Guest post by Karen Gledhill
For the past 4 years, we have had an au pair each year and I cannot say enough about how wonderful our experiences have been. We’ve used an agency called Cultural Care Au Pair but there are more out there and I’ve heard they are similar except maybe the areas they cover.
USE AN AGENCY
True, you have a 18-26 year old living in your house, driving your car and last, but certainly not least, taking care of your kids. This is why I highly recommend using an agency. It costs a little more, but they do background checks, wait let me say that again BACKGROUND CHECKS, check references from a local office, check driving, English ability and provide all travel arrangements and healthcare insurance, PLUS provide a social network of other au pairs in your area, which is invaluable for mitigating feelings of isolation and homesickness. Plus it’s nice for your au pair to have girlfriends they can hang out with, not just on their own time, but getting their “kids” together with people you feel comfortable with, because the other au pairs have been though the same screening process.
SET THE RULES
You need have to invest time in guiding your au pair. Teach them your rules and teach them how to give consequences you are comfortable with. And, honestly I think the program only really works well if you consider your au pair to be like a younger sister. Part of the family, but still needing guidance.
You also have to treat your au pair like a decision maker in front of your kids. Back them up, let punishment for transgressions stand, which should be a variation/extension of the rules/consequences you taught them anyway (unless their interpretation is dangerous or horribly inaccurate and you have to correct it immediately of course) but in general, if you disagree, work it out where the kids can’t hear/see. This gives your au pair a sense of trustworthiness and also sets up a dynamic in which the children know it is necessary for then to listen to their au pair.
Also, ask your kids about their day and listen if they complain about your au pair. If it is just sniveling, because they didn’t get away with something they shouldn’t have anyway, back up your au pair. Occasionally though it is something you will want to talk about, reinforce or clarify for your au pair. And in very rare instances you can help your child talk to your au pair about something that upset them or hurt their feelings. Usually your kids will be shy about talking things out but this is a great, safe opportunity to help them learn how to speak up for themselves.
For example: last night Max, my 3 year old told me that kids were calling him a baby and it hurt his feelings and that a kid slapped him in the face and that he was upset that Rocio didn’t help him. This obviously concerned me, but I wanted to hear the whole story. So Max and I went to talk to Rocio about it. Max sat in my lap and wanted to hide in my shirt, but I gently prompted him to tell Rocio why he felt sad.
It came out that there were some (we called them “naughty” kids) at the playground and that they were teasing Max and calling him baby. Rocio had told Max that the kids were not nice and to stop playing with them. Max kept going right back to them over and over again. So I told Max that he needed to listen to Rocio and not play with naughty kids. Some kids just don’t listen to your words and the only thing you can do is go somewhere else.
Then we talked about the kid hitting Max and it turns out that Rocio didn’t see it happen and the kids left right after so there wasn’t really an opportunity for her to follow up. But Max needed some reassurance. So in front of Max I told Rocio that in the future, if a kid ignores Max’s words and hits him, that physically intervening is called for if possible AND I want her to tell the other child it is not okay. A loud enough voice to scare them a little is appropriate and if the other parent has a problem, a calm, “it is not okay for your child to hit” while leaving is also appropriate. I asked Rocio if she felt comfortable doing that and she said yes.
Max needs to feel safe and that he will be protected if he is unable to protect himself. Max also needed to hear that he should to listen to Rocio and stay away from “naughty” kids, AND that Rocio would protect him more actively. Rocio heard me back her up, but also that it was important not just to Max but to me that she more actively protect him that that sort of situation.
It is a little more work forging a great relationship with your au pair than with day care or with teachers, but having an au pair can be a wonderful experience, not just for your kids and you, but for your au pair as well. The level of personal attention your children receive and the cultural exposure, to me, is invaluable. Our next door neighbors, my husband’s boss as well as a co-worker and 2 friends have joined the au pair program since they met our au pairs.
COST OF HAVING AN AU PAIR
But when it comes down to it, what you really want to know is the details right? What do you get in terms of child care and costs?
Basically you have up to 45 hours/week of coverage for $179/week (state department mandated wage/hours). You also have somewhere around $6-8k in up-front agency fees depending on the agency (although in response to current economic conditions our agency has just started offering payment plans for the fees). This totals around $15-17k/year. Also consider if you have small children that, when we were in Boston, we were looking at $13 – 20k/year EACH for day care. Plus if your baby/child has a cold you are out of luck, and at pick-up, after 5 minutes, you get charged $5/minute for every minute you are late and that is for ONLY Monday through Friday 8:30am to 6:00pm. This did not include coverage for date nights, or weekends, or dinners made and kid’s laundry done.
Your au pair must have 1.5 days off consecutively a week with 2 full days off a month. But that could be a Wednesday/Thursday if you want weekend coverage. Also your au pair may not work more that 10 hours a day, but you can break it up so they are on in the morning and then off while the kids are at school and then back on for pick up, dinner and bed if necessary. They also can be asked to do light housework, the kid’s laundry and cleaning up any kid rooms. I have our au pair help the kids do it themselves though and not just clean up for them.
BEST CHOICE FOR OUR FAMILY
For us, an au pair has been by far the best choice. We are comfortable having another person live with us and become part of our family. We love the amount of coverage, the flexibility and sharing a year with people from all over the world (Ukraine, Sweden, Colombia, Mexico and counting). However, I am always about whatever works best for YOU is the right choice. It’s just that for US, this is what has worked best. Plus, very few people know specifically about how the au pair program works and many people don’t consider it when thinking about childcare.
P.S. As an added bonus, my 3 year old speaks Spanish and my 5 year old speaks fluent Spanish. Such an important skill in this day and age and all for free-ish:)
Karen Gledhill is a momtreprenuer, idea maven, jewelry designer, photographer, graphic designer, rabidly patriotic, environmentalist and last but certainly not least, mommy to 2 boys ages 5 & 3. While being a stay-at-home mom she founded www.karenskitsch.com in 2003. She joined twitter @peckedbyducks, began blogging at PeckedByDucks.com in June of 2008 and returned to working full-time outside of her home in January 2009.
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