Part of the Family—Au Pairs - What Parents say...

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Parental Feedback

We spoke with several “host” moms in the region—Theresa (whose last name has been withheld for privacy), formerly of Waldorf, and Hillary Hytken of Columbia—to see what their experiences were like.

ThinkstockPhotos 598930378Why did you decide to look into hosting an au pair?

Theresa: We had several nannies, some of whom worked better than others, but it was getting expensive. Also, my schedule varies a lot. The idea of a live-in, consistent helper who got paid the same rate to work a maximum number of hours was very appealing. We had the space for a live-in, and liked the idea of having someone from another country for a nice cultural experience for the boys. We thought of it like an exchange student who has to help out with the kids!

Hillary: I own my own business and have weird hours. My husband has some flexibility but cannot work from home. We needed dependable, affordable, flexible childcare. I also studied abroad in college and while I was not an au pair, I helped a lot with the son I lived with, and remain in contact with the family, so the idea of giving back on that level and exposing the boys to the foreign language aspect was very appealing.

What have been the benefits of having an au pair?

Hillary: The cultural exchange, the flexibility, and the relationships we all have with our au pairs are benefits. We really love that the girls are willing to give of themselves and become part of the family.

Theresa: The child care is in your home—no scrambling to get everyone ready for daycare, no worries about them being late due to traffic or weather. They quickly get to know your family and your kids, as well as your preferences. It’s fun getting to know another culture and sharing things about the U.S. with the au pair.

What have been the challenges/drawbacks?

Theresa: Sometimes it’s like having another child, especially if they are young. The first few weeks are tough—they are getting used to things and may not speak English very well, and you have to spell everything out for them, even if it’s something that seems obvious to you.

Hillary: The hidden costs are a little hard to swallow: car insurance is expensive and there are always little extras. The language barrier has been a bit tough on my husband, made more difficult because I am fluent and so are the kids. Our first au pair lived with us through my second pregnancy, which was tough and then wasn’t allowed to be alone with the baby for three months so that was a bit challenging as well.

What was it like introducing someone new into the family?

Hillary: There are always trust issues with someone new taking care of your kids. With our first [au pair], we just took a leap of trust and it went great. With our second, we paid our first to stay the extra week and that was a huge help. But our second au pair has made a seamless transition into our family and the kids adore her.

Theresa: You usually know a lot about your au pair before they come, and have likely Skyped with them at least once (with the kids, too). This helps to prepare everyone for what it will be like—where she’s from, her family (brothers, sisters, pets), her favorite foods, etc. We talked with the boys a bit about having a new person in the house, and they knew that she’d be coming to help take care of them but instead of going home like the nannies did, she’d live with us.  

They’re usually quiet and shy for the first few weeks, especially if the au pair’s English isn’t great. The boys have been pretty close with our au pairs, at least the ones that stay for the full year or more (we had two that didn’t stick, per se). It’s been fun to see how their relationships/interactions with the au pairs change as they get older. Our youngest has given the au pairs a hard time, especially around age three, but I think that’s largely because of other things that were going on, like moving to a new house, school, etc., that would rock any toddler’s world.

What’s your advice for families considering hosting an au pair?

Theresa: Do your homework! Really look into the agency (most are very similar but there are a few differences in style), and read through the au pair’s whole file including letters of recommendation, personal interviews, etc. Do the math and see how much time they spent taking care of kids, especially ones similar to the ages/stages of kids in your family.

Hillary: Trust your gut when interviewing, start interviewing early, and be patient. Remember these are young girls and they need love and support as well as guidance. Be clear about your house rules but make sure you and your spouse are clear on things before you bring in an au pair so that everyone is on the same page.

To learn more about some of the au pair programs in our area, visit: Au Pair in America (aupairinamerica.com, facebook.com/AuPairAnnapolis), Cultural Care Au Pair (culturalcare.com), EurAupair (euraupair.com), and Go Au Pair (goaupair.com).

—Laura Boycourt

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