by Edina Stone (www.aupairclearinghouse.com)
Not all parents and families are suitable for the au pair program. Hosting an au pair is very different than hiring a local college student to baby-sit or even hiring a nanny. These childcare choices are dictated by the employee-employer relationship. The childcare giver gets “paid” every week and may or may not live-in. You do not have to give the childcare giver a car, a cell phone or a computer to use! You will not be eating dinner with your babysitter and you certainly will not be sharing holidays with your nanny.
Au pairs are young women (or young men) who are between the ages of 18-26 who expect to become part of the family, audit college courses (that you pay for) and drive your car, live with your family and take care of your children like an older sister – compared to a salaried nanny or babysitter.
If you cannot meet the basic requirements outlined below, your family should reconsider hosting an au pair:
#1. You Need More than 45 Hours of Childcare a Week: if you work long hours and need more than 8-10 hours a day from your childcare giver, au pairs are not for you! There are two main reasons for this. One, the majority of au pairs are young, in the 18-20 year-old age group. Young people are not able to care for children, especially younger children, for long, extended periods of time. They become tired, irritable and their judgment can deteriorate quickly. They need a well-deserved break after 8 hours! Secondly, the United States government has made working au pairs over 45 hours a week illegal. They understand au pairs are young and not fully mature to care for children for long periods of time – the Dept. of State makes it their business to ensure no overworked au pair compromises a child’s safety and well being.
#2. You Need Overnight Childcare: Au pairs are not allowed to work over 10 hours in a given 24 hour period – so if they worked during the day, they cannot cover for you during the evening hours. Many parents assume that since everyone will be sleeping, au pairs can be used to supervise the night hours – not so! If you are a pilot with staggered flights or work a night shift, do not hire an au pair.
“My host mom was a stewardess for Jet Blue and stayed overnight in Florida, etc., 3 or 4 times a week. I cared for her twins, age 3 well over the 10-hour limit. Finally, I complained to the agency and they rematched me with another family and this host mom was dropped from the program. Apparently, the host mom didn’t tell the agency what her work was because she knew that au pairs could not watch the kids overnight.”
Katie, Swedish au pair in Maryland
#3. You Don’t Have a Suitable Bedroom: Au pairs must have their own bedroom – they can share a bathroom with the kids, but they must have their own space. Their room should contain a bed, dresser, a closet, a chair and a table where she can write or work on a laptop. The space must not contain family articles or storage. The room also must be “suitable” and your counselor will check the room for: exit in case of fire (think basements), a solid door that locks from the inside and at least one window. If you do not have an extra room that has all of these requirements, you should not hire an au pair.
#4. You Don’t Like Sharing Your Home with a Stranger: If you or your spouse will feel uncomfortable with another person living under the same roof, reconsider hiring an au pair! Au pairs should feel welcome at all times and they should not have to walk on eggs every time you are home. Hire a nanny or use daycare.
“I lived with a family where the host mom hated having me around – I felt it, she didn’t have to say anything. I always felt timid around her and also unwelcome. The host dad wasn’t much better and I stayed in my room when they were both home. I was not happy there!”
Ana, German au pair in NJ
#5. You Don’t Have a Car for the Au Pair: Au pairs need to get around! They will have to attend college classes, attend cluster meetings, and go to the malls, movies, etc., with their friends. They want to visit other au pairs they have met and, more importantly, they need to get out of the house and be independent! An au pair who works all day caring for your children should have the option of getting in a car and driving to a place she chooses. Au pairs need to recharge and they have a hard time doing this if the only way to get personal space is to close the door to their bedroom! If you are not willing to share your car, or buy a second hand car just for the au pair, do not hire an au pair!
“I thought I could share my car with the au pair. My counselor told me this probably wouldn’t work, but I am a stubborn person. The au pair arrived and it was very inconvenient for me to lend her my car every other day and sometimes every evening! When my husband traveled, I never let her borrow the car, since I did not want to be home with no transportation. Our au pair, who was wonderful, asked for a rematch and left us – all over the car issue! Second time around, we bought a used, banged up car and all of our new au pairs get to use this car anytime they want.”
Sara H., Host Mom, Virginia
If you have questions about hosting an au pair, please visit www.aupairclearinghouse.com and read our advice, top tips, reviews and ratings on all things au pairs.