What’s your Host Parent Mindset?

by cv harquail on October 2, 2012

If the world can be divided into two kinds of people, there are two types of Host Parents:

  1. Those who think they were born being perfectly good host parents, thankyouverymuch, and
  2. Those who are trying to learn how to be better host parents

By virtue of being a reader of AuPairMom, you are obviously one of that special second group.we all fly together marissa.jpeg

You, dear Reader, have a Growth Mindset.

If you’ve done much reading of the parenting literature, you’ve probably come across one of my favorite perspectives on parenting & teaching children, psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck identifies two types of mindsets, or ways of looking at the world:

The “Fixed” Mindset

The Fixed Mindset treats your own qualities — and the qualities of others– as though they were set in stone. A person with a fixed mindset believes that her attitude, ability, and level of effort are hard wired. People with a fixed mindset focus on proving that they are good enough.

People with a fixed mindset:

  • avoid challenges
  • give up easily,
  • ignore useful negative feedback, and
  • feel threatened by the success of others.

People with a fixed mindset try very hard, but they also worry about being wrong and showing their mistakes. As a result, they tend not to learn very easily and they usually don’t achieve their full potential.

The “Growth” Mindset

The Fixed mindset treats your qualities — and the qualities of others — are something that you’ve achieved with practice and effort. These qualities can be improved or developed if you encourage and cultivate them.

People with a growth mindset

  • embrace challenges,
  • persist in the face of setback
  • see effort as a path to master
  • learn from criticism,
  • find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Taking A Growth Mindset leads to a Triple Win for a Host Parent

What I like about the Growth Mindset idea is that we can use insights from this research to help ourselves, our au pairs, and our children. A triple win!!!

When we adopt a Growth mindset, we’re able to teach others not how to execute “correctly, ” but how to do things in a way that they learn and grow in the doing.

People often shift between one mindset and the other, depending on the situation. I know that sometimes with my au pairs, I’ve tried to really look like I knew everything  — about what my girls needed, how to made a decent pie crust,  or even how to take a bus from here to Queens. I’ve really wanted to look like a great parent, a kind person, a patient teacher, a driver who’s never experienced road rage.

I’ve wanted to be a good example. I’ve wanted to prove that I’m a total natural at this host parenting thing, always having an answer, always making the right choices. As if.

Somebody told me once that one of the best things you can do is

Teach your children how to be wrong graciously and how to change your mind in a way that shows you have learned.

This helps make learning, making mistakes, revising your mind all look perfectly normal.

So I learned to say — out loud and in front of other people — things like: “Well, I’ve thought it over and realized you’re right. I’ve decided to change my mind, and let you kids dress the dog in doll clothes as long as you are gentle.”

I’ve learned to say — out loud and in front of other people — things like “What do I need to learn to be able to do this better?”

Oh, and I’ve also practiced doing this in my response to challenges.

Case in point? Pulling out the manual & jumper cables and figuring out how to jump the battery of the au pair car. Right in front of my au pair. I demonstrated not only that I didn’t know everything (quel horreux!) , that I knew how to learn, and that I could be successful just by amping up my effort.

When we think about becoming better parents and better host parents, we should keep in mind that

We can become better parents through practice, reflection, conversation, and questioning.

Our kids can become better at sharing with each other, eating healthy food, making their beds.

Our au pairs can become better at challenges like  listening to what the kids really need, following through on their responsibilities, and driving safely.

What’s your Host Parent Mindset? What is your Au Pair Mindset?

Over at the website for Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there’s  an online quiz that you can take to assess your own mindset.

It might be fun to ask your au pair to take it, too, and then talk with him or her about how to work together and with the kids from a growth mindset.

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.

  • Take on the challenge wholeheartedly,
  • Learn from your setbacks and try again
  • Hear the criticism and act on it is now in your hands.

Practice hearing both the fixed mindset voice and the growth mindset voice. Then, practice acting on the growth mindset. See how you can make it work for you.

One thing that I deeply appreciate about the conversations we have here on AuPairMom is that they almost always reflect a growth mindset.

We all believe that we can become better by sharing ideas, telling our own stories, admitting our own mistakes, and describing how we learned. yea us!


Image: We All Fly Together, by Marissa, available for purchase on Etsy


German Au-Pair October 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Um, I agree with everything you said, but the test is simply book promotion, right? Isn’t it scientifically proven that one cannot change IQ? Does rephrasing one question 4 times mean that one checks four “fixed mindset” answers?
That was just weird.

NHM October 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

So do you consider yourself to hold a fixed mindset?

Used to be an AP October 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm

@German Au Pair: That has not been scietifically proven to my knowledge, but I am not a psychologist, so I might be wrong.
You can definitely practise intelligence tests and once you get used to the questions, the test will indicate that your IQ has been raised (although that might not actually have happened).

cv harquail October 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Hi GA-P-
Yes, it’s a book promotion. And I agree– I think it’s oddly worded since ‘intelligence’ is really not the issue, but skills and attitude. But I thought I’d toss it in there for people who wanted to experiment with the concepts.
The actual Mindset work is scientific– maybe the online quiz was designed by the pr firm (no offense intended to host mom pr professionals ;-) )

German Au-Pair October 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Yeah, like I said, the concept seems good and right and I do agree with the two kinds of mindset thing.
I was just a little stunned that you recommended the test itself.

Absolutely not. But I do believe that talent and intelligence are things you just cannot influence. You can learn and improve no matter your talent but for example an untalented singer will never be as good as a talented one. Which doesn’t mean the untalented one cannot become better than the talented when it comes to control over voice etc.
But this test had TWO questions -both rephrased 4 times- and in the end it told me I had checked 8 answers that show I have a fixed mindset.

I just felt like pointing out that the test ist…let’s say…garbage. But that might be due to the fact that we just discussed what a scientific test has to have in my Psychology class :D

But I believe that the concept of gaining a “Growth” mindset, is absolutely right and does fit the whole au pair program very well.
I always tell my au pairs friends who complain about American customs that we decided to live here and therefore we should just appreciate that things are DIFFERENT from what we know and not wrong or right. That’s how we can learn from this experience.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 3, 2012 at 7:45 am

This post came at the perfect time for me, as my current AP is not as take-charge as her predecessors. She has resisted taking on chores that are new to her (and almost all of them are – her parents had asked her to do very little around the house) and seems to need people around to hold her hand.

I’m a person who often says, “If someone else can do that, so can I.” I do find myself pretty intolerant of people who don’t try, so nice to have this to reflect on today, before I have a “light a fire under your butt” conversation.

HRHM October 4, 2012 at 7:53 am

It’s funny, because I just recently realized that this attitude is one of the major requirements for me to be happy with an AP. Our first AP had it and until I realized she was stealing from us and a liar, she was perfect. Our current AP has it and again, I feel satisfied.
You don’t need to do everything perfectly, but you need to try to do everything. That feeling that I have to show and explain and hand hold on every little thing just makes me give up and do it myself, which then leaves me feeling like I’m doing the AP’s job. Then I just end up dissatisfied and pissed off.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 4, 2012 at 7:59 am

Had the talk, and the AP admitted she was not taking initiative because she was afraid of making mistakes. While I’m not buying or reading the book (the stack I have next to my bed has fallen over several times), I found CV’s description as a useful way of thinking about the issues I was having with my current AP’s performance.

Personally, I think that one can overcome the limitations of one’s intelligence. I often say, about my severely mentally retarded teenager, “I may be retarded but I’m not stupid” because she has learned to do things that no one else in the house dares to do – like manipulate the buttons on her keyboard to make it play for her. Will she learn to read? Probably not, but given what she has, she’s doing a pretty good job in the areas in which she has a devoted interest (just like my typically developing child).

As for talent. Yes, there is innate talent, but hard work, dedicate and passion can take one pretty far. As long as it makes you happy, who cares if you’re not the best?

And so back to the AP – it’s going to take work to get her up to speed, but she’s not a wash-out. She’s come pretty far in the three months she’s been with us, and the question is how far can she rise to meet the responsiblity so that DH and I are not irked by the little things because the big things are done so well.

Emerald City Host Mom October 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

Is there any way for CV to give you my email? I would love to know how you started this conversation with your au pair. We are having similiar issues and it’s all minor things, but a number of minor things tend to add up to mine and host dad’s unhappiness. The dynamics are way different than when dealing with my own teen. For example, twice now, I’ve come home and the paper towel holder is empty. Yes, I know it’s small, but it’s also one of the things I’ve noticed. We are having a difficult time with the weekly meetings, because so far every week there seems to be something, but that something does get better after we discuss it. I don’t want the weekly meeting to just seem like we are being nit picky about the small things.

With my son I can just say, “Dude… Really?!?” That doesn’t quite work on the au pair, nor would I think it’s appropriate. :).

Taking a Computer Lunch October 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm

ECHM, my LCC is very wise and willing to put up with my whining (which has only happened with 2 au pairs in 8 years, so my odds are good). This time she told me that in her experience common sense cannot be taught in a year.

Your bottom line: is the au pair doing her job well enough, which includes learning from her mistakes, that you’re willing to put up with a year of spelling everything out because she has no common sense, or is every little “no paper towel” infraction going to irk you endlessly.

I assume that you’re in a different situation than I. The Venn diagram of special needs willing rematch APs who can drive is almost nil every time I find my AP coming up short (fortunately 2 in 8 is not bad odds). My current AP is not a bad person, she’s not a stupid person, but she is in over her head and her natural inclination to do what she wants gets in her way of what needs to be done. We’ve had one incident that would have sent 99% of HP into rematch, but unfortunately, we’re in the 1%, so we push back.

I must say, my current experience makes me push my ‘tween (almost teen) into gaining enough experience to function when he leaves home (and that includes cuffing him up the back of the head when he does something stupid – which I could never ever do to an AP!) I might find myself thinking “Really?!?” with the next incident, however.

And so, the small things versus the big things. I have written elsewhere, that when everything goes well HP can overlook the small things that annoy them because the AP is doing a great job. (AP #6 put the glasses upside down in the cupboard all year which annoyed DH and I. However, she was a fantastic, wonderful, energetic, and thoughtful AP, so we rolled our eyes and bit our tongues. If our current AP did that, we’d be likely to say something.)

I reminded the current AP, who is insecure, that every single AP has done something that DH and I didn’t like. And I told her up front, that when they did their jobs well, we could look the other way because the little things didn’t annoy us. We could say something gentle about the bigger things that annoyed us. However, when we found ourselves constantly reminding an AP to do the minimum, then everything annoyed us.

I think it is useful for the AP to hear “This is a little thing, it’s not a rematch thing, and I probably wouldn’t be bringing it up if you were doing your job well….”

Emerald City Host Mom October 9, 2012 at 3:39 pm


That gives a lot of insight and helps me sort though things. I’ll have to have host dad read this.

Former ap-pair Viki October 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Taking a Computer Lunch you are the best. How I wish you were my host mom back when I was an au pair. Its nice to see that some HFs understand that the 1% bad can be over looked when the au pair is amazing with the fam esp the children

VAHostMom October 3, 2012 at 9:07 am

I am a new reader with our first AP on the way and I really appreciate all of the information I’ve learned on this blog. I enjoyed the post, thank you. I think the Growth Mindset is another way of talking about the willingness to be vulnerable. It makes me think of Brene Brown’s research, books and TED talks on the power of vulnerability.

I agree that the quiz is odd and not very helpful. The 4 Steps for Changing your Mindset are good, though. Thanks!

cv harquail October 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I wish we could get Brenee Brown to do a webinar/interview for host moms and au pairs! I have the book on my stack… maybe I’ll get inspired and find an au pair related insight?

hey, VAHostMom…. if you read Daring Greatly, maybe you could write us a blog post? ;-)

eastcoastmom October 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I agree, I think the quiz is book promotion. I also don’t think you can do much about IQ or talent. While you can and should certainly learn new things and improve skills, there are some cases where you need to accept what is and move on. For example, if I decided I wanted to be a professional painter (of the picture type, not the house type) I would quickly starve to death! Anyway, interesting thoughts and an overall good message. Not buying the book though. :)

NHM October 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm

This is so interesting. I used to think the same way but now I have changed my mind. You can actually learn how to draw and paint much easier than I had once thought with the proper guidance and mindset :). While I agree that not everyone will be able to be a great painter I believe everyone is capable of learning how to paint quite decently if they work at it. And I think THAT is the difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset.
Now just because you can does not mean you will :).

Should be working October 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm

The quiz doesn’t make sense to me. But I came out as very fixed mindset. Which about intelligence and talent I guess I am. But not about skills in general, and definitely not about being a HM.

vdotw October 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I don’t consider myself to have a fixed mindset, but I also found the quiz odd. I believe people can change certain things about their talents and knowledge, but it takes willingness and commitment to do so. I think the same can be said for mindsets, too. Whether we read the book and take the quiz or not, this post is a good reminder that you can either face the world ready to adapt, or do so expecting it to adapt to you.

Apu October 10, 2012 at 6:29 am

This post is a good reminder for us so we don’t be an ignorance person and can learn from critisism.
After 6 months living as an Aupair (and cleaning lady) in France. I decided to leave. I had a HM who belongs to the “Fixed Minded” type. It’s been 2 times she tried to kick me out from the house just because I told her my opinion. 1st when I said that she cannot cut my pocket money during public holiday and when I told her I work too much (vacuum-cleaning 3 floors, do laundry+hanging+folding+ironing for all family incld dirty underwears of HP, cleaning the morning mess etc etc).
I mean, it is normal if I want to say what is in my mind, right? And I didn’t try to fight her or anything, just having an argument to learn something new. But when I argue, she ended up saying, I’m about to terminate the contract or, if you don’t want to do it (cleaning stuffs) we will find someone else.
So, after having a long thought, I decided to terminate the contract and go back to my country. When I told them about it, they said it’s okay. But when I said I would like to leave from the house 1 week earlier (I supposed to give 2 weeks notice) because I would like to spend my last week with my friends and boyfriend, which I don’t know if I ever meet them again or not, she was so upset and told me I’m so unreliable and she didn’t want to listen my explanation. I offered to help her find a new aupair, I will ask my friends, looking online etc etc, but she didnt want it.
The next morning, the HF told me that I have to leave. Not tomorrow, not tonight, but NOW. I didn’t even took a shower, I didn’t have proper goodbye with the kids (which made me so sad because I really really love them). They told me will transfer my pocket money, but until now they haven’t. When I call they reject it, when I SMS and email they don’t reply.
Now I stay with my friends and have to keep moving because my flight is still in 2 weeks. I have very limited money because they haven’t transfer my pocket money.
How can this HM has this type of personality? Can they treat an AP like that even if I did something wrong? It’s like “Ok, you said something wrong, now leave without your pocket money”. I need advice :(

Newhostmom October 12, 2012 at 7:33 am

Oops – sorry APU. That new information certainly changes my response. That’s why I said it’s hard to diagnosis an issue knowing only one side and only a few paragraphs.

Whatever happened here, the lesson is probably to get all of your pay and duties in a contract before you arrive. Ask questions about what housework you would be expected to do, how much vacation time and sick time you will have and how it would accrue, ask about what happens on public holidays, etc.

Although it sounds like your host mom wasn’t following the contract anyway, maybe she really did think she was hiring a housekeeper too (TACL is right that au pairs are expected to do a lot more house cleaning in Europe). And I still do wonder why you thought it would be ok for you to break the agreement about the two weeks notice but not ok for the host mom to break her agreements.

At any rate, it sounds like you will be relieved that this is over and ready to move on to a better fit. I’m sorry you had this experience and hope you find a new job soon.

Newhostmom October 12, 2012 at 7:37 am

Just wanted to add that not paying you for a month you worked completely unacceptable. I just read over my response again and it sounds like I still think this is your fault. I definitely don’t think that – I was trying to convey what might be your host parent’s side of things.

Calif Mom October 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Totally agree that when fixed mindset au pair (“I’ll go spend a year sightseeing and partying in the US, with meals included, live in a fancy suburb, use someone else’s car and have no real responsibilities”) lands in a family with growth mindset (“this is your JOB, and you are IN CHARGE of either doing or supervising x, y and z, in return for which we will look after your interests and treat you fairly–this is your year to really grow, it’s going to be fun!”), the results can indeed be disappointing. Like when matter and anti-matter collide in science fiction stories.

Yep, 3 months is the witching time all right!

TACL, I’ve used every tactic you’ve shared and that I can think of with this one. I was determined to not fail again. And when I had the fire-lighting conversation as an escalation after 2 months of coaching (in person, by text, by email, you name the mode!) it was cleverly turned against us so that this rematch is due to the “host family has real issues”. And the counselor took the bait hook, line, sinker.

After months of au pair turnover, a stop-gap local “college student” who turned out to have mental health issues and a family life in crisis herself, then bringing in a family friend for stability over the summer, and now another rematch with the most immature au pair ever, I think we’re done for awhile. The kids have so much anxiety it’s palpable. Which becomes a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Feeling utterly jinxed. Negative host mom mojo, that’s for sure!

Not sure if this is due to trickier-than-normal kids (both are smarter than all of our au pairs have been, except one, and both girls have intense –but not similar– personalities. I have warned every candidate each time we go through matching that they are not by any means “easy” kids, it has been to no avail, apparently.) Or is that the older one has hormones now? Or is it me? I’m not an easy mom anymore, due to chronic health issues. And yet, I would be so much happier and more relaxed if the au pairs would, as CV put it once, READ THE &$#@!!!! HANDBOOK ! (and then actually take it as seriously as I did when I wrote it over the course of years).

I emphasize communication as key to mutual success in the host mom/au pair dyad, but when an au pair fibs about things–including big things, like a huge scratch on the car that magically appeared after one weekend, followed equally magically by a new fear of parking in garages,– as well as small things, like losing the key to a locker at the beach and then magically finding it in her own bag but (thinking no one saw) pretending to find it in the shared bag– and yet the au pair thinks I won’t notice, it’s just tiresome and finally leads to their bluff being called. Fine, go. I’m not going to cry over it, that’s for sure… if you had been caring for my kids well, overseeing homework and not spending the whole day texting, maybe I would meet you halfway.

[How does one rack up 3,000 texts in one month anyway? No, I don’t regret limiting your texting one bit. It’s why we bought a blackberry for the au pair, so you can use email. it’s free, duh!]

Oh, and then discovering after I closed out our match that there were $20 in library fines after I had been telling her to take the books to the library for the past two weeks?

Sorry to take over the string.

Our best au pairs have both extended with us. I am on FB with them and miss them dearly. Now more than ever, actually! :-) So it cannot *just* be me. They were both intelligent. Hard-working. Willing to take the bad with the good. And both were special needs willing if not qualified. They were both from rematch with families that did truly treat them horribly. Totally different from how I have treated subsequent au pairs.

I don’t think it’s me. Not sure if it’s a shift in the au pair demographics?

newhostmom October 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Yikes, Calif Mom – that all sounds awful. Sounds like a break is probably in order. In the interest of having a growth mindset, has anything significantly changed with your family since you had the two awesome au pairs that could be affecting the situation? Or is it just bad luck since then?

Should be working October 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Calif Mom, I hear you. Only read this after posting over on the other thread (about prospective APs contacting former APs) about my minor woes. Actually you are giving me perspective. Our AP is honest, tries to be conscientious. She just doesn’t connect well with our older child (hormones??) and personalitywise. Too superficial/Barbie-ish. But she is not bad.

Is there any consolation in this: you can fire the AP because she is BAD. I find it harder to be in a situation where the AP is ok but not great, because I can’t fire her but I’m not so happy either.

newhostmom October 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm

True, should be working. Lol…I was trying to think in the spirit of growth, but honestly lying would be a complete instant deal breaker for me. Not really willing to grow to accomodate that :)

Returning HM October 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm

SBW – you completely summed up where we are too, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I would almost (ALMOST – not quite)welcome a huge scratch on the car that gets lied about, because THEN maybe it would give us a reason not to continue with our match. Our AP, with us since Aug, is what DH and I have come to call a “bare minimum” AP. She does what is absolutely required and spelled out for her (and boy do I need to spell EVERYTHING out), but that’s it. There’s no spark, no energy, no real engagement, and — dare I say it? not much going on upstairs. On the other hand, she is honest (so far), she means well, and she is a good driver. We have had a couple of truly awful APs in the past – in a row, which caused us to leave the program for two years from 2009-2011- so I know what really BAD can be. In this case, there’s nothing really compelling our match to end…other than the nagging sense of, do we really have 10 more months of this “just OK” childcare? Boy do we miss our last AP (and other previous ones too!)

Calif Mom October 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

That sounds exactly like where we were a month ago, Returning HM, when we really started managing for performance.

One night DH had to go to a meeting after work at the last minute, so we all met at our fave pizza place–she brought the kids, Dad and I commute together, then he left and we all went home in the other car–and she literally just SAT there with a blank look on her face, trying to stealth text (because I had asked her to not text at the dinner table anymore). Apparently we had messed with her dinner plans (though she didn’t actually SAY this). When I say literally just sat there, that’s exactly it. She sat with a totally blank look on her face. Only spoke when spoken to. It was as if we were torturing her.

Perhaps my mistake was in offering her the opportunity to leave. I said, you know, if this doesn’t feel right, if it is too hard (she has been having probs with one of the kids — because she was on her phone all the time and the kids knows it and resents it mightily) it is better to just rematch.

Then no feedback–just pleasant smiling responses to direct questions– until BOOM, not only do I hear that she wants to rematch (from the counselor) but that she doesn’t feel she can keep the kids safe, and left me high and dry, the very next day she moved out. WTF?

No more younger APs, that’s for sure, if we ever do return.

After care at the school is horrible. We did that in the spring when we had to bounce an AP who didn’t get along with my eldest and was sending her to school with literally a piece of bread in her lunch box.

Anyway…. I’m obviously still processing. :-)

As for whether anything else has changed — YES. Our stress level is through the roof, in no small part because of these difficulties keeping stable childcare.

When I think about my first nanny, who was with us for 3+ years and is one of my heros (not understating this) I realize that the common denominator really is having ‘something going on upstairs’. It’s not about family background, it’s about native common sense, values, and some smarts. Otherwise, apparently, they just won’t understand or respect or be able to integrate into our family well.

Here’s where I think the au pair pool becomes an issue — it smacks up against our need for someone who can handle older kids. I’m going to use hyperbole here, because my kids aren’t geniuses, but when a genius is a toddler, it doesn’t take a genius to care for them (though it would probably be better for the kid if their caregiver could see and respond to their giftedness as if it were a special need, because it really is–gifted kids require awareness of their different needs. I have had in-depth conversations about death with both my 3 year-olds, when they brought it up because they were worrying about it. That doesn’t show up in the “Happiest Preschool on the Block”).

Yet what I’m seeing in the pool of au pairs is more and more younger APs who really just want to come play for a year, put off being an adult, rather than looking for growth.

I also do think that the au pair blogs and the coaching by agency reps are hurting us all because they are telling each other and the candidates exactly what to say.

Our last au pair told us her rep in Germany made her edit her video several times. What a farce.

Should be working October 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Calif Mom, if she said she can’t keep the kids safe (well coached for a quick exit, you must admit) then it is shocking that the agency would rematch her. And I hate the coaching the agencies provide.

Should be working October 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I also agree (see below response to Busy Mom) that I’m wondering more and more about APs and older kids. Most APs seem to do kindergarten-type internships and babysit little kids. How do you judge if that person would be good with my preteen??

Former au-pair Viki October 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Oh boy, so true about the video. They made me change mine like 5 times. In the end I wasn’t happy and just did as I was told, bigger (faker) smile, plain backround etc
Im a bubbly happy creative person but was told to tone it down, don’t shoot a video in the park, don’t move alot, be monotonus, backround must be a white wall.
Its def a farce!!!

Should be working October 16, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Viki, what else did the agency tell you? Can I ask which agency? This is SO disheartening. The video is supposed to give us an idea of the au pair’s personality, and the agencies are messing that up by dictating the video!

Newhostmom October 16, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I’d be curious too if you’re willing to share. Our first was with Cultural Care and her video was a mess but she was awesome. Our second au pair is with APIA and she didn’t even have a video.

JJ Host Mom October 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Ugh Calif Mom I’m so sorry you’re going through this. You have inspired me with tales of your great rematch au pairs. We’ve had similar luck – bad luck with a sprinkling of really good in between. So I really hear you. Maybe take a break and try other forms of childcare for a while, and if you get to the point where you remember more of the good than the bad, then try again. But I know from experience that it’s awful to get to the point where you’re continually lowering your expectations and settling for less and still not getting what you need. It can be great – you know it, I know it, but the question is whether you’re willing to sift through the bad experiences to get the good ones.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Calif Mom,
I’m sorry your LCC wasn’t more supportive. I’m fortunate to have a great LCC who really goes to bat for both APs and HFs. Before I have a “Light the fire under your butt, girl,” conversation, I warn my LCC. I tell her what’s not working, what I have told the AP, and She often offers to make a follow-up telephone call to the AP to talk with her about what HF can reasonably expect from an AP. So far in 8 years, I have only had 2 extensive exchanges with her. Because I’m not a good candidate for rematch, I put more effort into “making it work” than most HF. The AP you describe, however, might have pushed me to go for rematch with an out-of-country pool of candidates (however, I’m sure I’d feel rushed to fill the position, and that’s never a good thing).

amy October 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I have a question: since your au pairs are all so bad, why don’t you just go with a nanny? Live-in nanny if you wish, but it sounds like, you try and try and they are just bad… I’m sorry for you… And i’m sorry for the kids as well.. My hf have friend, they are on their 3rd au pair, and they were ALL horrible!!!!! And i mean HORRIBLE! They take a nanny now, because the kids can’t deal with this anymore. ( they are not bad kids, i watched them a couple times) but some families seem to have really bad luck..

Newhostmom October 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

Well a nanny is offering something different in many material ways. I have au pairs mainly for two reasons – the first is the flexibility. This year, we need someone to do the morning and after school routine, any days the kids have off of school, and then occasional date nights for the school year. Then in the summer, we need coverage full day some weeks. I would never be able to find a nanny who would give that much flexibility. The second is because I like the idea of my kids being taken care of by someone who lives with us, with whom I can model how I want the kids to be treated, who feels like part of the family and wants to hang out with us at dinner or on trips, etc. I’d guess that even a live-on nanny wouldn’t offer that.

So a nanny wouldn’t meet our needs at all. But also I do have to say that it’s pretty comical to me that you assume that there are never any troubles with nannies. I have many friends who have nannies, and just like with au pairs, a good number of them have minor or major issues with their nannies. Some of the issues are the same actually – how to find one, how to get them engaged with the kids, how to schedule vacations and off days, how to get them to stop texting and watching TV when they’re supposed to be watching the kids, etc.

There are great nannies and terrible nannies just like au pairs. But au pairs are offering something very different from nannies and the characteristics of an au pair relationship are exactly what we want.

Calif Mom October 16, 2012 at 9:39 am

Well put! You describe the difference between au pairs and nannies exactly. And nannies in our area are VERY manipulative when it comes to leveraging raises and benefits.

College students are supposed to be a viable alternative, but I’ve found them very unreliable. Tried that this summer.

Calif Mom October 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

I have been working closely with this counselor for years. She drives me buggy, but has always backed us up until this last one. Very disappointing…

Busy Mom October 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Calif Mom, sorry to hear your woes. I think it does become much harder to find an AP who can relate to older kids, though your issues went beyond that. Maybe – in all my spare time – I’ll do a guest post on APs and teens!

Should be working October 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Busymom, I want this post on teens and preteens. Now that we have a preteen I feel like the AP dynamics are totally different. It’s about the AP being able to deal with not-cute sulking, moodiness and swings between being a little kid and being an older kid. I hope we can talk about this, because I need perspective!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Agreed it’s an issue, even with APs who have had no practical experience with younger children. My father gave me good advice as my typically developing child became a ‘tween – “The only real way to get information out of an older child is to do something physical – throw a ball, shoot hoops, play soccer – on his or her terms.” That explained the countless hours working on my softball pitching… Most of my APs have not been sporty, or even particularly physically fit (DH and I now fit that bill ourselves, so I’m not casting stones) – but the ones that have broken through to the typically developing child are the ones who have engaged in activities on his terms (the AP who engaged in the stick fighting won kudos, the one who refused to let him win on the Wii won his respect, the ones who came saying “I know better than you” where met with a book-reading ghost who wanted no interaction.

Should be working October 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm

So TACL, did you coach the AP to try to get her bonded with the older child? I feel like it’s just not going to happen, no matter how much I coach. And I can see that they just are not temperamentally very well suited to each other.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm

SBW – You have to understand that I have one child that drives 99% of what the AP does day-to-day, and another that is extremely independent to the point of being indifferent, so your mileage will vary. Once a week I take The Camel out of the picture. Some times I give the AP a concrete task (X has to do Y, please help him. Then I tell X – “The AP will help you do Y.” Other times, I make suggestions to the AP. “X is hates picking up. Why don’t you promise to play video games with him if he does it quickly and his Mom doesn’t have to know.” or “I know you like to play basketball. So does X. Why don’t you offer to shoot hoops with him.”) With the best APs it only takes a couple of weeks, with the few others, it has taken most of the year.

I will say, based on some of the APs who have been friends of my AP that young APs are more likely to descend to the level of their teen and tween charges, responding to threats to their authority with inappropriate retorts.

This year I have a young AP (I’ve had very mature young APs before, this year not so much), and I keep on repeating my mantra “A few weeks ago you were a child in your parents’ house, but now you’re an adult in mine.” My guess is that my next AP will be an Extraordinnaire once again – there’s something about that extra work experience that increases the maturity level…

Calif Mom October 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

This is sage advice indeed. My eldest yesterday was being a total PITA, and pleaded with me to let her go outside to ride her bike for just a few minutes. Came back in a new person. Good to remember.

Funny, when they were little I always told sitters “if they’re crabby, just add water– the bathtub, the hose, the kitchen sink, whatever.” Now it’ll be “if they’re crabby, get them outside DOING something — find rocks, rake leaves, throw snowballs, race scooters, dig holes, whatever.”

Calif Mom October 19, 2012 at 10:17 am

Our two best au pairs were special needs willing (as I mentioned before. They were also slightly older — one was 22, the other 23.

I stupidly took the advice of our lame counselor this time and went with a younger German. She SEEMED mature on Skype. Her references said she was mature. She was the oldest of her siblings. She and her friends didn’t dress like floozies. But it turns out they just were better at hiding their partying.

We, too, will look at extraordinaires or maybe educares. The homework thing is extremely important to us for our 7th grader. Our needs are at the other end of the special needs spectrum, with exec function skills needing bolstering in one kid, and anxiety issues in both.

Are the educares a better bet? Or are they more focused on their own studying? Maybe if we can find that perfect combination of educare who wants to specialize in special needs… Hope springs eternal! :D

au pair October 16, 2012 at 9:15 am

Newhostmom: thank you for your respond. I didn’t know why people would try au pairs over and over again even tho it doesn’t work. thank you, now i can understand it a little better.
I am on vacation with my hf at the moment, so yesterday i talked to them about how to avoid bad au pairs. I asked them how they knew i was a good fit. ( i’m their first au pair and i’ve been with them almost 2 years.) what they said was: we didn’t know for sure, but be were pretty certain. The said, because my enlgish was really bad, they thought i must have other reasons why a would like to spend a year in the US. one reason could be because i really like kids ( which i do) or because i want to learn english (which you learn best by spending time with your hf) i know that now some hm will say, but my kids get anoid if au pair doesn’t understand etc. well bad for them. them YOU need to teach them how they can teach your au pair the language. My boy was 8 at the time i arrived, and boy got he anoid because i could’t understand him. My hostparents talked to him and said: she needs YOUR help. You are her teacher! It is very hard to learn a new language and we need to help her! It worked! he never said a word again! he was and still is my best english teacher, and he loves it:)I also have friends who came with poor english skills and they are all great au pairs. The ones that ended up in rematch ( and there are a lot) are the ones with great english skills, and only hang out with people who speak their language. And some of them HATE their kids! and that is aweful! My hp said: it is hard to find a good au pair, and we are glad we have an awesome au pair, but people should come away from the “i need an au pair with great english skills” expectation. Because mostly ( and i say mostely, i am sure there are au pairs with good english skills who make good au pairs) au pairs with bad english skills are usuallybetter and more family orientated.
Good luck!

Newhostmom October 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Glad to hear you’re having a good year (or two!) with your host family. That’s another reason I think people keep trying on au pairs – when its good, it can be so so good. We got lucky with our first and she was exactly what we needed. Childcare in the US is a really tough issue with no good solutions really. It’s all expensive and every option has negatives and positives. It’s a huge problem in our country particularly when parents are expected to (or have to) go right back to work after babies are born and don’t get much time off at all. In the US, work expectations, hours, and culture really really do not fit well with raising children, school hours, and other parenting needs.

Newhostmom October 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Glad to hear you’re having a good year (or two!) with your host family. That’s another reason I think people keep trying on au pairs – when its good, it can be so so good. We got lucky with our first and she was exactly what we needed. Childcare in the US is a really tough issue with no good solutions really. It’s all expensive and every option has negatives and positives. It’s a huge problem in our country particularly when parents are expected to (or have to) go right back to work after babies are born and don’t get much time off at all. In the US, work expectations, hours, and culture really really do not fit well with raising children, school hours, and other parenting needs. So when we find the right solution for us, we’re willing to work really hard to make it work.

LuvCheetos October 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm


Sorry your situation is so bad! We’ve been there. We had 2 bad APs last year. We rematched the first one and stuck out the rest of the year with the second. They were both immature (our mistake for chosing a 19 year old German and an 18 year old German). They were both terrible drivers, uninterested in the job and huge partiers. We were ready to give up APs after last year. We did have an advantage in that we had a very supportive LCC. She is really the best!

Anyway, we stuck it out with the thought that we’d give it one last shot and then we were done. This year, our AP is amazing! She’s 24 and from Macedonia. She was trained as a teacher, so she is wonderfully caring, yet authoritative with our 10 and 7 year old girls. She has restored my faith in the AP program. When it works, it’s really great. I really do love her like a member of the family and she makes my life easier, not harder (which my husband said should be the standard and was ccertainly not true with the last 2 APs).

I just wanted to let you know there is hope. Taking some time off to recharge might be a good idea, but when you come back (assuming you do), maybe consider something totally different than what you had. I was concerned about switching from a German AP (which we had always had and we speak the language) to an AP from another country that I wasn’t as familiar with. It has been fun! We’re learning about a new country and she has cooked us a few Macedonian dishes (which I really enjoyed). Now I just have to convince her to renew for another year when the time comes around . . . .

newhostmom October 16, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Yay! Great story. Thanks for sharing! We’ve had two 20yo Germans so far, and I agree that I’m not sure I’d go any younger (although actually, I don’t think it has as much to do with being German as it does with just being really really young). We’re on a bad matching schedule apparently, so we had very little to choose from in terms of older, more educated au pairs. I would love to go that route at some point in the future though out of curiousity.

Busy Mom October 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm

LuvCheetos, how aggressive are drivers where you live and how have you found her driving? My heritage is Macedonian, so it’s intriguing to think of getting an AP from there. Google maps shows a limited highway system, so I was wondering how much practice a Macedonian AP would have in driving in heavy, speeding traffic which is necessary for getting around in northern NJ.

LuvCheetos October 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

We live in the DC area so traffic is pretty intense. Our AP has been great. She’s been driving for about 6 years, so she is very experienced. She hasn’t seemed frazzled at all. She doesn’t drive as much for her personal life as our Germans did. She takes metro and carpools a lot more. I don’t think that’s because she’s nervous. I think it’s because she’s making her gas alottment last (we fill up once every 2 weeks, with fairly minimal driving for the kids) and she’s just frugal by nature (or culture). She’s not at all entitled in her attitude, which is a nice change.

I highly recommend trying a Macedonian. We’re with APIA and they seem to have them. My AP said the program is just starting to become popular there.

Fille Au Pair October 18, 2012 at 6:12 am

I have had a lot of au pairs, and more I have I realize we never finish learning as host parents, there is always something new to learn, different personalities, sometimes the experiences have been successful and some others not, so we need to learn and analize what happened and what went wrong, give people a second chance and do not generalize, many parents generalize with nationalities, because they had a very strict German au pair they think all Germans are the same, for example, in the same way we deserve another opportunity as well to prove we can be better host parents if something did not go well with an au pair, there is always a second chance and time to learn.

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