From Nannys to Au Pairs: What is it like when you switch?

by cv harquail on March 16, 2010

Some families start with au pairs and stay with au pairs until their kids can drive. Many (most?) parents use an array of childcare options over the course of their parenthood. Lots of us will switch back and forth between different childcare options, depending on what we and our kids need at any given time. For most folks, what triggers a switch to au pairs is a change in their own or their kids schedules that makes their childcare needs something other than 5 weekdays days of 8 to 5 childcare.

A soon-to-be host mom emailed with a question about making this switch from nannies to au pairs.


I have a 4 year old and 1 year old. The 1 year old will start attending pre-school in the fall 3 days a week and my older son will go 5 days so my child care needs/hours will be changing. I have had 3 nannies and one that fell thru after 2 weeks so I feel that I have some experience with child care in my home, the interview process for the nannies, surprise issues and happy circumstances with employing someone to care for my kids…   Also, all 4 nannies have been international w/ English as a second language (but all lived in the US for 5 or more years).

I’d like to know how host parents that have employed nannies and also hosted au pairs would compare and contrast the experience?

What kinds of differences should I expect?

Were there any things that surprised you about having an au pair, based on your experience with a nanny?

I’d love to hear any stories and suggestions– I’m excited about getting an au pair and I really want to make this work well for all of us.

The Nanny! from Jason DeRusha


Alexandra March 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

The flexibility and consistency that comes with an Au Pair usually supercedes what you can find with a nanny. I used a nanny with my twins (who arrived when the first was not even 2 years old). Then after a year I switched to an Au Pair — huge difference in consistency, knowing she would be there, giving me time off with my husband on the weekend (which the nanny couldn’t do easily), plus the whole second language issue. We used ProAuPair which specializes in German Au Pairs and those trained in special needs (which my cousin with an autistic son needed and used) and they are small enough to really give personalized care. I had much more comfort with the Au Pair and paid her actually LESS than the nanny who was less skilled. I dont think our experiences are unique either. Seems to be consistent that au pairs perform at a higher level and are less costly.

Taking a computer lunch March 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

While I never used a nanny, I can attest to the costs of other forms of childcare being higher – and not all of it monetary. We gutted our house to make a handicapped-accessible bed and bath for my daughter, and at the same time also lost the AP bedroom. My daughter is on Medicaid (for children whose medical expenses exceeds a family’s ability to pay – in my daughter’s case over $100,000 a year), so we were eligible for Medicaid to pay for nursing. But it wasn’t “free” at all. In the 11 months we used the nursing agency we went through 25 nurses, and 5 failed to show up for their shift altogether – leaving my neighbors to take my daughter off her schoolbus (one pregnant and one 72 at the time). In addition, the nurses did not have driving as part of their duties, so every time my daughter had a doctor’s appointment, I lost 4 hours of work because I had to go back home, get the car, drive to her school, pick her up and drive her to the hospital. That “free” care cost me all of my holiday time and most of my sick time. The nurses were okay, but they were not loving. They didn’t cuddle my daughter when she cried, or hold her “just because.” They didn’t sing to her, play with her, and most of all they weren’t part of the family. To top it all off, they could not care for my son, so we put him in school-based aftercare.

The minute the house was done we took on another au pair. Sure, the monetary cost was higher, but the love and as the previous poster said, consistency was there. I knew who would be taking my daughter off the bus (and while my daughter is retarded, she isn’t stupid, she absolutely loves having the same person care for her day after day).

While I know many families in our area exit the AP program when all of their children are school-aged, we plan to be in the AP program until my younger child, my son, ages out of the program, and then we’ll have to face the reality of caring with a special needs child in an imperfect situation.

NY Host Mom March 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm

We have three grade school aged children and are with our third au pair. We had live out nannies when they were younger, and switched to an au pair when our youngest entered preschool. I don’t think an aupair is cheaper when you factor in the car insurance, extra car, food, and all the incidentals, but there are tremendous advantages. We enjoy making our aupairs part of the family so we really get to know who they are and how they interact with our children. There is no upheaval during the daily transitions of mommy coming home and nanny leaving. An adventurous young person from a foreign country who is taking a college course is a wonderful role model for our children, and the cultural exposure is great! We’ve collected a few more holidays and special meals. It’s nice having an extra adult in the house, and sometimes my husband and I sneak out for a mini date after everyone is in bed if the aupair is in for the evening (we don’t come close to maxing out our hours of child care when the kids are in school). We have had one negative situation and rematched which was painful for all involved, but we welcomed a wonderful replacement very quickly and I would still recommend hosting an aupair.

Calif Mom March 18, 2010 at 7:58 pm

well said!

Karin Six March 16, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I love positive stories like this! I just came back from a new au pair orientation and it was so nice to see another host family and au pair relationship off to a wonderful start! I asked the kids if I could take her back with me and they all yelled “No!” There was laughter in the house and they are already talking about extending together! :)

Kitty March 17, 2010 at 12:03 am

I’ve found there are pros & cons. A nanny is slightly more flexible in some areas. For ex – different hours needed during school year vs summer. Say you only need a nanny for 24 hrs during school yr but 45 during summer. You can adjust rate, etc w/ a nanny. Or say you take off 4 weeks of the summer, for a nanny you can usually not pay her if she doesn’t work – but not with an aupair. Also you do have the living arrangement. Sometimes with an aupair you wish you had that space back , though usually for us its not a big deal. Also a nanny usually has her own car. And a nanny usually speaks English. Yet an aupair has a lot of pros too. The girls are mostly very good childcare providers, the cost if you have consistent needs is less, and the aupairs love the kids more. I still talk to all my aupairs yet not most of the babysitters or nannies. Especially for young kids, they don’t understand that the nanny is just there to get paid… that the nanny doesn’t want to see them on the weekend or doesn’t get paid to come to their birthday party. Aupairs come to these events and its really nice. As education is important to me, I always pick educated girls and generally the same amount you’d pay an aupair vs nanny you will not get the same education level with a nanny. Also you really know your au pair. You know if they are a drinker or smoker etc … I feel confident with our aupairs character. We’ve had some really questionable nannies. I know its none of my biz what a nanny does on the weekend but I love that I feel like I know our aupairs character well. Its hard to hide character when you live with someone :) We did have 1 rematch w/ an aupair. That was kinda horrible. So if things are not well, having the living arrangement will make it even worse. You can tolerate more if you just see someone an hr a week vs someone who lives in your house.

NannyKelly March 17, 2010 at 6:53 am

This really upsets me that you generalize nannies as “just being there to get paid” and that I “don’t want to see the kids on the weekend or go to their birthday party”. The child I nanny for I am closer to him than the children I au paired for. I would like to see the child on the weekend (occasinally, I do enjoy time with my husband too!) and I would absolutely attend his birthday party! As an au pair, I wasn’t even invited to the children’s birthdays.

NJnanny May 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm

I’m not sure where you live or what experience you have (directly or otherwise) with nannies, but I think you’re way off the mark. I think age plays a part in educational background of both nannies and aupairs. I know some aupairs who have some college under their belts, but most don’t. I know several nannies, however, who are college grads, several with masters degrees or in progress, and even more who are college-educated (though not completed). The nanny demographics are changing in this country and the overwhelming majority of the nannies I know are 20-somethings from middle-class families in the west/midwest. It’s unfair to say that aupairs love their charges more and, in my experience, plain untrue.

All of the girls I know (with the exceptions of the married girls) are live-ins and work well more than a number of the aupairs we know, both in hours and duties performed. And any girl smart enough to have a contract would never stand for 4 weeks of unpaid time at the whim of the family. I get paid 52 weeks of the year, regardless.

aussiegirlaupair March 17, 2010 at 5:33 am

Can somebody please explain to me exactly what the difference between an aupair and a Nanny is in North America? I am just interested to know!

I have spend one year as a Nanny and one year as an Aupair(with CC)(both in North America) I was responsiblities were very similar, I work similar hours, the main difference being the pay!

I am about to do a repeat year with CC( super exicited 15 weeks to go not that I am counting) and can’t wait working with children is my choosen career and I LOVE IT!

Joyce March 30, 2010 at 10:56 am

Nanny’s are your employees and they can be “live in” or “live out”. Most nannies in my area, are hired directly by the families and the contract and other arrangements (hourly pay, vacation, rules) are between the family and the nanny. There are seperate brokers that can help you find a nanny and hire a nanny but most in my area do it more by word of mouth. Nannies are not restricted to the number of hours they work. There is no requirement to pay for education though I know I paid for my first nanny to take a first aid and english as a second language class.

momto2 March 17, 2010 at 6:50 am

I agree with Kitty that there are many pros and cons, and you have to weigh them all and decide what is best for your family. We employed older, live-out nannies while our children were babies, since we were more comfortable leaving our infants in the care of women who were mothers/grandmothers. We were going for maternal instinct, which was important to us. As our kids got a little older and could express themselves better and they wanted to play soccer, football and go roller blading, this was hard for a grandmotherly nanny to do. We then decided to explore the au pair program.

Our transition was rough because we expected our au pairs to just know how to care for kids and manage behavior by setting limits–like our nannies did. This was not the case with the first two au pairs we hired, so we ended up in rematch. We realized we needed to ask better, harder questions during the interviews, which helped us to avoid making the same mistakes. We have selected 3 excellent au pairs since then.

The flexibility is helpful of having live-in childcare when there is an emergency at work, especially in our situation when we do not typically reach the 45 hour limit–we can just ask them to work an extra hour or so which we have to spare. It is also nice to see our au pairs running around the yard playing football and keeping up with our active kids. We do long for quiet Fridays and Saturdays in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine (ahem), but the pros generally outweigh the cons for us.

Tanja March 17, 2010 at 8:17 am

Would you share the “better, harder questions” that you ask in the interview?

Calif Mom March 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

Better, harder questions can be found right here:

I built a new list of questions based on this post and comments–because so much is specific to the ages of your kids and your personal priorities, you really need to tailor a new list each time–and the ideas in this post made interviewing much less nerve-wracking this time around. With a less-than-stellar track record of interviewing, I’m hopeful we have found a great one right out of the ‘pool’ this time.

So thanks to everyone who threw out a comment! (Still can’t get Skype to work on our Mac laptop though. Grrr.)

[CV–this is a great post but a little hard to find thru the search and categories functions (or maybe I’m just tired from the time change)]

Anna March 17, 2010 at 7:45 am

Before we switched to au pairs, we’ve had live-in and live-out nannies.

Overall, I much prefer our experience with au pairs.

The only possible drawback with the au pair program is the restriction in total hours (harder to work with when your kids are babies and home all day).
All the other things, for us, were plusses with au pairs vs. nannies.

One difference that I haven’t seen mentioned here, and I personally experienced several times, is when the nanny quits suddenly – i.e. lets you know Fri that on Mon she is not coming – a working parent is left hanging with no immediate options for the kids with very short notice. With au pairs and rematches (and we did go through two), you often have two weeks to scramble for backup or find somebody new, and you know that the agency will try to find you a replacement. It is not a guarantee of course, but you know you can go back to the pool and you know you can find somebody.

Options. Yes, when we were interviewing nannies, at our price point (at the bottom of “acceptable” range) we had very few choices. In addition, we needed somebody who could work here legally; that shrunk our choices even more!

Legality of the program. With the jobs we have, very important to us. Many people who make their living as nannies in our area, are not in US legally, or if they are, don’t have a legal right to work here.

Age. Yes, unexpectedly, I found that young age of au pairs is a definite plus. Before I thought that an experience of being a mother, as most nannies have had, was invaluable (most were in their fifties and older). After I had a horrible nanny who was a mother of three herself, I changed my mind. Being young, au pairs are more flexible to do things for the kids the way you want, instead of coming with the baggage of how they did things for their own kids and what they think is right… Also, no nanny I’ve had would be able to do what my au pairs did with my kids – take loooong walks with a double jogging stroller to and from nearby parks…It is physically taxing to be with young kids, and a young person can do it more easily, without complaint.

And finally, the personal element. With nannies, it is their job. They have (or have had) their families, their own lives. Yes, they do love your kids eventually, and they might like you. But for the au pairs, you ARE part of their life, for a very important and transformative year. There is a potential for a much closer and meaningful personal relationship. I like that.

Money. I am not even talking about money, it is an obvious difference. With $340 a week that the program costs us overall, and $500+ a week that a cheapest live-in (cheaper than leave-out) nanny commands now in my area, the difference is felt.

Oh, and the fact that au pairs have health insurance… a huge piece of mind. Most nannies didn’t, and to help them pay for it would make us broke.

Mom23 March 17, 2010 at 9:48 am

Anna — an au pair can quit suddenly too. We were in rematch anyway, but one night the au pair just left in the middle of the night (I suspect she had done the same with her first family as well). It was pretty devastating for the kids.

Anna March 17, 2010 at 11:04 am

You are right. But at least you have an agency who will try to find you somebody, sometimes for a short term even… With a nanny, you never know how soon you can find a new one, you don’t even know when you can get someone to interview!
With the au pair agency, they always have some in-country au pair options you can start talking to right away.
It is just more peace of mind for me and more definite future.

Calif Mom March 18, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I absolutely agree that APs are a little more stable, and you aren’t quite held hostage by requests for salary increases, or paid health insurance, or or or. For us, there was always a family who could pay more sitting next to them on the bench at the park.

APs have been more stable. Also more integrated into the spectrum of the kids’ lives. They know first hand how we re-direct the little one when she’s playing with the big one’s toys, etc because she’s with us more. So it’s smoother all around.

And you can bring them on trips and not have to pay $100 for a sitter you’ve never met so you can go to a bar for a couple hours in a fun city (for example).

Anonymous March 17, 2010 at 8:34 am

We had a nanny for two years before entering the AP program, and while she was super, we’ve preferred having an AP. Our nanny was live-out, and there wasn’t the same flexibility with yours. If your nanny is live-in, there won’t be as much of a transistion. That was the biggest change for us – having someone live with us and be part of our family. With our nanny – although she was awesome – it was a job, and when her time was over, she went home to her own family, and we didn’t see her again until the following day.

The AP program was slightly more expensive for us because of the need for a third car and car insurance – expenses that we didn’t have with the nanny. Our current AP will be leaving us soon, and although we considered hiring a nanny, we ended up sticking with the AP program.

StephinBoston March 17, 2010 at 9:16 am

We’ve had both since our first child was born in 2004. I loved our second nanny who was with us for 2 years, still talk to her today. But I found that is was more difficult with the schedule and things like sicks days, traffic jams, car issues, etc. Au pairs being in your house cuts down on a lot of possible hiccups, not saying it’s perfect but it is easier and definitely more flexible. In the Boston Area, an au pair runs close to $10k less a year even factoring car, car insurance, room and board, etc. Going rate for nannies is very high here, you have to pay worker’s comp, health insurance, etc. for me, it’s really a no brainer, we’ll have au pairs until my kids can safely entertain themselves at home while I work (from home) which means we have many many years to go :-)
Switching was easy for us, and I’ve really enjoyed all 3 of our au pairs who have all brought very different personalities and cultures to our house. Matching with the 4th now, time really flies!

Mom23 March 17, 2010 at 9:41 am

I feel that we have done everything — daycare (first child), nanny, au pair and currently a live-in student.

We had some amazing au pairs, who were warm energetic and loving with the children. We had two that thought that their driving abilities were better than they were that ended in rematch, one who was homesick for a boyfriend back home and left after four months after using our house as a hotel for her friends for 3+ weeks and one who was all around pretty awful. Not a great track record, although the ones who were great we are still in touch with and we will get to see one of our former au pairs this summer in her home country. What attracted us to the au pair program was the consistency of care — the same person would take care of the kids when we were at work as when we went out on date nights.

For us, the cost of using an au pair is greater than the cost of a nanny. We need on average about 20 hours of childcare a week during the school year and full time in the summer. This school year not having an au pair we have missed some of the extra things that an au pair will do for the kids — making their lunches, doing their laundry and coming home to having the kids breakfast dishes in the dish washer. The other thing that has been a challenge is filling in on school conference days, snow days, etc.

We currently have a graduate student who lives in our house and takes care of the kids a few hours each day. She is more mature than our former au pairs and just as loving as they were. She is a little more distant than an au pair in terms of her emotional involvement with our family and we rarely see her on weekends, but we do like her a lot and feel that in other respects she is very much like an au pair (just without the flexibility of an au pair in terms of filling in).

Busy Mom March 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Mom23, how did you find the grad student? As our kids age, our main needs are for someone who drives and who can prepare simple, healthy meals for them. I’ve thought about switching to a part-time college student, but I’ve heard that they sometime flake out at exam time.

Mom23 March 19, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I had two great candidates. One a grad student and one a teaching assistant who would have been able to take care of my kids after she got off work. One I found on Craigs List the other through word of mouth.

We tried a college student once and we were always her last priority, her sorority, her spring break, etc. always came first. We liked her, it was just good that the time we had her our jobs were very flexible.

Soccer Mom March 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Check out where you can search on certain criteria and contact candidates, or post a childcare position and let people apply online. We had to use it to fill a childcare gap between au pairs recently. Lots of college students on there, but other types of candidates as well.

Talliecat March 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm

We have done everything from daycare to nanny to au pair. While we were very pleased with our last nanny the cost after a while seemed like a drag. We also had to work around a schedule ( she was very involved in her church). For me the one big pro is that you can actually meet a nanny and interview them in person so you can meet the person. I also do like the fact that a nanny in most cases has more childcare experience and more life experience than an au pair. While our au pair is great now it has taken many months of instructions, discussions etc, to get her where she is now. Many au pairs have never had jobs before so they do not know what is expected of them. I also can appreciate the before school care and the flexibility of having an au pair. I travel for work so it really is the only situation that would work now.

alsoamomtotwo March 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Let me preface this by telling you about our experience with nannies. Before we started the au pair program, we had four fantastic, mature, loving, energetic, and hard working nannies. We never had a bad experience with nannies. We only switched to the au pair program because we needed more flexibility with the hours.

Although we are about to start with our second au pair, I think there are hidden costs to hiring an au pair. When you compare what a nanny does vs. what an au pair is allowed to do, it is not as cost effective to hire an au pair as you might think it is.

For example, an au pair is only allowed to work 45 hours per week. She is not allowed to work over 10 hours per day and must have at least 1.5 consecutive days off per week. If you occasionally need more than 45 hours per week or more than 10 hours per day, you will have to hire a nanny or babysitter for the extra hours. In fact, some families need someone to work over 10 hours of time per day. Legally, you are also not allowed to leave your children overnight with an au pair (because it would add up to over 10 hours in a day, since sleeping hours are counted as working hours). Therefore, if you need the au pair to work over ten hours a day or to have a week-end away with your hubby, you will need to hire someone else. This, to me, is an extra cost.

Another example, which I experienced with our first au pair: an au pair is only allowed to cook and clean for the children. Many nannies where we live (in California) are willing to cook and clean for the entire family. Thus, before we hired our au pair, our nanny not only cared for the children, but if the children were at school, she would clean the house, wash/dry/put away all our clothes, and gladly cook for the entire family. Since my husband and I both work full-time, we need someone to help us with cleaning and cooking, so that we can spend time with the kids when we come home. An au pair will not (or is not allowed to) do all these chores, even though she is supposed to be a “part of the family”. Thus, in addition to paying the au pair, we have to pay a woman who comes several times a week to cook and clean.

I also think that the extra cost of car insurance and gas are hidden costs. Compared to a local nanny who knows her way around, who has many years of experience driving children, and who clearly will only use your car for purposes of driving your kids (and not for her own pleasure), an au pair needs to learn the rules of the road in the U.S., learn her way around, and you have to make sure that she does not abuse the wear and tear that she puts on your car, since she might be using it to go out with her friends. Same with the cell phone, in my opinion: most nannies around here have their own cell phone and pay their own bills; that is not the case with an au pair.

Calif Mom March 18, 2010 at 8:10 pm

You had fantastic nannies! I certainly never had a nanny who would clean and cook–I had to hire that separately (bay area).

The 45 hours are def a problem in the summer. Once your AP has been with you awhile, you’ll find most are okay with spending a night with the kids so you can run away for an overnight.

Cars are a hidden potential cost, but the same was true when our nanny drove our car. Few in my current metro area will use their own, and they want above the federal reimbursement rate.

Hidden costs, hidden benefits. For us, au pairs are much more fun, less stressful (believe it or not) and a lot less cost.

Taking a computer lunch March 19, 2010 at 6:47 am

Our first AP gave my husband and I a night alone two weeks before my daughter had brain surgery. It was godsend to have that time off, because for five weeks after the brain surgery we rarely slept together at all (one of us always sleeps in the hospital with her – she can’t talk or sign). This AP also spent 3 nights in hospital with my daughter (and received the day after off), which helped my husband and I catch up with much-needed sleep. We didn’t ask for any of those things, they were a gift. (I can still count on both hands the nights DH and I have not slept in the same place as at least one of the kids, and they are now 9 and 11.) We did not approach the gift as “it was the least she could do,” we were extremely grateful.

Anna March 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm


we could not afford a nanny who would also clean and cook. So our nannies didn’t do anything around the house than an au pair couldn’t do. I also didn’t ask them, because when we had nannies my youngest was a baby, and I realized that she couldn’t do much else without depriving my baby of attention.
I can see how it could work, in case you could get a nanny with a questionalble visa or immigration status. For somebody with the right to work here, to have those additional responsibilities would command a higher salary, at least in our locality.
I do think it is rare to find a nanny who is willing to do so much housework, even if you pay well. It might not be practical also, especially if the kids are young and demand a lot of energy – could lead to burnout fast. This is a job of several people (although stay at home moms do it all the time without any pay at all, LOL) And to find a nanny who is flexible enough to babysit for weekends away is also rare. You have been very lucky with your nannies.

Our car insurance didn’t go up at all with adding au pairs to it. But our au pairs have a local license, and they are older.

zanon March 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I’ve had live out and live in nannies plus numerous au pairs. The core difference I find between the two roles is that the nanny starts out as your employee and could become a family member. The au pair is your employee and family member from the beginning. If things don’t turn out well with the nanny, with no qualms, you can let them go. You don’t have to expend the effort to work things out if you don’t want to. With an au pair, your intent is to create a family bond up front. I find that it’s sad to break that bond. I’ve kept au pairs longer than I should have because it was easier to keep a poor performing au pair than to go through the emotional trauma of letting them go.

The ideal with the nanny is to have an excellent employee who grows to become a family member. The ideal with the au pair is to form a familial bond through which you can create an excellent employee.

alsoamomtotwo March 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Dear Anna,
I live in Northern California and nannies are VERY expensive here. Some nannies here command up to $20 per hour. I have always paid about $15 to $16 per hour and NONE of them had a questionable visa status. All of them spoke good English, were in the thirties or forties, drove well, and all of them helped around the house. When my kids were younger, they napped and our nannies had time to do other things; at that time, they worked 40 to 45 hours per week. We were upfront about the hours and the housework when we interviewed them. All of them became part of our family, and yes, even now, they still visit us and reminisce of how much they miss us as employers. None of them burned out or I would have known about it :-).

Now that the kids are in school, I need about 30 to 35 hours of help. Before I had an au pair, our nanny would come to our house an hour or two before picking up the kids and do the housework. Occasionally, I also had the flexibility, when the kids were home from school, to ask the nannies to work 50+ hours. Of course, that cost an arm and a leg.

I’m just highlighting the differences between nannies and au pairs. For me, it has not been that big a difference financially hiring an au pair because I have had to hire cleaning and cooking help as well. I have also had to provide the au pair with a cell phone, a car, and room and board that a nanny did not require. So far, the au pairs have not been as mature as our nannies, but I am getting better at choosing them. For us, it is about flexibility.

Hula Gal March 19, 2010 at 11:00 am

I just want to say that I have really appreciated this thread. All of the comments have been very productive and thoughtful. My husband and I spent a lot of time deciding between a nanny and an au pair. When things got tough with our first two au pairs I was so upset that we didn’t just go the nanny route. But now that we are 8 months into a third and successful au pair match I am much happier with the program and these comments have reaffirmed our decision to stick with the au pair program. Thanks everyone!

Karin Six March 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I just wanted to chime in and say that I also enjoy reading the comments here! Great insight!

TX Mom March 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm

This is good timing, too. The school year is winding down many of us are planning for a change in schedule (either summer or next fall.)

Busy Mom March 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm

We’ve had 6 live-in nannies and 2 au pairs over 12 years. As background, five of them were American-born women in their early 20s who had at least a 2-year degree if not a college degree. Having had live-in nannies, we had the infrastructure (3rd car, room, bedding, computer, etc.) already in place for an au pair. Others have commented on cost (au pair saves us 10 grand a year) and flexibility of duties (boy, do I miss having a nanny who would run around to 4 stores in search of white gloves for a dance recital). We keep in touch with all but one.

I’ll focus on the operational differences. I don’t mean to imply that ALL nannies or ALL au pairs are like this, these are simply my observations.

All my nannies could cook, follow a recipe and come up with new healthy things for the girls to eat (my 1st AP could not do this and I hear this echoed on this blog) (guess those home ec classes really do accomplish something!)

My nannies were much more independent and self-sufficient about life in general, even adjusting my expectations for someone being in a foreign environment

My nannies (and they didn’t have a whole lot of childcare exp) were more willing and able to follow through on our discipline techniques (my 1st AP would get into yelling matches with my youngest and my 2nd AP doesn’t want to discipline…)

Our nannies had solid driving skills on day one and I was able to run DMV checks before hiring

Once my youngest was in school full-time, we switched to an au pair. It’s been good exposure to other cultures for our kids and we’ve enjoyed the company of our aupairs, but, to be perfectly honest, the primary motivators in switching were cost savings and flexibility of hours. My live-in nannies worked 55 hours/week and there is an expectation that they will be paid from x a.m. to y p.m. even if they have an hour or two of down time in the middle. The convention with au pairs is to not count that hour or two of downtime toward the 45 and that gives us more flexibility for coverage for evening events & activities.

I do wonder how long this is sustainable because I don’t know how many au pairs out there want a job that’s mostly involves meal preparation, driving and laundry for 3 very self-sufficient older kids.

AMommyMous March 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the pool of APs who might desire exactly what you need! Just be honest when interviewing them. Some extension APs are really interested in concentrating on their studies and having a bit more “relaxing” year if they have been with a family with younger children needing more intensive care. Not our personal experience yet, but I know other families in our cluster who have teens and keep getting new APs for precisely the reaons you list above, and all involved have been extremely happy with the situation!

'sota gal March 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm

We have used day care, live out nannies and au pairs. The things that I have enjoyed about our nannies have been the fact that they have all been “up to speed” on the basics. They know how the kitchen appliances work, they are comfortable driving children (and I can check them out with the DMV) and in general they are familiar with how americans raise their kids. In our experience, they are also more supportive in transitions with the kids, i.e. have been better at helping with potty training or nap changes. The nannies that we have had have also been great with engaging our children, only one au pair has been creative, energetic and engaging with them.

With our au pairs, I have yet to have help with potty training, in fact any progress that I currently make with our twins at home or at their preschool is erased with just one day at home with the AP. With our most recent AP, she was so overwhelmed with the small things like different light switches, that I found it difficult to train her on her real job. It has taken a month to get her comfortable. On the other hand, we do love that we have consistent care for our kids along with great flexibility. My DH travels for work so while most weeks her schedule is very predictable, there is one week every 4-6 that is very unusual. Since we have no family where we live, we also love having the extended family of an au pair. We also open our home to AP’s whose HF’s may be traveling during the holiday’s and leaving their au pair behind. Last Christmas we had our AP plus 2 of her friends and we all had a blast!

Even with the difficulties that there are in the beginning as an au pair transitions into the family, it is certainly worth it for us.

AMommyMous March 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Oooh, I’m relieved (no pun intended) to hear that we’re not the only ones having the potty-learning process regression problem!
We have a weekend with no accidents, and the preschool days are fine, but every day the AP is with ours, she has multiple accidents. The signs that she has to go are blatantly obvious to me and every mother I know (clutching groin, wiggling and hopping from foot to foot!), not to mention I’ve suggested setting a timer for every 90 minutes and just try to go even if daughter says she doesn’t have to go: 95% of the time, it’s a conditioned response once she’s seated on the toilet), I’ve had her read books, told her not to punish or put the child in time out when she has an accident (as was happening until my daughter “tattled”)–I don’t know what else to do.

'sota gal March 21, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I have resorted to insisting she use the timer- our twins are totally conditioned to it so they respond well. So now she has to set the time for every 60 minutes (more for her than the girls) and tell them “when the timer beeps it is time to go potty”. They do not argue with the timer at all, though they are know for getting into great debates with an adult making the request. Myself and DH both work from home so we can hear the timer and she knows this. It seems that the accountability on her end seems to be working better than any thing else we’ve tried. Our nanny was the one to instigate potty training with our oldest, and she filled us in on what she was doing after the fact….

Does she have to do the laundry from all of the accidents? I would think that a decrease in laundry for your au pair would be a HUGE incentive – at least it is for me! I’m sure you’ve done this as well, but maybe have her spend some time with you and your daughter on the weekend so you can show her what your daughter does when she has to go. Maybe learning visually will better teach it than a book. That will also help her with your daughter when they are out, having an accident at a play date or the park is never fun for anyone.

A friend of mine has an in-home day care and she potties all of her kids before and after. Before we play, we all go potty. When we come in, ditto. Before/after snack, lunch, nap, etc. She swears by it.

Good luck!

Anna March 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Our au pair trained our son in a couple of days!
The previous au pair who was bad and we eventually rematched, had it on her “to do” list with zero results. He was ready and it would’ve been easy, but she just wasn’t a good au pair and kids didn’t particularly listen to her or love her.
The new au pair just arrived, I told her to do it, and lo and behold, in a week he was in underwear without much fuss!

In Nanny Search Hell March 31, 2010 at 11:33 pm

We just sent our AP into transition, but not just because of the potty training issue – that was just one of many major issues. Our son was having many accidents a day with her, and rarely with others. One day she chose not to change him to a pull up at nap and after he predictably left a puddle on the bed she pulled the covers over it in hopes it would dry. It was the day before our cleaners were to come, so she figured he would only sleep in peed-on sheets for one night. The sheets did not dry by bed time though, so I discovered the cover up and it was a fun night changing sheets and the mattress pad right at bed time. I did ask why the next morning and I got “I forgot.” Also, she would throw any urine-soaked clothes in the laundry basket in his closet and close the door, even after we asked her not to do that and gave her other acceptable options. These are only the potty training-related laziness examples. My kids’ best interests did not appear to be a top priority so that along with major trust issues forced us to send her into transition (our 6th AP, 1st transition). Now we are having trouble finding a nanny to fill the gap until our next AP is already scheduled to arrive.

Jem March 20, 2010 at 9:52 pm

We have had full time daycare, live-out nanny and currently au pairs. Our nanny was a woman in her 50s who had tons of childcare experience and knowledge. However, her husband was newly unemployed and she had a ton of worries that she brought to the job on a daily basis. Even though she had her own car, it soon began to break down and eventually became unusable for a good part of the time. At the end of each day, she was also in a big hurry to get home and cook dinner for her husband. She was always busy grocery shopping for him and pre-making food to take home. It was obvious that her obligations at her home took precedent over the obligations in our home. Additionally, she started asking us to pay for health insurance even though we were already paying over 500/wk. We had another baby on the way and she made it clear that she wanted a raise when he arrived. This level of pay was really far beyond what we can afford. At this point we knew we had to switch to an au pair. It was a combination of issues not just limited to finances that led to this decision. We are really happy with our decision thus far!

It is wonderful that an au pair does not have another family to take care of, cook for, and shop for. This really allows her to have lots of energy for your family. Additionally, you can feel confident that the car she drives is serviced regularly and fully operational (something I was quite concerned about with our nanny). Additionally, au pairs have health insurance and this give me peace of mind. With the au pair, there is an additional personal relationship that does not exist with a live-out nanny. All of these things make for a more smooth childcare experience. The best part of having the au pair is that they are there in the morning and you do not have to wait for them to arrive.

If you are making the switch from nanny to au pair, I would advise you to read this blog carefully and create a family handbook before the au pair arrives. I would lean towards being strict about everything with au pairs in the beginning and only give way on certain issues as the relationship develops. I think that the biggest mistake first time host parents make is to be too lenient about things that really matter to them. Good luck!

Joyce March 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

Hi all – I’m the original mom that sent in the question and I’ve enjoyed reading all the responses! Thank you so much for your insights. As I stated in my original e-mail to the blog, I’ve had 4 nannies in 4 years. They have all been very different and I’ve certainly learned what is important to our family. It’s changed over the years from taking care of babies to pre-schoolers. My youngest is not yet potty trained but now I have more experience myself (I have to say that my nanny at the time *was* more experienced then me as she had been an aupair and then a live in nanny for a prior family).

As many have stated, for us it comes down to flexibility and cost. In my area, nannies make $700+ a week (for 45 hours) and we also hire a seperate cleaning person. All my nannies actually help(ed) alot with cooking and clean up and I’ve never had a nanny refuse to do laundry for the whole family. We had one nanny who quit after 2 weeks (my older son was too spirited) and we had one nanny who was very controlling and I butted heads with alot (though she did help us with the potty training…her authoritative nature helped in that area :->) She left and went back to her country after 6 months. Our current nanny has been with us 1 year and we love her. She’s more experienced but behaves more like a grandmother. The kids LOVE her but she lacks in the discipline area (and my spirted older does need discipline). So, I guess really, it helps to know what you need, set expectations up front, and be flexible but willing to “rematch” when it isn’t working !! With nannies or with au pairs.

(Oh, and to the point that others made about coming to birthday parties. We have always invited our nannies to our kids parties. And though I know they love the kids, they have never attended. Our first nanny had a second job as a cleaning person and didn’t come. Plus, she was very nervous about her English. The last more grandmotherly nanny is deathly afraid of bad weather and didn’t feel she could venture out in the wintery rain. )

NJnanny May 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm

where do you live?! At $600/wk (after 4 years with the family) I’m at the top of the paygrade of all the girls I know. :\

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