Recently, a soon-to-be-mom reached out to ask about why our family elected to hire an au pair for our child care needs. Here are some of the reasons we chose the au pair program (Au Pair in America for us) and some of the things you should consider before doing the same:
Reasons for an Au Pair:
Au pairs are foreign live-in nannies. So far, we have had an au pair from Germany and one from Portugal. Our next au pair will come to us from England.
Our au pairs have shared some dishes that are important to their cultures as well as some holidays that we don’t have in the states, such as Kids Day (isn’t this every day, really?) and St. Nicolas Day. Our German au pair made Fox an elaborate advent calendar and sang him German carols.
We’ve also found it fascinating to learn about the social and political issues facing our au pair’s countries as well as their take on American politics and culture.
This was really the driving force for us. Because both my husband and I have fairly long commutes, we didn’t want to add packing up and dropping off kids to our morning routine. Instead, both boys and all their gear get to stay put. If they’re sick, they still get care, plus they get to be where they’re most comfortable.
For the most part, we control the conditions in our home. We know our dog’s personality, we know the level of baby proofing we’ve done, we know who goes in and out of our home, and we have cameras. Our au pairs are aware of our cameras and their locations and realize that the cameras are there for their protection as well; it’s so much easier to ascertain what happened in a given situation if there is empirical evidence. For control freaks like us, our home is the ideal facility for caring for our boys.
Child care is expensive, no doubt about it. This year, I signed up for a dependent child care flex spending account, which has helped a bit. However, unless you have family willing to watch your children all the time, you’ll be paying a lot-no matter what type of child care you choose! First year au pairs earn roughly $200/week (however, be sure to read the other considerations section below). The reason their stipend is so low is
because they’re getting room and board, and a lot of times, extras like the use of a vehicle, a cell phone, etc. One really nice thing about the au pair program is that the stipend is fixed no matter how many kids you have; there are au pairs earning their weekly stipend for watching one child while others care for six!
Things to consider:
You must provide a private bedroom for your au pair. A shared bathroom is okay (though not ideal). It’s also important, we’ve learned, to have a strong wi-fi signal to allow the girls to communicate with their home country. When I lived in Costa Rica, I didn’t have internet nor did I have a cell phone. I did eventually get a landline, but I still checked in with my family about once a week or less. However, in this age of Skype, FaceTime, social media and messaging, both of our au pairs have talked to their families daily.
I can’t deny that it is hard, sometimes REALLY hard, to share your home with an ‘outsider.’ Au pairs range in age from 18-26 (at least in our program), so some girls have never lived outside of their family’s homes. That being said, they may not have the same cleaning standards or attitude toward participating in family chores that you have. You’ll also be sharing your kitchen, television, pool, what have you, with someone who is, at first, a stranger. Think about how you handle long term guests and imagine living with someone for an entire year. It’s not for everyone.
There is a large, up front cost for the au pair program. The price goes toward securing the girls’ visas, the vetting process (interviews, cross-referencing letters of reference), a stateside orientation program, their international flight, health care coverage, etc.
Host families are also responsible for up to $500 of their au pair’s educational costs. As a Department of State requirement, au pairs must obtain a certain amount of educational units while they are in the U.S. Some girls accomplish this in a single weekend through a course designed exclusively for au pairs. Others may take weekly English courses at night; some even take surf lessons (however, the courses must be accredited to meet their educational requirement)!
We have been lucky as the organization has paid for our au pair’s domestic flight from the orientation to our home as part of a special for the past two au pairs. However, in some cases, host families are also responsible for this cost.
You may also want to pay for a cell phone and data plan for your au pair to guarantee a solid means for communication-key to a successful au pair/host family relationship.
While the au pair must pay gas for her own outings, host families should pay for the gas while the au pair is transporting the children as well as for when she attends cluster meetings (monthly visits with a community counselor and area au pairs).
Host families may also help their au pairs set up an American bank account (direct deposit is really ideal for paying their weekly stipend) and for completing their paper work. All the girls are required to get a California driver’s license, so it’s good to help them set up their DMV appointments for both the written and driving tests as well as to point them to resources for studying for the exams.
If you’re interested in learning more about the au pair program, also check out my post on some things we learned the hard way.
What child care does your family use and why?