Getting the best out of your au pair
Trusting another person with your child is one of the most important decisions you can ever make. When you hire an au pair, your satisfaction with them doesn't just depend on whether they are competent and caring with your kids - it also involves basic compatibility in terms of living together. Unfortunately this isn't something that can always be determined during the interview process - it is often something that only becomes evident after living together a little while.
After having had over 20 au pairs helping us over the years, we learned some guiding principles to help us get the best results from our au pair:
(1) Make sure your expectations are reasonable. No person is perfect, and unfortunately this means your au pair is also unlikely to be perfect in every regard. From my experience, the au pairs who were sometimes the best with looking after the kids were not necessarily the best with helping out around the house. The contrary was also true - I've had au pairs who were brilliant at keeping the house looking sparkling, but weren't able to form a good rapport with my children. There are always exceptions, of course, but I realised that in my family's case we much preferred that the au pair got on brilliantly with our kids. If this meant accepting some untidiniess from time to time, so be it.
(2) Model the behaviour you would expect from your au pair. If you want your au pair to never allow your children to drink soft drink, don't allow your kids soft drink when you are watching them yourself. If you want your au pair to help maintain a tidy house, ensure that your own habits reflect that. Before we interviewed or started any new au pair, we'd ensure that the house was as clean as possible, so that the au pair understood our preferred standards right from the start.
(3) Appreciate the uniqueness that each au pair can bring to the role. I learned that there are many brilliant attributes that I could learn from each au pair. One au pair we had was brilliant at arts and crafts. Every day she got the kids creating something new. Another au pair I had had a flair for imaginative play. Yet another would determine exciting outings for the kids all the time, such as the museum or a picnic. If I had instructed each au pair on a strict routine, my children may not have been able to benefit from the unique abilities of each carer.
(4) Determine which tasks and house rules are essential, and make this clear to your au pair even during the interview. Before employing an au pair, I highly recommending putting these essentials down on paper and getting your au pair to sign and acknowledge it. The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to be as explicit as possible about what you want. When any issues do arise, make sure you address it quickly and calmly. It makes it way easier to have difficult conversations if you precede it with praise and appreciation for the things your au pair does well.
(5) Make sure you have many fun and meaningful moments together. The best relationships take time. If you make the effort to welcome your au pair into your family instead of treating them like a servant, everything else will become effortless.
Learning to live with a new au pair takes a bit of getting used to, but if you foster a great relationship with them then it will pay massive dividends for both you and your children!