Is Hosting an Au Pair a Good Fit for Your Active Family?
Figuring out your family’s childcare situation is never easy and it’s a highly personal decision – do you go with daycare? A nanny? Stay at home from work? Having tried several of these options myself, I can attest that there’s no right or perfect answer. But I wanted to share what’s currently working well for my family: hosting an au pair.
But “what’s an au pair”? That’s a question I get a lot! It sounds ‘fancy’ perhaps because of the French name. Simplistically, it’s a US government cultural exchange program, in which US families host international childcare givers under the age of 26 typically for one year in their homes.
Some basic facts and logistics about the program:
- Au pairs can work ~45 hours a week, 10 hours maximum per day, and need 1.5 consecutive days off in a week
- They can help with childcare related duties (children’s laundry, meals) but they are not maids
- They need their own bedroom but can share a bathroom with the family
- Depending on what city you call home, you may want to have an extra car for them (if public transport is not easily available)
- Host families provide meals in addition to the room in their home
- The program fee and weekly stipend total about $19k per year
- There are several agencies that recruit and match au pairs to families (ours is Cultural Care)
Our family is in our third year of hosting an au pair and it’s been an amazing and highly flexible option for us (current ages of my daughters are 5 and 3.5). My job and my husband’s job are demanding in terms of hours and travel – and we often have unpredictable early morning and late-night meetings. Having an au pair has meant that our children have consistency and we have flexible help both in the mornings and afternoon/evenings. In addition, we also benefit from dependable and reliable weekend help if needed. A bonus is that our children are learning a second language (Spanish) and about another culture.
Having been through the matching process a couple of times, here are my top tips for making the au pair relationship work well:
- Align with them that their job is first and foremost to be helpful. Then define what ‘helpful’ is to you. Remember that on top of their job, it's your job to foster a sense of inclusivity. Embracing them as a part of your family and community will only help strengthen this unique relationship and allow them to perform to the best of their ability.
- Create a family handbook and include things like values (being active, outdoor time), family rules (curfew, car usage), etc.
- I’d start with overscheduling (e.g., kids’ laundry is to be done on Tuesdays/Thursdays) and then cut responsibilities back as needed. It's important to be realistic about yours, your au pair's, and your children's needs being met. So be aware of creating a well balanced environment for everyone.
- Set the expectation that being a member of the household means helping with household chores (helping the family clean up after dinner) in addition to child-specific chores that they do as a part of her 45 hours, etc.
- Schedule a sit-down (even if it’s for 15 minutes) 1x per week to discuss what is working/what is not, from both perspectives. If everything is great, use this time to be specific about things that they did well (example: that was so helpful when you helped me clean up after dinner last night; I really appreciated you reminding me that I needed to order sunscreen) Nurturing healthy and positive communication with your au pair is essential.
- Surprise them in small ways from time to time – gift certificate for a manicure, Target, a nice dinner out, etc.
- I have a credit card in their name; it is helpful for grocery shopping, Walgreens, etc. Some people find a prepaid card works best.
- Remember that the first couple of weeks will be overwhelming as a host parent (driver’s license, bank account, phone, insurance, etc.) and for your au pair (language barriers, cultural nuances, being away from their familiar lives, and learning the ropes of their new job). As you both adjust to this new lifestyle, be patient…it gets easier after the first month.
If you have any further questions about our experiences with au pairs, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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