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Interview with Cultural Care LCC, Deb Schwarz

Deb Schwarz, LCC for Cultural Care

Deb lives and works in Marin County, California where she services over 60 au pairs since 2003.  She has a BA in Psychology from Wake Forest and a Master's in Market Research from the University of Georgia.  Deb is well traveled and has lived in England, Scotland, Australia, Boston and NYC.  She was among the top 1% in the country to be inducted into Cultural Care's Golden Heart League, which recognizes the best and brightest of their LCCs.

This is part one is a series of interviews with LCCs and counselors.  Deb talks with Edina about Matching and how to find the best au pair 'fit' for your family.

Edina:  Deb, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to interview with the Clearinghouse. We are delighted to have such an experienced counselor like you to share with our readers your expert tips and advice on how to match with the best au pair.

Top Three Most Important Au Pair Qualities

Edina:  In your expert opinion, what are some of the most important qualities parents should look for in a prospective au pair?

Deb:  Ah!  Now, this is my favorite topic as I think it’s the most important step in having a great au pair experience.  I’ve personally had 16 au pairs (about to welcome 17 into our home – as we had two at a time for the first 5 years) – so I’ve come to realize that the most important thing to look for in an au pair is a positive attitude.  Several of our au pairs haven’t had the best childcare experience, but their positive attitude made them a real asset and a joy to have in our home.  

An au pair with a negative attitude, someone with a sense of entitlement drags the energy in the whole house down. 

Start with an au pair who shows a positive attitude and then look for my Top Three Most Important Au Pair Qualities: 

1.  Competency – ask yourself, can the au pair do what you need them to do?  For example, do they have specific experience with the age group of your children?; if they are going to be in sole charge – can they be independent?  If your au pair is going to be a mother’s helper – can she take direction and be with in an adult's company all day? 

Skills check:  Do they have the skills that you need, e.g. driving, swimming, etc?  For instance, if the host family has a large family, I always recommend an au pair that is from a large family, as they are much more comfortable with the chaos and noise that a larger family typically generates.

2.  Character – this is a key component in a great match and is often overlooked in the screening process.  Ask your prospective au pair, "What did your parents teach you about people?"  Are these values in line with your own family values?  After all, your au pair will be teaching your children values along the way, even in subtle, non-verbal ways.  I glean the “character” information from everything from what their family photos and information, to their essay content, to my all time favorite interview question"What values did your parents teach you?"

3.  Chemistry – this is as important as competency and character, but can get ignored, as it’s more difficult to assess. You can get a feel of whether or not you and the au pair have a good "chemistry" from a phone call, but better yet, with a Skype call.  I always say, "If the chemistry is not there, move on to another au pair and do it quickly." 

Let me give you a good example of how useful Skype can be: Just a month or two ago, I nearly matched with a second year Swedish au pair for my own family.  We spoke on the phone and had a great conversation - I loved her!  A few days later we were able to chat on Skype, and oh boy!  I could easily see she was not the au pair for us!  She was sweet, but too reserved for my older, assertive school aged children who would have run circles around her!

The great thing about Skype is you can get the entire family on and you can quickly see if the children and au pair create that bond, that chemistry that will forge a respectful and lasting relationship.

Edina:  Thank you Deb for those great insights and I think you are correct about Skype.  This is going to be the best new thing in matching with au pairs - host parents will be able to make better decisions on hiring an au pair when they can see the person who they are communicating with.

Deb, can you share with our readers some of your tips for Matching?

Deb:  Sure!  Here they are, my best matching tips:

Best Matching Tips: 

  • Don’t Settle – you’ll know it when you see the right application – it will just feel “right”
  • Try Not to Live in your Head - go with your gut.  Sometimes when I try to over think the match and get out my checklist again, I get into trouble (reminds me of the previews for an upcoming movie...too many reviews may result in not seeing the film at all!).
  • Understand what is Right for your Family - what personality style "fits" your family?  Reflect on what kind of personality your family has and match with an au pair who fits that style of doing things.  For example, is your family active and sporty?  Find an au pair who likes to be outdoors and enjoys the same kind of sports you and your family does. 

Edina:  Thank you for those great tips!  I do agree that choosing an au pair based on your family's style or personality is key in finding a great au pair.  What is the hardest thing an au pair has to overcome in her attempt to adjust to a new culture?  Any tips just for au pairs?

Deb:  I think the biggest thing to overcome is the “But that’s not how we do it in our country!” Syndrome.  I know this syndrome well - when I lived abroad, I fell into this state myself.  I was miserable until I realized that every culture is different and unique – and that’s there no right or wrong way, and the best course is to embrace and enjoy the differences. 

For example, child rearing is, without a doubt, different in the U.S. than in most other countries.  I tell au pairs, “help – don’t judge."

Edina:  This is a very common reaction to a different culture and something I write about here in an article titled,  Culture Shock.  Knowing the signs of culture shock can help avoid these misunderstandings and falling into despair, or worse, a depression. 

Deb, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule as an LCC for Cultural Care!  Our readers will surely reap the benefits of reading your expert advice here on au pairs and your matching tips.

Deb:  You are very welcome.  Thank you for having me!

To read more about Deb and her life as a host mom and LCC, view her bio.

If you would like to read more of Deb's expert advice on Matching, read her articles:
Tips from the Au Pair Trenches, and Finding an Au Pair

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