Tips for a Nervous First Time Host Mom

by cv harquail on March 16, 2016

Do you remember how excited you were, once you’d matched with your first au pair?

Wondering what s/he’d really be like? How the kids would take to her/him? How you’d all get along?

Mary PoppinsI myself was in a bit of a haze, getting ready to return to work from maternity leave, starting up classes again, and wondering how my spouse and I were going to manage two jobs, two households, and the traveling in between.

I think I was just RELIEVED when Margit arrived and was as delightful and kind as she’d seemed.  There were challenges ahead, to be sure. But Margit’s help and the warm company were so wonderful it really did overwhelm any of the difficulty.

I was lucky that I had a best friend (albeit in another city) who’d had au pairs before. Funny, she never mentioned to me any of the harder parts of having someone join your family and work with you … she didn’t have a handbook to share or a whole lot of advice to offer, but she was so dang positive about the whole thing that I assumed all would work out as well for me as it had for her.

Which, when you come down to it, is great advice:

Expect your Au Pair Relationship to be good.

The First Time Host Mom who wrote for advice didn’t ask for or give too many specifics about their situation.  She’s excited about her au pair, who seems lovely on Skype and met all the criteria they were looking for. … But still,

“It’s a big change. What are some ways to overcome my nervousness?”

Now, I know you all have a gazillion worthy tips for first time host parents….and the comments might become a free-for-all!

Let’s focus on the “nervousness” part, and on how to shift from feeling anxious to feeling excited and hopeful!



New to This March 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Spend many hours reading this site. :-)

Seriously, I found that reading all the posts and comments where people shared their experiences — good AND bad — helped me a lot. The positive stories helped me feel excited instead of nervous, but even when people shared rotten experiences, it replaced my sense of scary unknown risks with the feeling that I knew what problems might come up and had some idea of how I’d handle them if they did (or try to prevent them in the first place). Knowledge is power, and all that…

The other thing I’d recommend, that I did NOT do enough of (thanks to an unexpectedly chaotic schedule in the month before the AP’s arrival), is Skyping frequently with your au pair to be. The better you get to know each other, the less intimidating her/his impending presence in your home will be!

NYhostmom March 16, 2016 at 8:52 pm

My advice is to remember that you are the host PARENT, and replace that nervousness with excitement. A friend of mine went through a similar experience recently, and–truthfully–I don’t understand why the nerves come into play. When my friend welcomed her first AP, and she was VERY nervous! She got so caught up in the AP’s experience that she ended up stressing out over things like the house being sparkling clean for the AP’s arrival. (Not me – haha. The house isn’t a dump, but it never sparkles and AP will find that out soon enough!) Then the AP would complain about something really minor–like not being able to afford a salon brand shampoo–and my friend would instantly go out and buy it for her because she wanted her to be happy. It wasn’t long before AP became more demanding than she was helpful–basically, a princess. IMO, my friend kind of encouraged that dynamic because she was so nervous about making AP happy and worried too much about what AP would think of her. When she asked me if I had heard anything bad about her through the cluster grapevine, I knew she was in trouble. She bent over backwards for that AP!

I think my point is this: Be excited. Communicate that excitement to your AP and your kids. But don’t be nervous. We only get nervous when we’re overly focused on screwing up or on what other people might think of us. Remember that you’re the host parent. You’re the adult in charge. You just have to put your best foot forward and don’t doubt yourself!

Good luck!

WestMom March 17, 2016 at 7:25 am

I totally agree about the excitement. I was only nervous once in 8 APs, and it turned out to be with the one we rematched with. Subconsciously, I probably knew she would not be the right fit for us.

NYhostmom… I can see some moms I know fitting the description of your friend above (and I am not sure any of them have the right personality for the program TBO…). How is the host mom you described with her own kids? Is she insecure? Helicopter parent?

NYhostmom March 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I wouldn’t say she’s a helicopter parent, but I would say that she has trouble setting limits and saying “no.” Not just with her kids, but with everyone. She definitely struggles with insecurity.

It is an interesting question as to whether someone like her is right for the program. She definitely shouldn’t be the lead parent, but she may have to be with her next match. You have me thinking, WestMom, that maybe the agencies should have some sort of questionnaire to help parents decide if they might make a good host parent/family!

NoVA Twin Mom March 17, 2016 at 10:16 am

NYhostmom hit on something here – you want her to feel welcome, of course – but she’s not a guest. You can’t start out treating her like a guest because the eventual transition to working either won’t happen, or won’t work well.

Be friendly, help her with new situations, but you’re not her mom. She has family at home. Even the first day our au pairs are in our house, I will show them where the glasses are and how to use the water dispenser on the fridge rather than getting them water myself, as well as explain that they’re welcome to help themselves to _______ at any time. You want to set her up to succeed when you’re not there, not allow her to rely on you for situations she’ll encounter every day. (We really are a “member of the family” type host family, and I don’t say it in a mean way – but I don’t want to set up a dynamic where our au pair would have “learned to be helpless.”)

I think we’ve had a discussion here about not being “too” helpful at the beginning because it will backfire eventually – but I can’t find it. Again – bring a sign to the airport/train station, be excited to get to know her better – but don’t wait on her hand and foot the first few days!!

NYhostmom March 17, 2016 at 3:27 pm

Exactly! And I admit that I made that mistake at first, too. I found myself whipping up a snack for my kids and AP and as I handed it to her I was like, “What am I doing??” LOL It was only her first or second day, but it still felt _weird_. The next day I called her into the kitchen and showed her exactly how to prepare the snacks and told her to feel free to make herself some, too!

Multitasking Host Mom March 17, 2016 at 8:58 am

I do remember feeling nervous about our first au pair. What is it going to be like having this person live with us? Are they really going to be as great an au pair as they seemed to be in their application and during our talks on skype? Is this going to be the right child care for my family? Is it really going to all just work out ok?

My advice is to channel all of that nervous energy into something productive:
-Put together your family handbook if you haven’t already
-Write out a rough outline of what/how you want to train your new au pair so you don’t miss or forget anything
-Keep in touch with your new au pair every so often so you can continue to build the relationship
-Prepare the APs room. Don’t go overboard, but a few personal touch can go a long way.
-Take the kids to the library and get books about your APs country.
-And most important…read through all of the great information on this blog.

And yes, for the record…for the most part…it does all work out.

Good luck OP. I hope you and your family have a great year with your new au pair.

WestMom March 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm

I think one of the most helpful advice I can offer (aside from all the great ideas from MultiTaskHM and NoVA), is that when faced with a new request/question/situation, don’t make any impulsive decisions.

I thought I had everything lined up when AP1 arrived. But we learn soooo much in the first year and we are faced with a lot of decisions about things we might have never thought about (despite all the great advice in this blog!). It was also very formative and helped shape how we are as a host family, and ultimately the types of APs we are now looking for.

When faced with a request/question/situation, tell AP who will think about it. Then check in with your DH to make sure you are on the same page. Then check in with this blog or other groups on Facebook to get the pulse on the community. Is this a fair request? What is a fair answer? Then add it to your guidebook for next year.

So many times during our first year, I told AP ‘This is just as new for us as it is for you’. And yes, things will evolve during the year as you find your groove and re-adjust and that’s ok. What helped me was having AP understand that she was a bit of a guinea pig in this whole project and help me shape my philosophy (and guidebook) in a way that is fair both both us as family and to our APs. I often apologized…: ‘AP, you have been using the car more than I expected lately. I never fully considered the implications when I offered you to use the car as often as you’d like, but I think it would be fair for you to contribute something. Can you ask your AP friends and give some thought about what you think would be a fair share for you to help with the car?’. By making her a participant, I feel like we struck a really nice balance and it really helped me set the stage for years to come.

Good luck! It will be great I am sure!

Should be working March 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I get nervous and excited before each new AP arrives. One thing I really try to do is to channel all that into a warm-but-professional welcome. This is because with the first few APs I found myself being SO warm, personal and welcoming that it was harder a few weeks later to switch to “supervisory” mode and give feedback on things that need work.

For me it takes conscious effort to NOT be friendly-pal-sy with the new AP, at least not for the first few weeks/months. Then when it’s all good a warm friendship develops over a longer time.

WarmStateMomma March 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I completely agree with the comments above. Other ideas for transforming the nervous energy into excitement:

Have the kids make a picture or a welcome sign for the new AP (a great ice breaker at the airport).

Email her a few recent photos of the kids being cute/funny/whatever once a week. Find excuses to maintain contact – I sent my AP the links to Amazon, Gap and Target so she can get an idea of what things cost here and what’s available (they aren’t from Europe).

Frame one of the AP’s family photos from her application for her room.

Send the AP a postcard from your city to her training program. (Don’t send bulky stuff she has to pay to bring on the flight to your home.)

Plan an easy meal for her arrival dinner so you don’t have anything on your agenda other than getting to know the AP that first night. We just order pizza or sushi and ask her in advance what she likes. (This is another pretense for staying in touch when you don’t really know what to say but want to maintain steady contact.)

I make a quick itinerary of the first couple of weeks and email that to her before she arrives so everyone knows what to expect each day. (Managing expectations is important….)

Commit the following response to memory: “I will think about that and get back to you.” Deliver it with a sincere smile. This will help you feel in control and allow you to give the best possible answer when the AP asks you a question you aren’t expecting.

The AP is likely nervous enough for both of you – so be warm but firm and everything will probably fall into place.

NYhostmom March 17, 2016 at 3:35 pm

I LOVE the idea of sending an itinerary for the first few days, WarmStateMomma!! I will definitely use that in the future. It communicates that while this is a very exciting time for AP, s/he is coming here with a “job”!

WestMom March 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Yep, totally agree with the schedule for the first few days. Our APs love it. I also have in my mind that it allows AP to plan some time with friends during training, but the reality is that most APs don’t know their schedule in advance, so it hasn’t been as beneficial as I thought. But it’s still great for setting expectations.

I personally go all out for our arrival dinner. We are a family of foodies and cooking is a central part of AP’s role, so I want to set the tone that we eat home-cooked meals every night. I also try to surprise new AP with a meal she will likely have never had in her own country (Mexican, Indian, Korean…). I do prep everything in advance for her arrival which for us is around 7:30-8PM, so I have a few hours to get ready after work, which is nice.

WarmStateMomma March 18, 2016 at 1:01 pm

We actually do the schedule for the first 2 weeks. (I’m a list person.) It lets the AP see when she will go to the store to buy that thing she MUST have but forgot, when she can make plans with her new AP buddies, etc.

The actual arrival is tough for our family. I have one kid asleep and the other in her cranky time-to-get-ready-for-bed hour by the time the AP arrives at 8-9 pm. I’m sure that’s a letdown for the AP who’s all excited and hoping for a cheerful welcome…. Also, the agencies avoid direct flights so there’s a delay on one leg or another and we don’t know when the AP will arrive until her last flight is in the air.

If your AP arrives directly to your airport instead of going to training in NJ, there could be more delays. When we hosted through API (online training only), it took FOUR HOURS for the AP to clear customs. HD was waiting for her at the airport with our baby and had no idea what happened because she couldn’t contact us during that time. Ugh.

NoVA Twin Mom March 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm

I know – I’m sitting here jealous of the families that can do special arrival dinners! I usually hit the McDonalds drive through on the way back from the airport or train station at 11 PM- after I make our new au pair tell me the last time she ate (invariably, it was lunchtime). And we’re in DC, so either a 2ish hour flight (taking into account time spent in the airport) or what is supposed to be a 5ish hour train ride from training in Connecticut! The first time I picked up an au pair at the train station in DC the only thing open was Starbucks and it was closing in 5 minutes so we had to quick get water and whatever was left in the case (I think the McDonalds line was so long that it was faster to drive to another one than to go there!) Invariably the kids are asleep when we get back, and yes, the au pairs are disappointed that the kids aren’t at the airport/train station.

So another piece of advice – if you know in advance that the kids won’t be with you when you pick up the au pair, tell them in advance and tell them why. I tend to tell them at some point during orientation that I’ll be picking them up at the train station, but the kids will be at home with my husband because the train arrives at bedtime and it’s an hour drive home after that. We want the kids to meet you when they’re at their best, not when they’re overly tired and grumpy. Bring a big sign that the kids helped make, though.

An actual dinner would seem so much more homey and welcoming!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 19, 2016 at 9:36 pm

I usually purchase a fruit, cheese and cracker platter from the hotel and have it waiting in the AP’s bedroom for her and her roommates. Half of my APs have arrived after all the boxed dinners have long disappeared. I usually email them to make sure it was there (and call the hotel to deliver it if it wasn’t!)

We’re with APIA and our APs arrive on the train long after the dinner hour has come and gone, so we don’t usually provide much more than a glass of water (we do warn them to eat on the train) when they arrive. However, we go full out on their first night with us – their first American dinner.

I have learned to send the itinerary, especially since our APs invariably arrive around a big event in our year.

And, because I believe whole-heartedly in sink or swim, I try to have my APs feed the Camel dinner on their first full day. (I’ll take over if she’s just spitting and show some techniques – but at this point, most of our APs have extensive experience with people with special needs.)

Most of our APs – even the ones in their early 20s, are a mere plane ride away from being a child in their parents home to being an adult in ours. It’s a transition by itself, forgetting the whole launch into another language and culture. The less you treat an AP like a guest and the more you treat her like a new family member, the better off you’ll be in the long run!

Frankfurt AP Boy March 22, 2016 at 6:42 pm

From a au pair perspective I couldn’t agree more with the idea of resisting treating your au pair like a guest. Some say that this is so that its easier to find a more authoritative supervisor role but it is difficult to imagine that any of host parents have felt like that… To me not feeling like a guest is important in being able to feel at home in the house. I remember when I first started as an au pair a few years back I was discussing with another au pair how awkward it is to just say good night and go to bed when watching the TV in the evening with the parents. Perhaps our problem was feeling too much like a guest. I think not being a guest allows both the au pair and the other adults the freedom to do what they want in the house without worrying too much about occupying the other.

Full Circle March 17, 2016 at 9:43 pm

I’m a long time lurker and first time posting but this seemed like the perfect time. We just matched with our first AP today! I was an AP here in the US many (MANY!) moons ago and now we are getting ready to switch roles and host. As a former AP I am super familiar with the program, the AP world, the drama, the problems and all the amazing things about the program. I like to think that I am prepared, but the more we get into this process (applying, reviewing apps, interviewing, etc) the more I realize how much there is to consider as a host family.

There is also a bit of guilt here and there about my AP years (even though I think I was a great AP, looking at things from this new perspective has, well, put new light into things). As an AP in my early twenties the adventure didn’t seem that scary. It was all excitement! Now as a HM (with my twenties well behind me and in charge of the life of a little human), it seems like there is so much at stake.

Anyway, I feel very good about our match. There is a little bit of worry as to whether we made the right choice. We interviewed a gazillion girls and I felt like I had to keep asking question after question to find out everything I could about everything that was important. It was almost like i was trying to convince myself they were good matches. Then this AP came along and we knew right away she was a good match. So here’s to hoping things work out.

So I don’t have much of an advice about how to manage nervousness, but I do plan on just focusing on getting everything ready and building excitement over the next several weeks by buying things for the AP room, making the handbook, talking to HD about AP, and maintaining regular contact with her.

I do have to say that the advice to “expect it to go well” is ABSOLUTELY essential! I remember all those years ago when I matched with my HF it never really occurred to me that rematching would be a possibility. I was more than committed! Even after things became rocky, I NEVER considered rematching.

Looking back I can see how some of the stressful situations and challenges were actually more difficult than some of the situations I hear people rematch for (I know you can’t really compare situations, but I’m just saying in descriptive terms). Maybe this commitment to “making it work” made a difference and we made it work. I don’t know. I do have to say that I will have to work on this commitment now that I am on the HM side of things. The stakes seems higher since I am entrusting my little human to someone flying half way across the world to live in my house. But I know in reality, flying half way across the world to live with strangers in a different country is pretty high stakes too! Both sides are a bit nervous (as is normal) and both sides are excited. No one really knows what will happen, so working on this commitment to make it work may be worth especial effort in the coming weeks!

NoVA Twin Mom March 18, 2016 at 9:05 am

Welcome, congratulations, and this – “Then this AP came along and we knew right away she was a good match” – is often when we know we found “our” au pair for the year. It’s hard to explain how it happens until you’ve experienced it, though.

NJHostDad March 18, 2016 at 9:40 am

Hm, we are welcoming our 7th au pair in a few weeks, and in the process of interviewing we offered to match with a candidate, who for the first time in our experience, turned us down — in favor of a first time family. If you are that Host Mom, relax, you have nothing to worry about. Even if you are not, expect that this will work out fine, and put the structure in place to ensure it does.

My advice for first timers is that you need to spend time really thinking about how you want the relationship to be, then work to be sure that everyone knows what that is, you, your au pair, your partner, your kids. Have a handbook with the critical rules and have it in your au pairs room. Let her know you’ll set aside time the first full day she is there to go over it and any questions she has from reviewing it. Schedule formal meetings once a week to allow for checkpointing, questions and guidance.

Have her dive right in from the beginning and give her as much autonomy as you are comfortable with. Make sure the kids know what is coming, that the au pair is to be as respected as you are. Let the au pair know you have her back, and always reinforce her authority with the kids, never undermine her in front of them, give any correction away from their eyes/ears.

Reinforce the importance of communication, make questions welcome. Let her know this can be a little overwhelming, but that working together you can all make it successful for everyone. Encourage her to reach out to cluster members before she gets here, work with your agency rep to know where other families and au pairs are so she can have a peer support group. This is harder for first timers, so you’ll have to make more effort.

We have the first night dinner out — it reduces stress for us and lets the au pair see the area and choose her own food — it’s also neutral ground between her and the kids to get them started, and they are forced into a little better behavior than if they were at home.

Know thyself, be clear about what you want with the au pair and the kids, encourage communication, expect some bumps, but work for success.

You’ll be fine. Good luck.

Fortysomething HM March 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Another vote for printing out a picture (or two or three) from her application and put it in frame(s) in her bedroom. My APs have LOVED that. They are always so surprised and I think it always gives them a much needed feeling of familiarity amongst all the newness of training school, etc. And they have appreciated the thought and time that went into it. I usually have a few empty frames that I recycle and I tell the APs not to waste valuable luggage space with frames from home. Just bring the pix and I will have some frames!

I use Whatsapp to stay in touch after matching and before they arrive. By the time they land, it’s like we already know each other. They know what’s been going on in our lives, and vice versa. I don’t harass them with daily texts or anything though.. just random texts and pictures every few weeks to keep the line of communication open (“here’s a picture from the talent show/soccer game/recital” and “here’s a picture from Easter”.. you get the idea).

Also great advice above to set the tone early — make them feel welcome but not like a guest that will be waited on. Say things like “let me show you how to do this so you know for next time….” etc. But of course it’s like drinking from a fire house for them at first, so I also make clear that I’m here for questions and don’t expect her to remember every little detail she learns on day 1 (or even day 2 or 3).

Fortysomething HM March 18, 2016 at 2:15 pm

oops! fire “hose” not “house”… Friday Brain!

Old China Hand March 19, 2016 at 1:43 pm

We used WeChat to stay in touch with our current ap after matching and it made it so much easier for the kids to get used to her. They felt a strong connection with her already. (Ed note: WeChat is a china thing. If you match with Chinese aps, you should get an account, if not, substitute whatsapp into my recommendation).

for when and after s/he arrives, I like to think of backwards planning like I do for the courses I teach. What skills/independence does she need when? Work backward to how you will set up the environment. I can’t treat ap as a guest when she arrives because by Monday she will be in charge with me working at home. By the end of her first week, I’ll be back in my office all day. So whatever your reality is, set your ap up for success but scaffolding her first few days to get her where she needs to be when. (I sound like such a teacher… Sorry… It just is so similar to teaching college students or training them in my lab.)

LuckyHM#3 March 19, 2016 at 2:53 pm

My kids have been asleep 2 of 3 times and close to sleep this last time. First AP flight was delayed so much and missed her connecting flight that DH had to go to the airport 2 times to get her and she finally got to our house at 1am. We leave some dinner for her and I wait up. The kids get to meet her the next day.

However, we use WhatsApp to communicate so much after matching that it felt like we’d know each other well by the time they arrive. In fact, my APs and I use WhatsApp a lot even while they are here. We rarely if ever use texts

TexasHM March 21, 2016 at 7:57 pm

Ok, nervousness – here goes!

1. A little perspective. Nervousness is NORMAL. You are literally asking someone you have never met in person likely from another country/culture to move in with you for a year and care for your most precious kiddos. I get nervous EVERY round. Just like I would be nervous hiring an American live in nanny or other caregiver. In fact people that never get nervous make me nervous as a host mom because I wonder if they truly understand what they are getting into. But your nerves plus contacting this site makes me think you are in good shape!

2. Trust yourself. Go back and look at the APs profile and your notes to remind yourself why you picked AP in the first place. It is normal to be nervous but not usually for an extended timeframe like during all interviewing/matching and months leading up to arrival (if you are steadily nervous then I would dig to get to the bottom of that as the one time I was like that we ended up in rematch like the poster above). If you dig into it and find you have valid red or yellow flags causing your angst, pull the plug before they arrive and find someone you are comfortable with.

3. Set them (and you) up for success. I gradually send info over time like posters above. Job info, kid info, house pics, whatever. As it gets closer I also send a schedule for the first week and the link to an online driving course for them to complete before leaving their country. If you need them to cook, send them sample recipes. If you need them to walk to bus stop send them a video or picture. I also send a custom google map so they can start familiarizing themselves with the routes. The will be so overloaded upon arrival they wont be able to think straight so anything you can discuss/teach/send in advance when they are still in their comfort zone and excited and pumped up will get you going that much faster and likely build your confidence in AP as they crush task after task (learning routes, zipping through online driving tests, etc). If you havent already write and send a handbook and set clear expectations and discuss all the topics on this site. Ok maybe not all but you get the idea. This will also likely increase your confidence as you check all the boxes.

4. Remember the reasons you joined the program in the first place and know (from someone who has done literally every form of childcare) that the AP program when it works is 100 times better than any other option and not for financial reasons. We have family members all over the world now and our kids have been so enriched by these young women I could never do them justice trying to explain it. Net/net – the upside is HUGE.

5. Don’t be afraid of rematch. Most first timers think rematch is failure on their part. Not usually true. If for some reason the person that gets off the plane is not the one you interviewed and things go south, have a clear reset conversation and then if things don’t improve – move on! There are gems in rematch that want nothing more than a family that follows most of the rules and treats them like a human being (we have had one and hosted 3 other APs in transition). This is a job and you have specific needs. Find someone that can do the job. Be flexible and expect AP to rise to occasion and give AP clear direction and opportunity but if they can’t do the job after that, you need to part ways and that is ok. It doesn’t make it anyone’s fault or intention or a bad person.

Best of luck to you!

Mimi March 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Very well said. Like any new situation, the first few weeks will probably be the most challenging. Once you settle into a routine and the AP becomes familiar with your family and your home, it will get easier. Remember that your AP is just as nervous about her time here as you are. Be open about expectations, trust your instincts, and communicate, communicate, communicate.

Comments on this entry are closed.