Read My Diary, please! : Guest Post

by Sherina on June 23, 2010

A Host Mom was prompted by an earlier conversation on coordinating family schedules to offer her thoughts on keeping it all together. What I call a family notebook or family log she calls a diary– but regardless of the name, it is the same thing: One, single, solitary, concrete place where every appointment goes.

Here’s how one organized host mom and her family use their Diary … Many thanks for sharing your system!

To Diary or not to Diary? – An answer to one HM’s question!

Do you hate coming in from work only to face more decisions at home?

“Can I have a weekend off?”

“Can my friends come over on….?”

“Do I have to baby-sit on….. ?”

“What’s for dinner?”

201006231012.jpgSound familiar to any other HM’s?

What about this scenario…. when your AP requests weekend off. You agree, completely forgetting that you have concert tickets/dinner date etc planned for the same weekend.

Now you have two choices: (a) cancel your plans or (b) ask AP to cancel hers. It’s a no-win situation & either way (a) you’re the looser, (b) it’s your fault and (c) you get to deal with the fallout..

Well I found an answer – it’s become my answer to most requests these days:

“Check the Diary”.

It may look like a normal diary but in my house, this Diary rules.

How does the Diary work?

It holds everything. Initially, I put in any/all events that I can think off: birthdays (including APs!)/ vacations/ national & public holidays.. I follow these with monthly/ weekly/ daily events – everything from library visits to what’s for dinner!.

What are the benefits of the Diary, you ask?

  • For our Au Pair, the simple benefit of the Diary is planning.

Our au pair can see her evenings/weekends off, her vacation time & national holidays. She can book cheap flights, have friends for overnight stays (while babysitting if I’m lucky!).

The information in the Diary also gives her a sense of security – she knows what is going to happen daily and feels included in our family lives.

  • For our Au Pair – Host Parent relationship, the simple benefit of the Diary is keeping track of what we do for each other

Mama always says, “Eaten bread is soon forgotten.” I find this especially true of the au pair programme.

The Diary shows us how our Au Pair bends over backwards to accommodate us.

The Diary allows for appreciation.

The Diary tracks the perks AP enjoys (the outings, the dinners) which over time become expected/ unnoticed and/or forgotten.

The Diary shows in real time the hours both HD and I take from our daily lives to accommodate her requests.

Our AP recently noted that she had friends stay overnight with us every weekend for a whole month!

The Diary allows for acknowledgment.

But the best benefits of all, for me personally?

  • I don’t have to make every decision and I don’t have to say ‘no’.

(I hate saying no). I feel I become the “bad one”.

Now I say “Check the diary”.

If the time is free, then AP can fill in her event (sometimes events get penciled in – to be confirmed later). If, however, the time is not free then it is not free. No ifs/ands/or buts – the Diary rules.

If AP is disappointed, that is too bad. But it helps that the negative energies are no longer directed solely at me.

When I first introduced the Diary everyone laughed, and they still do but – and here’s the biggie: they use the Diary.

In fact HD has just marked a weekend in September for AP to baby-sit all weekend as we will be away. Now there’s advance notice for you!

It’s not a perfect system but it is a system and one that does not revolve around me constantly making decisions on the spot and as it is kept in the kitchen we all use it so everyone feels involved.

The House Diary works for me and I really hope that it may help some of you out there too.201006231010.jpg

See Also:

Calendar Advice from CalifMom

Host Parents, have something to share? Be Our Guest Poster!

Photos:

We Don’t Need No Education! from MNKaren
Hammer365: 138/227 I Love You  from David Reber’s Hammer Photography

{ 43 comments }

NJMom June 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

I really like this idea and I think we need this. What kind of planner do you use and where do you keep it? In the kitchen? On a whiteboard? I would love to be able to use Electronic family calendars but they are all blocked at my office and it isn’t feasible to do it only at home. I’m too busy with kids/housework to sit down at the home computer and keep up with it all. How do coordinate this with your work obligations?

Euromom June 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Hey there, Sherina here – I’m not Stateside so some terminology that I use may be confusing. My diary is like a databook or journal – with the calendar dates set in it.

The initial entries can take a bit of time to do – filling in birthdays, national holidays, vacation time, or maybe dates au pair may not take vacation on, etc. However once you fill in the essentials – everyone (including AP) will start to fill in their entries – especially if they want that night off!

Listen my diary is not a nice neat tidy notebook – it’s not even clean! It’s kept in the kitchen (nobody is allowed to remove it – that’s another rule) and has been used as a coaster – burn ring to prove it, has had spaghetti spilled all over it, lets not mention juices – most of the writing is barely legible some is not even in ink! but it is there.

I was using the google calendar but I found that a hard copy diary worked for me because when we are doing a review with AP (monthly) it’s really easy to look over the last month and see where we are as a family.

I also put goals/tasks in there, i.e. AP wants her room painted purple – that is there since February – we have not gotten to it yet but is not forgotten about and she can see that.

Hope it helps

S.

sotaGal June 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm

We use Google Calendar and love it. It marks US holidays, you can also have it show holidays for other countries so that we can ask our AP about what a certain holiday that they celebrate means. We update it with ALL appointments, AP schedule, classes/activities, nights out, every ones birthday and anniversary, days that the party for said birthday or anniversary is going to be celebrated, vacations and weekends off. It is set up so that AP and my husband can access it on their computers and add and make changes to it, plus I can sync it to iCal and my phone. We live by the calendar and I too can say when asked about a specific day to check the calendar.

Calif Mom June 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

For us it’s also “Check The Goog”. I have tried a hard copy calendar/diary like this several times, but it didn’t work for us, mostly because I ended up with sticky notes with scribbled appointments shoved in my handbag that never got logged, or I inadvertently double-booked appts because I couldn’t see what was already on there. Because my hub schedules travel at his office, by the time he got home he either forgot about an upcoming trip or it was too big of a hurdle to go look it up and write it down while scrambling to get dinner on the table. Emailing the info to me meant I was tasked with doing ALL the writing down of appointments, and frankly I need a more de-centralized process than that (I stink at logistics). So now we all put things straight into The Goog, as we now call it.

(I’d be surprised if google calendar were blocked at an office; we both work at VERY restrictive workplaces, but neither of our employers has blocked that one yet. Hope I didn’t just jinx it.)

Busy Mom June 23, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I recently did work for an investment bank and all external email sites, social networking sites and google calendar were blocked. Only linkedin was accessible!

Host Mommy Dearest June 23, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Wow! My work has lots of blocked sites (Linkedin is accessible, but the “inbox” feature is blocked) however, Google Calendar is still permitted (knock on wood).

MilitaryHM June 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I also use Google calendar to track our family schedules and had difficulty keeping it updated with my work schedule since Google calendar is blocked at work. Now I “invite” my gmail address from my work Outlook calendar and it automatically shows up in the Google calendar. I also use the reverse process such as putting my son’s dental appt on the Google calendar and invite my work email address so I get a reminder on my Outlook calendar at work.

CCDC Mom June 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

This is enormously helpful. I have been using Google sync from my work Outlook to the Google calendar, but I have 2 problems with it–I can’t stop all my “work” appointments from being synced to Google, and I can’t see whether my au pair has added an event to Google unless I remember to check it regularly. This fix solves that problem–thanks!

JBLV June 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Love the idea of a diary, and will try it myself. It’s an excellent idea. I’ve been using the diary of our agency, but I don’t necessarily plan a month out.

Sorry to digress, but there is one thing I’m noticing about these posts. Some commenters refer to Au Pair duty as “babysitting,” and some refer to it as “care” (and by extension “care-giver”). I prefer the latter. For those of us with infants and toddlers, our au pairs do much more than babysit. Like all the adults in our family, the au pair helps with child development – not in a formal way, we are not school teachers or psychologists – but in very important ways, none-the-less. My son was able to say his alphabet by the age 17 months. He could count to twenty at eighteen months. He reads books with the au pair (and with us, his parents) several times a day, etc., etc., etc. I attribute his development, in part, to having an au pair work with him one-on-one when my husband and I are working. (And, to be honest, I guess I would expect the same amount of attention for an older child too – help with homework, learning about the au pair’s home culture, etc.) An au pair, to me, is much more than a babysitter. She is part of our family, and as such, is part of my son’s intellectual and emotional development.

Sorry for that digression, but it occurred to me that “babysitter” just isn’t the right word.

Calif Mom June 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Not sure about others, but if I use the term “babysit”, it’s usually to describe a one-off. That is, it’s not a regular part of our AP’s schedule. Usually that’s a date night, or covering for me while I go to a PTA meeting or fundraiser. It’s also a different time for the kids. They get to watch a movie, play games and do things that don’t fit into the usual structure that most of their time spent with our AP usually falls into.

potential future AP June 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm

JBLV I like the way you foccus it! An au pair is more than a babysitter.

Host Mommy Dearest June 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I think I am a Google Calendar convert. I have been trying it out “on the side” based on earlier comments from other HMs on this board, and I plan to introduce it with the arrival of my next AP. I love how I can color code my kids activities vs my AP’s work schedule vs my APs classes, vacations and planned social events. I can let my AP see all the calendars, and give her “write” access to the non work calendar so she can add her own classes, vacations, LCC meetings and desired social events. I can also add a calendar/color for my sister since she takes the kids sometimes and I can give her access to see all calendars and update that one calendar so she can add a conflict that I need to plan for in kid coverage. I am still learning all the possibilities and wanted to nail down how I want to use it before I introduce it to my AP as – here is how we do it – but so far it is really good.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm

While I don’t use Google calendar, I do use a calendar with nice big spaces (and I have miniscule tidy handwriting). The AP’s hours go at the top of each date (including OFF if I’m not scheduling her to work), the routine activities go at the bottom of the box with the times, and the one-time events (doctor’s appointments, parties, birthdays) go in the middle and are circled.

By doing this the AP knows at the beginning of the month what is happening when. Now that it’s summer, I intend to email it all to HD, who can’t be bothered to look at it, because he’s known to double book himself. We take away hours from the AP’s schedule, but we rarely add them (and yes, it means forgoing some activities that are not child-friendly).

PA AP mom June 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I printed off a calendar on myfreecalendar.com and we use it as our guide. I write AP hours in red, appointments in green and other things in blue, black or purple. It’s nice because it gives an overview which is especially important for us in the summer. It sets expectations early and keeps surprises from occurring.

I also say “check the calendar” when she asks. Keeps me from being the bad guy all the time.

NewAPMama June 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I’m sorry to post off topic, but I noticed that the OP said that she has scheduled a weekend away, and the aupair has to watch the kids. I thought the aupair cannot be left alone like that? Am I mistaken?

DarthaStewart June 23, 2010 at 4:07 pm

As a guess, they either have family backup, other sort of backup, or it’s a “special” arrangement. Technically, you shouldn’t leave the au-pair with the kids.- per state dept regulations. Realistically, a number of host families do it, in exchange for extra pay.

hOstCDmom June 23, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I think she’s in Europe, where it is permitted. (In her response post above she notes she’s not stateside, and her handle is Euromom).

hOstCDmom June 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm

whoops, just saw that my reply above was redundant with Euromom’s below! Sorry!

Euromom June 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Hey there, this is the original poster – we do not reside in the States – so we do not follow the same set of rules plus as I have always stated I have a wonderful au pair for nearly a year now and she has agreed to take charge over the weekend willingly – it is a once off special event – hence the huge notice. I did offer to have Baby Bear minded by a grandparent if the au pair did not feel comfortable so she had the option to say no (and still does) but she is happy to help us out.

However in the original post I was just trying to show that even HD was getting used to using the House Diary!

Hula Gal June 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm

We have a white board that is pre-formatted as a calendar (from Pottery Barn). The only drawback is that it only shows one month at a time. We also use Google calendar but my au pair is not on that. What I have programmed myself to do is to immediately say, when she asks, “husband and I will check our calendars/discuss the request, and let you know tomorrow.” We (husband and myself) have caught ourselves many times giving an immediate, gut answer and then finding out the other does not agree with that answer and we really should have discussed it first, in private, before letting AP know. Good training for when our child gets older.

Another planning tip I’ll share is our white board for meal planning. We list out our meals for the week on a separate white board and AP indicates on the board whether she will be joining us for the meal. She has a tendancy to let us know at the last minute whether she is joining us for dinner or not and sometimes this would end up causing us to make too much or not enough. And it has the added benefit of encouraging us to eat in more and not forget to take the meat out to defrost or run to the store the day before for a few ingrediants. Plus she can discretely plan to join us for meals when she likes what we are preparing and skip the meals she doesn’t like so much. ;-)

MommyMia June 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Love the meal idea! One of my pet peeves is AP deciding after the table is set and she sees/smells what we’re having that she doesn’t care to join us, so this would be an excellent way to avoid toes getting stepped on.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 23, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I do menu planning before HD goes grocery shopping on Saturdays. We always ask the AP what groceries they want, and a couple have extended it to meals they would like to eat (my cookbooks are full of annotations as to who likes what going back to our first AP). My current AP is a vegan, and although I cook vegan food 2-3 times a week she doesn’t eat my cooking (I don’t eat meat, my son won’t eat cheese unless it comes on a pizza or eggs, so that lives me with a lot of vegetable protein, and less frequently, fish or seafood). My first AP hated tofu, and would just go out whenever I cooked it. Other APs ate just about everything unless they already had plans with friends (and those who were perpetually broke ate with us and then went out). HD and I take leftovers for lunch, trying to remember to take the oldest containers first…

Euromom June 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm

OMG – I put meals in mine too – just afraid to add that part in case you all think I am a complete control freak. We usually plan our meals a week in advance and because AP cooks three nights a week she plans her dishes and does a list of ingrediants she will need. This means that our grocery list is fairly accurate which helps costwise. It’s nice to know there is another me out there. ;)

Love this blog ladies :)

Hula Gal June 24, 2010 at 10:36 am

Our au pair thinks we are dorks but I love my organization. It keeps me sane. She’ll understand one day when she has a husband, child, dog, home and a job to look after.

West Coast Mom June 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I use an excel spreadsheet to do weekly schedules … it’s set up to calculate the hours for me, when i enter start and end times. And like some others here, my scheduling method has to be electronic and accessible to me while I’m at work, which is where a lot of the complicated scheduling happens.

I love the idea of a calendar, especially web-based like Google, but wonder if there is a way to combine both functions – the calendar and the adding up of the hours. Has anyone figured that out?

Busy Mom June 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm

I have ended up using wacky combination of spreadsheet, google calendar, daily diary & handwritten notes on a paper month-on-a-page calendar. And this is the reengineered process! Particularly ironic when one considers that one of the services I provide to my clients is process improvement…

My spreadsheet that calculates hours & notes who is responsible for dinner each evening as our AP cooks for the kids about 3 nights/week. Our schedule is highly variable due to older kids with lots of activities, some of which stretch into the evening, so this sheet helps our AP know when she needs to be “working” – either in charge of the kids or taking care of the kids’ stuff. I give this to our AP a week (or more if I can) in advance.

Google calendar has become the master family calendar and includes (color-coded by child) activities, family commitments. Our current AP has access, but I end up printing the week view every SUnday in preparation for the week.

It used to be sufficient (when the kids were younger) to just have the calendar because weeks were more predictable, carpools were not a routine part of our existence, and getting from place A to B was always done at the same time by the same person. Gymnastics was held at the same time every week in the same place without exception.

Welcome to the world of 3 kids involved in 4-5 activities each and lots of one-off activities. The daily “diary” is a blow-by-blow playbook for the week because EVERY week is different! It basically helps me, DH and the AP coordinate who is picking up which child, when & where. (E.g. Child one will be driven home from band by another parent. I will pick up child 3 after school for doctor, then drive straight to dance. Child 2 has girl scouts, pick up at 4:15 in X room at Y school.) Plus, it includes reminders like “Remind Child 3 to work on book report” (It does not dictate play activities) I write it out every Sunday evening. It may seem like overkill, but more than once has made me determine in advance that our commitments are physically impossible and I call in carpool or grandmother favors!

The paper calendar hangs on the wall in our kitchen and shows major events – games, birthdays, school concerts, future weekend babysitting commitments – so our AP can plan in advance around special events and latish weekday evenings.

Further reengineering suggestions are most welcome!

cv harquail June 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm

My sister does the spreadsheet thing too. I can’t believe how good she is with Excel!

Scary, really. (sister, I do love you though.)

Host Mommy Dearest June 23, 2010 at 10:29 pm

WCM, the ability to calculate hours is the biggest feature I would like in Google Calendar but haven’t found yet. I need to spend some time researching that since I am constantly adding up hours in shifts, juggling the schedule, then re-adding and double checking I am under 45 hours.

Coco July 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Would you be willing to share your spreadsheet file. I am not good at setting up these things but would fine it very useful. Thanks!

theGermanGirl-FutureAP June 23, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I love that diary-idea, for me as an aspiring au-pair it would help me tremendously in my life as an au-pair to have a set schedule, open spots I can fill in and nights that I know are blocked with babysitting etc.

I had a job once where I had to be on demand – I didn’t keep it for long – and it killed me because I wasn’t able to plan a thing ahead, I ended up cancelling stuff on half an hour notice and it annyed me to pieces that it was like: When we need you, you’re there.
That, initially, in a AP-situation, is totally fine because that’s what we’re for, but…you know when you will need me, you bought the tickets to this and that show weeks ahead propably, your anniversary is always on the same day and if it is in the diary, I can work with that.

I can’t work with “Oh maybe you’ll have to be here, maybe not…depends” and I also think that host-parents are happier knowing when exactly their au-pair is planning a night-out and when she’s free to take care of the kids for a one-off.

So…thumbs up for schedules in order, clear statements and the Diary!

aria June 24, 2010 at 4:25 am

TheGermanGirl-FutureAP– I know what you mean!!! I posted a mini rant under another topic here talking about the same thing.

My HM gives me a lot of days off, which is great, because I know she doesn’t have to, but then she also (I think) expects me to be perpetually on hold for her, and then she gets *offended* whenever I ask for clarification (ie, what time does your train leave so I can book my plane ticket at the appropriate time) because she considers that me not being flexible.

For example- months ago, she gave me a Saturday afternoon off, because the kids had a birthday party. She told me she would only need me until 2:30, and then I was free for the rest of the day. Months in advance! So I made plans to run an errand I knew would take a lot of time on the opposite side of the city. The day of, she comes to me and says, “oh, would you mind just coming back to give the boys their bath? Just the bath, then you can go.”

So I ended up racing back to get home on tme to give the kids their bath, which morphed into giving them their dinner, which then morphed into reading them their stories and tucking them into bed. Which is what I normally do on a Saturday- it’s not like I did anything exceptionally out of the ordinary, I don’t mind, I just resent the fact that she gave me this day off ages ago, and then expects me to be on call and actually work! (I also resent her having me pick up her new shoes on my day off, but that’s another story.)

*End rant*

Euromom June 24, 2010 at 5:38 am

Aria,

I completely agree – this would drive me nuts – in my house, if I give AP afternoon off – it’s in the diary – plus if she has made plan regardless of it being her off duty time she throws them in there also – it means the option “come back to give a hand” is no longer an option – as I can see AP has made plans.

She also throws in her weekends away and if she plans to go to concerts and stuff.

theGermanGirl-FutureAP June 24, 2010 at 9:11 am

@Euromom: I love the fact that you let your AP make her own plans also, if that was me, I would feel very much a part of the family, regarded and trusted, it would make me very happy! So kudos for that, it’s a great thing to do.

@aria: D’you think you could bring the diary idea up? Because from the way you told that story, it seems like your HM is taking you for granted, while you are always alarmed not to be ungrateful for her giving you days off, she seems completely alright with messing up your plans – like she owns you and all your time.

I hope that your situation changes soon :)

DarthaStewart June 24, 2010 at 9:32 am

@Aria That would just drive me nuts.

Calif Mom June 24, 2010 at 11:42 am

If she told you you had that time free months in advance, and dropped a last-minute bomb on you for something as trivial as bathtime, boy do I have the perfect management tool for you:

“Sorry, but I have plans that cannot be changed.”

Otherwise, by juggling your life to accommodate the last-minute host mom, you are *training* her to continue doing this. Just a thought.

[If it were really an emergency or something vital to a child’s wellbeing, that’s a different story. But bathtime? come on….]

Pa Host Mom of two au-pairs June 24, 2010 at 12:13 am

Try keepandshare.com this calendar goes out 9 months and has all of the holidays listed already for you.

AZ HM June 24, 2010 at 12:25 am

We love our family google calendar and keep our AP work schedule, all family appointments, events, vacations, carpooling responsibilities, etc… One thing I love about our current AP is that she has made the effort to research a ton of summer activities and outings and put them on the calender as options. HD and I look at the calendar each week as we make our AP schedule and can review the various activities our AP has added to the calendar…and then we we have our parent/AP meeting to discuss the upcoming week’s schedule we can decide together about which activities to keep on the calendar and which to remove.

About tallying hours – I so wish that was a possibility in google calendar….instead we put together our AP’s work schedule for the week and manually add the hours.

calif mom June 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

OOOhhh! lucky! I love that your AP took on finding fun free things to do.

Maybe we should all send feedback to google about adding an option to tally hours. They update their tools often…

AZ HM June 25, 2010 at 1:08 am

Yes, they are “free” and “fun” and I so appreciate that she took the initiative to do it. I asked our last AP to do this last summer and she could never quite get it together and I ended up agreeing to a few pricey one-off activities – crazy, in retrospect.

I think the google calendar really facilitates handing over some of these responsibilities to an AP who is willing and interested to take it on. Our AP is able to put the events on the calendar on her own time and we can look at the possible options on our time. It really has been great for us.

Yes, I vote for feedback to google for tallying hours – great idea!

California Cowgirl June 25, 2010 at 12:33 am

Oh, I LOVE the comment on the initial post. Some days I feel like I’m managing staff all day at work only to come home to more!

I produce a monthly calendar, which has a pattern that pretty much repeats every month. Our our pair has a few days to request potential changes, after that it’s pretty much set.

My husband and I generally go out to dinner from 6-9pm on Saturdays (we eat very slowly until we’re sure the kids are asleep). Our au pair has now started with the line of questioning… “if you don’t have anything special planned, can you please give me Saturday off for XYZ’s party”. I now have to manage the debate of while sitting in a local restaurant isn’t exactly “special”, it is “important”. I haven’t figured out how to get that across.

Az. June 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

I don’t know if your schedule would permit it, but is there any way you could compromise occasionally? eg. “Sure, you can have this Saturday off but we’d like you to babysit on Friday night instead – these dinners are our only chance to spend time alone with each other all week?”

MommyMia June 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I agree, Az. – our current, wonderful AP even realizes that date nights are important for HPs. Although we regularly schedule ours on a weeknight, simply because it’s easier for us not to fight crowds (at least before the economy dived!) at restaurants and theatres on the weekends. Reasonable APs get the “give & take” – party girls feel entitled to every Friday and Saturday night off, which is a pain.

EireAuPair June 25, 2010 at 9:19 am

I just feel like I have to say something to this topic now as well. I think my HM (who is Euromum – she also told me about this blog) knows that I am reading this blog from time to time and I totally agree with her. That family diary is great and I even have one for myself so I can always check whats going on and see if I forgot to put something in the family diary. Did I ever laughed about the diary? I think I just laughed about the fact that my HM got a diary for me as well.

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