[[I’m delighted to share with your a Guest Post from a regular contributor, Dorsi. Dorsi noted that she hasn’t seen much on the blog about infants and offered to share her reflections. Reading her post brought back so many memories of those tender first days of being a mom and having to look like I knew what I was doing! How about for you?]]
I always knew I would have an AP when I had children.
I was looking at prospective candidates when I was 5 months pregnant. I matched with our au pair before I bought a crib!
As someone who had been an exchange student in high school, the program sounded perfect: friendly foreign girl gets to stay with us, experience America, provide stable child care and we get to share our fun and fantastic life, as well as the difficulties of having a baby, with an enthusiastic peer. Additionally, we had a fairly erratic schedule and normal day care options didn’t work for us. Luckily, the baby came at a time when our finances could handle the AP program fees (in our area of the country, APs cost significantly more than infant care).
While I don’t know everything there is to know about APs and babies, I now have a toddler and have had some time to reflect on the experience. It found it provided better child care than I could have hoped for, but was more personally challenging than I expected.
My AP started when my baby was 2 months old.
Advantages of an Au Pair with an Infant
-Decrease in Illnesses
This has been touched on recently in other threads, but keeping the baby out of public spaces, especially early on, has a tremendous impact on the number of illnesses the whole family experiences. I think the AP program trumps all other forms of child care on this front. Even though my AP went out in the world, we still had less exposure to pathogens than other forms of in-home care – even bringing a college student, grandmother, etc. into out home.
I have friends and colleagues who have had many battles with day care over how much to feed the baby, how often, and if they should supplement with formula and rice cereal. Those moms who have had successful long-term breastfeeding relationships and who work outside the home, know that it takes a lot of cooperation on the part of the caregiver. My AP didn’t have a lot of preconceived ideas and followed my instructions easily. Also, when I need to sleep (I work swing shifts and nights) or do other things around the house, the AP could get me to feed the baby and then I could go back to what I was doing.
-Avoidance of Separation Anxiety
Though we had days where the babe preferred the AP and days were she preferred me, we never had to go through the stage of leaving a screaming, unhappy child at day care. The AP was just part of our household flow and handing off responsibility was seamless.
-Easing into the AP program
Having an AP can be fraught with issues (thus the existence of AP mom), as well as joy. As first time parents, we were able to avoid some of the big ones:
– Driving – baby has no need for being driven anywhere, so we happily selected a non-driver.
– Role Model – this is not an aspect we worry about, babe is not going to be influenced by AP’s eating habits, dating/partying, etc.
I found it easy to take my breast fed baby on a handful of work trips when she was small and not so mobile. It wasn’t too expensive to buy an extra ticket for the AP, and travel was fairly painless with another set of hands. With my toddler, I don’t know that there is the same ease and value with taking her places, but it was another way that the AP simplified my life with a newborn.
-All the usual advantages of the AP program
– flexibility, no missed work because the baby is too sick for daycare, one on one care.
Disadvantages of an Au Pair with an Infant
– Witness to parenting struggles
When my babe was born, I had several ideas about sleep training, pacifier use, solid food introduction, scheduling, etc. Like most new moms, the ideas have changed. When we decided that letting the baby “cry-it-out” a la Ferber was the right thing to do, I also had to convince the AP (and live with her silent judgment). This may be a non-issue for a lot of people, but having another person see you change course, contradict yourself, and struggle made things harder for me.
-The “three month rule”
APs are not allowed to be alone with infants less than 3 months of age. I worked evenings when the AP started, so she provided care only when my husband was also home, or I was home sleeping. For people with a more typical schedule, this wouldn’t have been possible. Occasionally we had a grandparent or a friend who would hang out at the house for an hour or two and supervise the AP in the beginning. As much as this was a hassle—I do think it is good policy. Someone who is new in this country (and maybe doesn’t have tons of time with tiny babies) should not be alone with a fragile newborn.
-Isolation (for us)
We know very few parents socially and the AP program hasn’t helped with that at all. We also get no feedback from experienced child care providers. While this is sometime nice (no one to tell me that we should start solids sooner/later) it would be nice to hear how others are solving the problems we are dealing with. This may be a fantasy of having a great day care community that wouldn’t really exist. The AP may offer ideas on nap scheduling, but they are usually fairly inexperienced compared to other child care providers.
-Isolation (for AP):
Babies don’t do much and we didn’t have anyone that the AP knew for play dates. Couple that with the difficulty of scheduling around naps – I think there were some very long days at home with the baby alone for the AP. This worked out okay with our AP, but could have been a significant problem for some APs.
Surprises and Things I wish I knew
-“Mom” vs “Peer”
As a new mother, I really didn’t think of myself as “mom” to the young woman who moved into our house. I hardly thought myself a “mom” to the tiny crying thing in the next room. It was a little shocking to be referred to as her “host mom” and to suddenly feel like I had to parent my AP. This may have been a little bit specific to the AP I matched with, but she expected to take on the role of daughter in the household. We struck a balance, eventually.
Not every AP thinks this is normal and not “icky.” Luckily my AP had no problem handling breast milk and following my instructions. She was not uncomfortable with me breastfeeding in her presence. However, I would ask the AP in the future what about her comfort level prior to matching.
- Host parents, what parts about Dorsi’s reflections on having an au pair care for your infant resonate with your experience?
- If you have used the specialized “infant care” or infant-trained au pair, does that seem to have made a difference?
- Au Pairs, if you’ve cared for a little baby, what else might you add from your point of view?
Starting out on the right foot, when you’re on maternity leave
Would you recommend an Au Pair to…Parents of baby twins?
Yes, actually, it WAS torture to look for images. Painfully baby-lust inducing, if you must know.