When should we send our Family Handbook to our incoming au pair?

by cv harquail on January 6, 2011

As every reader of this blog knows, we are big fans of the concept of the Family Handbook. And by “we” I don’t mean the royal  moi, but all of us host parents (and even au pairs). It really helps to create a handbook to get your expectations and needs out into clear language, and it helps your au pair to have explanations s/he can refer to.

201101061031.jpgOur handbooks can get pretty long.  The more we know about challenges, and the more we learn about our preferences, the more pages we seem to add to these books. Our family handbooks can appear daunting to a new au pair too — All those rules! Procedures! Explanations! Curfews! English words I don’t recognize!

On paper, we thoughtful, well-prepared host parents can come off looking like nags, dictators, and uptight prisses who will be impossible to live with (even though we are not that way). The challenge is always — do we spell it all out and risk looking insane? Or do we leave things out (and hope they won’t be missed) in order to look less rigid or rule-bound?

We also recommend that you send these handbooks to our prospective au pairs so that they can know (as clearly as we can spell it out) what to expect as our au pair. Some host parents (I’m thinking of you, CalifMom) send the handbook to all prospective au pairs as part of the “I dare you to match with our family” strategy. The idea here is  “forewarned is better than ambushed”.

Unfortunately, sending an incoming au pair our complete (obsessively detailed) handbooks can misrepresent the otherwise loving, open and relaxed familys/he has yet to meet in person. The handbook can  even scare (or scare off) an otherwise great au pair.

Given the tension between informing your au pair and freaking him or her out,  the question is– when is the best time to send an incoming au pair your handbook?

When do you prefer to send your Family Handbook?

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[There are a lot of choices here — and I’m sure that sometimes you use a combination. Give it your best shot.]

This squestion comes up for NewbieHostMom, who wonders:

We have our first au pair arriving this weekend. Should I send her our handbook before she gets here? I am a little obsessive, maybe even compulsive. Our handbook is extensive. If I send her to her today or tomorrow she will be getting it a few days before she departs for her orientation. Is that too much, or will it be appreciated? She seems to want the info, and I did send her a basic schedule for hours, but I am just not sure what to do.

I suggested that she send just the schedule and driving rules — as a taste of things, but a small enough amount that it wouldn’t overwhelm (Also, at this point the au pair might only be able to read it as an email, not printed out, and that could complicate things too.)

What do you all think?


NoVA Host Mom January 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm

To me I think that since the whole process and even idea of moving to another country can be pretty overwhelming, sometimes future APs don’t quite understand what they are asking for. I don’t think that sending her your very first Handbook before she arrives is a good idea (not a ding, but as I look back on my first efforts, and what I use now, I am surprised anyone ever agreed to move in, much less be our AP). For me, the editing I did even as I was going over things out loud was amazing.

I suggest sending her, since she is asking, maybe a “Top Hits” list — if each section is several pages long, then drop it down to the top 10 or top 20 bullet points (nothing more than a single page, well spaced). If you find yourself sending more than 5 or so pages, you need more editing. She is asking for more of an idea so she can study and be prepared (I hope), but at the same time there is no need to overwhelm her when you are not there to help translate your meaning, intention, or even the literal words. Maybe leave out the “how to use” sections, include information about the whens and hows she gets the car off duty, and definately include the “activities with the kids” part (so she has a pretty good idea of the types of activities you will expect).

She is asking for information, so give her some, but I don’t know that sending her the whole binder (which she then would need to bring back anyway, or at least feel like she needs to bring) is a good idea right off.

Should be working January 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I offer to send it (PDF) during matching, definitely before final match decisions, and they always want it. And it is 28 pages long. And I tell her that it might seem crazy, and I don’t want to scare her off, but most of the guidelines are just commonsense. And I point out that curfews, sample schedules and car use rules are in there and are things APs sometimes find important to consider before matching.

If I were an AP and found out after matching that there were a handbook, I’d wish I’d read it earlier before deciding.

I suppose I could only send her the ‘sensitive’ stuff in advance of matching, but the sensitive stuff is mostly rules, and yet other parts of the handbook deal with our responsibility toward the AP, which I also want her to know we consider carefully.

It’s also a big clue to the AP that they will be managed by a detailed-handbook, list-making kind of person, in case that seems wrong to them.

Calif Mom January 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm

We should “crowd source” a How to Be a Terrible Host Mom book, CV! Love that cover.

But seriously folks, I agree with Should be that a lot of what is in our handbook–and it’s lengthy, I think 40 pages, but with a lot of white space!–is NOT just “Thou Shalt Nots” but is about how we look out for the AP, too, and is more relationship-y and philosophical. How we buy food and eat is (not surprisingly) explained in detail because it effects how the AP will eat, too. I mean, yes, we expect her to come with us to the farmer’s market once in awhile and meet the people who raise her beets and eggs. So leaving out big chunks of our book would leave out important things that they need to know before agreeing to come here. A girl who wants cheetos to be stocked in the kitchen is really going to be disappointed, but will be able to figure that out by reading my food section.

It’s about giving them enough information–warts and beauty marks and all–to make good decisions for themselves. And hoping to hell that they are wise enough to see it that way!

BLJ Host Mom January 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I just love you Calif Mom.

Our handbook is 40 pages too, and YES it’s way too much. But we’ve sent it before match both times and had 2 GREAT APs. I want them to be able to picture their life here. Before they match.

I communicate a lot through written word. Notes, emails, daily charts. I’m wordy, I over explain. A girl who is overwhelmed by our handbook will be overwhelmed by me.

Maybe I’ll scare off a perfectly good AP, but a girl looking to not work and not be part of the family and drive her own nice car with free reign will not choose us, so it’s worth it to me to possibly overwhelm a good one too. Then they meet us and I’m so nice and warm, and not “all rules” as the length of my handbook might suggest. And I think they already knew that, but it’s a pleasant surprise.

I’m all about early full disclosure. I’m sure I’ll change my tune as soon as I’m not this successful with APs…but until then, I’m getting version 3 drafted and ready for the next go round…

NVMom January 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I would send mine after you have interviewed the potential au pair and think they might be the “one”. This way you can talk to them after they read it and it my help you to get to know them better. I sent one to a potential au pair who at first I was really excited about until after reading my handbook she said (and I quote) “well I am there to be their friend, I can’t tell them what to do”. And that ended that courtship :) It helps you see if 1) they read it and 2) if they are a good match for your family. I say talk to them first then send the handbook. Just my thought.

StephinBoston January 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I have a completely different view from NoVA Host Mom, my approach is more of the “Dare to match with me after you’ve read this”. Yes, it may be overwhelming but I want her to fully understand what she is getting into. I tell her straight up “these are the rules, they are what they are,they will not change, if you don’t like them now, you won’t like them later”. We are currently hosting our 4th au pair, I’ve never had a rematch and very happy au pair so far. so the system seems to have worked.

PA AP mom January 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm

We have a VERY extensive handbook. I am more of a “dare to match with us” kinda gal.

If I exchange 2 or 3 emails with an AP and I think they could be “the one” then I email the handbook and ask if they are still interested. If they are, we move onto the phone interview. If not, back into the AP pool they go.

BLJ Host Mom January 6, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Yes.Yes. Dare to match. Agree and love it!

But I would agree that you wait until you have it narrowed down; that she might be “the one” before sending. Talk with her a few times and let her know it’s coming, tell her you know it’s a lot but that when you both know what the other one expects she will have the best year. I always remind her that this is her one year too, and she needs to pick the right family for her, so here is an overwhelming document about our family.

Steff January 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I’m with the moms that agree the handbook should be given from the start (By that I mean, before matching, but after the family and the AP has already talk a little and some questions had been answered already and so forth)
I got somehow “No Surprises” policies. If all the information is given from the beginning there is less chances to misunderstandings in the future and the AP will have a clear idea of what the real job with your family is gonna be. (If it’s sent while matching chances are she/he will get the chance to read it throughly before getting to your home. She’ll have the chance to ask/translate everything she may need, and that’s got to be an upside I believe)

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with long handbooks, actually, for me, the more details the better, because then you are not going to have surprises a few weeks/months into the AP year or whatever.
For me, there is no point in “downplay” (with sending snippets of the HB) a job that for definition doesn’t seem too hard. “Want to go to another country? You ‘like’ children? Be an Aupair!” I think the job is harder than it seems on the surface; 8-10 hours a day with kiddies can’t be easy (and it’s don’t and it won’t) Plus, there is a lot behind “taking care of the kids” A lot that changes from family to family, and that is harder for some than it is for others.
I think things should be clear from the start. What exactly the AP is going to do, and how is the best way she’s gonna supposed to do it. Maybe things such as how to, I don’t know, use the dryer or stuff, could be omitted (since in my opinion things like that is better to learn “in person” you know?) but other stuff from everything about the kiddies, and safety, and schedules and that stuff, to things that seem a bit not too important like food, should be send. If I’m not going to be able to eat (keep, whatever, I dunno!) cheetos in the house, then I’d really like to know that much beforehand ;) Just to be prepare. Food for me is not that big of a deal, I’d surely adapt to not (e.g) eat cheetos but IMO, it’s always better to know all the facts (big or little;all of them) before commit to something you may or not be able to fulfill sometime in the future :)

HMinWI January 6, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’ve only sent my handbook prior to matching once out of five au pairs. For me, the matching process is more about figuring out the personalities. And, honestly, our rules are pretty flexible, and our handbook is more of a “how things work around here” kind of thing. I find it to be more useful upon the APs arrival to my house. They have already heard most of the information because most of the things covered in my handbook are things that APs ask before they match. So, once they get here we spend a day going through the book.

Anna January 7, 2011 at 12:23 am

I don’t send the handbook when matching.
Our handbook is detailed, some of those things need to be gone over together and verbally to be properly understood.
I don’t hide facts during matching, I answer all the questions and tell her all she needs, wants, or I just think she should, know.
But I don’t drop a long tome in a foreign language, written in a tech writing kind of tone that can come across as too didactic, on her lap right away.
She doesn’t need to know where we keep grocery cash or how to do kids’ laundry, or contact info or our neighbors or pediatrician, before she arrives.

Once she arrives though, we sit together during this first weekend, go over the handbook together, and then she gets to keep it in paper copy.

Gianna January 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

Anna’s approach sounds very good to me. The candidate can look at pictures of the kids, the written schedule , the basic rules ( no boyfriends overnight, car rules, etc ).
Once she is here, and settled in, say, Sunday night, she can read through the whole book or booklet with host parents, ask questions and orient herself.

PA AP mom January 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I think I can speak for most of the host mom’s who send out the handbook during matching, in saying that just because I send the handbook doesn’t mean I don’t go over it when she arrives.

Our handbook includes pictures of our kids and our family and our house and our town, pamphlets of local areas of interest, information about schools, etc. It’s not very many “RULES” at all.

All 3 of our APs were happy to have the handbook in advance to “prepare” and then we went over it and hashed out the details together when they arrive.

BLJ Host Mom January 8, 2011 at 1:43 am

Yep, and my best one even had some words translated and circled when she got here!

hOstCDmom January 7, 2011 at 12:31 am

30+ pages, with a table of contents, header formats and an outline structure. Drafted in multiple languages with a summary “important” (English) vocabulary section at the back . Gone over painstakingly and pedantically, page by page, the first week the AP is here.

For this post I really should be plain old OCDmom rather than hOstCDmom!

My DH has joked that if I ever run off and leave him, would I please leave him a copy of the AP handbook!

I send it in advance. I have scared off a few APs, and almost scared off our current one (who is great!). I even had an LCC (not mine, rather of a rematch AP we were considering from another state) tell me it wasn’t a good idea to send my handbook in advance “because it would scare off good girls” (!)

–My view: if they are scared of the detail and organization of the handbook, they will tremble and quake in fear of the in-person me and thus should not match with our family(although of course I’m sweet, kind, nice and softspoken….just uptight about a lot of things ;-) )

ILHM January 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

I’m hOstCDmom. If you scare them off because of detail (but you are a detail kind of family) then let them go – there are lots of good APs who might be scared off, but they wouldn’t necessarily be good for me. I think so long as your handbook reflects who you and your family are, then it is good. It will give her a flavor of your life before arriving.

As a first time HM, I wish more than anything I had sent out my handbook prior to matching, but it wasn’t complete at the time of the interview. My AP asked about our rules and I couldn’t define them on the spot. In hindsight, that should have been a trigger to ask what worried her about house rules. It turns out she moved out of her house (I find out 4 months later) at 16 becuase her parents had rules she didn’t like and couldn’t live with. So when I informed her that I was tracking her text messages and that she couldn’t use my cell phone for sexting (before, during or after work – all of which were happening) she got mad. One problem – I didn’t have it in the handbook as I assumed she would realize it wasn’t acceptable. (as an aside, thank you hOst – I copied your definition of sexting almost verbatim into my addendum to handbook yesterday).

My advice is send the handbook in all it’s glory! If it handbook reads like the type of family you are then that is a great introduction. It will show her what she is walking into. The flight to the US is long and she will have lots of time to read it. And if you don’t have rules about sexting – add it!

NoVA Host Mom January 7, 2011 at 12:38 am

I stand corrected. You guys have great points. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of the how to use the appliances, what to do in a traffic stop or car crash, and the cell phone plan details, etc. That and since our initial family essay is nearly 6 pages long, I tend to think that weeds a lot right off. Guess I will be putting our updated handbook onto pdf this weekend.

This is why I love this site.

Talya January 7, 2011 at 5:36 am

Hello host parents (and au pairs!),

The handbook issue is one that I struggle with. I love the concept and find it very important for host families to clearly communicate their expectations and ground rules, but if my former host family had sent me a crazily-detailed list of family dos and don’ts, I honestly would have been afraid of them and would have likely looked for another family.

I would be interested in hearing from host parents who send these handbooks out (especially the longer, more detailed copies). Do you get feedback from your au pair? Are they accepting of the handbook, or have some been scared off because of them?

Please let me know, as I need further clarification so that I can advise my readers on this issue, as it is an important one.

Thanks and Happy New Year!

PA AP mom January 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I have had 2 APs email me back, after receiving the handbook, to tell me they wouldn’t consider matching with our family based on it.

The first didn’t like the fact that she didn’t have her own bathroom and had to share it with the boys and keep it clean.

The second said I sounded like a “micromanager” type.

No problem. Moved on to someone else.

BLJ Host Mom January 8, 2011 at 1:49 am

I have 2 say they weren’t interested. The first because three kids in reality sounded harder than it did in theory (THANK YOU for your honesty! Imagine how hard EVERY day!) The second because she didn’t want to have to use an Epi-Pen for one of my children’s allergies.

Both of my APs were SO glad they had a chance to look through it. They said my organization and kindness helped them “know” us better before they arrived. They liked the fact that they could read about how to run the washing machine and how to speak to the children, what words we don’t say (i.e. “hate”, “stupid”, etc). They were both SO glad to have it all in writing with plenty of time to sift through it.

The second ask the first if it was a “much” as it sounded like. The first said no, that is all just happens and makes sense when you get here. :)

AFHostmom January 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Oh how I wish I’d found this site before we matched. Were I to host another AP next year I’d definitely expand our handbook. :-/ We don’t use hate, My God (which our AP says all the time, and now almost halfway in, I feel petty correcting her), or annoying. If I’d known 8 months ago what I know now.

BLJ Host Mom January 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Don’t feel petty. When you hear your child say words that you don’t like them to say, it’s awful. If I were you, I would say, “I heard you say “My God” in front of the kids and really want to make sure that child1 doesn’t start to say it, could you be careful not to say that around her, she looks up to you so much and I’m worried that she may start to say it. There are certain things that adults say that just don’t sound good coming out of a child’s mouth and that is one of them”.

One minute of petty/awkward = 4 months of not hearing it said all the time. WORTH IT! DO IT! :) Email it if you have to. That’s one my mother in law says, and I can’t correct her, but I would correct my AP. I feel for you!

Euromom January 7, 2011 at 6:33 am

I have found that once you send the handbook – and mine is also quite detailed – then you are setting a framework for the relationship from the beginning.

I have a formal work contract but I am also bound by a less formal code of conduct (i.e. guidelines) that I must respect and adhere to, i.e work performance, dress code, etc. I have a very clear picture of what is expected from my on both a professional and personal level from my employer.

During my interview process I researched my company thoroughly and was able to see clearly the ethos of the company and how they expected their staff to perform/behave on a professional (and personal) level and in turn how the company itself treated its staff.

In my experience the family handbook helps au pairs research their family. They will know straightaway not only what is expected of them as an au pair (professional) but also what sort of relationship the family is willing to maintain (personal), i.e. if the family have gone to the bother of doing a 40 page handbook – they care!

They want it to work. They want an au pair to be fully informed and be able to make an informed decision.

So I am a firm believer in sending the handbook and usually send it about email 3/4 (pdf version – and I usually scale it down somewhat but it’s still “a book”).

Deb Schwarz January 7, 2011 at 6:39 am

OK my Au Pair Mom friends – you are going to laugh. I’ve had 16 au pairs and advised hundreds of host families on how to pick the right au pair….how important it is to fill in a household handbook, and true confessions: I have yet to do mine. (you know – the cobblers kids with no shoes). I got halfway through it this time around. I learned through one of those executive “style” seminars that I’m not into rules, and like to focus on the “bigger picture”, so that must explain it. I know how important it is to set expectations and I ask a lot of questions in the au pair interview to get the right one. So – I promise – I’m going to do the darned thing and give it to my new au pair who just arrived. Setting expectations is tres important, I know. So – I guess I fall into the “after they arrive” category – lol. I guess I just bring on the clairvoyant au pairs who can read my mind. Any new/perspective host families out there – do not follow my example! I’m one of those experienced host moms who thinks she can fly by the seat of her pants – or the cocky ice skater who whizzes by you with a triple axle and then 2 minutes later falls on the ice with a big loud thud on their tush.

NJMOM23 January 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

Is the reason a hard copy or PDF is suggested so that there can not be any changes made to it?

Anon January 7, 2011 at 11:19 am

As an au pair I know that I would rather have a worst case scenario (in a manner of speaking) and find out that things are in reality a bit more relaxed, than I would have a best case scenario and find out that things are a lot more uptight and highly scructured.
I know that with my first family I felt like I got a pretty sugar coated version of how things were going to be, both on a rules/procedures front and on how the kids behaved, and it turned out out to be very different from the initial information in reality.
The family I am now with gave me what I would say is the worst case scenario in terms of the kids giving the new au pair a run around for the first few weeks and that the mom likes things done a certain way and it has been easier both with the kids and with how they like things done than I thought it would be. It may be that other au pairs feel differently, but I would definitely rather know everything and make my decision based on that, then I can be pleasently surprised when I come into a family who are more relaxed than they might seem on paper.

PhillyMom January 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

I often read websites where au pairs post their questions and opinions from their perspective and since I read German well, it’s often very informative for me. One of the things I have learned is that the handbook really can be very intimidating to the au pairs. I think we all don’t intend to intimidate, but to inform. From my experience it works better to give the handbook to the au pair when she is here and go over all the points and explain why you have these rules. I do believe however it is important to discuss during the interview process what the curfew will be, what your policy us about visitors and what the most important rules are. Little details like where to get what kind of organic food can be discussed later.
When we discussed our handbook with the au pair, we always find out more things we need to put in or clarify once she asks questions.
I have to add that we are very liberal and don’t have too many rules above what’s common sense (at least I believe it to be common sense). Plus it helps that I am from Europe and have been an exchange student and worker (well, that’s how I met my awesome American husband!) in the USA and therefore understand some of the cultural misunderstandings at least for German au pairs.

NJMOM23 January 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

Philly mom, what websites do you check out to get a look at the Au Pair’s perspective?

PhillyMom January 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Actually it’s mainly just facebook, the cultural care au pair Deutschland site. You can search facebook for it. It’s open to the public. If you’d want to go into more detail, there are tons of au pair websites on jimdo. Sometimes when I look at these sites I am shocked about the info that au pairs post on public sites. You can learn a lot about other host families – sometimes including names and geographic area. That is one reason why I emphasize to our au pairs rules about web privacy.

AKP January 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm


forgive this novice but I didn’t even know what jimdo means :) After a search, I see that it is a place to built a website. But what I want to search for au pair websites like those that you describe? THANKS!

Philly Mom January 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Sorry, I have been busy and have not checked this website for a while. Well, to get to specific au pair website you need to do some detective work. On the facebook pages (such as cultural care au pair Deutschland), often au pairs advertise their websites. The you can follow the link and check them out. But the most info I get about the opinion of the au pairs is to follow the posts on their facebook page.

JJ host mom January 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I’m with those who would rather send out my handbook in advance, even at the risk of scaring off less detail-oriented au pairs. I’m detail-oriented, so would rather match with a similar personality.

My handbook does get fairly detailed. I don’t expect the au pair to memorize where we get organic food, but I do want her to walk away with the idea that we know she’ll need to know that kind of thing, and are committed to helping her learn it.

I sent my handbook to our two top-choice au pairs this time around. Both of them were pretty interested, but after they got the handbook they were very interested. Both told me we were the first family they interviewed with who had sent a handbook and that it really helped them.

Google Docs is a good way to author and send out your handbook, too. If you share the link to the Google Docs version of it, the au pair will always have the most up to date version available.

JJ host mom January 8, 2011 at 12:46 am

I should also add that I had huge problems getting our last au pair to read the handbook before he arrived, and he didn’t work out. There was definitely a link that I’ll learn from in the future.

Melissa January 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I send our handbook during the matching process, at the point where we start to get serious about an applicant. I too have worried about it coming across the wrong way, especially to someone who is mature and responsible and might see some of our detailed rules as obvious and insulting (i.e., someone who reads it and thinks “OF COURSE, I am not going to visit porn sites on the family computer!”…. which is just the type of AP we want of course). So I usually try to go over the main themes on the phone and then tell her our handbook contains tons of details, much of which they won’t need to worry about now, like how to work the appliances, but it will give her a good idea of the type of family we are and what is important to us. I also caveat it a bit by saying that some things may seem very obvious or nit-picky, but that we’ve learned over the years that it is better to have it spelled out so there is less room for misunderstandings and that what may seem like common sense to one person may not be so obvious to the next person (like, never leave a child unattended in a car).

Busy Mom January 8, 2011 at 11:12 am

We sent the handbook to au pairs 2 & 3 before matching (once we are serious about a candidate) and had great success. Although we didn’t sent it to #1, we had gone through much of it verbally before matching. The only major issue we had was surrounding vacations and she ended up being resentful that she didn’t get to take vacation any time she wanted to (we offer a lot more vacation days than required + holidays to compensate for the lack of schedule flexibility). I think she didn’t understand it when explained verbally (and, in fact, didn’t understand it after we went through the handbok when she arrived), so my takeaway was to send ahead of time.

It’s really long and rather daunting, but I’ve always been of the ‘no surprses’ school. I’ve revised the tone and simplified the language over the past two matches – nannies never had an issue with the contract-like tone, but I wanted to make it friendlier for APs. I’ve also included images of our weekly lists and schedules! (If you don’t like lists, you won’t be happy with our family!) We definitely scared away a potential AP, but it was clear from her feedback that she was focused on the educational element, so our restrictions on timing of classes just didn’t work for her. I think that sending the detail helps to surface these subtle issues – like the epi-pen concern that someone else mentioned.

Our current AP is an extension AP and, after spending a year with a one-pager as a handbook, was grateful for the detail and clarity around all of the major & 2nd tier sticking points.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 8, 2011 at 11:49 pm

I’m a HM who sends a “dare to match with me and love The Camel” email that states outright: “The Camel weighs 24.2 kg, so if you can’t pick her up then you’re not the au pair for her.” (And yes, The Camel gets weighed and measured in metric several times a year.) I do not send out my handbook. Almost half of my handbook is The Camel and her various ailments, which would belie the fact that my girl is a silly goose with a good sense of humor. It is also very personal information.

Every one of my 6 APs has turned to me at one point and told me that The Camel is my easy child (don’t think I don’t know it – SHE has never asked me at 8:30 at night “Why do people commit suicide?” like her brother did at age 5. SHE has never rolled her eyes at me, and SHE never argues about wearing a winter coat).

As most of you who have read my comments know, I’m pretty easy-going as a HP, and all of my APs have figured that out pretty quickly, too. But you also know that I demand a lot of flexibility and compromise, so it works to my advantage. I’m up front about plenty of the positives and negatives (yes, DH and I don’t mandate a curfew but The Camel is an adolescent who wears diapers, must be fed and dressed).

The good thing about The Camel is that she weeds out princesses and good-time girls (I think the words adolescent and diapers pretty much does the job). An arriving AP already has a good sense of who we are as a family, and the handbook provides the nuances.

Personally, my favorite APs have been those that push back and ask lots of questions and offer to get training BEFORE they arrive. Those APs have practically read the handbook, albeit issued one email at a time, before they arrive.

ExAP January 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm

My HPs gave me the handbook the day I arrived at their house (or maybe it was day #2, I’m not sure any more). They didn’t tell me anything about a handbook beforehand, but it was most information, how to handle the kids, what to cook, etc., so not too many rules. I was fine with this.
But if you’d ask me now, I recommend sending it to the AP candidate you’re talking with and seriously considering her as your new AP, during the matching process.

It might be an idea to make 2 handbooks, a pre-matching version and a just-arrived-at-our-house version.
The first to not scare the AP off too much, but still give a lot of information. The latter with all the extra info, some things that are commonsense but e.g. your previous AP didn’t do after all.

5kids=aupair January 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm

We also have a long welcome book. I have never sent mine prior to matching (4 good years, 4 rematches, expecting our next AP in 2 wks). I don’t even give it to the girls in a digital format. 3 Things:

1) Our last rematch AP was showing me her friend’s host family handbook that the friend had e-mailed her. So, that has immediately scared me from ever giving it in a digital format to a future AP. I do not need our personal family information to be given willy-nilly to other APs, the internet, etc. They were making fun of the rules, etc. Um, no thank you.

2) Ours always adds fun things each year that we learn from experience like; no nail polish in the home (AP #1 spilled it all over our brand new carpet), no dying your hair in our house (AP #1 stained our brand new granite countertop black), no using hot wax hair removal treatments (hosted AP used this and got it all over our comforter), etc.

3) I have a horrible handbook that is a mish-mash of several documents that previous APC’s have given me. If anyone thinks they have a good version and wouldn’t mind sharing it (sans the personal stuff), I would love that.

NewHM December 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I am a first time host mom. It’s been 4 months and OH I wish I had handbook with all the guidelines and rules clearly spelled out. Our AP is simply great at breaking any rule that was only verbally announced with her “I thought you meant…”. I would love to see a sample handbook if anybody is willing to share theirs. We have an infant and preschooler so there are lots of rules but how do I put it together so it’s not like manual?

Taking a Computer Lunch December 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

On the right you will see a lot of past offerings, including one that reads “Pages” under it is Au Pair Handbook no. 1. If you check old postings about handbooks, you’ll find plenty of suggestions from parents, some of whom limit their handbooks to a few short pages, while others spell everything out.

I think as a first-time HF it’s hard to know what to spell out for an incoming au pair and what your own personal style will be. Nothing like hosting an AP to clarify that issue. My suggestion, don’t copy someone else’s handbook willy-nilly, but craft one that fits who you are and how you want to live with another person in your home. We all have our pet peeves – the one thing we wish our APs wouldn’t do (or let their friends do) that wouldn’t necessarily bug another HF.

Nadzy December 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

Well, this has been quite a good discussion. And I wanted to share with you my experience with my Host Family.

I didn’t go with an agency, I found the family online, had tons of chats with them and their former and current au pairs and we scheduled everything by ourselves. I was an au pair in Europe, by the way.

The host father was the one who was in charge of getting the au pairs and preparing them.He was very open minded, but wouldn’t tell me much about the schedule , rules or anything. He said they were open minded. I asked and asked, so he gave me a quick description. I told him I had my car license , but didn’t drive and wasn’t good at it. He answered I wouldn’t need the car because in The Netherlands I could use a bike for everything.

So I went. Turned out he never talked through with my HM what exactly the family needed and to her an au pair that drove was essential! She didn’t want an au pair to start with, but he really wanted the kids to have that experience. She liked me and we became friends, but there was sooo much the father promised or said and she didn’t agree with. So we did struggle. And I wouldn’t mind the rules she wanted, because I agreed with them. I really needed a guide and with the other au pairs, the HF was the guide because he worked at home, when I arrived, he started working in a city far away and had to stay there for a few days, and the HM didn’t want to guide,she said it was his job and ideas.

But we managed, I paied my own driving lessons, but ended up not driving because I didn’t renew my international permit, he said i wouldnt need it. But I would have LOVED to read about the family’s schedule, life and everything. It would have made my life simpler and I would have loved to dream about it too…

By the way, my experience wasn’t bad… we still keep in touch and love each other very much, we got over all that :D and they will come visit next year!

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