Before returning to work after giving birth to my daughter, I had to figure out what childcare option would be best for our family. I visited daycares in our area, looked at the possibility of hiring a nanny, and finally, I researched au pairs. After exploring all my options, I decided to get an au pair.
What’s an Au Pair?
Au pairs, by definition, come from another country; it’s a special visa program run partly by the U.S. State Department, allowing young people (ages 18 to 26) to spend up to two years in the U.S. living with a family and providing childcare in return for a small salary. In addition to the salary, the au pair receives your help learning English, goes to school, and has an American cultural experience. Before having a child, I had never heard of the au pair program, but after speaking to a few of my mom friends who had au pairs in the past, I realized that this was the right choice of childcare for our family.
When deciding on childcare options the costs aren’t the only deciding factor for me. Besides the emergency/backup care, my #1 reason for getting an au pair is flexibility. I work full-time, and the hours of my job can vary month to month, so I need someone with scheduling flexibility. With having an au pair, I like that there is no morning scramble of trying to get everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time. And we can travel with the au pair, which make trips so much easier. Plus, depending on where you live, an au pair typically costs less then a nanny or daycare.
Is Your Family Eligible to Host an Au Pair?
To serve as a host family, you must:
- live within an hour’s drive of an au pair program coordinator’s home (they act on the au pair agency’s behalf in matters relating to the au pair and will contact you regularly to see how things are going)
- be interviewed by an agency representative
- pass a background investigation in which you provide employment and personal references (for you and any adults living in your house)
- be financially capable of affording all your hosting obligations
- have status as U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents
- be fluent in English
- not expect the au pair to be in charge of any children under the age of three months
- not plan on the au pair caring for any special-needs child, unless the au pair has specifically relevant prior experience, skill, or training, and
- have enough space in your home to give the au pair a private bedroom.
The Host Family’s Obligations
Once the au pair is living in your home, you will be responsible for the following:
- Pay. This is not open to negotiation. You must pay a preset stipend; $195.75 per week as of 2014 as set by the U.S. government.
- Limited work days and hours. The au pair is allowed to work only 45 hours per week and no more than ten hours per day or five and one-half days per week. However, the schedule can be flexible, depending on your family needs.
- Inclusion in family activities. You are expected to share meals, outings, holiday parties, and other family activities with your au pair.
- Weekends off. Once a month, the au pair must be allowed a weekend off with no responsibilities. Consider this essential for their mental health.
- Vacation. You must give your au pair two paid weeks of vacation time per year. (That means you pay their weekly stipend)
- Arrange and pay for classes. The host family pays up to $500 per year for at least six semester hours of college-level coursework. Many au pairs attend english as a second language classes.
One thing I vowed before having kids was that I wanted my future kiddos to learn a second language at a young age, because I never did. When I chose my current au pair, my main criteria was that she had to love kids (duh!), she would be a good fit for our family, and she could teach my daughter a new language. I didn’t care if it was spanish, chinese, german, or whatever, as long as it was something besides english.
Our current au pair is from France, so when I’m at work, the au pair primarily speaks to my daughter in French. At 2.5 years old my daughter is just starting to speak french but she fully understands when french is being spoken to her. It’s so cool to hear french words come out of her mouth! I don’t speak french at all (I took spanish back in high school), so unfortunately, most of the time that means I don’t know what my daughter is saying, but hey, that’s okay!
The most important thing we have gained, is that our au pair is now a permanent member of our family; she is like a daughter to me and like a big sister to my daughter. Our au pair and my daughter are very close, and I’m so grateful that my daughter is being cared for by someone who cares deeply for her.
Choosing a New Au Pair
The visa for an au pair is good for one year, and it can be extended an additional year, however two years is the max. Our current au pair is finishing her second year with us, so she leaves us for good this June to go back to France. Obviously, we hate to see her go, but it’s time for her to move on to the next step of her career. So, now I’m looking at potential au pair profiles online with my au pair agency. I’ve already found a few possible candidates (french speaking of course). I’ll be starting the interview process soon with an eye toward having the new au pair arrive in June.
Before our current au pair came to join us, I was a little
lot nervous about the unknown of sharing our home with a stranger from a foreign country, but my fears were unfounded. We absolutely adore our au pair. I just hope and pray that our next au pair will be just as rewarding of an experience!
Do you think an au pair might be an option for your family? Start with the State Department’s list of Designated Sponsor Organizations, – there are only 15 agencies on that list as of 2014. To avoid being scammed, you should only work with an agency that has received authorization from the State Department.
Does your family have an au pair? What have your experiences been?