Best of Both Worlds podcast: The au pair option

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

Every time I write about childcare options — daycare, nannies, before-care and after-care programs — someone writes to me singing the praises of hosting an au pair. Au pairs are generally young people (ages 18-25) visiting from a foreign country for 1-2 years under a special visa. In exchange for 45 hours of childcare a week, they receive room and board, a stipend, and access to various programming (educational and otherwise).

For families with kids who are in school for at least a few hours a day, au pairs can provide a lot of flexibility for a fairly affordable price. Most childcare providers wouldn’t want to work from, say, 7-8:30 a.m. and then from 2:30 – 6:30 p.m., but those hours could be just fine for someone who lives with you. An au pair could also provide some weekend coverage. Unlike an after-care program, an au pair can drive children around to sports practices. And many children love having the equivalent of a cool older sibling living with them.

Of course, there can be challenges too. Au pairs are young people, and young people have varying levels of maturity; you might ponder what you would have been like if let loose in a foreign country at age 19. Families need to have enough room to give au pairs their own space, and there are restrictions on what they can do (some agencies specify no overnight coverage; others have it count against the 45-hour/week limit). It’s also a time-limited program; you’ll wind up with someone new every 1-2 years.

In any case, for many families, the au pair option might be worth considering as part of the mix. In today’s episode of Best of Both Worlds, Sarah and I talk with Aimee Hall, a placement counselor with the Cultural Care au pair agency. We also talk with Felix, an au pair from Germany who’s been working with a family in the DC area.

Thanks for tuning in!

4 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: The au pair option

  1. I have an issue that maybe you’ve already talked about – though I’m a regular listener. I have a partner who travels every week – though not on a consistent schedule. (some weeks it’s Wed-Fri some it’s Mon-Tues) I have two school age kids so I only need after school coverage. A sitter works best because sometimes I need them to stay later than say a normal quitting time of 6/6:30 and I usually need them to help when both kids need to be places at the same time. But I’m having a hard time finding someone to work what amounts to 4-6:30 Mon-Th with occasional extra hours. This past year I have had to find someone new each semester due to their college class schedule. I pay more than a normal hourly rate to try and make up for the shorter amount of hours but finding someone is still difficult. Care dot com applicants were a disaster last year so I’m trying to go through a sitter agency this time and am looking 6 weeks ahead. Are there any other tips? Another issue I have is that I don’t know our full schedule until school starts – each does soccer and scouts but the schedules are coach and leader dependent. We even coach sometimes to try and control it but still have to coordinate around the other kid.

    1. Hi CL,
      Sounds like a big planning challenge! I’m wondering, once the schedule of the kids is clear for the next school year, could your partner try to broach the subject of bringing more consistency in his traveling for work? Just as in Juliets school of possibilities, there are upsides to being flexible for customers’ needs, however, being available on consistent days of the weeks is also very reliable. Otherwise, maybe an au pair would give you the flexibility you need. Good luck!

    2. @CL – we’ve talked some about school-aged childcare, and I’ve blogged some about it too. But the situation you describe is always going to be a complicated issue, because from the perspective of a caregiver, it’s not really a great job to have to be somewhere four days a week, but only get 2.5 hours each time (but maybe a little more, as you noted – but not guaranteed so they can bank on it). I imagine most people would rather work, say, one 10-hour day than 4 2.5-hour days due to the time costs of commuting. You mentioned paying above market rate, but unless it’s like double market rate, this is probably not going to be anyone’s first choice job. One option we’ve discussed is making it a bigger job — person comes earlier in afternoon and does housework/errands/cooking. Sometimes more guaranteed hours (again, at above-market rate) helps. If there’s someone in your neighborhood who does this sort of thing and the kids could go to that person’s house, it might also be more convenient for someone to take on.

  2. I’m always a little sad when it’s assumed you have to have a car if you have kids. We haven’t had a car for 7 years and when we had nannies for our 3 kids, we allowed them to bring their own car, but gave them access to our cargo bike as well. We always make sure the kid activities are in walking or biking distance even when our nannies had cars, because if the nanny was sick and we had to stay home with the kids, we had to still be able to get them to their classes or park days. I think a lot of families could try going car-lite or car-free, especially when the future state of the planet is not looking good. Having a family doesn’t require you to having a car at all times.

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