Hiring an au pair can be a great option to your childcare needs. Before you decide, here’s what you need to consider. By Dr. Lisa Ng
For many parents, deciding on childcare includes many factors: convenience, cost, the proximity to work. In our case, putting both kids in day care would’ve stretched our budget too much. And while we considered a nanny, we eventually decided on hiring an au pair instead.
I’d like to answer a few questions you may have on hiring an au pair, as well as point out considerations you should make before making your decision.
But first, what is an au pair?
An au pair is someone typically from another country who moves in with you and your family as a caregiver for your children.
What to consider when hiring an Au pair
As you can imagine, inviting someone to live with you may take some adjustment for everyone.
Before deciding on hiring an au pair, take a look at a few considerations to think about:
1. The cost of an au pair
Typically, you’ll pay a one-time fee to the agency who will help you find an au pair, plus a weekly stipend to the au pair herself. The fees don’t change, no matter the age of your children or how many you have.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the weekly payment is at least $195.75.
Besides the agency and stipend fees, extra costs include larger grocery and utility bills. Each family is different, but we make and have dinner with our au pair, though that’s not required.
If your au pair will be driving, expect an increase in car maintenance, gas, and auto insurance. Our agency also required our au pair to take six credits worth of classes as part of their educational stipend.
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2. Your au pair’s hours
With an au pair, you’ll have the flexibility and convenience of childcare in your home. The au pair can work any days or hours you need. That said, many agencies will limit her working hours to 45 hours per week, with at least a two-day weekend off every month.
An au pair will work with the schedule you give her, freeing you from any need to conform to a daycare’s schedule. I couldn’t stand the thought of forcing my one-year-old to only nap at daycare!
If you have school-aged children, an au pair can help before and after school. She can drop off and pick up them up, and create an after-school routine. She can also do child-related chores like laundry, changing sheets, cooking, and tidying your play and living areas.
3. A stranger in your home
Your au pair will be a stranger at first, especially before meeting her in person. Are you ready to welcome someone you don’t know into your home? You’ll need to feel comfortable having her around every day.
The agency will do a thorough background check, so you’ll be okay in that regard. But your personalities may not mesh well, sometimes enough to make situations awkward or uncomfortable.
Be open to adjusting to her habits, as she will to yours. And most importantly, stress open communication to any problems either of you may feel.
4. Home sickness
If welcoming a stranger into your home feels strange, you can imagine what it’s like to be your au pair. She’ll be away from family and friends and live in a completely new country, perhaps with language and cultural differences she’s not used to.
Will you be available to help her transition?
We noticed times when our au pair felt down, so we encouraged her to talk about her family. We reminded her that we can be her second family away from home. And we’d ask her how she felt, making sure she felt comfortable asking us any questions or bringing up issues she may have.
5. Language and cultural barriers
Since au pairs are usually caregivers from another country, you’ll likely need to adjust to language and cultural barriers. You’ll need patience to explain things, down to the tiniest detail, such as how you want your child’s diaper changed to what he should eat for lunch.
For instance, our Thai au pair had never used an oven because ovens are uncommon in Thailand. We showed her how to use just about every appliance in the house, and we also typed instructions she could refer to.
Interview questions to ask a potential au pair
Now that you’ve decided an au pair is a good choice for your family, you’ll want a list of interview questions. (Here are important nanny interview questions to ask). We wanted someone who enjoyed kids, not someone who just wanted to come to America. Being here should be the bonus, not the focus.
Here are the some of the questions we asked:
- What do you enjoy most about children? The least?
- What activities do you like to do with children? (We were age-specific when we asked this since we had a preschooler and wanted him to get lessons in the alphabet and numbers.)
- What are you hoping to learn or gain in your au pair year?
Next, we wanted to be sure she could take care of an infant and preschooler, so we asked:
- What do you imagine it will be like to be with two kids for the whole day?
- What activities can you do that are appropriate for both an infant and preschooler?
- How do you plan to handle stress?
- What would you do if the baby is crying and the four-year-old needs your help?
We had more questions, but these were the ones that separated the au pairs from one another. We all know how hard it is to take care of kids on our own, so we wanted an au pair that had a passion for childcare. These questions helped us find the right person.
Get more tips:
- Top Books for Working Moms
- How to Work from Home with a Baby (And Actually Get Things Done)
- 6 Surprising Ways to Balance Work and Family
- Don’t Do These 8 Things When Hiring a Nanny
- What to Do with Grandparents Trying to Parent Your Kids
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