Remember that not all families are a good fit an au pair program. You are really hosting an au pair, which is very different than hiring a local college student to baby-sit or hiring a nanny.
With a Nanny you are her employer - with an Au Pair you are her Host Mom/Dad. Au pairs are young women (or young men) who are between the ages of 18-26 who come to this country to truly be a part of your family. They will be taking college courses that you will pay for. They will live with your family and take care of your children like an older sister.
While I believe that having an Au Pair is truly a rewarding experience, there are some pitfalls that need to be considered before jumping into this unique cultural exchange program.
Things to think about:
Do you need more than 45 hours of childcare a week? If you are going to need more than 8-10 hours of childcare a day, everyday, an au pair might not be your best option. Let’s face it – taking care of young children is hard job. One that requires a lot of patience and life skills. The majority of au pairs are young, in the 18-20 year-old age group.
While they have all happily – even enthusiastically- agreed to take on childcare as condition of their exchange visa, they are still at heart young adults who may lack the skills to take care of children, especially younger children, for long, for extended periods of time. If overworked, they can become tired, irritable and their judgment can deteriorate quickly. For this reason, the United States government has made working au pairs over 45 hours a week illegal. For all of the reasons stated above, the US State Dept. is adamant that au pair not be overworked.
Do you need someone to watch your children overnight?: If you work the night shift or are gone for lots of late evenings, you should not be relying on your au pair to be your childcare option. This basically refers back to the 45/10 hour rules. If an au pair is alone with your children she is working, even if they are sleeping. Period.
Do you have room in your home for an extra person?: An au pair must have her own bedroom. A space to call her own with a bed, a dresser and closet maybe a chair and desk for her computer. It should have door that locks and have at least one window. It cannot be the “sewing room” in the basement. Your LAR will check to make sure that is a suitable space. If you cannot provide this for your au pair, then you should be looking for another childcare option.
Are you are uncomfortable having a stranger living in your home?: While an au pair is meant to truly become a member of your family, they do not start off that way. The introduction period maybe be a little rocky for everyone, but your au pair should always feel welcome. If you don’t like sharing your space and family time with an extra person, an au pair should not be you choice of childcare.
Do you have an extra car, or live near reliable public transportation?: Au pairs are not only in this country to care for children. Remember that this program is a cultural exchange. Au pairs are required to attend classes and cluster events. They will want to explore the area, hang out with new their new friends and have some fun. They will need some way to get around. If you do not live near a train or bus stop with great schedules or are unwilling to share your car you should really think about a different childcare option.
Are you looking for a maid or personal assistant?: An au pair can help with the care and cleaning that come with looking after children. Doing their laundry, making their lunches, cleaning up after an arts and craft session… Those would all be within the job description of an au pair. Deep cleaning your home, grocery shopping, running errands etc… Those are not jobs that an au pair should be expected to perform. If this is what you want, you should look for a different childcare option.