So you’re a little over six months into your first au pair year and the email pops up in your inbox asking whether or not you are considering extending. After thinking about it for a little while and consulting everyone who you believe should have a voice in your decision, you have decided to extend for a further 6, 9 or 12 months—and now you are about to embark on the next phase of your au pair journey.
I went through this whole process about 8 months ago, and now I am nearing the end of my time with my extension host family. As I reflect back on my au pair journey, I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to help make the transition from your first year host family to your next as easy as possible for everyone involved.
While the idea of moving to a new host family may be right for you, make sure you’ve reflected back on all that your first host family has done for you. Consider if they are generous with your free time, if you have similar child-rearing ideals or if they feel like your second family, for example. Also, identify anything about them that you didn’t like so much—maybe the way the children are disciplined or the schedule you are on. Creating a likes-and-dislikes list based on your first year experience will help you decide on questions to ask potential host families during the matching process.
Your first host family may have been perfect in every way, and yet you still want to move on. If that is the case, it’s important to be honest with yourself about why you need a change. Any reason that makes sense to you is a good reason—but knowing why you are transitioning is an important step in ensuring that you move to a perfect host family for you.
This is also something you are told to do during your first matching experience—however, it can be difficult. The first time around, it’s challenging to know what will be important to you when living with a new family thousands of miles away from home. Now, with a year’s worth of experience behind you, it’s easier to know what your ‘must have’ host family requirements are, as well as some of your pet peeves and family irritations. When matching, it’s important that you are polite and courteous when raising sensitive issues—but use your first year experiences to have the confidence to ask all the seemingly silly questions. Asking these questions during the matching period will ensure that your extension term isn’t littered with all the small annoyances that you’ve struggled with previously.
It’s definitely not possible in all situations to visit your new host family before moving in with them—but if you can, put yourself out there and make the effort. Whether it be a weekend visit or a day that you tag on to a longer vacation in an area close by, meeting the people that you will potentially be living with ahead of time can be beneficial. It shows your willingness to go above and beyond for their family—and it gives the children the chance to get to know you a little, meaning that when you do eventually move in you are not just a stranger in their house. It will also be a good opportunity for you to see how the parents speak about, praise, and discipline their children ahead of time. This will give you more of a chance to prepare for what will be expected of you if and when you become their au pair.
When transitioning to your extension host family, you’ll already have a year’s au pair experience under your belt. In the first few months with your first host family, you may have doubted your abilities … but there is no need to anymore! Have the confidence to hit the ground running after you transition and don’t be afraid to test out the au pair toolkit that you have developed for yourself throughout your first year with your new host family. Ensure that any new techniques you want to try with the children are discussed with your host parents ahead of time, and explain how successful you found them previously. For host families, one of the benefits of having an extension au pair is the experience that they bring with them—so they may be grateful to receive some outside perspective on child-rearing situations. Once again, it’s important to approach sensitive topics in a polite and caring way, but if you think that a new method may work for their children too, it’s worth a shot. Knowledge is power.
Getting used to living by someone else’s rules, under someone else’s roof is a challenge. For 12 months, you adapted to the way one host family operated—and after transitioning into a new host family, you now must adapt to their schedules and rules. This will not always be easy; some rules will make complete sense and others you won’t understand—but knowing what is expected of you and executing that to the best of your abilities will set a good example to your host children. Not everything in the beginning will go smoothly, and like you remember from a year ago, it can be tough fitting in to a new way of life. But, use what you’ve learned from your first year to iron out any creases as soon as possible to make the experience easier. The best strategy to cope with any problems early on is open and honest communication. Make sure you raise any initial problems with your host family and LCC in a timely fashion—doing this will show them that you care and are trying to make life easier for everyone.
This can be easier said than done—however, each host family will have their pros and cons, and you can love them both. In the day-to-day au pair life, it is easy to get bogged down in the small annoyances of the daily routine whilst looking back on your past experience through rose-tinted glasses. It’s important, though, to remember that as you reflect back you are looking at the bigger picture and blocking out the times in which you faced difficulties. Every host family is special in their own unique way—and in the moment, it may be easy to compare your host families. Remember that both have provided you the opportunity to live your dream and have contributed to making you the successful au pair you are today.
You may have had the most wonderful year of your life with your initial host family. However, you need to be aware that your extension host family does not know them. It is difficult in the beginning to not start sentences with “In my last host family…” or “My last host kid…” but it is crucial that you show your new host family that you are willing to create wonderful memories with them rather than just share wonderful experiences about your first host family. Of course, I am not saying that you shouldn’t tell them anything about your first year as an au pair—but rather you need to be tactful about the way you share prior experiences with them.
After spending 12 months building bonds with your first host family, it is important to not just leave them and move on. They know that you are still in the USA and are happy that you are broadening your horizons—but they still care for you and want to know how you are. When possible, remember to send your previous host children birthday cards. Text or video call them every now and again, or pop back to visit them. Don’t step on the toes or undermine the authority of their new au pair—but make sure that your first host family knows how grateful you are to them for everything that they have done for you. It is near impossible to live so closely with people for a year and immediately cut all ties—the children especially can find it difficult. For you, the children were one part of your experience … but for them, for a whole year, you were their everything. So even if it is not for your benefit, stay in touch for theirs and your old host parents will forever be thankful for the love and joy you brought into their home.
Transitioning from one host family to another brings with it a whole new set of challenges and solutions—but it is best to go into the experience as prepared as possible. Like everything in life, being an extension au pair is much more about the journey and making your experience a successful one than the destination. If you take the time to carve out a positive transition for everyone involved, you will have yet another unforgettable au pair experience.