From “Part Time” to “Full Time”: Can I ramp up my au pair’s hours over time?

by cv harquail on July 7, 2010

Dear AuPairMom,

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

201007071327.jpgDear 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?

See Also:
EduCare or Regular Au Pair?
4 Ways to Reduce “Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome”

image: So many scenic hills to climb … from Mark Stosberg


Taking a Computer Lunch July 7, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I have school-aged children, one with special needs and the other who is typical (I hate the word normal because its opposite is abnormal). Anyway, we use AP hours at the weekend to take the typically developing child out to do things that his sister can’t do (go on a long hike) or wouldn’t want to do (sit through a 2-hour movie), that make him feel special. We make a big deal of these outings, telling him that this is special time. There are times when we tell him that the activity must be free and others when we let him pick a special event. My best au pairs have been the ones who ask to have weekend time with him, too.

If you have more than one child, rather than ramping-up your AP hours over time, use the hours consistently to give your children one-on-one time.

If you are going to build, then you absolutely must make it clear to the candidate with whom you interview that that is what you intend to do, because while there might be hard feelings anyway, at least they were warned. For many of us with school-age children, summer is the time when we ramp up the air pair schedule from part-time to full-time. I start to give my au pairs warning about two months out, so they have time to plan day-time activities that they want to do before they care for the kids all day.

In my experience, no au pair likes a schedule shift – especially as their year draws to a close. However, if you are polite and clear, they will politely tolerate it in front of you.

BLJ Host Mom July 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I absolutely agree that starting out light and then ramping up is a bad idea. When your AP gets here, they don’t yet have a social life and are ready to go workwise, besides the reasons CV mentions above, I also think that 10 – 15 hrs of work is enough to keep her busy / not bored and also to show her what you expect while she is ripe for learning.

My recommendation is to have her on duty for 30 hrs from the start. Find things for her to do in the first few weeks, whether it is to help you with organizing the playroom, learning how you like the kid’s beds to be made, researching crafts for the children online, studying for her drivers test, or learning the rules to your child’s favorite game. HAVE HER ON DUTY.

Tell her that occasionally you will ask her to work more or less, but in the first month or two, schedule her for the 30-35 hrs, even if she is just helping out, or enjoying outings as an extra set of hands while you show her around your area.

If you’d like her to be a mother’s helper while you are with the kids, this will require quite a bit of training in the beginning. When you are out of the house, she finds a way to get things done and when it’s not your way, you probably won’t notice or mind as much because you know she’s doing her best. But when you are there, sometimes that is different. If you spend your time upfront showing her the things you care about (i.e. lunch to be on the table promptly at noon) and the things that you don’t care about (i.e. how the towels get folder), there is less chance for you to feel annoyed while there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

My AP feels like an extension of me when it comes to packing diaper bags, putting shoes on, folding kids laundry, picking up their toys, and getting them into their car seats. Part of this is that she is extremely conscientious, sees what needs to be done, and does it, and part of it is that I really spent a lot of time in the first month showing her what mattered to me and what didn’t around the house. When I needed a project done, I took time to really explain how I wanted it if I cared that it was done a certain way. Now when I stay home for a day, but she is on duty, she sees it as a day off as she quietly goes through the kids closet packing up outgrown sizes while I play rowdily with my three kids.

I also really facilitate her to come up with fun projects with the kids as though it is her idea. This created excitement with them in wanting to be with her, and helps break the ice after a long weekend when they don’t want mommy to go to work.

Another useful thing I had her do while I was around. Ask the kids for the list of “house rules”, I added a few, and that became her reward sticker chart for rule following. She loves it when I give her $10 to go to the Target dollar bins by herself and pick out some prizes for the reward chart. I promise you, as you start making a list of all the little things, you can use her help 30 hrs a week, whether she is working or just enjoying time getting to know you and your family (and it’s appliances!)

Good luck!

BlstMum July 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm

BLJ, This was a great post, thanks!

I’m a SAHM, and will be welcoming my first AP in a month. I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around how to go about our training period, with the goal of her helping when I’m home and being capable on her own when I’m not. Your ideas got me thinking!

NJMom July 7, 2010 at 9:07 pm

“In my experience, no au pair likes a schedule shift – especially as their year draws to a close.”

Boy, ain’t that the truth! I was surprised by the recent faces I was receiving after one week of full 10 hours days before day camp started because this AP is very good and hard working but I think even the best of them get depressed by a schedule shift. Things improved greatly with my calling her on it and day camp starting! I had to do a big reminder that she normally only puts in 25 to 30 hours. I think CV hits the nail on the head with the psychological contract they develop subconsciously that they get their $200 for X hours, no more. So … I agree 100% that you MUST start out where you want to finish. If you want to finish with her at 30 hours (or 40 or whatever) then start there. Even if you have to make up stuff for her to do in the beginning, so be it. You will SO appreciate the help later. Think of all of those things around the house or for yourself that you can never find time to do and do them while she’s working OR you play with the kids while she does the more boring child related tasks. I really wish I had been proactive in this way about asking my AP’s to help me more while the kids were in school (cleaning out toy closets, putting away clothes that are too small) but I never thought of it and now we’re winding down on the AP thing (both kids in school fulll days) and it is very hard to add tasks at the end of an AP extension year! Good luck to you.

maleaupairmommy July 8, 2010 at 12:06 am

I do this all the time. I work 3 12 hour night shifts my husband works from 9a.m. til 9pm. So we can over lap and I get a big strech off once a month. I have them work with me. I might take one child out for date night once during that week each kids gets a date night with mom other two with au pair. I make sure they always ask the au pair for permission for things and I say don’t know …… is on go ask him. I do a lot of errands and appointments and just go have fun. Going to the movies getting nails done etc. Plus hubby only works four days a week so monday for a few hours is date night. I make them work the full 45 hours and once in awhile less or if they want to have a long weekend three of four days off to travel I fit that in. That is of course they have proven to be good-great-expectional and they apperciate it. My current au pair found a girlfriend in training school so he goes and visits her once every couple of months she lives mid=west/east coast we live west coast. I make it so he can go see her for a little bit and he is expectional and is so apperciative of that. I just think I’m trying to enjoy the time extra time for me when I can and try not to feel too guiltly about it. I would do the full 45 hours if I were you. Also I have 3 young ones all close together so its fun to go places with the au pair that I know I couldn’t do by myself, the zoo, movies, amusment parks, etc. The kids have great experiences with that. I let them to fun stuff with them take them to swim classes, gymnastics etc so they can share in the joy and fun times that is important too. Good luck it’s not easy having an au pair but for me the alternate was worse. Double day care and late bed times. Loving having a routine life is so much easier now.

PA mama July 8, 2010 at 12:07 am

Currently I am SAHM until I go back to work in 8 months. In the meantime, I have the ap helping me with everything. She works the full 45 hours. I intend to go to the gym, organize the pantry, overhaul this, fix that and do all those things I couldn’t do because my 2 year old won’t let go of my hand. Then when I go back to work, she will already be used to taking care of the kids full time, so no big changes there. I also very much like the idea of using the ap to take care of one kid while you give another kid one on one time. Kids need that.

MTR July 8, 2010 at 10:02 am

I have to second and third what everyone else said. Don’t schedule her for less then 30-35 hours a week. However, I have to say, I personally do not like scheduling my au pairs ‘just because’ and I did have a bad experience with underscheduled au pair who did not want to work full week.

My first AP initially started in the summer and worked full 45 hour-weeks, including Saturdays. Then, we decided that we did not her on Saturdays and also, with school starting we did not need her full time either, so she started working about 37 hours and no weekends. Then, when we started having problems with her and we getting ready for a rematch, we scheduled her for full week again, including weekend, and she baulked. I have to say, she was smart enough not to make a big deal of it since she knew she was going to go into rematch and did not want to seem like she refuses to work, but I knew she was pissed (very visibly). My husband was furious with her. Partially because she was a very ungreatful au pair and did not appreciate anything she had at our house (cell, car, less-then-full-week-schedule, free weekends, no curfew, free vacation at Disney, free show tickets, etc).

When we got a new au pair from rematch, husband and I initially agreed to schedule her for full time from the start, however, we started having problems with that au pair either. She was grossly inadequate and had no business being an au pair. After a little while I refused to schedule her for the times we were home, since I did not want to interact with her more then I had to. In retrospect, she was with us for 5 months before we send her to rematch, and that was 4 months and 2 weeks too long. In the end, after she left us, she went to yet another family, her third, and after a month there, she packed up and left to go back home. She never finished her year.

With my current au pair, we have no problems what so ever. She has worked anywhere from 20 hour weeks to over 45 hours weeks (with overtime pay), from completely free weekends to working on weekends, and everything else in between. We have great communication and she has excellent work ethics. I never ever schedule her ‘just because’ unless I need her. But that is because I know that she will work without giving me any problems if I do need her. But, this au pair has been with us for 13 months now (we extended with her for the second year) and we know each other very well. In fact, with the summer coming up, we talked about her schedule changing and spending whole day with the kids (no school). She told me she did not understand why her friends au pairs were so upset about the summer, she was looking forward to spending time in the pool with ‘her’ kids. :) She trully loves my children like her own, and we all love her back like she is a true family member. But it did take us a few months to get the level of trust and understanding between her and us and for me to relax after two rematches and realize that this girls is nothing like the two prevous once.

With a new au pair coming to your house, you don’t know her well enough to know how she will react to the change in schedule.

mom23 July 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm

With one of our early au pairs we gave her every Friday off, with the condition that if I were on a business trip that she would need to work 6 hours that day. My daughter attended pre school 3 mornings a week, so she worked 32 hours during the normal work week. I went through a few weeks of several back to back business trips. Our au pair complained that the additional six hours were too taxing for her. Fridays are now written into the schedule, even if most are free time. Now it becomes a perk to have time off rather than a work burden if it needs to be worked.

We are in a different situation now with au pairs arriving in the middle of the school year, having some time with a light schedule that becomes full time over the summer. I give two schedules to the au pair when we match, the summer schedule and the school year schedule.

iMom July 8, 2010 at 10:12 am

All of the advice above is good and probably correct, but it does really depend on the maturity and work ethic of your au pair. Our first au pair arrived 6 weeks before my second child was born. For that six weeks I only used her about 20 hours a week – I had stopped working in preparation for the baby and wanted to spend a lot of time with my first son while he was still an only child. The AP knew, however, that once the baby was born she would start a 45 hour work week. She jumped in whole-heartedly and made the transition smoothly. I understand that having an event like the birth of a child is a transition that AP’s may more readily accept than mom just needing more help gradually, however.

We are now on our third au pair and have kept their hours at a standard 8:30 – 5:00 M-F plus intermittent time on the weekends throughout their year(s). Often during the week I will take one or both of the kids to do something during the AP’s work time and she gets a special “break”, but it is not expected.

PA AP mom July 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

I disagree with the majority here. Our APs arrive just as school is resuming after summer vacation. Both my boys are in school full-time, so the AP’s typical work week is 25 hours per week (before and after school). Once summer vacation rolls around, she is ramped up to a 40-45 hour work week.

I explain our schedule in the host family handbook. I make sure that she understands the difference in the school year schedule vs. the holiday/summer vacation schedule.

It hasn’t been a problem.

Deb Schwarz July 8, 2010 at 11:43 am

Many new host families think that they won’t have many hours for the au pair – but you’d be surprised how the hours can add up. As Computer Lunch points out (and others) – having an au pair can give you so much flexibility – including one-on-one time with one of your kids at a time. We have four children so we never have a problem coming up with the hours – but have you thought about children’s laundry? Grocery shopping? and other children related things that you might need done? I can see that some au pairs wouldn’t have a problem with the shift (as PA AP Mom points out), but the vast majority of the “X” generation would. (and that’s a whole other topic…..).

MTR – I want your au pair! She sounds lovely. (for those that remember my saga from last week – rematch vs. no rematch, I’m still looking and pondering and sitting on the fence. Mexico was OK – on eyeballing her, half my LCC friends said “rematch” and half said that she might be salvagable. I guess time will tell. One of the things that did strike me is that my kids were much more chummy with my friend’s au pair than our own – not a good sign, huh? But on a positive note, within 12 hours of being home, the kids suitcases were unpacked and their laundry done – never had that before. I’ll keep you all posted on what transpires.

BLJ Host Mom July 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Good luck Deb!
So this is a little off topic, but I’m curious as to whether you are worried your AP would read what you write here. I’m nervous about that, I use a fake name, and I don’t have many negative things to say about my current AP. (Which of course doesn’t mean there aren’t inherent difficulties with the program for which I love support) I’ve mentioned this to CV before, where people stand on that? Because…I’d like to give this site to my new AP as a resource, it’s great. And it’s mostly host moms backing up host moms. At the same time, this is MY space, and what if I need help with her? It’s a sticky situation when she gets on here only to see I’ve just explained something she done as a problem. What do you think about that?

Should be working July 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I’d stick with the fake name, and NOT tell the AP about the site. I was tempted to do like you suggest …and now I’m posting really sensitive stuff that I hadn’t anticipated. It is for you, and you don’t know when you’ll want/need sensitive advice.

BLJ Host Mom July 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Thanks SBW. That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about. Not that my AP couldn’t get here without my instruction. It is the first thing that comes up if you google “Au Pair Advice”. (WOOT!) I guess I should also take off my blogroll too…

I just don’t wanna! :(

cv harquail July 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm


I think that a lot of readers are in that situation… I don’t ever want a host parent to feel unable to share her or his side of a situation.

What is kindof funny is the number of times I get emails about how a topic generated by me or by a completely different reader ‘hits home’ with someone. It would be very easy for an au pair (or host parent) to assume that a post was suggested by her/his own host parent (or au pair) when in fact it was completely independent.

When I do get an email with an advice request, we usually mix up the details to make it more anonymous, and I try to leave out telling details. Other times I’ll edit out some of the emotion so that there is less blame and anger, so that if someone thinks s/he sees her or himself in the situation, at least they don’t feel hated. I wish that I was more on top of reminding us that there are two sides to the story — recently someone emailed me to ask that I make a post a little less dramatic just in case the au pair in question came across the blog.

What I appreciate from readers and commenters is just what ShouldBeWorking and others do– they put in the squirmy, icky, real detail of what happened to them in similar situations, which often saves the OP from having to reveal/ask for this herself, and lets her/him/us present the issue in a less emotional way.

It takes a village; a village where eveyone knows your nom de mom but no one knows your au pair. ;-) cv

BLJ Host Mom July 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Today’s post is the prime example of why I DO want her to come to this site. 5 Things to pack and 5 things not to, I’d love to just send her the link and that’s that. It’s not me being anal telling her not to bring her guitar or Hello Kitty’s, it’s common advice. However, SBW’s post yesterday of the abuse update, wowsa (my stomach is in knots for you). That is a good example of nothing being wrong with her AP, but a situation that has come up and she probably couldn’t get as useful, or as constructive advice from a friend who doesn’t host an AP. Now, my current AP is SO private, that if she were to read something like that on a board after sharing with me, she would die, even though no names or places were given. I once mentioned in a blog that we were so sorry because a family member had died, and she was upset with me for it. I wanted to come to this board for advice on that situation, but felt I’d already upset her enough, and at that time, she might have been looking on her from the blogroll. I had always thought of it in terms of it not being a problem if I didn’t have a problem with her, but I see that is definitely not the case now.

If you have time – could you do a poll to see what HMs share this site with AP’s?

I found this site from our LCC so I know she is sharing it with HMs, don’t know about the APs, but I’d assume so. Again, the blogroll, might be ruining my anonymity. Also to clarify, if you google “Au Pair Advice” you get this site, not just “Au Pair Mom Advice”. Some APs would be interested and some not.

Deb, good luck, you have a lot on your plate that you need your AP for, and she is essential in your summer plans. I hope you can find a replacement quickly so you can pull the plug and trust a new AP in a short amount of time. Warmest wishes to you in your travel plans.

Thanks cv for the thoughtful response below!

MommyMia July 9, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Thanks, cv, for editing and scrambling the details a bit. So many times I’ve had identical problems or situations – it’s so amazing how many other moms have ideas and suggestions that I wouldn’t have thought of! Our current AP is the only one so far who actually is savvy enough to probably find this site on her own, but probably wouldn’t, as she’s the best ever, and I doubt she’d be looking for advice. And I wish our LCC would read this – I’ve suggested it several times – because she’s so “out of it” when it comes to dealing with any problems or practical ideas. It’s made me consider more than once that I could do her job better, but then I think, nah, I enjoy the time I get by having an au pair too, too much! LOL

Deb Schwarz July 9, 2010 at 2:01 am

BLJ Host Mom,

Good question! I don’t really think about it since I can’t imagine that she’ll be searching for au pair mom advice….but I could be wrong. None of the au pairs that I’ve spoken to have heard of this site – and I would think that the title “Au Pair Mom” wouldn’t interest them that much. Today was a tough day for our au pair, and for me, as a result. She called me several times and was having difficulties with fighting kids, etc. and I had a hard time getting work done. As many of you predicted, this isn’t going to work – just not the right personality and skill fit. No fingers to be pointed, just time to move on. I have a flight booked for her for next week to the East Coast – I’m flying back two days ahead of time to pick up two of our kids at camp – and two of their friends – and then she follows with the other two. It would be a bit of a problem if we pull the plug now given that my hubby can’t come for the whole vacation – so we’ll see how this plays out. Now – please pray that a great au pair comes our way! It’s not easy with four kids, but I’ve found that outgoing, bubbly, experienced au pairs from larger families seem to do best. Crossing fingers….

igelwelch July 9, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I was the person who posted the question and to add some details, I would have her work the full 45 per week, but initially, I would working only 15-20 hours a week, so for the remaining portion, I would be with her part of the time, I would get exercise a portion of the time and I would organize the house–not to mention date night! There is some great advice here and I think I would have to add some structure to the situation. I’m just trying to figure out what’s the best way to begin and work through the changes. Thanks!

Calif Mom July 14, 2010 at 11:20 am

Hi igelweclh,

An au pair would be a great fit for you. And the fact that you’re thinking about this stuff ahead of time is an indicator to me that you’ll be a great host mom.

For your original question, I think it all comes down to how you talk about it. You actually aren’t describing a part-time au pair at all, though you, as Mom, are working part time. You’re talking about having a full time au pair who is learning the ropes and letting you get non-salaried work done, and take some much-needed Mom time so that you will be in good emotional shape before hitting full time working mom status. (Believe me, after you go back to work FT you will be grateful for every workout or highlights that you had done while she was with the kids!) And the kids will be fine.

You need to frame this correctly. I think what threw some of us off was the idea that the AP would be part time and then full time–that’s why we collectively said Danger Will Robinson!

So what you need to be sure comes across clearly to potential APs is that you are a single mom who needs a full time AP now to help her get ready to go back to work full time, and then take over the kids’ schedule when that happens. And when you write your letter or send sample schedules to APs, make very sure you aren’t making it look like the AP will only be working 25 hours per week at the beginning. I wouldn’t even put “25 hours” into the description, because I think it would be easy for a non-native speaker to get confused by that.

Just be sure to frame it properly at the beginning and it should be fine. You’ll have some “transition management” things to work out, but isn’t that what parenting is all about? ;-)

I think it’s a totally do-able situation. And yes, you want to pick the right au pair. You are looking for flexibility and a certain take-chargeness–avoid princesses!

igelwelch July 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Thank you so much for this–it’s very helpful!

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