The first few weeks of a having a new Au Pair in your home is a major time of adjustment for everyone involved. Not only does the Au Pair have to settle into her new (and foreign!) surroundings whilst learning the ‘ropes’ of their new family, but also the host family is learning how to bond with a new person living in their home and taking care of their kids. Our blogs are for Moms and Dads but from personal experience, often times it’s Mom that has the hardest time adjusting to the new childcare provider. That being said, here are some tips that we’ve learned over the years of having Au Pairs that will help you build a great relationship with your new family member.
Communication is Key
This is really the most important part of building and maintaining a relationship with your Au Pair. Be sure to talk regularly with your Au Pair about any day-to-day concerns regarding the children. Every day, I ask our Au Pair for a play-by-play breakdown of how the day went. One other helpful communication tip is to ask your Au Pair direct questions not only regarding your children but also how they are doing and feeling (e.g Do you have any concerns? Is there anything I/we can do to help you?). Encourage your Au Pair to make a note of any questions she may have or encourage her to send you a quick email/text throughout the day. Choose whatever communication method works best for you throughout the day, but always take the time for a face-to-face conversation at the end of the day. Communication works both ways – if there are any issues or conflict that need to be addressed, it’s important to deal with these things right away. Always be approachable, open and positive in your communication with your Au Pair. If there’s a language barrier or something may be misinterpreted or ‘lost in translation’, consider using Google Translate – this has been helpful to us in the past.
Be Clear in your Expectations
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being clear in your expectations of your Au Pair. Having clear expectations really goes hand-in-hand with having open communication. Your Au Pair needs to know exactly what is expected of her on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. What is the daily routine in your house for your children? What kind of meals do you expect to be prepared? What basic chores are expected of your Au Pair on a daily/weekly basis? Do you have discipline guidelines in place? What are your household rules? What situations warrant a phone call to you (the parents) right away? A written contract provided to the Au Pair in advance of their arrival outlining your expectations is an absolute necessity. You should also discuss your expectations with your Au Pair via Skype in advance of their arrival. This along with the contract sets a solid foundation for when your Au Pair arrives. Have a clear plan in place of what the expectations of your Au Pair will be – whatever you do, don’t ‘wing it’ or assume they’ll be able to learn as they go. We offer templates and guidelines when it comes to writing a detailed Au Pair contract and preparing for Skype interviews. Visit our membership page for more details. The clearer you are, the less likely there is room for misunderstandings.
Help Keep your Au Pair on a Schedule and Organized
Helping keep your Au Pair organized also goes along with having clear expectations and open communication. We provide our Au Pairs with a detailed Handbook and also maintain a kitchen calendar with events for both kids and family as well as Au Pair and parents’ work hours. If possible, provide your Au Pair her work schedule at least one month in advance. Along with Au Pair contracts, we can help you create a Handbook that will be a valuable resource for your Au Pairs.
Have Realistic Expectations
Sometimes it’s necessary to pick your battles, so to speak. There’s a transition period for everyone involved when a new Au Pair arrives but it’s important to remember to be realistic in your expectations. I have a good friend that has had Au Pairs for a number of years and she admits that at some point with each of them, something has ‘bugged’ her about each and every one of them! We’re not talking major issues here – these are minor things like not keeping their room spotless or eating all of a particular food item in the fridge. (Consider this a preparation for the teenage years?) I’m not saying you need to lower your standards or let things go. Getting to know your Au Pair and allowing them time to settle into your family will help you set some realistic expectations of them as you move forward. The important thing is to look past the ‘little’ things and focus on what’s most important – how they interact with and care for your children.
Allow your Au Pair Space to Bond with Children
Allowing your Au Pair space to bond with your children shows her that you trust her (and welcome her) in her new role. Sometimes, it’s difficult for Moms to see their children bonding with their caregivers – we know how awful the feeling is having to return to work leaving your precious children with caregivers. That being said, showing support for your Au Pair shows her (and your children) that you trust they are in good hands.
Welcome your Au Pair into the Family
It’s a big adjustment being away from the comforts of home for Au Pairs when they first arrive. The language may not entirely be familiar and the surroundings are completely foreign. For the first few weeks, try to include them (or invite them) to participate in as many family activities as possible to allow them to adjust to their new home and surroundings. This will help them bond with you and your family as well as ease any feelings of homesickness. From experience, it usually takes a few weeks for Au Pairs to connect with new friends, become familiar with the area and to get to know their host family.
Treat your Au Pair Fairly
You’ve chosen your Au Pair to live with your family and care for your children. That responsibility in itself demands the utmost respect and fair treatment. Erin & I have received several shocking questions from Au Pairs in Canada asking about their personal situations and whether their treatment is ‘normal’. Au Pairs are not an affordable option to childcare because they can be paid less or treated differently than other childcare providers. Although the relationship between a host family and an Au Pair is different than an employer/employee relationship, Au Pairs are protected by the same laws in Canada as all other employees are. Erin recently wrote an excellent blog titled Doing Things “Above Board”.
Thanks for reading!
Michelle – Canadian Au Pair Solutions