With each au pair and au pair relationship, a host family develops experience and– if we’re lucky– also a bit of wisdom about the challenges of hosting an au pair successfully. Even when we have a so-so au pair, or a flameout au pair, we can learn something useful for the next time. And, when we have a good or great au pair, we can feel really inspired to do even better.
Experience into Learning, History into Wisdom
Turning your family’s experience into wisdom can be a little tough, though. Often we don’t know how much we’ve learned, or what we’ve learned, until we have to put it into practice a second time. For example, if you’re bitten the bullet and initiated a rematch, you might be more inclined to do it sooner rather than later the next time an au pair is not working out with your family.
Experience can also be useless when it comes to “the next time”. With experiences we hope never to repeat, we get learning we hope never to use again. Remember when my au pair shared how she was afraid I wasn’t Christian enough? Not gonna be repeated. Please.
Over time, we develop a history– what happened, with whom, what we think worked, what didn’t, who was at fault, how it got fixed and how we changed our expectations about the au pair relationship. As I look back, I can see times when I thought I’d ‘learned’ something, only to find that what I’d learned wasn’t helpful the next time. Sometimes experience helps, sometimes it’s misleading, sometimes it’s irrelevant.
Incoming au pairs are usually curious about the kinds of experiences we’ve had with previous au pairs. We tell them what we think happened, what we tried to do, and why.
They know that we get weary from bad situations, and that we hope to be able to repeat good situations. They listen to our explanations about what our previous au pair relationships were like, and they try to extrapolate and make a prediction about the year ahead. Too bad that the past doesn’t influence the future in a simple, direct and predictable way.
Which is why, I think, that many of us have the same concerns about what to tell an incoming au pair– or not– as host mom SG:
I have a question that I have not seen discussed here before. We are hosting our fourth au pair and so far we are off to a good start.
(In part that’s because this site has helped me develop my ‘party girl screening’ interview questions!)
So far we have hosted a great au pair, a challenging au pair (and asked for a rematch), and a rematch au pair. Our rematch au pair did well until she decided to extend. As soon as the paperwork was signed she became a wild party girl- complete with a late night call from the police requesting that we come pick up her and our car after an excessive rate of speed incident!
Obviously, this relationship continued to decline. Because we did not choose to extend with her, I “count” as an unsuccessful experience.
My question is this: If our au pair asks about our previous au pair experience, how much do I tell her?
I don’t want her thinking that we rematched on a whim and make her feel nervous. And I also don’t want her to find out that we had a rematch and conclude that we are a mean, quick-to-rematch host family, either hard to satisfy or impossible to live with.
How do other families handle the question of what they share with an au pair about their au pair history?
SG, for all of us (parents and au pairs) it’s important not to assume that a host family’s “goodness” is reflected in its au pair track record.
Sure, if you had 4 au pairs and each one asked for a rematch, you should start to wonder whether you have the right host family approach. And any potential au pair would be sensible to be wary.
But since it takes two to make this relationship work, it’s likely that the au pairs involved in a rematch may also have contributed to the lack of success in that relationships. And of course, sometimes rematches have nothing to do with relationship problems, but with challenges at home and other issues.
For me, I think the most important thing is to explain (1) what you learned about yourself as a family, and (2) how you have adjusted your expectations, guidelines, preferences, etc. to accommodate this learning.
What else should we consider when we talk about our history?