The kind of question I love to hear from Au Pairs! And your answers …?

by cv harquail on March 14, 2009

I’m so glad to have the chance to highlight some of the nicest things about having an au pair. Discussing the good things not only benefits host parents who are new to the whole thing and need some encouragement, but also helps out any experienced host parents who need to be re-juiced.

Here’s a question posed by an Au Pair reader. … Can you help her out with ideas?

spread love.jpeg … After being here for almost 6 months I’m pretty sure I came to live with the RIGHT family, they are just everything I could wish for and more… I love my host family (I talk to my host mom a lot and I’d say she’s a good friend of mine here, if not the best) and I love my kids, I can see what a real family looks like here, the opposite of what I’d think back in my country reading stuff other au pairs would say. Also, they are good to me, good in a way that only my real family would be, always making sure that I have all I need, that I’m happy and comfortable. I’m really thankful for everything they’ve done to me and for welcoming me into their family and lives like that. And I make sure I’m returning all the attention and care.

Still, even doing anything in my power to make their care worth for them I don’t think I’m doing enough… being so comfortable and made at home, makes you feel like you need to do something else. They never ask me to do any kind of house keeping, even the lightest kind, but I do some stuff when the baby is sleeping or the kids aren’t home.

Well, what I’d like to know from you is: What is it that makes an au pair great? What are you looking for in an au pair? And having your someone in your house and making them feel part of your family, what would you expect back?
I just want to make their year as good as they’re making mine. And I’d really appreciate some help. Thank you, J.

Parents, no quarreling please about who gets to ask her for an extension year… my guess is that her family’s gonna try to keep her. Wouldn’t you?

So, what do you think?

1. What is it that makes an au pair great?

2. After having your someone in your house and making them feel part of your family, what would you expect back?


d March 14, 2009 at 9:22 am

I think what makes an au pair great is when you come home & you know your au pair trully loves your kids. :) When I come home & catch our au pair dancing with my kids……makes me smile in my heart. Nothing else is better than that. (no matter if the house is clean…which is totally unimportant at that point. although I love a neat & tidy home hee hee)

When you trully enjoy someone in your home as an au pair you don’t expect anything back other than compassion, love for your kids, and respect. Everything falls into place after that. When you as an au pair are understanding, willing & able….kind then thats all a host family really wants.

Things that have been wonderful for us. When our au pair offers to watch the kids so we can enjoy our anniversary or birthday for example. (which is beyond the call of duty) We never ask our au pair on weekends to watch the kids for an eve. But she offers at times as she knows…..we haven’t been out for a few mos. :) Thats a life saver in my opinion & something we totally love. She does this to be kind & she loves us.

I’m taking my au pair shopping this weekend to buy her some clothes. Just cause. No different than I would for a daughter. Thats where the relationship is meant to be. We aren’t on a timeclock. We are just a family………

Calif mom March 15, 2009 at 5:07 am

Dear J,
You remind me of our favorite AP, and remind me of why I tell people “when it works it is the BEST possible arrangement for everyone invovled”.

As for a thank-you to your host family… If they are anything like me and my husband, they could use a date night once a month. If the kids are sleeping, it’s really no extra work for you, except you would not be able to go out yourself. That seems like an easy (and cheap) way for you to say thank you. Or, if you cook, surprise them with dinner all ready when they come home from work one day. Another fun surprise would be to take the kids and make Mother’s and Father’s day gifts for them (Mother’s day is early May, Father’s day is early June — actual dates should be printed on American calendars, I don’t have one handy). You could sneak them off to a paint-your-own ceramic or art place for this, or do something with photos you take of them, and do all of that through the web. Easy, pretty cheap, very special.

But please know I don’t think your host family expects more from you! You are giving them such a gift already in becoming a lovely part of their family. I confess, I’m jealous! : )

Dawn March 16, 2009 at 11:18 pm

J, you sound like a wonderful AP, and I am sure that your HF already knows what a treasure they have and appreciates you — even without you doing anything “extra” to thank them!

For me, the most important thing an AP can do is to not only “take good care” of my children, but to really be a special friend/big sister to them and to make them HAPPY. (i.e., a “good” AP makes sure the kids are all fed and clothed and sent safely off to school each morning, while a “great” AP is so much fun that the kids look forward to the days they don’t have school so they can spend more time with her!) I personally love it when I come home to find the AP and the kids engrossed in some kind of special project that the AP came up with (with no prompting from me), or when the AP asks me if it would be okay to take the kids to some fun event she saw advertised in the paper. Stuff like that shows that she’s always thinking of new, fun things to do with the kids, rather than just doing the bare minimum to get through the work day.

Another sign of a great AP (IMO) is that she chooses to spend time with the family even when she’s “off duty,” just because she enjoys being with them. And along those same lines, it’s wonderful when an AP (whether she’s “on” or “off duty”) just notices things that the HF might need help with, and pitches in without being asked. (For example, when I am trying to get dinner ready, it’s a HUGE help for me if the AP entertains the kids and/or gets them to help her clear and set the table, even though technically she’s not “working” anymore, and that’s not one of her assigned duties. It’s something I wouldn’t ASK her to do because I try to be careful about respecting her “off” time, but that’s what makes it SO appreciated when she does it without being asked, just because she wants to help out.)

But really, in answer to your second question, I think that the main thing that I “want back” from an AP in exchange for making her a part of our family is to feel like she IS and WANTS TO BE a part of our family! We have a wonderful AP, and I just feel like her very presence just adds to our family. She’s fun and loving and enthusiastic, and it means so much to me to know that she really LOVES my kids and sees my husband and I as valued friends if not surrogate parents. That “feeling” has much more to do with just her personality and attitude as opposed to specific things she might do, if that makes any sense. (Which is why I started this comment by saying that I’m sure your HF already knows what a good thing they have with you!)

PA Mom March 17, 2009 at 6:55 am

For our family what makes great beyond just good – the connection between the kids and our AP, and the AP and each of us. That takes some time, but it’s the little things the mom’s above have noted. The things you might do for a favorite aunt to surprise her by helping. The extra hand, the smile, the little sentimental things you make do for the kids (like making a picture to save with them) or teaching them a favorite song to share with their parents or class mates. We loved several of our APs cooking – and the easiest way to remember them is to make a dish they taught and shared with us (the flan like pudding of our Brazilian AP, the cheesecake or pancakes of the Swede). Maybe suggesting a morning chat over coffee just to check in with each other – communication is key. Some of the relationship is work but the most important part for our family is personality and sharing. Once the work part is handled, it’s the extra thought that makes the relationship great. The shared St. Lucia buns and signing host children and AP, the midsommar party, the treats send by German APs mom to kids, the cookbook from “home” in English or with English hand translations. . . the notes to the children in another language with English translation. Where do I stop? But I do appreciate the help with dinner, bathing, homework, tidying and all that stuff, but it’s attitude and warmth that makes it great for all concerned. And Host Parents – remember that – your APs are your daughters in a few years. Mine keep volunteering to go to their APs when they have kids – wouldn’t that be neat!

Jenny March 18, 2009 at 2:14 am

Hi cvh, that’s really nice of you to have my comment posted here. =) I really appreciated it and the comments from all the moms who took their time to give me some ideas, I’m surely using some of your ideas, as I said before it’s always nice and HELPFUL to hear from the other side, a.k.a. “the moms”. Being from another culture makes it hard to figure out what an American family may like or dislike and even talking to my host mom on a daily basis, these questions don’t usually come up… I’ve been doing some of what you said already, just because I don’t feel comfortable being in someone else’s house and not doing my part, I’ve had people living with me before, as in MY house, and some of their postures wouldn’t please me, so I try to avoid making the mistakes that would annoy me in the past. And I still don’t think it’s enough, but in the end I see it as a good thing, because when you get way too comfortable things start getting off track. =)
And ah, in fact, my host family invited me to stay another year. I’m still thinking about it, because I guess it would be, maybe, interesting to live in another environment, and learn more about American culture from a different perspective, another family, but I don’t think I can live with the idea of living in the US and not being with my kids. That’s something to really think about and I’ve gotta confess your latest entry and respective comments made me fear the idea of extending my year. Unless I can be the exception to the rule, you never know. Anyhow, I wanna say a big THANK YOU to all of you who thought of things that could be a big help for me. =) Best, J.

china girl March 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

Our chinese au pair is wonderful. We enjoy her so much and she is great with our baby. We would love to extend with her for another year. Is this a good idea? What are some of the pros and cons?

Dawn March 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

cvh, at some point, it would be great if you could “tee up” the question of the pros and cons of extending with an AP, as a more general matter. In the current discussion of the “half full/half empty” scenario, CT Mom mentioned that her LCC has a general rule that families/APs should never extend with the same AP/family beyond the first year. I’m wondering (and obviously J and china girl are too) whether that’s the consensus, or whether other people have the opposite view. We’re a long way away from having to make this decision with our current AP — she’s only been with us for about a month — but if things continue to be as wonderful with her as they have during this first month, we would definitely want to extend with her. (And similar to what J says above, we would feel really jealous if she extended, but went to another family!)

So, is it truly a good rule of thumb that HFs/APs should never extend the same relationship past the first year (and that things always go “downhill” after the first year)? Or is an extension a great way to continue a relationship that’s already working really well?

cv harquail July 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

See the post:
Extending with your current Au Pair: A Bad Idea?

PA HOST mom of TWO Au-Pairs February 17, 2010 at 2:16 am

I would recommend extending with the same au-pair if she is willing to stay with your family and she is delightful , wonderful, and all around a good match for your family. If things are working out for you over the past year. I am sure it would continue for another year. If you step back and only for a quick second look at her as your employee, would you continue to keep her employed if she was not your au-pair. Most people in America work for the same company for many years. Why not give the au-pair the same opportunity. It’s really hard to let go of an au-pair that is committed to you and your family. If she is truly a part of your family and children’s life. I would be doing all I could to keep her after the first year. My Thai girl was with me 1 year and 10 months. Her last month she was to travel to the CA and the Grand Canyons she paid for the trip and was schedule to go. That week she came to me in tears she could not bare the fact that she was not going to be able to see us or the baby that she cared for over the past 1 and half , she cancelled her travel plans because she was so connected to our family. We miss her and I think of her often each day. We try to skype as much as possible so the little guy that she cared for doesn’t forget her. I disagree that it should not be a rule of thumb to extend with the same relationship. Value what you have and be thankful.

giulia July 7, 2011 at 5:00 am

To me the ideal aupair is someone who feels at home but does not step over some necessary boundaries: she will feel free to help herself to all the food she wants, but she will not rely on us for unnecessary things like candy, sigarettes and other things and will not drain all the junk food and beer in the house; she will not walk into my bedroom or use my bathroom, when she has her own; or ask to use my personal hygiene belongings because saying no might create a bad feeling.
She will be someone who will like to be with me but not all the time, not when I need to chat with friends and family who might not feel comfortable to talk about their life in front of strangers or when I have a half hour alone with my husband. She will not pout when instructed and will not take it personal if I try and tell her how my home is managed. She will make her time in our country valuable and not wast it sitting around at home all day every day, because I like to think that being an aupair is a cultural exchange and I love it when I see everyone is getting the most.
She will enjoy her time in our home but she will not wait to be served as she were in a bed and breakfast.
She will try her best to play with my kids and to adapt to them, because they cannot be asked to adapt to every aupair that comes in the house for maybe a month or so. She will not have to be reminded more than maybe once what her duties are. She will try and put in the amount of work it takes to have an extra person in the house.
Shall I go on :)? Was I too nasty?
What would the ideal host be like?

Anonamomma July 7, 2011 at 5:14 am

Giulia – I am going to copy this and put it in my handbook – perfect!

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