Best Practices: Scheduling an Au Pair with a Stay-At-Home Mom

by cv harquail on August 21, 2011

We don’t really have a good term to describe moms who work in the home taking care of their home & family 24/7.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the label “stay at home” mom, because it sounds like a command (Stay at home, mom!). And while work-at-home mom is descriptive– she’s a mom, working at home, right? — we reserve that term for moms who work for pay from their houses.

The problem of terminology points to a problem of legitimacy. We question the legitimacy of moms, work, paid work, unpaid work. And, we question the legitimacy of a mom’s (or dad’s) need for an extra set of caregiving hands when they, the parent, are “at home” all day.

201108211428.jpgWhether we are focus 100% of our time on family-related unpaid work, or we divide our time between paid and unpaid work in or out of our homes, moms who are at home (and dads who are at home) have a legitimate need for childcare help.

We sometimes unconsciously forget that these needs are legitimate, and certainly some people raise their eyebrows when they imagine you the ‘stay at home mom’ having 45 hours of au pair caregiving help so that you can, oh I don’t know, do yoga, eat chocolate, pay bills, care for an ailing parent, raise money for the PTA, train for your marathon, supervise kids’ educations, spend one-on-one time with each of your children, and stay emotionally healthy. Oh, right, and have a date night or two.

Once it’s established for you, your family, and your au pair that your need for childcare help is not to be challenged, the next issue is figuring out your relationship with your au pair.

If both the parent and the au pair are “at home” and available to be “on duty”,  how will you manage who does what, when?

Are you going to switch off, with one of you being ‘on duty’ with the children while the other is free to do other things?

This strategy requires that you train your au pair work independently,  you give her 99% authority, and let him or her work autonomously under your indirect supervision. That’s how most people do it, since that’s what’s required when the parents both work outside the home.

Or, do you plan to double-team, with the both of you working together?

This econd strategy requires that you and your au pair figure out a real-time partnering strategy, where it’s clear who has the decision making and directional authority. That’s much tougher to do, and I’m not quite sure how you get there.

Here’s an email from “Needs Another Set of Hands” who’d love our advice and insights on this challenge….

Hi Everyone-

I am a stay at home mom with 2 small children. I’ m wondering how other stay at home moms schedule the day so as to best utilize the au pair’s help. How do you do this without confusing the kids as to who has the authority, and without frustrating the au pair, while you the parent are always at home with the opportunity to give input or feedback frequently.

I have an au pair as a mother’s helper and babysitter to help me with my baby and toddler. She also helps when I need to run errands without the kids, or when I need to have a date night.

I am stay at home mom, because my partner and I wanted one of us to be at home and spend time with the kids. But I find that often, I’m doing dishes, cooking, cleaning the house, and so on while the au pair is in the back yard playing with the kids.

I understand that many of the household tasks I’m doing can’t be done by the au pair — she can’t do my laundry, my dishes, my vacuuming. But then I think, wow, I hired the au pair so I can have an extra hand to help with the kids, not to watch them while I do dishes/cook/clean all day!!

I get sad when I end up doing other stuff, cleaning at home when I could be spending quality time with the kids, ie: feeding the baby baby food, playing with the toddler at the park, reading the kids books. Sometimes I do need to cook and clean and I appreciate the au pair, taking the toddler on a walk, or watching the toddler and the baby while I cook or catch up on my bills, but I get frustrated when It seems all I do is other stuff, and the au pair spends more time with the kids than I do.

I was wondering if other stay at home moms, who do not work from home, utilize an au pairs help and schedule them to help so that everyone is happy, you, the kids and the au pair.


Here are a few ideas of how my au pair helps us that I found works well for me. Do other stay at home moms have ideas to share about how you work with your au pair as a stay at home mom, or while you are at home when not working at an outside job?

1. Au pair and I take kids to zoo or other outing: Au pair watches baby while I watch older kid. She helps prep diaper bags, and is another set of eyes to watch the kids while we are out.
2. Au pair watches toddler, when I need to take baby to doctors appt.
3. Au pair watches baby, while I take the toddler with me while I go grocery shopping, or out to frozen yogurt for some quality one-on-one time with the toddler
4. Au pair watches both kids while my hubby and I go on a date night
5. Au pair helps prep dinner, assisting me while I cook the dinner, as we both keep an eye on the kids
6. Au pair watches the kids, while I go to the gym and workout

Please let me know how other stay at home moms schedule the au pair to help them and if you have any suggestions, on how I can get the most out of this year at home with an au pair.

Thanks so much! Stay at home mom, who appreciates another set of hands around the house


See also– this great post from Deb Schwartz about managing two au pairs at a time. Many similar issues arise when trying to coordinate two au pairs:

Doubling Up on Au Pairs: Two Times the Challenge

On the flip side, don’t take all the fun stuff:

Share the Cream: Give your AP meaningful work to do

More on ‘stay at home’ moms with au pairs:

Starting out on the right foot, when you’re on maternity leave
Where to Begin: New Host Mom, New Au Pair

Images from Flickr: Two eggs for two girls from Drew Dalgliesh
Independence Day from Vicki & Chuck Rogers


anon August 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

Do you really want an au pair? It sounds to me like you’d be better off with some local help… either a part time housekeeper to take care of the chores or even a college student who can come in when you need and do specifically what you need depending on the day- doing chores (including your own laundry), helping you take the kids to the zoo, or watching both while you have a date night.

Why have an au pair? In my opinion, the 45 hours a week might even create more stress for you- how can you schedule all of that? Secondly, an au pair is generally supposed to take care of your kids more than do chores, that’s why only light housekeeping is allowed and why they can’t do your personal chores. Even assuming she took care of all general chores in the house like dishwashing, that leaves quite a bit of your own personal chores like laundry that she can’t do no matter what. Sounds like inefficient money spending to me. Get a part time babysitter from the local community college and be done with it.

Anonamomma August 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

Gosh – that’s a bit harsh!

E2 August 29, 2011 at 10:19 am

I had a similar reaction when reading this post. Sounds like the HM would really rather be with the kids than cooking & cleaning. A housekeeper that could cook and clean would probably cost less than an au pair and then HM would be the one playing outside with the kids. Occasional babysitting is easy with neighbors/college students/gym childcare.

azmom August 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I’m not a SAHM, but I do work from home and we don’t always need the 45 hours.

I would say that you may need a schedule that’s a bit more specific until you know exactly what’s happening. If you’re going to use the 45 hours you will have to NOT feel guilty about what you are not doing with the kids. Whether or not you have help you will need to wash dishes, vacuum and do your own laundry, so don’t focus on the fact that your kids are having fun while you do household stuff.

Perhaps set a basic schedule like:

7-8 am, AP gets toddler up and washes her sheets with the rest of her clothes. Mom may still be in bed. if baby wakes up, feel free to wake me
8 am- 9 am, mom will give baby a bath while toddler has breakfast with au pair
9 am, au pair gets baby’s food ready for the day while mom takes both kids for a walk
10 am – noon – AP in charge of kids while mom does laundry and vaccums house. Please get lunch ready for kids during this time
12 – 1 pm – mom eats during this time with kids – AP please use this time to tidy up the play room
1-3 pm – mom and AP take kids to the library time and check out books. Please be sure that diaper bag, snack bag are packed. Please load kids into car by 1:05 so we can m ake it for 1:25 as story time is at 1:30.
3-4 pm – home. Please help pick up any stray kid items while we both play with kids.

anonymous for this post August 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I have 6 kids, stay at home, work very part time from home, and homeschool all 6 kids. I use every minute of the 45 hours, and I am at home or tag teaming with the AP for perhaps 2/3 of them.

specific daily kid related chores – Monday, clean, organize and vacuum playroom and kids laundry; Tuesday – wash kids sheets; Wednesday – clean childrens bathroom and tidy all children’s closets; Thursday – tidy childrens items in mudroom, wash out lunchboxes, prepare non-perishable snack bags for school lunches for the week, children’s laundry again; Friday – grocery shop for children’s (or family’s) food; vacuum/clean out areas of car under/on carseats, toys out of car or “car toys” organized, organize/tidy all children’s bookshelves and art supplies.

make children’s lunches the night before. Even for toddlers – great to have lunch prepped the night before and not have to deal with it in the middle of busy days.

take children on playdates and stay with them.

take each child for a walk each day so that mom has 1:1 with other one (adapt for number of children….in my case, 6 walks a day might be a bit unreasonable :))

set reading time with each child, each day. lengh determined by child’s attention span. One of my children would sit with au pair for 2 hours a day reading books. Best use of au pair’s time i could imagine. I love to read with my chidren, but even if I was with child for 2 hours I would be too fidgety and thinking of other things to do, etc. to read non-stop for 2 hours. THis child is the most literate, best reader and abstract thinking, longest attn span of all my children. I attribute it to a year with AP reading 2 hours each day.

AP is in charge of all library books. Checking new ones out with kids 2-3x/week. Keeping track of them, returning them.

shop for school supplies.
take older kids shopping for specific things they need that you don’t need to be there for (project supplies, uniform pieces, birthday presents for friends.)

pre-buy, wrap and label presents for kid birthday parties so that you can grap and go on the day (important in large families with many elem. schoolers)

teach your children your AP’s langauge. DAily lessons, designated time. If toddlers, designated time that AP teaches vocab and only speaks in her language. Even if it is Pasto or Swahili and you aren’t that interested in your child learning it….why not? optimal time for neural connections for 2nd+ language acquisition and sound formation, ear/palate synchronization. Take advantage of it.

Prepare children’s dinners or breakfasts or whichever meal(s) you need help with. Pre-preapare and freeze one afternoon per week per recipes.

Drive children to independent activiites that you don’t need to be there for, but would like someone waiting in the lobby for, or drop, do errands/have free time and pick up.

Childcare during your: dental appointments, doctor’s appointments; classes you take; meetings with tradesmen if you’re doing anything on your house; hair appoints, exercise time for you each day, coffee with your friends, telephone conversations with friends in time zones where you need to do it when your children are up and around.

Walk with kids while kids walk dog (assuming reasonable age of children such that you are not foisting pet care on AP (unless AP really loves your pet and is happy to take little kid/baby in stroller and dog for a walk).

These are all things I use my AP time for in addition to standard – please care for children X, Y and Z while I am out/doing something/homeschool work with children A, B and C…and probably more that I can’t think of now.

And, of course, date nightS. Go out more than once a week with your partner. you don’t have to spend money — go to the library together and read/free lectures/go out for a glass of wine and not dinner (cheap!), take a walk with partner, go grocery shopping in the evening, hang out at a coffee shop and pay bills…
…”hang out” at home with partner and have AP take kids out to a movie..(!!)

cv harquail August 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

What a terrific list of times an au pair can help! The list is also a good reminded of the things that moms (and dads) need to remember to do for themselves to stay sane – so it serves two purposes at once.

australian nanny August 25, 2011 at 1:46 am

I didn’t read this whole post, but I nanny for a stay at home mum (she studies which makes a difference to some extent I suppose) and it works better than I ever thought it would.
I ‘take over’ when I get there, if the kids have homework, it is my job for example, if the kids need shower, I help them. But there are things that she still does, eg, if I am slicing vegetables and the kids are hitting each other, she does the yelling, if I am cooking dinner and the dog is scratching at the door, she lets him out. But if she is in her office, particularly when she points out that she has an essay to write etc, I manage everything.

It may be that to begin with, you have to tell her to do things, make a schedule or lists, make suggestions (“you could start peeling the carrots”), or mention that you need her to be in charge, but eventually it becomes easier- you become more like a team (hopefully)

I realise this is more about how you manage spending quality time with the kids, when the au pair does all the good stuff, but you really do need to communicate this with her. Ask her to do the dishes, because you “promised kid 2 I would help with with his catching”, or ask her to help kid 1 with her homework, because ” I promised kid 3 I would take her swimming”

Also, I know there are times when you need to do YOU things (pluck your eyebrows, go for a walk) so just be clear that you need the me time. Make suggestions for the au pair to do (walk the dog with kid 2 etc)

I think au pairs are generally understanding, but you need to be clear and communicate.
Good luck, sorry this post was a bit rushed!

AuPairCR August 25, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Hello readers, I am an AP, and right now I’m desperate for some advice… I kind of have the same problem but with my HM… its different but similar? Iwould love some input to know what to do.

Me and my HM don’t have the best relationship, it sails between polite and “barely there” kind of thing. She is a stay at home mom, and i take care of her 4 children, they are younger than 8.
PROBLEM 1:At the beginning of my year, she started changing her ways, because she was annoyed by some things i did, we talked about it, i changed things the best that i can, and I am working really hard. With all the cleaning up after the kids, their rooms, the kitchen, the laundry etc. Even though i have done all these things daily I still struggle to get a good reaction out of her, every time i start a conversation she answers with yes or no replies and then we don’t talk anymore, she only addresses me to give me stuff to do. I don’t know what to do…
PROBLEM 2: i really love her kids, they are wonderful and they are all so different, I play with them all day and we get along very well, they say the love me and we hug and it’s a pretty nice relationship, but they are misbehaved, one of them likes to throw tantrums, and the other two boys are very violent sometimes with each other and sometimes with me. I try to handle these things by myself, but it has gotten to a a point i kind off can’t handle it anymore, HM sees when they disrespect me, and hit me or pinch me and does nothing. ex: yesterday at the pool one of them throws a tantrum because he is tired, i tell him to relax he subsequently throws a ball at my face and then kicks me, he is a 5 year old… I say hey don’t do that to me that’s rude, i’m not even yelling she immediately comes to me and scolds me. In my mind i think am i just supposed to let them hit me and talk to me however they want to?

I am starting to resent my stay here… I feel like I do all the work, and trust me when i say she does nothing(she only cooks and drives them), which is fine, that’s why she is paying me for, but she will give me an attitude every time i make the smallest mistake and not even talk nice to me about it… Is it me?
Thank you in advice to anyone who answers me!

kat September 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

are you still with that family? i would say get out of there, this attitude is not going to change.

au pair of 3 princes September 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

How long have you been facing your situations first of all? If it has been occurring more than 3 months I am going to give you the patience ribbon…. ask for a rematch immediately I was in the same situation with my first family plus I was really scared to ask for a rematch because they threaten me by telling me that if I would go in rematch they would tell the families that I was mean to the kids…(I knew by one of my friends that that family was kick out of the au pair program after 8 au pairs who did not ast more than 2 months in that mad house)…believe me when I was in that horrible situation 11 months ago I felt miserable plus they called me studpid south american all the time. Now I am with a wonderful family who treats me like a daughter, they are the nicest peope I have ever met and my life is happy… you would be surprised of how fast your situation could changed if you leave that house… good luck

5kids=aupair February 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I am a SAHM with an au pair as well. HD is either travelling or working 65+ hours per week, so I’m almost a single mom. When I have the AP “on” she is responsible for ALL the care, feeding, etc. I pop in and help but she knows that basically she is in charge and responsible. We do a ton of one-on-one time with kids, both the AP & me. I volunteer a lot at the school w/the older kids, I can shop w/out a toddler, exercise out of the house during nap time, etc. We also use the AP a lot for after school activities, either staying home to watch some while I’m out with the others at their activities or vice versa.

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