We *are* making a difference

by cv harquail on December 5, 2009

We got this email, below, earlier this week, from a mom who’s been reading and participating on the blog for a while now. I’m sharing it with you because it’s a happy story, and because you all know that my main role here is to create a space for all of us to share ideas. It’s been a very long time since I felt like this blog was my lonely little soapbox….Instead it’s really become a resource for speaking out, sharing and listening — for all of us.

JJ’s note, below really proves the whole point of the Au Pair Mom community… For all of us who comment, who respond, who read, who share offline, and who put into practice the many wise bits of advice that you host parents (and au pairs) gather here– it really can make a difference! Working to be a good host parent, and to have a positive relationship with your au pair — along with all the rest that you do to be a good person and a good parent, really does make the world a little bit better. And it sure helps to remember that.

Enjoy this note from JJ–

200912050954.jpg I’ve been reading Au Pair Mom for about a year now. When I first started reading it, we had our first au pair and things weren’t going that well, as you can see by some of the comments I made back then. But from reading, I learned so much about how to select, train, and have a relationship with an au pair.

I wanted to write again and let you know that our second au pair is truly wonderful. She is the au pair that I always imagined. I think sometimes that you get a lot of complaints about au pairs, so I’m hoping you’ll consider publishing a happy story!

Our new au pair has been with our family for about a month now. She is full of energy and creative ideas for entertaining my kids. The first week she watched the kids, she made them playdough, with a recipe she brought with her! The kids love her, and vice versa. She kisses them goodnight when they go down for their naps, and cuddles them when they need it. She’s smart as a whip and caught on to the daily routine with only one day of training.

She takes initiative to find new activities to do with the kids so they all stay engaged and challenged. She fully understands the concept of how to cook a balanced meal, complete with a variety of fresh vegetables, and feeds my kids yummy things that I wouldn’t have even thought of. She communicates well with us so we know how the day went.

We have a great balance of family time vs. outside friend time. We eat dinner together most nights, except some nights when she’s out with friends, and some nights when my husband, or I, or both, are out with friends. She’s been here a month and has already made lots of friends in the au pair community and goes out often on weekends, which is great for us because we’re so busy on the weekends we don’t have a lot of time to hang out.

During the interview we asked her “What kind of relationship do you want with your host family? More like roommates, or more like close family?” She said roommates, which is what we were looking for too. I think this was a crucial question for us to ask and I’ll definitely ask it again in the future.

She’s lived on her own and fully appreciates what goes into maintaining a household, in terms of both effort and costs. We all take turns cooking dinner two nights a week. She cooks delicious food for us too! She pitches in with things like dishes without being asked. When my husband or I ends up short on time and orders takeout, she offers to pitch in on costs. Of course we’d never take her up on it, but it’s still so nice that she offers. She says “thank you” a lot.

200912050956.jpgAnd so do we! We tell her how much we appreciate her, that she’s doing a great job, and that it helps us so much to know our kids are in good hands.

In retrospect, our first au pair was a lot worse than I realized at the time. But I learned a lot from my time with her so in a way, it was kind of okay. Still, in the future, we’ll be a lot pickier about who we choose, and we’ll rematch sooner rather than making all of us miserable trying to make it work, now that we know how great it can be!

CV, I’ve learned so much from reading your blog. I have to attribute at least 75% of our current au pair happiness to you and to the fabulous readers of your site who have such great advice. Of course, at least 25% is luck, too, but it’s so nice to know that now I’m armed with information so I can tip the odds in my favor in the future. You all really did change the world for this host family, CV. Thank you!

New Forest Ponies by jystyn on Flickr

Horses in the Snow by Steffe on Flickr


PA au pair mom December 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm

what a great story. Thanks for posting it.

I too am having a wonderful go round with my second AP after a not so terrific experience with my first.

MommyMia December 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm

You could be describing our current AP, who has also been with us just a month, with the only exception being that she is still looking for some friends to do things with. The other girls in our cluster are not known for reaching out, but I’m sure she’ll soon be busy on the weekends, after starting classes in January. It is just amazing that we, too, are finally experiencing what we had been hoping for during our past 3 tries. We thought we were asking all the right questions and matching with nearly perfect fits before, but became very jaded and disillusioned at the rampant lying and deceptions that were used to further the APs own agendas. We, too, will never endure another so-s0 or sub-par relationship now that we know that there truly are some gems out there. So glad that others have also been successful in finding them!

Anna December 5, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Can you all happy host moms please share which countries your au pairs are from, and if you think that the culture there had anything to do with how your au pair integrated into your family?

MommyMia December 5, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Gladly. Ours is German, but I’m not sure if it’s the culture so much as just her vivacious personality, energy and her own family experiences and closeness. She also happens to be older (25) and unlike all our previous “princess” au pairs, has worked several different jobs, immediately bonded with both our children and is affectionate while also being stern and no-nonsense when necessary. We have heard more thank-you’s and expressed appreciation from her than we had in three years with all our other APs combined, which of course makes all of us happier and more willing to accomodate, although she doesn’t “use” us like the others did, either. Plus, her English is excellent and she’s a good driver – and having had another German AP as our first, we know that those aren’t necessarily a given with that culture.

PA au pair mom December 6, 2009 at 1:21 am

Our wonderful au pair is from Sweden and is 21 years old. She had travelled extensively (all over the world) and has held a full-time job for several years before joining our family.

She is a wonderful and responsible driver and she has excellent English as well.

JJ (was New APMom) December 7, 2009 at 12:05 am

Our au pair is from France. We’re a half-French family so yes, I think that had a bit to do with how well she’s integrated, but our last au pair was French too and wasn’t integrated at all. I think it has more to do with the fact that she’s lived on her own and, like MommyMia’s au pair, has a great personality and a lot of energy, and is very self-driven.

Anonymous for this December 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

Both of our au pairs have been German and under 21. Looking back, our first was more “okay,” but the current is awesome! The first had pretty bad English, but the second was teaching English back home.

I don’t think it has anything to do with where they come from or how old they are myself. We didn’t select Germany either year, it just worked out that way because our agency has a lot of young German girls in the program.

CT Au Pair December 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Hello! I dont know if this is the right post to do it, but I will. I am on my 10 months and my HF whats extend another year with me from the first month, but now things are setting down, and I feel my “great ideas” from the begging are just thing from every day, I have 2 smart girls (4&6) and even if we don’t have so much free time, I want to know what kind of games or ideas you can give me to be the great Au Pair I was/am. Host Parents, what kind of things do you would like your AP does with your kids, besides of read a book or coloring?

My 2 cents December 7, 2009 at 11:14 am

I encourage our APs to get out of the house with the kids and do physical activities because I believe that is just as important to learning as the more traditional stuff like reading and drawing. So do things like the library, the park, the pool, have some play dates, etc. Also, you can start teaching these young ladies some life skills and personal responsibility by having them help make their own lunches or help prep the family dinner (young kids LOVE to help in the kitchen) and help with their own laundry (what little person doesn’t love ripping off their bed sheets and dumping them into the washer and pushing the buttons?).

Sara Duke December 9, 2009 at 12:00 am

I paid for several activity classes (music, art, sports) out of the home. My au pair got to meet nannies, moms and grandmoms and had a great time. My son has loved baking with au pairs, making their traditional Christmas cookies and sharing traditional activities. He used to love going shopping with them. He loves going to the movies with au pairs, too. Not everything has cost extra money – sometimes it’s a walk, a trip to the museum (we live near lots of free museums), or even the supermarket. My daughter loves swimming and walking around the neighborhood. I have a long checklist of free places and inexpensive activities that my children love and share them with au pairs. If you’re running out of ideas, ask your host mom for help.

A December 14, 2009 at 12:41 pm

CT, you could ask your host family for this book, which I highly recommend:
Also, you could do seasonal craft with the kids, so that you don’t end up doing the same thing day after day–like leaf collages in the fall, homemade ornaments for Christmas, valentines in February. Our AP does some of this. She also takes the kids to the craft store. I don’t know how long they spend there, but I know they don’t buy a lot of stuff, they just look at things.

Anna December 6, 2009 at 12:07 am

CT Au Pair, things that would impress me, is to start teaching my kids to be more self-sufficient and take more responsibility around the house, and real life skills. Involve them more in making beds, doing their laundry, cleaning their room, give them more chores and responsibilities, maybe even teach them to make simple dishes for themselves (this with host parents permission of course). 6 year old is old enough to learn to sew on a button, maybe even mend something simple.
Teach them things about safety, rules of the road, etc.

Calif Mom December 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

CV–this might be a good separate posting.

Anna’s suggestions are right on. I was so happy when I was folding a load of laundry and my 5 year old “showed Mommy” how to fold sheets with a partner! She learned that from our au pair. I would love nothing more than to see more of this, showing how “chores” can be fun. Play “beat the clock” to empty the dishwasher, etc (we can do it in under 3 minutes!)

Mom should not be the only person who sorts toys into their appropriate containers. It bothers me when an au pair does the chores herself FOR the kids, rather than WITH the kids, teaching them.

Other games? Well, teach them to braid, tie their shoes, etc. What games did you play when you were little? The kids will like those, too…

Great question!

Jeana December 6, 2009 at 7:39 am

I was so glad to see this letter because this is how great it can be for families that choose to host an aupair. Our positive experiences have been with aupairs from Germany and China. What I hope new families really take from this letter is what we must do, as host families, to increase the odds of a truly great experience. There are absolutely wonderful young women waiting to match with the right families. I agree totally that inquiring about the type of relationship that a potential aupair hopes to have with the host family is an essential question to ask. From talking with other host families I know that we all have different needs, expectations, and hopes for what will be a successful experience for our families. I’ve been so sad to occasionally read posts here, when families had a bad experience, blamed that on the aupair, and assumed that most aupairs were not worth the effort, and walked away from the programs. I suspect some of those families were not prepared to give the time to learning from other host families, looking for the little clues in an application that would make experienced families hit the delete button, and asking the questions that will further weed out poor matches. I suspect some families forget that many of these girls have not lived independently, are not familiar with how to use many appliances in our home, and are in culture-shock upon their arrival. I learned early on that I could not assume that our aupairs knew how to do something that I’d been doing for years, as a mature mom. I learned that multi-tasking was something that was new to some of our aupairs, and the multi-tasking that a mom does is not something that a new aupair is able to do. I had two situations that did not work out, and I accept full responsibility for that. These aupairs did not go into rematch, but were removed from the program. Why would I accept full responsibility? Because we’re talking about caring for my children and bringing someone into our family, and I am responsible for learning how to look for information in the applications, and asking the questions that will increase our chances for the wonderful experiences we’ve had. We’re now toward the end of our experience with our fifth aupair, and my children are both in school full-time. When our current aupair leaves, we’ll have a different form of child care, and I’ll miss the incredible experiences we’ve had. Our successful experiences have been with aupairs that came to our family prepared to give as much as we were prepared to give. When I say “give”, I’d like to clarify that I’m a single, adoptive mom, employed as a teacher. Providing this form of childcare has been a challenge for me, financially. We “give” by welcoming our aupairs as a part of our family, and include them in almost every family activity. As we don’t have a car to give to our aupair, I’ve done a lot of driving through the years, because getting to school is part of the program. I’ve driven our aupairs to places where they need to take special tests for continuing their education, after they leave our family, met with school counselors to help our aupairs understand their options, attended a graduation ceremony, hosted goodbye parties, invited aupair friends to join our family for family events and holidays, driven aupairs to the airport when they take vacations, asked about their plans, inquired about how their other aupair friends are doing, ask how their family at home is doing, ask if they’ve called their mom lately…I’ve welcomed their family in our home. In my experience, our successful experiences with aupairs have been the ones that came, truly hoping to help our family, and thankful for the help and support that we’ve offered. They recognized that we couldn’t offer the trips and car that many families can, but we offer a lot of love, support, and attention. I’ve told each of our aupairs that I want them to look back on their experience, years down the road, and be thankful they chose our family. It is a two way street, and I’m so thankful for this forum to help and encourage one another. I will always take the time to share our experiences, because as our time comes to an end, I truly want to encourage others to know what a blessing this opportunity can be for their family. We only have a few months left, but I’ll still be stopping by to see how you fortunate folks, who still have an aupair, are doing. I’m so glad that we’ve had this experience for our family. We’ve been blessed more than more folks, as my daughters were both born in China. We’ve learned a lot about their birth country through our Chinese aupairs, and we now have friends who have offered their home and support when we visit China, in the future. Priceless.

Calif Mom December 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Beautiful and wise.

My 2 cents December 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

So true! The gift of personal mentoring, support, and just overall inclusiveness is worth so much more than the money from our experiences. The au pairs that don’t understand this are the ones that either aren’t up to the task or will come to understand the hard way that it’s more sad and lonely when you don’t have a surrogate family, but do have a car and an awesome iphone.

Nadia December 6, 2009 at 1:19 pm

It is so wonderful to read about the positive experiences and testimonies from families that can share why things are now working out. When you are new to the program, there are all sorts of ideas and expectations… It is difficult to understand the program completely until you have lived it.
When I talk to families, I really try to identify what their specific needs are based on the ages of their children, their schedule, their expectations, their “family system”. I try to help them to ask the right questions when interviewing an au pair candidate.
And since we are dealing with humans with unique family background, education, socio-economic levels, really it is difficult to generalize what type of au pairs are “the best” and avoid generalizations…
I was 18 when I was an au pair, from France, experience with different age levels, traveled quite a bit by that time and stayed abroad 1 – 2 months at a time, and good driver although just got my driver’s license (many hours of driving classes are required in France)… I think it took some faith from my host family to choose me, with 18-month-old triplets and a 5-year-old girl… and 3 au pairs that lasted 2 – 3 weeks after their first “perfect au pair”. We had a great experience together though and are still friends.
I would welcome your advice on my blog as well on the posts about “interviewing an au pair candidate” and about “communication tools”.
Also, I have aupairmom’s blog listed under “My Links” because she has such wonderful advice… Let me know if you want yours listed too!

JJ (was New APMom) December 7, 2009 at 12:03 am

CV, thank you so much for posting my letter! Again, thank you, and thank you to the wonderful people here, for giving such great advice.

Janet December 7, 2009 at 9:20 am

Our family has hosted five au pair’s. Only one AP was really bad, one was so-so (she became a really good AP at the end of our year together but by that time we had already renewed w/ another AP), and three AP’s that were/are great!

Just like our kids each AP is different, and we have learned not to judge our new AP based upon previous AP’s. We treat our AP’s like we would want our children to be treated if they were in similar situations.

Overall we have had a really good experience hosting AP’s, but we will be glad when we won’t need to have so much help – our house is small and it will be nice to have some personal space again not to mention the true financial cost of hosting an AP.

Anonymous December 7, 2009 at 3:59 pm

You know, I always try to keep in mind the idea that families have the opportunity to grow as host parents. We learn from every aupair and we are constantly having to change and grow as our children change and grow. The aupairs , on the other hand , are only here for one year or perhaps two years at a specific time in their lives. I know that one of my not so great aupairs went home and grew up into a wonderful young woman. But she was not at that point when she lived with us.
Families are often living the most stressful period of their lives career wise and family wise during the aupair’s time with them. The aupair does not always get to see how they have learned and grown. Sometimes it is just a matter of timing. Their is , of course, no teacher like experience ( or a blog community ).

CT Au Pair December 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for the advise!

I really think they are great HF and great AP, but also I think there are so much misunderstanding about been an AP, for me CC (in the cases I know, I don’t know another agencies from Europe), but I am from LatinAmerica and know a lot of AP, than didn’t understand what is been an AP, they sell you the idea in your country that you are going to be part of the family, and they are just rich families, and you are going in vacations with them (like if the HF go on a different place every month) and you are going to be available to study something good, and of course look after the kids, but as a Family member no like an employee. And when you come here, you get dessapointed because is not what you thought is going to be. I know great girls from Colombia that came back to their contries because everything what they been told is not what they found here. They sell you very well about been part of the family but, been honest, at least in my case, with a family is not really loving or they don’t kiss or hugs each other (as I do with my real family), I feel as an employee and not like a sister or something, also I need to say they are really nice people and we match perfect, but that doesn’t works for everyone, and been a loving person and I try to teach it to the girls, is a big step for them, they even hugs they grandparents when they come home without been asking when before they need to order to do it. So I really think, maybe in not all the cases, also I know another AP whome came here with the idea of just party, but is really important ask to your AP if they understand what is been an AP, and they need to work hard with the kids, with another rules and in another country, sometimes can be more difficult for us than the HF, we came with dreams and some come back to their contries feeling they failed.

Darthastewart December 8, 2009 at 10:39 am

This is one of the things that bothers me most about how agencies recruit in some countries. In fact, most host families are not wealthy, travelling somewhere new every month. Most of us are 2 income families, who need quality childcare for our children. Many host families cannot afford the cost of having an extra car for the AP to drive. And, working 45 hours/week can be quite hard, especially when dealing with kids.

I wish that the agencies doing the recruiting would do a better job communicating the realities of being an au-pair in all the countries they service. (I think that some, like Germans, and now Brazilians, do a pretty good job with their info, but some other countries paint it as all rainbows and kisses)

Sara Duke December 8, 2009 at 11:54 pm

We have had four fantastic matches and now have one trying-hard-but-rather-shy au pair who is great with our handicapped daughter and okay the rest of the time. I like to think that having a medically fragile 11-year-old who requires total care (from diapering to feeding) weeds out the party girls from those who actually like children (and to party), and our current au pair is no exception. (We automatically delete applications where it is clear the candidate only got enough babysitting experience to apply for the program.)

However, I am going to add a series of questions to my rather long list of questions for my next round of telephone interviews, and that is, “Are you an adventurous person?” While one would think that traveling halfway around the planet to plop yourself in a new country without people you don’t know makes an au pair adventurous by default, I now have firsthand experience that it doesn’t.

I have lived abroad, and I remember crying one day when I desparately needed a new pair of jeans and couldn’t figure out how the sizes worked. I sought out the information and went back to the store, armed and ready. My husband lived in Moscow for a year when it was still the Soviet Union. After the initial shock, we both adjusted because we were in it for the adventure (as well as completing our dissertation research in the alloted year). I like to think that we’re empathetic to culture shock, to the need for time to adjust.

Our current au pair has found it extremely difficult to adjust and we have invested an enormous amount of time and energy to help her acquire those skills (why? because dear husband hates training new au pairs, hates the getting-to-know-you month and I acquiesce to him because he’s the one who actually spends all those hours doing driver education — and my daughter is happy. Sometimes that is enough.)

I’ve been down the road using nurses, and I can tell you, every au pair has been far superior to the best nurse. The difference is love.

CV December 9, 2009 at 6:32 pm


I love the question “are you an adventurous person?”… When i talk to my girls about about au pairs’ motivation and also why they are departing, I describe the au pairs as being on their way to their ‘next adventure’. I think it sets up a nice perspective on what the year is all about, and makes departure feel more normal and positive.

It’s also kind of hard to imagine anyone coming to the US for a year without being adventurous by nature– though I have seen the reality of shy au pairs, au pairs who were homebodies, and au pairs who were simply afraid to get out and about… so your question would be a great way to start a conversation about what a prospective au pair thinks it’s all about!

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