Where to Begin: New Host Mom, New Au Pair

by cv harquail on February 28, 2011

Maybe I’m more obsessive than the average bear, but I recall thinking I was as ready as I could be when our very first au pair arrived. And, that was back in the days when Handbooks were merely a suggestion, and life was much more simple.

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I also remember feeling pretty alone. Although there were other au pairs in our town, I didn’t know any of them or their host parents. Our LCC was inept and of little help. So, I winged it.

I bet that, in all honesty, I probably felt like this IrishMum — optimistic, but without a clear plan.

Dear AuPairMoms-

I am just wondering what exactly should i expect from mu au pair.

She has arrived from Australia and is 24 yrs old so obviously we have no language barrier which is a bonus. She has just arrived, she came a week ago and I’ve got no problems with the idea of letting her settle in and get used to the time difference and jet lag.

But I do wonder– When should I expect her to “start” as such? She plays with my son, he’s 6 1/2 mths old and has put him down for a couple of naps and has given him a couple of bottles. However, I’m still at home and not due back to work for another 3 weeks. I expected to stay on leave that little bit longer so she could see our routine and how we work things here….

Should she be getting my son up in the mornings or am I still expected to do that? Right now, he wakes about 6.45am ish each morning, I make all the bottles and do the washing and sterilising of his bottles and she doesnt seem to make much of an effort to help. She’ll pick up a finished bottle or plate and place it in the sink and leave it there. I don’t know what to make of this.

I know she has just arrived and is getting used to her new surroundings… Should i just wait a little while more and then if she is still the same, talk to her about it? I really don’t know what to do and am at a loss so any advice would be gratefully appreciated.

Thanks -IrishMum

Dear IrishMum-

In the absence of a schedule, a plan, and reasonably clear expectations, your au pair is likely to be as confused as you about what to expect. My advice would be to set up a ‘training schedule’ as well as a ‘work schedule’ and begin right away to turn over some responsibilities to your new au pair.

1. Start by checking out the posts on Orienting your Au Pair and Training.

  • Go to these two first:

Advice Wanted: How to set the right tone from Week 1
Ways to start orienting your New Au Pair: Some advice for the first two days

  • Then, look at this page:  http://aupairmom.com/category/phases-of-ap-year/welcoming/
  • Use the category links (midway down the right sidebar) to scoot around different particular topics.Print out some of the pages and give them to your au pair to read.

2. Enlist the help of your spouse or other host parent, if you have one.

Even when one parent takes primary responsibility for childcare and au pair relations, all adults in the family need to become knowledgeable and aligned.

3. Create a clear picture of your ultimate goal.

Create the schedule of what the ‘ideal week’ once you are back at work. This would show your au pair what will be her regular hours and duties so that she knows what she is training for.

4. Create a list of all the things you need to teach her.

Start with safety and basics of childcare, and household routines. Don’t ignore off-duty behavior & expectation, but make ‘kid basics’ your focus week one.

5. Create a training schedule for the next two weeks,

where you plan which topics you’ll cover– and which topics she’ll master — so that you can pace yourselves and record your progress.6.

6. Demonstrate what you want with role modeling and direct explanation.

You may have an au pair who is holding back waiting to see what you want (as opposed to jumping in and doing things her way). Assume first that this may be her style so that she doesn’t offend or interfere, rather than assuming that she’s not willing to work.

Consider these two posts:
How Can You Get Your Au Pair to be (more of) a Self-Starter?

Advice wanted… best medium & process for communicating expectations?

The sooner you get your au pair doing the things you need her to do, even as she’s still learning, the better off you’ll be.

More advice? Chime in!


HMinWI February 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I remember this feeling when I had my first AP. Our youngest was 8 weeks old when she arrived, and I wasn’t scheduled to be back to work until he was 3 months old. So, that gave us four weeks of “figuring things out.” What I realized rather quickly was that I shouldn’t have set up that long of a “figuring things out” period. If an AP is a good AP, she’s going to learn the routine pretty quickly, and I’ve always found that my APs have a hard time “working” when I’m in the house. That isn’t their problem. On the contrary, I actually have a hard time making them work when I’m home. So, during the remainder of my leave with my first AP, I would make it a point to be around for part of the day, but I would schedule her to work part of the day while I ran errands, exercised, and even went to the library and enjoyed a little quiet. I tend to be a hands off host mom in the fact that once I tell my AP what to do, I expect her to get it done. So, once I started leaving the house, I found that my AP thrived on being expected to do the work. I also found that I thrived with having a few hours to myself even when I thought I didn’t need it. So, my suggestion is to use the remainder of your time at home to get some things done that you haven’t had time to do. If you want your AP to figure out the morning routine, schedule her to work so that she sees how things go. Then, once you show her, leave…and let her thrive on her own! If she’s a great AP, she’ll live up to the challenge, and you’ll gain a whole new sense of freedom from the stress of the morning rush. Good luck! I bet she’ll do great!

EuroGirl March 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm

You’re always aware if you are working under the eyes of your boss, aren’t you! Also, some times, particularly with working mums, I find that the kids are so excited to have mummy home all day that they don’t really want to settle to their usual schedule and do the normal things with their au pair that they would do if mummy wasn’t home. They act up to get mummy’s attention and focus on them.

Personally I volunteered to use the (rare) hours when mummy was home playing with kids or taking them on outings for chores like laundry/tidying/vaccuuming/cooking and baking, or once or twice for my studies. That way I was being productive and working, but giving mummy some time with the kids that they needed…

Joyce February 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I think you need to be clear to her when she’s on duty, when you’re both on duty (and what you expect her to do when you’re there) and when you’re exclusively on duty. Do you want her to take the first shift at 6:45? Do you want her to be the one that washes all the bottles? If so, I think it just helps to tell her that. With my first son, I was working part time and overlapped with a nanny. After doing this for a few years, I realized that it confused my son AND her when I wasn’t consistent but I was “in the house”. So, the easiest thing for us to do was to schedule play dates, music classes etc, outside the house so that it was clear when she was on duty and when not.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 1, 2011 at 7:55 am

I, too, was at the end of my maternity leave when my first AP arrived. She had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her native country, and was better equipped to handle two young children than I. The truth was, as much as I loved my two babies (my special needs child wasn’t developmentally a toddler when my son was born), I wanted to be back at work — and yet I knew I would miss them terribly. It was hard for me to let go and let her take over. And, as I know from experience, it is very difficult for APs to have a stay-at-home Mom hovering.

Create down time for yourself as you prepare to return to work in 3 weeks and let the AP take over. Have her take the baby for walks during sunny spells. If there is a “Baby and me” class, then enroll her in it to get her out of the house and active with the baby. My first AP loved those classes – and it gave her an opportunity to speak with nannies, moms and APs.

My other advice is – for the first week you return to work, do so half-time. That gets you used to the rhythm of work and her as well. It really surprised my AP that my half-time work day equalled six hours away from home (one hour commuting each way), and then on week two, when I returned full-time, HD and I started the process of tag-team parenting that we carry on to this day – one of us leaves 2 hours ahead of the other and returns two hours earlier (usually me) to keep within the U.S. State Dept. regulations (and now we do it because we enjoy raising our children, so one of us eats breakfast with them and the other comes home to chat and prepare dinner).

DarthaStewart March 1, 2011 at 10:16 am

I think that you need to decide what your expectations are for this transition period. You then need to communicate those expectations clearly to your au-pair.

AFHostMom March 1, 2011 at 10:16 am

I haven’t read the referenced posts yet (I have opened them though), and we’re only on our second AP (who is a rematch) but I’d go ahead and say cheerfully “OK, tomorrow you’re taking the lead!” I was at home for the first few months with AP #1 (who didn’t work out) and it didn’t set a great tone, plus she wasn’t much of a self starter anyway so there was a lot of awkward and painful clarification. I’m thrilled that new AP IS a self-starter, pitches in without being asked (even on her “off” time), and quickly took the lead with the children.

PA AP mom March 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm

My advice would be to have the AP start working immediately. Our first AP arrived and I took 2 weeks off of work. I chauffered her around and basically treated her like a hotel guest. When I went back to work, it was difficult to get her to take over.

Our last 2 APs arrived on a Friday. DH and I spend the weekend assessing driving, showing them the lay of the land and helping them assimilate into our home. I take a half-day on the first Monday and we go to the SS office so she can apply for a card. Once the card arrives, I take another half-day and take her to the bank to open an account.

I am always available by phone or text, but the AP is in charge right away. This helps her to establish her role in our family and gets us into a good routine right off the bat.

HRHM March 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm

It’s really important to set the tone NOW for your expectations throughout the year. If you are paying her to work, then have her work, starting ASAP. Some of this is personality driven and you will very rapidly suss out if you have an AP on your hands who will be a self-starter or who will have to be asked/instructed to do the most basic things (change a wet baby, wash a dish, etc) Once you know that, you will be able to tailor your management style accordingly. I caution you that some APs just naturally think that when the HM is present (or within the zip code) then they shouldn’t have to do anything! I hear a lot of talk amongst AP3 and her friends about how they hate when the HPs are around but “make them work” anyway! So you need to be clear with her that if she has scheduled work hours and you are coincidentally around, that does not mean that she can abdicate her responsibility to care for your child or do her household duties.
The sooner you establish this baseline expectation set, the happier you both will be (or at least YOU will be!)

Joyce March 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

To add to what HRHM said, my aupair has mentioned to me that she doesn’t know what to do when I’m there. She’s very very responsible and we have a great relationship but I have been surprised when she hasn’t “stepped in” when on duty and I happen to be there. So when those situations occurred, I just asked her to do xyz and she happily did it. For her, I think it was a respect thing and not that she was slacking.

German Au-Pair March 1, 2011 at 5:13 pm

In addition to Joyce:
It’s not COMPLETELY the same but somehow it is…
I work at an elementary school and have a pretty good relationship to the whole class (I am normally just responsible for one special need kid). When the teacher is around I always feel like I should not really step in when the class missbehaves because I don’t want to get in her way. When she leaves me alone with them or sits in the back and says “Okay, it’s your turn completely” everything works great.
The kids seem to know that, too. When I am just “the other teacher-like girl” they have a harder time listening to me but when the teacher completely holds back or isn’t around at all, the take me WAY more seriously.

EuroGirl March 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I think that you and the au pair should sit down together and draw up a schedule for the week. Then discuss after the week is over what worked, what needs moved about, what takes more time than you thought, what would be helpful to change…if you do this for two or three consecutive weeks, you should end up with a pretty firm schedule where everyone knows what is expected and what should happen. Then with your next au pair, it should only be a matter of refining that schedule if she is slower at certain tasks or takes a class herself at different hours…

Although when I was an au pair (my third time, family’s second time) I came up with my own schedule, timetabled it, colour co-ordinated and printed a spreadsheet and programmed it all into my blackberry… but I am a bit nuts about organising and planning. Just making a schedule chart should be enough for most people :-P Also I emailed my schedule to prospective incoming au pairs (some of whom were probably scared off, but some of whom found it helpful to get from me – “this is exactly what I do and how and when I do it”, rather than a host parent’s expectation without the back up of detailed first hand job information), and was able to hand over the schedule without really changing it…

kay March 9, 2011 at 5:27 am

hey eurogirl..
Iam in the process of becoming an aupair ..can you please give some tips and also pretty please email me your schedule,just get an idea what it looks like.tanx cay!

Myhostfamily'sfirstaupair!! November 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm

This is my second year as an au pair but I extended with a different host family as the previous one left the program. I am the first au pair of my new host family, I have been here almost 2 months. I understand that they dont know the rules really well because they are new, and somehow I know them better because I already had a year as an au pair. At the very beginning we had some little problems because they want me to pay for the educational component, the car insurance and they did not want to help me open a bank account, etc. I talked to them and in a respectful way I let them know that it was not how the program worked, They called our LCC and she told them that I was right. So they finally paid for that and we start having a better relatioship.

HOWEVER… there are little details that piss me off and makes me wonder about staying or rematch. They are nice and friendly but they gave me a never ending list of chores that I have to do daily and weekly, some are even fun to do and some (most of them are just crazy e.g. fix the leak on the kids’ bathroom, straigthen HP’S bedroom and washing and vaccuming their cars even if I am not allowed to drive) and they are not part of my job. I talked to my HM and she told me that she really needed me helping her with that so I did for two weeks. I was extremely overwhelmed because I found myself doing EVERYTHING while she just sleeps and works out, she is stay-at-home mom but she really expects me to do everything. I felt really offended today because when I went upstairs to work the house was a mess (after a weekend, with children stuffs and with beer bottles) I found unrespectful that tey dont pick up their own mess because they expect me to do that. And they asked the cleaning lady to clean just the stairs because I do the rest… plus I work 50 hours per week… what should I do

Anna November 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Tell them that cleaning the house is not your responsibility according to program rules. The most you can clean is after the children and after yourself. If they want you to do all that, they need someone other than the au pair. And remind them that 45 hours is a firm rule, and if they need more, they need to hire an additional babysitter. But be prepared to rematch because they might decide it is not for them.

The LCC was supposed to tell them all about the rules when she was signing them up.

southern HM1 November 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Hoping someone can help me. I thought there was an old thread on this board about questions to ask when interviewing APs? Maybe a list of good questions for interviews? I wasn’t able to find it and hope I’m not just imagining it(: Thanks in advance!!

Dorsi November 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm


I had a hard time finding this last week when I needed it too….

Good luck. We are in the middle of matching too. And just lost our first choice candidate to another family. And have no second choice candidate. Back to the database…

Calif Mom November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

{{{dread}}} the next search. coming right up. Thanks for the link, Dorsi!

new host family December 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hi I am about to join cultural care au pair since my husband and I have tight schedules at work and we really do need help with our two boys. My mom has been taking care of them but she needs a rest for my two children. I knew about the au pair program because some friends of us have had au pair since they had their firts baby ( now they have 3), and they are pretty satisfied with the au pair program and also with the au pairs they have had. My friend recommended me to choose a girl from Colombia, most of her au pairs have been Colombian. I am open to all nationalities the program offers but I honestly don’t know anything about that country and people there. Is colombia a good market for au pairs? are au pairs from colombia good with children? please I need feedback ..

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