I’m a mom, employed part-time, who is thinking about getting an au pair. I’m thinking of having an au pair to (1) care for my kids while I’m working, (2) work with me as a mother’s helper as I care for the children, and (3) make it possible to get other things done (like, have date night, etc.).
This would be a less structured situation than most au pairs have. I’d certainly add structure by having a weekly schedule.
I’d also probably start the “year” by working about 15-20 hours a week when the au pair first arrives and increase throughout the year to 30 or 35.
Any tips on how to do this? Thanks! JHM
For most of us, that kind of distribution of au pair time would be terrific. Many of us use all our on-duty hours for childcare while we are working full time, but those of us who work less than 45 hours a week love to have an au pair cover date night or even a trip to the grocery story. It is less common for au pairs and host parents to double team active childcare, but many do it and it works out just fine. So, I don’t see too many challenges with the distribution of your au pair’s on-duty schedule. And I’m sure that host parent readers will have some suggestions on how to make this work.
The bigger concern is with the idea of starting light and then ramping up the schedule over time.
In general, our advice is to ‘start firm, then relax’. This way, changes feel like they lighten up the burden and/or add privileges. In the other direction, starting light and ramping up, every change increases the burden.
I’d advise against giving your au pair a very light schedule, with the intent to ramp up as you go.
It is very hard to prepare an au pair to easily accept these increases. Regardless of what we say, it’s what we do that makes the impression. And when you schedule your au pair for only 15-20 hours the first several weeks, that’s the schedule s/he comes to expect. Later, when you want to ramp up to a fuller schedule, your au pair may understand this intellectually but still resent it emotionally.
S/he has set her / his psychological contract to be 15-20 hours of work for $190, so when you ask for 30-35 hours for the same $190, s/he feels cheated or asked to do too much. While a very mature au pair can handle this, and while you can be very explicit in advance about how her/his schedule will change over time, you can’t rely on au pair maturity or advance warning to prevent the feeling of being asked to do “more”.
Many host families have a similar kind of challenge when their au pair joins them during a ‘light work’ season (for some families, this is summertime – day camp season, for others it’s the school year) and then the whole family’s schedule changes with the new season. In these situations, au pairs often succumb to Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome. Even with explicit preparation up front (like, showing an au pair during match how the summer schedule compares to the winter schedule), families and au pairs find this shift to be challenging.
One way to try to avoid this problem would be to get an EduCare au pair.. Their work expectation is 30 hours a week with pocket money of $147. Asking an EduCare au pair to work 15-20 hours per weeks is still asking him/her to work just more than half a week, but is more in line in terms of hours to pocket money.
Another alternative might be to ask yourself if there are ways that you (alone or with your host parent partner) could use some additional hours of childcare for projects, initiatives, and activities you haven’t considered. This might be your chance to volunteer for something important to you, to start an exercise program, to spend some focused one-on-one time with each child, or even do all those endless chores that otherwise just get transferred from one to-do list to another.
What else should JHM consider if she wants to ramp up au pair hours?
image: So many scenic hills to climb … from Mark Stosberg