The Au Pair Childcare Solution: A Blessing to Your Children, Your Marriage and Your Sanity

Being a parent is one of life’s greatest blessings but it can also be one of the most challenging, demanding and overwhelmingly exhausting jobs that one will ever do. While no one I know would ever trade their role as a parent for anything, I think we all can agree that sometimes moms and dads need a break….or an extra set of hands…or a date night…or a trip to the grocery store  or even the bathroom in peace.

 If my life resembles your life, you may need an au pair.

If my life resembles your life, you may need an au pair.

Taking a leap of faith and signing up for an au pair (an international nanny) after my fourth child was born was one of the best decisions that I have ever made for my family. At the time, my husband was gone playing professional baseball and I was struggling to manage my children, work, school, activities and baseball travel in a town with no family and totally on my own. After one particularly “I can’t do this anymore, I need some help” midnight meltdown to my husband, I researched the au pair program. I contacted a few childhood friends who had au pairs growing up and I talked to my aunt, a former Swedish au pair in the 80s who happened to meet and then marry my dad’s brother. At the end of those discussions, I crossed my fingers and jumped in feet first with Au Pair Care in the hopes that my magical childcare savior would be hand delivered to my doorstep.

 Our Swedish welcome for our first au pair....I was hoping for a miracle.

Our Swedish welcome for our first au pair....I was hoping for a miracle.

Not only, did I match with the most wonderful, intelligent and kind Swedish girl, Sara, we welcomed a lifelong member of our family who genuinely loves our children and continues to visit us a few times each year. Following Sara, we had Macarena (yes, that’s her real name) from Spain and then Ana from Spain who are just so dearly loved and adored by my children that they too return for visits. We currently have a sweet and gentle au pair from Brazil who recently arrived. My children have learned their language, their culture and their customs and are more educated, well-rounded and culturally aware little people for doing so. Our children celebrate the Swedish Midsummer holiday and the Spanish Three Kings celebration at Christmas. They have traditional dresses of each country and can recognize the flags for each country.

 Sara's first Halloween with our family.

Sara's first Halloween with our family.

Having an au pair was also a blessing for our marriage because it gave both of us a break… it gave us time together as we had a built in baby sitter that gave us an extra set of hands after dinner, during bath time and when traveling. It gave us time to run out to get a quick bite to eat alone or time to work out together. Having an au pair was especially helpful when I was pregnant and too tired or sick to function. We have plans to eventually visit Europe to attend weddings and visit the girls who have held such special places in our hearts. (If you’d like to see a collection of our family’s au pair experiences, search #reimoldaupair on Instagram.)

 Macarena, Ana and Sara, all three of our au pairs joined us for Christmas last year. Its great to see how young my oldest two were when Sara first arrived and now they are both taller than her.

Macarena, Ana and Sara, all three of our au pairs joined us for Christmas last year. Its great to see how young my oldest two were when Sara first arrived and now they are both taller than her.

If you’re on the break of a mommy meltdown and could use an extra set of hands, let me explain how it all works and the number one question….

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

A live in au pair with Au Pair Care receives a stipend of $195.75 per week for up to 45 hours of childcare per week. In addition, there are roughly $8,000 of agency fees (that can be paid in installments) that include the screening/background checks, insurance, air travel, regional director support and the au pair’s three to four day stay at the training academy in NYC. Prior to coming to your house, au pairs will get certified in CPR, child safety techniques, driving safety and overall childcare strategies. If you have small children, they can be certified in Infant CPR, sign language and baby massage. In a nutshell, with all fees and the weekly stipend, a live in au pair, regardless of the number of children you have, is roughly $350 per week or $50 a day. Not a bad deal for on demand childcare.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

An au pair can do anything related to the children or childcare…this includes laundry, packing lunches, , bathing, homework, driving to school or after school activities, traveling with the host family and even grocery shopping. Our au pairs have always LOVED Target and Publix shopping!

 Macarena helping to put Maggie to bed.

Macarena helping to put Maggie to bed.

HOW MANY HOURS A WEEK DO THEY WORK? WHAT IS THEIR SCHEDULE?

An au pair can work up to 45 hours per week and up to 10 hours a day max. They get two days off a week and at least one weekend off per month. We have always had our au pairs generally work from 6:30am – 9:00 am before school and then 2:00 to 7:00pm after school. They have from 9am-2pm off to do their own thing which generally includes the gym, meeting for lunch with other au pairs, taking English classes or running errands. Alternatively, I have a lot of friends whose au pairs work 8am – 6pm that coincides with a normal work week.

Now if you’re a family in professional sports, medicine or television and your hours are all over the place like ours have been, you can explain that in your interviews and ask if your au pair would be open to being flexible. For example, we often went on long road trips over the summer during baseball season so we always arranged for extra time off when we got back. We also tend to offer holiday weeks off if we are traveling to family where we wouldn’t necessarily need an extra set of hands. We are going to Ohio for five days next month and since my in-laws will be there, I just gave our au pair five straight days off to make up for summer travel.

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I also am always open to the au pairs traveling with their family if their family comes to the United States. As a mother, I wouldn’t want to send my child off for a year (two years maximum) without being able to visit them so I am considerate of that in case their family is able to travel. I typically have given a week or more to our au pairs so that they can tour the USA with their families. I have found that this really improves our relationship because they know I care about them being with their families. Regarding boyfriends, they can visit but I do not allow them to stay in my home. (This is all in my HOUSE RULES booklet that I would be happy to share.)

HOW DOES THE PROCESS WORK?

I can only speak for Au Pair Care, but once you sign up, you will hear from a matching specialist who will discuss with you your needs and what you are looking for. You can search their database for potential matches and the specialist will also send you matches she feels would work. Along with photos and videos, each au pair profile has extensive information about their family, their education, childcare experience, personality testing results, interests, etc. You can then interview up to three au pairs at a time by Skype until you find a match. Once matched, you can select your au pair’s arrival date and welcome her with hand painted signs like we have done;)

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HOW DO I PICK THE RIGHT GIRL?

This is where I feel that our nearly five- year experience is super helpful because I have picked amazing girls and girls that just didn’t work. (For those that are seriously interested, I would be happy to email you the list of questions I ask of our potential au pairs.) For our large family, I have looked for the girls that meet the following characteristics:

1.     College educated. The au pairs who are now part of our family came to us at 22, 23, 24 and 25. They had already lived on their own, graduated from college and held a job. With four to seven children, I needed someone who was mature and able to handle a lot of chaos and unpredictable travel. (Maybe a coincidence, but the girls that didn’t work were 19. I know many people with babies and two children who this worked wonderfully for but for us, we needed someone older.)

 Celebrating Spanish Ana's birthday when Sara returned to visit on the Swedish Midsummer holiday.

Celebrating Spanish Ana's birthday when Sara returned to visit on the Swedish Midsummer holiday.

2.     No boyfriend or a long term boyfriend. No boyfriends are great because I don’t feel like someone is back home telling our au pairs how much they miss them, are asking to plan visits or are a distraction from their work. I have learned that long term boyfriends (we have had two girls with 5+ year relationships) are okay because their relationships are established, they have often already lived apart and the other person is genuinely excited for the experience. What I have found DOES NOT WORK are girls who have fairly recent or year-long relationships. These are the girls that typically get homesick quickly. We had one girl whose parents made her break up with her boyfriend before she got here, which I didn’t know until after she arrived. I ended up sending her home because there were a lot of tears and she just never seemed happy.

3.     An experienced driver and a swimmer. On the profiles, it will say how many years and what level of swimmer each girl is. I need a girl who can safely help me drive my kids to practices and who can jump in after a toddler should one fall into the pool. These are non-negotiables for our lifestyle.

 Macarena and my oldest daughter jumping off a snorkeling boat in the Florida Keys.

Macarena and my oldest daughter jumping off a snorkeling boat in the Florida Keys.

4.     Non-party girls. I have a teenage daughter, a teenage son and five small children under seven years old. This last thing I need is someone who I am waiting up for, someone who is waking me up by getting home at 3am or someone who can’t wait to rush out the door at 7pm to go to a bar. I ask the girls to answer this question honestly because I warn them that a person who loves that lifestyle won’t like living in our home. I am very honest in saying that I will send them home should the party life be something that is a priority. (Again, typically why I try to find older girls.) This does not mean that I don’t let my girls go out, hang out or even come home late now and then. If this is a weekly occurrence, I know it is not for us.

5.     An active lifestyle. Our family is always on the go so I look for girls who are athletic, spontaneous and can physically throw a stroller in the car while a toddler may be clinging to their leg. I need a girl who can run through an airport with me and a girl who can climb thru the seats in my suburban to get to a sippy cup that a kid dropped. I look for girls who enjoy being outside and who wouldn’t mind taking my kids to park or swimming in our pool.

6.     Non-dominant personality. On the personality profile test results, several personality traits are graphed in accordance with the results of their questionnaire. If a girl scores the highest in dominance, I typically will pass. Knowing that I am a very dominant person because I have to run a fairly scheduled home with seven children in it, I know that I need someone who doesn’t argue with me regularly. I always tell au pairs that sometimes they will annoy me and I will annoy them just like my husband and kids annoy me…that is normal. What I don’t want is to feel uncomfortable in my own home. For example, one of the girls I mentioned before that I sent home, told me that she could do whatever she wanted because “her time was her time.” While I said that that is partially true, we had house rules that she had to live by because our home was not a hotel. Needless to say, that ended quickly and I learned to focus on more compatible personality traits.

7.     Eastern European, South African and Brazilian. As the matching expert will explain, there are certain countries that work better for different family situations. Most Eastern European counties all teach English from elementary school so those girls are easy to communicate with which is especially helpful if you have young children. Those girls also typically have driven several years and have to pass a very rigorous driving test to get a license. They also typically are very good swimmers. American Culture is very popular is Sweden so Sara came in loving Gilmore Girls, American music and had a very faint Swedish accent. Our Spanish girls also could drive our cars and communicated well. South Africans are great because there is no language barrier and their lifestyle is so different that it makes for interesting conversations and stories. Our girls were just in awe that baboons roamed neighborhoods and monkeys threw things from trees. Our current Brazilian au pair was used to a large family, which is custom in her country, so she hasn’t been easily rattled. Regardless of their country, I have found that it takes about five weeks for girls to really adjust to their new life and language.

 Our first au pair Sara during her fifth visit back to visit us after she ended her program.

Our first au pair Sara during her fifth visit back to visit us after she ended her program.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PICK THE WRONG GIRL?

Even though I feel like I have developed questions that help weed out girls who will not work for our family, you can always mismatch with an au pair. If that is the case, you just notify your regional director who will work with you to determine a solution. Sometimes they can help you find a solution and If you just know it’s not going to work, they will help the au pair rematch or in some cases, send them back home. The girl that we had go all the way back home was the homesick au pair so we all knew she just wasn’t ready for the experience yet.

WHAT IS A HOST FAMILIES OBLIGATION TO THE AU PAIR?

An au pair must have their own bedroom. While they can share a bathroom, they must have a bedroom to themselves. They are also required to have a cell phone on your plan. It doesn’t have to be an iphone, just a basic way to communicate with you.  While an additional car is not required, it is helpful for them to have one for them OR have a schedule of when they may use your car. I know several people who purchased a used car to help with transportation if that was a main need. Alternatively, my brother- in- law just set up a schedule of when they could do without one of their cars. Since their au pair has an infant and two –year- old, she typically uses the car when they get home from work and on weekends. We also add our au pair to our gym membership. This is not a requirement but something I feel helps give the au pair something to do and is another way to meet people. As a side note, all au pairs want to see Disney World! They love it and seeing them experience it for the first time is really heartwarming.

 Macarena at Disney during our annual "Mickey's Not So Scary" Halloween trip.

Macarena at Disney during our annual "Mickey's Not So Scary" Halloween trip.

WHAT IS IT LIKE LIVING WITH ANOTHER PERSON?

From our experience, when our au pairs are working, they’re around our common areas and when they are off, they typically do their own thing. A lot of our girls like watching movies in their room or will Skype with family and friends during their off hours. They have all liked going to Cheesecake Factory and frozen yogurt places. During baseball season, we would try to get two- bedroom hotel rooms if they traveled with us or connecting rooms so that we could use the other bed in the room for one of the kids. Traveling is always a situation that we have to play by ear but typically, au pairs understand that we are at the mercy of the hotels so we just have to wing it. Generally, if my husband is with us, we get the extra room because the sleeping and bathroom habits of men are just not pleasant.

IS AN AU PAIR RIGHT FOR YOU?

Our family really has been blessed with the presence of these wonderful young au pairs in our homes. We've learned to not say "goodbye" to them but "see you later" as we know they will always come back and we will always be family.

 The first time we had to say "see you later" to our au pair Sara. This picture sums up why I love this program. These girls love my children so much and are so much a part of our family.

The first time we had to say "see you later" to our au pair Sara. This picture sums up why I love this program. These girls love my children so much and are so much a part of our family.

If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, I would encourage you to research the au pair program with Au Pair Care and talk to other host families. I would be happy to answer questions by email or by phone. I have had countless conversations with strangers who have been referred to me by friends. I can be reached at jennycorace@gmail.com or on my Facebook, Jenny Corace Reimold. We’re all in this together so if I can assist in enhancing the lives of fellow parents or sports families, I would be happy to help. This has really been a life changing experience for our family and I highly recommend this cultural experience for your children. (If you do end up getting an au pair, I'd appreciate you letting them know that I referred which you can do by name or the following link.)

·      Are you struggling to find reliable childcare?

·      Do you work odd hours, long hours or unpredictable hours?

·      Do you or your spouse travel for work? Are you a single parent in need of more support?

·      Are you the spouse of a professional athlete who lives away from home?

·      Do you feel like there are not enough hours in the day to take care of homework, errands, school activities and personal time?

·      Are you burning the candle at both ends and notice that you are not quite the parent you’d like to be because you’re stressed out and grumpy? (I say that from personal experience;)

Please let me know if you have any questions. This truly has been a life changing experience for our family and I highly recommend it for yours!