, it puts things on the emotional rather than the professional, or even pragmatic, level.

So in my opinion you didn’t do anything wrong, but you did get caught up in a scolding, punitive tone that invites teenage, sulky, petulant responses. If you stayed cool and professional/employer-like, it might be easier for her to respond like a responsible adult. Maybe not, but it might be more of an encouragement to that kind of response.

Old China Hand May 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm

She was home and awake when the door bell rang. She told me she heard the bell then the next day changed her story and told me she didn’t hear it. I think she heard it.

I’m not sure if she was crampy or just feeling crummy. She has been grumpy with me recently and the burns (understandably) put her in a worse mood. My husband told me that I went too far with having her write the apology (I guess that if she refused, I couldn’t have done anything about it), but I really felt bad for the babysitter. With the vacation, I wasn’t intending to threaten her vacation in general, just that it was a privilege to go on a longer than vacation time granted trip. I don’t honestly think that I dealt with the whole thing very well, but we are having a slipping in quality of work problem recently and this was sort of the final straw. It’s the last 2 months of 18 and the end of the semester and things are kind of falling apart. I’m also fairly young to be a host parent (34), and she is fairly old to be an AP (25), so that doesn’t help the dynamic sometimes.

WarmStateMomma May 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm

The AP acted childishly and was expected to apologize like any child who behaved rudely. Maybe there was a better way to handle it, but I don’t see anything wrong with what you did.

HD and I are in the same boat age-wise (6 year age gap with AP#1 and 8 years with AP#2), but the difference in life experience makes us feel much older than our APs.

I would consider not granting new favors. She’s not likely to step up her game in the home stretch and it will just make you feel more resentful if she keeps taking without giving. It may be time to have a heart-to-heart about how to finish on a strong note and remind her that you don’t need a lot of stress on your plate right now.

Angie host mom May 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Wait – so she either lied to you when she said she didn’t hear the bell or she lied to you when she said she heard it. About what happened when she was scheduled to work and in charge of the kiddo. Major red flag – worse than not opening the door. CLEAR sign, she’s trying to find the answer that gets you off of her back rather than telling you the truth.

I think now I can get where the sullen attitude is coming from – I’ve seen this dynamic before. She’s old enough to be comparing her life to your life. You are going out partying Monday night and leaving her home with your kid until the babysitter gets there when she’s crampy and injured. Now you are treating her like a teenage kid forcing her to write an apology and threatening consequences if she doesn’t shape up. She can see herself as the mom and sees what you are doing as wrong for whatever reason – and it all builds up a response that is snarky and sullen everytime you correct her, which makes you see her more as a teenage whiner instead of a professional young woman, which makes you treat her more like a misbehaving teenager, which makes her act more like a sullen teenager, and so on and so on.

Solution? STOP. Just, stop. Take a breath. This dynamic is only going to spiral. Step back. When kiddo isn’t around or is solidly asleep, schedule time during her working hours to review the family handbook and requirements. Tell her you think things have gotten a little strained and you just want to get back to a solid footing. Put the schedule on the calendar, make a checklist for anything she has to get done that is extra from child care, and step back from the rest of her life. Be a hands off manager for a while. You need some space from each other.

Angie host mom May 7, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Oh, and I don’t mean that you really went out partying and left her with your kid = I mean this is how it feels to her. In case that wasn’t obvious. I don’t think you did anything “wrong” I just think your dynamic is in a bad place right now.

WarmStateMomma May 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Old China Hand – Have you decided to host another AP from China? Will you have a break from APs when baby 2 arrives?

Taking a Computer Lunch May 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

OCH, if I recall correctly, you’re in count-down mode. I’ve written about this plenty elsewhere, but the breakdown in AP behavior can be hard to take – especially the first time when it blindsides you. It is very hard to say goodbye to a HF, the HK, and especially friends. APs make deep attachments, and as they count down they are both excited, terrified, happy and depressed.

In a quiet moment, take your AP aside, and say while you understand how tough the last few weeks of her AP year are – how much she will miss your child, your family, and especially her friends, you need her to work just as hard as she did when she first arrived. Remind her how much your child loves her, and how hurt s/he will be if her behavior changes. This usually works. It is extremely hard to say goodbye, especially if she feels your excitement about her successor.

cv harquail May 8, 2014 at 5:33 pm

You Guys! This is supposed to be about being a good host mom! I might just have to un-approve all of these comments, and put them on the open thread instead. !!!

TexasHM May 7, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I never really feel like I am a great AP mom. Isn’t that terrible?! But much in the same way that I never feel like the perfect mom to my kids. I do try, and I do invest a lot in our APs (time, advice, emotionally etc) and my kids, but like many other areas of my life I tend to have unrealistically high expectations for myself. :) Setting my neuroses aside for a minute, if I was a little less intensely Type A I would probably feel like a great host mom when:
my AP confides in me about something personal that is bothering her (dog is sick at home, fight with parents, disagreement with another AP)
my AP takes my advice about something (travel plans, local events, conversations with friends/family back home, etc)
my AP says that she really likes the way we do something and wants to do it with her kids in the future (discipline, vacation planning, family traditions etc)
my AP says that she is grateful to be a part of our family (warts and all)
my AP says that the other APs all wish they were treated/felt like a “true family member” and tell her that she’s the lucky one
my AP does something really outside her comfort zone and succeeds or really enjoys it (I love watching them grow just like my own kids)
my APs have a Mothers Day gift and card for me every year from them and the kids (maximum tear value – I loved that above Momma Gadget!)

It took me a super long time to write this list. What a great question. I think often times we don’t give ourselves enough credit and grace. Thanks for the exercise! On the days that I hear about other host families giving their APs plane tickets and luxury cars without curfews I will remind myself of this list!! :)

Returning HM May 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I don’t know about being a “great” HM, but I will say that I try to be a thoughtful, self-aware one, and that is something our APs seem to appreciate about me. In fact, just this weekend our current AP, who has only been with us two months, told me that one of the things he really likes about me is that even though we have hosted APs a long time (8 of the past 10 years), I never stop wanting to learn more and thinking about it and wanting to do better (and talking with our APs about what I learn, often citing this site). For example, that big discussion a few weeks (months?) ago about the AP who smoked and the HM was so upset about it caused me to rethink my total prohibition around smoking, and I wrote to our incoming AP to tell him this (since he had admitted he was a social smoker during matching, and I told him then that I would rematch with him if he ever smoked at all, let alone in our house or car or around our children – I’ve now rethought this). And I also rethought other things, and I try to make sure to tell our APs that I’ve rethought them…and share with them my thinking on why I’ve changed my mind about something (like the smoking thing). I actually once wrote, maybe 3-4 years ago, to one of our first APs from 2006 I think and apologized to her for actually caring about crumbs on the kitchen counter. I hadn’t yet learned to keep my “eye on the prize” of whether my children were safe, happy, loved, and relatively on time, and to let the rest go (that is the philosophy I try to use now), and I wrote to tell her that I now understood that I had been hard to please in those days. She wrote back the most beautiful email saying how much *she* had learned from living with us and watching me manage a household, a career, and additional difficulties (my mother was dying of cancer at the time) and that she too had learned to keep her “eye on the prize” that we had been a loving, supportive, and caring family and so if the HM harped sometimes on the counter being wiped better, that she should just “let it go” too :-)

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I would say rather than being great, I know I’m reflective, and that at least stands me a chance at being better next year than I am this year and better, hopefully, each successive year (though hopefully there won’t be too many more beyond that).

Taking a Computer Lunch May 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm

What makes me a good (I wouldn’t say great) HM is that I am flexible without being a pushover. Generous with my time and gifts as my finances permit. I ask questions and I listen. DH and I open our doors to family and friends as long as the AP does her job well. We offer extra time off as we are able. We say thank when the AP works on Saturday, even if it is her shift, because we understand that she has had to say “No” to activities she would rather do. Yes, I am pointed at times – with the APs who have frustrated me most probably downright curt – but I knowing I have high expectations in some areas of the AP job (like the care of my child with special needs) lets me give in other areas (been watching a scummy tub ring for weeks because it’s not the most important thing). I understand that the “gap” year is meant to include a fair amount fun, but I also prefer “extraordinnaire” APs who know what it means to work, to have a commitment, and to see it through. When I ask my AP about her day, I’m not asking about what the kids did, I am asking about her. I pay attention to favorite foods, favorite restaurants, favorite activities – so I can quietly reward her when she goes the extra mile.

ScotishAP May 7, 2014 at 11:54 pm

I think my HM is great!! Here are some of the reasons why,
-She respects me as an authority, if she home and I’m working, when the kids ask she will say, its not up to me J is in charge ( I LOVE THIS)
-She takes time when she can to go shopping with me or have lunch with me (this really means a lot to me)
-She involves me in ALL family activities (communion, mothers day, trips, vacations, days out)
– At the end of a busy day she will sit and watch tv with me a chill out =)
-She offers to pay for things (flights ect and then take it out of any extra hours i do) this is great when you only make 200 a week =)
– SHE SAYS THANKYOU!! seems simple, and it is, but acknowledging my hard work means a lot, a simple thanks is all it takes!!
I love my hm like a sister or aunt and I enjoy spending time with her and the whole family. In return for her efforts I also put in extra work, babysitting over my time, being extreemly flexible (no set schedule), looking after the kids when they have to be away on business. For me this doesnt fell like a JOB it feels like FAMILY and that is what I think makes a GREAT HM =)

BropairJJ May 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm

This sounds like a great HM, I hope I can build a similar relationship with whoever I place with.

exaupair May 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

what made my HM great? the fact that even though the family didn’t drink coffe at all she would always bring home various tiny coffe samples whenever she went out.

European Au Pair in Finland May 9, 2014 at 7:01 am

Before I even started my au pair year I received a package with a pair of woollen socks my host mum had knitted for me in preperation for the cold winter. So thoughtful.

SoonToBe May 18, 2014 at 8:03 am

I really do hope I am as privileged to have a host mom like all of the above. Someone who treats me like part of her family, who acknowledges my work and supports me when I’m down. I think that is any au pairs’ dream !!

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