Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents in many ways. Though the Host Parent-Au Pair relationship can often mimic an employee-employer relationship, Host Parents often find themselves supporting their Au Pairs in ways that mirror the support parents give to their teenage or adult children.
Au Pairs are adults, and they don’t need to be treated like children. However, many of them are just beginning their journey as adults.
If you think back to your college days, you’ll probably hit on an example of your own parents doing some of these things for you.
Adjustment Period (helping AP acclimate to USA/ life abroad)
The adjustment period is a critical timeframe at the beginning of an Au Pair placement. Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents to introduce them to a new culture and lifestyle.
During the first few weeks, you will help your Au Pair acclimate to life abroad and U.S. customs. Your actions will create the necessary structure for a successful placement.
1. Help Au Pair feel at home
There are many ways Host Families go the extra mile to make their Au Pair feel right at home. Before arrival, many families ask about the Au Pair’s living environment at home, what they’re used to having in the home.
Host Parents often stock up on some of their Au Pair’s favorite foods or drinks ahead of time. You can adjust your home playlist to include the Au Pair’s favorite songs. Some families even ask for a picture of the Au Pair’s bedroom at home and mimic the look of the room. This can help an Au Pair feel more at home with their new American family.
Be creative and think about what you’d want if you were living away from home for a year.
2. Provide structure for regular communication
Communication is vital for success, and Host Parents often take the lead in facilitating regular communication. This ranges anywhere from weekly meetings to using synchronized Google calendars that keep everyone on the same page.
Weekly meetings might sound extreme, but many families and Au Pairs who’ve been successful in the program name regular meetings as a contributor to success. In-person meetings also give you a chance to overcome language barriers. Meeting face-to-face gives you the opportunity to ensure expectations are aligned. You can observe things like body language that might tip you off to unspoken discomfort or concerns.
3. Teach Au Pair about U.S. appliances, terminology
Many standard appliances in U.S. homes, such as a dishwasher or a clothes dryer, are different or uncommon in some foreign countries. Frequently, Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents to explain how the dishwasher works, the differences between various soaps and detergents, and other things that are just part of daily life in the USA.
Language, terminology, and idioms may need to be explained or avoided, even with Au Pairs who grew up speaking English. The slang terms we have here aren’t the same as other parts of the world such as Australia or South Africa.
4. Encourage open communication
Au Pairs tend to rely on their Host Parents when learning how to communicate effectively with Americans.
For example, many Au Pairs are reluctant to “inconvenience” the people they were hired to help. In some cultures, it’s considered disrespectful to say, “No,” to an elder, even when answering a yes or no question.
Host Parents often encourage their Au Pairs to be more direct and confident in bringing up questions or concerns. Ask open-ended questions that allow your Au Pair to express themselves without telling you, “No.”
Your Au Pair may exhibit these cultural differences, and then again, they may not. Host Parents typically find, during the adjustment period, that learning about little things is key to successful communication.
All Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents for help with the basics of the program: legal documentation, car insurance, and more.
5. Help Au Pair learn to drive in the U.S.
Just like parents teach their own children to drive, you will play a role in helping your Au Pair adjust to driving in the U.S.
In most cases, driving with your Au Pair won’t be as terrifying as Hollywood would have you believe it is to teach a teenage driver. (Depending on the teenager, of course. We all know someone!).
Veteran Host Families know that our standards of driving aren’t always the same as in other countries.
Plus, you may have hired an Au Pair who’s used to driving on another side of the road, who’s never experienced our weather and traffic conditions, or who’s never driven a large vehicle.
Host Parents often see success when they give their Au Pair an adjustment period; and, in some cases, one-on-one driving tips or driving school. Be sure to talk to your Placement Coordinator if you have questions about how to screen for driving skills, or how to help your Au Pair once they’re here.
6. Help Au Pair get Social Security Number, Driver’s License
Often, Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents for help getting to the DMV, understanding the process for obtaining official documentation, and more. It isn’t super difficult, but it can be a tedious process. Still, it means the world to your Au Pair when you’re able to help them iron out the logistics.
7. Provide car insurance
You may be anticipating the day when your child will join your car insurance policy. You get to experience this part of being a parent a little bit early now because your Au Pair will need car insurance if they’re going to be driving.
(Even if you don’t need your Au Pair to take your kids to and from school/ activities, you may want to consider how easy it is to get around in your city. Most parents have neither the time nor the desire to become their Au Pair’s chauffeur).
8. Paying for housing, food, phone bill, tuition, amenities, and even vacations
Housing, food, basic amenities, vacation time, a phone bill, and $500 in tuition money are all covered by the Host Parents. In this sense, hosting an Au Pair is a lot like sending your own child to college (though you won’t be paying nearly as much in tuition for your Au Pair).
CV Harquail, the Au Pair Mom, points out the importance of providing a fully-stocked bathroom before your Au Pair arrives. Little gestures like this show your Au Pair how important they are to you.
Part of the value of this program for Au Pairs is being able to study abroad in an affordable way. Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents to help make this possible.
9. Buy weather-appropriate clothing
Your Au Pair may be from Brazil, and you may live in Alaska. Sure, your Au Pair will bring a coat, but does anyone really know how to dress for the weather unless they’re a local?
It’s not required, but many Host Parents find themselves buying weather-appropriate clothing for their Au Pair. After all, you don’t want them to be uncomfortable. Your Au Pair will appreciate feeling cared for while they’re in your home.
One under-anticipated aspect of hosting is the emotional support Host Parents provide to their Au Pairs. Emotional support is not only something parents do for their own children, but it’s one of the many ways Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents.
You’ve probably imagined that Au Pairs experience culture shock or homesickness, but there are many other factors that go into a person’s well-being.
Chances are, you’ll be faced with the opportunity to contribute to the emotional well-being of your Au Pair throughout the entire placement. (Most Host Parents see this as their personal responsibility, as their Au Pair’s emotional state plays a big role in whether he/she will be successful in staying for the full year).
10. Monitor emotional well-being
Many Host Parents work and cannot be around to monitor every little thing. However, watching your Au Pair’s body language and engagement with the kids can be a good way to gauge their emotional well-being.
Keep in mind that every Au Pair has a different personality. Communicating and learning about your Au Pair’s habits will help you pinpoint whether a behavior is healthy or not. (If you have doubts, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Placement Coordinator or Local Area Rep).
11. Help with homesickness
If you notice your Au Pair is feeling homesick, you can help by providing foods from their home country. You can ask about your Au Pair’s holiday traditions and incorporating them into your own celebrations. This is one way Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents, who sometimes go out of their way to make sure their Au Pair feels included.
Particularly around Christmas, New Year’s, and their birthday, many Au Pairs seem to feel homesickness more than other times of the year. Adding some of their traditions to your own celebrations can help them feel more at home.
Some Host Parents even go above and beyond to bring their Au Pair’s parents on vacation or take a trip to their Au Pair’s home country. Even if you don’t have the extra funds for something like this, allowing your Au Pair an extra week off to travel is a nice gesture. Traveling combats homesickness, and being flexible to allow extra time off shows your commitment to building a lasting relationship with your Au Pair.
Being social and getting out of the house to explore helps with homesickness as well. Host Parents can gently encourage their Au Pair to get out of the house more often, sometimes even taking little trips together if their Au Pair doesn’t have anyone to hang out with at that moment.
12. Help with social life
Some Au Pairs naturally develop their own social life and require little guidance in this area. Others may feel timid in their new environment.
If your Au Pair seems to be struggling to make friends, you could suggest joining a club with the local college. Encourage them to attend more cultural events.
Au Pairs can contact their Local Area Rep if they want to meet more Au Pairs. They can search Facebook for groups of Au Pairs who speak their native language. They can also use Meetup.com to search for groups meeting in your local area, usually on a shared interest like reading or photography.
Some Au Pairs really enjoy alone time, and if this is the case with your Au Pair, that’s okay too. Be sure to communicate so you understand your Au Pair’s personality type and whether their social life is healthy for them or not.
13. Facilitate transportation
Host Parents can facilitate socializing by enabling their Au Pair to get around. Often, Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents to help them get familiar with the area. It’s also a good idea to make sure they know where the bus stops and how to read the bus schedule (some countries don’t even have bus schedules–the bus just comes and goes!).
Enabling your Au Pair to attend cultural events is also important. In some cases, this means driving your Au Pair around or arranging a ride.
Boosting Au Pair’s Experience
Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents help add to their experience in the U.S. Boosting your Au Pair’s experience can be done in many ways, but it often involves including them as part of the family. This can help them get the best exposure to American life– or at least, your family’s slice of it.
Au Pairs aren’t required to participate in your family activities outside of their working hours, but many Au Pairs want to feel like part of the family and welcome the opportunity to spend some quality time together.
14. Provide local passes
While not required, providing passes to local activities helps your Au Pair get out of the house with the kids. This is just one way that many Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents; passes can help your Au Pair socialize more often, too.
Some parents even want their Au Pair to take the kids to ski school or swimming lessons, something many parents aren’t able to do if they work full time. Visiting the aquarium, museum, or zoo can be a fun and educational experience for everyone.
Being able to experience museums or local attractions also contributes to an Au Pair’s cultural experience and allows them to get familiar with the state. It can also facilitate socializing, as they may be able to invite friends along if the pass allows guests (even if it doesn’t, it’s less costly to pay for one person than two!).
15. Provide recreational equipment
What recreational activities do you have in your local area? Could your Au Pair go biking, skiing, snowshoeing, camping? As a Host Parent, you may act like a real parent by providing recreational equipment to your Au Pair, the same way you would for your own children. Doing so can help your Au Pair get out, explore, stay fit, and experience your state as a local would.
16. Take Au Pair along on family activities, dinners, & trips
Outside of childcare duties, the amount of time your Au Pair spends with your family is completely up to them (and you). But offering to take your Au Pair along on family activities can also boost their experience in the program.
Food is a big part of the cultural experience, and many Au Pairs name America’s “melting pot” of food experiences as a big contributor to cultural exposure. Americans often take for granted the wide variety of ethnic foods at our disposal, but to Au Pairs, this can be a brand-new experience.
If you go to a local fair or farmer’s market, or on a camping trip, this can also be a great opportunity to bond a little more with your Au Pair, while helping teach them about the U.S.
17. Expose Au Pair to new experiences
Your household’s traditions, whether big or small, also play a role in teaching your Au Pair about life in the USA. Inviting your Au Pair to participate is a great way to add to their experience, while also providing time to bond with the kids and parents.
If your family attends yearly festivals, this can also be a great cultural experience for your Au Pair, even if the festivals aren’t strictly “American.” Many families celebrate Chinese New Year, or attend their annual Greek Festival. Part of being in the U.S. is experiencing the well-renowned diversity of America.
18. Answer Au Pair’s questions about U.S. life
Your Au Pair might have a lot of questions, and some of their questions might seem self-explanatory. It’s easy to forget the little quirks of life in the USA. You may be caught off-guard by questions about things you take for granted, but try to answer as honestly as possible.
This is a big learning opportunity for your Au Pair, and you may even learn something about your Au Pair’s home culture, too.
Just as it’s important for your Au Pair to bond with your kids, it’s important to take some time to bond with your Au Pair. Some Host Parents become closer to their Au Pair than others, so do what comes naturally to you.
But even if it’s just to maintain a good working relationship, here are some ways that other Host Parents have spent time with their Au Pair to facilitate bonding. Getting to know your Au Pair will also help you understand their personality and keep an eye on their emotional well-being.
19. Go out just for fun
Your Au Pair may need some additional clothing, such as a winter coat or boots. But even if they don’t need anything at the moment, going shopping can be a fun way to spend some time together an get to know one another a little better.
This is also a fun way to learn more about your Au Pair’s home culture. You can talk about the things they have and don’t have in their home country. Offer to buy that shirt they’re eying, or cover lunch for the two of you. These interactions add to your emotional rapport and will help you later if a sensitive issue arises.
20. Spend time talking outside of Au Pair’s “working” hours
You don’t have to leave the house to build that bond. If you’re pressed for time, offer your Au Pair a glass of wine after dinner (as long as they’re of age), or a secret slice of cake once the kids are in bed.
Whether you want to be the person giving relationship advice, or just maintain a professional relationship, giving your Au Pair a sense of camaraderie helps them feel comfortable talking to you.
21. Exchange jokes and pictures
Many Au Pairs text pictures of the kids to their Host Parents during the day. This brightens your day, so why not brighten your Au Pair’s day, too? If you see a joke or meme you think they’d like, tag them in it. Send your Au Pair pictures or videos of the kids when he /she is away.
Some Host Parents even develop a bond with their Au Pair’s family back home. They exchange pictures of the Au Pair, and call each other on Skype just to talk. This type of relationship illustrates the heart of the program, which has the potential to create worldwide families. Often, people who step outside of their comfort zone are rewarded by relationships that transcend childcare.
22. Go out for coffee or a girl’s night
Sometimes parents just want to get out of the house and have an adult conversation. We’ve all been there. With another adult living in the house, it can become easier to schedule a girl’s night or go out for brunch on a Sunday morning.
Just as a daughter might go out for coffee with her mother just to talk, many Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents to facilitate quality time together, the same way you might with a close family member.
Watch Them Grow Up
One thing many Host Parents say they didn’t expect is watching their Au Pair “grow up” or grow into their adult self. Living abroad allows a person to mature much faster than they might have at home, giving them a sense of responsibility and empowerment they may not have experienced otherwise.
As a Host Parent, you get the rare opportunity to facilitate that experience. You may find yourself supporting your Au Pair in unexpected ways as they become more independent and capable as an adult.
23. Contribute to personal development
Your Au Pair has personal goals they want to fulfill, which are often their motivations for becoming an Au Pair in the first place. A lot of personal development happens during this year, from learning to become more outgoing to developing better English or honing their skills for a future career.
Even if your Au Pair doesn’t yet have a career plan in place, the skills they learn in their everyday role in your home can become vital to any future career. These skills will also impact their future relationships– for example, successfully living with a foreign family for a year can instill the ability to work with multiple personality types in a future job.
You can also play a role in your Au Pair’s personal development. Ask them what their goals are. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone once in a while. Even just being a good host and helping your Au Pair complete their year successfully gives them the opportunity to develop life skills as an adult.
24. Teach them how to parent
Many Au Pairs say their experience in the program helps them perfect their own parenting style. It gives them the confidence to pursue parenthood later on, knowing they have what it takes to raise children of their own.
This is a unique experience, as many adults don’t know how they will parent until they already have children.
25. Live vicariously through your Au Pair
Additionally, you have a unique opportunity to watch your kids grow up through your Au Pair’s eyes. You also get to see them grow up together, in a sense, as if you were hosting a nephew or cousin for a year.
Watching your children bond with someone who cares about them is always a rewarding experience, and allows you to go about your daily life knowing your children are safe and loved.
Contribute to Education
Host Parents contribute to their Au Pair’s education by providing some tuition money. But there are many other ways Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents for education. Hosts often end up contributing to their Au Pair’s education in other, less expected, ways.
26. Help with tuition & selecting a school
Not only do you pay some of your Au Pair’s tuition, but you may find yourself helping them select a university. This is just one of the many ways Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents– bet you never thought you’d be searching for colleges this early in the game!
One Host Dad encouraged his Au Pair to attend a school she thought she couldn’t qualify for. Much to her surprise, she got in, and she attributes her ability to participate in the program of her choice to her Host Dad’s advice.
27. Share insights on career development
Just like you might find yourself contributing to your Au Pair’s personal development, many Host Parents also help their Au Pairs develop career goals or pursue goals that are already in place. No matter where your Au Pair is in their career planning, learning about their goals and helping them reach those goals can be fulfilling for both of you.
28. Teach Au Pairs about everyday life
More than just answering questions about the U.S., many Host Parents find themselves engaged in more in-depth teaching about everyday life. This can range from teaching your Au Pair about American etiquette to teaching them how to count change.
In the long run, taking the time to teach your Au Pair about the things Americans do every day can help make things easier for both you and your Au Pair.
29. Develop Au Pair’s English Skills
Not every Au Pair speaks English upon arriving in the U.S. It can take some time before your Au Pair feels comfortable expressing themselves in the language.
You can help your Au Pair develop their language skills by writing down important information so they can read it later if they didn’t understand completely. In the early days of your placement, you can even hire a translator (or ask another Au Pair in your area to translate) if you feel it’s necessary to keep everyone on the same page.
Even if your Au Pair speaks decent English, it’s highly likely that they came to the USA with the intention of improving their English. Suggest books they can read in their free time that aren’t too challenging, or offer to watch TV with them and answer any questions they have.
Often subconsciously, Au Pairs rely on their Host Parents as a model of responsibility. Many Host Parents say their Au Pairs end their year with a much stronger sense of initiative than when they began.
30. Help Au Pair learn initiative
When asked what was most surprising about becoming a host, one Host Mom said, “Just the fact that these are girls, not moms.” She explained that most of her Au Pairs are more like college girls than full-blown parents, and while that may seem self-explanatory, it’s often a missed fact for first-time parents.
“Once I recognized they were just girls, things got easier,” she said. By not expecting them to behave as parents, she was much better able to help them learn the behaviors and responsibilities she wanted them to have, because she realized not everything a parent does and expects is self-explanatory to a first-time Au Pair.
31. Help Au Pairs learn to maintain a household
Au Pairs can assist with chores that are directly related to caring for the children, vacuuming the kids’ play area, such as helping with the kids’ laundry, picking up toys, washing the dishes the kids use, or cooking meals for the kids.
Keeping up with these chores can be a big learning experience for Au Pairs. Think back to your college days and what it was like to learn to cook or (heaven forbid) clean up after your roommates. Those days contribute to many college students’ ability to manage their own households in the future, and it’s the same for many Au Pairs.
32. Instill financial responsibility
Financial responsibility is something Au Pairs often say they learned from their time in the program. Host Parents often help their Au Pairs set up a bank account and create a budget.
According to personal finance expert and New York Times best-selling author, Rachel Cruze, “When a husband and wife can eliminate debt, a shift happens in their marriage. There’s a peace of mind they haven’t experienced before.”
Helping your Au Pair learn to be responsible with their money can help them feel more at ease during their placement, and can only positively impact your relationship.
33. Teach Au Pairs to live up to expectations
Host Parents often have a wide array of expectations. While it’s important to be flexible and help your Au Pair adjust to a new living environment, Au Pairs can prepare for the working world by learning to fulfill their employer’s expectations. Learning to communicate when there’s a misunderstanding is also an important life skill that will help them in their future workplace.
But more than just learning to live up to your expectations, Au Pairs also learn what it’s like when their own expectations were too high, or what it’s like when someone exceeds their expectations. These are valuable life lessons that can only contribute to their personal growth.
Teach Conflict Resolution
Conflict is a natural part of relationships, and even in the best placements, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to arise. Successful Host Parents see conflict as an opportunity to resolve misunderstandings and grow closer in a relationship.
Seeing conflict as an opportunity is something many Au Pairs (and Host Parents) learn during their placement. Learning this life skill is one way that many Au Pairs come to rely on their Host Parents.
34. Teach Au Pair how to approach a conflict
Many people struggle to feel comfortable approaching someone about an issue or conflict. During their placement, Au Pairs must learn how to approach their Host Parents with questions and concerns.
You can make it easier on your Au Pair by enabling them to approach you. Hold weekly meetings and encourage open discussion. Ask your Au Pair if they feel comfortable talking to you, and bear in mind that politeness and rudeness vary from culture to culture. Offer to listen to their suggestions on how you can help them feel more comfortable communicating, and give frequent reminders that openness is encouraged.
It’s also important to be compassionate about your Au Pair’s concerns. If they tell you that a certain thing comes across as rude to them, show them respect by taking a different approach. They will remember this gesture in your future interactions.
35. Teach importance of conveying emotions
During the placement, it’s important for Au Pairs to learn to convey how they were feeling, even if they don’t understand why. Remind them it’s okay to feel whatever it is they’re feeling. Help them learn to accept an honor those feelings, then move on.
It may seem strange to coach an adult on understanding their own emotions, but keep in mind that this adult is suddenly living in a new environment they’ve never before experienced. They may feel sad or frustrated, or they may feel guilty for not experiencing homesickness. Whatever it is, remind them you’re there to support them and it’s okay to take some time to themselves.
It’s also important that they communicate these feelings to you. If they suddenly become withdrawn, it may seem like they don’t have a good bond with the children, when in fact they just need some time to process things. Remind them that it’s easier to be supportive when you know what’s going on.
35. Learn to understand others
It’s important for Host Parents to understand what their Au Pair is feeling before making a judgment. This is also an important skill for Au Pairs to learn, and they often learn it from their Host Parents.
In dealing with conflict, Au Pairs learn to understand how the other party feels, and why things happened. Even if it’s not in relation to their Host Parents, Au Pairs are at a critical age when it comes to personal development– they will learn this skill with their friends and even in their dating life.
36. Help Au Pair practice compromise
A natural part of resolving conflicts is learning how to compromise. Most Au Pairs experience a situation during their placement that requires a compromise. Going through this experience teaches them how to reach a win-win resolution, which can forever impact their conflict resolution skills.
37. Help Au Pair communicate when there’s a conflict
Helping your Au Pair feel comfortable communicating their emotions can also help them feel more comfortable telling you when they feel uncomfortable. If your Au Pair has a concern, or if something about their living arrangements has been bothering them, the placement is more likely to succeed if you’re able to talk about it openly.
Au Pairs can gain greater communication skills because of their experience communicating with someone older than them, and often with a language barrier.
Act As a Role Model
The same way you do for your own children, you become a role model for your Au Pair. Many Au Pairs say the way they look at life changes because of their Host Parents’ example.
“I have so much respect for my Host Family,” says Reezah, from South Africa. “They literally make the impossible look effortless.”
He explains that his Host Parents have shown him how to pursue the American Dream.
“I don’t think ‘impossible’ is something that exists for me anymore.”
38. Au Pairs emulate Host Parents’ achievements
Au Pairs notice their Host Parents’ achievements and often strive to emulate them.
Marina, an Au Pair from China, says her Host Mom’s continuing education has inspired her to raise her career goals.
“I think I’m gonna maybe return to university later, to get my Master’s or even Ph.D.,” she says. “A lot of Americans do that, and I think it’s so wise.”
Even if your achievements seem small to you, they could become a factor that inspires your Au Pair.
39. Au Pairs follow subtle examples
Studies show that children can benefit from having a working mother. These benefits range from women making a higher income than daughters raised by stay-at-home moms (possibly because they receive career advice from parents?) and men spend more time on household chores and caring for their children than sons raised by stay-at-home moms (possibly out of necessity, because the working moms just plain don’t have time for all the chores).
Au Pairs living in homes where both parents work can enjoy similar benefits, particularly when they observe and participate in your habits.
40. Au Pairs define how they want to be as parents
Au Pairs often mimic what they observe from the Host Parents, such as parenting style or cooking habits. Often, they say their time in the program is a determining factor in deciding their future, and this includes planning to have children and deciding on a parenting style.
Carmen, an Au Pair from Ecuador, even called her Host Family a “united family,” saying they’re “a vision of what I want when I get married.”
They’re not your kids, but you still feel responsible for them.
Au Pairs aren’t children, and they do appreciate being treated as adults. They need their autonomy, the same way you do.
However, as young visitors in a foreign country, they rely on their Host Parents for support.
Message the Au Pair Sis on Facebook if you have questions about how to support your Au Pair and ensure a successful year!