Welcoming an au pair into your home and your heart is an exciting time for your family! You’re on the brink of an exciting new experience—and you’re eager to breathe new life into your everyday routines and childcare schedules. But hosting an au pair can also be filled with “what ifs”—“what if my au pair doesn’t fit in with my family? What if my au pair and I have trouble communicating? What if it doesn’t work out?” Cultural Care Au Pair has resources and staff specialists to help you with each one of these “what ifs” and more. But there is a lot you as host parents can do to make the year with your au pair successful as well.
One first step is to define and share your house rules so au pairs know what is expected of them and how you prefer things to be handled in your household. Au pairs appreciate having ground rules to follow because it gives them a clear indication of what’s okay and what’s not. So much of an au pair’s anxiety (especially in the beginning) is due to ambiguity—and not knowing what’s expected of them. But having some house rules in place removes that fear altogether.
Taking what we’ve learned and observed from host families on our program over the years, we’ll share the top 5 topics for which you’ll want to create rules and limits. We hope you’re inspired to put some of your own house rules in place—and to navigate the beginning of your au pair year together with confidence!
Rule #1: Car use
Deciding what’s on and off limits for the cars is an important topic for host families to discuss with their au pair. Some families ask that their au pairs drive their little ones to and from school or extracurricular activities every day. Others don’t ask their au pairs to drive on-duty, but give them access to the car for their off-duty time around the neighborhood. Some families don’t let their au pairs drive at all—and other families even give their au pairs their own cars to use while they’re here in the USA! There’s no right or wrong way to handle car use. But it’s certainly one of the most important ground rules you can set with your au pair.
We recommend discussing car use during the interview process, so prospective au pairs have an idea of what your expectations are before they arrive in the USA. We also recommend being conscious of your neighborhood and its surrounding when considering this house rule. It’s very important that your au pair feels like they have the opportunity to be independent, see new places in the USA, and have access to a network of friends and classes. For some au pairs, that means public transportation. For others, it means driving the family car.
Rule #2: TV use
Chances are good that your au pair will want access to a television around the house. Whether it’s in their own bedroom, or a common space like the living room, having the ability to watch their favorite shows is important to most young people—not just au pairs!
So think about when and where you’re comfortable with your au pair watching TV. Is it that you don’t want the TV distracting them while they’re on-duty with your kids, and would therefore prefer that they wait to watch until they’re off the clock?
Or are you okay with a little TV-watching while the little ones are napping, but want to make it crystal clear to your au pair that their first priority should always be your children?
Either way is absolutely fine, it’s just about setting expectations early on so they know what’s alright and what’s not. If there are any other parental advisories or shows you don’t want them or the kids watching, that’s another thing to discuss.
Rule #3: Curfew
Having a young adult living in your house means being conscious of the fact that they’ll want to spend their evenings and off-duty time out in the world—exploring the area and meeting up with their friends. This is why it’s smart to have a curfew in place, for your peace of mind.
Many host families set a curfew for weeknights and a separate curfew for weekend nights. Others have the same curfew every day of the week. Other families play it by ear with a “text-when-you’re-heading-home” style agreement.
Whatever you decide to do, remember to be generous and understanding with your au pair—they’re here in the USA to immerse themselves in local life and to build bonds with friends and fellow au pairs. Give them the space and time to do so, whether it’s grabbing ice cream at 9pm on a Wednesday or coming back late from a road trip at 12am on a Sunday night.
What’s most important is that you agree on a curfew early on, give them space and opportunity to communicate with you should anything go wrong, and be patient with them as they navigate this concept. For many au pairs, the idea of having a curfew is brand new to them! Make sure you keep this in mind when setting this house rule.
Rule #4: House guests (or overnight guests)
Chances are good that your au pair will want to host a friend or loved one every now and then. Whether it’s another local au pair who wants to come by for an afternoon coffee or dinner date—or your au pair’s mother and father who are flying in for the holidays from half a world away. How are you going to handle the idea of having them in your home?
Try to be generous, but reasonable. For au pairs, showing their friends and loved ones their “second home” is an important part of feeling like a member of your family. They’re proud to live where they live, and they want to open up their home and their world to others. This should hopefully make you happy, and proud yourself!
So talk with your au pair about your personal comfort level with house guests—especially as it relates to overnight guests. Some families welcome an au pair’s extended family into their guest room for a week or more over the holidays—others ask that they stay in a hotel nearby, but are happy to host them for dinner each night.
No matter what you choose, as always, just be honest and communicative with your au pair. They’ll appreciate you being forthright more than anything.
Rule #5: Home entry (and house management)
Often times, there are cultural differences when it comes to managing a home—more specifically, when it comes to home entry. In some cultures, leaving the house doors unlocked is normal. They don’t lock up at night, they don’t lock their cars, and they’re used to more of an “open-door policy.”
Many other cultures also have no problem answering the door for a stranger—or blindly opening the door without checking first to see who is there. Please know, that if your au pair does this, it’s most likely not coming from a place of recklessness. It’s more likely that they are just used to operating this way in their own household.
That’s why it’s a good idea to set a ground rule for home entry and house management with your au pair, especially as it relates to on-duty time with the children. If you prefer to have your doors locked at all times, work with your au pair to remind them of this important habit—or even establish a system of reminders and checks to ensure they’re locking up.
No matter how you treat this aspect of your home management, remember that habit forming can take time—and to be positive and encouraging of your au pair as they adjust to life in the USA and life in your family’s home.