Host Family Questions

HF Q’s – Can I take my au pair on vacations with me?

tropical-84537_640 (1)Absolutely!  Who hasn’t been on vacation and wished that there was someone who could take the kids for a few hours?  Many families bring their au pairs along with them on vacation and have a fabulous time.  When preparing to go on vacation, please keep the following things in mind.

1) If you are requiring your au pair to accompany you need to provide for her expenses.

2) You will need to give your au pair a schedule of on and off-duty time so she can plan her free time.

3) You still need to remain within the regulations, meaning no more than 10 on-duty hours per day and 45 hours per week.

4) During vacation, you can have your au pair sleep in the same room as your children, but most au pairs are uncomfortable sleeping in the same room as the host parents.

5) Be sure to make your au pair aware of any additional hazards that she or your children might not be aware of.

6) If you are traveling outside the US, your au pair will need to get a travel verification signed by Au Pair International and she might also need a visa for the country you are visiting.

 

Do you have more vacation questions?  Feel free to ask them here or any other questions about the Au Pair Program or Au Pair International.

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Candidates, Host Family Questions, The Matching Process

3 Tips for Finding the Right Au Pair

The most common question I get from prospective host families is “How will I know which au pair is right for me?”  Good question.  We have au pairs from all over the world, who speak many different languages and have many different experiences.  Some families can narrow the field because they have a certain language or nationality they want their children to learn about, but most just want a kind and compassionate person who will love their children and give them the care they need.  Here are some tips to make the search for the right au pair for your family easier.

Yada from Thailand
Yada from Thailand
Ntombezonke  from South Africa
Ntombezonke from S. Africa
Glenda from Guatemala
Glenda from Guatemala

#1 Be Honest!

The first mistake many potential host parents make is trying to “sell” their family to the au pair candidates.  They want the au pair to like them so they gloss over the less-than-perfect stuff.  These families might get their first choice, but that doesn’t mean that they will get the right au pair for their family.

Be upfront and honest about what your family is like and what your needs are.  If you have a strict no TV rule, make sure to tell the candidates that.  If you have a child that’s a hitter, let the au pair know.  If you are conservative about dress and appearance, mention what standards you would like observed in your home.  If you have special diets or allergies, again, let the au pair know.  Now, I’m not saying the first thing you do is send an email stating all the negative things about your family, but you should carefully consider what makes your family unique (both good and bad) and during the matching process make sure your au pair has an accurate picture of your family.

This goes for the area you live, too.  Some au pairs want to live in a big city; others are good with a quiet suburb.  We have even had some au pairs request a rural setting.  If you live 10 miles from the closest grocery store and the next big city is 20 miles beyond that, you need to let your potential au pairs know this.  On the flip side, if you live in an area where traffic is crazy and there are people everywhere, you should probably mention that, too.

Yuri from South Korea
Yuri from South Korea
Jelena from Serbia
Jelena from Serbia
Renuka from Nepal
Renuka from Nepal

#2 Interview, Interview, Interview

So many families see only a couple files or videos of au pairs, fall in love with one of them, have one interview and ask them to be their au pair.  You might get lucky and have matched with the perfect au pair for you, but chances are both you and your au pair are going to be surprised when you actually start living together.  The better plan: interview many, interview often, and interview all.

Interview many – Meaning start off with a good amount of potential candidates and send an introductory email to them.  I would say 5 to 8 au pairs.  Even if you think their file is light on content, give them a chance to tell you about themselves.  Then narrow it down to about half that you want to Skype with (if you are not familiar with Skype, I would recommend getting comfortable with it.  This is how the vast majority of au pairs communicate with potential host families).  Then narrow it down again to 2 or 3 that are your favorites.

Interview often – Most of the time one video chat or phone call is not going to cut it.  You need to send emails back and forth and plan on Skyping several times.  This is the time to be honest about your family and expectations.  Evaluate your needs and make sure you ask questions to see if he or she will meet those needs.  If you need a driver, make sure to ask lots of questions about their driving experience.  If you have a 3-year-old, ask what types of activities she/he likes to do with that age child.  If you need someone who cooks, ask what they like to cook.  Don’t ask a bunch of yes or no questions, but more questions that start with “How would you handle…”  “Tell me about a time you…” This way you can see how they would react in a difficult situation.

Interview all – Make sure that all the members of your family have a chance to Skype with your favorite au pairs.  You can even introduce your babies or pets and tell the au pairs a little about them.  This will help your potential au pair to understand your family a little more.  You might even want to consider talking with the au pair’s family to get a better understanding of him/her.

Ling from China
Ling from China
Julia from France
Julia from France
Teresa from Spain
Teresa from Spain

#3 Understand your part

Remember, this is not a job interview; this is a cultural exchange program.  You are not hiring a nanny, but agreeing to participate in a program where the au pair will live in your home like a member of the family and take care of your kids.  Be sure you understand what you are agreeing to by hosting an au pair.

There are no guarantees that any match will be perfect, but by following these tips you and your au pair will understand each other better and hopefully be a great fit.

Top 7 Unexpected Reasons to get an Au Pair

The pictures in this post are of au pairs that currently available.  If you would like to see their full profile, click on their picture. This post is a update from a post from September 2012.
Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

6 Traits of an Amazing Au Pair

Having worked with host families and au pairs for over 5 years, I have had many opportunities to see wonderful matches where the host family and au pair end up truly caring for each other like family, and I have also seen matches that haven’t been as wonderful.  While each match is unique with its own set of pros and cons, there are some common au pair traits that seem to help ensure success.

An interest in children:  I know that it has been said that you don’t need a burning love for children in order to be an au pair, but you do need a general interest in them.  Potential au pairs whose main concern is what there is to do in the area and how much time they will get off generally don’t get chosen to be the au pair.  Families want to know that their au pair has a genuine interest in children and their well-being.  Let’s face it; most au pairs are alone, in the house, with the children, all day long.  If the sound of a child’s voice grates on your nerves like nails on a chalkboard, then this probably isn’t the right path for you.

This goes for after arrival, too.  If an au pair acts interested in the children and their activities when communicating with them before she arrives, but then doesn’t have time for them once she arrives, the family feels deceived  and wonders what else the au pair has misled them about.

Truly successful au pairs are the ones who take their job seriously and are invested in the children.  They get down on the floor and play trucks, they have tea parties, and they read the kids the same book over and over and over again.  In a nutshell, truly successful au pairs are the ones who do the things with the children that the parents would do if they could be home.

Patience: Anyone who thinks that working with children all day is easy, hasn’t ever done it.  It takes patience for crying, sticky fingers, messes, crying, toys everywhere, homework battles… oh and crying.  Au pairs need to be prepared that most days will be pretty good, but some days will be very hard.  Patience on the hard days will be rewarded when the children put their arms around you and tell you how much they love you.

Flexibility: There are certain rules put in place to protect the au pair and host family.  It is very important that those rules are followed, but there also needs to be some flexibility.  Sometimes schedules change.  Sometimes parents are late.  Illnesses happen and life is sometimes just crazy.  If an occasional bending or breaking of a rule happens, then you need to talk to your host family about it in a casual way.  If your host family repeatedly disregards the rules, then that is another issue entirely and should be discussed with your agency.

Interest in the family: Most families really want their au pair to be a part of the family.  If the au pair is distant or spends little of her off-duty time with the family, the family feels that she only matched with them to get to come to a new country and not because she wanted to participate in a cultural exchange program.  I worked with an au pair once who would go up to her room as soon as her shift was over, and wouldn’t come out for the rest of the evening.  The family would ask her if she was hungry for dinner or wanted to do activities and she would decline and then sneak down after everyone was in bed and go find something to eat.  Needless to say, this match didn’t work out.

The best matches are the ones where everyone really cares for each other.  This is demonstrated when the host family invites the au pair along to different activities or does extra things to help her feel at home, like introducing her customs into their household.  I once had a host family who had a traditional German Christmas for their au pair.  This helped her feel loved and accepted.

Au pairs show their appreciation by pitching in and helping when it isn’t required.  Just because you aren’t on duty doesn’t mean you can’t help with the dishes or play with the kids or attend a child’s recital.   Now this doesn’t mean that au pairs should spend all their free time with the family.  It is important for them to get out, explore, and meet people.  It is very important to find the balance between the two.

Initiative:  Families don’t want to have to tell au pairs to do every little thing.  If the baby needs changing, the families want the au pair to go change him.  If the kids have homework to do, the au pair should make sure that happens on time.  If the kids are bored, the family wants the au pair to come up with activities to do.  You are in charge during certain hours of the day, so take charge.  Make sure the children are well-cared for and engaged and if you are off-duty still be attentive to the children’s needs, like you would as a member of the family.

Maturity:  There is a reason that au pairs must be at least 18 years old.  Families are not looking to bring another child into their home; they are looking for an adult to help make their lives easier.  Successful au pairs are the ones who take responsibility for their needs and happiness.  If you have a problem, don’t expect your family to solve it for you.  First, you will need to research your options (the internet, your agency and fellow au pairs are good resources for this), come up with some possible solutions, and then go to your host family and discuss with them what will work best.  They are there to help you, but not solve your problems for you.

Now, I know I have just focused on what qualities are important for an au pair.  There are just as many qualities that are important for host families to have, the most important being dependability, compassion, appreciation, and trust.  In my experience, matches that have these qualities are amazing experiences for everyone involved and result in life-long friendships.

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

Performing a Balancing Act: What it Means to Live Like a Member of the Family

AupairLiving like a member of the family… that’s easy, right?  It means spending time with them, but how much time, and when?  Is there a certain amount of time that is expected?  What if the family has plans?  Should the au pair go to?  What if the au pair doesn’t want to go?  Au pair’s aren’t supposed to do heavy housework, but wouldn’t a member of the family pitch in and help clean?

Obviously there isn’t an easy definition for the cultural exchange component of the au pair program where the au pair lives with the family like a member of the family.  Each family is unique and each match is unique so there is going to be a transitional period where host families and au pairs are feeling the situation out.  Here are some hints that might help that adjustment.

Personal Time vs. Family Time: Au pairs and host families are going to want to spend time together, but also time apart.   It is important for families to still have time together without their au pair, just like it is important for the au pair to have time to relax as well as explore the U.S.  No one can say for sure what the perfect balance is, but if the au pair is spending all of her/his time in their bedroom or out with friends, then that is not meeting the intent of the program.  On the other hand, if the au pair is spending all their free time with the family, then he/she is not getting out and experiencing all the opportunities that are around.

Housework:  Au pairs are not supposed to be doing housework that isn’t child-related (they are not maids) but they are also suppose to be pitching and helping out like a member of the family.  This is a hard balance to find, but it is important.  A good way to look at it is if the family is working, the au pair should be helping, too.  So if the host parents are making dinner, then the au pair should offer to help or entertain the kids.  She/he should also offer to make dinner sometime or clean-up after dinner.  Working together is a great way to feel closer to each other and learn about each other.

Vacations: One of the wonderful aspects of the au pair program is au pairs can travel with their host families and help them out.  It can also cause some confusion because schedules are off and roles are less defined.  If a family needs their au pair to travel with them, then they still have to provide them with room and board and a schedule for their on-duty and off-duty time.  It is a good idea to discuss the different needs that the family will have ahead of time so everyone understands what the expectations are.  If the family doesn’t need the au pair to come, then they need to provide provisions for him/her while they are gone.

Dining and Activities:  A great way to spend time together is for host families to invite their au pair to the different activities they have planned, whether it be a simple dinner out to something that is more of a special occasion (say a sporting event).  If they are inviting the au pair along, then they should be prepared to pay for her/him, like he/she is a member of their family.  If the family doesn’t want to bring the au pair, that is fine, but they need to make sure she has the resources to make her own meal at home.  On the other side of the coin, host families need to be sensitive to the fact that au pairs will sometime decline an invitation.  They might have plans or just want some time alone.  Like was mentioned before, the important thing is to find the right balance for each match.

Just like most relationships in life, communication is the key!  When host families and au pairs can be open and honest with each other, then they can find the right balance.

Want to learn more about the Au Pair Program?  Contact Au Pair International or view some profiles on our website.

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

HF Q’s: My new au pair is about to arrive. What should I expect?

Congratulations on getting your new au pair!  What an exciting time.  It is a good idea to have realistic expectations so your match can get started off on the right track.

Arrival – As excited as your au pair is going to be chances are she is also going to be wiped out.  The regulations state that au pairs cannot be responsible for the children during the first 3 days after arrival so that they can have time to acclimate to your home and the US.  It is a good idea to use this time to help her to get to know your home and family.  Don’t plan anything too big during the first few days and give her a chance to settle in.

Driving – Even the best of drivers can be intimidated by driving in the US.  Our roads and vehicles are bigger than they are used to and many countries don’t have the same standards of driving.  We recommend all au pairs get a US drivers license but many can drive on their country’s license.  Be prepared to ease your au pair into driving and don’t get frustrated if she doesn’t pick it up right away.

Homesickness – As you can imagine being away from friends and family isn’t easy for anyone.  Add to that being in a different country and speaking a different language and it can get quite difficult.  Encourage your au pair to get out and meet people.  Starting on her education is a good start, but there are a lot of other possibilities.  Churches, international student organizations, meet up groups, rec leagues and ethnic restaurants are good places to meet new people.  Your Area Director will have some ideas for your area.

A good piece of advice is to treat your au pair how you would want someone to treat your son or daughter if they were staying with them.  If you always keep that in mind, then you won’t go wrong.

 

*** ADVICE TO AU PAIRS***

Remember that while your host family, Area Director and agency are here to help you, ultimately your happiness is up to you.  You have an amazing opportunity to gain so many new and beneficial experiences.  Take advantage of every chance you get to learn and grow.  Remember that you are here to 1) help make your host family’s lives easier, and 2) learn about the US.   Don’t be surprised if families in the US raise their children differently than you are used to.  Find out how they want you to assist them in raising their children and then follow their lead.  Finally, although it will be an adjustment at first, if you give it your best you will have one of the greatest experiences of your life.

Host Family Questions

HF Q’s – I know I’m supposed to provide room and board for my au pair, but what’s included in the board portion?

Your au pair is supposed to live with you like a member of the family, so if you are treating your au pair like a brother or sister who is coming for an extended stay, then you are following the intent of the program.  Au pairs should have at least 3 healthy and balanced meals per day.  Some families tell their au pairs that they can eat whatever they want; others feel more comfortable having a certain shelf in the pantry or fridge with food that is reserved for special occasions; and others label food if it needs to be saved.  Almost all host families have a grocery list and the expectation that if something is low or gone, it needs to be added to the list.

It is also a good idea to talk with your au pair about his normal diet.  You are not required to provide special food for your au pair, but most families will ask their au pair if they would like to add certain foods to the shopping list.  Remember, au pairs’ bodies are often still developing, so their appetite might be bigger than you expect.  Also, many au pairs are not used to the variety of foods that are available in the US.  It is ok to discuss with your au pair the amount of food that should be consumed per day (i.e. please don’t eat more than 3 pieces of fresh fruit per day so it can last until I go shopping again.)

If you invite your au pair out to dinner with your family, you should plan on paying for your au pair.  It’s also OK not to invite your au pair out, but you should make sure that your au pair can make a meal for themselves at home.  Lastly, if you go on vacation and leave your au pair at home you need to stock up on groceries for your au pair before you leave.

 

*** Advice to au pairs:  Remember that even though you are to live with your host family like a member of the family, you are still a guest in their home.  Try to match your eating style to that of your host family’s.  If you like to eat food that the family doesn’t  feel free to purchase it yourself.  If you are still hungry after a typical meal, ask your family what foods they are OK you eating afterwards.  In my home my four growing boys know that they are welcome to as many vegetables they want after dinner.  Many families in the US consider treats like ice cream, cookies and such to be occasional food that shouldn’t be eaten every day.  If you don’t know what is acceptable, please ask.  You might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it will be better for everyone in the long run if everyone is on the same page. Finally, remember that all personal items are your responsibility to purchase.

Host Family Questions

HF Q’s – Do all au pairs expect to have a car?

Not many families have a car that is just for the au pair’s use and no au pair should expect to have free reign of a car.  Even if an au pair does have their own car, the au pair should always ask before using it and let the family know when they will have the car back.  Host families need to feel comfortable with their au pair’s driving skills, so they might require that the au pair get a US driver’s license first.  Host families also can limit the distance their car is driven and how long their au pair has their car out.  Au pairs need to remember that access to a car is a privilege, not a right.

Many au pairs cannot drive, or do not want to drive in the US.  Our cars are much bigger than they are used to, the roads are faster and have more people on them, and their English might not be great.  While most au pairs who don’t drive use public transportation, get rides from friends, bike or walk; it’s still a good idea for host families to offer them rides, especially to school or on the weekends.  No au pair should be stuck at home all the time because he or she doesn’t have a way to get out.

Talk with potential au pairs about their driving experience and what expectations you have for driving.  Don’t expect your au pair to be comfortable with driving in the US right away and plan on helping them get used to driving in the US.