Living 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.