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Finding and Hosting an Au Pair: Confessions of a Host Mom
I have had quite a few people reach out asking about our experience with an Au Pair and how we found our Au Pair. If you want to skip my background on why we ended up hosting an Au Pair and the info and advice to hosting your own Au Pair you can scroll down to the main info section!
Both my husband and I work and like a lot of parents when COVID-19 hit, we had to quickly adjust to full time in-home care. From the beginning of March through June my husband took on the main role of caregiver. We participated in online school through our Montessori school but this was very challenging for a 2-year old a lot of the time (and thus, challenging for his parents). There are so many silver linings in our time with our son this year. It’s been a very difficult year for so many people but our time together as a family has been and overall, positive experience.
I travel a decent portion of time and with our son at daycare most of the day it can feel like we are missing things. I have been exposed and experienced his growth in acute moments that I would have otherwise missed. I am pretty confident he has felt like it’s the best time in his life being able to hang out with his parents so frequently and I really love that.
By May it became pretty clear the pandemic would around for a while and Patrick’s work needed him back. I also think he wanted an opportunity to change it up from daddy daycare. We had worked with another family at the Montessori school to set-up a program that would be hosted within their home with their kids and a teacher from the school. That only lasted a week because of an emergency for the teacher back home. Then we looked into nanny programs and after a lot of searching, read about an Au Pair program. I had a friend that has had au pairs over the years and reached out to her about what to expect. I also found a resource who worked with one of the agencies to help me with research and what to look for.
Here is the main info about Au Pair Life and my advice 10 months in.
So the truth is – we decided to leave the program. We are expecting twins and with my maternity leave and desire to want to transition our au pair’s room back into a guest room, it made sense for us. It can be expensive if you aren’t using the program to the fullest and we wanted our son to go back to school. He has been there for a month and is thriving and it feels like the right decision. We also wanted our space for us and economically speaking, it didn’t make a lot of sense for us to continue forward. Having lived with roommates numerous times, I do feel that this is a bit like having a roommate who you pay and watches your kids. After almost a year, we felt it was the right time to conclude our experience.
In order to hire an Au Pair legally in the U.S. you have to go through an Au Pair agency. There are a few agencies available to find an Au Pair. In order to access the roster of individuals that are available to “match with” you will have to register through those individual agency websites. In order to interview any possible Au Pairs you will also have to go through a more detailed questionnaire and possibly do an interview with a coordinator to ensure you have the right set-up and knowledge about the program.
In the end we opted for an Au Pair because of COVID-19. Given the quarantine, we didn’t know how we felt about having someone coming into our house daily but not knowing where they would go outside of our home. We knew we weren’t ready for our son to be back at school and it would likely be months until we would feel okay about it. It was a very big decision to suddenly have someone live with us and pay with so many unknowns, but I trusted my intuition and my husband was supportive and willing to take the ride with me.
We relied on Facebook to help better understand the process and match with our Au Pair. There are several groups for matching and host families that can help guide you and give you a sense of whom you might hire. I would HIGHLY recommend reading up on the process and interview questions, etc. before you proceed down the path.
There is a good article with rankings for 2020 that might be worth checking out! Mind you. we found our Au Pair through Au Pair Care and it isn’t even ranked so I obviously didn’t follow this list. I will provide more details on how to be prepared for what to expect and that may help you filter your options.
Agency List (not necessarily comprehensive):
Cost & Requirements
Average cost is quoted as $18,000-$20,000 for a year of Au Pair services which includes agency program fees, application fees, international travel, insurance, $500 education stipend and a weekly stipend. The weekly stipend is mandatory and acts as the Au Pair’s salary. This amount is set by the U.S. Department of State and currently set (as of December 2020) at $195.75. Most families will pay more than this and that is completely up to the host family beyond the mandatory amount.
Most agencies require some downpayment but also offer payment plans or discounts. We met our Au Pair, Miley, when she was in very early rematch which meant we didn’t have to pay as much of the fees. A rematch is when the individual and/or the family have made a decision that the employment isn’t suitable for them and the Au Pair goes back into the pool of Au Pair candidates.
Broken out, considering the maximum hours an Au Pair is allowed to work at 45 hours a week, this is about $8-$10 per hour.
My personal perspective is that the agency is overcharging host families. You are provided with an individual from the agency called an “LCC” to help support you in your Au Pair relationship and logistical management. The reality is we just rarely needed anything like this. I haven’t done a ton of a research in this area but the costs to match with an Au Pair are a lot and then if you decided to extend with them for the second year (or match with someone else for another year) you basically pay the same thing. There are little discounts and sometimes you can get a credit here and there but they find creative ways to not give you money back. I find this process discouraging and ultimately it was one of the key reasons we decided not to continue past our first year.
Since the Au Pair is living with you, you are covering room & board. This is where it gets custom, similar to the stipend. The Au Pair must have their own room and access to a bathroom. The size of the room and if they have to share the bathroom with the kids (cannot be share with the parents), is not standard. Food is also based on the family. Our Au Pair is not super particular but likes certain items and we include those in our grocery pick-ups. We include her in all of our dinner plans or if we pick-up something special for the family to eat.
Our Au Pair had her own room that is decent-sized and her own bathroom. We have provided a queen bed, medium closet, bookshelves and a TV with access to all of our TV applications. We also have provided her with her own apple phone and laptop computer. We did have to get a new phone but we had the apple laptop in-house so that was an easy provision.
COVID-19 has put some hurdles in front of us acquiring her license. A lot of parents have their Au Pair’s drive their kids as well. This is a personal choice. I am not very comfortable with having people drive our son so we didn’t require this. Yet, they still need their independence, especially if public transportation is challenging, and you will likely need to provide insurance coverage if you allow them to drive. Look into the regulations and responsibilities of insurance coverage early. It can be really expensive for “new US drivers” and I had discomfort with how much ownership we would have in the case of an accident. This isn’t a requirement from a host family and some locations don’t require driving at all.
This is where it can get interesting. Usually there will be a language barrier but a lot of the Au Pair’s (including our au pair) speak and write very very well in English. She learned a lot of the language via YouTube and watching other videos, (like the sitcom “Friends) which is amazing to me.
I have only had one au pair so I don’t know all of the finer details but confirming the specific needs of your household and care of your children is the priority. Some Au Pairs will be particular about NOT working on weekends or certain hours. The schedule can be a make or break aspect in addition to the number of children, if there is a curfew, availability of a car, location, weekly pay, personality of the host family, to name a few. I think it’s really important to be upfront about what you need. Going back later to adjust can be problematic and create a more complex (read: stressful/frustrating) dynamic in your house. For example, do you care if they have candles in their room? Is there a specific expectation for managing laundry for your kids? It can get pretty nuanced so just prepare anything you need.
I personally had no curfew considerations. We were in a pandemic so that was fairly easy but I also let her travel as long as she was safe and took a COVID test the moment she returned. We never needed her on weekends so that was easy. She is 26 and it feels very odd to me to enforce a curfew because she is responsible and her time is her own. She never really made us question it and I am sure this isn’t always the case.
Realities of Living with an Au Pair
It is called a “cultural exchange” in the sense that you are providing them with an experience of life here in American and they will give you a perspective from someone from another country. We included our au pair in all family gatherings and activities.
The reality is that some families will manage this extremely well. Others may have a challenging time with the idea of another person being a part of all of your time with family (or friends). It will be important to create some moments that are just shared for you and your partner/kids, in my opinion.
Our au pair was very sensitive and sometimes your best intention can be ill-received. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye and at times it can be very frustrating to find alignment. It’s not just a cultural difference but specific to individual personalities and core values. The best path is open and honest dialogue, but that isn’t always the easiest.
I firmly believe that at the end of the day the program has to truly benefit you as a host family. If there is tension and lack of peace within your home – which should be your solitude – then you should consider another option for care. Easier said than done. I think it can be a great experience and benefit to your children to engage with another adult from another country but first and foremost, it should be adding value to your day-to-day vs being a challenge to overcome.