R.T.F.M. Making sure your Au Pair Reads the Family Manual

by cv harquail on September 17, 2009

Long before there was OMG, ROTFLMAO and WTF, there was RTFM.
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R ead
T he
F (your favorite F word here. We use “family”)
M anual

We put a lot of work into those family manuals and handbooks, and we expect them to be useful to our Au Pairs. However, before the Au Pairs find these handbooks useful, they actually have to read them.

What can we do to get our Au Pairs to read the handbooks?

Here’s what I’ve tried:

1. Give her the handbook on the first night so that she can start to read it before the first work day. [Or, send the handbook ahead (either before she leaves or at orientation)]

2. Tell her which sections of the handbook we’ll be going over in her next at-home orientation session, so that she can read ahead.

3. Assign her specific on-duty time to read the handbook.

4. Take sections out of the handbook, handing her a pencil, and asking her to tick off each item as I demonstrate it to her or talk to her about it.

5. Have her read the point, guideline, or paragraph aloud, with me, and then discussing whether she understands it.

6. Asking her to identify for me any works she does not understand, concepts she does not understand, or guidelines she does not agree with, so that we can discuss them.

7. Writing funny personal notes in random spots on the manual, to suggest that I was expecting her not only to read the manual but to bring up a topic with me in conversation.

One of the straws that broke me with our ‘flame out’ au pair was my discovery that she had never actually looked through the family handbook in its entirety…despite my having gone through all of these steps at least twice with her. When she finally admitted that much, I really did want to scream ‘Read the F–ing, #@$^%-@%($&!^)% Family Handbook!” at the top of my lungs, but I refrained.

Instead I called our LCC and told her we were ready for a rematch.

What have you tried that seems to work?

Write it in the comments, and we’ll read it. We promise.

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{ 75 comments }

PA au pair mom September 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm

We send a copy of our handbook when we are interviewing candidates. Once they have had a chance to read it, we ask them for feedback. If they are agreeable to it, either as is, or with minor changes, then we can proceed to matching.

Then I go ov er it again, via email…the most important parts.

When she arrives there is a fresh copy on her desk along with some office supplies, goodies, etc. I ask her to spend some time on the first weekend reading it again. then we have a family meeting a review it.

We go around to all the appliances in the house and she can take notes while I show her how to work each of them.

This has worked pretty well for us on two occasions.

NewAPMom September 17, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Love the title.

I just want to point out that people have different learning styles and absorb information differently. Some people do great with a written manual. Others don’t get anything out of it. So if it feels like your au pair isn’t absorbing what’s in there, maybe think about whether she learns differently and try a different approach.

I sent an anonymized version of our handbook to our next au pair during the interview. I knew it was a good match when that really clinched the deal for her and for us.

Still, I’ll follow some of CV’s advice when she gets here, to make sure.

CV September 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm

New AP Mom- It hadn’t occured to me to consider the intersection of learning styles and handbooks…. that’s an interesting challenge. In previous posts I’ve suggested using Howcast and other such video sites for lessons on how to do laundry, load a diswasher, and that kind of stuff, but I hadn’t thought beyond those general, basic kinds of ‘how to’s’. I know that CulturalCare’s “AuPairAnswerMom” has some videos (more for families interested in APs) and I imagine that she’ll be expanding on those in the future…
Do you have any ideas how you might cater to different learning styles for things like family ‘rules’? Let us know!! cv

NewAPMom September 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Our first AP never read the handbook. Or maybe she did… but what I’ve come to realize since is that she doesn’t absorb written information. (She could never pass the test to get her driver’s permit, despite “reading” the book many times.) I think it’s an excellent idea to sit down and go over one chapter at a time and will do that next time.

One specific thing I did when thinking about rematching was figure out what interview questions I could ask that would screen out some of the problems we had the first time.

TX Mom September 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Anon This Time, this is one of those processes that you could commit to improve upon. (The “not reading the handbook” is on my list of “I’m going to avoid that problem again.”) Next time (or this time) you could review sections of the handbook at your weekly meetings. For example on that first day, after s/he has unpacked and read the manual go over safety items with the AP AND the manual. (”Here is the fire extinguisher on the wall that is shown in the picture on page 3? … watch the AP write notes in the handbook.) I disagree with SeaMom that this needs to be done during the AP’s duty hours, however.

SeaMom September 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

In regards to Anoy this time: yes you can. Take an hour of your 45 hours per week for child care and send the children off with HD or what works for you. Then sit down with the AP and read/summarize the handbook with her. If I feel the AP hasn’t reviewed it then this is what I do. Yes, it takes time but in the long run the AP can’t look at you blankly and also say I didn’t know that.

Anonymous September 17, 2009 at 6:00 pm

You know, alot of us are first generation aupair host parents.
Did anyone out there grow up with aupairs ? If so, do women our mothers’ age have any perspective. In my case, my mother had a housekeeper for a period of time and I learned some very specific rules about that . One, this lady was not there to pick up after my sisters and me. We did not leave the dishes for her to do the next day
We said please and thank you and called her Mrs. Clark.

I am wondering how host mothers feel about the experience when it is over and they are further down the track , looking back. I have a friend who told me that she and her brother loved their aupairs – they thought it was really cool of their mother to hire these young girls who played with them all day instead of a housekeeper but I wonder how the mother feels looking back. Any experiences to share ?

Anonymous September 17, 2009 at 6:07 pm

How about you ask you LCC to read through your handbook with your aupair at her orientation meeting ? I would of course go over it with her myself. My only fear is that the LCC would start editing the handbook and objecting to this and that. Does anyone have an LCC who reviews handbooks with aupairs ? After all, some agencies and LCCS actually suggest that host parents prepare a handbook .

Anonymous this time September 17, 2009 at 6:18 pm

WOW!! Thank you, everyone who’s responded so far – there are some amazing suggestions here!

I can really see where we went wrong, as we didn’t even write the handbook before matching, and then we simply e-mailed it to her, and left a copy for her in her room. We didn’t sit down and go through anything, didn’t schedule time to read it, didn’t ask her questions on it…

What we did do, though, was submit it to the LCC for feedback before we sent it to the AP. Our LCC actually really liked it, and thought there were no improvements to be made! Maybe that was another reason I was somewhat offended that the AP didn’t read it…

Again, thank you so much – I love this site!

Anonymous September 17, 2009 at 6:40 pm

My agency gives us a handbook and I gotta tell you, I skimmed through it and didn’t really read it until this afternoon. I was surprized to see that there are things on their sample schedule for an aupair like ” throw in a load of kid’s laundry “. So now, I do not have to feel the least bit guilty about that. And according to this schedule on a typical night the aupair would not be meeting her friends until ten o’clock at night after she finsishes her classes. I wish I had read this sooner. I read it because I felt guilty complaining about an aupair not reading the handbooks we prepare.

au pair September 17, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I must be honest. Once my family never mentioned or gave me a family handbook I have NO IDEA of what that is. Would that be a book with rules and chores for the au pair or something?

I have my rules and chores and always respect them but never saw or heard of a host family handbook before. If it’s what i think it is that would be great. I don’t understand au pairs who knows what is expected from them and just do not do what is supposed to be done.

CV September 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Hi AP– Check out the categories on the right hand sidebar….. in the PAGES section there are actually pages of Handbook sections (from our family handbook) and some other samples. Then, if you look in the CATEGORIES, you can click on ‘guidelines and rules”, and even use the search box to find anything about a “handbook”.

Not every family has a handbook, and not every Agency recommends that you have one. I’m a big believer in them b/c it’s nice to have everything written down so that everyone has something to refer to when they want to know what the rules, procedures or routines are. cv

NewAPMom September 17, 2009 at 8:39 pm

What worked for me was relaying small bits of information at a time in a context-sensitive way, i.e. if she’s going out on a work night, let her know while you’re discussing her plans that her work night curfew is XYZ. Also I showed her how to do things, and her capacity for picking things up based on watching someone do them is great.

For difficult/important stuff you could take digital photos as you go, and then put them all together into a “user manual” for that task. I did that for a complicated recipe.

Calif Mom September 17, 2009 at 9:05 pm

A reci-what? you got an AP to follow a recipe! WOW!!!! That’s impressive. Maybe even a status update. My 9 year old tries to explain what recipes mean when I’m not around, but it doesn’t work. We gave up. Next AP will enjoy cooking.

My great guilty fear generated by this whole post is that a spelunking expedition into my AP’s room would undoubtedly unearth an old version of our handbook from when my 9 year old was in K and my kindergartener was in an Ergo carrier… I don’t even have the hard drive the first draft was done on — that was two macs ago!

Ironically, our first AP, who had the benefit of the most accurate handbook, was the least literate. Absolutely, reading skills and second language matter a lot!

I was thinking about taking digital photos of a properly loaded dishwasher. But we’re all still figuring out how to load the dang thing. It’s a new replacement for the one we had for probably twenty years, and none of us have ‘moved in to it’ quite yet. Yes, she is quiet, but we’re still ‘in transition’…

:-)

CV — thanks for the ‘how to ‘ video idea. If someone else could explain about sorting laundry, it would be fantastic! I just let it go… the kids’ clothes all wear out before they fade anyway.

CoCa September 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm

I greatly enjoyed writing our handbook, particularly because when you read it, it actually sounds like we are an extremely organized and efficient family that doesn’t yell at kids, that puts the things to go upstairs in a basket specifically for this purpose and that knows exactly how many miles we travel on an average week driving kids to activities.

In reality, don’t we all to some extent write our handbooks to reflect how we would LIKE things to work in our households? I don’t mean so much the stuff like how to work the toaster, but more like “healthy snacks only” or “always put away the markers when you’ve used them”.

It could possibly be that some au pairs realize this, and begin to bend the rules themselves when they can see that we are.

Jenny September 17, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Despite lots of advice not to, I emailed our 25+ page Handbook to my new Au pair (and one other close match) shortly before we matched. I know that different Au pairs have different learning styles, and some might be turned off by all our rules and regulations, but we have a lot of written communication in our family due to busy schedules and my need to write things down, so I realized if an Au pair was turned off by me writing a novel on how I wanted a time out given, well, then she probably wasn’t the Au pair for me, er, I mean us.

I must add that I was SO pleasantly surprised when we sat down together on her first work day with the manual and she had notes in the margins, words circled and translated, and questions formulated on several points. She had obviously read this manual cover to cover and then some. First time HM dream, right?

It may be beginners luck, but this method REALLY helped me find the best Au pair for my family, and after 5 weeks we could not be more pleased with her. I can tell it has made her life easier because she knows what to expect. I did have to laugh the first week when she asked if she could take a water bottle to her room because the handbook says no food or drink out of the kitchen.

And I so agree with CoCa, if I could follow every guide line I set in my handbook, my house would be organized and clean and every day would be bliss – calm, healthy, and happy.

Thanks to this site and the handbook section for helping me to organize and write my handbook, I know my success is partially owed to those who’ve gone before me and it didn’t work out this well. Cheers!

Emma September 18, 2009 at 2:54 am

I’m my HFs first AP and sometimes I wish that they had given me a handbook. My HM stayed home full time before I came (the youngest just started daycare) and neither of us really knew where to begin. I had to ask for a schedule, a list of daily chores/to-dos, what the families rules were regarding certain child-care issues, I actually even had to ask what the emergency phone number was here and for a list of contacts to call in the event of an emergency. Thank goodness I’m the take-charge person I am, because idk what they would have done with a younger/less mature AP without the childcare experience I have (maybe this is why they chose me?) It would have been fantastic to have been handed a book in advance with all of this information available to read.

Now, I can’t read something and retain the information presented in it. I have to take notes or summarize. I’m assuming most APs learn English as a second language, and that the handbook is not in their first language. Maybe it would help to print up a version with lines underneath each rule/section/paragraph and ask the new AP to summarize and translate what was written into her/his first language? And to have this done in your presence or over skype before arrival so that if the AP has any questions s/he can ask. That should get over most learning difference barriers.

AnnaAuPair September 18, 2009 at 7:03 am

Although this doesn’t apply totally to the topic “family-handbook”, I still think it kind of fits:
With my agency every Au Pair gets the “What to expect baby sitter’s handbook” during the Orientation. The last pages of the book have lots and lots of questions the AuPair can ask the family – from what to do if the child is sick to when do the kids nap…
I was the 3rd AuPair and my family didn’t even know that we got this book – because none of their former AuPairs used it.
We all agreed, that the book was a good way to go through everything that is important. I took notes so I could look things up when I wasn’t sure what to do. Apart from that the book has a section about emergencies and what to do if a child has an accident.

I can really recommend the book to all those whose agency doesn’t give it out to the AuPairs!!

Southern Host Mom September 18, 2009 at 10:10 am

I’ve always felt a little guilty presenting the “rule book.” To ease the blow, I insist that our “Au Pair Guidelines” manual is really for me, the Host Mom, to remind me of all I need to share with and explain to the Au Pair! We keep the manual in our kitchen/breakfast area so that it is readily available to the Au Pair while she is on duty. I even find myself grabbing for it from time to time, for example, to quickly find the phone number to report “lights out” to the power company. The manual was a huge lifesaver when we found ourselves with a temporary Au Pair who stayed only 2 weeks. I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) invest a great deal of time training her, knowing she’d be leaving so soon. I also like having a list of the closest hospitals, with directions (in the manual of course), right next to the door, if it is ever needed.

Anonymous September 18, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Writing the manual forced me to think about what I consider important and what I can do without in my life. It allowed me to fantasize about my life as I wish it were. I am going to keep it for a memory. I keep it online and in a print version in a three ring binder in the the kitchen . Pages can be removed and updated or disgarded. There was once a time when my children took naps.
Now they do not. Etc.

This Friend of AP September 18, 2009 at 9:36 pm

[Editor’s note: Sorry Host Parent Readers…. I didn’t catch this comment in time to ask for it to be revised to fit more with the constructive tone that I (and maybe you) prefer. This comment ended up triggering a long and not entirely productive co-thread on this conversation. Rather than removing this comment (since several later comments refer to it) let me just say that much of this comment and the ensuing conversation is not supported/encouraged by ‘the editor’. Sorry I didn’t head this off sooner. cvh]

Well, before blaming APs for not reading the manual, let’s realize that not every AP is able to understand written English. If the manual has +20 pages and it’s in language she is just learning, how is she suppose to enjoy and understand a book like that?
I got a manual, too. It had over 20 pages, too. I’ve read it, yes, but I forgot the rules and forgot the schedule the very day. People can’t remember something they have not experienced yet, or at least it’s hard. The best way to remember something is by practice and experience. Instead of writing this FM (explanation in the title), go through the day WITH the AP, show her how is she suppose to do certain things and let her learn by DOING that instead of just reading.
When you read a complicated printer manual, do you know everything about that printer after you finish reading? No. You learn by experience.
Another thing: when we get a manual, it’s FULL with rules starting with: Do not, Do, Make. And it’s full of not necessary stuff, like: washer and dryer instructions, dishwasher rules, etc. Do you think that we enjoy reading about how to use equipment at your homes? Is that really interesting? Would you enjoy it? Do you think we really care about your washer, or how to sort the laundry? We want to know the schedule hour by hour, important phone numbers, what games the children like and what food are we allowed to give to the kids. Some guidance, but not RULES, RULES, RULES.
I had: Do not wear tanktops. Do not listen to a loud music. Do not eat what it’s labeled “Do not eat”.
Rules like that really push away and make us think we are suppose to be robots, maids, workers, employees, but not people and “a part of a family”.
When a AP gets a manual like that (especially with pictures), she thinks: OMG, my family is OCD – total freaks!
I’m serious. Just calm down, people. Make her feel welcome and wanted, don’t start the first day by handing her the “House Instructions”. Don’t make her think she is that stupid she can’t even sort the clothes before washing, of loading the dishwasher. By doing that you say “You are from a poor country, probably you’ve never used a microwave, neither a vacuum, I want to teach you, you poor thing”.
My HF asked me if I know how to ride a bike (because maybe I’ve never seen one in my life…). He should’ve handed me the BIKE MANUAL…
APs have so many stories about silly manuals, about questions you ask (do you have TVs in your country? do you have malls? can you read or write? can you use computer or printer? do you know how to ride a bike?) it’s ridiculous. Please don’t teach us how to do the laundry, or use the hairdryer. We know. You can remind, or show us how to do things and always say “I’m sure you knew that”. It makes a huge difference.

Emma September 19, 2009 at 7:27 am

There are some parts of what This Friend of AP is saying that I agree with. I haven’t experienced it much myself personally, but that’s because I came here from the US. But I have AP friends from Eastern Europe and the Phillipines and sometimes the way their HFs ask them questions or explain something to them can be a bit insulting. (My HF actually did ask me if I knew how to ride a bicycle, once.)

One of my friends didn’t have many of the appliances that we take for granted at home, but still found it demeaning how her family asked and explained it to her. Sometimes these things do need to be explained, but the difference between “Do you know how to use a dishwasher? This is how you should do it” and “our dishwasher is a bit weird/complicated/different. My mother even gets confused by it! Let me show you how we usually run it” is really important.

Anonymous September 19, 2009 at 9:06 am

TO THIS FRIEND OF AP
You have mentioned that you are active on a number of forums. Please share with us information on some of those forums so that we , the host mothers, can read more about how aupairs feel and what their emotional needs are. After all, this website is very open to aupairs. We welcome your input. So, please tell us how we can read those websites and learn from others.

Anonymous September 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

To This Friend of AP

Can you tell us how we can access some of the aupair websites you have mentioned in the past ? Aupairs are very welcome on this webiste and we , the host mothers, would appreciate hearing how aupairs feel. It is good to read the material directly and get a feel for a wide breadth of experience . Thanks for sharing this information.

This Friend of AP September 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Well, APs have their national forums. There is German, French, Thai, etc. forum. We write in our native language so our HF can’t read it – sad, but true. And we miss our languages – it makes us feel safe.
I am active on one au pair forum for girls from my country. I’ve been there for 6 years (I won’t give the link, since you don’t know the language). They have personal and funny stories, problems, questions. It’s quite big.
Another forum I like to check is the forum for immigation in my native language – I learn a lot about different types of visas. APs have their threads, too. Mostly about J1 visa, changing their visa to tourist or student, or what would happen if they stay illegal (very common).
Next interesting site is a greataupair.com website, which we all know, I’m sure. There is a part about complaints on APs, nannies and families.
http://www.greataupair.com/public-forum.cfm/type/3

All of the stories are on the national forums. Girls have their blogs, too. I haven’t found a forum in English yet. If I do, I’ll let you know. I think it’s important for all of us to know what bothers HFs and APs.
When I found this website, it helped me to see things different. It made me realize that not always HFs are bad. Sometimes APs don’t do much and all they care about is: a car, cell, parties and sex.

I didn’t want to be mean when I was writing about the manual. But this is what we think. I know the manual helps a lot (helps you mostly), but for us it’s just weird. Americans like everything to be organized, no chaos, you write notes every day, you PLAN everything. I understand – you want to be helpful and this is appreciated. But for us everything is so new, different. We need some time to unpack, then to cry for the whole evening, then to call our friends and family and sob “I want to go hoooome!”. The language is hard, kids are annoying, food is different and if it wasn’t enough you hand us the Manual. And we sit there crying, trying to understand anything what is written in it and being dissapointed.
It’s like saying: We want you to be like it’s written in the manual, no more, no less. Do everything accordingly and WE will be happy. And when WE are happy, our KIDS are happy, and then YOU should be happy, too.

I might be generalizing right now. But this is mostly how I felt and how the girls from the main forum say about their first evening, first night. I think it would be easier if the manual was only 2 pages long, just important information written very easy, even one word (not the whole proper sentence). If the manual looks easy, clear and friendly, we would think your family is like that, too.

The same thing about the HF Essay. Dont’t write who is your mother, grandmother and what they do, where they live. Keep it short, funny. The most important thing you should write about are your kids, this is what we care about and we want as much information as we can get.

I’m sorry, I wrote so much again… It’s because I know so many AP’s stories and I wish you could read them, too. It would help solve so many problems, I’m sure.

Anonymous September 19, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Many host parents including myself speak, read and write several languages. I myself am a college professor who teaches the literature of several countries. Many host parents would love to read those stories in their primary form without benefit of an interpreter. Part of being an adult means sharing : not just taking. Surely there is nothing on those websites that will shock host parents.

This Friend of AP September 19, 2009 at 6:48 pm

The girls from my forum know this website and read it regularly. I’m sure that if they find an interesting topic, they will share their thoughts here. As of now I’m the only one brave enough to go into the lion’s den. :)

NewAP Mom September 19, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I really appreciate the au pairs who have contributed their opinions to this topic – gone into the lion’s den as it were. :)

And also, thank you to This Friend of AP for the link to that forum. I’m fluent in French and would love to find French websites. I’ve searched and found a blog or two but that’s all I could find.

So, here’s the dilemna. We need to convey the information in the FM to you, which is why we take the time to write it down. We need to convey it quickly so that you can get up and running in minimal amount of time. I totally understand how overwhelming it must be to get a 20 page manual in another language.

So, what do you au pairs suggest as a better alternative for “training” you? How do we convey this information instead? I’m using the “one bit of information at a time” method right now, and I’m still training, 10 months after my AP started. So that’s no good.

How can we help you get the information you need, without overwhelming you?

Would it be useful to have the manual translated to (or write it in) your native language? Other ideas?

CoCa September 19, 2009 at 10:53 pm

This friend of AP: I’m not sure if you are really qualified to speak for all au pairs as a kind of collective “we”, anymore than I would be qualified to speak for all host families.

But I do know two things:

1. When I was an au pair, many years ago, if someone had given me a manual, I would have said HALLELUJAH! In those days, in that country, no one did household handbooks or manuals; instead, we au pairs were left to fend for ourselves, try to work out what to do to make our host families happy (because we DID want to make them happy!) and constantly fear being told off when we did it wrong.

2. I cannot think of a single job I have ever had in my life that did not come with some kind of written manual or instruction. If someone comes to me to work as an au pair – and yes, in my family at least, being an au pair IS a job – she will need to accept the handbook as part of that job. If the fact that a handbook exists makes her “disappointed”, then the whole year she spends with us will very likely make her disappointed, too.

Emma September 20, 2009 at 4:15 am

I agree with CoCa.

Anonymous September 20, 2009 at 8:57 am

I also like do not like the idea of one aupair speaking on behalf of all aupairs just it is silly to think of one host mother as representative of all host families. I appreciate all of the aupairs who contribute to this website and do not think that there are so many out there who are cared to enter a lion’s den. After all, no one has to give her real name and no one knows where she lives unless she offers that information.

I am a middle school teacher and every year each student, parent and teacher receives a handbook. Each subgroup has a different handbook. Each book is about 20-50 pages. The handbook introduces the reader to the culture of the school. The handbooks include schedules, lunch menus, rules about snacks, library rules, forms to be filled out, email addresses and important phone numbers. rules about use of the computers, emergency plans , rules for enforcing discipline , rules about attendance at faculty meetings,
instructions on how to use the technology, instructions on when to involve the administration in a situation, how not to offend the PTA parents, where to park our cars , where students can park their cars. where parents can park their cars , how not to play loud music in the schoolyard at lunchtime and possibly offending the neighbors. Parents do not have dress codes but students and teachers do have dress codes: no bare midriffs, no tank tops , no obscene sayings on tees, etc. Certain types of shoes are forbidden: no flip flops. No use of cell phones during school hours. Certain places students and teachers may not go, including the bathroom during class time. Certain types of food are forbidden : squeezy stuff that gets all over. Students must maintain certain standards of cleanliness in the lunchroom and teachers must maintain certain standards of cleanliness in the teachers’ lounge and lunchroom

This is a small, exclusive private school rather than a huge operation so it is relevant to the issue of family life. Students often grumble about certain rules but the bottom line is that this is the way it is here and some things will not change. Teachers often grumble and sometimes ignore the some rules. Some people never clean the stove in the teacher’s lounge after using it.

Frankly, the manual is a great tool. No one can argue ignorance.
The administration is not cruel and neither are the teachers. If someone makes a mistake, we explain the rule kindly but firmly over and over as many times as necessary.

When I started here , the chairman of my department asked me if I knew how to 1. Use the microwave in the teacher’s lounge
2. Fully use the Smart Board in my classroom 3. Use Google Calendar to advise my students of changes in the curriculum and assigments 4. Use the microwave in the teacher’s lounge. He also asked me if I had read the handbook/manual and asked me to sign a sheet agreeing that I had read the book and had no issue with any of the rules.

I should add that there are notes on all sorts of little jars and containers in the teachers’ frig labeled ” DO NOT EAT ” and
one young man brought in his own tiny frig with a combination lock.

This is just part of life. Sometimes it is annoying , sometimes it is fun, and sometimes that is just the way it is.

au pair September 20, 2009 at 10:17 am

I am an au pair and I do not agree with Friends of an Au Pair. I would LOVE to have my family to give me a handbook. That would make me my life way easier as an au pair ans I would know ecxaly what to do to please them and do thing they like. I agree that au pair is a Job and I want to make it the best of it.
I know it’s hard to be away from home and miss your family and speak another language but you are in OTHER country. Complaining about reading something in english is kind of odd when you’re here to learn the language. Life is NOT easy on any work you will have. Your boss need the work done and if reading the handbook is part of it just do it! As you would do it in any job back in your country.
I guess most fo the au pair spend more time complaining instead of doing their jobs. if you live in another culture, in other people’s house you have to adapt, or at least try, and do what you have to do. That’s why we are here for…wait for the family to wait for you to stop crying, miss your family and expect them to change their habits just because you are from another country does not make sense when you decided to come to another country and learn a NEW DIFFERENT culture.

Calif Mom September 20, 2009 at 11:56 am

Thank you to the APs who appreciate the books — and thank you too, to Friend of AP who raises some important things to think about. I don’t think the handbook should be presented as one big bolus — an elephant you have to eat all at once. I think it’s better seen as a resource manual that you can turn to as new issues come up, just as you would at work. Most employers have some sort of employee manual, even the very small businesses do. They can be big, and chances are no one really cares much about a lot of it until they need it: for example, no one really thinks about the maternity policy at work until they are thinking about getting pregnant — that’s when you go and seek it out. And that’s why it’s in there. Not because your employer assumes you are going to get pregnant, just that it has come up before and they have a policy on dealing with it.

It is what it is, and it helps more than hurts. If you choose to be offended by how you are treated (and I understand this possibility — I know hosts for whom I could never be an au pair, they are so arrogant and disrespectful!) then you are probably with the wrong family, or your own expectations need to be adjusted.

Thank you to Anonymous the middle school teacher. Very apt example of how a handbook can support the smooth operation of a group of individuals who have come together to work in a common, new culture. Isn’t that what a family handbook is all about?

I know families who have such a handbook but no au pair at all, so it must be useful.

And come on, lighten up! It’s a tool — it’s not perfect, it may be idealized, it may feel constricting, but it’s just a way to capture all that information that a host parent either thinks is important or has learned is important. Much better off with it than without it.

And yes, at work we have binders that describe procedures. Those procedures have been built because of problems that appeared in the past, and people thought “Gee, if we agree to approach this in this specific way, then that particular problem won’t happen anymore.” For example, at my office the process for creating one, two-page written document for public consumption is 23 steps long and involves review by people from about 6 departments.

Of COURSE that means new problems may be created in the process, and the likelihood that some of the people from all those departments may think from time to time “Gee, this process is really unbelievably stupid!” but it does work. And the product we end up with is so thoroughly scrubbed that there are no embarrassing/expensive/career-limiting mistakes that inspired the 23-step process in the first place.

This is extreme — but let me tell you, having guidelines written down will protect an au pair from embarrassing/expensive/career-limiting mistakes as well. These handbooks are often the result of previous people’s costly, embarrassing mistakes.

For my kid, there’s nothing worse than being the last one picked up, or the only one without a lunch. Having that issue spelled out in the handbook HELPS the au pair understand how important these tasks are.

I’m sure some hosts are ignorant because they haven’t had a lot of cross-cultural experience. But there really is a lot of variability in the life experiences of au pairs, and some of them do not have hot water for anything but showers, etc. That doesn’t mean I pity her, it means I want to be sure she feels comfortable.

And if I can’t figure out how to load the new dishwasher, I’m thinking putting a label or two on it to help my AP is not offensive; it’s thoughtful.

And if she can’t remember to put the lid down so the dog doesn’t drink out of the toilet and then drip all over the kids’ bathroom floor (which she shares), I’m going to put a sticky note on the bathroom door, and may add that to our handbook for the next AP.

Don’t forget, APs, most of us have very few days of vacation, and we have to use vacation time for training when you first arrive. There is no way to cover everything, and the handbook allows you to look it over as a reference when you need it. I would certainly never quiz anyone!

And I totally agree with the mom who posted above that by sending her handbook for review before her AP arrived, it served as another screening tool. I agree with her idea — my home is all about written instructions, reminders, sticky notes on things, emails during the day between AP, me, host dad, and even our oldest kid now. Being “type averse” is just not going to work well for us at this stage of our family’s growth.

Explaining things over the phone during the day if issues come up is fine for emergencies, but doesn’t really work for us because:
1) I work in a fishbowl, and I don’t want my employees hearing me talking about kid stuff
2) it’s much harder for most APs to understand instructions on the phone than in writing, IMHO

It’s just not possible to put everything an AP really needs to know into two pages. That would boil down to not much more than handling emergencies and the kids’ schedules. Useful for some things, but not a substitute for our policy on what’s going to happen when you keep denting the car, or that I’m happy to pay for your flu shots every year because I think they’re really important, and where you can get them.

There is a lot of good stuff from APs and hosts in this string. I hope it’s more of a reminder to hosts to be aware of how you frame and present the handbook, with some sensitivity, rather than a call to burn the things altogether.

Anna September 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm

To This Friend of Au Pair

Really, you don’t have to tell me how to write my essay so that an au pair will like me! The au pair that will be good for me, will like MY essay, the way I’ve written it, and the things I thought important to put in it (that DO include information about my extended family, because this is an important part of who I am)
Thankfully, this might screen out your whiny au pair friends with low self-esteem, who get offended by getting an instruction book for their job, instead of being thankful for it. My first au pair was thankful, and when she told HER au pair friends of the host family handbook, she told me they were jealous. Families put a lot of work into it in order to make it less work and embarrassment for the new au pairs, and the au pair who doesn’t appreciate it is just not mature and maybe not ready to spend a year away from home. Do grow up!

Southern Host Mom September 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Many great points already here! One I haven’t seen yet, that seems awfully important, is addressing an issue that is guaranteed to arise over the course of the year (e.g., cars, boys, etc.). It seems much better to lay out some guidelines initially, demonstrating that the host family has thought it through beforehand. Otherwise, wouldn’t it come across as, “Well, now that you have begun dating a boy, we will allow this but not this . . . ” OR “Now that you have learned to drive competently and confidently, you can drive here but not there . . .” Without the manual, addressing the issue ahead of time, wouldn’t the Au Pair be left to wonder, “Does the host family not like this boy I am dating? Does the host family not trust my driving?”

StephinBoston September 21, 2009 at 9:51 am

I think there’s a way to present this manual that gives the au pair the sense that its there to help her. I also send my manual before I match with someone and clearly say “these are the rules, this is how my house works, if you don’t like it now, you won’t like it when you are here. Really think about that” My 3rd AP is coming shortly and I hope she is as great, caring, sweet and responsible has the other 2 have been. I also will add that all 3 APs have thanked me for the manual, it really helps them prepare for a year here and a great reference while they are here. It is by no means to insult their intelligence, things are done differently not only in different countries but different families. I keep updating and improving mine over the years.

My 2 cents September 21, 2009 at 10:53 am

We send our handbook over when we get to later stage interviews. I specifically and directly ask the potential AP to read it and, to motivate her to do so, tell her that if there’s anything in there she can’t abide by, to speak up so we can address (or even change) whatever it is. Otherwise, whatever is in there stays I tell her. As additional motivation I tell them there are rules in their about curfews, cars, boys, etc., and other areas that I know must be of interest before they sign on with us. Then in a final interview I will ask questions about items in there and get their agreement on them (Example: so it is not a problem for you that you must be home by midnight on a night where you are working in the morning??). I also leave a copy for her when she arrives on her bed and ask that she look it over while she’s in training over the next few days. This has worked for us so far.

I do appreciate that some learn by doing and that a manual may be very difficult for some to translate. But, you know what? I expect any potential AP of ours to either speak up and ask if they don’t understand or to take the initiative to find a friend (or an agency contact in country) to translate it. After all, what I really don’t need in my life is an AP who won’t tell me if she doesn’t understand, will agree to whatever I want just to get here, or is too lazy or “type B” to read through rules that will apply to her. I want her to know what is expected of her, and what she can expect from us as well. Seems only fair to everyone and before they commit for a year to one another.

Another great tip from a friend of mine who has had many APs: emphasize during interviews that this job will be the hardest she has had ! Cause it will be and she should not be mislead! Of course, you then can highlight all the wonderful benefits to being an AP in your area and country.

Anonymous September 21, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Great responses everyone !
love the idea of translating the handbook into the native language of the aupair who is arrving. I keep in touch with a number of former aupairs. I am going to keep the handbook from year to year last a diary or a scrapbook. I fully look forward to sitting down in a cafe somewhere in Europe and laughing with my aupair(s) about the handbook. But for now, it gets us through our days.
At one time, I wrote training manuals for corporations. One of the things we always learned when we sat down to describe the operation in writing was that there were always ways to streamline the work. We always found unnecessary work that could be cut out.
We were always taken back to find out that the answer to ” why do you do that ? ” was ” I don’t know ” or ” We’ve always done it like that “.
Like Anna, I was offended not by the content but by the tone of the young lady who so resents a handbook. What I might suggest is that at year end, doing an audit with the present aupair. I would ask her what can be eliminated in the handbook and what she thinks should be updated or added. That is something I would do with any colleague. Obviously, I am the editor and reserve final judgement. But I greatly appreciate and value the input of aupairs. Surely the aupair will think of things I cannot even imagine concerning her day to day life. I probably would not even wait until the end of the year but ask her to suggest changes as we go along like where is the best place to get a haircut ? what is your favorite fast food spot ?
what is the best , cheapest way to mail a package home ? do you have a special church you have found and like to attend ? where is the nearest Target ? You get the idea.
And where does this lady get the idea that none of us can read or write any language but English ? True, many of us cannot but others do and truth is, I know some people ( aupairs and others ) who cannot ride a bike or ski or ice skate and I would not invite them to do so without asking. Thanks.

Anonymous September 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm

One thing that scares the wits out of me is the idea that someone who is not affiliated with any agency is giving my aupair street smart advise. I realize that some LCCs are lazy and others can be very overbearing but if my LCC has a problem with my handbook
she is going to tell me. Or, she can tell the aupair to relax and present an adult point of view. I understand that aupairs need to talk to each other in their own language as down time and I love hearing from aupairs on this website – even the material that is hard to hear. But I do become concerned about the fact that self-appointed people are perhaps sharing information that is not in the best interest of the aupairs to take to heart. I realize that there isn’t too much any of us can do about that except to cultivate a warm relationship with our aupairs so that they come to us with their issues. I want an aupair who is going to come to me , or her counselor if I don’t have an answer. I also try to find an aupair who has involved , competant parents at home who can serve as a resource for her . I would not want my own daughter surfing the internet looking for answers to legal and administrative problems.
I would want her to have a host family who would help her, I would want her to call home , and I would want to know that her agency would help her out. Young people always think they know best and that their friends are the best source of information but sometimes, those sources are not the best. Aupairs have other people in their clusters whom they can share with. If the counselor falls down on the job, they have corporate and if corporate doesn’t come across, they can call the local Congress(wo)men or Senator. If my agency failed me and my aupair, I would pick up the phone and call Hillary Clinton. This is her area, isn’t it ?

This Friend of AP September 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm

OMG…

I really thought you would all appreciate that somewhere out there is a person who has the guts to tell the truth about APs, etc. I always try to look at a problem from a different point of view and I thought you would like to know that the manual sometimes is not a great idea, but creates more problems and misunderstanding.

The essay can tell A LOT about a family by looking at the length, the words used, how much important and unimportant information carries, if it’s more about rules, or more about the kids and family. Does it have a schedule? Do you lie? Many families either don’t tell the whole truth, or just simply lie about couple of things. Is it funny? Is it warm? This is very important and don’t look only at the words you put there, but the whole message that it is in the essay or manual. This is what I meant.

Host Mom VA September 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm

To this friend of Au Pair,
I personally don’t care what you think our host family letter should like. That is up to me and my family.
I think you are very spoiled and are a good representation for the Au Pairs we sent home early!!!

Theresa September 22, 2009 at 2:27 am

I used to be an au pair and I don’t agree with friend of au pair. And while I’m not going to speak for every au pair now, I’m pretty sure there are many other au pairs out there, who don’t agree either, so please, please do not speak for all of us. It’s not about not having the guts to tell the hostparents here that their familyletters suck, it’s just that it has never even crossed my mind. When I was in the process of matching, I loved reading every single family letter I got, it was just a very exciting period of time, and I wanted to know as much about the hostfamily as possible. My hostparents put in the family letter how and where they met. As it might seem to some as “unimportant information”, it’s an important part of who they are, and I liked reading about it. Friend of au pair, I don’t think you have the right to speak for all the au pairs (and to tell the hostparents) what should be put in this family letter. Why are you so angry at all host families (at least that’s what it seems like), you have not said one positive thing about them.
My hostfamily didn’t have a family handbook (It is just so not “them”, they are pretty unorganized, very laid-back, and I can’t see my hostmom putting together a family handbook ;) ), I loved it the way it was, because I love my hostfamily, but I still think a family handbook is a great thing. My hostmom took a lot of time at the beginning to explain the most important things, we went through the house and she explained all appliances to me (yes, I do have a dishwasher and washing mashine at home, and of course I know how to use them, but I had no clue how to use their appliances, so I was actually very grateful that my hostmom took the time to explain everything to me).
So here is a different perspective of an au pair, so hostparents, please don’t stop sending your future au pairs your family handbooks, and please don’t stop writing unimportant information in your family letters, just because all the au pairs (or the majority of them) don’t like that ;)

CoCa September 22, 2009 at 9:47 am

Sorry, Friend of AP, but the “sorry, but the truth hurts” tactic isn’t working, not with me at least. I think I’m just a little too old to buy it ;-)

The point here is that you are not telling “the truth” – you are telling YOUR truth and passing it off as this dirty little secret we should all know about au pairs. As if we didn’t already know that SOME au pairs don’t like instructions, particularly written ones. Now who’s calling who clueless?

We can argue ’til the cows come home about whether you are speaking for the whole AP community, or just for a select group who like to sit in Starbucks and b*tch about their host family’s OCD. The comments from APs saying they don’t agree with you are quite telling, I think, but the statistics are really not that important.

What is important (to me, at least) is this: I don’t give two hoots whether “most” au pairs think of my handbook as an “essay”, not as “cool as I thought” (ROTFL) and that it’s not catchy enough to hold their MTV conditioned attention.

I know that there are young ladies out there who are mature, responsible, and intelligent enought to appreciate the usefulness of a handbook. If there are things in my particular book that could do with improvement, they will let me know after they have read it, and I will listen to their suggestions.

A girl (or boy) who rolls their eyes at the handbook (or, as you suggest, “throws it away”) sends an important signal to ME, namely that they are not remotely suitable for the job. In other words, I have every motivation to keep the handbook in order to screen them out and avoid disappointment for both of us later.

Mom23 September 22, 2009 at 10:43 am

I find it interesting that the only two au pairs who were not interested in reading our manual were the two au pairs who did not work out because of personality issues. I am a very organized person and I think that was reflected in the manual. So, I think the attitude towards the manual can tell a lot about a person.

I like the discussion on the family letter. Theresa makes some interesting points. One of the issues that I have struggled with is how to find an au pair who really wants to live in a big east coast city. Personally, I love the diversity, the opportunities for cultural events, etc, but I have twice had au pairs who have wanted to live on the beach and settled for us. I think I will be rewriting our letter.

MyTwoSons September 22, 2009 at 11:32 am

Those moms that are verbally attacking “Friend” should be embarrassed of themselves. She has a right to her opinion and should not be bashed for it. Have some respect. Also, I don’t think that this site should condone that kind of treatment toward people who post their opinions!
I may not agree with everything “Friend” said, or maybe how she said it, but I’m sure she’s not the only one thinking it. It is important to put yourself in their shoes. Many of us have received manuals at our jobs, but were they in another language??? I can see where it would be overwhelming. Especially when there is so much anxiety! This is the first impression you are making on the AuPair and it may not be the best!
I think that “Friend” deserves an apology and we should thank her for taking the time to add her comments, whether we agree with them or not. I can honestly say that she has caused me to rethink my manual a little (one example, short descriptions rather than long sentences).
Also, I think that giving the manual before they arrive is a great idea (in the match process sounds even better!). Then they have the time to read it in an atmosphere that they are comfortable and when they are not feeling so overwhelmed with this new experience.

Host Mom VA September 22, 2009 at 11:38 am

No apology coming from over here..

Anonymous September 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I second the above comment.
The world is full of people who vocalize their opinions in an overbearing,
aggressive manner and it is our job as responsible adults not to be intimidated by this sort of behavior wherever and whenever it appears.

Anonymous September 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

I wrote earlier – I teach middle school. I have a question for your collective consideration. If a student came to the principal’s office and said ” I represent students everywhere and we hate homework, we hate rules, we don’t want a dress code , we think you are insulting us when you explain things , and you people
( teachers and administrators ) are just not as cool as you think ”
what thoughts would run through your minds ? Most of us would probably respond very calmly and say something like ” We will consider your comments and get back to you ” but we would most likely have private thoughts of a slightly different nature. Many educators would probably ( because we are trained to do so ) jot down some of the students ideas , research them and discuss them at some point with other administrators. Some ideas we would dismiss out of hand. We would take most everything the student said with a grain of salt , particularly the announcement that he or she represents everyone. We would likely seek out our successful ,
cooperative students and discuss some of these ideas with them.
It seems to me that most people on this website ( aupairs and moms ) have been doing exactly that. One person said she is going to translate her handbook into another language ; someone else said she is going to consult her present aupair at year end on editing
the handbook and someone said she is going to modify the way she presents the material. Then , too, several aupairs contributed their thoughts which were helpful , I thought. So it seems to me that this site is working very well in terms of helping everyone of good will.
CV , that must be a good feeling.

VanessaAuPair September 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I’m so so so gratefull that I have a family who respect me and treat me as an equal person, who listen to everything I have to say even when they don’t agree and take the time to explain to me with elegance whatever they think I’m doing wrong.

I did find usefull the handbook my host parents wrote for me and I do think it’s our job, as an au pairs, to take the time to read it as they took the time to wrote it for us. I also think it has to be, once again, with respect and responsability.

I do not aprove or agree with the things that “friend” said, but I feel really ofended by the treatment some have gave to her. I don’t wanna be rude or disrespectfull because you deserve my respect as everybody else, but I do think some of you went out of line completly. It’s funny that you say we get at starbucks only to complain about you when isn’t it exactly that what you are doing over here?? Once again… something my mom taught me several years ago, respect if you want people to respect you!

If you treat your au pairs the same way you treat this girl- who may be completly wrong, but still has the right to express herself-… I really think you’re focusing the problem the wrong way. Maybe the problem it’s not the handbook……

We know we are your employees… it would be nice though don’t feel like it. One more time, THANKS GOD for my beautiful family.

CoCa September 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Sorry, but I don’t respect anyone who suggests I have OCD/am crazy/am a freak because I want a household employee of mine to know how to operate the washing machine. And the overwhelming majority of au pairs would never dream of suggesting such a thing.

Everyone has a right to express themselves, but if they do it in a disrespectful and offensive manner, they will get exactly the same back. So no apology from me, either.

I do think that VanessaAuPair makes an interesting point, though, when she states that au pairs know that they are employees but would prefer not to feel like it. I think this is precisely the root of the problem!

Of course, everyone may have their own interpretation of what it means to “feel like an employee”. But I sense that quite a few au pairs simply don’t like the idea, period. And as anyone who has read my posts here will know, I am at completely the other end of that sometimes very confusing spectrum.

Anyone who is paid to work in my home is an employee, and needs to think and act like one. Which doesn’t mean I will not be kind to them, include them in our family’s activities, give them the same standard of living as we have and provide them with a safe and fun environment to live and work in.

So yes, maybe the problem is NOT (only) the handbook, but the general attitude to the situation.

CoCa September 22, 2009 at 5:06 pm

MyTwoSons: Since I didn’t verbally attack anyone, I am not count myself as part of the group of mothers you think ought to be “ashamed of themselves”.

But I will say this: I have completely been in the au pair’s shoes as I myself have been an au pair.

I am not going to say that if you can’t read a family handbook in English, then maybe you don’t know enough English to come to an English speaking country to take care of English speaking kids for a year. I realize that a) handbooks vary in their complexity and b) families vary in the extent to which they need their au pair to arrive with reasonable English.

However, for MY family it is extremely important that the au pair knows enough English to follow written instructions, and I write them in very simple language. (English by the way is not my first language either, so I think I can relate.) I fully expect the au pair to read the handbook, and THEN let me know what sections she didn’t understand. I do not expect her to be so overwhelmed by its existence that she won’t read it at all.

VanessaAuPair September 22, 2009 at 5:13 pm

I don’t agree with you but I totaly respect your opinion and your way to do things. Everybody has their own way to rule their house and I do think au pairs need to adjust to that and not the other way around.

I totaly desagree with most of “friend” said, but call me a naive, I believe it wasn’t her intention to be offensive, even when I know it sound like it. And I do believe, even when people it’s disrespecfull, answering the same way it’s just making everything even more big that it was… at least that’s what i’m trying to teach my host kids. I do believe in “being the biggest person” specially when you guys are suposed to be our roll models. But once again, that’s just the way I see things.

I have the most AWESOME realationship with my host parents and I know exactly what I need to do and I make sure I do it, I even try to do a little more for them like making dinners for them, buying them presents, helping cleaning the house even when that’s NOT my job, being there everytime they need me… And I do it not because I’m great, because THEY are great, and they make me feel at home, loved, wanted and appreciated!! So I do think that if you want your au pair to do things the right way… yes, write a handbook… but also treat her as you wanted somebody else treated your daughter/ son if they were in a exchange like this one and I garantee you succes.

Anna September 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Nothing to apologize for here either.
The au pair who doesn’t read my handbook simply doesn’t show enough respect for me.
And yes, I did find my handbook with extra pages I gave an au pair crimpled and stuffed into the folder, instead of inserted into it, from which I assume she had the same attitude as “the friend of the au pair”. This was after she went into rematch and I was preparing her room for her successor. See, not respecting me and my home’s rules, and my rules with children, doesn’t add up to a successful experience.
Why am I finding myself explaining things that a would be obvious to a mature person?

Anonymous September 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm

All of the aupairs who wrote on this blog ( except for The Friend ) were polite and respectful. As memory serves, she is the only person who has ever done that on this blog except for a comment that was deleted which I did not read. That’s the problem with confrontational speech and behaviour. Often, aupairs are the less powerful party to the relationship but sometimes , the people or group of people who present themselves as victims are neither reasonable or fair minded.

NewAP Mom September 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I’m leaving aside the issue of how things were said. I think that, on the internet, people tend to be less careful about what they say and how they say it. So I’m concentrating on the message itself…

I would still be very interested in suggestions for how to make the manual less intimidating and easier to parse, which is, after all, the point of this whole thread.

Calif Mom September 22, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Come to think of it, the employee manual at my office might as well be written in an another language…. ;-)

PA au pair mom September 22, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I think a lot of the issues with the manual can also be in the way it’s presented.

I send a copy to my future AP in her home country and ask her to review it. Then I put a “hard copy” in a binder along with menus to favorite take out/pizza places, important phone numbers, pictures the kids made for her, etc.

We give her a few days to get used to the house and our kids and then I spend hours reviewing the manual with the au pair. I add pictures where I think they will be helpful. I invite her to make notes or add comments as she sees fit. I also demo the appliances that she says she doesn’t have or doesn’t use at her home.

I then ask if she has questions and encourage her to talk to me or email me about any questions she has.

I try my best not to “talk down” when using the handbook but I do cover things that I feel are important. I find that it prevents avoidable mistakes.

Michele September 23, 2009 at 12:27 am

One suggestion that I have been giving my families and au pairs is that after the au pair has had a few days to read the manual,
they then review it together and discuss any if their are any questions. After they have done that I suggest that they both sign it showing they have reviewed and both agree to what is in the manual.

Kristen September 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

hi, when I was a aupair the family used to write me a note everyday. We had no hand book per say but this note a day was a great system for everyone. I knew what was expected of me, and the family knew I could not plead ignorance if I failed to do something.

Darthastewart September 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

Kristen,
I find that approach works well. I call it “reporting”- at the beginning of each day, I try to spend a couple of minutes going over the day’s highlights, and then at the end of the day when I get home, we try to go over what happened. It gives me a chance to tell the ap when the kids got up, what they ate, how they are behaving, what to watch for, and it gets repeated in the evening. (How’s homework, who ate what for a snack, etc)
Our family manual is really only a 1 page list of “house rules”, and then some pages of directions of how to get places, activities to do(sample schedules, etc), and a “welcome to the area” type of thing.
Many of our house rules came about because something happened in the past. (My kitchen knives were BENT, my mixer was BROKEN). I think that if we explain it to the au-pair in that context, it goes easier. Many of the au-pairs I’ve interviewed over the years want to see a sample schedule, know what the kids eat, and get an idea of their responsibilities up front- and they want it emailed during the interview process so they can think about it. (They do request the info)

Anonymous September 23, 2009 at 1:18 pm

1) I contacted a translating service – they are translating my manual into German and it will be done in a week. I think this will make a huge difference and send an important message about sensitivity.
2) I am going to make a couple of extra copies so that if my ap loses it, she doesn’t have to be afraid to ask for another ( it is also in my computer )
3) I am going to keep every section to one page 12 point font double spaced
4) I am going to put it in a nice folder with a cute cover so that it doesn’t look like some big scary document
5) I am going to stick to my practice of going out for coffee with my aupair and reading the book together shortly after she arrives.

I got some of these ideas from the moms on this thread. Thanks.

Anonymous September 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm

NEW AP MOM
I learned about an website/forum for aupairs. You said you are fluent in French, right ? Try Aupair Forum Us. One of my previous aupairs swears by it. Have fun. I look forward to hearing your comments on it.

m au pair September 23, 2009 at 8:29 pm

please…honestly……….. I have a great HF and i don’t complain for them, but when i reading this website i start thinking…omg they favorite way to solve the problems is rematch…I’m a little bit afraid about everything what i doing because believe me…i don’t wanna have rematch because i eat too much or i don’t know…i have a boyfriend…HF remember that it is hard be here especially at the beginning…that’s all…

Darthastewart September 23, 2009 at 8:45 pm

m au pair-
I think you mis-understand. Most of us will tell a host family to try to communicate with the au-pair, once, twice, three times. THEN if there is no change, or if problems are getting worse, rematch. I honestly have not rematched often, and I’d rather avoid the situation if at all possible. But sometimes there really is not much you can do- there is a total mismatch between family and au-pair and it’s best to go different directions.

CoCa September 23, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I second the above. And I also think m au pair and others need to realize that a rematch is never an easy way out – it is very hard on the family, too. I think a host family would only ever consider a rematch when they’ve tried everything else. And in those cases, a rematch might really be what’s best for the au pair as well.

What I do think, though, is that as the host parents are older than the au pair, they may be slightly more skilled at recognizing a true personality mismatch, when nothing you do will ever fix the problem. I think that when you are younger and more inexperienced, you tend to focus more on “what did I do wrong?”, rather than “how come we don’t seem to get along?”.

NewAP Mom September 23, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Thank you anonymous, for the list of what you’ve done, and also the pointer to the website. We’re in the middle of rematch right now so (as you all understand ) life is pretty stressful but I’ll report back when I have more time to go read.

m au pair, I think what you see here are the extreme situations – when a host family has already tried very hard and feels “stuck”. Believe me, rematching is very difficult for the family! My family tried to avoid it for 10 months, but finally it was unavoidable. We definitely do not take rematching lightly. For us, it also came after many, many conversations trying to make things better, and when we broke the news to our au pair she was not in the least surprised. She knew it was coming. So please don’t worry that a rematch will just come out of nowhere for no good reason. I’d venture to say that never happens.

Anonymous September 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I think that the reason host moms on this blog talk so much about rematch is that no one wants to do it , if they can figure out another way to make things work. I also get the impression that the agencies try to discourage rematch as a quick , easy fix. Sometimes you will read from host moms who are very annoyed that their agency requires a discussion with the LCC and a specified period of time before rematch is opened up. So the agencies don’t encourage anyone to rush into rematch either. But you are absolutely right:
there are lots of people in all areas of business and life who just don’t know what to do except end a relationship. Many people in this country are accustomed to doing that in business. We do not have lengthy cooling off periods . But no aupair program is like that. Neither host families nor aupairs can just say ” I want a change” and I want it right this minute. Well, people do say it but that doesn’t mean they won’t change their minds after they think and talk about it a little. I think experienced families are best at working things out. And a experienced LCC can be a big help, if you are lucky enough to have someone who has been doing this for a long time.

azmom October 5, 2010 at 11:41 am

So we’re in week 5 and while I know she read the manual, I really don’t think anything stuck in her mind. I’ve “let go” on a few things, but others I’m honestly just wanting to pound my head into the wall… We had issues earlier and we were on a day-to-day where the LCC was calling daily and basically if things didn’t get better (she wasn’t bonding with my 2 year old) we were going into rematch and she wouldn’t be rematched and just sent home. Things did get better, never great, but better. How do we save the relationship at this point? She is our first au pair and my suggestions seem to go unnoticed by her, and when I’m blunt she seems offended. She’s a nice enough girl, but every day there are at least one or two issues and if I just allow things to continue to “be” rather than correcting her or making suggestions, I know this will be an extremely long 10.5 months. Do I just keep the manual out and ask her to read a paragraph to me when the kids are napping (I work from home, and have left her with the kids, had her leave with the kids, etc, shut myself into another corner of the house, etc, so I do see more than those who work out of the home, but the issue is still the same and things WOHMs would see). IE, kids coloring on the couch (she’s in another room, not supervising the 2 year old, instead just with the baby, which is typical), not washing the kids clothes (i gave specific instructions and asked her if she needed help, I’ve done them every time so far and then have to chase her down to fold them), having food in her room, etc. These are all specifics in the handbook, so I’m not sure what to do at this point without micromanaging. Or do i just micromanage her? I tried doing small things like buying her a book 365 things to do with your toddler and asking her to pick 2 things to do from the book each day and she has yet to do that, so I’m not sure if “just being nice” is reason enough to keep trying.

Should be working October 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

From what you say, I would say that it’s over. Why invest more time in someone who is not even on best-effort behavior at the start? There will always be things that an AP will not do properly or not care about, but if it’s something small and the goods are good enough, you let it go. If she can’t stick to rules about food and laundry when they have been made explicit, AND she is not bonding with the toddler, I’d ask for rematch.

Busy Mom October 5, 2010 at 3:19 pm

azmom, I think you have to address the issues head on if you have any hope of improving this situation. One idea for things like laundry is to make a weekly checklist of things she needs to do each week. Mine includes laundry (one line for each load), making each child’s bed, washing towels, washing sheets, straightening each child’s room (one line for each room) (with a reminder of what I mean by “straigtening”). You could approach it as “I noticed that you were having some difficulty keeping track of your responsibilities each week…” I position this checklist as the set of items (not directly childcare) that need to be completed each week.

You might want to sit down and go back over the key items in the handbook as well. Re-read together the clause about no food in her room.

I toyed with the idea of having our next au pair initial key items in the handbook (or every section? every page?) to indicate her understanding. Ended up not doing this with our current AP because, since she was an extension, her English is outstanding, and I got a personal reference from her previous hostparents, I figured that I didn’t need to. I was right, but I might go the “initialling” route next go round. It seems like overkill, but APs are trying to absorb so much information that it’s important to ensure understanding.

I’ve never been in this situation, so good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm

It’s time to have a quiet chat, in the evening, when the children are in bed for the night, and use the dreaded “R” word. First start off with all the things you like about her, of course. Give her a chance to improve her attitude, and be very clear about the rules – that she is to be dynamic and involved with the two-year-old and the baby, that she is to come up with activities that engage them, that she is to perform household chores when they are down for naps (although personally, I never had my AP do that when I had little ones – but then again, The Camel had 7 therapists coming into the house on a weekly basis for the first 10 months…).

You don’t mention how good her English is – new APs tend to nod and act polite, even when they don’t truly understand. A good tactic is to ask a question that cannot be answered yes/no. What do you plan to do today? Show me how to operate the clothes washer – I want to make sure you understand. Which activity have you picked from the book I gave you? Show me the words that are difficult for you to understand.

Tell her you are going to have weekly meetings while you assess her skills. If she enjoys living with your family, she’ll put in more effort. My guess is that the leap from babysitting to being an AP is overwhelming to her.

And, if you don’t have time or energy to micromanage an AP, then an AP that requires micromanaging is not for you.

calif mom October 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

Last line above is critically important: some hosts don’t mind micromanaging. It’s all about fitting your requirements and style with the AP’s skills and style.

Good point that her English may still not be up to par, though usually after 5 weeks there’s a big leap in language facility.

It’s also very hard to be an AP for a mom who works at home. But if you’re spending half your work time stressing about what is or isn’t happening in the rest of the house, this is not going to smooth out. You need a more take-charge AP — and then you have to let her do things her way when she’s on duty.

azmom October 5, 2010 at 12:46 pm

so 2 year old was bored (i said to AP, DD looks bored, she said, “what is that”), she looked at me for a minute and then said “huh” and I said “why don’t you find something in that book I gave you” she went to her room and came out empty handed. I think she lost the book even!

But she’s now getting creative and going to the craft area for stuff… I have an area stuffed with craft things, and I think this is the 3rd time she’s used it, when I’ve discussed a few times how much she loves the craft stuff and it is in the handbook as things 2 year old likes

Anna October 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

azmom, being that she is your first au pair, it is difficult for you to judge criteria for rematch. It is complicated, because the relationship with the au pair is personal too. But this is a great benefit of this site – you can use the experience of others to make the decisions that minimize learning by hard knocks.

From my experience, those things will not improve, or will not improve enough and will keep sliding to what they were in the beginning. You can teach a dog new tricks (with a lot of effort), but you cannot teach a dog to be a cat. Basically, if she is clueless about kids and cannot naturally engage them, and engage them at the same time, and mulititask with very basic things like the laundry (even the most clueless of my au pairs managed to do the laundry!), she is not going to be able to learn it all in a short time, and/or to your satisfaction. Some things you can change, but you cannot change who people are fundamentally. When she has kids of her own she will probably also let go of things because she is not industrious, or she is slow… Nothing bad about those qualities, they just don’t make her a good candidate for the job of being an au pair.

I learned all this from experience. I had an au pair that I had enough compassion for to try working through all the unadequacies, every week, every day – I put a lot of time and effort into it. Until 3 months before the end of her year she told me “I cannot change who I am” – I think she figured out it is too late for me to rematch. Before, she was silent when I was giving her my instructions, so I thought she was absorbing and taking it into account. Turns out she was sullenly silent waiting for me to finish, with no intention to try and REALLY “change who she is”.

Calif Mom October 6, 2010 at 9:27 am

You HAVE been trying; daily calls with your counselor, and frank discussions about what you need done are not working.

This is not a good fit. Maybe she would do better with a family with just one infant (we successfully rematched an AP to a family like that because she couldn’t handle more than one kid).

It won’t improve, and you need to stop throwing your energy and angst down that hole. Start working on the transition. I tried to save a situation similar to this for several months, and ended up in rematch anyway. Stop exhausting yourself and go looking for a better AP.

The very fabulous “cover” you have here is that you have a two year old that she hasn’t bonded well with. After 5 weeks, a 2 year old is usually bonded or never will in my experience. You’ve got bad chemistry and or an AP who isn’t all that bright. Move on. Keep it matter of fact and not personal. Go call the counselor this morning.

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