We’ve got a lit of different terms floating around to describe the written information that we give our au pairs. We call them handbooks, manuals, guidelines, and rules. (And who knows what our au pairs call them!)
For the purposes of our conversations here on AuPairMom, let’s try to lock down the terminology.
A Host Family Handbook is that big binder, stack, or drawer-full of information that we give our au pairs. It is intended for our au pair, so it should be called an Au Pair Handbook. But we call them “host family” handbooks because what makes each handbook unique is that they reflect the concerns of a particular Host Family.
The entire set of written, textual information that you have for your au pair about your family, your house, your community, and her general well being.
All the descriptive information about how things in and around our hose work. Including, but not limited to, how to use the microwave, where to get a bus schedule, the password for the garage door, and a list of emergency phone numbers. Much of this is the sort of information you’d find in a well-organized vacation rental house.
Also, in the ‘manual’ section, you’ll have information about calling 911 and the Poison Control Center.
Your description of what you’d like your au pair to do with your kids, with your family, in your home, during her or his year. This includes “advice” like “Take the second to last train”.
All the important information about your children, including their daily schedules and routines, the names of their favorite stuffed animals, and procedures for making bottles, making play dates and picking kids up from school. Some people might put this in the guidelines section, others in a section of its own.
“The directions that must be obeyed.”
“Those ‘guidelines’ that must not be broken.”
Rules include statements that begin with the words “never”, “no”, “always”, and “We require”. Statements like:
- No texting while driving.
- No smoking.
- Always wear a seatbelt.
- Always put the children’s safety first.
- We require you to get a state driver’s license before you can use the car for personal transportation.
Rules vs. Guidelines
We host parents make a subtle distinction between rules and guidelines. Rules are concrete, specific, measurable. Breaking rules will send an au pair into rematch, breaking rules will put our kids, au pairs and homes at risk.
Guidelines are more like advice, explanation, directions regarding “how” we do things. Guidelines are what you want your au pair to follow. Not following a guideline will irk you or disappoint you, but won’t always send you and your au pair into rematch.
We have rules but hate calling them rules.
Personally, I dislike having to say to a 21 year old that we have rules she needs to follow. But guess what? It turns our that we have rules she needs to follow.
I think that I have been embarrassed at times to call these things rules, so that I have lumped them underneath the word “Guidelines” to make them seem less draconian and to make me seem less like a control freak. But truth is, there are guidelines and there are rules, even if I use the same more gentle term for both.
I probably should stop kidding myself into thinking that if I call everything a Guidelines that we seem less rigid, more flexible and more fun. But while we’re flexible and fun in some areas, there are areas where we are very very firm about what’s okay and what is not. I think that in my next Handbook revision, I’ll make more of a distinction between rules and guidelines — in part to force myself to be clear about what our standards are, and in part ot make it easier for a n au pair to distinguish the “must do” from the ” really, really want you to do.”
What’s in your Host Family Handbook?