When ReturningHM offered to write a post about her experiences with male au pairs, I was delighted. Many new readers find AuPairMom by searching the term ‘male au pair’. There simply isn’t that much information out there about the benefits and challenges of male au pairs vs female ones.
Folks are curious about what it might be like not just to have a male childcare giver, but to have a young adult male in the host family home.
Au pairs of any gender can do the ‘work’ of an au pair, even though it may challenge some people’s expectations. Where the current questions lie are around how male au pairs develop connections with host children of both genders. There’s an assumption that male au pairs are great caregivers for boys, but when it comes to hiring them to care for girls, some folks get a little nervous.
For a long time we thought that we could not host a male au pair because we have a daughter.
Several years ago, one of our lovely female au pairs had her boyfriend from home visit with us for two weeks, and we watched our son absolutely glow while playing with this guy: jumping for hours on the trampoline, racing remote-controlled cars around the living room, and spending long stretches of time building with blocks. It’s not that our female au pairs didn’t do all these activities with our son, too. But the energy with which our au pair’s boyfriend did them with him was just different, and our son – small for his age, developmentally delayed, and needing help with a lot of the playground skills that other children just pick up – lit up and thrived in its glow.
Our daughter was then nine, though, and we thought, it’s too bad we can’t host a male au pair, but it just wouldn’t be right with a girl this age.
For the next year, I kept thinking about those two weeks and how much our son had learned and blossomed in the presence of that au pair’s boyfriend. I decided to talk to our daughter about it, and to my surprise, she was very open to the idea of hosting a male. After what was at that point six years of hosting female APs, she was excited to have a “big brother” around with whom she could play and interact.
We decided to look for an athletic male au pair who would be willing to play active games with her at her (more skilled) level, but who also could teach and model for my son the more basic skills needed to do the kinds of playground games that many boys play at school. I worried about how *I* would feel having male energy around the house – on top of my husband’s male energy – and therefore embarked on matching very early that year, to give myself a chance to change my mind if I wanted to and still have time for the regular matching process.
Our first male AP was amazing.
He was the subject of one of the Au Pair Appreciation posts that CV posted last year; he simply made our lives better just by being a part of our household. He was helpful, kind, engaged, and fun.
But he also brought something new into our household: Male caregiver energy, which was a wonderful complement to the energy my son was usually surrounded with, from his female teachers, female speech and occupational therapists, female family members (me, his sister, his grandmother), and yes, female au pairs. This au pair, like our au pair’s boyfriend from a few years back, brought a new excitement to games: he and our son spent hours building lego structures that helped our son process his daily activities and events (a ferry after a long trip to an island, a chairlift after a momentous trip to the ski slopes). He also pushed our son physically in a way that none of the female APs had done, and he was less easy about him saying he couldn’t do something or that something was too hard.
With our daughter, this AP was warm and helpful and engaged. Although everyone knew that we had hired this male AP primarily for our son, at no time did anyone feel that he was less engaged with our daughter – or with us. While his skills were traditionally “male” and he struggled a bit with things like laundry, cooking, and cleaning, he knew these were part of his tasks, and he took them very seriously, both because he wanted to do a good job, but also because he knew he was representing *male au pairs* in general and wanted to make sure he performed well on behalf of his gender.
We’ve now hosted two more male au pairs, one when our beloved guy tore his ACL and had to go home early, and one this year, and both have also been good additions to our household. Our current male AP is less “sporty,” maybe, than the other two (not less athletic but less into organized sports), but he still definitely brings male energy to the household. In addition, he is a great cook, good with the laundry, and very sensitive about engaging with both our son and our daughter. I am not sure who loves him more – he or she – because this AP has clicked so nicely with both.
Is it weird having a male au pair with a now-12 year old female child in the household?
Some people think so, and unfortunately, they are not shy about saying it.
Our carpool mates last year made a big point of saying, when we were going through matching again, that they thought it was strange that we hosted males and that they felt sorry for our daughter for the fact that we did. (Our daughter rose in response very quickly – it was lovely to hear her defend our choice!).
Our daughter also has a close friend who is not allowed to stay at our house when our male AP is at home. I am not sure whether the parents think we would have someone in our house who wouldn’t be trustworthy on the one night their daughter might stay over (though presumably he is with ours every other night of the week? Or they think we allow a non-trustworthy person to just live down the hall from our daughter?), but either way, we don’t push the point with them and just allow them to have their views; our daughter stays over their house instead.
Some things we have had to sort through in hosting a male AP with an older female host child:
- During matching, we had to talk about what would happen if our daughter got her period for the first time while I was away (I travel 2-3 days/week for work) and male AP was the only one around. We had to talk about what would happen if one of our daughter’s friends flirted with male AP – how would he handle it and how would it make him feel? (This has happened now and AP handled it so carefully and responsibly).
- We have had to switch our daughter’s bathroom at her request; rather than sharing with the AP and her brother, she now shares with my husband and me (this happened between male-AP1 and male-AP2).
- We have had to navigate the world of AP having primarily female friends – and how to ensure that he has space and room in our small house to entertain them, without him having to bring them all up to his bedroom one after another. And,
- We have had to navigate a female AP friend spending the night as a friend…and then the relationship morphing into more, all with AP’s room just down the hall from the rest of ours, including our tween daughter whose friends (though not quite her yet) have great curiosity about those kinds of things.
When I ask our daughter her thoughts about hosting male APs, she says that in general, she wouldn’t like *most* males as an AP but she insists that she adores ours. There is something about the person, rather than the gender, that she has clicked with in all three cases, and for the most part, neither she nor the rest of us thinks of our au pair as a “male au pair” but as simply “our au pair.”
I know many families here and around feel that they would not make the same choice to host a male if they have daughters, but for us, it has been a great experience.
And I’ll add….after hosting female APs for six years, the males really are easier in some ways….or at least my three have been! Not that I’m trying to convince anyone to make a choice outside of his or her comfort zone. And in fact, I’d just as soon not many HFs switch to male APs, so that the same great array of choices are available come winter, when it will be time for us to select next year’s AP.
Image: Just Peeking, by Dean Searl on Flickr