Things I learned from being a Host Parent.

When I first became a Host parent I was overwhelmed with everything that I needed to consider about hosting an Au Pair. How do I “train” my Au Pair to care for my children with our parenting style in mind? What house rules do I need to establish? How do I go about obtaining a social security number, driver’s license, and bank account for my Au Pair. How do I manage phone and internet use? How do I ensure safe driving behaviors? How do I ensure my expectations are clear?

I’m not sure if you ever watched the movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” It’s a fun, animated movie. No worries, I’m not comparing your Au Pair to a fire breathing dragon. I do want to point out that like training a dragon, there are many different parenting styles or views/methods to raising children. Your Au Pair will model your parenting as she cares for your children, but you will have to educate. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is through demonstration. Upon your Au Pair’s arrival, allow at least 3 days to orient her to your home and family. Have her observe the first day as you care for your children. The following two days, have her assist in caring for your children…giving her more responsibility on the third day. It is a good idea to have important aspects of caring for your children written down as a reference for your Au Pair. I recommend including this information in a “Family Handbook” of sorts that you could email to Au Pair prior to her arrival. If you follow a certain parenting style, provide her with literature to read on the subject. For example, we provided our Au Pairs with the text “1-2-3 Magic” in understanding our expectations when it comes to disciplining our children. Of course, you cannot possibly learn everything there is to know in 3 days. Encourage your Au Pair to always ask questions. As a host parent, I tell my Au Pairs that “asking questions tells me that you’re thinking about what you are doing.” I want an engaged Au Pair to care for my children.

I also want an honest, respectful, and responsible Au Pair. Without a doubt, I highly encourage Host Parent/s to think about what their necessary expectations are for their Au Pair prior to the matching process. Again, I suggest creating a Family Handbook outlining YOUR house rules and responsibilities. Cultural Care has an uploaded Household Handbook in Infosource that you can use as a template and make your very own. You can also view my Family Handbook as an example. I provided this to my potential Au Pairs during the interviewing process in order to ensure that my expectations were reasonable to them. Of course, I also discussed aspects of my Family Handbook during our Skype interview and subsequent conversations. I really believe that having a Family Handbook helps ensure a good match for both Host Family and Au Pair. Every family/individual has different values and beliefs. For example, one family might not be amendable to overnight guests of the opposite sex, whereas another family simply would like to know who is in their home at all times. I always tell my Au Pairs to treat this home and family with the same respect as they would treat their family. With the same respect, I expect my Au Pairs to be honest with me. If I ask them not to drive my car out of a certain radius without prior approval, I REALLY do not want to find out from another source that my Au Pair violated our agreement regarding car use…or any agreement. This makes me question there overall trustworthiness as it relates to every facet of our relationship. My simple advice to all Au Pairs, “be respectful and be honest”. If you feel that an expectation or house rule has become unreasonable, talk to your host parent/s. Some expectations or house rules might be amendable. You will never know until you ask. Of course, this does not imply that Host Families must amend their expectation or rule. Be able to graciously receive a “no”. Sometimes, a house rule has nothing to do with an Au Pair, but a personal belief or cultural norm. Hopefully, these expectations were initially discussed and agreed upon during the interview process.

If someone were to ask me what were my two biggest obstacles in satisfying the J-1 visa requirements for Au Pair childcare, I would have to say: obtaining a VA driver’s license from the DMV and meeting the education requirement. (I will discuss the education requirement and suggestions for Au Pairs in the C’ville area in a later post.) When your Au Pair arrives, first, you will need to take her to the Social Security office to apply for a social security number. This number stays with her for life and will be associated with any U.S. visa she might obtain in the future. This is also a good time to figure out the amount of U.S. income tax she will owe so that she can budget this expense. Be sure to bring her DS-2019, I-94, passport or international driver’s license (photo id) to the office where she will complete a SS-5 application form. This has never taken more than 15 minutes at the office on Pantops. Second, you will need to take her to a local bank and have her open a checking/savings account. Most Au Pairs will not be able to obtain a checking account through an online bank due to their foreign status and lack of credit history. Prior to arriving at the bank of choice, review the forms or documents required for a non-resident to open an account. Our bank required proof of residence (mail with Au Pair’s name on it and our home address), social security number, and a W-8 Ben form completed. Once a bank account is set up, you can directly deposit their stipend in their account every week. I recommend setting up auto bill pay so that the Au Pair can anticipate and receive her stipend on the same day each week. For example, my Au Pair arrived Friday. Therefore, her pay week is from Friday to Thursday. She receives her stipend on Thursday of every week. Some Au Pairs might need initial assistance with managing their bank account online. Make sure your Au Pair understands the difference between “balance” and “available.” Next, take your Au Pair to the DMV. Allow plenty of time for the DMV. I was told to arrive first thing in the morning. Your Au Pair will need to provide her DS 2019, I-94, passport (photo ID), their international driver’s license, their social security card, and their monthly bank statement not more than 2 months old with the Au Pair’s name and address on it (there is a list of qualified documents, but I found the bank statement to be the easiest to obtain). If your Au Pair has a valid driver’s license from any country other than Canada, Germany, France, or the Republic of Korea, she will be required to complete the knowledge and road skills tests prior to obtaining a Virginia driver’s license. If an Au Pair is under 19 years of age and has a valid international driver’s license from Canada, Germany, France, or the Republic of Korea, the DMV will probably ask her to apply for her Virginia license when she turns 19 years of age. Au Pairs from these countries can drive legally in the U.S. on their international driver’s license for 6 months. If your Au Pair is not from the above mentioned countries, I would contact the DMV office prior to your visit. Your Au pair most likely will be required to take both knowledge and road skills tests prior to obtaining a Virginia driver’s license as well as provide documentation of successful completion of a driver’s education course from their home country. My experience with providing these documents is that the DMV will only accept originals, not copies. An Au Pair Virginia driver’s license is valid only for the term of her j-1 visa. For her to renew her license after her visa has expired she will have to prove that she is in the U.S. legally with new visa documentation. I believe the current fee for obtaining a Virginia driver’s license is $32. Despite whether or not your Au Pair will need to take the knowledge exam, I feel it is good practice to review the Virginia Driver’s Manual online. Some things get lost in translation and these women are young drivers in a foreign country. This is also a good opportunity to educate your Au Pair about what to do in the event of a car accident or car trouble. You might also ensure your Au Pair is capable of pumping gas as some countries do not allow drivers to pump their own gas. This process can take weeks to months to complete. I have found that you do not necessarily have to wait 2 weeks to begin the process. I have found you can apply for a social security card as early as the first week. I believe my Au Pairs received their social security cards within 3-5 business days. I do not know of a bank that doesn’t require a social security number due to tax regulations (I could be wrong). This is why I recommend beginning at the social security office.

How you manage phone and internet use is really individual to the family. My husband and I do not have a “land line.” We only have cell phones. We also required our Au Pair to drive and wanted her to have a way to contact us or get help when she was not at home. We added an additional cell phone to our plan at a minimal cost. Our plan already had unlimited text and call within the U.S.. We chose to provide our Au Pairs with a simple phone just in case it was lost or damaged it would only cost us $30 to replace it. While I do see the advantages of providing an Au Pair with a smartphone (access to maps and GPS), we already had GPS installed in our Au Pair car. My $30 dollar simple phone did survive 3 years of Au Pair use. Because data is usually paid by the GB, you might consider asking your Au Pair to make sure she is using wifi on her smartphone when accessing the internet. When contacting their friends and family outside the U.S. my Au Pairs preferred to Skype or Facetime. They used our internet/wifi connection or wifi hot spots outside the home. They also used WhatsApp to real time text message via the internet. It’s free and you can text anyone in the world. Some Au Pairs use social media or blog about their American experience. Be sure to address any concern you might have as it relates to your family’s privacy and safety via the internet. Regarding phone use, I did ask my Au Pairs not to use the phone while they were driving. I suggested that they safely pull off the road and place the car in park before texting or calling. This brings me to the topic of safe driving behaviors.

When our first Au Pair arrived in our home, my now oldest son was not in preschool. There wasn’t any real necessity for our Au Pair to have a separate vehicle. We live on the city bus route and within walking distance to downtown mall. I worked three days a week and shared a vehicle with my Au Pair. In January 2013, my son started attending preschool two mornings every week. I tried to work my schedule around this as much as possible, but in the end, we bought a third vehicle. Sometimes simplifying your life is worth every penny. When an Au Pair has a separate vehicle that she can use on a whim, you might find that you have to gently remind her on occasion that it is your vehicle. Because I rarely sat in my “Au Pair” vehicle , it made sense to have her be responsible for putting gas in the car as well as keeping it tidy. I provided my Au Pair with a gas stipend every month that would more than cover the cost of transporting my children. She was responsible for the cost of “off duty” gas. There is a lot of variation regarding how and who pays for “on” and “off” duty gas across host families. Discuss your Au Pair’s responsibilities as it relates to “on” and “off” duty driving. If your Au Pair is driving while “on duty,” she cannot be held responsible for your insurance deductible in the event of an accident. If your Au Pair is driving while “off duty,” she is responsible for your insurance deductible. If an Au Pair receives a traffic violation such as a speeding ticket, she is responsible for payment of ticket, court costs if applicable, and/or driving school if applicable. Your Au Pair is not responsible for increased cost to your insurance premium due to her infraction. You might consider having your Au Pair drive within a close radius to your home, until she and you feel comfortable with her driving abilities. Some host families do not allow their Au Pair to drive their vehicle for long trips. Regardless of the Au Pair’s age, they should not drive after consuming alcoholic beverages. I still find having a proactive conversation about responsible drinking behavior is worthwhile. Safe car use is imperative. More often than not, the reason an Au Pair enters transition or rematch is due to the fact that they are no longer legally able to drive (their license was revoked) or the Host Family is no longer comfortable with them driving as a result of a traffic accident/s.

With that said, I believe the best strategy in making sure your expectations are clear is having direct conversation (hopefully, proactively) about the expectation/s. If you feel that your Au Pair might take the expectation or rule personal, explain to her why the expectation or rule is in place. Especially, if you must change an expectation or implement a new rule, you might explain to her that it is not a punishment, but a preventative measure. Most likely the measure is in place to ensure Host Family/Au Pair safety or to ensure the Host Family/Au Pair relationship. Of course, many argue that it is always easier to have some rules regarding appropriate behavior in the beginning then enforce new rules upon someone later. My advice, get to know your Au Pair. Usually by the third month you have a good idea about their ability to make responsible decisions. Treat them as an individual, not an age.

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