Interview with host parent Carrie
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
We’ve had 5 au pairs altogether. I am still in contact with three of our pairs and really do think of them like daughters (or step daughters).
I was older when I had my kids (42 when the boys were born) and we lived in Bothell, WA when we had our au pairs. I worked full time in Seattle before I had my twins. I was expecting to go back full time, because we had opened up a gym that was still in start-up mode. Unfortunately, I was laid off 2 months after our au pair arrived! Rather than go back to work, I decided to start consulting instead. I don’t know how I would have survived that time without our au pair!
Q: How did you find out about au pairs?
I learned about them from a mom at the park, and once I found out about the twins, it seemed like a viable option for us.
Q: Why did you use an au pair (instead of daycare, nanny, etc.?)
We chose the au pair route for two main reasons.
First, I liked the idea of my kids getting to stay in their home environment. With the gym and later my consulting, our hours were unpredictable, so having someone live with us was a great option.
Second, the au pair program was also more affordable than other options.
Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?
I’ve used Cultural Care and Au Pair Care.
We had a bit of a falling out with Cultural Care after our 2nd and 3rd au pair experiences and took a break from the program for almost two years.
Then when we decided to try again, we made a fresh start. I had been really impressed with the Area Director at APC, so decided to give them a try.
Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?
We learned this as we went!! It was definitely trial and error, so I learned as much from our mistakes.
Our first au pair was our unicorn! She was 18, from Brazil and spoke nearly perfect English. She had the same sense of humor as we do, was very calm under pressure, and very independent. She made friends and figured things out on her own. I didn’t realize how rare that was!
I have found that the more honest we are in the matching process the better.
Living in Bothell was a bit of a downer, because there wasn’t easy access to public transit. Two of our au pairs had accidents in our cars and two were from South Africa and never felt comfortable driving. Transportation was always an issue.
We had limited means, and with the start-ups we don’t travel. Add to that I work from home, which many au pairs don’t like. Add to that three little kids at home full time and we were probably not a first choice for a lot of au pairs!
We were a better fit for girls who wanted the family environment, were used to babies and noise and chaos, and didn’t want or expect a lot of luxuries.
Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?
My process was to have an initial email exchange, then a Skype with me and them, and then one with the kids to see how they did. Then I’d email them our family handbook and ask them to look through it. I asked them to reply to see if it sounded like a good match, and if they were rules they could live with.
All that being said, in my experience, I’ve ‘just known’ the great matches and had to work to convince myself on the ones that weren’t so great. So much of it comes down to how well the mom and the AP get along. Especially when mom works from home!
Q: What is something funny your au pair did that you didn’t expect?
I was not expecting the differences in using the toilet/toilet paper!! That has been almost universally something we’ve had to explain 🙂
Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?
I’m Canadian, so we always included our Au Pairs in Canadian and American Thanksgivings. We would take everyone to Snoqualmie Falls.
One Au Pair came with us to Canada for Christmas with my family.
Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?
Out of five au pairs, we had two au pairs that ended very badly.
Our first (unicorn) au pair had planned to extend for a year and then left abruptly when she found out her grandma in Brazil was dying. I was in a panic! There was an au pair in rematch in Chicago who would have to go home to South Africa if she didn’t match in one more day. In her profile it said she was dealing with three toddlers and 2 newborn twins and was overwhelmed and needed a family with less kids. I had a feeling it was a bad idea to make a hasty decision. There were additional warning signs…never being able to get hold of her, drama around technical difficulties. I convinced myself it would be okay.
AFTER we matched I searched her social media profiles and realized she had a very different persona and social life than was a fit for us. The agency brushed off my concerns. As it turned out, her profile was wrong…she was only watching 3 kids and was overwhelmed. She had clearly misrepresented her experience with children under 2. I ended up making signs all over the house to remind her to fasten high chair straps, close baby gates, etc. Then she started sharing a lot of personal drama…enough that I was getting concerned. The agency finally did a psych eval on her and sent her home.
The match after her was also bad. She was from Mexico and after she arrived we realized she didn’t really speak any English. During the Skype calls she had her sister there and blamed the communication on bad reception. I think someone else did her written communication for her! She shared that she didn’t want to be an au pair. She wanted to study ballet in Russia, but her parents wanted her to go to the US first. She was very uncomfortable with me being in the house, and she wouldn’t talk to me when I was in the room. I asked her how we could fix things, and she said the only thing she wanted was for me to stay away from the kids when she was working. It was just awkward and uncomfortable.
When I asked the agency for help, they said considering this was my second rematch, maybe our family wasn’t a good fit for the program, and that au pairs should not be considered child care. Consider them more like exchange students who do a little bit of child care. She (the director) wouldn’t rematch our au pair unless we had a masters in adolescent psychology. So that’s why I stopped using that agency, and stepped out of the program for a year and a half.
Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?
Go with my gut! Lurk on ALL their social media accounts and pay attention to red flags and inconsistencies.
Just like hiring an employee…any drama prior to the offer is a huge red flag.
Beware of people who are too concerned about what’s in it for them.
Beware of people who say they want to be an au pair because they just love children because children do nothing but bring love and joy (because they obviously haven’t spent a lot of time with real children hahaha).
The better they can speak English and communicate, the easier it will be.
Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of becoming au pairs)?
I’d say if you’re worried about someone living in your house, don’t be. The right match living with you is such a lift, you won’t even mind it. Most of the au pairs really want to experience American life and they won’t be home much on their off time.
At the same time, don’t treat it like you’re getting cheap live in child care. That’s not what’s being communicated to the girls. From what they’ve told me, the recruiters overseas are selling a year of vacation and study with a bit of childcare. If you have a lot of need for childcare, make sure au pairs understand that.
Be patient, and if you aren’t in an emotional or practical space to patiently welcome someone who will have needs and need time and help, hold off. They really rely on their host families to help them, especially at first, and sometimes they’re too scared to ask for what they need. It’s a tough spot to live with your new employer and feel like you have to be perfect.
I’ve learned to be patient and lower my expectations and it goes better.
Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?
I will say that I was worried about the emotional impact of having someone live with us for a year, or more and then leave. I thought the children would get too attached and then bereft when she left.
Turned out they were fine, but I was certainly bereft when a couple left!
The great au pairs and I are still friends and I really love them.
I am really glad we had (and are still having) the experience.