Hi, Maddie here! My au pair recently came home from a friend’s house, gave me a huge hug, and said “thank you for being a good family!” I have heard the term “good family” from au pairs in the past. So, I started probing her about her day. It turns out that one of her friends was having issues with her host family about the use of the car in her off hours. My au pair had spent the afternoon trying to coach her friend through her difficulty.
I often ask myself “what makes a great au pair host family? What would I want from a host family if the roles were reversed?” We also see this question pop up in au pair Facebook groups, so we know other host parents are interested, too.
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General Advice and Themes
Besides our own opinions, we asked our current and former au pairs for their opinions on what makes a good host family. We have also included opinions from more than 300 Facebook comments.
Mostly the au pairs want to feel like part of the family. Four major themes emerged from our research:
- Clearly set expectations
- Sharing food
1 Great Au Pair Host Families Include Their Au Pair
“I left my family to come to your family. I really appreciate having you as my host family because you make me feel like one of you and included.”
-Au Pair I.
Au pairs want to feel like they belong and will be loved even after they leave. When families don’t invite the au pair to family events, start tracking miles on the car, or fretting about every dollar and penny spent, the au pair feels like an outsider. Of course, it’s always good to keep an eye on things just in case the au pair really does have a misconception about what’s acceptable. But, in general, consider what a few extra dollars is worth in the larger scheme of things.
Reciprocation is key. When you go above and beyond, so will your au pair. This doesn’t have to big or expensive, just thoughtful. You can serve her favorite vegetable with dinner. When she has a particularly long day, pitch in to help her finish her duties. If you get home a little early, you can let your au pair get off early. Most importantly, say “thank you”. Consider workplaces that have thank you cards or instant recognition awards of $5 or so. Those companies know that even a small unexpected reward builds loyalty and goodwill.
Abbie finds something every day to say “Thank you” for. Even if it’s just for something small and expected. “Thank you for picking the kids up from school.” “Thanks for making my work life possible.” “Thank you for doing all the dishes today.” Also, when you’re not happy your au pair, saying “thank you” provides a good buffer for cooling down. (Because sometimes moms are just hangry and need to table things until they have a chance to be a human again.)
Au pair A gave a great example of feeling included in a Facebook post. “I as an au pair did appreciate a thank you from time to time. It made me go the extra mile because I got appreciated. For me, a great host family is including the au pair to activities, dinner, maybe vacations and treats her as a member of the family and treats her as a grown up. On the other hand if an au pair wants to be treated as a member of the family it should be normal for her to help around the house without getting asked. (Helping with dishes by a family dinner, bring the trash out, etc.)”
2 Great Au Pair Host Families Set Clear Expectations
“It’s important to be aware of expectations on both sides! Sometimes both host families and [au pairs] are great but they don’t match expectations. Just be honest and straightforward about the rules in your house and things you expect.”
– Au Pair AJ on Facebook
The trickiest part about having an au pair is that they are both family and an employee. Being too lenient will backfire as much as being too strict. It’s important to find that right balance. And like each child has a different personality, that right balance will be different for each au pair you welcome into your home.
One au pair on Facebook asked for advice because she felt nothing she did was right. If she dressed the toddler in jeans, the mother would replace them with sweats. If the au pair dressed the toddler in sweats, the mother would replace them with jeans. As a host parent, either choose your battles or promptly explain what you want and why it needs to be that way.
Abbie finds similarities in correcting misconceptions with parenting and how she’d like to be treated. No one likes to be told they suck, which puts the person more on the defensive and less focused on learning and solving the problem. By repeating what to do and why, it is a positive way to reinforce what should happen and focus on the solution rather than the problem. For example, “Hey, I’d like to show you again how to clean the lint from the dryer. It’s really important because it could catch fire like what happened to our friend’s house.” or even “I noticed the dryer lint isn’t getting emptied when the kids clothes go through the wash. Can you help me think of a solution that would help?”
CL, a 7 time host parent, discussed her expectations in a Facebook thread. “We have high expectations, but we try to communicate those well, and we try to treat our au pairs as well as we can. Understanding where the line is when it comes to an au pair’s responsibilities is important, but an au pair needs to understand her responsibilities as a roommate as well. If a mess was made during my au pair’s off time (a sink full of dishes from cooking a big meal, for example) it is reasonable for me to expect the mess to be cleaned up by my au pair, and on her off hours.”
When giving instructions or directions, remember there’s also some things that might get lost in translation, especially in the beginning. Sometimes writing a follow-up text can help because then there’s something in writing the au pair can refer to. Another good suggestion is to have the au pair repeat the instructions back to you.
Also, keep in mind that au pair agencies have already set some basic expectations for the host family and the au pair. If the balance has swayed too far in one direction, the local councillor may get involved. Good families are “responsible for all the rules. Don’t take advantage, pay their [au pair’s] salary.” – Au pair B
3 Great Au Pair Host Families Share Through Food
It’s supposed to be an exchange. Families and au pair should share and communicate a lot
-Au Pair D.
Have you ever heard the phrase “sharing is caring”? Sharing, especially food, shows your au pair that you care about them as a member of the family.
Most au pairs really appreciate when host parents try to make their au pair’s home comfort food, even if they get it wrong. Sometimes the host families benefit because the au pair ends up making his or her comfort food for everyone!
When Abbie stops by the local Asian market, she picks up a bottle or two of Oi Ocha, their Japanese au pair’s favorite tea. It was only a few dollars and really made her feel cared for. For their French au pair, the brie at Costco was only $5 for a large wheel that was $10 or $15 at the regular supermarket. Since Costco only allows two members, they always got some when they were out.
Granted, some food from overseas is really expensive or difficult to obtain. But the effort of even looking up a recipe is a gesture of goodwill that really goes a long way.
Au pair LC also spoke of this on Facebook. “I really appreciate when my host go grocery shopping and they bring me things that I only eat without asking (they’re Chinese so we don’t share the same culture and I eat a lot of things they don’t), also whenever I cook something and they give it a try it’s really nice. They’re just little things that make a difference.”
4 Great Au Pair Host Families Build Trust
“Remember the AuPair is an adult and you’re trusting your kids to her during work time. So don’t treat her as a child/teenager in her time off.”
-Au pair SF on Facebook
Trust is huge for both host parents and au pairs. Au pairs want to be trusted and good host families work at building trust relationships with their au pairs.
The biggest complaints we hear from au pairs are curfews, unnecessary restrictions which make their lives difficult, and a lack of respect for their private space and time. All of these issues center around the trust relationship between the au pair and the host family.
Think about the message you send your au pair by giving them a curfew or unnecessary restrictions. You trust your au pair with the care and well being of your most precious asset, your children. Can you really not trust them to manage their personal time and still be ready to work when scheduled? Why can’t you trust them with the car in the evening when they drive your kids around all afternoon?
Personally, I am far more concerned about my children being well cared for than I am about anything else. Concerns for my children put the other concerns in perspective for me. I am open about this with my au pairs, as well. I only have two rules in my home: 1) You are an adult, I trust you to act like an adult. This includes being respectful of people and property, cleaning up after yourself, taking your job seriously, and doing your best. 2) I want to meet your friends before they meet my children. This is clearly for safety concerns, and especially true if their friends are not au pairs.
“Maddie told me once ‘I trust you for my kid so I trust you for everything of course’ which is exactly the way it should work.” – Au pair D
If you are struggling with trust I would recommend that you start small and expand overtime. For example, if your au pair proves that they can drive safely in your neighborhood, then expand the radius to your town, then the next town over. Once you are confident that your au pair can safely be home by 10:00 pm and be ready for work then next morning, then extend to midnight, then remove their curfew entirely.
Trust takes time and energy to build, but in the end it will more than make up for your efforts. Both you and your au pair will be happier and healthier for it.
Struggling with trust? I highly recommend The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey.
Want to hear it from the source? Here are the links to the original Facebook conversations:
- Conversation in Au Pair Host Family Match Rematch Extension
- Conversation in Au Pair in USA Match Rematch Extension
- Another Conversation in Au Pair in USA Match Rematch Extension
What do you think? What have you done to help build a good relationship with your au pair? We would love to hear your opinions about what makes a great host family in our My Au Pair and Me Community on Facebook or in the comments below.
As an agency, we always make sure our families are openminded and receptive to criticism and doing this a little differently than they might have in the past. This is super important, especially when you are inviting another person from another culture to live with you and your kids!
There will always be difficulties!
-Edwina, Au Pair Butrfly
Thanks for helping set expectations for good communication! Those are both key.
Expecting an au pair to clean after the family outside of working hours is unacceptable…you can get maid and stop being cheap…
Yes, it’s all a balance.
It’s definitely outside an au pair’s contract to clean after the family outside of working hours. And au pairs never do my housework for me.
But if we’re all eating dinner and I make dinner, then the au pair can contribute to getting ready for dinner or putting away after dinner. (And I expect my kids to help, even in small ways. So it’s not just her.)
Mostly I try to strike a deal with my au pairs. If I leave her a clean room, or a clean kitchen sink, I ask that she leaves it that way for me at the end of the day. But sometimes she doesn’t feel like it during the day, so she finishes up later. It’s kind-of like if I decide to take an extra long walk during lunch at work, but then stay for an extra 30 minutes to finish a project.
And if she makes a mess on her own time, then I definitely expect her to clean up after herself.
A struggle could be vacuuming or sweeping a common room. Who made the mess? Who is responsible for cleaning it? Unless the kids are babies, teach them to do it and have the au pair supervise during her working areas. Otherwise, maybe take turns every other day or every other week. Just be sure to communicate well.