Do you find it tricky to manage your au pairs?
Do you wish they could just get on with it, without you continually nagging about washing left in the dryer, forgotten packed lunches and not coming home to find your kids in a zombie state slumped in front of the telly again?
First world au pair problems as it turns out are causing a whole heap of anxiety in households across the globe, and it’s not just hosting parents who are tearing their hair out.
Au pairs are pretty damned fed up that their host families are terrible communicators who demand too much and explain too little.
Our research at the Awesome Au Pair has unearthed an unspoken truth about the modern au pair, host family relationships and it’s this,
Both host families and au pairs pretty much suck right now at knowing how to manage each other.
While the course of au pair, host family true ‘love’ has rarely run smooth, there’s a new generation of au pairs on the block and managing them the old school way, just doesn’t cut it.
Yep Generation Z, the most hyper-connected generation ever are currently causing an upset in corporate boardrooms, with the most traditional of business structures scratching their heads, asking;
‘How do you solve a problem like Generation Z?”
Born after 1995, Gen Z has more options; some would argue more sass and flair and less ‘real-life’ experience than most previous generations; who appear less than giddy at figuring out how to manage them.There are 23 million members of Generation Z in the world right now, and if you hire and manage au pairs, you’ll likely have a Gen Z’s in your home, coming of age right now.
But the real problem isn’t with Generation Y au pairs; it’s with Generation X parents (like me) and millennial parents too, who are trying and sometimes flunking in the pursuit of managing these genuinely digital natives.
Each week, I receive a biblical flood of emails all trying to solve this one thorny problem, recently summed up nicely by a Generation X host parent struggling to manage her au pair;
“God I hate how worthy these kids are, they all want to save the world, and I just want the dishwasher emptied and the school uniform to be ready without me having to send fifty reminders. How do I get her to do all the mind-numbing stuff I need done and still feel good about being an au pair?”
Jenna Host Mum
It appears that the expectation gap between what host families want and need, and what an au pair expects to provide is growing fast, leaving all parties feeling pretty underwhelmed by the potential of this fantastic relationship.
So what’s the solution – Who do you manage your au pair successfully?
How can you bring a Gen Z au pair into your home and build the sort of relationship that’s going to make your home calmer, your marriage better and the relationship with your kids stronger?
Thanks to the wisdom of our community’s ridiculously experienced host families and au pairs themselves, we’ve created a manual for ‘Managing Gen Z’ au pairs that are designed to take the guesswork out of managing your au pair.
While it’s aimed at helping you manage this newest generation of au pairs, it would be foolish and crazy to slap such a simple label on these home heroes in waiting.
No two au pairs regardless of their year of birth will ever be the same, so think of this manual as a guide to help you thrive your relationship with your au pair, and not just survive it whatever her age.
We’re Terrified of Gen Z
From a time in memoriam, we’ve learned to criticise and chastise those younger, better-connected souls that had the nerve to be born after us.
Who knows, maybe we get old, we get grumpy and a little bit ‘jealous’ of their opportunities, their skills, of the things they didn’t have to do that we did?
Whatever the reason, current generations are already unhappy with Gen Z, and they’ve barely even had a chance to get their Yeezy clad feet under the desk.
A recent survey by APPrise mobile revealed a third of managers believe Gen Z will be more challenging to manage than older generations.
26% reckon communicating with this age group will be harder, and many said they had NO plans to cater to Gen Z.
A similar situation is brewing in homes across the globe, where families tell us they are finding it harder to hire and manage their au pairs.
Two years of research at the Awesome Au pair revealed that the expectation gap between new au pairs and host families has grown into a Canyon-sized chasm, and it’s one of the reasons the relationship can fail.
Au Pairs, despite being the only affordable childcare solution for millions of families and despite being the only thing keeping most of us from throwing in the towel and staying home to drown ourselves in gin, say they feel undervalued.
The finger of blame is being pointed squarely at US.
Tens of Au pairs we spoke to told us, host families are often dreadful communicators, toxic control freaks, awful at giving instructions and feedback and even worse at managing their emotions.
Host families told us au pairs are often lazy, spoiled and lack initiative.
So what’s going on?
Can we find a way to manage this vital relationship better where both host families and au pairs get what they need?
I believe it’s more than possible and I’ve seen it happen in my own home when I started to understand what makes a modern au pair tick and how to manage them without adding a whole load of extra stuff to an already overflowing to-do list.
Here’s how to go from au pair nightmare to au pair success with Generation Z.
1.The Family Reality Check
Our super experienced host families tell us that managing your expectations is one of the critical tenants of having a successful au pair relationship.
Easy to say, but honestly, it is kinda tough to pull this one-off.
After all the whole reason you want an au pair or have already got one is so your life becomes less stressful, not more stress filled!
British host Mum Jayne summed this one up nicely,
“I’ve struggled to manage our au pairs properly. It’s tough to make someone part of the family, give them decent instructions when they barely speak the language and come home at the end of the day to find I’ve got to re-do most of the stuff I’m paying my au pair to do. I don’t want to bitch and moan, but I do need someone to be my colleague at home to help my husband, and I balance being a two-parent working family. We can’t manage a nanny’s salary, so we feel like we are settling for an au pair, and then everyone ends up feeling disappointed with the experience.”
So so many families across the world write to me, with this exact sentiment.
Yet there are just as many families who are entirely nailing their au pair relationships.
So what’s the difference in how these families are hiring and managing their au pairs?
The answer is this – families having consistently brilliant au pair relationships are not hiring au pairs, they’re hiring a young person who wants to be useful in their home.
These families, have reality checked themselves, figuring out precisely what it is they need their au pair to do, and what sort of au pair they need.
Sadly, the old school au pair model, where a young woman comes for a generic cultural exchange, to practice her English and to be an extra pair of hands isn’t cutting it for a considerable number of host families or many au pairs. This generation is telling me they want to do more than pick up socks and go to a language class once a week.
So the ones who are winning at the au pair game, are freestyling the hell out of the au pair model, making it work for their family.
Some families have au pairs who help look after elderly folks, pets, family businesses. Others have au pairs more in the traditional mould, just a few hours here and there of chores to keep the family swan gliding.
What matters is understanding you can design the sort of au pair relationship you so desperately want as long as you are prepared to pay for it sensibly and let your au pair know upfront what you need.
One of the things that hold host families and au pairs back from having incredible relationships is this idea that an au pair can only mean one thing. A few hours of chores a week and enough time for a language course and yet no family, no set of circumstances is the same.
French Host Mum Anja told me this;
“We run a small business, and my Mum is at home with us, so our au pair has to be an all-rounder. Someone who can help answer the phone, look out for my Mum, pick the children up and all of that stuff. A traditional au pair doesn’t work for us, but that has never mattered because we’ve always been very upfront, explaining what we need.”
The good news is that Gen Z au pairs are often looking for a ‘bespoke’ experience, something that genuinely fits their personality and their skills, so that means you’ve got a good chance of finding that someone that fits ‘your au pair role’, your families values and your needs.
But first, you’ve got to be able to explain what your family wants, to understand what your family needs.
In the same way, that you wouldn’t create a corporate job advert for a role you couldn’t explain in detail, creating your own au pair job ad, requires the same sort of concrete thought and explanation.
Even when it’s not classed as a ‘job’, you need to give your au pair relationships the same thought and structure as you would do if you were looking for a new colleague to fill a role at work.
That means being brutally honest with yourselves and your family about what you need and what you can reasonably expect an au pair to offer.
The next step is being able to explain in explicit detail to your potential au pairs what you need, what sort of home they’ll be living in and why they’ll be a valuable part of your home.
This tiny, first step, figuring out in forensic detail what you need an au pair for and why is often missed by host families, setting them off on the wrong path.
Aussie Host Dad Iain told me;
“To start with you’re just happy to have someone to pick up the kids and stop them from injuring themselves when you’re not there, but even then you do need to know what sort of person is going to work in your home. We once took on another family’s au pair, thinking that anyone really could do the job and we were so wrong. So I would say, figure out what you need, what sort of family you are and look for that specific au pair to meet your families needs – every family is different, every au pair role is different.”
Generation Z has little interest in being treated like a general dogsbody (despite this being what many a family needs).
So giving them an experience tailored to their interests, their skills, their experience works and your families SPECIFIC NEEDS works a treat.
At the Awesome au pair, we have a questionnaire designed to figure all of this stuff out, but you can just as quickly, grab a piece of paper, and write down some bullet points about what your ideal au pair relationship looks like. Also include the number of hours you need, the sort of characteristics you are looking for and anything else you think is relevant.
Spend an hour writing this stuff down, and you’ll save yourself a lot of potential pain later.
2. “I’m not just any old au pair.”
Much like Aussie host Dad Iain, there is a feeling that just about any half sensible young person can look after kids for few hours each day, grabbing them a sandwich and making sure they don’t end up in Accident and Emergency with a severed limb.
Generation Z au pairs are different.
They don’t want to be thought of as just ‘any old safe pair of hands’.
Here are one Polish au pair’s thoughts:
“I’ve kind of become a professional au pair, I’m on my fifth family, and I love it. First time though it was awful. The family just had me hanging around, doing chores, and they didn’t include me in the household. I had been working as a secretary, and I am an excellent cleaner too – I wanted to do all of these things for them and make their lives easier, but they just thought of me as a girl who couldn’t speak much English. I left after five months and made an ad on a job site. I got an amazing family for two years, and they asked me – what would you like to do each day, what would make you feel valued? I earned more, I did more, and I learned the best family for me was going to give me lots to do and let me make suggestions about things.”
Gen Z au pairs want to believe they are being hired because they are a great fit for the role.
This belief may cause you to elicit a massive groan, and the words “Oh for God’s sake!” (or even something less polite)
I get it, how hard can it be to get kids to and from school, wash their uniforms, grab them some tea and get the school bags ready to do it all again?
But here’s the thing, if we want someone in your home who is going to become the home hero we dream of, then we all have to stop thinking of au pairs as general dogsbodies and instead think of them as having the potential to make a significant dent in the stress of our homes.
So first up, look for an au pair with the smarts and a can-do attitude and then ask them how they would like to organise the tasks you need doing. Ask them if there are other skills they’d want to use in your home.
One au pair family I met started an impromptu football league on a Saturday morning thanks to their male, Aussie au pair who was football mad. He took their kids and their friend’s kids to the park every Saturday morning for two hours.
This families host Mum told me those two kid-free hours, saved their marriage AND gave them more alone time with their younger daughter.
Using lines in your profile like,
‘We value our au pairs, they are the most important person in our house, helping us to run our home’, is an excellent way to signal to a prospective au pair that you are looking for someone who values themselves enough to contribute genuinely.
Even if you’re looking for an au pair to do just a few hours a week, make sure they’ve got enough to do, so that they feel committed to staying the course with your family.
Let’s take advantage of Generation Z’s need to be valued, and start treating au pairs like potential lifesavers and not a necessary burden.
3. Zen-like Acceptance.
Managing any au pair, including those from Generation Z means generating a Zen-like
acceptance that –
No au pair will ever be a clone of you.
Even the most up for it, initiative crammed au pairs will struggle to do things, every day in precisely the way their host Mum or Dad does.
Depending on how much of a control freak you are, (I have been and sometimes still am a paid-up member of this club!), you need to decide what’s more important in your home.
Perfect or Good Enough?
That’s not to say that you’re going to endure a persistently zoned out au pair with no interest in doing what she’s agreed to. So when someone in your home is making a bonafide effort to do their best. Are you going to find fault or take the time and show her how you roll?
Tens of au pairs I have interviewed spoke of control freak host parents, who were consistently underwhelmed by their efforts and yet failed to take the time to show them how things should be done.
In some cases, these host parents were probably right, but in others, the host parents own psychology was sabotaging their relationship with their au pair.
It’s common for host Mum’s, in particular, to feel guilty about what they are NOT doing in their home, and then seeing this being done less well by another person, often ends up in passive-aggressive complaints or a feeling of near-constant unspoken frustration.
Host Mum Amelie explained how she feels;
“We’ve just had the best year with our latest au pair, and I think it’s because I stopped expecting her to be another me. Like lots of Mum’s, I am a multi-tasking madwoman, and I could never understand why it was taking her so long to do everything. Worse still, I didn’t help them get any better organised, and I seethed with disappointment every day. This year I have been at home after a knee operation, and so I had to give up doing quite a lot of things, which I then asked my au pair to do. My partner took her through everything when I was in the hospital, she’s much more patient than me and gave her lots of encouragement and feedback. I couldn’t believe how well everything was going when I got home, and I didn’t have the energy to complain about things not being perfect. So I learned to be more accepting and stop beating myself up about not being there. ‘Good enough wins’ is now our motto.”
It’s vital to understand the weird psychology that goes along with being a host parent, in fact, in my book; there is a whole chapter dedicated to the subject.
You can find out about the book and download a sample chapter here but otherwise, figure out what good enough looks like and resist the temptation to expect anything like perfection from your au pair.
People have good days and rubbish days, in any workplace and au pairs are no different.
Neither are we.