What Kind of Role Model Are You For Your Au Pair?

by cv harquail on July 31, 2015

The most wonderful thing a host mom or dad can hear from a former au pair is

“You taught me how to be a good parent.”

I will confess that I’ve heard this myself, from the two au pairs we’ve had that we’ve stayed in touch with and that have become parents themselves.

It was immensely gratifying to hear, especially since I know I’m not the perfect parent, not the perfect host mom. And, because I know how hard my husband and I try to create a loving, nurturing, positivelyrole model challenging environment in our home.

An an Au Pair Host Mom, I never set out to be a positive role model for parenting in general.

My objectives were much smaller scale, more local:
I just wanted to show my au pairs how I wanted my children to be treated, and how I wanted my children to treat other people.

It’s surprising what can happen, though, even when you’re paying attention to other things.

When I shifted from being a full time faculty member to a part-time professor with a consulting & research practice, I engaged a career coach to help me with that transition. As one of our early exercises, she had me brainstorm a list of what I wanted my daughters to learn from me.

At the time, I thought this exercise was irrelevant to what I was doing and where I was going. I was more focused on setting up a side business, managing my time better, and crafting a different “career path” outside of full time academia. I had no appreciation for an exercise focused on my parenting.

I completed the exercise, and filed it in a drawer.   When I began to Kon Mari my professional administration papers, I came across my typewritten list in response to this exercise– and was stunned by the kinds of things I’d articulated nearly ten years ago that had absolutely come to pass.

It made me wonder– what if we had this sort of clarity for ourselves as host moms and dads?

What kind of role model do you want to be for your Au Pair?

What would YOU list, even just two or three things?

The role modeling doesn’t have to be about parenting, of course. If I’d had an au pair who went on to be a professor instead of a world-explorer/ flight attendant, or a manager in an office instead of a golf pro, some of the ‘career-y’ things they’d seen me do might have had an influence on their work-work. Luckily, at least two so far have become moms themselves. I’m honored and gratified that they are approaching motherhood differently because of the experiences they had in our family as au pairs.

If we’re to have any lasting impact on this world, we need to do something positive that extends outside our own family circle.

When we help a young adult learn how to be a better, more loving, more engaged parent, we’re making a real difference.



Seattle Mom July 31, 2015 at 3:05 pm

I would like to be a role model for positive character attributes- being honest, kind, and patient. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Also advocating for my own needs and those of my children, and thinking through important decisions.

I do think that I’m a good mother (not perfect, not the best, but good and intentional) and I would love to have some influence on my au pairs in that area some day. Or as a role model for being a woman with a career and having a husband who takes care of more than 50% of the domestic tasks (he does at least 90% of the cooking & shopping, and 75% of the laundry & cleaning), yet I’m still on top of most of the kid-related things. I think this is surprising to some young women, and even if it’s not surprising it’s unusual to see it in actuality and not just in theory.

Mimi July 31, 2015 at 5:42 pm

My APs have told me I’ve taught them many things both good and bad; how to be more patient, to decide how to pick your battles, the importance of communication, and that American working moms do too much and don’t know how to relax enough. (sigh)

American Host Mom in Europe August 1, 2015 at 5:45 pm

I wish I could role model better patience with my kids…but sadly, I’m not always holding up so well on that.

But what I do like to think I’m role modeling is good ways to handle things with the kids in general (so the AP gets the kids on board, without it being a battle), and attributes I’d like the kids to learn and emulate (like cleaning up after themselves).

This past weekend, my current au pair was visiting a family she used to au pair for, and apparently used one of my tricks to get the host son to help out with something — and it worked (he didn’t want to help with setting the table, and she said, “I bet you can’t get the silverware out in 10 seconds,” and boy did he try!). She was pleased to have learned this, and I was pleased to realise that some of my modeling is working!

WarmStateMomma August 2, 2015 at 8:52 am

I hope my APs learn to make mindful choices about parenting. They describe parenting in their culture as having little variation from family to family, much of it being passed down from generation to generation without question. I hope they will learn to experiment, to reconsider accepted norms, and to look elsewhere for inspiration and ideas.

I also hope they learn to assert themselves and take no sh*t. Be as kind to themselves as they are to others.

I hope HD and I learn how to be as patient as our APs. After hosting for 2.5 years, we’ve never seen one frazzled by the kid(s).

Taking a Computer Lunch August 2, 2015 at 7:16 pm

I’m sure what my AP sees is someone overworked, hopelessly juggling too many things and dropping glass balls at every turn. Nevertheless, I strive to be fair, just, pro-active, organized, and honest (patient, however, is beyond me). I want my APs to see that if you earn a great education that it is possible to have a career that you love (and several of my APs who arrived saying that they would never go to university returned to their home countries and earned degrees).

HRHM August 3, 2015 at 12:01 am

Many of my APs have been from less “first world” type countries and I hope/think I am modeling tolerance and open mindedness. They come from places where women are not surgeons, where people of different colors are rare, people of different religions are suspect and people of different sexual orientations are degraded. In our home, differences are celebrated, and anything boys can do, girls can do (maybe better!) As young women, I want them to know that all avenues are open to them and that the things that make them unique are beautiful.

old au pair mom August 4, 2015 at 11:25 pm

We too, live in a world where all people are valued and celebrated. My most religiously conservative APs have left with a better understanding of love among everyone rather than a focus on the usual suspects. We are clear from the beginning, but when the rainbow of colors, religions, or lack thereof, and sexual orientations are dropping off their darling babes for playdates, understanding blossoms, because it is all good and all the little lovies are special and dear. This is what I hope our APs hold close when reviewing me as a role model, that love is a gift to be shared and that their unique part in our life is greatly appreciated.

Didi August 3, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Oh, I love this post! My former host mom has taught me so much. In country where I come from parenting is something that people take as a chore. It’s a job. People do love their kids, but being a parent is something you do because you love the idea of kids and family, not because you are aware and prepared to be amazing parent.

My host mom taught me how to enjoy my job. She is amazing to her kids and every day as soon as she would come from work, she would put all of her focus on kids and playing with them. She showed me that you should from time to time just relax and give them candy for dinner. She showed me how to relax and how you can be great influence and role model for kids without compromising your beliefs, and still make your kids feel equal and loved.

Because of her example, I learned how important routine is for children, and also how communication can be huge deal for successful au pair relationship.

That woman was support and friend to me since day one and I am so blessed I could learn from her, and her mistakes as well. She was never afraid to admit she is wrong when she was, and I always feel comfortable sharing advice, story or opinion about kids and life in general with her.

TexasHM August 3, 2015 at 1:17 pm

After mulling this one over a few days here is what I hope I am modeling for our APs…

That no relationship is perfect, that every relationship takes work and that if you are to see change in the world or your relationships it starts with you. That “sparks” are short lived at best and primarily in the movies and that a marriage needs a strong foundation in friendship and constant maintenance to survive and thrive.

That ignorance and bigotry is unattractive and that education (esp in the internet age) is free and readily available. That they should absolutely seek first to understand and ask questions before making assumptions and that things are rarely as they seem and there are always at least 3 sides to every story.

That every day is a gift to be opened and tomorrow is never guaranteed. That they should take time to smell the roses but also be deliberate – not careless.

That hard work always outpaces intelligence, looks and great personality over time and that they can do anything they really set their mind to and that no person regardless of age, sex, race, religion or otherwise deserves more or less grace than another.

That love is universal, forgiveness is the most amazing gift you will ever give yourself and that being honest, doing the right thing and taking the road less traveled is hard at times but always worth it in the end.

What they probably get is that I am a mediocre singer, too chatty at times and addicted to saving a buck anywhere I can but you asked what I hoped they would see… :)

cv harquail August 5, 2015 at 10:33 am

I love these… and wish that I could model them more myself.

3gilrs1boy August 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm

These are wonderful…I can only hope to model these for our AP. Thank you!

ILHostMom August 3, 2015 at 3:53 pm

We have had two Au Pairs that have come from divorced families. Of course we have our moments, but I think it was helpful for them to see and be around a stable, healthy marriage. They saw that marriage takes work, patience, flexibility, respect, etc. I feel like my husband and I were positive role models for these two Au Pairs who’s parents split when they were young.

Schnitzelpizza August 4, 2015 at 5:17 am

That is true, actually.

I also come from a divorced family (my dad is now on wife #3 or maybe #4? I have lost count) and in general from a family that sucks at relationships, neither marriage in my family was even close to happy. My grandparents married because my grandpa got my grandma pregnant (while he was engaged to somebody else), my great-grandpa had at least one illegitimate child (that I know of), my aunt and uncle stayed together for the children. My host family (even though they were a patchwork family themselves) taught me so much about how “family” works.

My husband on the other hand comes from a family that was somehow functional but basically relied on following a traditional family model – dad was the sole financial provider (not only his but in his extended family as well), mom took care of the children. In a traditional Catholic setting in which divorce is unthinkable and you just suffer through it. That is all he knows. And it shows. He never experienced or learned how to make a marriage work and what it takes if you want (and need!) a marriage with two equal partners. He had to learn how much work, patience, or mutual respect it takes to make a happy marriage work and that “happy marriage” does not equal making sure you see each other as little as possible and only fight when the kids are in bed. Strange that he had to learn it from someone whose family is as disfunctional as they come.

My host family taught me so much and how “family” works might have been the most important thing they taught me. That and that you can have children and work without being a bad parent. And that you can actually be happy even though you have children because children are not only a burden and something that is socially expected but are something to enjoy. IF everybody does their share to make it work.

cv harquail August 5, 2015 at 10:31 am

This was true for several of our Au Pairs, too.

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