Sample Family Handbook, with sections on Food from HM P

by cv harquail on March 22, 2013

Family Handbooks should all cover a core set of topics including schedule, safety, child care rules, car rules, and family rules.

Beyond these topics, we each need to add specifically what’s important to OUR family. At my house, this means a section on “How to Adore Coco (our dog)” and another on “Traveling Safely in NYC”.

 In some families, there are very specific rules that au pairs need to know and follow to keep the kids in that family safe. For example,  Au Pairs who care for children with special needs will likely need specifics on childcare and helping manage people who are rude or daft when it comes to folks with special needs.

Handbooks should include Rules, Procedures and Education

Au Pairs in families where someone has food allergies also need a section about this in their handbook.  The food allergy section needs more than the obvious list of rules (e.g., no peanut butter in the house ever, no pasta ever). These sections should also include procedures for how to evaluate situations for food allergy safety. And they should include information to educate the au pair so that s/he can understand why these rules need to be taken seriously.

Host Mom shares a copy of her family handbood (below).

(Oops. Host mom asked me take change plans and post only key sections. As soon as I ‘m able to edit it, I ‘ll put it back up — cv)

She explains that it’s “heavily adapted from an example I got by AuPairCare”.  But, there is also some unique information about her child’s food allergies and also about their family’s use of unscented, largely ‘natural’ products in their house– partly out of preference but also out of precaution.

Check out host mom’s handbook for some good text to ‘cut, past and revise’ if you need to address allergens or other issues in your next handbook revision.

thanks so much for sharing this with us!!!!!!




CanadianAuPair March 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I’m sorry, but a 50 hour work week with no breaks (as you’ve got a whole list of things to do during nap time), no cosmetics or hair spray, and needing to tell you who they’re with and what they’re doing after work is going bit ridiculous. Especially for less than $200 a week. I’m sure you get breaks from work and that they don’t dictate your makeup brands – what your au pair wears on her face is quite frankly none of your business.

Emerald City HM March 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Those are about 8 and a half hour days, well under the 45 hour per week limit.

The other things I think are up to the family. We are pretty bad about asking where our au pairs are going and if something were to happen, we wouldn’t know any information to tell the agency or her parents.

The cosmetics, well that’s up to the family too, this isn’t a regular job. Honestly I’m thinking about saying no perfume in our house. My oldest daughter has had a runny nose all year and the only products that have changed in our house is the au pair’s cosmetics, so we are starting to think that she might have some allergies.

Busy Mom March 22, 2013 at 10:16 pm

CanadianAuPair, I do not live in my clients’ homes, but my APs live in mine. As long as these items are disclosed and discussed in advance of matching, I see no issue with specifying house rules such as these. For example, we also have a no perfume rule as some in our home are allergic to scents. All families have their own idiosyncracies and individual rules. That’s why I personally think it’s critical to share these types of details in advance of matching. AP candidates are then can simply choose not to match with a family when they don’t care for the rules. My mantra during the match process is no surprises.

PhillyMom March 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

You have to understand, that knowing where you are, has nothing to do with “control issue”. I would like to know and need that information simply for one thing – if AuPair did not come home and I think that something bad happened to AuPair (which unfortunately can happen to any of us) – where to look for her!!!
In regards to cosmetics and breaks: Your job mandates those rules. For example, if your mother or sister were allergic to certain type of perfume and knew about it, would you want their caretaker to use them, knowing that it will make them very sick?In regards to breaks: yes, I work 12 hour shifts in Emergency Department and unfortunately sometimes I do not take a lunch break if we are very busy. That is why it is called “job”. You have to be flexible and realize that all families are different. It is important to discuss all issues before match.

DCMomof3 March 24, 2013 at 1:37 am

Yes, for example, as I sit here at 1:30 in the morning kind of fuming over the following. My AP and her friend took the bus to NYC today. She texted me at 11:30 pm and told me that she was back. It should have taken her about 15 minutes to drive home from the metro where she left our car. I waited up for her because she said in the text that she had a rough day. By 12:45 when I didn’t hear from her, I sent her a text asking what happened. No answer. I started to worry that they got accosted in the metro parking lot. So, I called her at 1:10 (car curfew is 1 am) and she told me that she was already asleep at her friend’s house. She had not asked to keep the car out all night. I was totally under the impression that she would be home before midnight after she texted me to tell me that she was back. Do I need to know where she is at all times? No. Do I worry when I am expecting her (and my car) and she doesn’t show up? YES.

Momma Gadget March 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Been there Done that. I empathize! We had huge issues with AP1 on this. Again it comes down to common courtesy.

Not to brag ( Ok maybe a little;-)) Yesterday my AP had the car at a friends and texted me at 3pm that they decided to go to the movies so he wouldn’t be home before 7pm as he had originally thought- and if that would that be OK. To tell you the truth I probably wouldn’t have noticed he was home later than he had told us. But I really appreciated that he let me know well before the fact.
It is his respect and consideration for us and our car rules that make us trust him enough to loosen those rules.

CA Host Mom March 25, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Love this, Momma Gadget! Isn’t it true that the small (easy!!!) things go such a long way when it comes to being flexible when your AP wants to take off early, stay out late, host friends at your house, etc? Good for you and your family!

Gianna March 25, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I wonder how many aupairs will look back years from now and think, gee that was a nice family I lived with – they cared enough to worry about me.

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2013 at 11:08 am

I’m pleased to see that this host parent has spelled out all her restrictions up front. Hopefully she sends this to au pair candidates as they are matching, and any that don’t agree will say no – that’s why it’s important for both sides to be clear and find a good match. Every family is going to have their requirements, and every au pair is free to say yes or no when matching.

It *is* her business to dictate makeup brands if that is something that is important to her in her home. It is so important to her, that she is willing to say no to au pairs, no matter how great, that are not willing to go along with the requirements. I’m sure she knows that she is restricting her pool of candidates, and she’s fine with that. And that’s why she’s being upfront.

If you’re not ok with her proposal, then you don’t match with her family. Simple.

Emerald City HM March 22, 2013 at 6:21 pm

The format is *really* similiar to our host family handbook, but I didn’t get it from APC, I got it from a friend of mine who used APIA and she said she wrote it herself.

I wonder if her handbook became a sample for APC.

Skny March 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

8,5 Hs where? If Au pair is required to participate and assist breakfast is work time (even if not alone time). So she goes from 7:30 to 5:30. Gives 10hs day.

Momma Gadget March 23, 2013 at 11:05 am

Those are 10hr days.

The rules on cosmetics, are in place because of the health and welfare of the child, who has a serious illness. They also seem to have stong beliefs on their responsibility to the environment.
Although they should take another look at the hours- if the AP is even “on Call” during nap time, then it is not free time.
The other requests are based on the beliefs and health of their child. It is very simple- if you can’t live without your products, then don’t match with this family. That doesn’t mean they would not be a great match for another like minded Au Pair.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm

DH and I have disagreements all the time on what counts as “working hours.” For me, if the AP is the only adult in the house, even if the kids are sound asleep or playing down the block with friends, then she is working. I recall when my kids were little and we needed every minute of an APs 45-hour week, how much I struggled. My vacation time went 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there in order to get home on time.

Now that I have school-age children, it’s easier, but there are days when the AP wakes up The Camel and discovers she has a fever. Her 10-hour max means a shorter day at work for me. While I might sigh, I put in for time off, because not only is it important to stay within the State Department guidelines, it’s important for my AP to have her down time.

As for special diets and requirements. AP candidates need to understand their prospective HF’s requirements and to take them seriously. Whether the family follows a special diet for religious reasons, health reasons, or social reasons, it is not appropriate for an AP living in their house to decide that she knows better.

Just as hosting an AP is a huge responsibility, being an AP is a huge responsibility, too. When asked to follow special guidelines, do not put your HF at risk because you don’t like them.

Indiana hostmom March 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Concerning work hours: “Downtime” is counted as work hours – so this comes out to 8.5 hours; 1.5 of them during nap time are quite relaxed, not every day there will be a big pile of laundry to fold or toys to be put away. Yet lending a helping hand for setting up the breakfast or dinner table is not counted as work hours. And I feel it should not, this is a normal thing living in any – your own – or a host family household.

Gianna March 23, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I understand why you don’t want your AP to use the computer or the phone during naptime . I hadn’t really thought about that until now but getting absorbed online could be very distracting. But it seems to me that if the AP is the adult in charge and not free to go for a walk or check her mail , or make a call, then she is working and those hours should be counted as worktime even if it is a relaxed time of day. Perhaps others agree with you or see it in a different way.

Indiana hostmom March 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I agree with you. These are counted as work hours.

hOstCDmom March 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm

If your AP wanted to sleep until ~8.30, and then show up 100% ready to start work at 8.50 (when, from the schedule, it seems that the HP depart and the AP is on duty) would that be ok?

If not, and you expect the AP to be up and joining you for breakfast at 7.30, and helping you before and after, that sounds exactly like “on duty” to me…

Skny March 24, 2013 at 7:24 am

Exact my point. If she is not allowed to sleep in late and show up at work time, it IS work time.
My Au pairs always show up few minutes before beginning to work.
And I disagree that in a different roommate situation she would be required to wake up and participate… I never in college (or at my own house) was required to be at the breakfast table at certain time)… And I fight daily to get my teenager girl to have breakfast. Most days she sleeps in and grab a fruit on her way out…

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

This is the question. We personally count anything as work hours when I can honestly say that I would be irritated if she wasn’t helping. I’ve used the airplane example before – if my au pair was sitting there reading a magazine or sleeping while I struggled with the kids on the airplane, would I be irritated? Would I expect her to stop reading and help me out? If yes, then it’s counted as work hours. Would I prefer that she help me because that would be super nice, but I wouldn’t truly mind either way, then no, it’s not work hours.

Same with the breakfast example – would I be irritated if she showed up after breakfast and right at our agreed-upon start time? If yes, then absolutely I need to move her start time up and count those as work hours.

Dorsi March 25, 2013 at 11:30 am

I think a lot of HMs on here require APs to eat dinner with them (or cook) at least a few times per week. I assume this is in off hours — otherwise they wouldn’t have to require it, separately from a regular job function. This doesn’t seem so different. It doesn’t sound like the AP is expected to do child care during breakfast.

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2013 at 11:40 am

Huh…there are host parents that require their au pairs to eat dinner with them a few times a week and don’t count it as work hours? I don’t remember reading that – not saying it’s not true or that it doesn’t work for them, but it seems odd to me. How and why would you require your au pair to eat dinner with you a few times a week? Although both of ours have actually eaten dinner with us almost every night of their own volition, they also have both had lots going on in the evenings and I’m happy that they’re out and about with their friends or at class too.

But even so, I do think it’s different with the breakfast thing. Although now that the handbook example is down, I can’t remember exactly what was said! But I remember it being something like asking the au pair to be done 20 minutes or so before start time to help with breakfast. If that was the requirement, then I really really think that needs to be included in work hours. If I’m mis-remembering, then I apologize.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

We had one AP who really enjoyed cooking and the only way she would eat dinner with us is when she cooked. We enjoyed her dinners, but she was completely on the clock the entire time (easy enough for us, we have school-aged children). I cook (including most of The Camel’s meals which I freeze in single-servings for easy thawing), so I don’t require it of my APs.

The majority of my au pairs who could cook (not all were able) either a) did it to feed the kids on DH and my date nights so they were on the clock, b) to give our family a special treat of a meal from their country (probably not on the clock), or c) did it with parents who were visiting (not on the clock but we were housing their parents for free).

In my opinion, if you are controlling an AP’s use of her free time (other than imposing a curfew because you want her in the house several hours before her shift starts) then she’s on the clock.

As I recall the HM had the AP sitting down to breakfast at 7:30 and having her day start at 8:50 – that’s a lot of lead time. It may make for a lovely family breakfast that makes the AP feel truly included in the household.

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Thanks, TaCL – I think you and I seem to be on the same page in terms of work hours being counted whenever I require our au pair’s presence.

JJ Host Mom March 25, 2013 at 7:59 pm

What if you require your au pair to eat with the family at least once a week, just in the interest of staying connected, but don’t dictate when that needs to be? Would you guys still count that as work hours?

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2013 at 8:28 pm

It’s hard to answer as I can’t imagine having to require my au pair to have dinner with me once a week. But I guess if my au pair was literally gone every evening and I didn’t feel like I ever saw her, I’d probably ask if she wouldn’t mind joining us about once a week just so we could catch up. And then if I was just asking and not requiring, I wouldn’t count it as hours.

JJ Host Mom March 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm

We have a sentence in our handbook that says “We would like you to eat with us one evening a week, at a minimum. If you’d like to eat with us more often than that, you are welcome.” Our au pairs have mainly opted to join us every night for dinner at first, but have been around less and less as the year goes by and they have more friends. I just wanted to set it up as an expectation at the beginning of the year so they’re inclined to make it a priority afterwards. My inclination is not to count that as work hours, since I could see having the same expectation of any family member or roommate, but want to be fair about it so was wondering what you guys thought.

Host Mom in the City March 26, 2013 at 6:16 am

I don’t think that sounds unfair and I don’t think that would be counted as work hours, JJHostMom. It doesn’t sound inflexible or like you’re requiring her to cook you dinner and help extensively with the kids, only that you’d like her to plan to be around one evening a week to catch up. I’m assuming if it didn’t work out one week because she had so much going on, it wouldn’t be an issue. It really just tells your au pair what kind of relationship you’d like – that you enjoy her company and would like a family-style relationship. I think we match based on that expectation from the beginning too and as I’ve said, both of our au pairs have eaten with us almost nightly.

JJ Host Mom March 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

OK thanks!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I don’t require my APs to eat breakfast before they start their shift (only 1 of 8 did – she knew her body). We don’t eat breakfast together – I’m out the door before anyone else in the house wakes up. Because I’m not there to witness, my guess is that my AP eats during a relaxed point in the morning routine or after the kids have left for school. In my opinion, if you demand that your AP eat breakfast with you and is involved in clean-up she is working. When we had our APs work 45 hours per week, DH and I quickly learned to build 15 minutes into the schedule to communicate with the AP at either end of the day.

WestMom March 24, 2013 at 6:17 am

I move info around in our book this year. I noticed your last page (‘We promise’), and I am wondering if putting that up-front might not give a more friendly tone to anyone’s guide?

Skny March 24, 2013 at 7:38 am

In another point though… Just wanted to share a very interesting experience… Back last summer we had a transition Au pair spend 2 months with us while we waited for our “real” Au pair to come (and transition Au pair waiting for her family). It was ok. But just that… Ok. She did not bond with my 2.5yo (now 3), did not want to be part of family, etc…
Well my Au pair left the program (illegal now), and that transition Au pair writes to me a week later asking if I knew a family as she had an awful experience with fam after us, and was in transition again.
So initially hubby and I had decided to be done with Au pairs and just take the loss… But we suddenly decided to invite her back (time was paid already, and better the devil you know already…)
So we call agency and invite her back. I had minimal expectations, but she has turned out to be the best Au pair. She is changed, more mature, has bonded to the child she didnt care for before (and this child loves her). She invites herself to do things with us, seems happy to be here… Works very well, follow directions… I am amazed.
If she was not thinking in returning home by June, I’d invite her to extend.
Just wanted to share this experience.

HRHM March 24, 2013 at 7:52 am

I often wonder if getting an AP from a really tough, borderline abusive family wouldn’t be the key to finding someone who actually appreciates all the perks, flexibility and kindness we offer! All my brand new APs have no basis of comparison and tend to gripe about things that are just part of the deal. The 2 that have extended with other families have both come back and told me that they never realized how great they had it when they lived with us! :)

Should be working March 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm

After taking a grateful, enthusiastic transition AP some years ago, I debated whether to stick to APs coming from transition. They are more realistic about what being an au pair means. If it was an unfair or unfriendly family they will be thrilled with us; I am scrupulous about following the rules and we are NICE.

The problem is, of course, that APs in transition are under pressure to find a new HF quickly. And it is very difficult to adjudicate stories and figure out when it really was the HF that was a problem and when it wasn’t.

Skny March 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm

I just thought the same. I’d stick with it too. Our last Au pair was an extension. She did paint a “within the rules” but almost e abusive situation and I thought she would do great with us. Turns out she was not that great, did the basic necessary (and sometimes not even that, and they are not missing her that much. Actually I heard now they are much happier with their *new* Au pair…
That’s why I was expecting little from this girl’s return. Only reason we brought her back was because she already knew the kids, routine… And again, better the devil you know.
But she doesn’t stop amazing me. Today as I started cooking dinner she came over and invited 3yo to play in the basement with her!! I was shocked and obviously made sure she knew how thankful I was of her help (as I realize it was her off time).
I also follow rules to the letter and try to give some extra perk as possible… Anyway I agree this would be the way to go if there was a way to confirm the situation

Momma Gadget March 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

My sister jokes with me because of my poor record of choosing out of country that we should screen for APs that come from abusive situations first.
Our AP 2,3 &4 all came to us from, if not abusive, then cold,demeaning HFs. (2 extended, 1 transition) They have all been grateful for the few perks we offer, our easy going attitude, our genuine concern for their well being,being included as part of our family, and our efforts to make sure they get a true all American experience.
We in turn are also grateful for all they have done for our family as a whole, the incredible impact they have made on our boys,and not comparing us to other wealthier family situations in our cluster.
I am hoping to correct my poor record of out of country bad matches in a couple of weeks… Very nervousssss.

CA Host Mom March 25, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Good Luck, Momma Gadget! We too have a great record with APs in transition. AP #1 was in rematch when we joined the program (and didn’t have time to wait for an out of country match) and is, as far as I am concerned, the model AP if there ever was one. AP #3 was also in rematch (previous HPs were nice, but 4 y/o HK was really tough – kicking, punching, terrible behavior and AP – more the quiet and passive type – wasn’t very effective with him) and she has worked out beautifully with our family.
AP #2 was out only out of country match and she was an utter nightmare. AP #4 comes later this year and will be our second shot (different agency) with an out of country match. My fingers will be crossed … ;)

I am just joining this thread now, so I will look forward to seeing the sample handbook when it comes back online.

Carmen March 26, 2013 at 6:32 pm

i’m sorry that this has nothing to do with the topic, but i want to be an au pair in the US, i’m applying with go au pair agency do you know it?, i don’t know if i should change agency because i’m affraid this one doesn’t have a lot of families available
ps.i hope i’m lucky enough to have a host mom like you, i’ve been reading this blog for a few months, and you all seem to be really nice with your au pair

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