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Host Parent Interview With Lisa Sanabria – My Au Pair and Me

This blog post is part of the host parent interview series where we get to know other families who are hosting au pairs. Every family is different and we like to represent a variety of views.

We’d love it if you’d consider being a guest on our blog. Message us on Facebook or Instagram, or email us at if you are interested.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m married to my amazing husband, Eric. We have 2 great kids, a boy and a girl, both elementary school age. We live in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

So far we’ve only had one au pair from South Africa who joined us in August of 2019 and was due to leave this summer. We matched with our second au pair before things got crazy with COVID but now can’t get a visa. Luckily, our current au pair decided to extend 6 months, which takes us out to the end of January 2021. Our next au pair is thankful for our current au pair’s extension and is willing to wait.

Lisa Sanabria and familyI’ve had some unique experiences that have somewhat prepared me for my au pair. Since 2003 we’ve welcomed interns from a large company I used to work for. It’s hard to keep track, but at this point I’ve had more than 160+ college kids live with us. Most of our interns are from various parts of the US. We’ve also had quite a few international interns. They grew up in India, China, Portugal, Columbia, etc. and moved here for college or graduate degrees.

We are social people and have enjoyed the diversity in our life. Of course, there have also been some challenges (which make for some interesting stories over the years).

I also was a residence assistant (RA) in college and had over 500 girls per year on my floor to host, welcome, and oversee. It really feels like a lifelong passion to be a facilitator of young people.

Q: How did you find out about au pairs?

Before we had children, we would host lots of gatherings for the interns’ friends at our house.

I first learned about au pairs from some Swedish au pairs that worked for one of my colleagues. Years later, when we were pregnant with our first child, we remembered about the au pair program. We signed up with Cultural Care, based on that colleague’s recommendation.

We interviewed an amazing German au pair who helped her mom run a daycare from their home. Unfortunately, we learned that you could only schedule au pairs for 45 hours a week. With both of us working, we’d need more like 60 or 70 hours.

Then we learned that my husband’s employer, The Home Depot, was opening a brand new onsite daycare run by Bright Horizons. This solution was great while the kids were young.

When my son entered kindergarten we had to switch to a local after-school daycare. That’s when we started getting calls that he was getting in fights, etc. and we had to come get him. This was very unlike my child and it was also very disruptive for me at work.

We hobbled by until almost the end of his first grade year. At this point we’d been through at least 3+ after-school programs. None had the patience or oversight to watch and understand what was going on.

Then I remembered another colleague’s advice that getting an au pair became easier once both kids were in elementary school. With my daughter starting kindergarten and my son entering 2nd grade, I re-looked at the hours we would need. It was more like 30 hours. Much more doable, and we could add a few date nights or errands in.

We jumped right in and signed up with several agencies and began interviewing. The rest is history and we haven’t looked back.

Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?

Since we were already signed up with Cultural Care, we reactivated the search there. We also signed up for another agency, GoAuPair, to see what the differences were and to broaden our search.

We also signed up for Au Pair in America but were rejected due to having college interns who only stay for 4 months at a time. They saw this as instability for our au pair and thought it would be difficult for her to bond and then say goodbye. (Personally I thought this was ridiculous. Isn’t this what we do with au pairs?)

We ended up getting our au pair from GoAuPair. Cultural Care had a bigger database and slightly better search function but our best match was with a South African young lady with GoAuPair.

Our current au pair was supposed to go home on August 1, 2020. We asked her to extend in March but her family experienced a lot of tragedy this year and she felt she had to go home and comfort them.

We were all sad but I jumped back into the agency searches. This time I went even broader. My best chance of finding the best match is to have the biggest pool to search from. I reactivated Cultural Care and GoAuPair, then added Au Pair Care and Au Pair International.

This time we matched with another South African from Au Pair International. I was pleasantly surprised when I compared all four agencies. Au Pair International was the cheapest by almost $2000 when compared to Cultural Care.

We were all set, and then COVID wreaked havoc. My second au pair’s visa appointment on June 23rd was canceled and moved to mid-September. Luckily, my current au pair decided to extend 2 months which put her out to October 1st. Safe again.

Then more havoc, with President Trump’s Executive Order banning overseas au pairs until at least 2021. Luckily, my current au pair decided to extend again, so we’re good until January 31, 2021. Now we’re crossing our fingers nothing else happens. What a wild ride!

On the bright side, both my current and future au pair have been very communicative and understanding of everything.

Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?

As an engineer, I have a very analytical background. I did a ton of reading about au pairs and hosting. I read about not only regulations and life with au pairs, but how host families succeed and fail and all the learnings in-between.

A big help both times around was reading the blog I also joined several Facebook groups as this COVID mess blew up, to learn more, and get immediate feedback.

Armed with all this info, I printed out every list of suggested questions I could find and starred what I thought was most important.

Our first basic requirement was for an au pair with mastery of English, so we’d set the filter as mastery or just under. My oldest, who has ADHD, struggles to communicate well. We need someone who can jump right in and be the role model for communication.

We also wanted a strong swimmer since we have a lap pool in our backyard.

Beyond this, I read a lot of profiles. I sent our family’s profile to anyone who didn’t say something that sounded crazy and seemed to fit the basics, then let them decide if we should explore further.

Our profile is very detailed.

On the positive side, Atlanta is a big city with lots to do, but also close to mountains, waterfalls, and nature. Another big selling point is that we like to travel and will take our au pair with us.

On the other side, being an au pair for our family comes with some challenges. My son with ADHD needs a lot of patient repetition. Both my kids are close in age and have a love-hate relationship. My au pair needs to be a referee (unfortunately). I have the schedule detailed out so they can see that they need to work a few hours each weekend. Perhaps the biggest thing against us is that we don’t provide a car.

Armed with all this info we get a 60% acceptance rate.

One mom from likes to call this method, “Dare to match with us.” A little extreme, but I like to weed out those who might be coming with rose-colored glasses and think their year is just going to be a party.

Once they get here, we shower them with love and make them family. But I need to get priorities and personality set up front.

Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?

As described early we put a lot of detail into our family profile and handbook.

Our current au pair was the first one we interviewed, and we had a good feeling about her but didn’t want to rush into it. We interviewed three or four more but each one we kept comparing back to her.

This is when it really sunk in that she was for us. We interviewed her 3 times, and at the end of the third interview we offered her the position. We all cried happy tears.

Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?

We looked up all the South African restaurants in Atlanta. We had our au pair inspect the menus and pick what sounded best, then we went and enjoyed the cuisine. It was enjoyable. My son loved his spaghetti…little did he know he was eating ostrich. =)

Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?

I think we got really lucky the first time around, as our au pair has immediately clicked in the family and is really mature. Overall, she’s been great.

A little over four months in, my son’s IEP teacher called. He mentioned during class one day that he was afraid to tell the au pair when his sister was being mean to him.

Apparently, the au pair had been trying to encourage them to solve their own problems. She told them if they were fighting they needed to figure out how to resolve it on their own. Sometimes when they earned free time she would put her headphones on. He didn’t know how to deal with his sister trying to hit and scare him.

I was shocked, because my au pair is so loving and patient with them. On the other hand, we all know that too much time with little ones fighting all day can drive anyone crazy.

So after kid bedtime one night, we sat down together. We let her know ahead of time we wanted to talk about how our son was doing in school. The first half of the school year just ended and we had completed teacher conferences, so I don’t think she was expecting any more than that.

We told her some general things that he was supposed to work on. Then I said I thought she was doing great, but that there was one story that the teacher told that we needed to talk about.

I shared the story and my au pair started crying. I hugged her and told her that I understood. The fact she was crying only showed how much she loved the kids.

We talked about an improved way to respond. They should learn how to resolve their differences. If they needed help she could be there with suggestions on how to work through it WITH them.

The three of us then talked with the kids and let them know the changes.

Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?

Overall I’m pretty happy with how this first au pair experience has gone. I’ve occasionally asked how things have been going, and my current au pair is thrilled.

I continue to read suggestions on how to welcome new au pairs, so next time I’m going to print my new au pair’s pictures from her profile and put them in her room.

I’m also going to warn her to bring an empty suitcase and think ahead about how much she buys when she’s here, and how she will be able to get it home.

Beyond that, not much.

I will ask my au pair one last time about a month before she leaves what my husband and I can improve. Maybe she can write a welcome and advice letter to leave for the new au pair.

Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of welcoming au pairs)?

Really figure out what’s most important to you about your au pair’s personality and skills. We all want the moon and stars for our children and family but no one’s perfect.

For instance, my au pair isn’t a slob but she isn’t much of a cleaner either. This is ok for me because she loves my children and actually enjoys playing with them, even when she’s not on duty. I can give up having a perfectly clean house for the extra play and joy my children get, and the extra few peaceful moments I get.

Also, realize finding someone just like you first of all is impossible and also might not be the best fit. I’ve read stories from people who are take-charge, detailed, in-control people and think an au pair like this might be good. But then they butt heads on who’s taking charge.

Think through some scenarios and how you want your au pair to fit in with your family. Write these skills and personality traits down and search for it.

Q: Do your au pairs talk with each other?​

Once we were down to our final two au pair candidates we asked our current au pair if she’d be willing to talk with them. We asked her to be a sounding board for whatever questions our new au pair might have about us.

Our current au pair didn’t have to tell us anything about the conversation unless there was something completely awful she felt we should know.

We requested they speak in Afrikans so they wouldn’t worry that we were listening in.

They talked for 15 to 20 min and my current au pair says she likes her. I know that we are all on social media together and they talk a little, but not a ton.

Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?

Our au pair has changed our life for the best, 100%.

One example: my son was at an end of Kindergarten level of reading when my au pair arrived in August 2019. Now, not quite a year later, he’s at a beginning 3rd grade level. He jumped two whole grade levels in one year! Amazing!

The few times we are not with our au pair, my kids say, “I wish she was here so I could show her this.”

My husband and I are also able to get a few more chores done, and a little more alone time together. Our stress level has definitely gone down. We are truly family, and will love her forever!

For all the reasons above, I started a new YouTube Channel, American Au Pair Host Mom. I share tips, tricks, advice, and the amazing opportunities families have with the au pair program. I’d love for the My Au Pair and Me family to check it out and share your feedback!

How has your au pair dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our au pair is an old soul, we are so lucky again in this area. She has au pair friends through social media that she chats with.

Even before COVID, she wasn’t too keen on a lot of outings. Now that it’s hit, she doesn’t go out except to take walks or bike rides.

She’s very concerned about not getting sick and not getting us sick either. So we watch a lot of movies together and sometimes go out on a nature hike to a waterfall.

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