Thursday, November 29, 2018

Hosting an Au Pair: how to & why & benefits


Our amazing au pair has started venturing out into the world a lot more lately, now that she's a lot more confident in her English and navigation skills. She's also encountered something fun out in the wild: other au pairs!

When we first decided to go the au pair route, the local agency coordinator (LCC for local childcare coordinator) told me that there were eleven au pairs in the Kentuckiana area, all but 2 of whom were out in Oldham County/extreme East End (read: far from us) areas. There was one in Southern Indiana and one in Old Louisville, but none in The Highlands. This surprised me, considering The Highlands is the neighborhood with the independent coffeeshops and pedestrians and diners and exchange students. But au pairs weren't a thing here ... but apparently there are at least three who have moved into the neighborhood since spring, and I can't help but hope/wonder that you sneaky au pair family are reading my blog:) Let's meet up!

I've also received no fewer than twenty private messages asking about how the au pair program works, so I thought I'd enlighten you in as succinct a way as possible. Apologies for being verbose, thus far. 

Bonus: sometimes I'm in the photos now because we have
another photographer!
Why hire an au pair?

FLEXIBILITY

People have many reasons, but I think the most compelling reason for us is the flexibility it offers. Standard daycare/preschool hours do not work for my family because 1) David travels a lot and 2) my job is usually split shift -- I do admin/writing in the mornings, and then I gig in the evenings. I generally work a lot on weekends, and my schedule changes week to week. Because I've been caregiving for cancerous parents as well, I need the stability that an au pair provides in case I have to rush out last minute to a doctor appointment. (My mom died two months ago, and the chaos that was that week would only have been manageable with another adult in the house!) It's like having a third parent for the children.

CULTURAL EXCHANGE

My husband and I are raising two little white boys in a privileged part of the world. It's important to me that they understand the world is bigger than they are. We can't travel with them the way I'd like (I haven't hit Powerball yet), so we love the idea of them learning about exchange students, immigrants, other cultures and other languages in a very hands-on way. Our au pair is not an employee to us. There are definitely some families out there who have more of an employee/boss relationship with their au pairs, but that is not what we entered the program wanting or expecting. She is not a nanny; she is a family member. (Some au pairs take great offense at being called a nanny, much like nannies are not au pairs.) In fact, "au pair," is French for "on par," meaning she is equal. We have her beans and rice at least once a week, and we eat them the way she suggests ... beans on the bottom! (Though this is apparently as contentious as where the clotted cream should go on a Devon scone)

LIVE-IN CARE

I love having live-in care, not just because of the additional family member aspect, but because she really understands the kids' routines. Last night I scheduled her to work 7:30-10:30, so I could go out to a live music event. I didn't have to explain that Angus had had a crappy nap or that Graham was going to read Harry Potter with a nightlight. I never have to explain bedtime routine, and the kids are incredibly comfortable with her. I love having another adult around for when I've been solo parenting all week. She's amazing and when I lost my patience with wee Angus earlier this week, she swooped in, got him in his pajamas, and let me walk away to take a deep breath. This is above and beyond any sort of contract we have -- it's the mark of a good person who genuinely wants to be part of the family and help out. 


How does this work???

Au pair and baby snuggles.
  1. You must use an agency to find an au pair. They are the only people who are able to sponsor the J1 visa required by the Secretary of State. There is a large agency fee, but we pay it on a credit card in installments.
  2. You scroll through a zillion profiles, find au pairs who intrigue you, do Skype interviews and eventually match with an au pair. It felt weird at first -- sort of like looking for a mail-order bride. We got over that and found several delightful women (we limited it to women, though there are male au pairs. I think next time we will not limit our search, but at the time we felt weird about having another man living in the house. Too many boys already!!!)
  3. The agency will come to your home to make sure you aren't crazy and that you have a proper room for the au pair. They just need a private bedroom, but nothing fancy. We have three small bedrooms on the 2nd floor of our house. Our au pair is in one; my husband and I in another; the boys in the third. We share a bathroom. It's fine!
  4. Au pair arrives and the magic begins!
Family movie date!

What are the rules/limitations/hours, etc?

The most asked question! I love these rules because they are established by the government, and they provide a good template for scheduling. 
  • They can work up to 45 hours a week
  • No more than 10 total hours a day
  • They must have 1.5 consecutive days off each week
  • One full weekend off per month
I try not to schedule the entire 45 hours, though plenty of families do. Our au pair is lovely and pitches in when she can even if she's not technically on-the-clock, so I try to schedule her around 40 to make up for that. 
  • They are not a housekeeper. They are a family member! Ours is lovely and always pitches in to clean up after a meal, or cook dinner for all sometimes -- though that is not at all required. 
  • You can't ask them to clean common areas as part of her job
  • You can ask them to clean anything related to the children
  • Yep, ours does the kids' laundry! It's totally amazing and has been a massive load off my back.
  • You can ask them to cook meals for the kids (but not for you!). Again, our au pair is a delightful human being who loves to cook (and she prefers her own cooking to ours ha ha!), so she'll absolutely whip up rice and beans for the family, just as I'll make dinner for everyone. Again: au pair = on par. 
  • We do not require a driver, but most au pairs have licenses in their own countries. You can have them get a license here, but you have to add them to your insurance, etc. I make sure all our kids' activities are either walkable or on the bus route, so there is no need for a driver. 
She gets free housing and host families buy food. You aren't required to buy special foods, just make sure there is food to eat. We love our au pair so much that we provided her with a credit card (with a limit), so if I haven't been to the grocery that week, she can buy what she likes. 

She also gets $195.75/week stipend (which, yes, she must pay taxes on later). We round up to $200 because I feel like a jerk typing $195.75 in Venmo, and also because she is incredible and worth the rounding-up. Note that this is in addition to the agency fee (which varies from $6000-9000ish), and though that is some sticker shock, it is still less than the cost of daycare for two children. 

Hosting an au pair is still definitely not for everyone. 

We are a family who loved to host Couchsurfers, who AirBnBs, and who hopes to host exchange students when the kids are older. We love having an additional family member, and it so happens that the flexible childcare benefits align with our needs as well. But I totally get that it it's not for everyone! I was a live-in nanny at one point in my life, and I have a wonderful relationship today with the kids I helped raise. I love them like my own, and I'm so thankful that my children will have a similar relationship.

I hope that answers all the questions I've received. I'll respond to comments if you have more questions! Here is a link to the agency we used, which has the largest pool of au pairs to choose from. Ours is from Brazil, but they have au pairs from all the world.  (If you've already signed up, then you can go back and list The Caldwell Family in Louisville as your referral if you want, but no pressure, I swear!)

***Our family does get a credit if you host an au pair and sign up through this link, so just full disclosure. We totally love having an au pair, and I suspect we'll host one for as long as we need the childcare. But if you don't relish the idea of having another housemate, then it's probably not for you. We love having a friend for life though!

Educational component

I forgot to include this in the original post, so thanks to those who reminded me! As part of their visa requirements, an au pair must complete 6 university credits (not online). The family pays $500 towards this, and the au pair pays for more if it costs more. I think many au pairs take weekly courses, but this doesn't work for our family -- both because we do not have a car for her, but mostly because it's expensive and because our schedule would interfere. There are tons of universities that offer 2 or 3-day weekend courses. Louisville doesn't have any, but ours recently went to Nashville for a long weekend. It's also a nice way for au pairs to travel and see more of the country. Honestly, the educational component is negligible for our family as I am happy to give her a weekend off when I can. For her next course, the entire family is going with her and making a mini-vacation of it!

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