by Misti Bushmire
au pair :: noun \ˈō-ˈper\
If you’ve ever read early 20th century literature or any Agatha Christie mysteries I’m sure you remember how many families had an au pair as part of their family – but never as the criminal! It’s not a concept that is well known in the United States but au pairs were very common in Europe from the late 1800’s and still are. The word means “on par” or “equal to” in French. The intention was a reciprocal, caring relationship, the au pair being part of the family, not a servant. Typically an au pair is a young woman aged 18-26 (sometimes a young man but we will say young woman simply for ease of discussion) from another country. They provide childcare and light housekeeping in return for room and board and a weekly stipend.
What are the benefits?
This relationship is beneficial to both sides and enriches the lives of both the host family and au pair in a cross cultural experience. The children get a chance to experience a different language, foods, holidays, and customs and share with her their own language and customs. The relationships forged are potentially lifelong. I myself have worked as an “au pair”, albeit in my own country. I am still very close to the families that I worked for before my daughter was born and in fact some of the children that I worked with are now asking me to come in and work with their children! In researching this article I read stories of relationships like this being formed in traditional au pair situations as well.
An Au Pair’s Responsibilities?
The au pair’s responsibilities are primarily childcare and can include getting children ready for school, taking them to/from school and activities, doing the children’s laundry, straightening their rooms/play areas, fixing their meals, and getting them ready for bed. An important distinction is that an au pair is not a housekeeper. They are not responsible for running the household and cleaning up after parents. Daily hours are agreed between the host family and au pair. It does not exceed 45 hours per week so it offers flexibility unlike a traditional nanny or daycare.
How does it work?
Practically speaking, how does this work? Isn’t this an option only for the uber wealthy? Nope, it’s not! It’s not a free or a “very low-cost” option but it’s very flexible and there are intangible benefits to this option. The continuity of care and the close bonds formed are just a couple of them. Note that the fees and weekly stipend are per family, not per child. For families with several children, this makes it a great option.
The au pair contracts to provide up to 45 hours a week in childcare and light housekeeping (as related to the children). She has to have gone through a screening process with her agency, have logged childcare hours with non-family members, have a valid drivers license (international if possible), and undergone a background check as well as other requirements. Often she has education at a higher level institution as well. She pays a portion of her expenses and transportation costs along with her host family and the agency.
The host family provides room and board, access to a car (and adding them to your automobile insurance) or money for public transportation if not providing use of a car, a nominal weekly stipend (at a rate set by the US Government), and an educational allowance.
Each agency handles the costs slightly differently. Check with them for exact numbers and details; most costs are spread out over the year, making it more affordable. Au Pair in America provides many support and orientation programs for both the au pair and the host family. You can learn more about their Au Pairs on their website. They also offer a monthly payment plan to cover the program fee.
There are legal requirements that protect both parties. This is one of the best reasons to go through an agency. Speech Solutions Hawaii has partnered with Au Pair in America and is able to offer a discount on their services to our families (use the code 413 for the discount). There are also other services that you can look into. Make sure to do your due diligence and check any service out thoroughly.
I would encourage you to look into having an au pair if you regularly use childcare services. Contact the agency and ask questions to find out details that would be pertinent for your particular situation and family. It’s often more affordable than you would think and the benefits can be tremendous to both you and your children!
To learn more about a au pairs, check out this article, The Myths About Au Pairs.