Thursday, December 19, 2013

On having an au pair

After doing daycare/preschool exclusively for a time (when we only had my daughter), a live-out nanny, and a live-in nanny at various times, we went the au pair route 1 1/2 years ago and couldn't be happier. It's just what our family needs right now. I wish I had known more about it earlier on, since it may have made life easier and richer back then. People may have had different experiences, but here's ours.

We've had two au pairs so far, and both turned out to be great matches for our family. The matching process reminds me a little of residency matching, but without the rank list. You search through au pair profiles, filtering by what's important to your particular family (maybe a strong driver or experience with taking care of multiple children or a particular religion), can read a "personal statement," watch a video they made to tell you more about themselves, scan their letters of recommendation, and their childcare experience. You can select  au pairs to interview (via Skype generally) and have a certain amount of time to render a decision whether you want to match with the au pair. The au pair must accept the match as well, and you agree on an arrival date.  It was a bit unnerving to select our au pairs, not knowing exactly how it would turn out in the end - would she like living with us? Would we like living with her? How would she be with the kids? Like residency matching, you go a lot by feel of a program and projected fit.

What we didn't anticipate was how much our au pairs would be like family to us. They have launched out on their own, excited to see the US - everything is new. You are their host mom and dad, and it does feel a little like that - parental and guiding, showing them the ropes and helping them have a good experience in a new country. Our au pairs have been from Mexico and Brazil; we've learned about their countries. Last year, I made a Mexican Christmas dinner with our au pair at the time N; this year Brazilian.

N was with us for only 6 months. This is not typical. The contract is for a year. However, N's family needed her back home; a family member was ill so she had to break her end of the contract and our au pair company arranged for us to match with someone new. M, from Brazil, has been with us for almost a year. We love her. The kids love her. She loves being here. She's extended her contract for an additional year (the maximum possible) which is great news. There's a ramp up period of about a month when they first arrive for driving lessons, figuring out routines, roles, etc, so having her want to stay longer is a huge plus. Meanwhile, we keep in touch with N who writes me occasionally and updates me on her career and relationships. She's getting married next year and has invited our family to Mexico for it. It's kind of like a mentor/mentee relationship.

In November, M's mom and her mom's friend came to visit, stay with us and travel. They were here for an entire month. This included a trip for the "Brazilians" as my husband and I nicknamed the trio, to Europe for 9 days and a weekend trip to NYC, but otherwise our house was full of warmth and Portuguese  for the remainder. It seems kind of crazy that we had all of these people in our house, but to tell you the truth, it was really nice to have them here. They are such sweet, wonderful people who were the perfect house guests. They made dinner for us all a few nights. We miss them.

An au pair's hours have certain restrictions; they can provide a maximum of 45 hours per week. With our youngest in half-day preschool, this gives us a chance to have a date night each week or coverage on the occasional weekend day I have to work. She picks up the kids from school, drives them to their swim lessons, gets them bathed. We juggle the days and hours when there is an unexpected snow day or sick day. That flexibility has been key. You have to have space for an au pair to have his/her own room and be okay with someone living with you.

I remember one day, during M's first months, she was Skyping with her family in our living room. Her family - her mom, dad, brother, and brother's girlfriend were all there on the screen saying hi to our kids. I looked over at the screen to find all of her family members on the computer screen with their two hands forming the shape of a heart on their chests, and my children mirroring them on our side. I thought:  this is such a good thing.

I drove M's mom and her mom's friend to the airport when they left; I hadn't realized the impression we left on them. They vowed that they would start some traditions back home since they enjoyed them so much while they were here: having wine with dinner each night and listening to classical music. And even though they said their thanks solely in Portuguese, I saw in their eyes what they meant.

We started a tradition last year of including N in our Christmas card photo with the family. This year's card has us all sitting on our local high school bleachers, each of the three kids on our laps - me, my husband and M. This will help us remember the years when our family was a little bit bigger. M cried when she saw the card for the first time, to be included. We couldn't imagine it differently.

9 comments:

  1. We also have an au pair and love it. She has completely changed my life. She primarily does daycare dropoffs and pick ups for us, but also covers sick days and date "afternoon" (we are too old to go out late at night anymore!). She also takes care of child related chores (food preparation, cleaning up, laundry) I think we end up using something like 35 of her hours each week. Her hours far more flexible than most nannies are able to be. She's like part of the family for us too, and she has made our lives so much better.

    ReplyDelete
  2. OMDG - Ha, what I meant by "night" is "eeearly evening." Agree that the child-related chores make a big difference in the entropy levels in our house. I'm glad you've had such a good experience too.

    I didn't mention above that it is more economical than having a nanny -live out or live in, at least in my area - but you do pay for having another person live with you and you have to be ok with that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I want an AuPair for all the reasons above, but you have to be in a larger metropolitan area so not an option for us : (

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Hmstrownr - you actually don't need to be in a large metro area. I work for an au pair agency and we have au pairs matched with great families in rural, suburban and city environments. In fact, depending on where the au pair is from, they sometimes prefer a rural or less metro area. If you have any questions, I'd love to help debunk any myths floating around :) Please feel free to email me! hebertc1@excite.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Where do you find an au pair? I am a resident now, and I'm considering this for when we try to have a baby still during residency, as care for a preschooler plus a baby would be way too difficult without some in-home help. How far ahead do you have to secure one? We do have an extra room and a bathroom for an au pair? What is the average cost?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found Au Pair in America because my friend had used them and had a good experience. Cultural Care, Go Au Pair, and Au Pair Care are some others. Take a look at what the agencies say online about fees, rules, etc. It's definitely cheaper than a US nanny, but there are more rules.

      What happens is you sign up (usually for a fee, but sometimes they waive it) and then you get permission to look at au pair profiles online. You also fill out some documents about your family so the au pair can see if she wants to work for you too. Then when you find an applicant you like, you send them an email and set up an interview over skype. There are a couple of visits with a local coordinator as well. I think we started looking in November for a February placement, which was more than enough time. They recommend looking at least 2 months ahead of when you need one because it takes time to get their visa processed.

      Delete
    2. We also use Au Pair in America, and our experience has been good. From time of matching with an au pair, it takes a minimum of 4-5 weeks for them to come. The cost they cite on the website works out to $361/week for the standard program; there are also other types of arrangements when families need less hours but I know less about those.

      Delete
  6. This post makes me want an Au Pair sooo badly. Sounds amazing!!! $361 a week, that's practically the price of daycare. Ohhhh goodness!!! Totally will think of this when we do baby #2 in a few years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mommabee- I think when it works well, it is amazing. I've heard horror stories too about feeling like you're the parent of an adolescent who stays out late partying etc. We've chosen women on the older range of 18-26, who have taken care of younger siblings etc. So far so good...

      Delete

Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. There may be a delay between submitting your comment and its publishing. Thanks for commenting!