Many thanks to Julie Dye, an LCC with Cultural Care, for putting together this comprehensive overview from the Counselor’s point of view. We’re all in this together. When we understand the perspectives of folks who hold different roles in the AuPairing Community, we’re more able to learn from them and appreciate their wisdom. ~ cvh
As a host family with an au pair, there are a lot of things you need to know—State Department regulations, your agency’s rules, and how to help your au pair get everything from a driver’s license to affordable class options, to a winter coat or even that special cheese for her mom’s recipes. There are many other things that we, as LCCs, wish you knew (but we can’t always tell you) that will make your experience in the au pair program better.
I’m going to share some of those LCC secrets with you.
FULL DISCLOSURE: We’ve had 8 au pairs in my family, of which 5 were transition au pairs who were with other families before us. They’ve stayed from 2 months to 1 ½ years—my husband calls us the “home for wayward au pairs”. I’ve worked with Cultural Care Au Pair as an LCC for nearly 5 years. I am VERY passionate about my job and therefore my perspective is one of working with and hosting through this organization only, though I’ve supported families who found au pairs through (and then switched from) several other agencies.
We wish you knew this:
1) When in matching, tell the whole truth (and nothing but the truth):
Absolute honesty would make my job so much easier. When interviewing my own au pairs, I tell them something like, “Here’s the good about our family—we eat dinner together, we live in a cool city, we will treat and feed you well we will never ask you to do something you shouldn’t be doing. Here’s the reality—I’m not your mom. I’m not going to ask how you are all the time. You are an adult in this home and we expect you to act like one. When you have a bad day, tell us and we’ll help. But if you don’t tell me, it’s your own fault that we can’t fix it.”
Brutal honesty contributes to a successful year. If you’re nervous about your car and aren’t sure how much they’ll be able to use it, say it. If you like your home a certain way, write it. If you have children with special needs or you are experiencing extraordinary circumstances like sickness or separation, include that information in both your application and during your interview. Believe it or not, it is not rare for an au pair to arrive to a family to find children with very specific needs that were never discussed or a family facing a divorce or illness that they knew nothing about. This isn’t fair to an au pair, and is unlikely to work out for your family in the end.
You might find a candidate who will say yes prior to arrival, but they are far more likely to leave shortly thereafter—and you may have missed a really fantastic candidate who would have selected your family for who you are. I have au pairs that are drawn to children with autism or Down syndrome, who love unique families or who thrive in challenging situations. Your honesty helps us find you the right candidate.
2) We wish you asked harder questions and used all resources during the matching process:
Every au pair has rehearsed her perfect answer to certain questions 100 times: “Why do you want to be an au pair?” “What do you like about children?” “What do you do in your free time?” You’ve got to dig to get to know your au pair. You must ask really unique questions to truly understand the limitations of her English, how often she’ll go out and what she’ll do when she does, if she’s messy or if she will feel anxious in a cluttered home, and if she’s the type to step up with a willing and positive attitude.
Cultural Care Au Pair has a great blog post about unique questions that I encourage all host families to use. If you ask an au pair what is her favorite room in her home and why, that’s going to give you more context to feel a connection and make a decision—plus, it shows some of their limitations of language, creativity and humor. We also encourage you to discuss anything you see in an application appears worrisome—never been away from home, not enough driving, excessive focus on education or travel, a difficult situation they have endured, limited day-to-day experience with children.
If you are uncomfortable being really direct, I tell families to say “This is the kind of au pair who will be successful in our home… [and provide several examples]. If you aren’t these things, that’s okay, but please don’t tell us you are when you’re not or we will not survive a year.”
When matched with an in-country au pair (extension or transition), talk with everyone who can give you meaningful feedback about the candidate. (Some agencies do not provide contact information for the current host family and LCC though they should and you should demand to speak with them—how can you know you are getting a thorough answer as to why the au pair is available?) Call the au pair’s LCC and get the story; ask all the questions. The LCC is the most unbiased party, so they are usually pretty good at telling both sides of the story. I would consider calling the host family, though in my experience as a host mom of five transition au pairs, I do not usually get any feedback worth a grain of salt.
3) We can’t pick your au pair for you.
No really, please don’t ask us. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding au pairs to present, particularly for some of my repeat families who I get to know really well. But here’s the thing: I’m not you. No one but you knows how your household runs and the priorities, beliefs and routines of your family. While it always feels like a leap of faith in selecting your au pair, it’s also a decision based on gut instinct, one that I can’t make for you.
4) We REALLY don’t want to stalk you each month, but we will if you don’t answer our calls.
I understand this is going to highlight an agency difference because some organizations require LCCs to call each month and some do not. To do my job, I need to hear from you every month. It’s not enough for me to send an email or leave a voicemail. I am required to make actual contact to find out how it’s going and confirm the au pair has been paid and did not work more than 45 hours a week.
Not only does my agency require this contact, but it’s during these monthly conversations that I really learn what is important to a family, that I connect with them and find ways to provide better support and service.
I’m like the Angie’s List of my au pair community and am a resource to my families. I know you’re busy. But if you don’t speak with me, I’ll show up on your doorstep. (In 5 years, that’s never happened, but I won’t negate the possibility.)
5) It’s difficult for us to have an au pair meeting without someone complaining.
LCCs spend time, thought and their own money to put together interesting meetings each and every month. I love my au pairs and we often have very fun meetings and most attend happily, but there’s always someone who is unhappy. If we ask au pairs to spend any amount of money, several will be upset, but others will complain if we are limited to activities that are free or cheap.
Our group engages in activities like campfires with s’mores, bowling, scavenger hunts, cooking, coffees, painting, Halloween parties, dinners out, dinners in, movies out, movies in, tours, bucket list creation, meetings with police, meetings with firefighters and Zumba. We can’t make everyone happy—though I do hope that at least every LCC tries. We do consider your feedback and try to respond to it, particularly if it’s constructive, which leads me to my next point:
6) If you are asked for feedback, provide it!
Again, this may highlight an agency difference, but we really want feedback. One of my favorite things about my agency is how responsive we are to feedback—both from au pairs and families, but also our LCCs. If you are sent a survey, please take the time (often only a few minutes) to respond.
A Cultural Care LCC’s pay is directly related to how families and au pairs rate us in the online surveys. If everyone is really happy with our service, we can be paid more. If rated low, our pay can go down. Not only does your feedback affect our earnings, but it translates into positive changes, big and small, including updates to our matching process, payment options, online features, training school and more.
7) The State Department regulations are there for our own good.
When families switch from a competitor agency to my group, I always say the same thing: “If you want to work your au pair more than 45 hours a week or break the program rules, Cultural Care Au Pair is not the right agency and I am not the right LCC for you.”
I truly wish every host family, au pair and LCC across the country understood that the rules are there for a reason and that is to create a situation whereby this CULTURAL EXCHANGE PROGRAM is successful.
Asking your au pair to replace the housecleaner because she wants to earn more money, promising an iPhone in exchange for extra weekend hours or refusing to give your au pair a full weekend off per month rule are all ways families jeopardize the au pair program (truly) and cause a sense of imbalance, tension and burn out. I have a mom from another agency currently matching with my organization and her au pair arrived with some ideas for ways she could make more money. They liked her and wanted to help, so they “hired” her for odd jobs they needed filled. But now, everything has become what she can do for pay and the family feels very taken advantage of. The focus is now on money, hours, tasks—pretty disappointing for a program created to strengthen human relationships.
If you need a good housekeeper or back-up babysitter, find someone else to do those extra jobs.
8) Don’t believe the gossip.
Au pairs are of the prime age range to gossip—and boy, do they! Other families are most often not as bad as the gossip you hear. A few years ago, an au pair in my group, who wanted to have the best year of her life—and that meant all the time—decided to leave and return home while her family was out at dinner. She simply left. The following week, I heard so much gossip: that they had been keeping the au pair hostage, she wasn’t allowed to leave the house and she had to run away (all untrue). I have heard it all. It’s like gossip you hear around the office—take it with a grain of salt.
9) But tell us the important gossip.
If your au pair does share information with you about a family or an au pair that concerns you, please let us know.
Good LCCs are skilled at addressing difficult topics with families and au pairs. If you think it sounds odd, outside the boundaries of the program or even dangerous, we really want to know.
10) Every new family always asks us about crazy au pairs.
More often, the really weird things we see involve host families. Enough said.
11) Cultural differences do exist.
One of my host moms called me within the first week her au pair arrived because she told her au pair her daughter shouldn’t wear a pair of princess shoes to school. The very next day, the au pair let her.
I spoke with the au pair and who said “My host mom told me she shouldn’t wear the shoes. She didn’t say she couldn’t.”
These differences are not just found in language, but in fundamental societal norms. Even safety, which often seems black and white, is greatly affected by cultural differences. Europeans leave babies in strollers outside a restaurant or store while they shop or have coffee with friends. Can you imagine anyone doing that here? We have different food, we work all the time. We talk—a lot—and expect others to engage in a similar fashion.
12) Yes, we did give your au pair the information.
Your au pair receives an overwhelming amount of information from the time she applies until she arrives to your home in the U.S. Although she may say she never heard anything about paying taxes, buying extended health insurance, packing her international driver’s license, for example, these boring bits of information probably went right over her head.
In the past year, I worked with our office in Switzerland who overseas global recruiting through each of our offices worldwide. I was able to read and review each piece of information an au pair receives from the time they first request information to the time they arrive to our Au (Cultural Care) Pair Training School at St John’s University campus. There is so much information to digest that is often hard for the au pair to absorb everything.
We are constantly working on new ways to distribute this information in more effective ways and update our training process regularly.
13) LCCs can’t often fix the problem at 7pm on a Sunday night when the office is closed.
If you ever experience an issue effecting the health or well-being of your au pair or child, by all means, call me and/or the emergency number to get immediate assistance. Otherwise, I ask my families and au pairs to recognize that we are not on call 24/7 and that sometimes a situation requires patience.
We have an amazing network and I’ve contacted colleagues at 11 pm on a Friday night when we’ve heard an au pair is in trouble—they’ve scrambled to help. I know an LCC who left her own family on Christmas Eve to pick up an au pair who was dropped off at a McDonalds by a family who decided to transition in a very unique way.
I’ve brought food to host families experiencing loss, supported families and au pairs during illness or injury, and jumped in the car to be present for au pairs when they need me. But there are limitations and we hope that you will respect that we really are trying to do the best we can.
14) Being an LCC is not for the faint of heart (and the good LCCs truly love our jobs).
About Julie: Julie is a local childcare consultant (LCC) and host mom in Colorado. As a former exchange student and active traveler, she is passionate about the cultural exchange experience and has loved opening her home and life to 8 au pairs! Julie has worked alongside families across the country and with au pairs from 25 countries. Julie is always available as a resource to help families working with any agency and can be reached through jdye.aupairnews.com.
That’s a photo of Julie hiking with her current AP and their mutual pal, Piney.