Au Pairs – How it works, and How It’s Worked for Us

Our au pair having fun with our son in the back yard.
Our au pair having fun with our son in the back yard.

An Au Pair as an Alternative to Daycare

Anyone with kids has had to deal with the daycare conundrum: the balancing act between paying for daycare, spending enough quality time with one’s kids, making ends meet at home, handling normal household chores, and in the end taking the best care of one’s kids possible in the framework of one’s day-to-day life.

Everyone has different skills, different preferences, different values, and different challenges in taking care of kids (especially depending on the age mix of the kids), so the answer of stay-at-home mommy vs. daycare vs. nanny vs. au pair vs. school is different for everyone.

My wife had a fantastic setup for our first child, whereby she was able to take our daughter to her work most days, all the way up to when she got mobile, at which point we had her in daycare.   17 months later, we had our son, at which point we opted to have my wife be a stay-at-home mommy.    That lasted for a while, but then we decided it’d be best overall to have her go back to work, at which point we debated options for the two kids – daycare vs. schooling vs. nanny vs. au pair.

In the end, we decided it would be best to bring in an au pair, and that turned out to be a fantastic decision.   So, as I’ve had a few friends asking about how it all works, here’s a bit of a rundown on what it is and what it’s like:

What is an Au Pair?

The word au pair is French for on par – meaning, one who is on-par with the rest of your family.  An au pair is a person from another country who lives in your house to help care for your children, but is not a “servant” or “nanny” – she is someone who is on par with the rest of the family, acting as a member of the family for their stay.

Our au pair out on a nature hike by the river with the family.
Our au pair out on a nature hike by the river with the family.

In the USA, the Au Pair program was set up by the U.S. State Department as a means of increasing communication and understanding (ARC) between the USA and other countries by allowing people from other countries to come to the USA for a period of 1-2 years, live with an American family, and help participate as part of the family.  It’s much like the concept of an exchange student.

How does it work – how do you go about getting an Au Pair?

There are a lot of ways to go about it, but in essence, in the USA, there are something like 8 different entities who are licensed by the U.S. State Department to work with foreign countries to bring people into the USA for the Au Pair Program.  We chose the largest one, Au Pair America to work with to locate our au pair.

Essentially what happens, is one fills out a bunch of paperwork, gives them a nominal fee to process such, and then one searches their website for an Au Pair.   Their site has hundreds of profiles of prospective au pairs who are looking to come to the USA from all different countries – Germany, Sweden, Thailand, Russia, Brazil, France, etc, etc.   They all have detailed profiles where they talk about their values, photos, and most even have recorded videos to introduce themselves and talk about their childcare experience, interests and reasons for wanting to come to the USA.

This was the most important part for us.  As can be pretty easily seen by perusing this site, we’re pretty opinionated about the topic of parenting.  So, we filled out our own profile, and wrote our own quite-detailed essay detailing our stance on parenting, our values, what is important to us in childcare, etc.   Owing to the fact that we live in a very culturally-rich part of the USA (Washington, D.C.) we knew we would have plenty to offer any au pair in return, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t just get ourselves a party animal who wanted nothing more than to sit & veg out in front of reality TV shows all day when not staying out all night boozing it up.

We then interviewed a number of au pairs over Skype video chat, and eventually found a fantastic girl who shared many of our values and ideals, and was a perfect fit for our family.

What happened then is we paid Au Pair America a lump sum which covers their costs in terms of getting a J-1 Visa for the au pair, getting any other needed paperwork, getting their plane flight to the USA, etc.   We then pay the au pair a weekly stipend of approximately $200/week for personal expenses.

The au pair then was flown to the USA, and after a brief orientation, she took a train down to our place and arrived to our home!

How having an au pair has worked out for us

In short, it’s been fantastic.  Per guidelines from the State Department, an au pair is allowed to work a max of 10 hours per day, and up to 45 hours per week on childcare, which is perfect for us and our schedule.  Owing to the fact that our au pair has a drivers license, she’s been able to drive the kids to school, can make their lunches beforehand, can pick them up, put them down for naps, etc.

Our au pair taking a walk through the woods with the kids
Our au pair taking a walk through the woods with the kids

This adds to the fact that, thankfully, the work that we did to select a good au pair paid off, and we’re daily rewarded with someone who is responsible, is a good communicator, loves playing with the kids outdoors, and the kids love being watched by her.

Let me know if you have any questions on how this all works, as I’m definitely convinced that this was a spectacular solution for our current childcare needs.  Far less stress than dealing with daycare, and massively less expensive as well.

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