What Kinds of Relationships Do Au Pairs Want With Host Parents?

by cv harquail on May 1, 2016

There are many different types of equally good relationships that we host parents can have with our au pairs.

6035628909_47a0886bb2_mGood host parent- au pair relationships can vary by

— their level of intimacy (e.g., seriously close or pleasantly distant),

— the amount of time we spend together (e.g., every waking moment or “I’m off duty, see you tomorrow, love ya!”),

— the roles that we play in each other’s psyches (e.g., Boss lady/ great employee, Big Sister/Little Brother, and Mom’s Friend From Back in College/ “like a niece”),

and more.

We host parents get a sense of these different dimensions when we have our second au pair.  The first au pair relationship always “is whatever it is”, but the second one is when you realize that– with each au pair — the form of your relationship will be different.

Also, we parents get to read on this blog about different forms of relationships, and generally have good sense of how very different au pair- host parent relationships can be and *still be good*.

For au pairs, though, I realized I have no sense of what they are expecting.    

  • Is there a dominant or most common pattern that Au Pairs are hoping for?
  • Is there a pattern that Agencies seem to suggest?
  • Or that doesn’t actually ever exist?

Curious Host Mom raises all these questions and more, in her email below.

I’d love to hear from Au Pairs, especially, about what you expect/hope to have with your Host Parent relationships….

Dear AuPair Mom—

We’re in our first year in the program, and we have a great relationship with our au pair, but reading the discussions on here has made me realize that I’m not sure what au pairs’ goals actually are for the “cultural exchange” aspect of their experience. 

As the program was marketed to us host parents, the au pair is here primarily to experience US family life.  There is also the expectation that they’ll make friends among their age peers, go out to experience the nightlife, etc., but all of that is framed as a secondary priority. 

On the other hand, what I’ve seen of the marketing materials directed toward au pairs seems to lean much more heavily on the social-life side of things, with the opportunity to form relationships with their hosts mentioned as a nice bonus.

In our case this past year, we knew that two exhausted parents of an infant weren’t going to provide the kind of “family life” for which ANYONE would want to travel thousands of miles.  We made the limitations of our lifestyle clear in matching, and really pushed our au pair when she arrived to make contacts outside our family with whom she could get out and have some fun.  That’s working out well for everyone, but I don’t know how differently things might have turned out if we’d set different expectations during matching, or a different tone in early weeks.

So, in future years, as we (hopefully!) become a more active household that actually does interesting stuff on a regular basis, should we be expecting (and offering) to play a major role in showing our au pair a good time (family meals, game and movie nights at home, sightseeing outings, weekend trips, etc.)?

Or, would most au pairs’ best-case scenario be that we just hand them the car keys and the occasional cash bonus and send them off to have adventures 20-something style? 

Obviously there are a variety of experiences and expectations out there, but I’d love to have a more concrete sense of the typical range in which they fall!

I should also stress that I feel like we could make either model work for us. 

On the one hand, having someone in our home every year who’s new to the region and the culture, and is genuinely excited to experience it with us, could help keep us motivated to live up to our own ideals of family life, which is great for us and even better for our child! 

On the other hand, an au pair who sees us primarily as a home base for more independent adventuring would be a LOT less responsibility, and it’s not like we’ll be feeling any shortage of responsibilities in the foreseeable future! 

So, there’s no wrong answer here; the spirit in which I’m asking is simply one of wanting to have my own expectations set appropriately as to what our contribution to the cultural exchange aspect of this program is really meant to be — simply supplying logistical support for someone who’s pursuing their own thing, or providing a more in-depth cultural experience within the family…  ~ Curious Host Mom

Image: Curious, by Stanimer Stoyanov on Flickr


German Au-Pair May 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

I love this question and I love that CHM wonders.
First of all: if you have a preference, do say so during matching (which you apparently already did) and since you’re flexible you should be fine if it strays a bit from your expectation.

I have been involved in AP forums since day one and spent almost two years in a rotating cluster so I have read and heard a lot about this topic.
From what I have learned the family side is marketed by the agencies (at least in my country) as well but some APs value that more than others. I think most APs hope to establish some kind of second family, a home away from home.
I had a HF who was not that involved in common activities due to job, personality, age of the children and daily routine and sometimes I definitely would have wished for more family time. On the other hand I did value my freedom and inspite of the more distant realtionship with them, I do feel welcome to return, had a wonderful time and would absolutely pick the same family again.
I had friends whose families did stuff like family movie time and I would have loved that, too but their downside sometimes was the HP being a bit overbearing at times. Sometimes they had to cancel their plans because the HF had decided to extend their dinner outing to a movie outing without giving the AP a proper chance to drop out. One single HM really wanted to spend a lot of time with her AP and got really mean and manipulative when the AP had other plans.
I had AP friends who were really needy and spent much time with their HF and others who were out the door right away. I personally would have loved to be able to spend more time with the kids and did make an effort to do that at times but as pre-teens it just wasn’t what they needed.
The issue with the “being a part of the family” seems to be that it’s easy to take advantage of the HP without noticing or the HP to feel like they’re being taken advantage of. It’s not easy to balance being with the family without actually working in your off time with being a part of the family that needs to pitch in, too.
And while most of the APs I know really did love their HC to pieces, the more you work, the more you need time away.
Example: You work 40 hours a week with the kids, which can be super stressfull at times, and you really want to spend time with your HF, go to fun outings with them etc. So when you go out to the park of whatever on the weekend and one kid is crying and whining…what do you do? On the one hand you really need a time out, you need to recharge and relax in your time off. On the other hand if you simply sit there doing nothing, the parents may resent you because in a realy family situation (a visiting niece, a friend for example) you WOULD pitch in and after all, they provided you with a fun outing.
That aspect is much easier when you don’t work the full 40 hours because A. you are not that desperate for a break and B. pitching in doesn’t seem like such a big deal since you’d technically had work hours to spare anyway.

Another point is that APs need to outweigh the pros and cons (as does anyone really…) and I read here about resentment that the AP will only tag along if the HF does something really cool (and maybe expensive?) but not on a regular outing. I understand the resentment but I also understand that it’s “do I do X with my HF and the kids I see every single day or do I do Y with my friends who I don’t see this often” (And amybe “if I do X with the HF I may actually relax less because I might be semi-working”) so it does make sense that an AP would only join the HF for the special stuff or if she doesn’t have anything better to do (just like she would with her own family!)

So before you decide on the level of involvement you prefer, you might want to check if you feel like you’d be comfortable with this kind of situation.

From my experience, most APs go in with the expectation of being a family member but many have no realistic picture of what that might mean and turn out to be much more independet, especially if they work a lot. MOST APs I have met have really appreciated cultural learning opportunities provided by their HF and have loved to share those special memories with them. If you feel like you would enjoy this, by all means, say in your application you want someone who wants to be involved in the family. Just be prepared that in reality it may turn out to be less than you both expected.

HRHM May 2, 2016 at 11:21 am

WRT the “special/expensive” outings vs. “regular” outings point – I don’t think that most HPs care if she doesn’t want to go hang out at the playground on a Saturday. I most often hear this complaint when she skips something important/milestone-like for the HKs (birthday party, recital, first communion) but then expects to be invited to Broadway play, day at pricey theme park, weekend in big city.

All in all, I think you are otherwise spot on!

German Au-Pair May 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I agree! I do think some have complained about the AP cherry picking the outings (skipping dinner out but joining a theme park etc). That is a point that I can actually see from both sides as I’m sure I’d be frustrated too, but I also know what it’s like having to weigh the options. (And that is true for every life situation…am I joining my friends for a cool outing instead of studying? Sure! Am I meeting them to chill on the couch for 3 hours instead of studying? Nope!)
The important kid-stuff is a different story…I once went my HK’s recital completely high on pain meds (and I mean really, actually high…the bright colors and dancing children DID NOT HELP :D ) because I didn’t want to miss it. On the other hand, if something SUPER special came a long (like “oh this other HF has invited me to join my AP friend on a vacation”) I think it’s excusable to miss a special event.
For those event I would generally be clear about expectations though. Do you expect the AP to help out more than a guest (close friend, niece, sister in law etc) would? Schedule her to work.
If you just expect her to be there, enjoy herself with the other guests? Say so. Tell her the kids would really appreciate her being there. Don’t resent her for joining in on the fun instead of helping you. That goes, again, especially for APs who are expected to attend after a 40 hour week. When you have worked that much -and depending on the kids’ age it can be super super demanding- spending 4 more hours at a birthday party, with several screaming kids and a HC who doesn’t really seem to give a damn if you’re there because he/she is drowing in friends, cake and presents can seem like hell…especially if you constantly feel loike you’re expected to cater for the kids, help out other people’s kids on top of your HC…it’s just the opposite of a relaxing time off.

I thinki I missed one music recital in my two-year stay and only because there was something special going on to keep me from it, but I also never worked my full 40 hours and therefore was okay with sitting through 3 hours of other people’s children for 3 minutes of my HC on stage…

It’s really all about communicating expectations (and managing your own maybe?) most of the time.

WarmStateMomma May 4, 2016 at 2:13 pm

My oldest is only 3 so we’ve never had to throw or attend a kids’ birthday party, but it sounds horrible. I would never expect the AP to endure it off the clock, but we do birthday cake and gifts at home with the family and I expect the AP to join us for that. It’s 20-30 minutes and all have eagerly participated.

I’m impressed that our AP joins us for dinner most nights even though the kids often suck a lot of the fun out of it (ages 1 and 3) and she’s already had a long day with the kids. Her patience is super human.

German Au-Pair May 4, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Or maybe your cooking is :D

TiredAuPair May 20, 2016 at 1:13 am

This is such a good answer, I could not agree more.. I work my full 45 hours a week, sometimes more (We have a give and take sutiation, and it works as it benefits both of us). I love my family and we are close, but since my kids are both under 4, I do need my rest when I am off. Weekends when I am off I sleep in
(or try to), spend time with my friends and just relax and recover from the week I had. HP’s should keep in mind that they have a break from their job, as au pairs we do not have that. If my family has something planned and asked me to join and I don’t have plans, I do, or if I don’t have plans are they invite me last minute. I need a break, as I do not want to be resenting the kids or HF. Remember, as an au pair with young kids, we are almost always “semi-working”, even if we are off. I do feel there has to be balance. I do however have dinner with my HF 95% of the time during the week.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 1, 2016 at 9:44 pm

You are going to discover that both your needs and your desires for a relationship with your APs are going to change from year to year. Perhaps now, when your infant/toddler is young, you really just want an employer/employee mode (one note – do explicitly invite your AP to your child’s birthday celebration(s). If you have a big celebration and your invite your friends and their young children, then do ask your AP if any of her friends and their HK routinely play with your child – and invite them, too.) You will discover, no matter how quickly your AP is ready to depart for the evening when you return home, that she has a deep and loving relationship with your child (with whom she spends a lot of time!). So, while she might not be interested in a sleepy post-baby dinner with you and your husband/partner – she may want to be included in “baby firsts.” Invite, with the intention of not taking it personally if she declines.

I’ve been hosting for 15 years now, and all of our relationships have changed with the AP – with exception, perhaps of The Camel, who has infantile needs and has continued to require total care. Just the other night DH and I went out on a date night, and child #2, now a high school student, made dinner for himself and the AP. (She worked as a therapist with immigrant families in crisis in her home country and is excellent in drawing him out, soliciting his help, and making him involved in her AP year in the way that many of her recent predecessors have not been emotionally prepared to do.)

One of our favorite APs begged us to book child #2 for a Saturday afternoon so she could take him to Disney movies when he was a preschooler (she loved them, he loved them, and they so bonded). Another favorite AP asked if it would be okay to go to his soccer games (so bad they were good?) Anyway, those snippets of time made them both A-1 in our book!

Most of the 12 APs DH and I have hosted have gone from being a child in their parent’s home to being an adult in ours. Some adjusted to the change from being the center of attention to centering her attention better than others. We always felt like we had something to offer, even when we were a baby-centric family (back then DH and I had three living grandmothers between us and most of our APs enjoyed visits to meet our extended families – especially the one grandmother who lived close to Niagara Falls). Amazingly most of them did sign up for a trip to see family in a not-so-famous spot just as much as the trip to see family who lived near desirable cities!

My recommendation is to sit down before you interview for a successor to your AP and think about what you wish you did better, what you would change, and what you want differently for the coming year – and adjust your interview questions appropriately. In the same vein, adjust your handbook. And, personally, I have tried to temper the agencies’ marketing to APs by calling it what it is – a job, work, employment.

spanishaupair May 2, 2016 at 5:14 am

With my two succesfull families i had opposite roles. With both kids were like my littlesiblings but with parents was different.

In England where I spent a summer i was like another member of the family we did a lot together in my off time and maybe not the big things but movie nights, play centres with kids, church time, going for ice creams… My HM once even joked about how old would she be if she was my real mum. I keep in touch with them, it was in 2011, i went to visit once and might go again this year.

When i was in Ireland the only time we really spent together outside working hours was dinner time at home (was never invited to dine out). The only time i really regret this kind of relationship was when they didnt let me go with them trick or treat on my second year with them, yes i spent 25 months there.

Both ways worked really well for me, in England was younger and havent been long away from home and loved having someone to have a good relationship and spend time, also was getting little money so i would feel really bored alone. In Ireland i was older, had more money and loved my freedom. But now after a while i realise that i kniw better a family that i spent three months with than a family with who i spent 25 months. It wasnt age of kids in both were young: 1,3 and 6 in England, and 8 months and 3 in Ireland and the irish family did more activities in general.

AuPair Paris May 2, 2016 at 7:05 am

So, this is interesting! When I was au pairing I said fairly constantly that I had a professional relationship with my host family – and that’s how I liked it. They were wonderful bosses, and I was very, very close with the kids, but the parents were my (generous) employers, and that’s how I liked it.

Since having left, I’ve realised that some of my fondest memories of the HPs involved chatting with them, and generally just interacting. It was awkward, at the time – I constantly felt like I had to watch what I said – or worse, I realised after we’d finished the conversation that I *hadn’t* watched what I’d said, and had expressed an opinion I knew they’d find upsetting, or said something that would be a joke in my culture, but would be taken seriously in theirs. In retrospect, the awkward bits mostly disappear and I just remember that it was nice to chat.

Now I’m planning a visit – and I’ve been invited to stay at the house with a friend. They’ve kept the whole weekend free with the kids, because they know I’ll want to spend time with them; they’ve been so kind about the whole thing, and I can’t help thinking that the professional/personal line must have been blurrier than I thought all along!

WestMom May 2, 2016 at 8:29 am

I feel I have little control about how the relationship develops. When we interview, I look for cues that AP is family-oriented and that she will be comfortable spending time with us, but it’s all guess work. Even the Au Pair herself might not even know how close she wants to be to the host parents until she arrives, makes friends, etc. I make it clear that AP is always invited to join us on outings and activities, and then I leave it up to her to decide if she wants to join, and at what frequency.

We have seen both ends of the spectrum. AP1, 2 and 8 are very close and enjoy making plans with her in their spare time. AP3, 4, 5, and 7 were too busy with friends on weekends to spend any time with us (aside from the obligatory performance or birthday party). And quite frankly I am fine with both. In a way, the Au Pairs who spent the least time with us in their spare time were probably less compatible with us parents, personality-wise, despite being great APs to our children.

In wouldn’t overthink it. Be inclusive, but also respect that AP might not choose to spend that much time with you. I suspect this might also vary based on her schedule. We have always had split shifts, therefore AP had plenty of time to be social with friends during the day and could spare sometime with us on weekends. In your case, your AP probably works 5 full days, and I wouldn’t blame her for wanting to have some time alone or with friends during evenings and weekends.

Lastly, I have noticed that all APs are more open to doing activities with our family in the first months after their arrival, before they make stable friends, and learn they way around our area. We do try to do a few things together during that time, which gives us a good preview of things to come based on her openness, level of enjoyment, thankfulness, etc.

Seattle Mom May 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm

This reflects my experience exactly. Especially the last paragraph, about how au pairs are more open to the family relationship in the beginning- this has been the case with my current au pair, who spent so much time with me on weekends in the beginning I was worried she wouldn’t meet any friends! Fast forward 15 months (she extended) and now I barely see her, she’s often at her boyfriend’s house and she has lots of friends. I do invite her to stuff and the only thing that bugs me is that she never gives me a straight answer about whether she’s coming, even for things that require tickets to be bought together. She always wants to know exactly how long we’ll be gone and when we’ll be back, and I can’t really give her an exact answer. So usually I just count her out, and then at the last minute she wants to go and it’s too late- sold out. But it’s a small pet peeve- I am glad that she came with us to things back when she was shiny and new. She even came to boring things like swimming lessons.

I had one au pair who clearly had very little interest in us HP from the beginning, she was an extension from another family and that had something to do with it. Also her English language skills weren’t very good. But she was (and is) an amazing person, and would go outside to play with the kids even when she wasn’t on duty and she was working 45 hours per week. The kids were about 4 & 2 when she was with us, and she let them hang out in her room when off duty. She had so much energy- she would ask to take them out on the weekend and in the evening when she wasn’t working. Now she’s living an hour away and married and she still occasionally comes over to visit the kids- we spend time with her too, but it’s clear she wants to see the kids and not us! I don’t really have a problem with that either…

I am flexible, and I always say that on my HF profile and in emails. I do want some independence from my au pair because we’re busy and a lot of times we’re doing stuff that isn’t really fun or conducive to having an au pair around- we don’t sit around and watch TV or movies ever, or play board games. We talk, we clean, we work.. it’s just how we roll.

SeattleHD May 2, 2016 at 9:26 am

There are two layers (at least). The first layer is the general connection between the family and the au pair. How do you niter act – how friendly, do you have dinner together, do you chat more than just a quick handoff of how the kids day was?

The second layer varies over time. We have found that after a couple of months our au pairs have got their social life sorted out and they will start going out more. By the end of the year we don’t see much of them at weekends unless there’s a special outing or other activity. All the while the relationship remains very friendly.

anon au pair May 2, 2016 at 6:00 pm

This is a really interesting topic for me as my situation is different from 99.9% of other au pair/host parent relationships. I work for a single mom who moved to a new city (and away from her ex and home town) the same time I arrived. I was her first au pair. We quickly became really close (oh hell, I pluck her eyebrows!). I think this is because a.) we have really similar personalities and b.) we’re the only adults in the house and both originally didn’t know many people in the city. From the beginning, I always really felt part of the family… and I really cherished that relationship. I mean, I was her +1 once to a wedding while the kids were at their dad’s house! It was always really hard to explain to other au pairs that yes, I worked A LOT more than they did but no, I didn’t mind at all because I loved the family so much. Sure, I went out with friends maybe once or twice a week, but most nights I really enjoyed chatting with her over a glass of wine after the kids were in bed. It hasn’t always been all hunky dory… the dynamic definitely changed when she got a boyfriend… But we’re still close (and she still introduces me as her “au pair aka Wifey”). I’m very curious to see what the HP/au pair relationship will be with the new au pair once I leave… I know it’s different for every au pair, but I’m interested if AP#2 will be as happy with her job if she doesn’t have the same relationship I had with my HM? I think it’s very important to state what kind of relationship you’re looking for in the beginning (part of the family vs employee).

It’s important to mention that I knew I really wanted a family that would welcome me as part of the family. I remember one family who had in their hand book something along the lines of “we expect you to return to your room or leave the house after 7pm so we can have family time alone” and I knew I would never be able to last as an au pair with that kind of relationship with my host family, but again, everyone is different and that could totally appeal to someone. There’s no right or wrong way, but you just need to make sure you’re on the same page from the get go.

TiredAuPair May 20, 2016 at 1:26 am

My host parents got a divorce while I was here, some nights HM and I pull out the wine while complaining how tiring the kids are, LOL! She also says I’m her wife! Although I must say that I have gotten much closer with the dad after the divorce. We can chat for hours!

WarmStateMomma May 2, 2016 at 6:18 pm

I would make sure you find an AP who can make friends and be independant. Our first AP couldn’t do this and it was a lonely year for her since family life with a baby isn’t all that exciting or social for a 20-something.

I’m pretty flexible about the kind of relationship we have with the AP but I won’t host a recluse again. Introverted homebody is fine, but she must have enough independence to go out and get as much social interaction as she needs to be happy.

ChicagoHostMom May 2, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Our experience with 8 au pairs has been consistent. We make sure to stress in matching that we like a mix of family time and independent young adult to make friends and enjoy the city and country. I will say we have had three girls who have had boyfriends and after a few months started to leave as soon as we got home and came back at curfew but then were gone all weekend and we basically never saw them for more than about 20 minutes a week. That – I do not like. I might as well get a US nanny who does not live in. I don’t like being the source of cash food and car keys. I am flexible because I expect this is how my kids will be when they are young adults too, and it is part of growing up, but I do like to have more of a balance and less of a tenant.

NoVA Twin Mom May 3, 2016 at 8:48 am

We like a mix of part of the family and independence as well.

One thing I found helpful in our last round of interviewing was to give an example of a weekend we thought was a “perfect” example of that balance. On Saturday, our au pair had driven with friends about 2 hours away to Shenandoah National Park and explored. Sunday was Easter, so she spent the morning and early afternoon with us – going to church (Easter is one of two times our au pairs generally join us at church, the other is Christmas), having a backyard Easter Egg hunt with our girls, and having a meal together. That evening she and a friend went to Starbucks for coffee and to Target to pick up a few things and just walk around.

We further explained that generally, our au pair may spend a few hours with us on the weekend, and we will tell her outright if something is an American “thing” that they need to do because they’re here for a year. Other American “things” include going to a pumpkin patch and carving pumpkins, Trick or Treating (unless they have more exciting plans – some have!), getting a picture with the kids and Santa, White House Christmas Tree Lighting in the years we get tickets through the lottery, and certain vacations. We encourage them to go to the National Mall for the 4th of July without us – we stick to the smaller local celebrations closer to our house. Other times we’ll offer an option to do something with us, stating that if they have more exciting plans they should do them instead – like a 5th visit to the local petting zoo that year. Finally, there are plans that we have that are “social obligation” plans – those we flat out tell our au pair that although they’re technically invited, they’re going to be really boring so we recommend finding something else to do. :)

That helped our candidate see clearly the type of relationship we envision.

TexasHM May 3, 2016 at 10:09 am

This is hard to answer because as others have noted, I think most APs don’t really know what they want/need until they are already here and settled. It’s the established APs that come to my house and cry that they feel like the help because HF left them home alone the week of Thanksgiving or complain they only went on one ski trip with their host family (don’t get me started on that one). Like anything else in the AP program I think the challenge is setting expectations and aligning yours with theirs. I spend A LOT of time describing – like others – what we mean by member of the family and what that entails and how we handle it.

This is an excerpt from one of my interview emails: “We have had great relationships with our APs. I have let them borrow my clothes for special events, they have cried on my shoulder over boys and we laugh and gossip like sisters sometimes. We like it that way. Our kids are bonded to these girls forever and our first AP lives close and visits us regularly and we message with the second and third AP regularly. In fact our first au pair got married to an American we were all in her wedding and are now godparents to her baby girl!

Our AP has a busy and hard job but we are an active family that truly loves our APs with all our hearts so we would like to think that they get back what they put into the program with us. Our AP is ALWAYS welcome to go with us ANYWHERE we go. If she doesn’t want to go, that is completely fine too. We have never had an issue with this and if we progress we would let you talk to our previous APs to ask about this and any other questions you have.

Important for us – an AP that represents our values to our kids when we are not there and is a true family member. Someone flexible with a positive attitude that works hard and plays hard. Someone that appreciates our efforts and realizes you get what you give in this relationship. Someone that wants to go to the girls dance recital and my sons Super Bowl football game but also is independent and does things on her own and makes friends and makes an effort to get a lot out of her experience. Someone that has goals and makes plans and is open minded to try new things, be spontaneous and not afraid to share ideas.”

We give more examples later in the process but this is me setting some expectations in the second email about what we want that relationship to look like and regardless of what kind of relationship you want – I would highly encourage you to do the same. It could be “as you can imagine we are exhausted full time working parents of an infant that still gets up at night so we would love to have a more independent AP that has big plans for her year and isn’t afraid to put herself out there and get involved and explore early on. Not because we don’t care, but because we want to make sure AP doesn’t depend solely on us to be her social circle etc etc”. There are also certain nationalities that trend more toward this (Germans and Scandanavians in particular come to mind) and would likely love this kind of arrangement but be sure your policies align with it. Meaning its hard to ask for a super independent AP and then impose strict car and AP curfews. On the flip, we invest heavily in our APs but we do have a car curfew (no AP curfew) so every family has its perks and downsides.

In my experience every AP says they want to be a member of the family but when I dig into examples and speak in more detail I can tell the ones that get less comfortable and the ones that eat it up. And I get it – if someone told me they could come to a foreign country away from their entire support network and I would treat them like a family member that’s much less scary than saying they can come here and I will be their employer and they live with me. As others have said before, its challenging at times because APs want to be treated as completely independent adults with no restrictions but then when they make mistakes, act like children or show poor judgment they often want to switch and be treated like family – like a niece and you wouldn’t really take car privileges away from your niece would you? It’s tricky.

Regardless, be super honest in interviewing, paint the picture, give her day in the life and typical weekend and have them talk to the current AP about you and the job and relationship and just talk until it becomes clear. Be thorough and it shouldn’t be an issue, especially since you said you could likely do either end of the spectrum. It changes over time too. At first they are with us and we invest a lot, over time they are much more independent and still attend important family events but otherwise are busy and that’s fine too.

massmom May 3, 2016 at 10:12 am

We have learned that the most important expectation to set up front is that we have a family dinner at least 2 or 3 times a week, where we can all sit down and talk. We’ve found this is key to maintaining a family-like relationship — having that check-in time and a gradual transition from work to off-time helps stave off the petty resentments that can crop up over time around food, car use, and all the other usual topics around here.

We always expect that we will be treating the au pair to some sightseeing trips and special outings in the first couple of months until they have their own friendships established. And we always ask them to join us for experiences that are more uniquely “American”, like camping trips, music festivals and the like.

We have a great balance with our current au pair. She plays team sports, has lots of friends, and is an organizer amongst her fellow au pairs — we often don’t see her on the weekends at all. But during the week, she almost always joins us for dinner, never rushes off the minute we get home, and seems to genuinely enjoy the kids. She will occasionally join us for church, TV watching, or when we go to a friend’s house for dinner, but never in a way that feels intrusive to our family time. She also only works about 30 hours a week, so I think that helps — when the kids were younger and the days were more full, I totally understood the need to disconnect more immediately.

Seattle Mom May 6, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I agree so much with the family dinner. I haven’t required my au pairs to join us for dinner, and now after 4.5 au pairs (the .5 was a rematch) I can see that the relationship withers when there are no dinners together. Two of my au pairs ate dinner with us almost every weeknight, and while it has pros and cons I feel a lot less comfortable with the au pairs who almost never join us for dinner.

If I continue to host au pairs, I am going to require a minimum 2 dinners per week together, when my husband is home and we’re all together. Sometimes he teaches in the evening so I’ve had au pairs join me for dinner when he’s gone- not sure if they are doing that to be polite or if he makes them uncomfortable. It’s possible that it’s his fault :)

Taking a Computer Lunch May 7, 2016 at 9:43 am

The only AP who didn’t routinely join us for dinner (and by that I mean 2-3 times on weekdays – we almost never see our APs on the weekends – unless they are working), was a Chinese AP who was so shocked by the difference in Western food that she rejected it completely after a month (and I cook vegan most of the time – so there was rarely a cheesy-milky taste to my meals). In order to have her at the table once a week, we had her cook (we paid for everything, of course) – and it always felt like a banquet to us.

Joining us ebbs and floes during the AP year. At the start, she nearly always dines with us. During times when she is taking a lot of classes, she’s just gone. Toward the end of the year, when she realizes she doesn’t have enough money saved to take that special travel-month trip, she comes back to the table. And then, in the last weeks, when she’s saying good-bye to departing friends and having special meals with her friends before her own departure – she’s gone again.

We don’t force (although if I did, I would count it as time – and I have that flexibility now that I have 2 high schoolers in my house – albeit one still in diapers). We do tend to cook from scratch 5-6 nights a week – and before I start cooking, I usually ask the AP if she will be joining us. If she won’t, I adjust (she’s welcome to eat whatever is left in the fridge – or make something for herself – if she’s hungry when she gets home. Child #2 now cooks from scratch 1-2 nights a week. When DH and I go out, he often makes something that the AP is willing to eat (he has been a much more adventurous eater than most of our APs).

We’re adventurous eaters, and do most of our experimentation at the weekend, when we have the luxury of taking longer in the kitchen. Our APs rarely join us for those meals. The ones who did were the introverts who didn’t drink alcohol, and were happier playing board games with us that watching their friends get drink again and again.

HMof2 May 11, 2016 at 2:37 pm

After hosting a few APs, we are torn between an AP joining us for dinner or not. AP1 ate dinner with us but treated us like a restaurant. We had to text her to come out of her room when dinner was on the table. No help to set the table, clear the table, put dishes away etc. She left the table to go back to her room immediately after she finished eating (even when we were still eating). No hanging out with us for even a few minutes after dinner. This caused a lot of resentment and negative feelings that we were her personal chefs. AP2 preferred a different dinner schedule. She liked to eat much later and went out for a run to decompress after a full day of caring for infants. We never ate dinner together and rarely saw her during the weekend because she was very social and had a lot of friends. Our relationship was great. Sometimes, she hung out at the kitchen table in the evening just to chat – nothing to do with having dinner with us. AP3 preferred to eat by herself in her room. We had a rule about not texting or using the cellphone at the dinner table since we wanted to encourage real conversations. We dislike seeing families at restaurants who are seated together but everyone is on the phone pecking away instead of interacting with each other. We did not want that in our family. AP3 said she always texted when she ate so she opted to not eat with us because of our rule. On hindsight, we think she had deeper anti-social issues (too extensive to go into here) and texting was a polite excuse. She would grab her dinner from the kitchen immediately after her work day was over and stayed in her room until the next day (other than brief appearances to go to the bathroom down the hall). Needless to say, the relationship with AP3 did not end well. With these experiences, we are still working on finding a good balance between eating dinner together and separately. There is no straightforward conclusion that eating together is better or not for a strong HF/AP relationship. A lot depends on the individuals.

massmom May 11, 2016 at 3:00 pm

I don’t think it’s the dinner per se — with young kids, it’s not like dinner conversation is that sparkling for anyone. :) I think it’s more the expectation that the au pair is a contributing member of the family, and the dinner can kind of serve as a proxy for that, since everyone has gotta eat at some point! We use it as a screen in the interview process — “We have very few rules, but one thing we really think is important for everyone is to have dinner together at least a couple of times a week. We don’t want you to feel like just an employee, and hopefully you don’t want that either.” Their reaction to that usually tells us a lot about whether we’ll get along. Things might morph over time into a late-night cup of tea instead of dinner when schedules get busy, but it’s more about setting an expectation early on that we want to check in regularly on a personal level. I think the au pairs find it to their benefit as well — I’m much more accommodating about handing over the car keys and switching around my days off to make travel possible for someone who feels like family rather than an employee who happens to live in my house.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 16, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Because food has been a major issue several times over the 15 years we’ve been hosting, it has taken over a whole section of my interview. I’ve learned to pay attention to the clues APs give in their answers. The AP who said that she never ate with her parents because she preferred pizza and pasta was not lying – and turned her nose up at almost all the vegetable-rich dinners we ate (she said she was a vegetarian, but she was really a white food eater). It didn’t take her long to stop appearing at our table.

When hosting an AP’s family or friends, we have pointedly told them that their guests are welcome at our table while they are staying in our home (for free), but are expected to either cook a dinner or do the dishes from time to time. The best APs (and their guests) have gone out of their way to prepare a special dinner with their favorite foods, the worst slunk away from the table without lifting a finger.

Multitasking Host Mom May 6, 2016 at 7:30 pm

I think massmom and Seattle mom definitely hit the nail on the head with their comments. And is something I have really been thinking about lately. We just went through a rematch…and were frankly shocked when our au pair asked for it. Everyday I would ask when I came home how the day went and the AP would always say fine…then would be out the door. I thought I had an independent / social AP. Apparently though this AP had been unhappy for months, but never wanted to talk about it…the AP does come from a culture where sharing your feelings is not normal. Since for our family at least going through a rematch was pretty awful…I have been thinking about how to prevent it…and I think a big thing was this was our first AP who never ate dinner with us. (And just to clarify dinner at my house starts about 6:00 and with picky/active kids last no more than 20 minutes). All of our other APs in the past five years of hosting almost always voluntarily ate with us during the week and would still have the time either in the weekday evenings or all weekend to see friends. But I think that few minutes of sitting together in a casual setting helped us all feel more comfortable with eachother and also get to know one another better. As we move forward with our next AP (had to go out of country so it will be a couple months till she gets here) I am going to think about how I can insist on the family dinner thing. I might have just been lucky that my past APs just did it…but since I am now really seeing the importance of this I might just have to require at least a few times a week as part of the APs working hours.

Seattle Mom May 7, 2016 at 1:52 am

I agree that if it’s required it should be counted in the hours. I would probably just write +3 hours on the schedule for the week and let the au pair pick the 2 evenings she wants to have dinner with us. And if she wants to join us for more, all the better! I was lucky that when we used to need all 45 hours for solo childcare we had au pairs who wanted to eat with us.

AlwaysHopeful HM May 7, 2016 at 9:18 am

IMO, not eating dinners together can be an indication of a not-great relationship, but I think the key isn’t the meal-time ritual. Rather, it’s the desire on both sides to intentionally set aside time to be together and just decompress. In the beginning, it helps to have some relaxed chatting time to get to know each other. But overall, if the personality fit isn’t there (or there are other issues plaguing the relationship), forced togetherness is not likely to help.

With that said, family dinners are important to me, even when we’re all tired and really have little to no conversation. In our handbook, I tell all of our au pairs that they are always welcome to join, and I would appreciate them joining at least 2x a week. I also set the expectation that they will join us by asking them to let me know before I start cooking if they will NOT be joining. If an au pair is not going out, but wants to eat before or after us, they can, but I don’t raise it myself as a regular option. Personally, i find that a little strange– but that’s because of the way my family treats family dinners. All of our au pairs have at least started out eating with us regularly during the week and sometimes on the weekends. As their schedules began to fill, they were around less for dinner, but still joined sometimes (other than the first, who had a special diet and decided it was just too hard to make it work, which I kind of agreed with!). Even our rematch who resented us as much as we resented him came done some nights for dinner…which is the basis for my “forced togetherness not helping” statement.

Multitasking Host Mom May 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm

Excellent point made in your first paragraph, AlwaysHopeful HM! It might not really specifically be “the AP didn’t eat dinner with us” that had a direct correlation to our AP wanting to rematch. It was most likely just a symptom of the actual problem. (I am just kicking myself that I didn’t see what was going on sooner, and could have somehow had the time to fix it.) In hind sight there were other issues, and there was definitely a different personality dynamic. In our family, we like APs to want to spend at least a little bit of down time with us as a family…and since we all have to eat, dinner seems to be the best time to do it…. Still we understand that they will be social enough with their peer group to want to go out with friends some evenings and most weekends, and that gives us a bit of time with just our kids. I had this balance with my last two APs who were a perfect fit for our family. The one good thing about this rematch, with an AP who didn’t really want to be with us outside of the work setting, was it made me realize how important to me this relationship element with the AP is, and I did look for that when interviewing for our next AP.

NZ HM May 9, 2016 at 8:33 pm

We had an aupair who had often dinner with us but was otherwise out a lot, as it turns out not because she was social but because she was unhappy and uncomfortable with us. She also was someone who would answer ‘yeah, fine’ when asked how was your day and how are you? and not much else. No opportunity to get to know her, exchange information let alone feelings…

Our aupairs’ schedule includes dinner time as paid hours because I have that luxury and I think it’s nice to have dinner together. At the same time, with young kids around and clearly child-dominated (in terms of conversations and actions), it never is the social gettogether and place to talk about the day that I hope for, more a chore that we want to get through quickly (and the kids off to bed) with little time to talk. I also don’t want to talk about the kids and any potential issues encountered by the aupair during the day in front of the kids…

Haven’t quite solved that one yet…

Old China Hand May 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Our APs work a full 45 hours a week and with classes, have little down time on evenings and weekends. They have joined us for meals (vs eating with the kids) to varying degrees. Ap1 and ap3 were adopted by local Christian families (we are members of a small minority religion) and were happier than ap2. Ap2 chose to cut off friendships with the Christian families though, so we view that as partly her fault. With all three I have come home for lunch regularly and enjoy chatting with them. They are less comfortable with Dh. A combination of gender and language. I am close with all 3 but we are lame (we say this when we interview) and do almost nothing exciting on weekends. They have loved visiting relatives and having relatives visit us. Maybe things will be different when we have older kids but for now we welcome the ap warmly and they are either lonely or independent but don’t rely on us for entertainment. We do special things like host ap friends for birthday to help them feel welcomed and invite them to everything.

AuPairGirl May 4, 2016 at 5:15 pm

As an au pair I think that’s a very difficult question. It’s the same as asking what king of relationship a HF wants with their au pair?? Who knows. Each person is different and have their expectation about the program. Many families in their first au pairs years would be happy to welcome a new family member, and families who have been in the program for too long might do not care as long they like the au pair work with the kids. Sometimes, we don’t know either, many os us want to come and be the big sister but we get here and that’s just not how things work. So my suggestion for all the HF who have this as a major problem. Try au pairs extending for their second year, in our second year we know WAY more what we want, what to expect and what not, we know our limitations and our flexibility. I have a great relationship with my HF, but I’m still independet, weekends I’m always away when I’m not required to work, I give them a lot of space, but they still invite me for everything, and sometimes I join them. I think things are working for us, I had second thoughts about extending or not, but my host mom didn’t give up on me, asked so many times for me to stay. So, here I am. I couldn’t be happier.

Seattle Mom May 7, 2016 at 1:54 am

I think this is a good point. Also, in some cases it probably depends on how much you enjoy spending time with the HF. You might not feel super comfortable spending a lot of time with them, but you still like the HK and the job and everything, so it’s not a bad situation. Or you might love them and hang out every evening.

NJHM May 5, 2016 at 2:06 pm

I haven’t yet seen what my dilemma has been as a host mom here. We are on our second au pair – with the first, she clearly LOVED our children, and the children LOVED her. On weekends she spent A LOT of time at home, even though she was not working, and she would naturally gravitate towards playing with the kids and hanging out with them. As a mom who is out of the house for 50+ hours a week, I came to resent her not understanding that when my husband or I are home, we want to be alone with our kids – as it is, she gets plenty of time to hang with them during the week. She was fun, and didnt have to worry about groceries and bills and house repairs, so the kids would naturally want to spend time with her rather than joining me at the grocery store, for example. But for me, it was important to have that time with them.
On the second one, we have intentionally picked someone who is not as “warm”, and really values her alone time to do her own thing. She is still a fine au pair, the kids love her as well, but she draws clear lines between work time and free time, so much so that I hesitate to even invite her to any family things, because I don’t know if she’d even want to do that (on weekends, she will often sit in her room until 5 in the evening rather than come out and hang with us!). I know this is a choice we have made, but in reading these responses, I do think I should check in with her to ensure she is as comfortable with how we manage things as we are.
To clarify, we all eat dinner together every weeknight, and if we decide to go out, she joins us gladly, but we dont involve her in weekend plans.

ChiHostMom May 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm

We have an infant and a preschooler and have always done family dinner (kids and adults) every night that APs are invited/expected to join. My husband and I also have family breakfast which has been less well attended by APs. I guess getting up before you start working isn’t everyone’s plan.

That said, we generally have low-key weekends where sometimes we veg-out all weekend and others we spend lots of time with friends and family. We have also found that APs tend to join us earlier in the year before they have lots of other support networks. But we always invite them to come along to all events including whenever we eat out, etc.

We use all our hours M-F so they’re not usually on duty for dinner and are not on duty for weekends.

IntellectualMom May 5, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I program my au pair’s hours to include breakfast and dinner (I welcome that extra adult at the table when HD’s away – 2 weeks of every month) and I agree it makes it easier to feel she is a part of the family. We have a good opportunity to talk and socialize. BUT, I sometimes feel that it’s not making the best use of Au Pair hours – I cook dinner and we’re really all just “relaxing” (as much as one can relax at dinner with kids aged 1.5, 4, and 9) and eating for at least 1 hour of the daily time I am paying her to work. Are other families in a similar situation and count family meals as work time?

Old China Hand May 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm

My ap and I were talking about this issue this morning. We both felt that if it is required it should count. If not, it should be totally up to the ap to join or not. We eat as adults after the kids are in bed, so we don’t require or count that aps eat with us. Last ap always ate breakfast with us before work. This one eats right before her shift, which is a bit later than we eat. This ap eats weekend meals with us, which the last didn’t and which I like.

massmom May 5, 2016 at 5:53 pm

We don’t count mealtimes as work time. I consider the au pair “off duty” the minute I get home, and if she wants to head up to her room until dinner is ready, no problem. Or if she is rushing off to evening plans, we’ll pop a plate in the fridge for her for later. But to me, helping prep, eat and clean up from dinner is just a duty that comes along with being part of a family, and we make it clear when we are interviewing that we expect their presence a couple of times a week to help maintain that family feel. I guess it depends on whether you need her to be catering to and helping the kids consistently during dinner

Taking a Computer Lunch May 5, 2016 at 10:31 pm

If you want your AP present, then she is working. I think when AP’s work 45 hours a week, then one cannot expect them to be there a second longer (invite, but do not expect). Now that child #2 (now in high school), cooks one meal a week, we tell our AP that he will be cooking, but do not expect her to be there. (Yeah, it would be nice if she were supportive, but on a Friday night, it’s not a “must” after a long week.)

Look, now that our kids are high-school aged, there are times that DH and I are no-shows for dinner – we’re having drinks with friends, traveling for work, or attending a work-related event. We hold our AP and our teenagers to the same standard – just let us know what your plans are (and we don’t hold it against either the teenager or the AP when a better invitation comes along at the last minute!) While we don’t expect that the AP will help with prep or clean-up (life with The Camel is harder than with a typically developing child), we do appreciate it – especially when one of us is a single-parent for a night or a week).

HostMom June 6, 2016 at 12:40 pm

This is a good discussion. I was reading all the posts and decided to reply with my own experience as well.

We expect our au pair to work 45 hours and yes sometimes the dinner time is included in this 45 hours. It seems like spending 1 hour of her work hour for just relaxing but I expect our au pair to help with the dinner prep. For example, I cook the dinner and she makes the salad and set up the dinner table etc. And I expect the au pair to help with the clean-up after the dinner if the au pair is eating with us. It may be sometime during her work hours or sometime it is not. Either way, if she is eating with the family she is expected to contribute like a family member.

If both parties understand this rule, than it works. As a full time working mom, I do not want to do everything by myself such as cooking the dinner, preparing the table and clean-up. And UP just sits down to eat. So, once I explain and set up the expectations clearly, au pairs knows what is expected from her. If AU was to eating with her own family in her own home, she would help her parents with these I assume. So far, it worked. And I do not expect them to eat with the family all the time. For example if my husband is on a business trip I may skip the formal sit down dinner but I always tell AP that I will not have the dinner with the family and inform her if she wants she can eat with the kids she should. And also due to kids eating schedule we have a set dinner time. She knows that if she wants to eat with the family , she should come to the kitchen at certain time to help with the dinner prep.

ExAupairNowHM May 6, 2016 at 1:52 pm

I think it all depends on what you want the relationship to be like and how you communicate that to your au pair right from the start. Ideally during the matching process.

When I was an au pair, I hardly ever did anything with my family during the off-hours. During the week I always attended family dinners, we talked about each other’s days and plans for the weekend. Then when Friday came around I was off living the life of a young adult with my peers. I felt like I was treated like an adult daughter – and let’s be honest most young adults between the age of 18 and 26 don’t spend their free time with their parents (at home) but rather be independent and hang with their peers. I had and still have a wonderful relationship with my (former) host family – they even came to our wedding and sent gifts when our children were born, and it was the perfect match for me.

Now being on the host family side, we treat our au pairs very much the same way. We are brutally honest during the matching process how much family involvement we want and expect. Working long hours we hardly see our kids during the week, so we do like to keep to ourselves on weekends and also spend time with our friends. We select au pairs that are aware of this and fine with being independent during their off-time. We usually plan a few family trips and events at the beginning, so we can get to know each other and to get the au pair out of her room since they don’t have much of a social network in those early weeks, but as soon as they have their own friends, we usually don’t spend much time with them during their time off. The exception to this are holidays and special events as well as vacations to which we always invite our au pairs, but they don’t always come. This has worked well for the past six au pairs.

Bottom line, if you clearly communicate, set the right expectations and match with a like-minded au pair, any level of family involvement is fine.

ExAuPair May 7, 2016 at 7:35 am

I think that anything goes as long as the expectations are clear. When I was an aupair, years ago, it was family all the way for me. I am a natural homebody, and I was really keen to experience life as part of an american family. I matched with the most amazing family, and we spent most of our time together. I was treated like an elder daughter (hostmum was quite a lot older than me, which helped)… if they took the kids clothes shopping, they’d buy something for me too (they weren’t wealthy, just generous). They took me away on holiday, and I got the ice creams and treats that everyone else got, and bought special food for me when I didn’t like what they were eating. They offered love and support, and I had an amazing time. In return, if they or the kids were ill, I would work extra hours to help out without expecting to be paid. I would always attend school events for the kids, would pitch in if something needed doing and I planned my social life to fit in with the family activities, not the other way round. I had the time of my life, and we still have a warm relationship today.

AuPair in the Netherlands May 10, 2016 at 6:35 am

When looking for a host family I made it very clear that I was looking for a family relationship. I did not want to feel like I was an employee I wanted to feel comfortable and welcomed in the home I would be living in. I think the fact that I knew what type of relationship I wanted is what made my match with my host family so successful.

Sarah May 18, 2016 at 9:29 pm

I am prepping for my first AuPair and am currently in the search. You guys are providing me with great information so that I can figure out what my expectations really are. I thought I knew but after reading through here I realized that I had no idea before and really appreciate everyone’s insight. Thank you so much!

Schnitzelpizza May 19, 2016 at 5:35 am

First time around (US) I didn’t think much about what kind of AP/HF relationship I wanted. I talked to a family (this was before Skype, heck this was before you could attach a photo to an email… we snailmailed pictures!), I liked them, they sounded nice and warm, I matched.

I think over the year I became something like an adult niece or maybe best-friend-from-college’s adult daughter living with them. I was always invited for any family activity and often chose to join. That included dinner, the 3rd grader’s dance recital, the 7th grader’s basketball game, the 5th grader’s band concert (and I swear, non of my children will ever be allowed to play the trumpet), a trip to the lake or 1 am shopping with HD (I came home, he was on his way out), just as well as Six Flags, baseball games, or looking at new houses (where I was always happily pretending to be the oldest daughter, looking at her new room).
I was still out and about A LOT. I did eat dinner with the family two/three times per week and then spent the evening at home after that (usually watching tv with the kids or reading in my room or just having a shower and going to bed) – dinner was usually late (7ish) and took a while with at least seven people at the table and dessert. But after classes and on the weekends I was often out for dinner or coffee or movies or shopping or doing day trips and experiencing my home away from home. Trying to cram as much into a limited amount of time as I could. I do not think that this in any way impacted my responsibility (I did manage to keep four children and a dog alive and well for a year, that has to count for something), I never over slept, I never forgot a child anywhere. The worst things I did was not sowing a crocodile together correctly (not my homework though) and buying breakfast basics instead of dinner basics (don’t give your AP 50 bucks and tell her to “buy the basics”, tell her to buy chicken and vegetables so that she doesn’t come home with cereal, milk, and oj – which we were also out of – and you are stuck with ordering pizza).

From today’s perspective I am sure that I didn’t spent as much time with them as I could have (never joined them for church as I am neither religious nor a morning person, which made me miss out on many family breakfasts). But I had classes two nights a week and I worked at least 45 hrs, usually 50, sometimes closer to 55 – with four kids, including one toddler. If you work from 6.30 am to 5.30 pm… you are happy when the parents are home and you can get away from two pre-teens constantly bickering at each other like old men. I loved my kids and I loved spending time with them but days were busy and I often just had to get out for a while to recharge my batteries so that I was up for it the following day.

It has been long enough for my baby to graduate high-school this year. My three oldest have graduated college, got married, have children (who are stinking adorable, by the way). It’s amazing how wonderful all of them have become and I am so proud that I got to spend a year with wonderful people like that. I wish we were still in touch and I wasn’t just stalking them on facebook and instagram but I am so amazingly proud of them and who they have become.

Now, my second AP experience (Europe) was the total opposite.
I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be part of the family, I wanted family dinners, I wanted to join for boring weekend trips, I wanted “real family life”, even if it was dull. And I matched for that. I matched for “we would love to have you around for dinner” and “we often take little family trips on the weekends, nothing exciting but we would love to take you”.

I did get to spend more time with the family. Actually, I got to spend more time with my HF than any 25 year old should… basically 24/7 as there was no way for me to get out. Car access wasn’t available as promised and the next public transportation was a bus into town (1 hr, costing 20% of my weekly salary, going hourly, no return bus past 8 pm) or a metro, which included walking to the station for an hour each way. If you work from 8 am to 4 / 4.30 pm and are expected to eat with the family… I was pretty much expected to be available 24/7 and was only allowed to do as I please when they were doing those boring family activities on the weekends that I had been told about (they couldn’t fit me in the car, so I didn’t get to go). When I was allowed to join, it was because I was expected to work (they took me skiing so that I could babysit the youngest while they went skiing, also shared a room with the oldest at the other end of the hotel… eh… I am not a skier so I didn’t mind that much but you don’t make your AP feel welcome if you go cross country skiing and leave her at the car with your 1 year old for hours, in a parking lot, next to a cafe but without giving her money).

We never made it past the employee stage. I was always around, I was expected to be at the dinner table as part of my job but I never felt like part of the family. Partly because I never bonded with the middle child but also because there was no interest in me as a person – no small talk, no talking about how the kids had been or what we had been up to. I have no feelings for anyone in the family (thankfully 99% of the bad feelings have also gone away by now) and couldn’t care less about what they are up to now. Sometimes the expectations both sides have (or can live with) match, sometimes it doesn’t. I guess then it just didn’t.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 19, 2016 at 8:28 pm

It says a lot about how much you brag about your “American Kids” versus nothing about who your “European kids” are now. It sounds like you bonded well with your American family – enough to enjoy who “your” children have become as adults. One of my favorite APs (and there are now 12) now has a baby of her own. When she lived with us, she had a picture of “her” kids as her cell phone wallpaper and regarded it as normal. That’s a member of the family. She went to soccer games, attended birthday parties (there weren’t yet the horrible school concerts – “her” kids were still too young) and joined us for a lot of family trips. She also was ready to go out at 11 pm when DH and I came home from date night on a Saturday, had plenty of boyfriends, and spent every dime she made.

It comes down to balance. No HF should want an AP around 24/7 and no AP should want to stay at home (whether caring for the kids or in her/his bedroom) 24/7. In my opinion, it is important to be both a member of the family and explore the region/country in which you live, meet friends, and have a life for yourself as an independent adult.

WarmStateMomma May 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm


Our APs that have had amazing experiences bonded closely with the family (primarily the kids) but also had their own lives. It’s worked out wonderfully for us and the APs. I love hearing them happily recount their adventures with other APs when they come home – just as I love celebrating special family events with them.

Fortysomething HM May 19, 2016 at 11:34 pm


It’s so heartwarming how you love your former (first) host kids (who have now grown). I know you said you are not “in touch” with them, but no reason you can’t drop them a quick note (even a request to follow/comment on an instagram pic?). Who doesn’t LOVE hearing from beloved people from years ago? I think it’s so fun. You should drop them a line somehow!

HRHM May 20, 2016 at 11:33 am

Our second AP stayed in the US and is going to college and living with her BF. We’ve seen her a couple times and are planning to see her in the next couple weeks for DH’s retirement. We also excitedly learned that she is pregnant with her first baby and it’s a boy! We are so proud of the wonderful life she’s made for herself and so glad that we have kept in touch, even if it’s not as much as we’d all like. She was not our “best” AP but she was great with my kids and I always knew she loved all of us beyond compare (even when she was making me crazy LOL)

Send your host kids and family a card and let them know you’re interested – you may be pleasantly surprised by the response you get!

Bitka August 21, 2016 at 5:52 pm

I just finished my au pair program and I still don’t know what is the answer on Your question. I’m really confused. Some people say that it depends from hosts some from au pair. I would say that it depends from hosts. Au pair is fresh in the situation. Mostly it’s once in a life time experience. She will be trying to figure it out by watching You at first. That is why if she won’t be seeing Your interest she will be acting similar. Remember You are the one who gives her money and You were the one who probably sent a request after reviewing her profile.The best idea is asking her “why” if you will see her reactions or responses that You would like to change/improove. Please don’t make an excuse that You are not a mind reader. Act like a HOST-person who is “hosting” another person. Be respectful because if You will she will be too. I know that for You Your children will be the most important in the house. but maybe not necessary when she will be off. I don’t claim that she wouldn’t like to spend time with all of you. Mostly people that are comming to another country are trying to get to know something/more about the place that they are in. I think that is the main idea of this program – improoving language skills and visiting the country. At least this 2 things should be important for the au pair in my opinion. Mostly You au pair can’t really run away from those 2 changes in her future life in foreign country. You really have to ask and also assume that maybe you did/said (maybe even unaware) something wrong/offensive-that is why she will withdrawing. My perfect match would be people to who I could trust and having support with the issues related to the program (opening bank account, SSN, taxes) and their personal staff which the au pair is using during the programme. You can say that You have an adult in the house but does it mean that if she is done with the work, kids are happy, You paid her that should be all. You will have human being under Your roof not a thing. Don’t pretend that she doesn’t exist say “hi” “bye”, “nice to see You”. Don’t ask how is she if You are not interested in the moment. Don’t take her on trips if You don’t want but say it so she wouldn’t waist her time. If You really want her to go somewhere let her know that You really care. Don’t cheat on her because like I said for most of the au pairs it will be once in a life time experience. Ask for rematch if it’s necessary after discussion with au pair. This program has such a big potential but deffinitely should have better regulations.

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