What are the best lessons you’ ve learned this year about being a good Host Parent?

by cv harquail on December 27, 2010

Kids seem to like the time between Christmas and New Year’s because they have days off to play, Grandparents visiting, parents off work, and if they’re very lucky, 22 inches of freshly fallen snow. Grown-ups seem to appreciate the time to eat a little more, work a little less, reflect on the year gone by and plan for the year to come.

Well, that’s how it seems to go in other people’s households.

In mine, this particular grownup seems to be holding it together, getting in an extra ‘to do’ item in between one load after another of snowpants and mittens. But alas, so far this holiday I haven’t found much quiet time to sit by a roaring fire and contemplate what’s gone well, and what to look forward to.

I am both impressed and overwhelmed by the ‘reflect and manifest’ projects that others seem to find time to pursue during this season. (Anyone you know doing Reverb10?). While I’d love that sense of self-knowledge and accomplishment that would come from a thorough, structured reflection, at this point I’d feel good just capturing one lesson (maybe two?) from this past year.

201012271558.jpg So let me toss this one out to you, host parents:

What is something terrific that you’ve learned this year about being a good host parent?

If one doesn’t pop right to mind, you might prompt your memory by looking over the titles of the 110 or so conversations we’ve had this past year. (You can see these listed on our Earlier Posts page— just hit ‘expand all’ to see the titles.) Let’s see if we can put together a compendium of our favorite wisdom from the year.

I nominate TakingAComputerLunch to start this one off! ;-)

image: The “Let It Snow Man” measuring the depth of fluffy whiteness in my front yard, last night at about midnight.


HRHM December 28, 2010 at 7:17 am

I think the most important thing I learned this year was mainly about myself. I didn’t realize it until it was too late for this year, but it’s going to make a difference next time around. I learned that I need an AP who is a member of the family and who I genuinely like. I loved our first AP and in the end she broke my heart. I tried to distance myself with the second and despite the fact that she was in some ways not the best AP, we all loved her (and still do!) With the third, I looked for someone older, with experience, who had lived on her own. I thought if the relationship was more professional, I would find it easier to ask her to step up when her game was falling off. All I can say is , be careful what you ask for cuz you just might get it.
She takes out the trash when the bag is full and I never have to wake her to get her to work on time. But she doesn’t love my family (kids included). This is barely even a job in her mind. She is not here to help me raise my beautiful daughters or even be a fun big sister for them. She dislikes Americans, is frustrated by my rules (although they are less stringent than the ones she had in the UK last year) and was miserable when she had to watch one DD for 3 eight hour days because school was out. She has not done anything with us as a family since the first weeks she was in our home unless I schedule it as work hours.
My DH may disagree, but I’d rather have AP2 back laughing and screaming, baking with us, going to the movies with DD for special dates on her days off, and me picking up her messes everywhere and having to remind her to finish the wash.

So now I know, in order to be a happy and welcoming HM (and HF) I need to look for an Au Pair who really wants a family. Wish me luck.

pepapmom December 28, 2010 at 7:22 am

To remember that the AP is still only 18yrs old and not to be upset if she acts her age!!!

momto2 December 28, 2010 at 8:20 am

I have learned that each AP is an individual, as unique as our own individual selves, and our children. APs are not replicas of previous APs, which is good in some cases, but a disappointing reality in some ways when you find someone who clicks with the family. I have learned to appreciate each candidate we consider matching with on their own merits regardless of age, country of origin or education, and I try to not let my experiences with previous APs make me biased. I have learned to “let go” of bad situations by chalking them up as learning experiences, but not to hold them against future APs who own nothing in common with previous APs, with the exception of matching with us. I have also learned to recognize when my family has reached its limit in a situation that is not working well with an AP. I have learned to accept that it is okay, and sometimes necessary to throw in the towel and just start over.

This year, after going through a very awkward rematch after just 3 months, we matched with a candidate from a country we wrote off as “full of partiers,” based on our experience with one previous AP. This AP is the youngest AP we have ever selected, but is by far the hardest working and most mature. She is not a partier but is focused on taking full advantage of this opportunity to better herself and her future. We are very grateful that the year has ended on a positive note.

Calif Mom December 28, 2010 at 11:19 am

In 2010 we moved from our second year hosting a loving, easygoing extension au pair (with a problematic pushover streak) to a higher-maintenance au pair who is much more interested in being a part of the family (every.single.day.), who is frustratingly immature despite her years, but who means well and tries really hard.

Lessons from 2010:

1. Being a good host mom–to some au pairs more than others–can mean an awful lot of daily management on the part of host mom in order to keep the gears moving smoothly. As someone who hates micromanaging, this being a good host mom therefore sometimes requires that I push myself out of my comfort zone in order to maintain harmony within the household. And “sometimes” means more often than I would like!

Being a good host mom requires that I never join in venting with my child when she gets annoyed with the celebrity-and-shoe-obsessions of our current au pair (in some ways, our 5th grader is more mature than her “grown up in charge”–this requires some very nuanced conversations!).

Being a good host mom means remembering that there is no perfect, low-cost childcare arrangement, so it’s good not to get too too wrapped around the dual axles of cost and work involved in hosting au pairs.

Being a good host mom has just GOT to be good practice for managing the fast-approaching teenage years for this mom of two girls. :-)

MXAP January 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Calif Mom, there is something that calls my attention, and just didn’t get the vibe of it, when you say that your new au pair is very interested in being part of your family every day, did you mean that you are annoyed by it or that is just surprising?I´m planning to be an au pair next summer and one of my motives is to consider myself, and be considered as well, as part of the family. This is the most appealing part of the program to me so I kind of thank you to clarify, and if anyone has comments about how often does that becomes a reality I’d really appreciate it.
By the way no one has explained to me what tha au pair experience is in a better way than all than all the comments and opinion of you guys!

PA AP mom December 28, 2010 at 11:31 am

This year I learned that an AP in transition can be a really great person and AP.

Our AP left in August after she completed our year and we were on the fence about continuing with the program. I got a new job and was expected to start nearly immediately. Our family didn’t have 8 weeks to wait for an overseas AP. Our placement manager suggested a transition AP. I was very hesitant, probably due to the horror stories I had heard.

I looked at 6 candidates and I thought “this is ridiculous. None of these APs are for me”. Then another online host mom told me about a young woman in Texas who was living in a family that was going through a divorce and wanted to rematch their AP.

I talked to the LCC and the AP. We decided to give her a try in our family. It’s been nearly 3 months and it’s working out wonderfully. She’s great with the kids and a real asset to our family!

Every AP and every family situation is different. I’m just glad that I took a chance.

CO Host Mom December 29, 2010 at 9:23 am

I learned a similar lesson this year. I was so unhappy with our AP, but there was nothing really “bad” about her – it just wasn’t a good fit for our family, and no one was happy. I talked to the agency and learned that if we went in to rematch there were only 5 transition APs to choose from. What a huge gamble that was for me – knowing I was letting go of an AP who came to work on time, was a good driver, and seemed capable of doing the basics of her job – in order to take a complete chance that one of the transition APs would work for our family.

Fast forward six weeks, and I am SO GLAD I took the gamble on a rematch AP. She’s been absolutely awesome, and I am so relieved to have the previous AP out of our home. I hadn’t even realized what a cloud it was hanging over our family until she had left. So this year I definitely learned that sometimes there are some great APs in rematch, and it is well worth taking a chance on them.

Tristatemom December 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Lessons learned in 2010:

1. Don’t automatically expect the worst with each new au pair. Sometimes the rules in our book “offend” a new person because they would have never thought of breaking it to begin with.
2. On the flip side: When having a good time with the AP (aka Thanksgiving Dinner), be aware that AP may want to take advantage of my good mood and make me promise something I regret later.
3. Sign up with this website??

HRHM December 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm

In response to number two – I also learned that I need to take a time out anytime our AP makes a “special request” and consider it away from her before coming to a decision. In the past, I’ve been too quick to answer and have missed some fine nuance that came back to haunt me. So now, I always say “let me think about it and get back to you” This keeps me from saying no when yes is ok and also keeps me from saying yes and then wishing I hadn’t.

Gianna December 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I just checked out Reverb10 – something I hadn’t known about . What a great experience. I am going to be doing it in bits and pieces and I want to thank you for sharing this .

cv harquail December 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Hi Gianna-
I’m so glad to hear that! I think the concept is great, and probably works really well if you know what you’re in for an make a commitment to it at the very start of the month. Still, I’ve been enjoying the emails with the daily prompts… even if I don’t have the time to write out a response, just having a moment to think about the question has been helpful. The bit challenge, though, is how to put the insights into action. cv

Calif Mom December 29, 2010 at 11:49 am

Ain’t that always the case? If you haven’t read “Switch” yet, go pick it up! It’s all about putting insights into action.

JJ host mom December 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

That a really great au pair can be a loving, wonderful influence on your family and kids, and that she will change all of your lives for the better, forever. A great au pair can make you a better parent, and can make your kids happier and help them learn and grow. And you will all miss each other fiercely when her year is over, but feel glad for having had the opportunity to know each other.

And also that it’s worth holding out for the great ones. They’re out there.

3gr8tkids December 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I try very hard to treat my au pair as I want to be treated myself. She is an adult with the incredibly important job of taking good care of our children. When there is I need to correct her I remember how I feel when I’m told that I need to do a job in a different way. As an employee I’ve had good managers and terrible managers. Even though I liked my work, terrible managers made the days long and unnecessarily difficult. The au pair role is complex because we think of them as a member of our family but they are also employees with specific responsibilities. We want our au pair to enjoy her life – with our family and have interests and activities outside of our home. Both of our au pairs have been wonderful and this has been an ideal flexible affordable child care solution for us.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Each year as a HP brings new experiences, in part because each AP is an individual, but also because our family’s needs change from year to year. I understand that there is a steep drop-off in families when their children become school-aged (and I also realize that there are several moms with only school-aged kids posting), but my needs change rapidly from year-to-year.

Almost every year there is an “Aha!” moment every AP understands that our fairness and flexibility are gifts and that in return we expect them to go the extra mile when asked. And they do.

We, too, want family members — and we usually get them.

Calif Mom December 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm

This is so true! It’s hard to predict which dynamics in your family will shift in the upcoming year, or know when your kid is going to make big leaps into the next developmental level, but of course you have to pick an au pair anyway, and hope that you pick the right skill set. That’s why I’ve always been big on hiring for flexibility.

We have had au pairs since preschool days, and it was so tough then to keep the lid on the 45 hours, even when one or both kids were in school for a few hours every day, or 3 days a week. The changing dynamics between kids if you have more than one can be another challenge for an au pair to manage. But don’t think that once your kids are in school their needs won’t change! Finding someone who can support the doing of homework effectively (consistently, with kindness and understanding, not just saying “go do it” but helping them pull up the right teacher websites, remembering to check all 3 teachers’ sites, looking at the test date and remembering that there will be choir practice the night before so you have to do the homework earlier in the week, all that kind of stuff) has been a real challenge for us.

In light of this, I see that we have had better success with au pairs who have had actual childcare experience, not just babysitting.

Long Island Host Mom December 29, 2010 at 2:32 am

What I learned this year about being a good host mom extends to the rest of my life and that is not to sweat the small stuff. No one and no one situation is always gonna be perfect. So just let some stuff slide or you will make yourself crazy. We have been blessed with an awesome au pair this time. She is kind, fun, generous of spirit and her time and her love for my daughter and my husband and myself. We truly have a great relationship and makes me realize that it is possible ! So – that being said…I realize too that it is so important to show your appreciation and it can be done in so many ways – especially by showing your au pair your thanks and appreciation. Tell them thank you, tell them how much you appreciate them – let them know how much your help means to you…its the simple things that can mean so much to them and can make things so great between you. Happy New Year All !

belljoyce December 29, 2010 at 5:13 pm

This is our first aupair experience and we have an awesome girl and a great relationship. Before she arrived, I asked a question to this group how having an aupair is different from a nanny. For us, I would say hands down it’s having someone that is part of our family is the biggest difference. Our previous nanny comes by all the time, gets and gives gifts to the kids and us and is someone we love. But it is not the same thing. Now that I’m in the aupair program, I feel that I have another person to care for and care about as a mom (as in “do you have a warm enough coat on”, do you really want to drive to NY w/ a blizzard coming?) Our girl has a zest for life and is enjoying her stay here. She loves the kids and has offered me advice on my challenging older son. She has taught my younger son manners and is helping me wean him from his pacifier. She has told me all the things she cherishes about the usa and how she will take back the lessons to her country (that we read books to our kids at a young age, christmas trees and decorating for the holidays, dishwashers !, Halloween and dressing up, all the gadgets we have for crafts w/ the kids, for steaming vegetables and so on..)

What I’ve learned — We want someone who is part of our family and the best way for that to happen is to treat her that way. I give her off when I can, am flexible when I can, when she’s sick I run to the store for her to get medicine, I tell her when I’m disappointed but am understanding that she’s learning. I help her with her English. I talk with her about her friends here. Her family. Her dreams. We eat meals together. We invite her to everything and we let her have her own time to herself and her friends. She wrote a card to my father telling him that it’s the first time she ever felt like she had a grandfather.

love being an au pair December 27, 2011 at 11:27 pm

you sound like an awesome hostmom!!!

Should be working December 29, 2010 at 5:41 pm

2010 was my first full year as a HM, and I learned that it is more time- and energy-consuming than I ever expected. Two other important things I learned:

1. To lay down the law and be the boss of the AP when she needed that, even though I like her very much and we have a family-member relationship.

2. To support my daughter in her sometimes-conflicted, crushlike relationship with the AP: e.g. help her understand that we can love people AND find them frustrating; give her insights about the sources of those conflicts (daughter talks about feelings, AP not so good at that).

belljoyce December 30, 2010 at 10:12 am

To ShouldBeWorking, I agree that the aupair program has been more work then I expected. Especially at first.

Things like helping her to get a bank account, going with her to the gym and then dealing with the ramifications when she wanted to back out of the 1 year contract because the manager had been rude to her, going to the store when she was sick and didn’t buy her own medicine because she didn’t know what to buy on Christmas Eve when I already had a MILLION things to do, getting up in the middle of the night when her aupair friend had an accident and trying to diagnose whether the injury required a trip to the emergency room (it did) and so many other little things. But I also realize that she would do these things for me and more importantly for my kids if it came down to it…

and to get back to my original post and to agree with you again, I will say that it was alot more investment and work then with my nannies. The nannies knew that it was a job, they had their own lives and places to go, they already knew the culture (though I have to say I have been surprised at how a younger girl from Brazil already knows more about music, pop culture, movies then our nannies ever did). I think the thing I worry about the most is that after so much investment that after a year, I have to do it all over again when she leaves ….

NoVA Host Mom January 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm

2010 was quite a year in our household, and I thought that rather than learning one or two really huge lessons, it was full of lots of little “good to know” kinds of things. But when I was thinking about them, I realized that most seemed to boil down to the idea that I need to do less for APs sometimes. I am a planner. To a level of nearly OCD. Especially for things that are obviously about to occur, like trips or school or big events, I want to know the timing of things: how we are getting there, when we are leaving, what we are taking, etc. Bless my poor husband, he just stands back and lets me do all the packing because I just *know* where things go. After all, I had already packed and repacked in my mind.

This year has reminded me that not everyone else thinks in those terms, and for those who don’t, I need to learn to back off. Even if it means an event or activity is missed by the AP, it was their’s to plan for and work towards completing. Sometimes being a mom, even a Host Mom, means letting someone learn from their own choices. Life is full of learning lessons, if you let them happen. (And of course, I am still a work in progress on this one. Big time.) [those who know me can now stop laughing, please] :)

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