From an Au Pair mom.
Different families have different needs for privacy, and different needs of socialization in their own home. Au pairs also have different expectations of living with an american family during their time here – some look forward to nightly family dinners, some look forward to daily study sessions in their own room, outings to the gym or coffee shop in their free time, and everything in between.
When just starting out with the au pair program, sometimes it is difficult for a family to decide what kind of time they want to commit to spending with their au pair in her free time. Often there is a level of flexibility – I easily adjust to different needs of our different au pairs, I enjoy chatting up a storm at times, as well as I understand their need for “me” time outside the home or inside their rooms. The only type I found hard to live with was a girl who disappeared into her room the second her shift was over, and never came out on weekends, even when she was home. But this is an extreme, and those kinds of personalities don’t usually work well with the au pair program.
When a family has an idea of their ideal relationship with an au pair, they can look for a candidate that shares those expectations during the matching process. Sometimes the level of interaction between the family and an au pair depends on the personalities involved, and in a great personality match between the family and an au pair, everything just works out.
From my experience, au pairs never made me feel like I was giving up privacy in order to host them. I enjoyed having them around, and they were not around too much during their free time.
Most au pairs are excited to explore America; they make new friends quickly, and don’t spend most of their free time hanging out at home. The structure of the au pair program, with local au pair clusters and regular mandated meetings, is perfect for creating an instant social circle and support network for a new au pair.
Matching with a good driver and giving an au pair access to a car during her free time gives her the necessary freedom of movement in most suburban areas, so she doesn’t depend on her friends or host family to for transportation. Selecting an au pair who is not timid, curious about the world, and an extravert is not only good for her adjustment to the USA, but also makes her less dependent on her host family for her life outside work.
Sometimes a layout of the home allows to have the au pair’s bedroom in a separate area.
It is also important to make the au pair feel at home in her room, and give her everything she might need, such as a computer with a fast internet connection to talk to her family at home, a phone, a TV set.
And finally, good communication helps solve most problems in the au pair and host family relationship, including understanding the balance of togetherness comfortable for both the family and the au pair. If inviting an au pair to the family function on her day off, it is important to communicate that her presence is truly welcome. If an au pair wants to come along when the family would rather spend the time just together, it is important to explain this need to her.