Alas, One Au Pair Can’t Cover Your “40 Hour” Work Week

by cv harquail on September 5, 2016

It’s a horrible reality:  Even if you have your au pair work a full 45 hours a week, if you work 40 hours a week yourself, your au pair is not going to be able to cover all your childcare needs.

au pair advice, au pair problemsEvery one of us full time working parents knows– that job is supposedly “40 hours”, plus lunch, plus commute, plus a traffic accident, plus a last minute meeting, plus someone else calling in sick, plus a deadline. Basically — even for hourly workers — that “4o hours” outside the home is almost always 45 hours. Or 46 hours. Or 48 hours.

And that’s before you need someone to mind the kid/s while you buy groceries, get a haircut, or go to the doctor yourself.

Au Pairs can only work 45 hours a week. As you’ll see elsewhere on the blog, even when your Au Pair is willing to do a little extra babysitting for $10/hour, you can really only take advantage of this rarely. You not only should not break the rules, but also you can’t expect an au pair to have the energy to work more than 9 or 10 hours a day, or more than 45 hours a week.

There are real, important, humane, safety, and kindness-oriented reasons why these hourly limits exist.     

See:  Best Practices for asking your Au Pair to work Overtime
Tim Gunn’s advice on breaking the rules


For the newly-single host mom of a toddler, who is preparing to head back into a full time out of the home job that includes a commute, there’s just no way one au pair can cover all that she needs.

This mom needs to find another 4-8 hours of help.  If the child’s other parent (the soon-to-be-ex spouse) takes over some of the childcare on a weekend, or even one evening a week, that might help. The mom might also find a regular back up babysitter to take some late afternoons to give the au pair and the mom some flexibility. Scheduling in just one day of 4 hours of back-up babysitter then gives the host mom and au pair the flexibility should the mom get caught in traffic, etc. and unintentionally shift that au pair’s 9 hour day into a 10 hour day.

This mom might also look for a part-time PreK for her toddler.  I know that the PreK at the church down the street from us was a lifesaver for us, even though they only did two mornings (3 hours) each week, because that “saved” us the 6 au pair hours that I needed to be covered for evening classes and events.

Being a single parent is difficult, and finding full time care — really full time care — means covering 45 to 50 hours a week.

An au pair can go over 45 hours in an emergency, and only rarely. You’ll need to put something additional in place.

I’m going through divorce and I will soon be a predominately single mom. I’ll be going back to work and I would like to get an au pair for my 2 year old daughter and me. My situation is this: since we live in a metropolitan area, I have to commute downtown to work about an hour total a day – plus my 40 hour work week, which basically takes up the whole 45 hours I can have an au pair work a week.

While I love the idea of an au pair and the ease in this new life of ours, I’m not totally sure 45 hours a week will be enough (while she’s not in school) to actually help me in the evenings and weekends.

Will an au pair work more hours if I pay her, say babysitter rates? What other options do I have for a young toddler to control the hour usage during the day so that there’s more availability in the evenings and weekends? She naps about 2 hours a day, but it’s my understanding that those hours still count since she is under her responsibility at that time.

Thank you!


Image: exhausted toddler by Jessica Lucia on Flickr


AlwaysHopeful HM September 5, 2016 at 9:49 am

Yes, having an au pair is tough to swing as a single parent. Personally, I wasn’t in a position to even consider it until my son started school. Even now, I rely on backup care from relatives, and I lean on my job’s flexibility to telework when needed.

I’m curious though– if you’re considering paying an au pair babysitting rates for the extra hours, why not just pay a babysitter? Is there someone in your neighborhood, or a nearby college campus that could work as your go-to babysitter? Sometimes daycare workers are looking to pick up a few extra hours, so I would look into that as well. I wouldn’t suggest a parade of people, but one solid, dependable person could bridge the gap for you.

2 kids and a cat September 5, 2016 at 11:38 am

If your daughter naps about 2 hours a day, that’s 10 hours of child-related work your au pair can get you ahead. You’ll be able to walk in the door and spend time with your daughter instead of sorting dirty socks.
Since my kids create the biggest messes, having her responsible for what happens during the day means that my husband and I are back to picking up after ourselves – the evenings are far less exhausting.
My husband travels a lot, so when he’s out of town I always schedule an extra evening or weekend morning for me to just get things done – that’s where a part-time preschool program would really help you out.

Anonymous in CA September 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

Totally agree with AlwaysHopeful and with CV. A part time daycare situation could work well and the AP would have a split shift so that she can help at least some evenings. Depending on your geographic location, daycare / preschool may be less expensive overall than an hourly babysitter – I can’t get a sitter for less than about $23 / hour!! And OP is correct in the original post – the hours that the HC is asleep still “count” because the AP is in charge – she can’t go meet a friend at Starbucks.

Asking the AP to work more hours should simply be a non-starter unless it is an extremely rare occurrence. Of all the people in the world you can’t afford to get burned out on their jobs, the AP is the one…it’s crucial that she be in good form each day for the long long 9 hour stretch.

WestMom September 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

I think this in part why the program is best suited for school-aged kids. Before our kids were in school, we barely made it with 52hrs of childcare per week from a nanny. This still meant that I had to leave work at 5:10 to make the 5:35 train that would get me home by 6:20 to release nanny at 6:30. No night sitting, no weekend sitting. Very little buffer, really.

Fast forward to getting an Au pair once the kids were in school and I could easily keep the hours within 40-42 with some evening and weekend help (though still challenges during school breaks and summer months).

For me that was the main decision to wait. Having to juggle two forms of childcare to stay within the guidelines seemed like too much of a hassle.

WarmStateMomma September 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

45 hours isn’t enough to cover all of the child care needs for a working family. A lot of APs would work extra hours for extra money, but I’d avoid that except for rare instances where you don’t have any advance notice and you can’t leave work absent a life-threatening emergency.

You need someone to cover some of the hours during your work week to free up time for nights and weekends. I haven’t tried this since I’ve worked PT most of the time we’ve hosted APs. I paid extra for the excess hours the first AP worked in the beginning while I was waiting to get approved for PT but I came to regret that. (Nothing bad happened, but I will always wonder if she was actually ok with the arrangement.)

I’d also give some thought to the AP’s 2 weeks of vacation. You may want to schedule those as the same weeks you take vacation or have relatives visiting who will watch your child. The only thing worse than the cost of childcare during the AP’s vacation is the hassle of arranging it. If you haven’t matched with anyone yet, be sure to disclose your vacation policy before matching so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises for the AP later. always has people recommending kids’ programs, nannies and babysitters, so that might be a good place to start. If your neighborhood doesn’t have it, ask a friend who lives nearby to check her NextDoor page.

Mimi September 5, 2016 at 12:52 pm

Going over hours, even if you pay the AP, isn’t a good idea. You’ll burn out the AP and you risk being kicked out of the program. A part-time daycare option or a sitter to supplement the AP would be your best bet. If you can afford a preschool/daycare and the AP, you would have the evening and weekend help you’re looking for.

We rely on our AP to watch out toddler while we’re at work and get the rest off the bus in the afternoon, but HD goes in early and comes home early to cover those gap hours. Weekends and evenings are all us.

FullCircle September 5, 2016 at 10:10 pm

We are on that exact same boat. Our solution was a part-time pre-k 2 mornings a week. That gives us enough extra hours so that she doesn’t go over 45 plus the break during the those 2 days makes it so that she doesn’t work over 10h on days we want her to help a bit later. Without this pre-k we would be at 48-50 as well and I just wouldn’t want the AP working longer hours anyway. The silver lining is that AP can do pick up and drop off from pre-k, prep lunches, etc so this becomes part of her job as well. And we even have a couple hours left for a date night, or running an errand sans kiddo. It adds to the cost, but (at least here) not by much. Where we live there are several programs that were very affordable for 3-5h/day, 2-3 days a week. I hope you can find something similar and make this work for you.

American Host Mom in Europe September 6, 2016 at 3:35 am

It is definitely a challenge. No idea if this would be a good solution or not for the OP, but when my kids were little, we had two au pairs for about 2 years. I had three kids under 2 when we started that (2 newborns and a 1,5 year old), and while I wasn’t a single parent, my husband was gone Monday 6am to Friday night for work. There aren’t the same set rules as the US has for hours, but I didn’t want au pairs working 12 hour days and burning out. So we had two – while the hours varied over the two years based on need, it mostly was one of them from 7am to 3pm, and one 12pm to 8pm. Then later I switched so one was Tuesday through Saturday, and one was Sunday through Thursday, so I had help at the weekends.

In the OP’s case, a regular babysitter for some of the extra time would likely accomplish the same thing.

Singletwinmom September 6, 2016 at 6:59 am

Agree with all…i had mine in a 2day a wk 3hr program starting at 1yr to make the hours work (then 3days week at 3, 5days for prek – all part time and AP helped with transportation) good for them too i think to socialize with other kids. I also had list of babysitters if needed extra help. No family in the area, and this worked fine. It does get much easier time-wise when school starts.

I could not have afforded 2 APs. And tried once to pay AP for extra…mistake. she was then always asking if she could “babysit” either for me or others for the extra money. It is now a no and no….simple against the rules.

Hope things work out! Tough transition for all.

DCBurbTwinMomma September 6, 2016 at 7:09 am

We currently have two au pairs for 4 year-old twins and a soon arriving baby. We are busy as a judge and senior attorney and our schedules can be erratic. We also do 3 hours of pre-school 4x / week. I would also look into a few hours of, preschool, a nanny share or one full day of daycare. It helps to gap from the allowable 45 hours to what is needed. My best intentions to get home are often thwarted by a work issue or train delay. You will want to respect the au pair’s off time and not give the message that rules, in general, are flexible, since this one is being opened for negotiation.

Good luck! It can be done.

Anna September 6, 2016 at 7:53 am

I’ve hosted au pairs when all my kids were too young for preschool. We had a regular babysitter to cover extra 5 or so hours a week… or when husband worked from home sometimes I could rely on him to bridge the gap between her end of the day and my later arrival; but this meant he still had to work later at night.

Another way I was able to do that – but it was still relying on my husband’s later schedule – is to go to work very early (leaving between 5 and 6 am), have my au pair work 7 to 4, so I could arrive home at 4. That meant my kids were sleeping before the start of her shift, but because my husband was home she was not responsible for them. This was still hard because I had to go to bed with the kids, and whenever the bedtime was delayed it was very hard for me to keep waking up at 4:30 am. My commute is an hour long on a very accident-prone highway, so going home commute was often longer than planned. And finally it also relied on the fact that in my workplace the culture is such that many people work from 6 to 2:30 or from 7 to 3:30 or in between…. You don’t want to be the only one keeping a different schedule.

Anonmom September 6, 2016 at 9:15 am

In addition to our au pair, I always scheduled pre-school/pre-k/daycare what ever you want to call it for a few days a week in the AM. This way, the kids could ‘socialize and learn’ and I could extend the au pair’s hours. This way, if the kids were sick, I could ‘save’ the time for those dates. I would drop off on my way to work and have the au pair pick them up. I understand the difficulties working as a single mom-reliable childcare is key. I have found that some of the church based programs were much less expensive than the chain companies for the pre-school programs and more flexible on the days/times.
Since transitioning from au pairs, I now have to find childcare (really just a taxi and food prep!) as well as elder care for my 88 year old mom. That also presents challenges, since I can’t use an au pair for that! They really need to create a program for that!
In addition, as far as ‘school’ is concerned for the au pair, rather than attending weekly classes, there are one week-end programs that cover their educational requirement with little disruption to your family schedule. Best of luck with it!

5kids=aupair September 6, 2016 at 10:10 am

We have a very affordable coop preschool for 2 year olds that is 2 days/week. Some montessori schools take them that young, too. Or a flexible day care for a day a week maybe? How about your soon to be ex-husband, does he have a more flexible work schedule? Any grandma time available during the week to bridge your gap?

NJ Mom September 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

We made a similar arrangement about a year ago in a completely different situation. DH and my work became much more demanding at the same time, and we enrolled DD at a local daycare 2 times a week. That gave us the flexibility to do 10 hr days 3x a week, and a split schedule the other 2x of the week. We had 2 evenings for errands, working late, exercise, etc. AP transported DD to and from daycare. It’s an added expense on top of the AP program – something to consider when determining if the AP program is right for your situation. AP loved the new schedule – said it gave her the benefits of both a regular 5 day/week schedule (no weekend work because we needed all the hours M-F) and a split schedule (for schedule classes, daytime errands, etc)

Anon for this September 6, 2016 at 3:25 pm

I had two au pairs who I paid extra for hours over 45 when kids were younger. I discussed this arrangement before matching and confirmed they were interested in extra cash. Neither burned out, and one of them extended with us for a second year. We do tend to be very generous with car use and offer more independence than some other families. Our APs also end up with about 6 weeks of vacation a year due to the combination of our own vacations and kids going away with grandparents. Finally, if you go this route, I think older APs who’ve had FT jobs in the past are less likely to resent this arrangement.

Sydney mum September 6, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Is a demi-pair an option in the US? They are generally students who have food, room etc in your home in exchange for childcare outside of school hours (up to 20hrs I think) & no weekly pay. I’m wondering if this plus an au pair could be a good option? That’s if you can afford the extra food, utilities & have another spare bedroom.

Dorsi September 9, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Not an option in the US, if you want someone coming from abroad. I’ve heard of people doing this with local students, however.

Schnitzelpizza September 7, 2016 at 6:36 am

I am wondering where exH is in the equation?
I have to admit that I don’t know much about US child custody laws but my impression used to be that there was much more shared / joint custody with children spending time with both parents each week than what I am used to from Germany (where dad usually gets every other weekend and half of all school breaks)? Wouldn’t the child spend some time each week with their father who would be responsible for his own child care arrangements as the AP is hired by mom? At least a few afternoons or weekends each month? Of course that is under the assumption that exH is fit to be a parent and interested in actually caring for his 2-year old and in the area…

If not, I would second some type of additional day care arrangements (nanny share, day care, pre K – whatever is available and financially possible) or hiring a babysitter (wouldn’t necessarily even have to be an evening babysitter, babysitter could do two afternoons a week, AP could then work those hours in the evenings to support mom). Any family in the area that would have time to watch the child once or twice a week? Any possibility to telework? I wouldn’t ask AP to work additional hours for additional pay. Too much that could go wrong with that (plus of course illegal).

Two educares? One to cover mornings, one to cover evenings, both alternating weekends? Two educares would allow for 60 hrs of childcare and will be less expensive than two regular APs that can cover 80 hrs. But of course any solution that comes with two live-in child care providers requires the additional room to house two people (and the additional stress if they don’t get along of course).

But of course it would also depend on how much “more availability in the evenings and weekends” is needed. Are we talking about two evenings a week and a few hours on Sunday afternoon? Or a few hours every evening as an extra set of hands? Through dinner or until in bed and asleep? Full days on weekends?
Every hour that AP is supposed to work during the evenings and on weekends would have to be saved somewhere along the way (and let’s not forget AP needs 1 1/2 days off somewhere). When I was little my mom put me in half-day day care (from 8 am to 12 pm) after my parents got divorced… if AP had mornings off, she could do pick ups, afternoon care and still be scheduled in the evenings (say 12 pm to 7 pm from Monday to Friday, 35 hrs) and a day on the weekend. Or she could spend one morning or an hour each day doing child related chores and still work a bit on the weekends.

It’s not that it can’t be done. It just needs more planning and there is of course more that could go wrong (what if the child is sick for a week and can’t go to daycare?) so more back up plans (what if AP is a dud?). And then of course there is the question of what is available where OP is, what makes sense financially, how many people she is comfortable with caring for her child…
Maybe for now a real nanny with more available hours would be a better idea until the child starts kindergarten in a few years?

HRHM September 12, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Of note, the Educare program is only available to families with school age children and only in certain cities in the US. I tried to get an Educare (I have always had my kids in daycare or preschool) and the agencies all refused.

CozyFarmHM September 9, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Our oldest is in K, and the youngest goes to preschool 3 mornings per week. One of the reasons we looked (and went with) the au pair program is that it is virtually impossible to find other childcare/nanny that will cover an hour in the morning on preschool mornings (preschool starts at 9 and I need to be at work by 8:30/9:00), three afternoons, and two full days. We could not find anyone reliable to work that schedule. The au pair program is fantastic in the flexibility of scheduling. When you take 3 mornings of preschool at 3 hours each out of the au pair schedule, we are able to work our jobs (which are more than 45 hours with commutes) and have a date night.

LatinaAuPair September 29, 2016 at 2:13 am

I have 2 au pair friends who work with a nanny. Their families use the nanny in specific times so the au pair won’t go over extra hours. I guess for the nanny isn’t convenient be called only a few hours per week so both families keep their nannies as cleaners on days they are not covering the au pair. I have another friend whom the grandparents cover her. And the main alternative, that 90% of people in my town do is simply to pay the au pair for the extra hours. It goes between $10 to $15 in my town. It’s illegal and the agency don’t approve it at all because by the contract it’s up to 45 hours per week. Not even 1 hour more is allowed. But we don’t make much money so au pairs are always down for working extra hours and for the parents it’s convenient and easier than finding and paying an outsider for the same thing the au pair can do. As well, like some people said above there is the pre k 2 or 3 days per week that can spare you more 3 hours. Good luck!!

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