Share a page from your handbook …

by cv harquail on February 10, 2009

Etsy WatermelonWishes

When I started au pair momming 11 years ago, there was no such thing as an Au Pair Handbook. My au pair agency never recommended that I create a family manual, and my LCC actually laughed when I told her that I’d put together a printed list of guidelines for our incoming au pair.

My, how times have changed.

Now, on the website of (at least) one au pair agency, you can find suggested guidelines, rules and procedures. There are some books out there on hosting au pairs, one of which comes with a downloadable master family manual! And, there are hundreds of us host moms and dads who have recognized what we need from our au pairs, translated this into guidelines, and written them down in our own Au Pair handbooks.

Etsy WatermelonWishes 2

I have sent copies of my family’s au pair handbook to over 3 dozen host parents over the years. At one point, when I was talking with a friend of a friend of a friend about her getting an au pair, she told me she’d been given a example Au Pair handbook and she’d send it to me. Can you imagine my surprise at discovering that it was an edited copy of my own handbook !

Over the course of my au pair mom career, our family guidelines and handbook have expanded to cover more and more situations. They have been revised to reflect the changes in our children’s routines and ages, and they have incorporated much of what I’ve learned "the hard way" by breakdowns, accidents, and ineffective au pair – host family communication.

Our family handbook is now kind of rangey. The writer in me looks at it and winces, since there are many repetitions, awkward categories, and so on. Our handbook is even in two pieces– a set of Guidelines (which are more or less the ‘rules’) and a Handbook (which is more about principles and strategies) , with lots of overlap in between. But even so, both in the actual words and what is between the lines, you can get a sense of my family’s priorities and values.

We have a great opportunity to learn from each other and to share our hard-earned wisdom, simply by sharing our au pair handbooks. Although no handbook can tell you the ‘secret’ to a great au pair relationship, a good handbook helps you set a foundation of expectations of the au pair and of your family that you can help you establish and build a good relationship.

So here’s your invitation — send us a page of your Au Pair Handbook.
Etsy implexus

– Send a page that covers either one particular topic (cars, food, childcare strategies), or

– Send a page that reflects some unique wisdom from your experience.

– Be sure to remove any information that is too personal (e.g., kids’ names, AP names, code for your burglar alarm).

– If you want to copyright your page, please do.

Email these as either MS word attachments or pasted into an email.  Send them to mom at aupairmom dot com.  I will gather these together in some kind of organized way on a Resources page that everyone can access.

Let’s see what we can learn when we take a page from each other’s books!

Images from Etsy: Watermelon Wishes

{ 26 comments }

Anna February 10, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Our agency requires that families have a handbook, and has a complete example handbook in their materials for hostparents (it might even be on their website)

cvh February 10, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Anna, which agency do you use? I’ll go check out their stuff :-)

Dawn February 10, 2009 at 11:46 pm

I’m with Cultural Care, and they have a template (word document) on their site, as well as (and I just found these — they are not very prominantly placed on the site) several sample handbooks from “veteran families.” I think these may be in the password protected “current host families” area of the site, though.

I am putting the finishing touches on my (latest revision of my) handbook and will gladly send it to you when I’m done with it, cvh. I’ll have to see if there’s one page or section that really stands out — otherwise, I may just send you the whole thing and let you pick and choose which parts offer something unique and not repetitive of what other people have submitted!

BTW, I love those pics you posted and will have to check out that Etsy shop. (Etsy is my weakness — I love that site!) Now I feel bad that my new au pair is going to get her handbook in a plain white binder! (But it’s too late to order something pretty to be here by Friday!)

Anna February 11, 2009 at 12:44 am

I am with AuPairUSA
Here is a link to their “sample au pair notebook”
http://www.aupairusa.org/pdfs/sample-aupair-notebook.pdf

If you go through their homepage, its under “resource centers” bottom on the top right, “host family resource center” button, and scrolling down the page under “hints and tips for current families”. They have suggested au pair interview questions there too! http://www.aupairusa.org/resources/host-family/au-pair-questions.html – many of them were suggested by the fellow host moms in response to your post here recently
There is also a section on guidelines on creating an au pair notebook in their Handbook for Families and Au Pairs, also on their website in the host family resource center

cvh February 11, 2009 at 1:05 am

Dawn, thanks so much– I’ll look forward to your handbook selection– I am a sucker for Etsy… and since I can’t buy all that I’d like to, I’m going to look there first for pretty images and give some of the prettiest things some links. It amazes me what these creative women (mostly) are doing out there!

Maya February 11, 2009 at 1:26 am

Just want to through this out there: On one of au pair forums I read how some girls reacted negatively when host families sent them a 5-page ‘handbook’. My current handbook, which I do not consider to be all inclusive or finished, is around 14 pages and has both rules and guidelines in it. Do you think it is daunting for a prospective AP to receive a ‘book’ of rules and regulations of this size? Do you think it is better to condense it down to a few pages of the most important things and then discuss the rest once she arrives? How do you decide what is the most important? I have a whole page dedicated to ‘Car’ section. Just telling her that there is a car available does not see fair without spelling out my expectations and what she will and will not be allowed to do with regards to the car. And it is a full page right there. Same with phone/internet/cell phone, etc. What say you?

Anna February 11, 2009 at 1:31 am

I say just don’t send the handbook to your new au pair during the matching process or before her arrival. Our first au pair was grateful for the existence of the handbook, and said that her au pair friends who had no handbooks and who had no idea what their host family’s expectations were, said that she was “lucky”.

Rayann February 11, 2009 at 2:32 am

Our handbook is 16 pages, and I think having a detailed handbook is important. It’s too much information to expect the AP to remember, and having a book allows her to go back to it and clarify, confirm or reread something if she has questions. When our AP arrived, I showed her where the handbook was, and asked her to read it before she began duty five days later – giving her plenty of time to read through it at her leisure.

Our handbook is pretty straightforward from our agency, with some minor editing here and there, but we do include a “wine” paragraph which is important in our household. :-) It reads as follows:

“We aren’t opposed to you having wine in the evening when you are not working, but please ask us before you open any of our bottles of wine from the wine cellar. Some of it is special bottles that we are aging or saving for special occasions – but there is always every day wine available if you let us know you would like a glass.”

We’ve revised this policy – we now have a set area in the kitchen for “every day” wine that she is free to drink or open as she pleases. I’m sure there are some APs who would abuse this policy, but 6 months in to our current AP relationship we’ve had no problems at all. She will often take a glass of wine up to her room in the evening while she is watching a movie or reading, and that’s fine with us. (sidenote: Yes, she’s 21.)

D February 11, 2009 at 2:36 am

I dont’ think any girl should be sent a large handbook before she arrives. They are nervous enough. The interview process should actually answer all your important things, if you are asking good questions. Of course you’ll want to clear up the major questions so the rules aren’t a complete shock etc etc.

As with documents of that size, you should sit down with the au pair, face to face, & go over them personally…..in a kind, understanding way. So its all clear. As sometimes their limited English you have to ask them to explain back if they understand you.

CVH…do you have your manual completely on this website. I would love to see it. THANKS!

Jeana February 11, 2009 at 4:45 am

My family book is 42 pages. I’ve sent it to prospective aupairs, and they’ve shared that it reassured them that we were the right family for them. It isn’t excessive rules, but is very clear about our needs, my expectations, examples of schedules during the school year, summer, and weekends, and the realities of what it takes to keep us afloat each day. If an aupair would be overwhelmed by the information, they’ll be overwhelmed by our family.

I provide information about holidays, things that we like to do throughout the year so she’ll have an idea of fun ways we spend time, safety information, morning routines, afternoon routines, evening routines, chores that my daughters are responsible for, etc. I also have a lot of info about where things are located and how they work in the house. I want a potential aupair to know what we can provide and what we can not. I provide information about how some laws, especially regarding alcohol in a car, may be different than in her own car. Aupairs have told me that open alcohol is not a crime in their country. I do not provide a car for our aupair, so I make it clear that she will not have access to a car, and most aupairs in the cluster will. I also explain that I’ll help with transportation to school, train to go into Chicago, etc.

I saw a family book that a family with 12 years of experience created, and assumed if they had included the information, I should do. Full disclosure, warts and all. If we’re not the right family, I want a potential aupair to know while she’s over the pond, not while she’s sleeping down the hall in my home. So glad for the opportunity to share parts of our family books!

cvh February 11, 2009 at 6:55 am

D, just a quick reply—

our family guidelines (rules) are pretty much all in the guidelines pages here on the blog. About 1/2 of our handbook (practices & principles) is also on a page… I need to post the rest soon :) Check the sidebar near Maya’s & Anna’s comments.

Re: sending the handbook to prospectives … we have instead sent our family essay (which lets her know that we are relative to many other families “neat freaks” & rather germanic in our approach to things). (Maggie, no chortling please :-) .)

Then, in the second or so email, we send the guidelines. Yes, a lot of info may be scary — but I think it does weed out prospective aps who would not be comfortable with our brand of clarity, specificity, and priorities. Probably we lose a lot of nice girls that way, but except for the one flameout ap, it worked well.

cvh February 11, 2009 at 6:57 am

Jeana — I TOTALLY want to read pages 27-42. You must havelots of tips and insight.
Rayann, I want to be your ap and get to drink wine. Sounds like fun at your house!!!

MK February 11, 2009 at 9:20 am

My Au pair coordinator never mentioned the idea of a handbook. Gosh I wish I had created one, it would have saved me a lot of hassle. It is kind of awkard creating one midyear (unless any AP moms have a tip about introducing one mid year). It seems like I won’t have the chance until the next time around.

Maya February 11, 2009 at 6:00 pm

MK, I would say that if you try to introduce one mid-year, be prepared that you may end up in in rematch. That is what happened to me when I introduced a handbook after 5 months. My old AP applied for rematch the next day.

D February 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I’m writing my handbook mid-year. I’m actually going to have our current au pair read it for me & help give me input. :) But really, most of the rules are no different than we have asked her. Just in a really clear documented way for the next girl. To make our lives easier.

I TOO would love to read any handbooks you all are willing to share. Jeana or anyone, I could kiss you over the internet for any help, ideas & advice what to put in it. :) But ya, Jeanna 42 pages….would love to see it too!

THANKS!

Anna February 11, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Maya, admit it, the problem was not with your handbook, but with your au pair

Maya February 11, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Yes, I admit. But if it wasn’t for the handbook, we may not have ended up in rematch.

Abby February 21, 2009 at 11:55 am

Just finishing my “handbook”. Was 3 pages with old au pair, is now 10 pages, and I keep thinking of more things I could add.
Table of contents:
Hello note
Phone numbers
Kids scheduels & activiites
Ideas for play & rules for playdates
Food ideas (including no McFlurries at 5 pm)
General thoughts (be nice, be SAFE, no hiding in room etc)
Daily & weekly housework expectations
Your room
The car
and the Facebook “You know you’re an au pair when….”
…all on pretty paper (but no pretty binder yet!)

Dawn February 23, 2009 at 7:15 pm

cvh, just wanted to let you know that I sent you a (redacted) copy of our newly-revised handbook last week. I know you were having some email trouble before, so let me know if you didn’t get it! (I’m also happy to share it with anyone else who might be interested — I know that cvh plans to put excerpts from various handbooks in the “resources” section of the blog at some point, but I’m glad to share mine via email in the meantime. Just email me at dpmom23 (at) gmail.com if you want a copy!)

D February 25, 2009 at 12:41 am

For my guidebook….I followed CVH’s format somewhat. Caring for the Children ,Our Home, Privacy and Your Room , Safety, Telephone and Computer , Using the Car, Visitors and Guests

Things I also put in my guidebook are these sections:

Vacations/Time Away/Family Time/Holidays – to cover all the issues in regards to time off(her vacations or ours) & what we expected in terms of Holidays in regards to time off, family time, or on duty issues. Spelling out Holiday days & which ones were in fact “free time” & which ones not so that nobody was left wondering. I included, how much advance notice we require in terms of vacation as well as “general” expectations for family vacations. We require a minimum of 1 month advance notice and all week long vacations must be decided upon by the end of their 6 month. (not taken, just decided “when” they will occur so we aren’t bombarded by several weeks at once without notice.)

“Downtime” ie…naptime, kids watching TV/ End-Of-Day Routine – This page….I put a check list of items here of what items need double checked & completed if not done. As Downtime & End of Day are great times to go over this list. That once all these items were completed then she may enjoy some reading time or various rewards for job complete! But that any extra free time…. should never take away from the kids of course.

What you can NOT do while caring for the kids – A page dedicated to internet use, phone usage & activities you must refrain upon when caring for the kids and to keep distractions to a minimum.

Kids School Time/Homework/Pick Up & Drop Off Expections – To cover all the elements that go into ensuring Kids are attended to/from activites. Also too to go over things like backpack routine, homework etc etc.

Alcohol, Smoking & The Law – this page was dedicated to our laws, drinking & driving, buying alcohol, & 21 age limit. Also too our personal policies about smoking.

Extra Details I put in my guidebook: covering full expectations in regards to car accidents. The deductible, how we handle these situations when it occurs during her personal time.

Our Visitor Page also covers “boys” as visitors & how things are different in regards to house rules & boys vs other au pairs visiting. covering everything from A-Z. It’s pretty thorough.

Calif mom February 25, 2009 at 1:16 am

As for introducing one “mid-year” I am sort of facing the same thing — our handbook got really dated and I didn’t retune it before we rematched with our current AP, about six months ago. So a lot of what is in it doesn’t fit the kids’ ages anymore.

I’ve been facing this same question, of how to manage the need for things to get back on track just a little bit. Nothing is obviously terrible, just things like the kids’ toys not being picked up after they are done, etc.

Is there any sort of milestone you can connect a soft launch of a handbook to? I can see how a current AP, especially one who is feeling put upon to start with, might not take it well. I think you would have better success if it’s a very soft launch, like a “I’ve been writing down some of the things we have worked out along the way, just so it’s written down. Someone suggested that their AP really liked having notes she could turn to during the day when the hosts weren’t around.. something like that? If there is a schedule change coming up, that might be good. You could use the end of the school year, for example (I know it’s too far away to help much!). Tie into it mucho rewards and recognition so it doesn’t feel like a backhanded way to get her to do things differently, because that wouldn’t seem fair. I wouldn’t want my boss to suddenly hand me a great big book of rules about how to do the job I’ve been doing for some time, especially if she hasn’t told me there are problems with what I’ve been doing. That would feel like the first step in helping an employee find the door, and I can’t imagine it would go over well with a settled AP.

If you can’t figure out a way to frame this so it is not misinterpreted as a corrective action, I probably wouldn’t do it with this AP. Sometimes it’s really good to leave well enough alone.

Maya February 25, 2009 at 2:08 am

Just something I went through last week in terms of changing expectations midstream.

My AP, who is an OK AP has been kind of sloppy with leaving kitchen and dinning area messy, which we have talked about with her before, but nothing was changing.

Last week, after we were gone for 3 days and she was home alone, we came home late at night to a disaster zone. She was out, but my kitchen and dining room table were covered in dirty dishes, dirty pots, leftovers, foot left out that should’ve been put away (like butter) and such. Foot crumbs all over the floor.

So, what I did, was tell her that we saw bugs and roaches in the house when we came home (thank god we did not). Also, I told her that I realize that I have not been a perfect example of keeping things very clean (I am not a neat freak, so some things left out in the kitchen is normal for me, but not the mess she created). So after everything gets cleaned up all members of the household (me, my husband, and her) will be responsible for keeping kitchen and dining area clean. We also went over what is expected in term of keeping kitchen clean. She seemed fine with the change I instituted and even came up with home suggestions herself on how to keep the area clean. Has it worked? I don’t know yet. But I think since I took part of the blame (i.e. I was not a perfect example) and made it everybody’s responsibility, she took it well.

Calif mom February 25, 2009 at 9:40 am

Love it! Hope your kids are old enough to understand the tactic, or young enough to have it go over their heads. Could imagine mine telling school friends “we got bugs at our house — and even COCKROACHES — while we were away!”
: )

Vicky January 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I have an opinion, I think it is great and important to have a Host Family handbook, and I also think it is important that the Host Family write a handbook explaining what their family is like, telling the au pair what their daily activities are, what their personalities are like and anything else that could be useful for the au pair to learn about the Host Family. As I feel I would have benefited more if I had had something similar to that before I went to crete and austria. As once I went I found we were not a good match for each other at all and their were alot of misunderstandings.

Tell me what you think about this.

Marina(ex-AP) May 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm

When I arrived in the States in 2004 my hostmum had prepared a short ‘handbook’
It included:
*medical information and emergency contact details(this was also posted on the fridge)
*information about the girls, what they loved to play with, loved to eat
*how to discipline the girls(three warnings and then removed from situation)
*houserules
*I was given a curfew of 8 hours before I started work in the morning, but it was soon lifted, hostmum just wanted to make sure I’m responsible because I had a 6am start

it was only a short handbook but it helped me very much.
My hostmum emailed it to me before my arrival but we sat down at the table and went over it together to make sure everything was clear.

Andrea May 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hello, Our au pair is arriving in 3 weeks and our agency of course never mentioned a handbook! We live in Germany – and I think that the agency basically given us the sink or swim approach. This is our very first au pair and we are very excited. The initial interviews have all gone well and we are hopeful that the transition period will go smoothly.
To be honest though – I am entirely new to the au pair world and could use a lot of help in creating a household handbook. Where to start? What to include? Are there any sample templates that I can use?
I have read that some families have 20 page manuals and others over 80.
Your help would be greatly appreciated!

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