Host mum Eva only found out that her au pair could hardly speak the language upon her arrival. "Having a basic knowledge of the language spoken in the host country is so important! When Valentina came to us she couldn't speak German and her English was poor, which didn't make it easy for us or the children. Unfortunately she'd put in her profile that she could speak German and all her e-mails were written in reasonably good German. I've since found out that the e-mails were written by somebody else and I now know that in the future I must phone au pairs prior to their stay."
Au pair Valentina and host mum Eva came up with a creative solution to the language problem. Host mum Eva writes "To start with Valentina "wrote" shopping lists for me by cutting and sticking the required products out of magazines. But as Valentina picked up German very quickly (both thanks to her German course and conversations with us), the language problem soon disappeared. Our children had lots of fun with her, they often went to the forest and made a lot of creative things together."
Host dad Peter complains about their au pairs' lack of enthusiasm. „(...) She told us that she would do lots of things with our children like sport, walking (...). But now she and the kids just sit in front of the Wii or TV all day, she takes them swimming and that's it."
Au pairs should make themselves aware that their main responsibility during their au pair stay is childcare. Through this - in the safety of the host family and of course in their free time - they get to know the language, culture and sights of their host country. But an au pair stay is no holiday! Give your au pair a few suggestions of what your children like to play or do, preferably right at the beginning.
Additional tip: should you as a host family take your au pair with you on your holiday, please make sure to reiterate their exact duties and establish each others expectations before you go.
Host mum Raquel complains about the insufficient notice her au pair gave for her withdrawal. "The day of her supposed arrival, 12th September, she sent me an email to pull out - there was no explanation. She just said she didn't feel she could do it. I think girls applying to be an au pair should be made aware of the impact such behaviour has on families."
It really is a big problem for lots of host families when the au pair doesn't turn up on arrival day, giving only poor excuses or sometimes not even getting in contact at all. Look at it from the family's point of view, they've taken out insurance for the au pair, rearranged their working hours, and perhaps even taken holiday to accomodate the au pair's needs. And then they don't turn up and they have to start their search all over again.
Our message to everyone in this situation is to stick to the agreement you have with your au pair/host family, if something changes let them know, if not then carry out the au pair stay as agreed. It is better to make sure in advance that the host family is the right one for you, and to either invest in a trip to get to know each other, or skype with them, before agreeing to anything. However, if you realise during the au pair stay that it really isn't working out between you and your host family you can always change families. And if pulling out really is unavoidable then please get in touch with the other party right away, and not the day before, or worse, on the day of your arrival.
Au pair Tina writes "My year in Holland wasn't always perfect and wonderful. When I arrived I found out that my host parents had unfortunately decided to separate for good, shortly before my arrival. For the first few months it was very hard for everyone, but especially for the children. It became more relaxed the following year, when the host dad moved out and my host mum's boyfriend moved in. But then I of course had to get used to having someone else in the house. From time to time there was friction between my host mum and I, but it always sorted itself out somehow. As a result of my host family no longer being a proper family I also unfortunately didn't do a lot with them. I went on excursions with my host dad and the children once or twice, but that was it."
Au pair Tina puts the experience down to an important learning process, but an ultimately positive one. "In hindsight I'm very glad that I've done this year. Alongside all the little problems I had lots of wonderful experiences with newly made friends, my Dutch boyfriend and my host family's children. Those who really want to can become great au pairs, even in a less than perfect family. I've at any rate learnt one thing from my friends' stories: no family is perfect, and neither are au pairs. There's always hurdles to overcome, but when you face up to them and resolve the problems, it can really strengthen the relationship you have with your host family."