November 11, 2019

Top 5 helpful house rules for au pairs

Common ground rules for your au pair

4 minutes
Advice for host families

Welcoming an au pair into your home is an exciting time! You’re on the brink of a new experience—and chances are, 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 we have trouble communicating? What if it doesn’t work out?”  To help you navigate uncertainties, Cultural Care Au Pair offers resources and staff specialists. But to start, there’s a lot you can do to set up for success.

One great first step? Setting expectations with your au pair through house rules. These guidelines will help remove the guesswork so your au pair can understand how you prefer things to operate in your household. Contrary to viewing rules as rigid, au pairs appreciate clear ground rules. Especially in the beginning, so much of an au pair’s anxiety is due to ambiguity. But having some house rules in place removes that fear altogether.

Based on what we’ve observed from host families over the years, we’ll share the top five areas where rules can be helpful. We hope these inspire some of your own house rules so you can navigate the beginning of your au pair year together with confidence!

Rule #1: Car use

When it comes to cars, deciding what’s on and off limits for the cars is an important topic to discuss with your au pair. For some families, it’s essential for au pairs to have car access to help with things like driving little ones between school and extracurricular activities. Others don’t ask their au pairs to drive on-duty, but instead 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 au pairs their own cars to use! While there’s no right or wrong way to handle car use, it’s important to establish your own terms.

We recommend discussing car use during the interview process so that prospective au pairs understand your expectations before arriving in the U.S. We also recommend being conscious of your neighborhood and its surrounding area. Is it urban with great public transport? Or is it a remote suburb? It’s very important that your au pair has the opportunity to be independent, see new places in the U.S., and access a network of friends and classes.

Rule #2: TV use

Like most of us, your au pair probably enjoys watching TV now and then. Providing television access, whether it’s a TV in their bedroom or designated watch-time in a common space, gives them an opportunity to unwind.

So think about when and where you’re comfortable with your au pair watching TV. For example, maybe you prefer that they wait to watch TV until they’re off the clock. Or maybe it’s okay while the little ones are napping, as long as their first priority is still your children.

If there are any parental advisory levels or shows you don’t want them or the kids watching, remember to establish that as well.

Rule #3: Curfew

If you think back to your years as a young adult, you probably liked spending your evenings out with friends. For your au pair, it’s a good idea to have a curfew in place for their off-duty hours.

Many host families set a curfew for weeknights and a separate curfew for weekends. Others have the same curfew every day of the week. Still others play it by ear with a “text-when-you’re-heading-home” agreement.

Whatever you decide, remember to be generous and understanding with your au pair—they’re here in the USA to immerse themselves in local life and build bonds with fellow au pairs. Allow them the space 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 matters most is that you agree on a curfew from the start and encourage your au pair to communicate with you should anything go wrong. Remember that for many au pairs, the idea of having a curfew is brand new!

Rule #4: House guests (or overnight guests)

As they make new friends, your au pair may want to host people now and then. This may mean anything from inviting another au pair over for coffee to making dinner for their parents who have flown in from half a world away! Establishing how often, how long, how many, and when guests can come will help get-togethers stay reasonable and fun.

Try to be generous and welcoming. For au pairs, showing their friends and loved ones their “second home” can be help them truly feel like a member of your family. Inviting people over also  shows that they’re proud to live with you.

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 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)

Oftentimes, there are cultural differences when it comes home entry. For example, leaving house or car doors unlocked is normal in some cultures where they practice a welcoming, “open-door policy.”

This could also mean answering the door for a stranger—or blindly opening the door without checking first to see who’s 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 different norms in their own household.

That’s why it’s a good idea to set ground rules for 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 new habits can take time. Work to be positive and encouraging as your au pair adjusts to life in the U.S. and in your family’s home.