Trust is the most important part of being an au pair. After all, there is no childcare offer that is so close to the family as the role of an au pair.
When au pairs move into our host families’ homes, we are basically strangers still—and only by living together and spending everyday life together do we get to truly learn everybody’s personality and maybe some behaviors you have never been confronted with before.
Even most live-in nannies are still expected to have a more professional relationship with the families they work for, and aren’t always as lucky as most of us are to join them on family trips and vacations.
So, as an au pair who has already spent a year in America—who has been with two different host families and has made a few mistakes here and there or had some conflicts every now and then—I think I can give you not only a good perspective on things you need to be considerate about and to think of, but also to notice where your personal limits are, what to expect and how and when to speak up if you feel like something is not fair. For trust to develop, it has to be equal on both sides and both sides need to maintain trust and respect each other.
Well let’s put it this way: How can you work with somebody you can’t/don’t trust? From an au pair point of view: ”I mean, I’m living in their house!” From a host parent point of view: ”I mean, she/he is taking care of OUR kids!”
And that second point is probably the most weighty reason why trust is so important. We have to all imagine how scary it must be for parents to trust their kids with us. Especially if we’re underage.
”Why do they hire an au pair then and not an experienced nanny?”—I hear you thinking while reading this? Well that is a thought that isn’t quite unjustified, but let me tell you this: If they would have hired a nanny, you wouldn’t get the opportunity to be in the USA, with a host family you’ll grow to love and children who will start to feel like your own family!
Plus, if everyone thought this way, there would be no au pairs—no chance of cultural experience to this extent, no broader minds (for both au pairs and host families), no personal growth, etc.
Now, as earlier mentioned, there’s also the aspect that you live with your host family. So if there’s no trust between you and the family, there would be a very uncomfortable atmosphere in the air every day and nobody wants that. Not you—and not your host parents either.
So it’s important that both sides are willing to work on an open work and living environment.
In my opinion, there should be a basic trust here from the beginning. But from family to family, it’s different. You might feel you have more or less ”freedom” than your fellow au pairs.
Honestly though, that’s okay. It’s tempting to compare yourself to others around you, but it won’t help you in anyway. Focus on the good you have with your host family and give it some time. The parents need to get to know you first—and with time, they will see how much they can trust you.
Then of course there are individual preferences. Some au pairs might be allowed to take the car and drive to surrounding states and others have to bring the car home after midnight. Age, responsibility, carefulness, and matching personalities are usually deciding factors, too.
Make sure you bring things into perspective, and consider what is most important to you before judging. And if you still don’t like the circumstances at your new home, see what you can do about it first before asking for a rule change. Example: If you’re not allowed to take the car for a longer road trip, do you have a friend that can and would like to join you? Are there low price bus tickets?
In this example, you have to understand that the family’s car is not your property. Their rules about usage is a decision they make based on what they feel insures your safety and minimizes the chance of a car accident. Trust that their rules come with the best intentions.
As I mentioned briefly at the beginning, time is an incredibly important factor when it comes to trust. The longer you work with the family, the stronger your bond grows and with that also trust.
I want to start with how to gain trust. In this case, there have been no conflicts yet—so there is no regaining needed.
The first month is a great time to get used to your schedule, the kids, the family, the environment and find your first new friends. I can only recommend to make the effort to be reliable, timely and to spend some extra time with the family, especially in the beginning.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking an hour in your off-time to take a deep breath, touch base with family and friends at home, and spend some time alone. Make sure to spend most of the dinners with the family, talk with your host parents, read a good night story to the kids, etc.
This shows you are interested in the family and like spending time with them. It grows your social bond to them and that gives trust a lot of space to grow.
Make sure you talk to your host parents about insecurities you might have and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Please, don’t think that makes you look stupid. It mostly shows you are informing yourself of important things, and making the effort to do things right. It also shows that you care about what the parents think, feel, and what they would do in certain situations.
I suggest seeing how the parents handle things at first, but if you don’t feel confident with something, check if the host parents want you to do specific things the same way. After all, in some situations, there are differences in being an au pair or being the parents. Example: The parents might be okay with the kids being in the pool by themselves if they’re older and they are close by, but by all means, for you it might be different. ”Better safe than sorry” is always a good motto to go with!
And when you’re at playgrounds (or generally playing with the kids, driving, or you have a playdate with an au pair friend), make sure you are still really playing and interacting with the kids. Leave your phone in your pocket—especially while driving! It doesn’t make a nice picture when you are sitting in front of your phone while the kids are playing or you are chatting with your friends without watching the kids. Kids are fast and you can lose sight of them quicker than you think. Never underestimate safety. It’s your job and responsibility.
Now, let’s say something happens and you make a mistake. Maybe you did something you thought was safe, but the host parents would consider it to be unsafe—maybe you hit a car while backing out of the parking lot or something like that. The bottom line? Please, you have to tell your host parents. They have to be the first people to contact.
I know it can be scary. You’re worried what will happen, what they will say, etc. No matter how they react to the situation, they have a right to know first and will appreciate your honesty and bravery to tell them.
Even if your mutual trust takes a little damage, it won’t be as bad as when you keep it a secret and they find out later by themselves.
Also, it’s a lot of stress to worry about something for too long. Get it out of the way and rip the band-aid off. So now we come to how to regain trust.
First, apologizing is a good first step. You’ll have to commit to accepting any consequences that may follow the mistake you made and hang in there. We aren’t perfect—and we make mistakes. From those we learn, but you need to understand that your host parents are also the people you work for and it is their rules you need to follow.
Naturally, they might give you sanctions concerning a specific situation or issue you might have caused. Example: When you’re out with the family’s car, you might have a curfew on weekends—let’s say it’s 1am. You come home at 3am or 5am. The consequence might be you need to be home by midnight in the future, even on weekends.
Make sure you follow the new rule, make an effort to regain their trust, and promise them it will not happen again. To avoid situations like this in the first place, if you feel like you would like to stay out longer for example, talk to your host parents about it before just doing it without their permission. Upfront and honest communication can make a big difference!
With time and continuing to be the awesome au pair that you are or will be—or even becoming better than you were before—you will regain their trust. Don’t beat yourself up if something like this happens to you. Something else might happen and that’s okay, because mistakes make us human. Remember to believe in yourself and show that you really want this to work out.
I hope I was able to enhance the understanding of how important trust is. If there is trust, you can get through almost any conflict and work on it. Trust is connected to safety, communication, acceptance, and understanding. Don’t be afraid of conflicts and mistakes—they happen. But negative moments can develop positive outcomes and make several things stronger—like yourself, the bond to your host family, and finally: TRUST.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about embarking on the adventure of a lifetime as an au pair in the USA. Travel, learn and grow with Cultural Care!