With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, managing a family, meeting job responsibilities, and taking care of a home can be very difficult. This often makes it necessary to find outside help to assist with childcare and household chores. If you are considering investing in a type of childcare for your little ones, you may already have considered hiring an au pair. Au pairs can help to look after your children and provide an extra pair of hands for household chores. They can also provide your family with great cultural enrichment and often become a much-loved family member.
What is an Au Pair?
An au pair is typically a young man or woman (between the ages of 18 and 27) from another country. Au pairs come to live in your home, providing childcare services in exchange for the opportunity to learn about a new culture and language. You provide your au pair with room and board, as well as a small weekly salary. Your au pair works according to a schedule that you set together, and can use any free time to learn a new language or explore their new county.
The term "au pair" comes from the French language, and literally means "on par." This term illustrates the position that au pairs take in their new households: that of a family member and equal. Unlike nannies, most au pairs are not seen as employees, but rather, as responsible older sisters or brothers who take an active interest in the health and wellbeing of their host family.
What Responsibilities does an Au Pair Have?
Au pairs are usually seen as assistants to the parents in a host family. Au pairs are generally allowed to work for up to 45 hours a week, and up to ten hours on any given day. Their responsibilities may include:
- babysitting your children while you are at work
- driving your children to extracurricular activities or appointments
- preparing meals for your children
- supervising homework sessions
- playing games and activities with your children
- doing light household chores related to childcare (such as the children’s laundry)
How Do Au Pairs Differ From Nannies?
Though au pairs live in your home, they are quite different from nannies. Au pairs generally do not have the years of experience or specific childcare training that most professional nannies do. Au pairs are usually experienced in babysitting and have training in CPR, but may not have education in child development. As a result, au pairs are usually not given the childcare responsibilities that most nannies are given. Au pairs are paid less than nannies, and are given the opportunity to focus on learning a new culture and language in their spare time.
How Do You Find an Au Pair?
There are thousands of au pairs from dozens of different countries around the world. You can try to locate an au pair privately, or you can go through an agency that specializes in au pair placements. It is usually best to use an agency to ensure that you find the au pair that is right for you. An au pair agency will:
- locate a number of possible au pair candidates based on your needs and wants
- ensure that your au pair has the required insurance and training
- help work out any conflicts that may occur between you and your au pair
Costs of an Au Pair?
Depending upon how you find your au pair, costs will differ; however, au pairs do tend to be one of the most inexpensive childcare options. Au pairs must be given free room and board and are usually paid between $150 and $200 a week for their services. They can use this money for travel expenses, language classes, and personal or social outings. If you find an au pair through an agency, you will be required to pay a placement fee, which is typically around $300. Some agencies require that you pay for your au pair’s travel expenses to and from your country of residence. This can add up to around $3,000.
Advantages of Using an Au Pair
Au pairs can be wonderful childcare providers and often make an exciting addition to any family. Advantages of using an au pair include:
- Au pairs tend to relate to children better than older nannies. They are often take the role of older sister or brother.
- Au pairs can offer an extra pair of hands to help with chores, cooking, and driving.
- Au pairs are relatively inexpensive to hire.
- Au pairs can provide a rich, cultural experience for your children.
- Au pairs offer more personal childcare experiences than most preschools or daycares.
Disadvantages of Using an Au Pair
Hiring an au pair can sometimes have its disadvantages as well. These include:
- An inability to meet your au pair ahead of time. This means you could experience a clash of personalities.
- Au pairs often don’t have advanced English skills, which can make communication difficult.
- Unlike nannies, au pairs do not have years of experience and training. This may cause you to be reluctant to leave your au pair in charge of young children.
Who Should Hire an Au Pair?
Au pairs can make wonderful childcare providers when placed in the right home. Consider hiring an au pair if:
- your children are a little bit older (school age)
- you have a separate room in the house for your au pair to sleep, relax, and be alone
- you are interested in fostering cultural exchange