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’?
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?
Image by Stephen on Flickr