Look After Your Host Mom
Thinking about Mothers Day recently, Sunday 15th March in the UK and the second Sunday in May for America, got me wondering about how Host Moms feel when they decide to have an au pair. I imagine that during the whole au pair process (matching with au pair, organising for them to arrive, helping them settle in and learn the routine) the Mom, once the star of the show as far as her babies were concerned, can end up a bit side-lined. Of course they want to know that their children are going to be in safe hands, but there’s a real contradiction involved here, after all, they are doing all this organising so they can be away from their own children! It’s hard to go back to work when you have children, even if you do have a brilliant, fun and reliable au pair looking after your children.
Working mums the world over find very quickly that they can’t be in two places at one time, no matter how hard they try and how quickly they try and do things. There’s always the nagging feeling that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and that you are forgetting something really important. So just try to keep this in mind – you are the one with the children all day, that’s your job and the parents need to know you are doing it well, but there are going to be times when the host mom might wish she was at home baking cup cakes and doing junk modelling with her kids!
There’s no way to square this one, but there are things you can do to make it easier for the poor old mom. You can send photos and text updates during the day (or if you agree with the host mom that you will only text in an emergency, then don’t send lots of texts during the day!). You could keep a log or diary of what you’ve been doing – just notes, not a minute by minute account. A daily diary can be something you do with the children, get them to write a line, or just write their name and draw a picture every day – you will all be able to look back and see the child’s development as well as having a lovely record of your time with them. Hang on to any art work the kids have created and make sure it has ‘For Mommy’ written on it. Take photographs of playdough models and lego sculptures. In fact, try to take loads and loads of photographs. At the end of your year, you could make a book using Photobox or Snapfish (other photo processing web sites are available) as a farewell gift. You can also send photos (with the parents’ permission) to Gap 360 for them to use on their website and social media to inspire other au pairs.
Have a chalk board to make notes and messages on for the host mom to see when she gets back. Make a weekly collage of things that you have done, with photographs, drawings and things that you’ve made or found with the kids. Make a note of milestones, like the child getting the hang of their bike without stabilisers, or learning multiplication tables (you can play it down if you see really significant firsts like first steps though!). Film the kids on your phone if you can, especially if they are singing or chattering or dressing up to show the mom later.
If the child is very young you can make a note of new words or questions they ask. I found a scrap of paper recently with “Do monkeys lay eggs?” and “Why does the water in the bathroom taste like ham?” written on it, both of which my son asked me when he was about three. (‘No’ and ‘I don’t know but let’s use the kitchen tap’, in case you are wondering). At least you can share moments if you write them down.
So try to put yourself in the Mom’s shoes and try to let her know she is missed (rather than what she’s missing) during the day when she’s at work. Encourage the children to tell her what they’ve been doing, what they’ve enjoyed, and what they didn’t enjoy (they will be particularly good at that bit if they are anything like my children). There are lots of ways to help your host children make their mom feel special.
You don’t need to wait until Mothers Day either. You can help the kids to make cards and things like tissue paper flowers and playdough snakes, crocodiles and anything else you fancy out of egg boxes. Pick wild flowers or blackberries when you take the kids for a walk, or get the children to find a shell or a stone or a stick and then tell their mom where they found it and what they did when they were out. I interviewed one au pair this week that had the lovely idea of making a ‘memory book’ with the children during the year, a scrap book of things that happened and things they did. She liked the idea of the kids looking through it misty-eyed in ten years time remembering their British au pair that meant so much to them!
When Mothers Day or the mom’s birthday rolls around, rather than buying something, help the children to lovingly handcraft a gift: paint a stone, write a poem, draw a picture, cut out paper hearts and string them together, or make a banner or a badge or a T shirt for the ‘Best Mom/Mum in the world!’ Or help the children to write a story starring their mom, or make a list of all the things they love about her. You can get the children to make pasta necklaces, or do hand prints and foot prints on canvas to keep forever. Organise breakfast in bed one weekend and get the kids to do as much of it as they can, it doesn’t need to be perfect: burnt toast, cold coffee and spilled milk are exactly what you want when they are presented on a tray by your own messy-haired, food-stained grinning children in their pjs.
And OK, I can hear you saying it, yes, for all of these things, you can substitute ‘Dad’ for Mum/Mom/Mam, apart from that Sunday set aside for Mothers alone, Dads are just going to have to wait until June.