Having an au pair in your home means more than having live-in child care, it also means a cultural exchange and a new member of the family.
“You’re not just a guest. You’re part of the family.” This is what Natasha Wrobel, Au Pair in America’s senior community counselor for Anne Arundel County, tells her groups of local au pairs when she counsels them on the host family-au pair dynamic. And it’s true—while the young women from all over the world are placed with American families to provide child care, their role doesn’t end with changing diapers or taking kids to soccer practice; an au pair simultaneously becomes a care giver, a daughter to her host parent(s), part of an enlightening cultural experience, and a trusted member of the family.
A Good Fit for Your Family?
Maybe your local day care checks all the boxes, or perhaps a nanny is the right way to go. But for families searching for a unique child care experience, welcoming an au pair into the fold might be just the ticket.
Wrobel, who’s been in her role for 18 years, says if a family is simply looking for inexpensive child care, bringing an au pair into the home probably isn’t the right call. “The very first thing that I stress (with interested families) is, ‘it’s a cultural exchange. You have to be in it for that’,” she explains. Similarly, an au pair is a young person who’s still learning and figuring out who she is, so families need to understand that welcoming an au pair is very much like adding an older sibling to the mix. “You’re bringing in someone else’s daughter,” says Wrobel.
With Au Pair in America, young ladies (age 18 to 26) are available to care for children aged three months through 18. Some families may think that unless they have very small children, an au pair isn’t for them. Not so, says Wrobel; parents who need assistance in getting their older kids to extra-curricular activities could benefit from having an au pair there during those tricky afternoon windows of time. And as for cost, “if you have two or more children, it’s more cost effective to have an au pair,” she says.
How it Works
The online profile and application process for programs such as Au Pair in America and Cultural Care Au Pair is designed to make the best match possible between a family’s needs and an au pair candidate’s background and skills. Families typically have access to various screenings, background checks and references, and interviewing selected au pairs via phone or Skype allows for a more personal follow-up exchange before the final match is made (Wrobel also says this is an excellent opportunity to ascertain a candidate’s English skills, which, at a minimum, should be good enough for her to call 911 in case of emergency). Once an au pair is selected and arrives stateside, she attends an orientation before joining the family. A local counselor or specialist assists families and candidates throughout the entire process.
Wrobel says that open communication and honesty are necessary for the host family-au pair relationship to work well. From discussing daily duties and behavior management to letting her know you want her to truly be part of the family, having specific expectations out in the open from the get-go (and being able to discuss what works and what doesn’t along the way) will only serve to strengthen the bond between an au pair and her host family over the course of her stay. After all, “you’re part of a team,” says Wrobel. “The way you treat your au pair is the way she’s going to treat your kids,” she explains.