Finding the “right host family” seems to be one of the biggest au pair dilemmas. Several of my applicants contacted me in panic: “Julia I don’t know what to do. There is a family I like, but I don’t know if I should match with them or not. I am scared to make a wrong decision here. Can you please tell me what to do?”
It made me realize that this is a highly requested topic in the pre-au pair community.
Of course I can hand out some advice, but first of all you have to realize that no one can write you a manual or handbook on ‘How to get the perfect host family’. It’s just not possible as every one of us is different. We all have different characters, personalities and needs. What I consider to be a ‘great family’ may not match with your ideals and vice versa.
About 90% of my applicants articulated during the personal interview that they hope to find ‘the perfect host family’. When I asked them what that actually means I got answers like: “I want to be treated as a family member. I want to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving with them. I want to spend my holidays with them.”
After a while I was trying to dig even deeper to get a better description. They told me that they would like to go on vacation with their host family, they would like to live in California, they would like to have their own car, they don’t want more than two kids, they want to have a good relationship to their host parents etc.
Let me speak out loud what no one dares to speak out loud. A lot of au pairs would secretly describe their ‘dream host family’ in the following way: wealthy, live in a big house, own a pool, live in a sunny place, close to a beach. They like the idea of fancy vacations, a nice car, having to look after no more than three kids and being pampered by their host family.
I am not judging here! To me some of this doesn’t sound bad either, but while some is generally intelligible, most of it is more on the materially natured side and has nothing to do with matching characters and needs.
Here is some personal Julia Zucker advice that could help you to match with the right host family:
I really don’t like the term ‘perfect host family’. Nobody is perfect. No host family and no au pair is perfect. Life is not perfect nor is it easy. It’s social media and society that are fooling us every single day, showing and telling us what we don’t but should have. So don’t overthink this search too much. Let go of the pressure and go with the term ‘right and suitable host family for my needs’.
Work hard on your application
Please read my previous post on how to create The perfect Au pair application? Your application is essential as it’s the first thing families look at when they are in need of an au pair. See it as your very personal business card and make sure that it represents you, your qualities and needs. It’s really worth the effort even though it can take quite a while to finish it. That’s one reason why you maybe want to apply early enough. Be unique, individual and not afraid to describe your personality and what you are looking for in a host family.
Take your time and be patient
Please don’t expect that 10 families contact you right away once your application is out there. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. Some families start looking for their new au pair three months before they actually need one and some even do so last minute. There is no need to be frustrated or worried. I know that most of you have a departure period in mind (summer for example) as you plan on starting College or work right after your au pair experience. That is very thoughtful and reasonable of you, but there is absolutely no need to stress yourself. You probably haven’t even figured out what to do after your au pair time. What if you like it so much that you want to extend your stay? What if you fall in love? What if you still don’t know what you want to study after the au pair experience? (Yes that’s possible too.)
Chill people! The right family will show up and you are probably very young anyway. No need to worry about the future before your abroad experience hasn’t even started. (Says Julia Zucker who wanted to have a life plan so badly before she finally figured that life is so much more fun without having a strict plan.)
Know what you want
Your personality, character and needs are an essential part in the matching process.
You don’t wanna work with toddlers? Then don’t match with a family that has a baby. You don’t like big cities? Then don’t go with a family that lives right in Manhattan. You can’t handle more than two kids? Then don’t go with a family of six. You hate pets? Then don’t go with a family that has dogs. You need privacy and a lot of alone time? Then look for a live-out au pair position. You hate driving? Then don’t go with a family that needs you to drive every single day. Improving your language skills is your main goal? Then don’t work for a family that asks you to speak in your mother tongue.
You get the idea guys? If you are young you probably don’t know what you want nor what you need. That’s perfectly fine. There is nothing wrong with being open-minded and giving things a try.
Skype as much as you can with a family before you actually match with them. The wonderful thing about this technique is that you can have a ‘face to face’ kind of conversation. Ask them all kinds of questions especially the ones that matter to you. In the end there shouldn’t be anything unanswered nor any open questions left. Make sure you talk to every single family member (parents + kids). You probably wanna start off with questions about the kids and their daily routine. Afterwards you should definitely talk about their living situation, the car, phone and food situation etc. Let them show you the house and especially the au pair room. Talk, talk, talk and write down what they tell you. It’s always a good sign if these talks feel good and natural as you should start feeling a connection as early as in this period. I would like to use the word ‘congenial’ here as I think it’s essential.
Listen to your gut
I am sure I am not the first one who tells you to listen to your gut. That’s because it is such an important thing to do. But what if you are like: “Sorry, but my gut isn’t very chatty.” Don’t worry! Maybe your gut is just a bit low-voiced.
You can’t stop thinking about that one family? You get nervous when they don’t respond right away? You get excited when they call? You have an overall feeling of happiness? You start picturing yourself living with them? You already think about activities to do with the kids? You would be very sad if they chose somebody else?
Well your gut is probably telling you something here. You just didn’t realize it yet. Most au pairs have this special feeling when they found ‘their’ family. But of course I also had applicants who didn’t feel ‘it’ the way they thought they would. First of all everybody is different, don’t compare your feelings to them others. Maybe you already talked to so many families that you are kind of tired? On the other hand no feelings of any kind could also indicate that it’s not the right family and that you should give it some more time.
If your gut screams: “This is my family!”, don’t be shy and ask them if they would like to match with you.
Talk to the current/former au pair of the family
If the family offers you to talk to their au pairs you should definitely do so. Just keep in mind though that everybody has a different opinion. Even if she/he tells you that it’s ‘the best family’ it doesn’t mean, that it’ll also be the right family for you. I personally know a (great) family who didn’t want their au pairs to talk to each other before the match simply for that very reason. The current au pair will describe the family in a very subjective way. She/he will draw you a precast picture of the family and not everyone likes that. Just because she had a hard time with one of the kids doesn’t mean that you will too, for example.
On the other hand of course it could also mean that the au pair wouldn’t say anything good about the family at all and that’s why they don’t want you to talk to her/him. Ask the family: “Did you ever have a rematch? If yes, why?”
Either way, try to talk to the current/former au pairs of the family if possible, but don’t necessarily trust her/him. (And let me also whisper you that it’s quite hard for us when a new au pair is coming to ‘our family’. It’s a whole other au pair dilemma. We are worried that she’ll do a better job than us and that the family will like her better. Not easy!)
Don’t listen to others
Very often I read posts like: “I found a very nice family, BUT they have a toddler/a child with special needs/the host mom works from home etc. should I match with them?” And then there come tons of you SHOULD and you SHOULD NOT answers. I am really not fond of these kind of conversations. Just because some au pairs think that toddlers are a handful doesn’t mean that you feel the same way. Just because some au pairs wouldn’t recommend living with a stay-at-home parent doesn’t mean that it’ll also bother you. Just because some au pairs think that you shouldn’t go with a family of six doesn’t mean that you will struggle. Just because someone had a bad experience with a single parent doesn’t mean that you’ll too. Just because someone recommends you to talk to at least five families before you match doesn’t mean, that the first family can’t be the right one for you.
DON’T LET OTHERS TELL YOU WHATS BEST FOR YOU! They don’t know you. In the end you’ll have to make a decision, not them. And to all current and former au pairs out there: STOP telling new au pairs whats best for them!
The family matters, not the place where they live
This advise is especially important for young au pairs who are going to live and work abroad for the very first time in their life. I totally get that some States and cities are more attractive than others. But some au pairs have very wrong expectations about certain places. I would like to give you an example and quote myself as I already wrote about the State of California in a later post, since so many au pairs consider it their dream au pair destination:
“I don’t know why Europeans think that California is just ‘the place to be’ in the USA. Maybe because we think when you live in California you live right next to the beach, the sun shines 24/7 and you have 30 degrees Celsius all year long. We actually have no idea that this State is even bigger than Germany and that it can get quite cold depending on where you live.”
Keep in mind that you are going to live in the same house with your host family for quite a while. It’s a long time if you don’t feel comfortable with each other. In all my au pair career I met many au pairs who didn’t get along with their host family and even switched families, but so far I didn’t meet a single au pair who told me that she hated her area. You know why that is? Because you can have a fun time anywhere and it’s a temporarily stay anyway.
This truly isn’t an easy topic especially when you are young, nervous and about to go abroad for the first time in your life. I feel your struggle. Even though the whole matching process seems very intimidating, try not to overthink it. Otherwise you go nuts. Very often in life you just have to give things a try in order to find out whether it’s right for you or not. Being an au pair isn’t always easy, but personally I don’t regret doing it for one second.
Please share this with all your au pair friends who are looking for a host family right now. It might helps them.
Make sure you subscribe and check out my other au pair posts. Please leave me a comment about your thoughts and experiences. Merci! Julia Zucker