An Au Pair’s primary role is child care– as in, caring for the actual child.
Virtually no young adult comes to the US for a year to do a kid’s laundry, make the kid’s bed, or clean splashed applesauce off the kitchen floor. While the child-related housework chores are certainly part of the tasks that an au pair might be responsible for, these sorts of chores should not be the main focus of any au pair’s work week.
You won’t find a statement that clear on an agency’s site, because it’s my opinion. Yet it’s not only my opinion, it’s how the au pair program is explained and ‘sold’ — to both au pairs and host parents.
That’s why, when I read this au pair’s email, below, I could imagine how a host parent could lure her/himself into thinking that au pairs could be primarily housekeepers, and at the same time I could imagine why an au pair would get upset about spending 30-35 hours a week doing housework.
The Au Pair program is a childcare program, not a way to get a housekeeper who can do a little babysitting.
It’s true that the state department rules do not delineate how much of an au pair’s week can be spent on child-related household chores vs. direct care for the child. This is a grey area– and with grey areas, we look at the spirit of the program to guide our interpretations of what is fair or appropriate.
There are only three situations that I can think of where having an au pair do more ‘chores’ than direct ‘care’ might be appropriate:
1. If a host family and an au pair made this agreement before they matched, and the au pair did not feel pressured into agreeing, then a “non-conventional work load” – like 34 hrs of chores and 10 hours of direct care balance — would be ‘okay’. But if the host family sprung this on an au pair after the au pair matched, that would seem unfair.
2. If a host family had teenagers (i.e., children who were largely able to care for themselves) and needed mostly chauffeuring and someone around to make sure they didn’t light the house on fire, having a large portion of the work be driving (which is, to me, less problematic than laundry or vacuuming) vs. helping the kids with homework, would seem fair to me.
(And in this case, I’d try to find ways to have the au pair and kids interact during the drive– maybe even stop at Starbucks for a drink and a chat– so that the au pair could have a person-to-person connection with the kids.)
3. Finally, if the shift in emphasis was only temporary, say- if the family was going on vacation, the au pair was staying behind, and the family found 20 hours of non-childcare but still child related tasks to do — that would seem fine.
But think about it– when we interview prospective au pair candidates, what do we look for? We host parents look for au pairs who like kids, who have values and personalities that fit with ours, and who are here for a family-centered cultural adventure.
None of us asks prospective au pairs how well they vacuum, or what kinds of dish soap they prefer. Right?
Au Pairs are here to care for children, and to have a large part of that care be person-to-person.
Here’s the email that prompted this post– what advice do you have for this au pair?
Also, I’m predicting he’ll be up for rematch. He seems like he’d make a *wonderful* au pair for a family who wants an au pair to interactively care for their kids.
This is the start of my 4th week as an au pair. I’m looking after 4 children.
My Host dad works mon-fri 6:30 – 18:30 and my Host mom is a stay at home mom. They have had a full-time nanny for 8 years prior to my arrival. The kids ages are 5, 7, 9, 11 and they all attend school mon-fri from 8:30 – 15:30.
My question is related to working hours. My host parents make sure that I am working the maximum of 45hrs per week. from 7am-9am, then 2pm-8pm weekdays, and 5 hours on a Saturday. Should I be performing household duties such as laundry and vacuuming an hour and a half before the kids get home from school, and continuing housework coupled with childcare duties throughout the rest of the day up until 8pm? …
I would like advice on guidelines that specify exactly what constitutes childcare work hours and if my host parents should be maximizing my 45 hrs per week by adding housework hours when the kids are at school, thus minimizing the hours of interaction with the kids relating to actual childcare.