As you explore childcare options for your little one, perhaps you’ve thought through daycare, in-home daycare, nanny, nanny-share, and family possibilities.  Have you considered the au pair option, though?  And do you know what it entails?  Today, I’ve asked Nancy Baker, of Cultural Care Au Pair, to tell us the ins and outs of what it means to have an au pair as your caregiver, and why it might be a good option for you.

Do you dream of the day your new child will speak or understand a second language?   Maybe you didn’t start a foreign language until high school or college, but many toddlers and preschool children now have the opportunity to be immersed in a second language while under the watchful eye of their au pair.  Maybe you like the idea of having your childcare be more than just a provider, and actually be a part of the family?  Or just maybe you like the convenience of knowing that the person caring for your kids is right there in the house.  These benefits sound great.  But what exactly is an au pair?

The au pair program is regulated by the US State Department.   Potential au pairs are first reviewed, interviewed and approved in their home countries by one of the 12 approved US au pair agencies, and later at the US Embassy in their home country.  If they are approved by the Consular Officer at the Embassy, they are issued a J-1 cultural exchange visa valid for one year in the US.

The au pair is able to provide up to 45 hours per week (and no more than 10 hours per day) of childcare for their host family.  The host family provides room and board for the au pair, which requires providing a private bedroom.  This also involves including the au pair as part of the extended family.  The Local Childcare Consultant (LCC) is your local link to your au pair agency.  She or he is there to support both you and your au pair throughout your program year, help your au pair with any adjustment concerns, make appropriate introductions, and host monthly au pair meetings.

Au pairs come from countries around the world. Through the program, you have the opportunity to learn about another culture and another language.  Perhaps that’s the country of your ancestry, someplace you lived earlier in your life, or just a country you want to know more about.

Why do individuals decide to be au pairs?

Au pairs usually want to be au pairs for several reasons.  They may want to take a gap year between high school and college, learn about America from within a family, improve their English, or travel in the US.

Why might a family choose the au pair program for child care?

Host families often chose the au pair program for multiple reasons.  First, apart from needing childcare, host families enjoy the flexibility of the au pair schedule.  If you work a typical 9am-5pm schedule, au pair hours can be set for 9 hours a day.  However not everybody works that kind of schedule.  Do you work weekends and want to know you can count on having available childcare when you have to work?  How about nights or evenings?

You can schedule your au pair to have her weekly day and half off on 2 consecutive weekdays each week, as long as once a month you give her a full weekend off.  Or, you can schedule your au pair to work evenings.  Do you or your significant other travel and have a varied schedule?  You may need to mix up the schedule week to week.  Give enough notice to your au pair and her schedule can change week to week.   It all works as long as you stay within the rules.

I highly recommend discussing the details of your potential arrangement with your perspective au pair during the interview process.  And when questions come up during the year, you can contact your LCC for answers.

How much does an au pair arrangement cost?

What about affordability?  Currently priced at $380 per week per family, plus room and board, many families find the cost of hosting an au pair to be a great option for their family compared to other childcare options.

Have you worked with an au pair?  Any tips to offer to new parents also considering this option?  Leave them in comments below!

Nancy Baker is the mother of two young adult children, one a college student  and one in graduate school.  Since becoming a parent herself, she has spent the last 20 years assisting other families become parents by working with prospective parents at an adoption agency followed by the most recent few years assisting families understand what it could be like hosting an au pair for their family.  Feel free to reach out to her if you have au pair questions specific to your own family.

Need help thinking through additional returning-to-work logistics as you prepare to go back from maternity leave?  Consider joining the next session of Mindful Return.

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