Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What is an au pair?”
I know as a host mom I get this question a lot. When I brought the idea of an au pair up to my husband, he quickly replied with simply, “No”. Many people have never heard the term au pair and are quick to associate them with nannies. While comparing them to nannies isn’t entirely wrong, having an au pair is so much more.
In the definition sense, au pairs are caregivers from another country who provide in-home childcare while also living with you. To simply leave it at that would be a disservice to the program and also to the many au pairs and host families within the program. Au pairs are excited to be part of an American family and can’t wait to see our vast and beautiful country. In our experience, au pairs become an extension of your family. We now have a daughter from Sweden. Kieran has a big sister and extended family in Sweden. Not only is Lina a part of our life, but we opened our home up to her family on many occasions and this has given us invaluable friends and cultural exchange.
Who needs an au pair?
While anyone could benefit from an au pair, I think they are particularly invaluable to families with a non-traditional work schedule. Hosting an au pair offers unique advantages to more traditional childcare options including greater flexibility, one-on-one attention and coverage during illness, school vacations and snow days. This is incredibly helpful if you, like us, do not have any family nearby.
When can an au pair work?
Au pairs are regulated by the US Department of State, so there are some rules to their working hours. An au pair can work up to 45 hours per week for no longer than 10 hours per day. Au pairs also must have 1.5 days off per week (the half day is 5 working hours maximum) and 1 full weekend off per month (Friday evening through Sunday morning). Other than these guidelines, you may schedule your au pair however meets your family’s needs. Isn’t that crazy? No more rushing to daycare before they start charging you by the minute. No more car pickup line. You now have an extra family member meeting your particular needs. This can include holidays! Whether it’s coverage for a specific chunk of time or broken up in morning and evening, au pairs are the flexible caregivers you never knew you always wanted.
Au pairs live with you?
I think this is the most daunting part of hosting an au pair. You open up your home and life to a stranger from another country. I can say from experience it now seems weird when Lina isn’t here. She has become an extension of our family. It’s like having a teenage daughter living with us. Albeit a more respectful and helpful daughter from what I’ve heard of teenagers 🙃 When you host an au pair you are responsible for providing room and board as well as all meals. While an au pair may share a bathroom with the children, she must have her own private bedroom. If an au pair decides to have dinner out with friends or do activities on her own, you are not responsible for these costs. There are many other thing to consider such as gas costs, car usage, cell phone, guests, etc. but I will cover that in a later post discussing the Host Family Handbook.
How does the cost compare to traditional childcare?
We use Cultural Care Au Pair for our family, and I also recently became a Local Childcare Consultant for Cultural Care.
They are the largest company providing au pairs in the United States. I’ve attached their most current prices here. While this is more expensive than compared to my local childcare options, again it came down to flexibility and meeting our needs. We only have one child, which is important to note. This price is per family, not child. WHATTTTT!? Here’s where you can really get ahead. You can get reasonably priced childcare for multiple children that is catered to your personal needs, even if it’s just a long awaited date night.
Traveling with an au pair
This is another great benefit to having an au pair! They can travel with your family for vacations. Do they have to go? Of course not! Is it a great convenience to have them and be able to plan a date night? Absolutely! Like your home, you are required to provide them with their own room. Sometimes we take our au pair with us, and sometimes she simply gets an extra week to do what she wants when we leave her at home. The sky is the limit and you are again rewarded with the option of catering to your family’s needs.
This is one of the most amazing and rewarding parts of hosting an au pair. You and your children get the opportunity to learn a new culture, and sometimes a new language. I never would have imagined I would ever learn any Swedish, but here I am singing along to Imse Vimse Spindel. It is very important that you are willing to embrace other cultures and help them to learn American culture as well. At the heart of the au pair program is openness and acceptance. Not all au pairs have perfect English when they arrive. If this will bother you, then an au pair is not a good fit for you. Like any relationship, having an au pair can be trying. You have to be willing to communicate with each other and also offer guidance while remaining patient with the au pair as they adapt to everything along the way.
So…welcome to America?
Only you can decide if an au pair is right for your family. If you’re on the fence, I suggest reaching out to me or Cultural Care for some more information. There are obviously many things I’ve left out in my summary above, and this is a huge decision! Matching can be stressful, but I will cover that more in another post. If you’re looking for childcare that’s convenient, cost-efficient, flexible, and rewarding for all members of your family, then please consider an au pair. You and your children will develop relationships that last a lifetime.