Share One Bit of Advice for a New Host Parent

by cv harquail on December 30, 2009

By popular demand, here’s a challenge to all you host parents:

Your challenge:

Offer ONE, just one, thing you wish you knew when you became a host parent.

If someone else has already offered your #1 bit of advice, go on to share your #2 bit of advice.

Let’s rack ’em up, parents.

(Au pairs, you’ll get a turn next to offer advice to first-time host parents.)

Don’t Stop Believing by fernandosanchez on Flickr


PA aupair mom December 30, 2009 at 12:51 pm

The piece of advice I wish someone had given me before I became a host parent is:

Set the rules up front. Be strict! You can always relax the rules later.

It is much harder to establish rules once the bad behavior has started.

NJMom December 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Yes, absolutely have a handbook filled with rules and regs and go over them. Ask someone here for a copy of their handbook, customize it for your family and don’t be afraid to use it. You will be amazed at some basic things APs will not know. A good, well-meaning AP will appreciate your guidance.

A December 30, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I don’t know if I would have changed anything had I known then what I know now–I did a LOT of research before getting an AP.
So I’ll just give my #1 advice to any future host parent out there:

Look for someone who has long-term plans to work with children(e.g., wants to become a teacher).

There are two benefits here: one is that you’ll find a driven young woman with a goal, the other is that you’ll hopefully find someone who wants the job she’ll be getting rather than seeing the child care part of the deal as a hindrance to her Party in the USA.

NoVA Host Mom December 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Be very specific about house rules and think outside the box (for example, yes, it is possible for an AP to stain multiple bathroom walls with hair dye when careless and yes, she can rack up 3,000+ minutes on a cell phone all within the user plan). Do not be afraid of the rule sounding silly or like overkill. If you think it is, that means it is likely not!

My 2 cents December 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

You are not a failure as a host parent or as a person if your au pair isn’t working out for whatever reason. Avoid the first-time host parent compulsion to make the relationship work at all costs including: accepting mediocre child care; allowing household tasks to be repeatedly ignored so others will do them; accepting IOUs for cell phone overages; forgiving general inconsiderateness; and all other concessions in the spirit of making your au pair “like” you or your family more and want to fufill their year.

P.S. — These posts make it sound like hosting an AP is horrible and too much work. But it really has been a positive and amazing experience for us. First time host parents (me included, very much included!) just don’t have the benefit of perspective that comes from experience.

PA aupair mom December 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm

My first au pair year was BAD, but it was mostly because I didn’t know what to expect or how to handle situations. After that, it had been wonderful. Setting realistic expectations for myself and for our AP has been wonderful.

Mom23 December 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

It took me until 8 au pairs to get to this, but if an au pair is not working out by the end of six weeks or seems unhappy it is not worth trying to salvage the relationship and it is probably best for all parties to move on.

katie September 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm

hay Mom23
Thankyou for saying this! I am a Au Pair and was with a family that from the start didnt feel right, becouse i was 18 and was frightend of being in europ all by myself, I thought I had to fit in as quickly as possable. I formed an amazing friendship with the children but not so with the parents. I am a worm but this couple were not. Becouse they where too busy, they themselves where amazing people but hardly had time for themselves, not to mention there kids and new Au Pair. I personlly was affraid of the parent so I let it go on for 5 months!
Please Parents if you dont feel right the Au Pair, thay wont eather! I am with an amazing family now that are worm and happy.

I hope this feed back helps! good luck

PS: if you do have a meeting its 2 against one, 2 people that are your bosses and ur “family”. Maybe do a one to one its less confrunting for an Au Pair and smile!!!

Mom23 December 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Another piece of advice is that age doesn’t equal maturity. Some of our best au pairs have been 19 year olds and some of the worst in their mid 20s.

Calif Mom December 30, 2009 at 3:48 pm

This is critical. Do not ignore this tenet. LCCs will often advise to “pick someone older” but I suggest different criteria: someone who has lived on their own–or with roommates–away from Mom.

Aupairmom3 January 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I couldn’t agree more. Our 1st au pair never lived away from home and became home-sick after 6 months and left early. 2nd au pair lived away from home while in school. Was the best au pair we had so far. Independent, smart, common sense. The current au pair never lived away from home, but said she is dying to move out. Well, her lack of experience and maturity shows. She is also easily hurt and has self-esteem issues that prevent her from being able to absorb constructive criticism. so advice #2 – look for someone confident (but not too confident ;-))

Sara Duke December 30, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Actually our first counselor gave us the opposite advice. She said that if someone had not moved on to “the rest of their life” by 25 we should wonder why they wanted to be an au pair. We’ve had fantastic and mature 19 and 20 year-olds. We’ve had wonderful 23-year-olds. We’ve had oldest children, youngest children and only children. All have been different and all have been fine.

Read the babysitting/work experience carefully. We looked at one application where the candidate had done 250 hours in the equivalent of an IKEA drop-off (and wondered why she couldn’t bond with the children!!!). Read the recommenders evaluations carefully. If they haven’t given the candidate top marks, you need to move on.

Finally, look for au pairs who have demonstrated a desire to be with children (either from their high school or college curriculums). Reject anyone who makes escaping their family one of their priority reasons for coming the US (if they don’t want to live by their parents rules, why would they want to live by yours?)

aussiegirlaupair January 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I am about to turn 25, I am currently in the processes of finding a family, this will be my second time with Cultural Care, my first time was when I was 20. I was also a Nanny in Canada in 2008. I returned fom Canada in Jan 2009, brought my own home, returned to my job working in a Daycare Centre(I hold a qualfication in the field.) I thought I was ready to settle down, but the is a big wide world out there which I am still want to see. I love working with children, its my greatest joy and I especially enjoy working as a Nanny or Au Pair as the bonds and experiences you can have with the children is alot more fullfilling. When the opportunity came for me to be able to do a repeat year I jumped at the chance. I am a mature person and I may not have moved on “with the rest of my life” but I am out there getting lots of world experience doing a job I love. I don`t want to get to thirty and regret not taking the chances I was given.

MommyMia January 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Kudos to you, and I admire your outlook, Aussiegirlaupair! You sound very much like a dear Tasmanian friend of mine whom we met years ago through a teacher overseas program. Our current au pair is also 25 and is the best so far (4th we’ve had), and she knows what she wants to do after her extension year is over, but meanwhile is seizing every opportunity and experiencing every adventure that comes her way, as she knows there will be time to focus her energies to her chosen career soon enough. If you decide to extend for a 2nd year with a different family, keep us in mind – you sound like our type of au pair!

aussiegirlaupair January 3, 2010 at 2:17 am

Thanks for your comments, I am actually Tasmanian Too!! I am still in the matching processes of looking for a family. I hope to leave in June this year.

Momofboys December 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Set a limit on visitors (from the US or home country) and decide if you want visitors to be with the au pair during their work day or only when they are on vacation or taking time off

SeaMom December 30, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Really and truly disect the application and ask questions regarding it, and experiences. I relied way to much on the phone interview and didn’t realize until later that the AP was being “coached” by her Mom on replies. If it is a “red flag” on the application it will not change when the AP arrives just because they are in your home.

Sara Duke December 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I would encourage host families to communicate up front. Set the au pair schedule in advance, on a calendar to which everyone in the family has access (and point it out to your husband – mine is always clueless). Do your best to keep to the calendar and make it clear in your family guidelines that you will expect her to be flexible when the children are sick or you have an unanticipated work emergency (try not to make the latter too frequent – and if they cannot be helped, then build the time into the schedule).

My husband and I stagger our departures. I leave at 5:30 AM and he leaves at 7:30 AM. That way we can build in some flexiblity into our au pair’s schedule (easier now that both kids are in school). It also makes it easier to cover for the au pair when she is on vacation (which we require she does during a school week or a week when both kids are at sleep-away camp).

While we take away weekend work all the time, we never add it at the last minute, so our au pair can plan her down time. We do add in weekday work when one of our children is ill.

Calif Mom December 30, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Google calendar is great for this, and husband-proof! :-)

Calif Mom December 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Establish a weekly “check-in” time for AP and host parents, and stick to it. Even in an extension year, those check in meetings are key to both AP and host happiness. Maybe you can let them slide to every two weeks after several months, if things are going well, but without these meetings specifically to evaluate how things are going, problems may grow that could have been nipped in the bud. Obviously this is a good strategy for you to establish your AP’s routine and habits, but consider this:

I know it’s highly unlikely, but imagine that you hosts have an annoying habit that you don’t even know is annoying but one you could change. Having a routine meeting gives AP a chance to raise issues and for you to resolve them. Without a regular meeting, AP would have to make a bigger deal out of the annoyance than it really is, your feelings might be hurt then that she called a special meeting to discuss your annoying habit–or, more likely, she would just suffer along being annoyed for months. These things really do build if not attended to. Routine meetings are good. Very hard to schedule, but very valuable.

JJ December 31, 2009 at 12:53 am

Maybe the weekly checkin meetings would be a good topic. I’m unable to make this work so far. When I ask “how are things going?” I always get “good” for an answer. But I know there must be more… How do we get discussion going? I have better luck connecting on a more casual basis, during downtime conversation. But we still don’t have an opportunity to really bring up stuff that’s bugging us.


My 2 cents December 31, 2009 at 10:24 am

Yeah, me too. So awkward to organize and then do these. We check in with her by interacting throughout the week. I also subscribe to the belief that it’s best to correct things when they happen and not delay. But I have an au pair that I actually see every day and who is around on her off time and on weekends (even it’s in her room), so maybe that’s different?

HMdc December 31, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Maybe you can be more specific with your questions. So, she can not just answer “good” or “yes” and “no”. For example, “what did the kids do today?”, “did you have any problem getting the kids ready for school?”,”how was XX (the kids) doing today?”. I think it helps to keep the conversation going.

VA Host Mom December 31, 2009 at 12:10 pm

JJ I’m in agreement with you. I have regular one on one conversations during downtime to express my expectations with our current au pair and it still doesn’t seem to sink in. I still find myself constantly having to make the same notes about cleaning up the kids rooms, the laundry and just helping me out with kid related chores. If I don’t say something, it doesn’t happen. During these casual conversations, I try to relay what has been bugging me but always try to be tactful, not to hurt her feelings. I usually open up with, “you can help me out by making sure….”, and she is alway receptive and agrees with me and appears to understand. But I always end up having to make notes or I end up doing it myself. As you can tell I’m pretty frustrated about au pairs and my husband and I are wondering if we should even do this next year. My kids are older, 7/10 and when the kids are in school all day, my au pair doesn’t do anything but skype. She doesn’t seem to help with the kid related chores unless I say something. I do not feel that I get my moneys worth for the time that I pay her. Of course I’ve told her not to skype during on duty time and that has improved. She has a very nice personality and again is receptive when I need to steer her in the right direction but you would think somethings are obvious to her without me having to remind her constantly. Not sure if this is helpful at all but even trying to communicate my expectations still doesn’t seem to work for me.

Sara Duke December 31, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I had an au pair who wouldn’t take a hint and I finally had to order her to do things. I always assume that, as an American, I’m more direct than most people my au pairs have encountered, but with my current au pair I had to switch from saying, “I want you to…” to “You must do…” If her English were better, I would tell her that it bothers me that the only way I can get her to do something is to order her, but since I recently ordered her to work on her English (and she responded by taking several free classes), perhaps I soon will. My au pair does not work 45 hours a week, so I have no problem telling her which tasks have to be completed when my children are not at home (but I don’t tell her when to do them).

Busy Mom January 5, 2010 at 12:39 am

VA Host Mom – we have a weekly checklist of all those routine things that always seem to slip through the cracks. Laundry, straightening toys, changing beds. The expectation is that it all gets done by the end of the week and everything gets checked off. As I notice routine things that get forgotten, I just add them to the list.

Calif Mom January 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm

VA host mom. This is why we are looking at the educare program for next time. The APs have to take two classes per term, so they are not able to just sit at home–they will have to be more on top of things. I think that program will attract APs who are more driven, more achievement-oriented, and hence better at getting stuff done, as well. Just assumptions here, though. :-)

Janet December 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm

All of our AP’s say the same – everything is “Good”.

A peeve of mine – When I give explicit instructions and ask “Do you understand this?” I get back a “Yes” and then later find out my instructions were completely ignored! I have started to ask them to repeat back to me what they think I want, and this has improved a little. I also use written instructions but sometimes these go haywire, too.

My husband has the same problem so I just don’t think it is me.

franzi January 3, 2010 at 8:22 am

if you want to make sure you were understood, ask the AP to tell you what you just asked her to do. communication is tricky and only by having the conversation repeated in her own words you will know if you got through to her.

Should be working December 31, 2009 at 4:21 pm

I agree that the weekly check-in is not as productive as the agency has suggested it would be. I try to write check-in emails, but I don’t think our AP reads them!

Anna December 31, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Here is my advice. I used to do it weekly, but with our (great, actually) current au pair we slacked off, both of us… then after 6 months something (that was really a trivial thing that could’ve been solved in one conversation) came out with a big bang – LCC involvement and all – and scared me a lot.
I have renewed those meetings. They have to be formal, sit down, and scheduled regularly on your au pair’s calendar. I do them without my husband because he talks a lot. It is good to start them with praise, review the week, ask for the news, tell her your news, ask if there are any specific things with the kids? With her? With her needs? Room? Food? Very specific questions. If you feel she is holding back, repeat how you value communication and how you want to make her happy.

franzi January 3, 2010 at 8:27 am

if you have a weekly meeting, then i suggest you pick a topic or two of the past week you specifically want to talk about (kids behavior, switching from summer to winter clothes, college start, sth in school, steps the kids have taken) and then a topic from the next week (either a change in schedule, vacation plans, someone coming to visit, cluster meeting). this way you actually have to have a conversation and do not tempt the monosyllabic answers. also, during a “real” conversation it’s more likely that true problems, peeves etc will come up to be talked about.

TXMom January 2, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I find the weekly check in mtg’s to be painfully long and repetitive after the training in period. I know that AP, HD and I are tired and would much rather be spending our free time doing something else. We do them for the first few months with an AP and then I have daily communications with her afterwards. We have a pretty regular schedule, though. When something big is coming up we have a sit down – HD, me, AP. With 2 AP’s who needed correction and instructions the regular sit down was crucial, but we had to follow up with written “tips” because their English was so poor.

Theresa January 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Did you really call those things you wanted her to improve on etc., that you wrote down for, her “tips”? I think that is an awesome idea. That way, nobody’s feelings get hurt, the au pair doesn’t take it as you criticizing her, but more as you helping her and being supportive. I love that idea.

TX Mom January 4, 2010 at 11:47 am

I think I officially titled it “Helpful Ideas.” I kept the list short and in bullet form and only put down the most important information; later I add the list to our handbook for the next AP. One particular AP did not receive the info well; she didn’t accept the list as support or help. We were headed towards rematch, however; her lack of English skills was a significant contribution and I don’t think she understood the positive connotation of “tips” or “helpful ideas.” No matter how careful we are in choosing words, sometimes it is lost in translation. The list has been more successful with other AP’s.

Anonymous December 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Go with your “gut” in selecting your AP. Some of the APs that are great on paper in their application may not be the best match for your family. Someone with less (but acceptable) childcare experience may be a better fit. Rely on your instincts in matching.

And another one…. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Once in awhile your AP is going to irritate you. It takes time to adjust to having someone living in your home. Don’t obsess over every little thing that she does that annoys you – figure out if those little things are important in the big picture. Here’s an example: Our AP seems incapable of adding things we’re out of to the grocery list even though I’ve reminder her many times to do so. Still, she’s a delightful person and great with kids. If you can, overlook the little things…kind of like you have to do with a spouse. ;-)

Darthastewart December 30, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Carefully Disect the application. If you require someone who drives, ask them about their driving experience.
If you require someone who swims, ask them about that- and ask if they LIKE to swim. My current au-pair burned me a bit by that one- she said she could swim well, but turns out that she’s not comfortable taking the kids to the pool, and doesn’t actually LIKE to swim. Thus, she never, ever takes the toddler to the pool, or any of the rest of the kids for that matter.
Delve into their eating/cooking habits, and get an understanding of what they eat/when. Find out if they’re the type to eat dinner with you every night/enjoy cooking, or if they’re allergic to the kitchen- or somewhere in between.
Try to get a feel for how neat/clean they are. If you’re a complete neatnick, an au-pair who isn’t will drive you up a wall (and the reverse is also true)

Sara Duke January 2, 2010 at 10:50 pm

We asked our first au pair if she could drive, and she replied that she had owned a car for two years. It turned out that she had gotten her driving license the old fashioned way – by bribing the examiner. And yes, she had owned a car for two years!

Now, we spend about 5-10 minutes in the telephone interview assessing car driving experience, asking them about how frequently they drive, where they drive, if they’ve ever driven in a city, on a highway, does someone in their family own a car, etc.

Our telephone interview takes 45 minutes to complete, and if we cannot understand the au pair on the phone (or she cannot under abstract questions, including “Tell us about a situation when you were stressed out and how you handled it.”), then we move on.

Our new section will be “Are you an adventurous person?”

Mom to three December 30, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Really think about how you want your au pair to interact as part of the family. Let the au pair know up front how much time you want them to spend with the family while they are not working and make sure you are both comfortable with that. I feel my au pair doesn’t spend enough time with us willingly and her friend feels that he doesn’t have a family.

Calif Mom December 30, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Yes! It’s the “roommate to honorary auntie/uncle” continuum. You need to be sure you’re somewhere in the same range. Though also recognize that your AP may start off really wanting family, but once they get their bearings here–and a network of AP friends–they may shift into roommates. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Chinamum December 31, 2009 at 1:28 am

One thing? That I’m really the mom to a teenager, not just host mom. I work hard to have a great relationship and open communications, not only with my au pairs but their parents as well. I need to know what my rules are, and stick with them, and I work to treat these kids like I would my own. And, related to that – is I have to keep a sense of humor about being the parent of a teen, and remember all the crazy stuff that I did when I was that age, and try to keep everything in perspective…

Darthastewart December 31, 2009 at 4:47 pm

I have a friend who calls that being an “Au-Parent”. She says she’s not a good one.

Sara Duke January 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

I prefer to have a relationship like a favorite aunt than a parent. My au pairs come with parents – so my husband and I withhold judgment about their personal life decisions — unless we really think they’re going to be harmed (like one of our sweet au pairs who let a risky friend convince her to go clubbing just to go home with strangers). I’m usually a sounding board rather than a mom, and that’s okay with me.

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 3:48 am

Two suggestions-

First, I completely agree with the advice to choose an au pair who has lived on her own, done her own laundry, taken care of her own property and finances. This is more important than age.

Second, be flexible and generous whenever a small action on your part can make your au pair happier. It is better to live with a happy au pair who feels that you care about her. Building up this mutual goodwill goes along way when the au pair job is tough, kids are difficult, or you need extra flexibility on her part. Don’t be a stickler about things that aren’t really important to you.

Dorsi December 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm

For host families that live in small quarters (like we do) and expect a close relationship with their AP (like a big sister) a young woman who has never lived outside the home can be an excellent match.

Sara Duke January 3, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I think that type of woman works better for HF who don’t have curfews rather than those that want to impose strict restrictions. Our first AP raised her younger brother and sister while her mother went to a larger city to make a living. She had worked for several years as a pediatric intensive care nures when she came to us at 23. She was fantastic with our two kids, our special needs daugher and our son, who was an infant and toddler at the time.

Happy HM December 31, 2009 at 8:18 am

Don’t under-estimate the time it takes to ‘on board’ your new au pair. This includes not only the day-to-day details of running your house and caring for your children, but also time to get to be comfortable with each other on a personal level.
However, every minute you spend with her up front, as soon as possible, will pay huge divdends later on and is worth every second!

Bebe December 31, 2009 at 8:32 am

Lots of great advice here.

#1 – look for an au pair who is either an older sibling who helped with the younger ones, or an au pair who had a full life with both school and sports. Especially coaches/trainers can handle hairy situations, are organized and LIKE kids

#2 – don’t sweat the small stuff – if an AP is otherwise doing a good job cleaning forget about the shelf that was missed and do it yourself if it bothers you.

#3 – be very clear about what you mean – your interpetation of a task could be very different than theirs – be sure you explain and SHOW how every task should be done in your mind

M in NY January 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I liked your first tip here: either go for an older sibling OR someone who did a lot of sports and is a coach or something similar.
I am an au pair (going on my seventh month) and I don’t have any siblings except for a half sister that lives 8 hours away from me in my home country. If that would have made host families “skip” me I would have been very sad because it’s not a choice of mine not to have siblings and I can be a relly good au pair without that experience.
I am a coach though, and I did a certain sport on elite level for about 12 years which certainly helped me being responsible and caring. I know that that played in when my host family choosed me and I’m very happy about that.

So thank you for bringing up that there’s other qualities besides having taken care of siblings!
(I don’t mean to offend anyone who does choose their au pair after those qualities, I just wanted to express thanks.)

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 9:49 am

From the very beginning, take the time to remind and (gently) correct mistakes or things forgotten. If you wait until 6 months and then get fed up and try to reign her back in to doing her job it will breed resentment. If you take the time each week to go over the week (with both compliments and constructive critique) then neither one of you will be frustrated. It is easier to start with a lot of structure and relax, then to start relaxed and try to add structure once you realize that she is lazy and clueless. If you aren’t happy after 6 weeks, rematch – it’s not going to get better.

Calif Mom January 5, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Totally agree–something about the six-week mark. You either have a good thing, or you don’t, and you should absolutely not just suck it up, try harder, think you’re not a good host mom, it will get better, blah blah blah. It will not. Rip off the bandaid quickly and everyone will be happier: you, kids, and au pair.

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 10:08 am

Take the time to develop a friendship with your au pair. I know some people disagree with this, but it has definitely helped me get through some rough spots with our AP (now in her second year with us). From the beginning we made it a point to regularly go out for lunch together, do some shopping, go for a glass of wine – just the two of us. Building a friendship has made it possible for us to have open communication on a level that works for both of us.

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 6:51 pm

This last comment is what I have always done with my secretaries and personal assts at work. It went along way in the office and often has been helpful with aupairs. Occasionally, it has not made any difference with aupairs. One or two aupairs seemed to regard it as an entitlement
rather than an extra. The aupairs with whom it made no difference were just immature. One of those immature girls was fabulous with the kids – she just couldn’t keep a schedule or work more than a couple of hours without getting bored or distracted.

elle January 3, 2010 at 9:20 am

I’ve had so many au pairs since 2003 (10 in all, 6 fabulous, 4…i could write a book). The 6 that worked out well? I keep in touch with every one of them, many have come back to visit and I truly think of them as the daughters I never had!

The absolute single MOST important criteria that has declared itself (for me) to be the single biggest predictor of a successful year with a wonderful au pair is….the more volunteer experience they have in their home countries, the better the au pair…. weird, I know. However, I think it reflects how altruistic and how selfless they are, as well as how interested they are in helping others and giving of themselves.

When I look at their applications, the first thing I do is read their letters…and the one question I ask myself is “does it blow me away?” And if the answer is no, I move on. The few times I have not followed this, I chose an au pair who did not work out, hence the 4 who were sent home, and I regretted it. Not following my own selection knowledge that works for me was most likely a result of moving thru the process too quickly. Anyway, hope that helps. Happy New Year!

franzi January 4, 2010 at 6:24 am

you know, initially i thought volunteer experience = good AP experience??? but now that i thought about it and asked around among my AP friends, this is a good indicator! those of my friends who successfully finished their year (ok that does not say anything about quality just yet) all had volunteer experience. those who terminated their year early none had volunteered before.

however, i wouldn’t say that those without this experience are bound to be difficult APs. in some countries, volunteering is just not part of the culture.

Anna January 3, 2010 at 11:56 am

elle, I think it is great advice – about “does it blow me away”. I kind of came to the same conclusion, only I say it “I get a feeling of “wow, I can’t believe I am lucky enough to see her application and nobody else grabbed her yet!”, but the same feeling of “wow”. The two who produced it were winners, the two who didn’t…. went into rematch on my initiative.

JJ January 3, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Remember that the first few weeks your au pair is with you will set the precedent for the rest of the year. Be nice, of course, but don’t treat her like a guest in your home unless you mean to continue that for the rest of her stay. Don’t spend too long training her – the good ones will catch on right away, and the bad ones aren’t worth having anyway. This thread was sooo helpful to me in this respect:

TX Mom January 4, 2010 at 11:52 am

The single piece of advice I offer is READ AND PARTICIPATE IN THIS BLOG!!!! Search for topics that you are currently involved in (interviewing, preparation, training, etc.) You will be surprised how many HF’s share the same experiences and you will gain from a broad spectrum of HF responses.

Anonymous January 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Someone told me that volunteering has a very bad connotation in certain European countries : the former Soviet Union. Volunteering, I am told was a requirement of the state and not volunteer work at all. Most aupairs are much too young to remember this but the attitude would have survived in their countries and been part of their parents conscious or unconscious attitude.
Many American women have a very ambivalent attitude toward volunteering. Prior to the feminist movement, women were exspected to volunteer their time rather than work for a respectable wage.
I had a couple of aupairs who did volunteer work here and had extraordinary experiences: positive, that is. Both of them were from what was once East Germany. One aupair volunteered at a horse farm in exchange for free riding time and another volunteered as a
” candy striper ” in a local hospital.
I find the comment about people who did volunteer work at home fascinating. I always suggest that my aupairs look into volunteer work while they here. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.

Anna January 4, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Anonymous, I grew up in the former Soviet Union, and it is not true. In any case, it has been about 18 years since the fall of it, and most au pairs were babies when it happened. Now the attitudes are for sure different. But the culture of volunteerism is not widespread, and organized opportunities to do so are rare.

Ann January 5, 2010 at 5:04 am

Comming from *west* Germany, I agree with Anna. It hasn’t anything to do with the place you live. You’ll find people around the world that volunteer and others – though living in the same part of the world – do not volunteer.
for me, it has more to do with the persons character and background. parents also play an important role – they have to teach their children that work without payment or maybe without an “result” is also worth doing it – and that helping others might be more important than to only focus on yourself.

Should be working January 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm

The best tip I’ve gotten so far, apart from tips on this site, is from another host mom I met at kids’ school: “Just take the emotion out of it.” That mom said that after 4 au pairs she has learned to not be too emotionally invested in the au pair. She thought I should stop focusing on my disappointment over the au pair’s shortcomings (dull-witted, spends all her ‘off’ time in her room or out with boyfriend) and just accept this as a good-enough childcare solution.

This is clearly not in the spirit with which the au pair program presents itself, but her advice has given me permission to be a manager and ‘boss’, rather than ‘mom’ and ‘friend’ to our au pair, who has been fine enough with kids but in other respects disappointing. She also pointed out that while I’m frustrated with our au pair’s focus on her ‘outside’ life, a clingy, homebody au pair would also be not right for us.

Somehow this tip sounds negative, but I have found it freeing!

Darthastewart January 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I’m with you on that. Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself if it’s really that bad, or if I’m just being a nit-pick. Usually I’m being a nitpick.

Sara Duke January 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I find that I tend to nitpick as my au pair approaches the end of her time with us and I try to back off, because I want the time to end as well as possible. I let a lot slide because I’d rather have my kids well cared for than have their spaces in the house look like no one ever occupied them. We use au pairs because they show our special needs daughter love and affection (less our son as he becomes a prickly ‘tween). I know that our au pairs do not come to the US to live with ME and I’m okay with that (in fact, I get a little cranky if they aren’t adventurous, as it turns out).

Calif Mom January 5, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I have that same reaction, Sara: if you are a young woman with a lot of freedom of time and a little cash, living in an interesting metro area, access to a car, even–why on earth aren’t you out exploring with your friends? It will never be this easy to adventure again. I’ve even told them that! I kind of want that kind of adventurous spirit modeled for my girls. It irks me when our invitations to go with us on weekend adventures (to a friends’ farm, or looking for fossils along a creek, or whatever it is) are not accepted.

It has absolutely helped a LOT when I “take the emotion out of it” as suggested in that priceless comment above. I adjust my perspective, and remember that our au pairs are not younger versions of me. Nor am I their mom, and while I would LOVE to be a mentor to them, if they don’t want one, there’s nothing I can do about that missed opportunity. You can lead a horse to water…

Mom23 January 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

We had an au pair once who sat in her room and played online games with her friends back home. When we asked her about it, it turned out that being an au pair was her mother’s idea, never really hers. I think that her mother wanted her to get out and see the world, but that wasn’t her dream. She wasn’t bad as an au pair (she did take the kids whereever I told her to), but I felt really sad that she wasn’t taking advantage of where she was.

Darthastewart January 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

My current au-pair spends all of her time when she’s not working on the computer. (And I have to watch her to make sure she’s not on during working hours)

She at least is going to San Fran next week, but it’s a bummer that she doesn’t get to experience more of whats’ in this area- because there is SO much stuff to do.

Anonymous January 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

We have had three very successful matches, and two not so successful matches. Reflecting back, I think there are basically two kinds of relationships — the “part of the family” relationship, and the “9-5 employee/employer” relationship. Neither is wrong, they are just different.

I think it is important to know what you really want, and make sure that your au pair wants the same kind of relationship. Realize that the “part of the family” relationship involves a little more from the host family perspective — inviting au pair to outings, truly embracing them as part of the family.

My husband and I much prefer the “part of the family” relationship. We find it very uncomfortable to share our house with someone that has little interest in our family outside of their “work time.” We much prefer someone who is almost as excited about our daughter’s ballet recital as we are.

Both au pairs that we considered as not ideal because there seemed to be little connection, went on to match with families that were looking for more of an employer/employee relationship and were much more successful in that kind of environment. So, my one piece of advice would be to really understand what you are looking for, and make sure that your next au pair is looking for the same thing.

And, my bonus advice (which I read here and made a world of difference) is to let your child participate in the interview if possible. The idea being that they can look ideal to us, but if they can’t hold a 5 minute conversation with a 5 year old, they probably won’t make a very good au pair. Our current au pair passed with flying colors and has been wonderful!

Should be working January 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm

We thought we wanted an employer/employee au pair relationship, and that’s what we got with this, our first AP. But if there is a next time, I’m not sure that is what I will want again.

As I hinted in the “just take the emotion out of it” comment (thanks for the ‘priceless’ response, CalifMom–I’m also Calif, BTW!), our AP is dull-witted and on the sulky side. If she were more a part-of-the-family au pair, maybe she would be more lively. Then again, maybe she would be dull-witted, sulky AND spend more time with us–oy vey.

In either case, CHEERFUL is going to be at the top of my list if there is a next time. I have already composed the ad, where I say, “cheerful, even early in the morning!” I had not realized how that quality might be a litmus test for me.

Calif Mom January 5, 2010 at 12:49 pm

If you’re going to let your au pair drive your car, just budget in $1,000 for bodywork. Then if she doesn’t damage the car, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Our agency now has a $500 limit on what you can ask your AP to pay you for car repairs. I’m not sure that will even buy a headlamp!

AnotherCAMom January 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Our agency told us it was $250 – which was less than 5% of the bill from our van!

AnotherCAMom January 5, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I’m still learning this one, but – don’t feel bad about using au pair hours during times you aren’t at work. If you have the chance to seize some alone or couple time – do it!

JJ January 5, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Yes, we have our au pair’s schedule set up to allow us a date night every other week. One of the things I love best about an au pair – having a reliable evening babysitter that the kids are already comfortable with. Priceless.

PacificNW_mom January 5, 2010 at 8:41 pm

We do date night every week! Happy parents make happy kids! Our au pairs have a light schedule, with the kids being in school, so we tell them up front that they will do some evening babysitting.

My one bit of advice is to not have text messaging available on the phone (sorry APs). While I like to communicate via text, too many overages, texting during dance recitals, getting stuck with a bill when AP leaves, etc caused a really negative experience for us. I had to get used to not being able to text my AP, but now don’t have to worry about that behaviour. Our LCC also recommends no text on the phone to deter from car accidents.

Sara Duke January 5, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I’d rather read my cell phone log than remove the text feature. I have a ten minute limit on conversations while work (not ten minutes at a time, ten minutes, which is enough for my au pairs to tell their friends, “talk to you later, I’m working” over and over. I can see incoming and outgoing message times, and if the policy is being abused, I print it out and show it to the au pair. We make it clear that if they need to communicate while driving (and many get lost in the first 6 weeks they’re here), they are to pull over so they can concentrate on the conversation. So far, to the best of my knowledge, it has not been abused. (To the point of having to listen to cell phones beep until the au pairs finish feeding my special needs child.)

I have the outgoing au pair clear out the cell phone of all the contacts, messages, and her messages before she leaves, and I take it. My incoming au pair gets the phone I had been using the previous au pair time (so I’m the primary on telling friends the outgoing au pair is gone). I rarely use the phone and I joke with the outgoing au pair that it will be lonely without her.

Host Dad in NJ January 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Sorry, but I can;t think of a worse idea here. it’s $10 a month, you should not be stuck with any surprise bills. Kids text today – denying this is almost like saying no TV privelages to Au Pair’s, or no internet usage.

Set some usage paramaters (driving, watching kids, etc) but I have found a little trust goes a long way in this (and all)relaitonship.

Dorsi January 6, 2010 at 12:20 am

Unlimited text is not so expensive and it has been priceless for my AP who HATES talking on the phone. She doesn’t drive and this is not an issue.

Annie - Future AP January 6, 2010 at 9:44 pm

I love this website and thanks for all your tips…I think most posts have answered any questions I’ve had and probably helped me to prepare to be an awesome AP when I arrive at my HF’s house…and now I can’t wait!

Host Dad in NJ January 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Well, not surprisingly, nearly every comment (I stopped reading after a while) mentions things such as rules, re matching if it doesn’t work, rules, check in meetings, rules, etc.

Here is my piece of advice, that I wonder if many Host Parents forget. This is someone elses daughter, who is likely away from their family and friends, in a foreign country for the first time in their lives. Treat them like a family member, and not an employee. Imagine how you would feel if your daughter was flying across the world to live with some random family in the US, who is too busy to care for their kids (not my words – but think of the possible perception from other countries).

Obviously rules are important and in the end, our kids are our main priority, but I am amazed how seemingly all the advice centered around rules and regulations.

JJ January 7, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Actually I’d say that the default mode of behavior for new host families is not to set many rules, because they don’t know what to set. Which is great, if you have an au pair who doesn’t need much guidance and makes good choices of her own accord. I think a lot of us who mentioned rules did so because we’ve had some not-so-great au pairs and have needed to establish rules.

I also think rules are important in a different context. On a different thread, an au pair just said that host families really need to think about what they’re looking for in an au pair before they drag someone to this country. I think that’s true, and I think rules play a big part in this. That’s why I send my handbook, which contains rules and expectations, to candidates before we match, just to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Your point about this being a potentially scary experience for someone else’s daughter is valid. I think it gets lost here but I’d suspect most of us help out with things like getting settled, opening a bank account, helping the au pair learn English, etc. Even those of us, like me, who lean towards the “employee” side of the spectrum. But it’s possible to be accommodating and helpful without treating the au pair (and expecting her to act) like another one of your children.

CV January 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Host Dad & JJ-
It’s been my observation that more problems occur because host parents are better at being welcoming and at para-parenting than they are at having an employer-like role with someone in their household. It’s easier to be welcoming and friendly than it is to be clear about boundaries, tasks, needs, etc.
We host parents do need reminders to be kind, and I think we’re more likely to be too kind/flexible/accommodating/etc… hence the focus on setting rules. cv

Momof4 January 11, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Its nice to see someone who finally views it this way. Au Pairs are not just coming here to watch your kids. They are here for an American experience. I encourage them to see, try and do new things. We invite them along with us on all typical outings. We learn from them about their countries and take an interest in their lives too. That is the point of an exchange program. These girls (and boys) are not professionally trained nannies who are here to be the “paid help.” They are here to helpers in your family. I get so aggravated when I hear about the crappy ways some host families treat their au pairs. They are in the program for the wrong reasons.

Calif Mom January 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

IMHO, it’s not a great idea to generalize where the parents on this blog are coming from while reading any particular string. I can see how NJ Dad probably thinks I’m one of those horrid, unfeeling, business-like hosts because I posted several bits of advice that could sound rather crass and self-centered if taken out of context. While I’m sure our au pairs have criticisms, none would ever say that we take advantage of them or treat them thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately, IMHO, hosting an au pair is a more complex construct than JUST treating someone like you would your daughter. That’s a good perspective (it’s golden rule-y) but the dynamics are also more complex than JUST treating them like an employee. If you a did a Venn diagram of the family/host relationship there would be many overlapping circles.

Viewing “an au pair” as belonging on either end of the daughter–staff continuum really works. If you keep all these different roles in mind as you decide how to respond to particular situations, you will find yourself picking techniques, perspectives, strategies and tactics, from a variety of types of relationships. And through thoughtfulness (and lots of white boards for messages/reminders in different rooms) you will get closer to having a smoothly working, loving and fun household. It’s as much art as science!

Calif Mom January 12, 2010 at 9:25 am

new last graf: (editing error!)

Viewing “an au pair” as belonging on either end of the daughter–staff continuum does not work. But if you keep all these different roles (ersatz daughter, auntie, BFF, roommate, employee, etc) in mind as you decide how to respond to particular situations, you will find yourself picking techniques, perspectives, strategies and tactics from a variety of types of relationships. And through thoughtfulness (and, in our case, lots of white boards for messages/reminders in different rooms) you will get closer to having a smoothly working, loving and fun household. It’s as much art as science!

Calif Mom January 11, 2010 at 11:22 pm

completely practical, mundane tip:

If you care about your good kitchen knives, either

1) do a specific training on how you want them used, cleaned, and stored or
2) the next time your boss’s entrepreneurial son is trying to sell you a set of Cutco knives, snap them up, and set aside your good ones!

Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Same goes for your good pots!

Janet January 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm

OMG! All of my knives have the tips broken off from the AP who put them in the dishwasher no matter how many times I told her they had to be cleaned by hand!!!!

Darthastewart January 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

My (good)Knives and big mixer are both off limits. The knives are hidden, and the cheap ones are out for abuse.

Emma January 12, 2010 at 8:55 am

I know in many ways this has been covered, but rules and boundaries need to be set, I think a good starting place is on privacy and closed doors. Miscommunication about little things like closed doors can lead to hurt feelings on either ones part. It took me nearly four months to realize that my HF assumed if my door was closed that I didn’t want to be interrupted at all, even if dinner was ready. When I grew up though closed doors meant nothing more than sound management; you closed the door if you were watching TV or listening to music and didn’t want to interrupt anyone, or if the noise in the rest of the house interrupted reading or conversation. Not being asked to dinner hurt my feelings, the assumed anti-social behavior hurt theirs. And how easily this could have been avoided…

Calif Mom January 12, 2010 at 9:05 am

Oh Emma! how sad…in my house it was the opposite for several weeks at the beginning. Our AP went to her room and closed the door. At dinner, I sent the girls to knock and call her to dinner; she repeatedly said she was eating her big meal at lunch, but we kept at it in case she was feeling awkward about the whole thing. We gave up eventually–but I figure at least she felt truly welcome!

MommyMia January 13, 2010 at 12:20 am

And we’ve had the experience that we’d knock and she’d say “I’m coming in a minute.” Ten minutes would go by, so we learned to go ahead and eat while our food was hot, although we wanted to be polite and wait, but kids don’t have that much patience, and frankly, sometimes, neither do parents! She acted offended that we didn’t wait to start, to I would send the kids 5-10 minutes before the meal was to go on the table, but that didn’t work either, once she came out a few times and found that the food wasn’t instantly there (this is the same one we had who immediately would get up from the table and leave, never helping clear plates, never helping prepare food even though she told us she loved to cook!). She also had trouble not texting and talking while on duty and that’s nearly all she did while off duty, so it’s no wonder she couldn’t break off a conversation to come & eat. We got tired of feeling like we were serving her, as we expected her to interact more with the family, among numerous performance issues discussed again and again; no improvement, so we went into rematch.

Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I think I’m going to ask about this directly with the next AP – I am always afraid to disturb, but I also don’t want her to feel that she’s being “uninvited” because we aren’t knocking.

Allison January 18, 2010 at 3:55 am

Hi HF (both repeat and new HFs),
I’m 26 office exec and currently applying to do AP in USA. I have limited childcare experience which I gathered only lately. In order to meet the requirement, I’m helping my sis to preparing milk, bottle-feed and burping her new born baby boy. I’m also doing part time as schoolwork coach at a local kids learning center in Malaysia. I wonder how my chance stands in my application with this experience. I have a sporty outlook and I think I fit well into the host family as a homework supervisor, afterschool activity partner as well as protector to children from the age of 7. I look forward to interests and skills sharing with kids on swimming(learning the butterfly stroke), tennis, basketball, guitar playing and baking. Besides that, I would be glad to teach them some Mandarin or Malay languages. I have a degree in food studies and be rest assured on nutritious meals for the kids. I was also a St.John committee member back in my secondary school.

I wonder how I stand in my chances with these skills, proposed activities and targetted age range of the kids? I would really much appreciate feedbacks from you, the US HFs.

In your opinion, would you or do you think any family are looking for an AP with such values for their kids?

Thank you in advance!

Sara Duke January 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Since you’ve only recently started to have contact with children, why do you want to be an au pair when there are other work exchange visas available? American hotels and resorts used to hire foreign employees on a 1-year work visa (don’t know if the recent collapse in the American economy has made those jobs more palatable to American employees or not).

I know this may seem very blunt, but personally, I won’t look at an application where there was absolutely no childcare experience prior to the decision to become an au pair. Being a schoolwork coach, in my opinion, does not prepare you in the least for the demands of getting kids ready for school or ready for bed day after day. You might find a couple of kids cute or funny in your current work setting, but you’re not really bonding with them and your not in charge of their discipline. Finally, if you don’t know how to drive, you’ll encounter very few host families willing to take you on.

Think about why you want to be an au pair, and if living with children is really part of the reason, then think about other options to achieve your goals.

PA Au Pair Mom January 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I have to agree with Sara on this one. I wouldn’t even consider an application without a significant amount of childcare experience. I also don’t consider anyone who only has childcare experience in their own family, i.e. cousins, siblings, etc. I want someone who has taken care of other children outside of their own family.

If you really want to be an AP in the USA, I would recommend looking for some childcare experiences. Work at a camp, in a preschool, at an after-school type program. Be a “nanny” of sorts in your country for a family. Then I think your chances would be better.

Allison January 19, 2010 at 3:04 am

Thanks for the feedbacks! Just to add, I do have a driving license and have been driving since I was 18. Considering that I’m looking towards caring for kids from 7 years old and above, is it still that particular that I’ve garnered ample childcare experience in my hands?

As much as I agree that homework coaching does not help much as a solid experience, I do not think getting kids ready for school or bed is something difficult to grasp. To me, it’s like getting myself in order when I was younger with some kids’ tantrum and behaviour here and there. I don’t see as much a problem to this as it is to caring for infants or toddlers which I honestly admit I’m not comfortable with. I know where I stand and I am honestly not comfortable handling infants or kids below 7.

I observe that kids these days love to be treated as a friend / peer and it’s all about sharing and learning skills from each other on sports, crafts, musics. The era of having a big sis doing all the guiding and the kids only receiving and abiding by what’s told has ended and it’s now more of a two way interaction. They teach me what they’re proud to show off i.e the US they know better of and the big sis teach them languages, for my case Mandarin and Malay. I would say I am particular about discipline in kids and it is important that they’re instilled with good discipline when they’re kids.

Please be mindful that I’ve not thought to make big bucks or whatsoever in the US. In fact, the stipend’s not much and just about the same with my current pay here in my home country. The reason the AP programme appeals to me is the opportunity to experience first hand the way of life in an American family. The short course element also is a value added entity to this programme. I would say this programme is by far the best programme for cultural exchange right from the family unit compared to other work exchange programmes. I would be able to observe from my host siblings and experience myself the American edu system as well as weekends leisure activities by participating with the family. Other work exchange programmes tend to skew more towards the job in hand and the work culture of the particular workplace. Not too much of cultural exhange with the locals from the day to day life’s point of view and learning to dish up some local family favourites.

Allison February 24, 2010 at 1:38 am

Dear host parents,

I’ve just done a video of myself(first solo video video ever in my lifetime). It is a requirement by the au pair agency I’m registering with. I recently got my local rep reviewed and she said it needed lots of improvement. I looked too serious as I was not smiling enough and it would give host families a first bad impression by itself.

What do you think of it? Should I redo? That’s me in person. My jaw in a way doesn’t reveal much of my teeth even with opened mouth smile. My friends have also always say I look a serious person to them. It would definitely look odd if I force the expression with gritted teeth. Haha…

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