3 Features of Au Pairing: Which One Challenges You?

by cv harquail on September 1, 2014

What are the real, important differences between Au Pairs and other kinds of childcare providers, like nannies, babysitters, or childcare centers?

What really influences the challenges that host parents and au pairs face when it comes to making this ‘the best year ever’?

2176773871_97a17213ea_zIt used to be that when people asked me how having an au pair was different from using other strategies for childcare, I would focus on the concept of flexibility.

For me, as an academic with non-standard work hours (sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, sometimes at home, changing every semester) the flexibility element was critical.  For our family, flexibility was the primary reason for having an au pair, and the other features of au pairing came along for the ride.

But after 11 au pairs as well as 7+ years with the Au Pair mom community, I’d explain it differently.

Now, when people as me what makes having an au pair different from another kind of childcare, I’d  say it’s:

1. Au Pairs occupy a unique place in your family’s world.

 Au Pairs are both ‘employees’ and ‘part of the family’.

2. Au Pairs are from cultures other than your own.

Even if an Au Pair shares your family’s cultural or language heritage, they come from such a different cultural place that it’s hard to avoid experiencing these differences and learning from them.

3. Au Pairs are not professional childcare providers.

Au Pairs are young adults who (generally) enjoy children and are happy to spend a year caring for kids.

This ‘aha’ of mine may strike some of you readers as a ‘duh’ – but of course I was seeing the experience from my own perspective, and not paying attention to the bigger picture.

(I now think of the flexibility that was so important to me as more like a feature of the program that depends on the au pair’s unique role as ‘part of the family/employee’.    Flexibility depends on having your childcare provider living with you and/or having no other structured life responsibilities (for example, no nearby family of his/her own depending on his/her care in the evenings, weekends).)

When I look over the topics we discuss the most on Au Pair Mom, they ultimately sort out into

– challenges that are unique to Au Pair CareGiving (driven by the 3 features above) and

– challenges that are basic to being a family that uses childcare provided by someone other than a parent.

Challenges like ‘how do I get my au pair and kids to like each other?’ aren’t specific to au pairs– you’d face this challenge with any kind of childcare provider.  But challenges like “How much parenting do I need to do with this young adult?” are specifically au pair-related concerns.

When you think of the challenges that you experience as a host parent or an au pair (note: two *different* polls below), how do you rank them?

Which kind of challenge challenges you the most?


As a Host Parent, what challenges you the most?

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As an Au Pair, what challenges you the most?

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Image by Stephen on Flickr


Open Thread: Labor Day Weekend 2014

by cv harquail on August 30, 2014

beach chairsHappy Labor Day weekend–

and for those of us whose kids (finally) go back to school this coming week, happy last day of summer vacation.

Enjoy this open thread, to converse about anything your heart desires (as long as it fits within our Comments policy). Also, if there are things you want us to discuss on the blog this Sept., let me know!

The thread will be open until Monday evening, or until I empty the cooler, whichever comes first.  ~ cvh


 Photo by Rosa Say, on Flickr


Labor Day: An American Celebration of Workers

by cv harquail on August 29, 2014

American Culture is on my mind today.  

Of the three big distinctions between Au Pair childcare and other childcare, the idea of cultural exchange often takes a back seat.  One reason for ‘culture’ receding in to the background is that we regularly experience cultural differences and cultural exchange at the interpersonal level.

Cultural exchange feels like something that happens between us and our au pairs.

labor dayAnother reason is that — especially these last few years– American Culture seems more divided. It’s less a unified thing than a bunch of competing sets of values and perspectives. Whether it’s red vs. blue, north vs. south, city vs. suburbs, or 1%ers vs everyone else, …

It feels hard to point to something and say “Yes, *that’s* American Culture.”

Just think about this weekend’s Labor Day. All too often it ends up being treated as just a long weekend because culturally we find it hard to agree what we’re actually celebrating.

We tend to overlook the fact that Labor Day is a holiday invented by the Labor Movement.  Like the 40-hour workday and the weekend, we’ve got Labor Day because hourly workers banded together and fought for it.

Call me a socialist, but I’d like for more of us to talk about Labor Day as a holiday that honors solidarity among workers and reminds us that fair pay, decent hours, and safe working conditions are rights that workers not only deserve, but also that they/we have earned.

So why am I bringing this up on AuPairMom?

I can’t tell you the number of emails that I get from au pairs who are being taken advantage of in other countries– countries where Au Pairs’ work situations are not established by laws designed to keep them safe, to pay them fairly, and to make sure they aren’t overworked.

I know that the US State Department regulations didn’t come about directly because of au pairs or childcare workers banding together to demand them, but these regulations are modeled on national standards for pay, hours and work that were initially negotiated by Labor Unions.  So, thanks Labor Movement! You’ve ultimately made it easier for us to have great relationships with our au pairs!labor day kitten

On the other hand, think about the countries that send us Au Pairs. Many of them have far stronger supports for common workers (and don’t talk about France or Italy … yes, perhaps some of the supports are counter-productive).  Others have few regulations at all.

What do these differences in how Labor and workers in general are perceived tell us about ourselves, as Americans?

I’d love to see more of us wading into conversations with our au pairs and ourselves about “culture”, about holidays, about the value of work, about the value of workers, and about justice.

~~ end of rant ~~   Back to the beach chairs, everyone.


See also:

What counts as “cultural exchange”?
What’s the most “American” thing you’ve had to explain to your au pair?
10 Days of Work that Might Surprise Your Au Pair


How to Decline an Au Pair Match — Politely

by cv harquail August 26, 2014

No one wants to be rejected — not au pairs and not host parents.   But reject each other we must, since we know that even a perfectly lovely candidate (in this case, either a host parent or a potential au pair) may just not feel like the right fit. But how can we let the […]

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Flirting Au Pair Makes Life Awkward: Did we handle this well?

by cv harquail August 25, 2014
antiflirt club

Long-time AuPairMom readers know that we rarely discuss bad behavior between au pairs and male host parents, for two reasons:  There actually isn’t that much (especially compared to other kinds of problems), and Posts with certain words draw really creepy spammers that I hate to have to deal with. That said, there might be situations […]

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Do you ‘overshare’ or ‘undershare’ with your Au Pair?

by cv harquail August 21, 2014

I didn’t realized what a private creature I could be until we had our first au pair. With roommates it felt like nothing was off limits, and with my DH the main thing I kept closed was the bathroom door. But with au pairs? More of a challenge finding the right space between being closed and […]

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Three Types of Host Moms: Which one are you?

by cv harquail August 15, 2014
guide to clouds

I have a theory:  Every new host mom starts off with a vision of herself as being one of three types: The Bestie, The SecondMom, or The Boss. The Bestie The Bestie is the host mom who wants to be her au pair’s good friend. She treats the au pair like a guest, buys her […]

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Open Thread: August 6

by cv harquail August 6, 2014

Hi All– Here’s an open thread to enjoy while I get things back together over here.  A great business conference, a MIL visit, and all that freaking laundry from camp have kept me busy. What’s happening w/ you?  

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When Your Au Pair’s Visa Doesn’t Come Through– what to do?

by cv harquail July 30, 2014
apm visa

I’m expecting my first au pair to arrive in country on August 11th and to my house on August 15th. My au pair has not received her Visa and forwarded me the below photograph. Have you heard of this? What should we do? ~FranticSoonToBeHM

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English Words That Every Au Pair Should Really Understand

by cv harquail July 28, 2014

It’s easier to relax about your new au pair when s/he demonstrates a real command for the US version of the English Language.   I was thinking about this as I was perusing something called the “Academic Word List”, a list of 570 words that researchers think people should know if they plan to study […]

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