We were so excited to welcome an au pair into our home. As a work-at-home mother, I was desperately in need of more childcare to help me further my career. But living away from our extended family, I also felt our children would benefit from having additional intimate relationships with adults in their lives.
Before our au pair arrived, we spent three months preparing the bedroom, explaining the change to the children, and getting to know one another from a distance. We were ready. But as with anything, there a few things I wish I would have known then…and here they are.
1. There Will Be Some Language Barriers.
We found the language barrier to be smaller than we expected. It never impeded on our au pair’s ability to do her job. Yet even with the most advanced English language learners, there will be language gaps. There will be times that directives get missed. There will be times that details are lost in translation.
But there will also be times that it makes you laugh. Like when she asked if she could feed our kids some razors. She meant raisins.
Don’t be afraid to explain yourself twice when it comes to the important stuff. And when the ball gets dropped through small misunderstandings, view these as teachable moments where you can practice describing your expectations more clearly. You will quickly see the language barriers disappear as you spend time together and build a relationship.
2. Strive to Be Authentic
Relax and be yourself. My kids screamed for most of the car ride home after we picked up our au pair. Then they wiggled throughout our entire first lunch together. I felt embarrassed. I kept telling her, “It’s not always like this, I swear”. Even if that’s only partly true…
The tricky thing about relationships is that mood and tension are contagious.
My kids can read me like a picture book and they know when I am nervous and tense—and their behavior reflects that. They tend to act like wild animals when this happens. Your au pair will also feel your nerves. If you can try to relax and show your true colors, she will feel more comfortable to follow suit.
3. Learn About Your Au Pair’s Personality
While you can’t rely on stereotypes to know what to expect, you might be able to get a better sense of his or her personality through a simple test. When we selected our au pairs, we spent time reading over the results of the DISC Test, which is the personality profile test that Cultural Care administers to all potential au pairs.
You might consider taking a free version of the test yourselves, so that your au pair can learn more about the personality profiles of his/her future host parents too. Learning more about each other’s tendencies in this objective way can take some guess work out of the early days together.
4. Provide Boundaries and Expectations
When my first au pair arrived, I found myself desperately wanting her to like me. As with any human living in my home, I was naturally concerned about her happiness and well-being. The result? I was inclined to go to great lengths to please her.
Want an extra vacation day? SURE! Want to stay out past curfew? SURE!
All relationships benefit from boundaries and clear expectations. The au-pair/host parent relationship is no exception. This is going to be a brand-new type of relationship for both of you. As with any family member, you are still looking out for their well-being. But this person is also contributing to the household in the form of childcare. The blended nature of this relationship can be confusing at first, which is why clear structure and limitations can help bring clarity and harmony for everyone. It may be wise to start out with firmer boundaries and loosen them once trust is gained.
5. Welcome the Flavor They Bring
Your family is like a giant pot of soup that’s been simmering for years. The flavor is slowly developing and changing with time. Then all the sudden, someone dumps in a heap of new spice. In a perfect world, it would be salt. Because salt just helps to enhance the existing ingredients without really altering the current flavor.
But be prepared that it might not be salt. It’s probably going to be a little foreign in flavor, like curry. Or maybe even spicy, like cayenne pepper.
It will be a flavor that you notice at lot at first. But with time, you’ll start to see that flavor as a regular ingredient, and it will likely improve your family soup.
Perhaps most importantly, keep your mind open to the amazing changes that this new relationship will bring to your life. The experience can be transformative for everyone involved.