What if Au Pairs came with their own “Handbook”?

by cv harquail on April 16, 2011

For every new host family, our #1 recommendation is to write a family handbook.

Most of us here at Au Pair Mom firmly believe that getting our household rules and family-related expectations down on paper helps us be clearer about what is important to us as host parents, family members, and heads of household. Plus, we know that having a handbook helps our au pairs know what to expect from us.

201104161505.jpgBecause we believe in handbooks so much, we have shared with each other our templates, our examples, the lists of important categories, and individual tips.

Which makes me wonder–

What if au pairs came with a handbook of their own?

What information — beyond the basics offered in an au pair’s application materials — would we like to know to help us know what to expect from them?

Wouldn’t you love to see the categories of information (e.g., sleep habits, music preferences, fantasy American vacation spots) that you’d like au pairs to put in a handbook? Or what Au Pairs themselves would want to put into a handbook?

Wouldn’t you like to know what types of imformation (we think) our au pairs might like us to have? Maybe au pairs might tell us how might like to be taught our childcare practices, or whether they prefer to read the alarm system manual before being shown which button to press!

Let’s try to crowdsource a ‘template’ that we could offer to au pairs who wanted to write their own handbook… ?201104161502.jpg

See also:

Are “crazy” Au Pair guidelines really all that crazy?
What can an Au Pair expect from a Host Family?
What exactly is a Host Family Handbook?

Images: I’ve started to write a book….from lo83
Write from spaceamoeba


German Au-Pair April 16, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I hope I’m getting the purpose of this comment right:
What I would want (and most definitely will) share with my host family is a cultural thing that has caused much trouble with German au pairs in American host families. Apparently a closed door in the USA mean “Stay out and leave me alone” (I actually heard about au pairs who haven’t been asked to dinner because they had their doors closed).
In Germany however it is absolutely normal to keep you door closed at all times. I just can’t stand an open door and close the door to my room even when no one else is at home.

As for the sleeping habits…I’d rather not share that with my hostfamily as I am most active at night when I have the chance (when I can sleep in late or know I can nap after 4 hours of work in the morning). I find it extremly difficult to have a normal rythm of sleep but I wouldn’t want my hostfamily to know as they’d think I’d be irresponsible. (Which is not the case as I know how my body works. If I have to work during the time my body normally crys for a nap, then I need to adjust my sleeping habit and not stay up that late -period.)

What about neurotic habits? Would you hostfamilies like to know about that, even if they don’t primary concern you (but -who knows- might one day)?

Taking a Computer Lunch April 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I think the closed door issue is a valid cultural point (although I always assume that au pairs need to be invited to the table – especially in their first days when they are shy – but it has been our son’s job for years to knock on the au pair’s door and tell her that it’s time for dinner). Sometimes our APs have hung around until dinner, but most want a little break. However, that’s the purpose behind cultural exchange, isn’t it – to learn that more than language differs.

As for the issue of sleep – I think it is incumbent on the AP to match with a family to which she is suited, and not to match with the idea of “just getting here.” If you need a 4-hour midday nap, then you should match with infants and toddlers who will need less sleep during the course of your year. You’ll need school-age children who will be out of the house most of the day. (On the other hand, matching with infants and toddlers will prepare you for whatever life has to throw at you.)

I’d rather have an AP say “No thank you” then to go through the motions (of course I have The Camel who is extremely efficient at weeding out the willing from the could-be-willing).

German Au-Pair April 18, 2011 at 4:49 pm

No, what I just meant with the sleeping issue is that I wouldn’t want anyone to conclude anything from habits at home (not just sleeping but in general) because I think a year abroad is a totally different thing.
Do I love to hang out and watch DVD a lot? Yes I do. Do I want to waste my year abroad doing so? Hardly. This list could be continued endlessly.
That’s what I meant with the sleep: Do I love to sleep in late during a normal weekend when I can see my friends later that day? Definitely. Do I want to sleep through my off weekends? Gosh, no!
You know what I mean?
I’d just rather have a hostfamily get to know me in person than have me write down my routine at home.

Just completely off topic, but I have always wondered: my I asked why you are calling your daughter “The Camel”? I know it’s a nickname to stay anonym, but I’ve also wondered where this nick came from.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 18, 2011 at 9:35 pm

She protects her airway by spitting and is capable of launching food a meter or so. Of course, that is the least of her problems, but before we called her The Camel we called her The Queen of the Geckos when her tongue was always in hyper-extension like many of her other muscles (it stuck out all the time). We love The Camel and wouldn’t trade her for the world, and have been extremely grateful for the 6 APs who have cared for her so well. And we have seen the dark side – when we had “free” nursing we went through 25 nurses in 11 months, including 5 that failed to show up for shift without notice, leaving The Camel at the mercy of loving neighbors and a bus driver willing to ring everyone’s doorbell.

Mostly I call her The Camel so that it distinguishes her from a typical child for you all. My APs work their butts off and I know it — but I also don’t ask them to do anything I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself.

HM Pippa April 19, 2011 at 4:30 am

“I wouldn’t want anyone to conclude anything from habits at home because I think a year abroad is a totally different thing.”

I think that is a romantic and fairly unrealistic idea of the transformative power of being away from home. I believe the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you never clean your room at home, you probably won’t regularly clean your room abroad. If you stay out until 3am at home, you probably won’t be happy with a midnight curfew. If you usually plan the weekend activities for you and your friends, you will probably plan activities abroad. This is why I would like some insight into what an AP’s routines, habits and behaviors are at home. I’m not looking for the perfect au pair, just a good match. One can’t assess a good match without good (truthful, factual) information.

I think AP applications are more often aspirational than truthful: APs put their best foot forward, give the “right” answers, and say what they think (or are told) host families want to hear. They say how they wish themselves and their situation to be. I think many aspects of host family handbooks do the same thing: describe how the host family wishes the situation to be.

I do not see fault in aspiring to be different (better?) than one is. But I would rather base a match on an honest idea of the actual, historical behavior of the person coming to live with me, than a starry-eyed description of how they want to be.

German Au-Pair April 19, 2011 at 10:10 am

I do see your point, however I think it’s not “the transformative power of being away from home” but rather the plain change in routine. When I went to school myself, I had a different daily routine than I have now that I work.
When I will be taking care of my hostfamily’s children, I will have to adjust to their routine and when I will begin to study one day, then I’ll have to adjust to the shedule my classes dictate me.
I do agree that you only can get to know a person about what she is like NOW. But flexibility is a must, I guess.
For exmaple: when I get the chance in the weekends and have nothing better to do I’ll visit a friend in the evening, watch DVD until the middle of the night and sleep half through the next day. But when we plan something fun to do than of course I will get up early to do so.
That’s just what I mean, I feel like one changes his or her habits according to opportunities and nesseceties, wouldn’t you agree?
However you are right, SOME things have to be clear before you match with a family and I definitely wouldn’t have been happy with a midnight curfew. I also wouldn’t be happy with a family who would want a strict working relationship. Things like that should be clear right from the beginning, I think.

HRHM April 19, 2011 at 10:51 am

I agree with HMPippa, that while an AP may PLAN on adapting as needed, that is not always possible, even with the best intentions. I don’t want to hire an AP thinking that she is a morning person, a clean freak and an avid outdoorsperson, only to find, once they arrive, that that’s what they aspire to, but that they actually sleep til noon, their mom cleans their room and they are not found of heat/cold/bugs/sun.

And while I know that ALL people put their best foot forward, most of us HMs do the “dare to match with me” approach and make it sound worse than it is because we want to get someone up to the job and the only way to attract a power-house AP is by laying it on the table. (the others will run in the other direction, in theory). Whereas the AP does the opposite, answers all the questions to make us think she is what we want in hopes of getting to America – and I’m sure, assuming that she can become what she says she is (or believing herself to be close enough)

You will be hard pressed to find a HF that false advertises that they have a huge house, nice AP car, live in a great area, have 1 child in school all day – only for the AP to arrive to a squalid shack, no car, 3 kids in diapers and in the middle of no where. On the other hand, we have all heard (or had first hand experience!) of APs who absolutely fabricated work experience, said they could cook and obviously couldn’t, had little to no driving experience but listed themselves as daily drivers, etc. More often than not, the “smaller” lies that seem harmless many times end up being the things that affect the match the worst over time. (the big ones usually result in early rematch I think)

Anna April 17, 2011 at 2:35 am

Keep in mind that I am still shell shocked by a horrible au pair experience this past week. (Yes, we are in rematch and need someone ASAP).

I would like to know if the au pair is a morning person or not
I would like to know if they drink coffee; and if they eat meat, do they expect it daily?
I would like to know if they are suffering from disabling PMS that makes them uncapable of work on “those days”
I would like to know what they think of telling white lies; and what they think of lying in general. And even more importantly, how do they define lying?
I would like to know if they lie to their mother about where they are and with whom they are
I would like to know if they ever plan to clean their own room when here.
I would also like to know what grades they got in school. It shouldn’t matter, but I found a correlation in my own experience.

German Au-Pair April 17, 2011 at 7:35 am

I’m sorry that you had such a terrible experience with your au pairs…sounds like she was a mess.
But I think those things you listed there are the risk of taking an au pair. Who would answer them honestly when they know it will reflect badly on them?

When my future hostmom told me she wanted to know if I stayed out all night so she wouldn’t worry I honestly told her that I wouldn’t even mind always telling her exactly where I was and with whom I was with. I think trust cuts both ways and I am used to telling my parents these things.
To me it seems absolutely normal to share your life with the people you live with…but if you are smart enough you certainly can fake an answer like that.

But then again I don’t think you were serious with your suggestions so just let me virtually hug you for having this horrible experience!

Gianna April 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

It sounds like you had a very unpleasant experience – what a drag ! Remember that old joke … one person says I never lie, one says I sometimes lie , and one says I always lie … who is the liar ? Lying is really terrible because it prevents the lied to person from making intelligent decisions about their life . Like: don’t place with this aupair. I do not think that this can be helped by encouraging aupairs to create a handbook. I think that an ” aupair handbook ” will give the impression that these are the rules to which the family should adjust. No matter how nicely we describe it, a handbook is , at bottom, a book of rules. It has always been my understanding that the aupair must adjust to the host family rules. Families, on the other hand must follow the basic rules of the program. Families should behave as kindly and generously as their means permit. The worst thing about lying is that it makes a relationship impossible. Maybe an aupair handbook could be called something else like ALL ABOUT ME or something to that effect.

StuckWithoutAupair April 17, 2011 at 3:11 am

Like Anna, I’m also shell shocked by the rapid departure of what seems to be a not-so-great actress of an aupair!

I would like to know if they think lying is ever acceptable.
I would like to know if they are just planning to put on an act during the time they are with our family.
I would like to know if they have/ever had an eating disorder.
I would like to know what they’re thinking about when they come to a family with young children and have no real intention of committing to the full term.
I would like to know if they really read the family duties statement when they say they’re agreeable to it.
I too would like to know if they have pms and morph into something evil.
I too would like to know if they ever plan to clean their own room when here.

Ugh! I’m going to fly solo without an aupair until I’m well and trully over the last one!

Anna April 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

OMG, sounds like our experience was almost identical!
About staying the full term, too – my au pair told me two months into it that she wants to leave after 6 months!!!!!! I, foolishly, agreed – although I had an impulse to rematch right then and get someone with more commitment. I would have saved myself a lot of aggravation and saved my children from real danger. It is a miracle they are still alive and well.
I wish I could fly solo, but I have to go to work tomorrow!

MNTwinsPlusOne April 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm

These are scary comments, I feel so bad for you and your families that are going through this!!! I got really lucky in rematch to find someone in our state and who is now going to stay another year. I am terrified to match with someone after her term is up though. It seems like nothing you can do to “screen” is good enough because the au pair either doesn’t think it through (or maybe doesn’t fully understand), we don’t ask the right questions, or some may do whatever it takes just to get here??? Has anyone found a set of questions that might be good indicators of some of these issues people have brought up?

Anna April 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm

After having liers twice (and after the first time, I thought I improved my matching process to ensure it doesnt’ happen!), here is my new plan:

1. Ask about grades. Only consider firm B and A students. (There is a theory that people who feel they are not bright, are more likely to try to compensate their real or perceived handicap with trickery and lying). My experience bears this out, the three rematches we initiated were the worst students grade-wise. Two of them lied, and one didn’t disclose the circumstances of how the stroller broke (two years later my daughter told me it was hit by a car with them inside; she still remembers the car, three years later).

2. Ask for a phone number of their best friend or good friend who speaks English. Call up the best friend and ask the following: “does she smoke only outside, or sometimes smokes inside the house”? and “does her boyfriend support her year abroad?” – yes, for those girls who claim not to smoke and not to have a boyfriend. If the answers don’t match the claim, stop considering the candidate.

3. Trust your gut during the matching process – wait for a “that’s it!” feeling. It fooled me once. Three times it didn’t. Go gut!

4. Do not consider a candidate whose only reason for becoming an au pair is that their friend did it and liked it. I thought it is innocuous; the girl turned out to be overly influenced by friends and friends were her life (to the exclusion of her work).

Calif Mom April 19, 2011 at 12:35 am

We’re a bit off topic, but it seems like the gestalt of the site these days is tilted toward interviewing and finding that great au pair we all dream of.

Ann has great points here.

Can’t say it strong enough, but listen to your gut instincts! If you have a whiff of “hmmmm, not sure why but there’s something I don’t….” BOOM~ hit decline and move on to the next one. Don’t even try to figure out why you have this feeling, because then you put yourself at risk of talking yourself into her. And that’s bad. I know you don’t have time for all this reviewing and interviewing. Doesn’t matter. Trust me. I just learned today that former au pair had a habit of doing stuff she wasn’t supposed to then telling my kids to not tell me. I’m so angry I could spit. My first red flag — driving home from orientation she told me she didn’t want kids of her own, ever, no way. Should have turned back around and dumped her on the counselor.

Our last au pair had good grades from a crappy school, so don’t rely too much on grades as a panacea.

“I want to travel” is a red flag. we take our au pairs with us when we can–I need the help when we travel!– but that is NOT a reason to want to spend a year looking after kids.

birth order and/or sibling experience! I’m a new, big believer in having an au pair who experienced a similar dynamic to the one your kids have at home. This is a newly discovered common denominator in the au pairs we’ve had who were GREAT with both my girls — they all had sisters themselves (and they were from rematch). Not all were older/oldest, either. They understood the dynamics better than the au pairs who only had a brother.

Remember that correlation does not equal causation, but sometimes it’s the best we have to go on! So try to stack up as many correlates of success as you can, listen to your gut, and cross your fingers.

New one: don’t be afraid to pull the plug during the time after you match but before the AP arrives. My very first sign that this last one who ended in rematch was a self-oriented person came when she stopped sending me emails in the weeks before she arrived. I mean for weeks! I even asked this collection of wise folks about it, and my counselor. That was my gut screaming at me, and I ignored it. shame on me.

Another quickie: try to discern the au pair’s political leanings, and be sure they’re not opposite of yours. That can really grind on you!

Don’t forget about your counselor, if you have any sort of connection with them and respect for their experience at all. My good counselors have been better at being ruthless in declining candidates than I am. In the long run, that’s a kindness.

Anna April 22, 2011 at 9:55 am

Thank you, CalifMom, for reminding me about being decisive with my instincts. I read your post and just hit “boom” on the two most recent candidates my agency sent me.. One was actually a very strong candidate but my gut was not too happy…

formerAupairIreland April 17, 2011 at 4:37 am

Hi there,

I am not sure if I like this idea at all!

Why would you write a handbook each and pass them around? Sit down together, show your Au-Pair that you really care about her and discuss things with her!

Yes, it might make sense to have a few important things written down (like the time when your child has to be at swimming lesson or when school finishes), but I can not see a reason to write EVERYTHING down. Why would you even bother to have a conversation after you know ALL about your Au-Pair (and the Au-Pair ALL about the HF?).

That said, it might be a nice idea to write something TOGETHER. Some book where everyone in the family can include their ideas on a great year together. A book that can be kept and adjusted throughout the year and that the Au-Pair can keep in the end ;).

HRHM April 17, 2011 at 7:48 am

“Who would answer them honestly when they know it will reflect badly on them?”

Exactly how we end up with bad APs. These girls may be young, but they know (some with coaching) how to answer most of those questions so that they come off in the best light. Seriously, an AP handbook would most likely be useless, since most things we’d already know via interview, application and living with an AP. And for those of us with TERRIBLE AP experiences, no she never mentioned that she a)didn’t really like kids, b)was only coming to the US to travel c)was entitled, spoiled, immature d)lied about her previous child-care experience in any of those venues, so chances are that she wouldn’t have put it in her manual either.

Having said that, I DO think it’s useful in your pre-arrival or early newly-arrived conversations to suss out details about how you are going to handle meals (ask each time, leave a note, assume unless told otherwise) weekend sleep (don’t bother unless she’s up and about, knock to invite to events, meals) and food preferences (buy her own, shop together, do a list) This could be done in a written question/answer format, both to eval her language skills and also to have written proof later on of what you agreed to!

PA AP mom April 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm

When our princess au pair told me that she “hated kids” after 11 months with our family, I was upset. I talked to our incoming au pair about it and she admitted that in Germany the agency tells you what to say in the application to make families “like” you.

Being deceptive is encouraged in order to find a good family and get to the USA.

German Au-Pair April 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Yes, that’s true, the German agencies REALLY prepare you what to say and which questions to ask, but they also -imho- give you great opportunities to get to know the real deal. They invite you to meetings with former au pairs and the interviewer asks you “what would you do, if…” questions and stuff like that.
But those things like get togethers with former au pairs really just help the ones who really WANT to get into it.
But really…anyone who is at least a little bit smart at all could figure how to answer certain questions in a “right” way.

What I never got is why the agencies (and that comes from the American ones, if I’m not mistaken) drill the au pairs not to upload pictures with them partying and drinking…I think if they left it up completly to the au pairs which pictures to upload, potential host families could at least filter out the ones dumb enough to get drinking-pictures in their application.

Amelie - ex au pair April 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm

German au-pair, that’s because they want all girls to match with a family. (I know that because I’ve worked in a local office for a major au pair agency).

Ex au pair as well April 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I currently work for an au pair agency, granted it is a smaller one and I work only in the outbound area. But we do not want everyone to match. We do want to find good matches and good au pairs, but bad matches and rematching just cause problems for us and the families. I encourage au pair applicants to be completely honest, and in fact, I send them to this website so that they know what kind of problems can come from a bad match. If an au pair seems like they will be a problem, I don’t accept their application fee and I don’t send their profile out.

On the note of the AP handbook, I think it would be a good idea for a couple reasons, it would give you a good idea of their English skills (as far as writing is concerned), and for au pairs that really want to be there, they will fill them out honestly, because they know that the more informed the host family is, the better things will go. Although I think if it is written in an attacking manner, you may just put good au pairs off of your family, you don’t want to frighten them away, moving to another country for a year is daunting enough.

HM Pippa April 19, 2011 at 4:01 am

Our first and most successful AP was remarkably self-aware and honest in her application. So honest that she admitted that she had smoked two times (although we only learned this when we received her original documents–the agency had her white out that sentence, she told us). She wrote it without coaching or help. When she arrived, we spent lots of time getting to know her, but very little time having to adjust our expectations to a different reality of her.

Every other AP we have hosted has, to greater or lesser degrees, lied about who they are. White lies, lies of omission, bald-faced lies, lies of self-delusion. Little lies and big ones. We have spent a lot of time adjusting our expectations to match the “real” au pair. The little lies, intentional or innocent, create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust, and there is no room for that at the beginning of an au pair-host family relationship.

I would REALLY rather know who I was inviting into my home and adjust my expectations before the AP arrived, than discover a different truth during the first weeks and months.

UKAuPair April 17, 2011 at 10:25 am

Family handbook = great idea. I will be very happy if I find a host family with a handbook, because then at least I know what they expect of me.

Au Pair handbook = good idea in theory, could be really bad in practice. Why not ask the questions you’d like to know the answer to at interview, then the Au Pair has no time to prepare for it and especially if you are using skype you will be able to see her reaction.

I believe and find it sad that that many, many girls lie on there applications, surely an au pair handbook is just another chance for them to lie?

Sorry to hear of so many bad experiences, Anna, I really hope you find someone soon!

HM Pippa April 17, 2011 at 11:44 am

–what do you eat, and when? what does your typical breakfast/lunch/dinner look like?
–at home, do you eat meals with your family or does everyone eat on their own?
–what table manners did your parents teach you about?
–what behavior/manners do your parents expect at family meals?
–who decides what food will be prepared for a family meal?
–are you vegetarian? do you plan to become vegetarian during your year?

Friends and Free Time
–do you have a big group of friends or just a couple of close friends?
–what are their personalities like?
–how long have you known them?
–how do you usually keep in contact with them?
–how often do you and your friends get together?
–what do you do with your friends in your free time?
–how do you decide what to do?
–how do you get there?
–what do you do when you are alone or your friends are not available?
–what do your parents expect to know about your plans?

Steff April 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm

In my opinion, something as a ‘Handbook’ per se wouldn’t be the greatest idea, BUT, something like these questions, answered before arrival by the AP, imo would be something good for HFs to know beforehand. I think the whole point of the cultural exchange is about BOTH sides to learn how to live with one another, but I guess that in order to match with an actual ‘suitable’ match at the very least, some of the basics should be shared between AP and HF.

IMO, these questions would be great to ask the AP; it’s not as if they’d be “demanding” said treatment but just so that the hostfamily can be able to know (more-or-less) what to expect of their newAP behavior once she gets to your home. (Just like we do with the handbook with the rules and “do” and “do nots”.)
These questions asking her just how her regular days are in her home-country are pretty great if just to know how the AP is on her regular-basis and what she’s probable also somewhat expecting it’ll be once in the States.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm

A lot of the questions/concerns that the posters above have written can be asked in a telephone/Skype interview. My telephone interview lasts between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on the English abilities of the candidate (the shortest was 15 minutes, but that’s because all she could seem to understand is “Do you like cats?”). To me, they don’t belong in a handbook.

Personally, I try to keep my handbook upbeat – the only don’t do this is about smoking. Otherwise, I explain: Here is my guideline, and why I expect you to follow it.

I have noticed, in my own life, that I am much more willing to forgive an infraction if the AP works hard, goes the extra mile, and is part of the family, than the AP who is closed off from the family and has to be told every day exactly what to do. I will also say that as the au pair begins to close out her year, I’m much more likely to be frustrated by “the little things.”

1stimeHM April 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm

In review of the post and the comments, I began thinking….do I really want someone to arrive to my home (open arms on my end) with a set of guidelines that apply to them? NO. Our family guidelines pertain only to the care of the children and the home. It is not person centered, but family centered. I feel as if an AP handbook would be a “person centered” document. Do we give our employers a handbook on how we should be treated and what we expect? we cover this in an interview, or two or three…..as should an AP interview. I also used skype and only skype to interview with our entire family for the matching process. We did so 4 times with each candidate over a 2 week period to cover the basics. I am seeing too many stories about princesses and so forth and feel an AP handbook would lend to that behavior upon arrival to a HF. Does anyone agree? I do think a list of questions or a check off list would suffice, but it doesn’ t set the tone of “This is what I expect”…..maybe I am not experienced enough, but I thought it was a working relationship not a line in the sand approach to being a HM/AP.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I don’t think of a handbook as a “line in the sand” although others may. While most of my handbook consists of very specific medical information about The Camel and how to recognize when to call us, the HP, out of work, I do have a few pages of “guidelines.” I don’t call them rules, because most aren’t rules. For example, I’ve been fortunate in the 10 years I have been hosting never to have imposed a curfew. My APs did what they needed to do and knew better than to yawn at the breakfast table and expect sympathy from me. However, over the years enough little things have happened so that the following lines appear in my handbook: “Do not leave candles unattended in your bedroom.” “No one smokes in the cars – ever.” However, most of the handbook is made up of tips – how to answer the phone, when to expect to get paid, the fact that her schedule is posted on the common calendar, and the fact that we pay for doctor’s appts. if a child makes her ill with something (other than a cold) that requires treatment.

I didn’t have a handbook with my first AP either, but I did with my second.

That being said, every AP has run up against my handbook in some small way (doing her laundry on the weekend which is when I do the big family wash, letting a friend smoke outside her bedroom door). None of these were deal-breakers for me. Rather, a “Please review the handbook moment.”

But I have a question for you – how to you manage to Skype APs up to 4 times? With the time zone difference, DH and I can barely find time to offer one interview – and then we follow up with emails afterward.

1stimeHM April 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Good stuff! I agree with your approach. I did not write the guidelines (as we too call it) prior to her arrival. We only had a page or two of schedules and basics related to the children, but now we are “building” our handbook as we go along due to the things that we are all learning.

I was soo nervous about interviewing, I put an unreasonalbe amount of time into it! I had just had baby #4 and the oldest is 6. About the skype thing, we did 1 intitial, waited a few days (emailed around) and then 2 scheduled back to back over a weekend, and then one unexpected to see if they answered the call. We were fortunate that several of the interviewees where only two hours off in time. The one with the greatest time difference made the sacrafice and spoke to us in the middle of the night! looking back I am wondering why I did not pick her and ended up with a princess:( I chose rapid responders and didn’t want too much mulling over my questions because I wanted honest answers from their own view, not a coached view. As I found out, my current AP had assistance with a page of questions I sent her to answer. Maybe next time, I will do more of these on skype and a little less personality matching. I may have to make my skype interview longer like yo and only do one or so. Our 3-4 skypes were only 15 mins each time.

UKAPinOz April 18, 2011 at 12:23 am

I like some of the questions that Pippa asked, some of those were asked by my HF in the first few weeks but probably would have been better asked in email/on skype.
I think that an AP handbook could be faked – just like for job applications and in CVs if you are looking at a piece of paper you can skirt around the truth and write the thing that is going to paint you in the best light. I think they would be best asked on Skype because then APs won’t have time to think up the best answer, they’re just gonna have to tell the truth.
Another few questions I would suggest would be:
What would you do if you got homesick?
What are your weekend habits? – I suggest this because my family seem to like it when I go out and their previous AP basically went out on Friday night and came back Sunday evening and they were perfectly fine with that and I’m not sure if I was a HM if I’d be comfortable with that…

HMinWI April 18, 2011 at 8:53 am

I think this post is a great place for people to hone their interviewing techniques since I can’t imagine anyone ever actually writing a “handbook” about their personal habits, traits, etc.

I always like to ask about their family life at home. While I enjoy a cultural exchange, I don’t like culture shock, and so I like to find APs that will slide into our family dynamic without too much trouble. I also like to know about how they spend their free time…do they go to the movies or dance clubs? Do they belong to any clubs that we have something similar in the area? Do they seem like self starters or followers?

ap April 18, 2011 at 6:23 pm

What if the au pairs could ask the same style of questions to the host parents?
Are you planning to pay me on time or will I have to ask for it every week?
Will you ask me what I’d like to eat before going the the store?
Will you ask me to do any housekeeping not related to the kids once in a while?
When I am with the kids and you’re around, who’s gonna be the boss?
What are your REAL food habits? What do you consider to be a healthy meal?
When you talk about how your kids behave, is that something that other people told you or is that just your super-proud-mom-opinion?

All the little things…

Calif mom April 19, 2011 at 12:06 am

ap, please go send your hosts a note that you would like to have a meeting. You have some stuff to talk about.

Perhaps after you deal with some of these pent-up resentments, maybe you will feel generous enough in your heart to realize that every parent has a God-given right to feel “sugar proud” of their kids. Just like your mom did too, I bet. Most people onserve this phenomenon with kind amusement, not disdain.

And if you do not have the guts to take the steps to solve the small things bugging you, then you will only get more sour, and I advise you to think hard about why you are an au pair.

Gianna April 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I think that most families would be very offended by these questions with good reason just as a prospective aupair would have good reason to be offended if a family asked her ” are you a chronic liar ? ” or ” are you a slob ? ” I think that we all have to find ways to ask the questions that assuage our fears of being exploited and treated unfairly without insulting people or hurting their feelings. I think every question you just posed could be easily rephrased like ” On which day will I receive my pocket money ? Do you pay your aupairs in cash or by direct deposit ? ” ” Will you be offended if I ask for to add a favorite food to the grocery list ? ” But I think that you were just trying to make a point and I think it is a good point. How would host families feel if an aupair asked how much of their application process was invention. I do not think that some of posters would ever ask an applicant
” are you a liar ? “. I think those posters were, like you, trying to make a point.

Busy Mom April 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm

ap, I agree with Gianna that all of these questions can and should be asked by AP’s during the interview process (restated as she suggested). As for the kids’ behavior, prospective AP’s should ask for the contact info for the family’s previous au pairs. To a large degree, this is like any other job interview. It’s a two-way street. Before accepting any project (I’m self employed), I ask about payment terms, work content, feasibility of working remotely, deadlines, project oversight, supervisory structure, etc. If I were looking for a permanent job, I’d ask even more questions and I would insist on speaking with my prospective co-workers.

HMinWI April 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I like Gianna’s approach because, yes, I do think these types of things should be asked (in a respectful way) before an AP agrees to join a HF. I actually had to chuckle at a few of those questions because I’m sure it’s these types of things that APs figure out about their HF where they think, “that’s not how they appeared before I came here.” It’s a learning process, and we as HFs have to understand that we have quirks as a family as much as anyone else. I always tell my APs, “we’re not perfect, but we’re pretty normal.” I hope I’m not lying when I say it!

Europhile April 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I agree that an idea of such a handbook might not be the best starting point. While we are interested in some of our APs little quirks and habits, we try to separate the wheat from the chaff with a few simple questions that I send to each candidate at the very beginning, and I have found that quite effective (questions on food, what they like to do in their spare time, etc.). Based on these answers, I will go into the next stages of the interview process (which is always an extended Skype interview). After that, I will ask for at least one personal reference.

At the end of the day, we rely a lot on gut feeling, but it’s usually backed up by a rigorous interview process. Also, we pick APs that share many cultural reference points and it’s easier to navigate with that as a backdrop, I think (albeit less exciting!). Four APs in, we haven’t had any major issues, and I just chose our fifth, who did a great job during her interview process (both written and in person).

OB Mom April 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Instead of a “Handbook” perhaps it would be better as a “Guidebook”. My Handbook has rules (e.g. you must eat dinner with the family at least once a month) and instructions on how to run things in my house (e.g. the dishwasher sometimes has difficulties, so make sure to rinse things well like peanut butter covered knives). It also has guidelines on what is expected for the job description (e.g. hours of work, other tasks, etc.). Just like my job description at work. I have never given my boss a list of things that I expect out of my job …

Perhaps a “Guidebook” on how to have the best relationship would be better …
* My favorite dessert is … chocolate brownies (a way to thank her for a good job)
* My least favorite dinner food is … sausages (my current AP is disgusted by the concept of them … I save them for meals she won’t be eating with us).
* I think I will miss this meal the most …
* For breakfast I eat …
* My favorite restaurant style is …
* My favorite holiday is …
* I am really looking forward to sharing this about my country with your family …
* I am most particular about … drying my clothes in the dryer
* I am/am not a morning person … if no, then the HF may need to knock on the door a few mornings and I am sorry in advance.
* My biggest fear about my AP year is …
* I enjoy (or do not) cooking and look forward to making xxx for your family … or “I do not know how to cook, sorry, but if we work together i can get some recipes from my mom” or “My favorite kitchen applicance is the microwave”.

I do think that food preferences are important, but could be spun in both a positive and cautionary way. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what their favorite and hated foods were so we can work together?

OB Mom April 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm

oops, that was supposed to say “must eat dinner with us once a WEEK” (not month!)

MommyMia April 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I love these ideas! I’ve often asked (after matching) so that I can get a Welcome Basket ready for APs’ arrival:
What is your favorite color?
Dark or Milk chocolate?
Coffee or Tea?
What type of movie do you like best: Comedy, Romantic, Adventure, etc.
What are two things you most want to see/do during your year?
And it’s always fun for them to bring a favorite recipe from their mom (and try to translate it together!)

HMinWI April 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I think this would actually be a fun list to compile. I always ask about my AP’s fave foods and what they miss from home, but some of the things you have listed would be great to know as well.

Gianna April 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

The last couple of threads have been pretty heavy and full of pain so on a lighter note I was thinking that it would be very interesting to read a handbook for a new aupair written by the outgoing aupair and compare the departing aupair’s handbook with the hostmom’s book. This is just fantasy – no one should take it seriously. But I feel sure it would be a good beach read. Even those who have great histories and non-aggressive handbooks might be very surprized to learn what information the aupair thinks is important to pass on , what is not worth mentioning , and what is at variance with the boss’ view of things.

Anna April 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

My very first (and truly great) au pair did write a lengthy letter with instructions about the kids to the next au pair!

AnnaAuPair April 22, 2011 at 5:33 am

When I was leaving, I offered my HF to do the same and they were glad about it. I wrote down all the little things they would have to show her, like where the next busstop is and where to go with the kids and how to get there.
As I was included in the matching-process, I was able to tell the incoming AuPair about the little quirks my hostparents and the kids had and that might come up.
Eventually she had to make her own experience and I think that part of the whole AuPair-thing IS the “Getting-to-know-each-other” in the beginning. But My hostparents said that it really helped them getting started, because the incoming AuPair had at least heard about the quirks and wasn’t surprised.

Anna April 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

Honestly, I would not be too happy about an au pair diclosing the “quirks”.
The quirks I want her to know about, I would tell myself. Other than that, it could be badmouthing and talebearing. “Quirks” to one person – are airing the dirty laundry to another person; and they might not be even relevant to the au pair job.

My lying and badmouthing au pair who just departed, was very eager to overlap with the incoming au pair.. .now I know why.. she just enjoyed playing drama and making up stories about us. What better audience than a new au pair?

I am very selective about including my au pairs in the matching process. I did it the first time around, and the match I made when I included my au pair, failed. She later told me she wasn’t very impressed with the new girl but didn’t want to tell me because it was my decision.

If I am far in the matching process with someone and want them to seriously consider my offer, I offer them to talk to my previous au pairs (the ones who were successful matches). I know they will give a fair representation of the experience, and they will not badmouth us just because.

CV, maybe it is a topic for a new post?

NJnanny April 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

ok, but… I think there are things that the new girls need to know before coming in that would likely not be disclosed by a hiring family. I wish I had known that the hours would almost always be a good deal longer than stated by the HF, that mom and dad fight when they spend a lot of time together, and how discipline in the house REALLY went down. I’m a nanny and have been with my current family for almost 4 years, so it’s obviously worked out somewhat, but it’s required A LOT of give on my end because of thinking one thing before coming and finding something completely different once here. I have friends who are aupairs in nightmare matches who did not/will not tell(warn…) their replacements for various reasons; I’m always aghast when I hear this. I mean, wouldn’t you want to know if you were walking into a buzzsaw? :\

shirley May 6, 2011 at 7:07 am

I everyone, i was wondering if someone could help me please. We as a family have decided to get an au-pair. As it is our first time I am unsure on how to phrase our first letter. After saying we are interested in an au-pair and the au-pair returns to say she is interested in us – how do i construct our first email? does anyone have any ideas.
how many times do you email before you talk in person? I am so new to this and i need to get a handle on this asap as i need an au-pair by end of july ’11.
also i love the idea of a welcome basket for the au-pair!!
thanks in advance for your help!

HRHM May 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

In general, our first letter is actually a slightly modified version of our “essay” from our agency app (most agencies don’t give the AP access to your application). Once she has answered with interest, I usually send an additional email with some pictures attached (they often don’t have access to these either), a sample schedule and a tentative plan to phone/skype. We then talk briefly for the first time and I give her a run down of the kids, the job and the location. I give her an opportunity to ask questions and make a plan for a second call if I feel like it’s moving in that direction. In between, she gets an email with the HHHB. At the second call, she gets an opportunity to ask about the items in the HHHB (shows weather she cared enough to even look at it) and I get to ask all my serious interviewing questions. Subsequent talks and emails are predicated on the results of the first two. If I (or she) have further questions we keep an open dialogue right up to the day of arrival. Everyone is different, hope this helps.

shirley May 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Thank you so much for the quick reply. I had an idea of what to do but it is great to get anothers opinion. Thanks again!

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