When people ask me whether an Au Pair might be right for them, I sometimes forget to ask them what kinds of help they *already* have, that they are aiming to replace.
If a family currently uses a childcare center or a home-based center, then switching to an Au Pair offers more schedule flexibility, care in their own home, and a young person to join their household and add to the learning and growing of the family.
If a family currently uses a live-out nanny, then the argument for an au pair — along with scheduling flexibility — is perhaps a lower cost, and perhaps less competition with the nanny’s life and priorities outside of work.
When a family currently employs a live in nanny, however, a few more questions pop up. With live-in nannies, families have a more experienced childcare provider, who is often older and often has a life of her own outside the home. Also, live-in nannies much more commonly perform household tasks in addition to childcare. They might cook for the parents as well as the kids, do the laundry for the parents as well as the kids, iron sheets and shirts, grocery shop and run errands, and clean the house. They might even walk the dog every day and/ or clean the cat litter box.
All of these tasks fall outside the duties of an au pair.
Au Pairs can only be asked to do Childcare-Related Tasks.
If you currently have a live-in nanny who also serves as a housekeeper and a family administrative assistant, as does the mom whose email is below, I’d hesitate to recommend an au pair to you. Even when an Au Pair isn’t needed for 45 hours of childcare, those ‘extra’ on duty hours can not be used for non-childcare-related work.
It’s just too hard to rein in your expectations to just childcare, when you’re used to having one person do all of these tasks.
Certainly, a nanny, a housekeeper who keeps an eye on the (older) kids, and a parent are all able to do both child-minding and housecleaning at the same time… but that level of multitasking requires a different set of experiences and a very different set of expectations.
For my family, when we had just the one child, I was more or less able to keep it together with a demanding full-time job, a spouse who was away most of the week, a cleaning lady who came once a week, and an au pair who worked a full 45 hour week caring for our baby. When baby number two arrived, more stuff began falling through the cracks… and when my best friend suggested that we add a person who could do 3 hours a day of “homekeeping”, I found just the right person for that job. Lou was a semi-retired woman who needed some light, part time work and a chance to be with other people. She shopped, cooked, did laundry, went to the dry cleaners, stayed in with the sleeping baby while the Au Pair and toddler went to the park, and helped me drop the car off to be serviced. It was a luxurious level of help that — it turned out– my family really needed. We had Lou, and later Mariella, for the three years between the arrival of baby #2 and the move into kindergarten of baby #1.
Looking back I see this as almost-but-not-quite a luxury, because my husband and I could not have done our jobs and had a safe, loving, clean, not insane home life without that level and variety of help. It’s also a testament to what full time working-in-the-home moms and dads are expected to do, god bless them.
So, when I look at the situation of the mom, below, I want to say —
Sure, get an au pair. Also, get a part time housekeeper, or a cleaning person who will come twice a week to clean and also do errands. Or, expect to shoulder a bit more of the household work yourself.
But, don’t expect that an au pair can do all of these things for your family.
Here’s FromNannyToAuPair?‘s email–