Hiring a babysitter can be challenging, and maintaining a good relationship is like any employer/employee relationship – it can be easy or…not! When Jennifer Frueh, Local Childcare Coordinator for Cultural Care Au Pair, and Mom Since 2000 (MS’00) asked me if Lounge readers would appreciate some tips on working with Au Pairs, I thought it was a great idea. Upon reading her tips (below), I think her ideas could easily apply to any babysitter relationship.

Frueh describes the benefits of an Au pair (full-time, live-in childcare): “Au pairs are enthusiastic, motivated young people from overseas who provide a great alternative to daycare centers or summer camps. In addition, your au pair will help your children keep their rooms clean, do their laundry and can have their dinner ready by the time you come home from work.” An added benefit, she said, “is that it’s a great way for your children to learn a new language and discover another culture.”

Communication is KEY to a successful year and relationship
by Jennifer Frueh

  • To insure good communication, hold weekly meetings to discuss the past and upcoming week. Make sure this not a one-sided conversation. You both need to talk and you both need to listen to each other. Don’t make this just a time to tell the Au pair what to do the next week.
  • It is important to make time for daily communication. This means that the Au pair needs to take the time to see if there are issues that need to be discussed before heading out the door. Host parents need to take the time to ask how the Au pair’s day went. If there is no time to talk that evening set up a meeting. Take time to “re-center” everyone. Plan a conversation when the kids will not interrupt, i.e. after they’ve gone to bed.
  • Restate your expectations. As a host parent, it is wise to regularly restate your expectations, and to have the Au pair restate his/her understanding of the expectations and see how closely they match. If communication has broken down, this is a way to re-open communication.
  • Au pair’s Job Responsibilities: To assist with communication about the Au pair’s job responsibilities, it is good to make a responsibility list together. Sit down and list your Au Pair’s responsibilities. Write them down, make copies, and checklists if necessary. Keeping this on a computer makes it easy to adapt it to each new week’s schedule of events and activities as well.
  • Always keep a good attitude. This is accomplished by the Au pair listening to constructive criticism and not being defensive, and the host parents being sensitive to the Au pair’s feelings with an emphasis on listening. The more positive you think, the better your attitude will be.
  •  When problems arise, it is very important that both the host parents and the Au pair try to have a positive outlook, and want to make changes for the situation to improve. If you have given up before you begin, nothing you try will be successful.
  • Here is a suggestion for Au pairs that will help create good communication. As an Au pair you should not expect to walk out the door at the exact minute you’re scheduled “off”. Plan a few minutes to give the host parents any messages or important information for the day, especially if they’ve just walked in the door.
  • Treat each other like family. Host parents, make an effort to treat your Au pair like you would treat any family member staying in your home. Au pairs, treat your host parents like they are member of your family. Acting like strangers living in a house together can create a lot of tension which leads to stress and many bad feelings. Making the effort to ask about each other’s day, plans and friends can bridge many gaps in communication.

While Au Pair programs and packages vary, Frueh described Cultural Care’s program as a guide. “Our au pairs—young women and men from all over the world—are carefully evaluated, selected and trained. They are between the ages of 18 and 26 and are excited to spend a year (or more) with an American family to provide up to 45 hours per week of childcare.” The cost, she said, is $320 per week.