chatter

Chatter: All About Au Pairs

After years of scrambling for babysitters, missing events, being late for school runs, and generally feeling a bit run down, my husband and I decided to look into getting an au pair. It ended up being one of the best decisions we ever made for our family, and I now recommend the idea to anyone who will listen!

After speaking to a number of friends who had au pairs, I ended up using aupairworld.com. Not only is the fee the lowest I found (an absolute fraction of what agencies cost!!), but it is also really easy to use.  And because the site is free for au pairs to register on, there are LOADS of au pairs to choose from!

[Full disclosure: after using Au Pair World for our first two au pairs, I reached out to them and asked if they would be open to a collaboration. As a result, this post is sponsored by Au Pair World, a company I use and love!]

A thank you from our au pair, Elisabeth.

WHAT IS AN AU PAIR?

Growing up in America, I had the impression that an “au pair” was some fancy French term people used for expensive, couture childcare, but that could hardly be further from the truth. In fact, having an au pair is one of the most affordable kinds of childcare available.

Traditionally, an au pair is thought of as a young girl from a country other than the one you live in who wants the opportunity to learn a new language and experience a new culture in a family setting. While this is still mostly true, you can now find both male and female au pairs, as well as au pairs of a wider range of ages.

I personally think of an au pair as a cross between an exchange student and a nanny. Yes, they are providing you with childcare, but there is also an expectation that you will teach them about your culture and help them hone their language skills.

Although an au pair is taking care of your children, an au pair isn’t necessarily someone looking to work in childcare. While some au pairs may have experience working with kids or have younger siblings, these aren’t Ofsted-qualified childcare providers. These are usually young people looking to take some time to travel and learn a new language before starting the next phase of their life (school, work, etc.). What an au pair may lack in experience, however, she makes up in eagerness to learn.

Our au pair, Elisabeth, took us to stay at her grandmother’s beautiful home in the south of France.

TYPES OF AU PAIR:

There seem to be two types of au pairs: an au pair looking for a “family” experience, and an au pair looking for more of a live-in nanny situation.

The au pair looking for a “family” experience wants to feel like a member of the family. She wants to share meals with you, have breakfast in her pyjamas, and eat popcorn with you on the couch on family film night. She may want to accompany you on weekend trips or holidays.

The other kind of au pair is more independent and perhaps older. She is mostly looking for a job and living situation that will allow her to live abroad, learn a new language, and do her own thing.

I would recommend both you and the au pair give this some thought and discuss this particular issue when you speak. Finding an au pair whose expectations are compatible with yours is essential.

Our au pair, Sedef, playing in the snow with my kids.

HOW DOES HAVING AN AU PAIR WORK?

An au pair lives in your home, eats your food, and helps take care of your children. You can also ask your au pair to help with cooking and light housework. She or he will receive weekly “pocket money” of around £70-100 per week depending on hours, duties, location, etc. We ask our au pairs to work 25 hours per week plus two evenings, but between 15-30 hours per week is also within a normal range.

Our au pair helps with the school run in the morning taking one or both kids to school. She eats breakfast with us before often helping to do my daughter’s hair and get both kids dressed. She basically acts as a third parent (or second parent when my husband is working late or out of town.) She is then free during the day until she picks the kids up from school and plays with them at home or at the park until dinner time.

I usually like making dinner myself (I mean, I am a food blogger after all! Ha!), but our au pairs often lend a hand with chopping and stirring. Not only is it helpful, but my husband often doesn’t get home until after dinner, so I really appreciate the company of another adult at that time of day. Once we finish dinner I am usually able to help clean up a few things before taking my younger child up to bed. Our au pair kindly helps clean up from dinner so when I come down from bedtime, my kitchen is nice and tidy. It is pretty luxurious, I admit!!

A lot of people worry about the logistics of evenings with an au pair around. (Will they want to hang out with me? Do I need to entertain them? Will they judge me for binge watching crap TV with a bag of crisps?) The answer here is that you get to set the tone for what you want. It’s your house! I’m not a TV watcher, so I end up spending my evenings (if I’m not out) taking a long bath, tidying up, and generally relaxing on my own or with my husband. Our current au pair tends to be pretty social and will go out in the evenings but otherwise tends to hang out in her room after dinner. In contrast, we had a previous au pair who liked hanging out with us in the evenings. We made our way through Downton Abbey together and enjoyed lots of long chats. Both scenarios work for us, so it is just a matter of figuring out what works for you.

Our au pairs have really become a part of our family: they have seen me with mascara smeared down my face in the morning, they hear my husband and me bicker, they help wipe my four-year-old’s bum . . . eating crisps in front of crap TV really isn’t a big deal when you consider how close you will become overall.

Breakfast in pyjamas while on holiday in Greece with our au pair, Sedef.

FINDING AN AU PAIR

I received numerous recommendations for Au Pair World before ever trying it out myself. Au Pair World isn’t an agency, so you do more of the leg work to match your family up with an au pair, but I personally prefer it this way. You only pay for their website while you are contacting potential au pairs (the website is free for au pairs to use) and you can quit your membership once you’ve found your au pair. I have paid €39 per month for one or two months to find our au pairs, as opposed to thousands and thousands of pounds we would have had to pay for an agency.

The process of matching with an au pair isn’t unlike online dating: you make a profile, upload pictures, and then browse through the profiles of potential matches. If someone looks like a good match to you, you are then able to write them. If that goes well the next step is usually a meeting via Skype for an interview. I usually interview them first on my own and then, if we like each other, I Skype again later with the kids and my husband. If things are still going well I then have them send me a recommendation and an informal contract (more on that later).

CREATING YOUR PROFILE

Your profile is a potential au pair’s first introduction to your family. It is your chance to describe your lifestyle and share the qualities you are looking for in an au pair, but also your opportunity to advertise to a potential au pair as to why they should choose you!

Choose fun photos of your family to share that you feel best depict who you are. Not wanting to appear too serious, I went with this gem of a family photo for our profile picture:

Questions to consider:

  • What is important to you as a family?
  • What aspects of your lifestyle do you think most define your family?
  • How do you spend your free time? Do you want your au pair to have similar interests? (ie: biking, camping, music)?
  • Would you prefer an au pair who will become like a member of the family, or someone who is not generally around when not working?

Ultimately, you want to give an accurate representation of what the au pair can expect. Here are my tips on what to include:

  • a fun, but honest description of your family, neighbourhood, and home (and photos)
  • be honest about your lifestyle and what you will need from an au pair
  • be honest about what is important to you

You can read more tips here.

FILTERING YOUR OPTIONS

When we initially started our search for an au pair we didn’t have any strong preferences in terms of language, country of origin, etc. As a result, we were flush with options. While having too many choices is a good problem to have, it can also be overwhelming.

Our first attempt at finding an au pair took us weeks as we weren’t quite sure what we were looking for. In contrast, we are currently organising our third au pair and were able to find someone within 24 hours of starting our search!

Questions to consider:

  • Are there countries, cultures, and/or languages you would like to learn more about?
  • Would you consider having a male au pair?
  • How long would you like the au pair to stay for?
  • What age range would you prefer? Someone younger or older?
  • Do you need your au pair to drive?

Traveling with our au pair, Elisabeth, in Spain.

AU PAIR CONTRACT

I have found that the best way to ensure a good experience having an au pair is to be extremely clear about your expectations and make sure you communicate them to your au pair before she or he arrives. You should also make sure you understand your au pair’s expectations and make sure you are on the same page. While there is not usually any sort of formal contract with an au pair via Au Pair World, I always send an informal one. It is just one more way to ensure our expectations are aligned.

Below is a the informal contract I wrote up to share with our au pairs. You are welcome to use it as a template for what to send to your own au pair! (You can also find more templates here.)

  • Beginning date:
  • End date:

Overview: 

  • Watch the children approximately X hours per week plus up to X evenings per week when mutually agreeable
  • £X per week fee provided in cash or into a bank account
  • We will provide all food at home and if the family eats together at a restaurant for a meal.
  • You will provide your own travel (unless other specific arrangements are made; we will pay for bus/train when you are with the children)
  • We will provide you with a private room and use of the family bathroom. We will also provide all linens and towels you might need.
  • We will provide you with a flexible weekly schedule to be agreed upon in advance.
  • Weekends free to spend with the family, or activities on your own as desired.

Duties include, during your working hours:

  • helping children get ready for the day
  • taking the children to and from school
  • playing with the kids, organising actives, taking them to the park, etc.
  • helping to keep the children’s rooms tidy
  • helping to keep the playroom tidy
  • tidying up after mealtimes with the children
  • helping to clean up after family meals
  • helping with household duties such as the dishwasher, putting children’s clean clothes away, wiping counters, etc. (We all help with these, but whomever is watching the kids generally takes care of these duties during that time.)
  • help with the cooking when required

Some house “rules”. Please avoid:

  • loud music
  • smoking
  • becoming inebriated
  • eating outside the kitchen
  • leaving messes around the house
  • spending time on your phone when with the children

So what do you think? Would you consider having an au pair? Why or why not? Perhaps you already have (or have had) an au pair? Any experiences (good or bad) you would like to share? I would love to hear about it!

Stay tuned for a live Q&A on 5 June at 8:30PM (London time)! Be sure you are following @aupairworld (and @hungermama, of course!) on Instagram to make sure you don’t miss out! 

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