Male Au Pairs, Revolutionaries and Change Agents

by cv harquail on May 30, 2013

Can male au pairs change the world?

The Wall Street Journal would like you to think so.

Belatedly, I’ve come across this WSJ article: No, Girls Are Not Natural Baby Sitters, by Charlotte Alter, that suggests that ‘normalizing’ male au pairs would hasten the demise of sexism.

Yea for that, I say.

justinI love the idea of bro pairs, even though as the mom of girls I’ve never had one. (Do I sound like a NIMBY?)

If my girls were between the ages of diapers and tweenhood, and thus at an age where they were old enough to manage their privacy & bathroom activity but not too old to see a bro pair as more than a brother (like, as a Justin Beiber-like substance living right in your own house!!!!!!), I think I’d welcome the chance to challenge our whole family’s norms about men as caregivers.

Personally, I’ve found that even when I’m open to an idea ‘as a concept’, I only really get it when I have to live with it 24/7.

I’m still consistently surprised by the sneaky unconscious ways I assume my own DH “can’t understand” what needs to be done with our girls.

And, I’m surprised when I take the time to ask my self just what’s so weird about X, only to discover that there’s nothing weird at all.

Still, it seems that a large part of the world thinks that male caregivers are, shall we say, “problematic”.   The comments on the WSJ are such doozies that it’s a shame you can’t read them without having a  subscription.  [Alternatively, check out the comments on this post at Jezebel. They’re entertaining, if much less histrionic, than the comments at the Journal.]

Can you imagine how profoundly it could change the landscape of gender in this country if we did something as simple as normalizing male babysitters?

I’d love to know if any of you host parents have had any big “ah ha’s” about gender norms as you’ve interacted with male au pairs (either your own or another family’s).

Have male au pairs changed the way you see the world?


Let’s hear it for the bro pairs and mannies, helping to change the world one host family at a time.


See: Male Babysitters Are the Answer to All the World’s Problems, by Lindy West at Jezebel


Momma Gadget May 30, 2013 at 10:20 am

I think my first “Ah ha” Actually came from my brother in law. His wife already had an established successful career and was the main bread winner ( like 51% of the US female population) when they decided to have children.He quit his job to become a stay home dad.
Honestly I think it takes a very secure, confident man to be able to do this. I know that my own DH would not be happy. My BIL handled everything from diaper changes, to cooking, to housework and juggling schedules…He takes care of 2 boys and an adopted girl as lovingly & competently as any SAM.
I think that perhaps his example opened my eyes to my own biased thinking that women are the better nurturers. Men definitely handle things differently than women do, but that doesn’t make one better than the other.
When my boys were born I was determined to be very careful not to gender bias them… I remember being really angry as a kid being stuck in a pink frilly room with dolls, when I wanted a blue room with cap guns like my brother. But my older son was practically born with a steering wheel in his hand, and seems genetically predisposed to being a gear-head. When my younger son showed some interest in my neighbor’s daughter’s baby dolls, I was so very proud of myself for being such a liberal open minded mom and buying him his very own blue diapered baby doll for his 2nd birthday… until he opened the present ,looked at me with disgust, and tossed it to the side. LOL
I truly believe boys are wired differently.
My eldest son, soon to be 15, is awesome with his much younger cousins. He’ll ( gently) wrestle them, or take time to teach them card games when ever we get together. I’d Like to think that our Bro pairs have been a great example for him. One day he will be a great Dad.
I’ve said it before in other posts…I LOOOVEDDDD my last bro-pair. After 1 1/2 months, despite a few bumps in the road, I appreciate, and am well on my way to adoring our new bro-pair too.
Since coming into the AP program, I was always open to hiring a male AP, But my DH was the hold out. It took a disastrous terrible match to convince him give our last bro-pair a chance. He is still more cautious when looking at male candidates dossiers, But we are loyal bro-pair family now.

JJ Host Mom May 30, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I’m so glad to hear that things are working out with your current Bro-pair. I read your other post while back but then couldn’t find it again to respond. It’s great that things seem to be turning around.

Momma Gadget May 31, 2013 at 9:58 am

Thanks JJ-
Things are still a bit tentative with my teen, but they are both making more of an effort.

MidAtlantic Host Family May 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

We had a couple male Summer nannies who were big hits – so much so the past couple female au pairs have been jealous of them and the relationship they developed with us and the kids. Maybe guys do not over-think things and just go with it. They each were each able to be firm without screaming and let things roll without taking them personally. Not sure. We are on the way to our first male au pair and the kids are very excited. It was nice to see our oldest son (10) actually start bonding with the guy via Skype, which never happens even with relatives.

Skny May 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’d love to go for one. I even interviewed a few, and then hubby was against it. Too bad. I like the idea of less drama in our household

Aloha girl May 31, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Lol! I chuckled when I read this. Agree on the less drama and moodiness!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I would love to try a Bro-Pair, but

1) our agency doesn’t have them

2) DH, who quit his job and was the primary caregiver for 20 months while I worked (I was the breadwinner and the parent with benefits), is against another male seeing the boobs and pubes on his special needs child. End of story. (I must say, he ALWAYS changes her diaper, to the point that it shocks people, unless there is not a private or family changing room available, and then she’s mine.)

Personally I think a male AP would find her easier to pick up, but so fair we’ve had 8 able and willing women.

Multitasking Host Mom May 31, 2013 at 7:41 am

My son has had two men as teachers so far, and it has been interesting to see the different kind of bond he has formed with them as oppose to his female teacher. They seemed to be able to relate to him on a different level that he has really benefited from. I liked that he saw men in a nurturing role. These men were great role models for him. It does make my think about having a male AP sometime in the future.

COHostMom May 31, 2013 at 8:41 am

We are in our first year out of the au pair program, and currently have a male nanny (manny) after many years hosting female au pairs. It has been a completely positive experience for us. I do think there is less cuddling, baking and crafts – and part of me misses that for my 6 year old son, but on the other hand, he gets to do a lot more “boy” stuff now like playing Wii, sports, outdoor activities, etc.

Overall, though, I’m glad we did it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a male au pair or nanny to anyone.

HostMomX June 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

We hosted a male au pair and ended up in rematch – but I maintain to this day that it was not because he was male. There were a host of other issues, the kinds of things that typically send a family into rematch. This male au pair (I can’t call him a bro-pair, because I didn’t like him! But I do LOVE that affectionate term for male au pairs, coined I believe by Momma Gadget…) was actually very good with our then-infant (not so good with the then-toddler). He showed all of the infant-nurturing capabilities that I think our society assumes is instinctive only to women.

We also have a regular male teenage babysistter who watches our girls when we run out of AP hours, or our AP isn’t available. He’s great, and our girls love it when he comes over. I do agree with the sentiment expressed on Jezebel – if we just had more male babysitters and nannies, and encouraged nurturing of babies in our little boys through dolls, etc. (and at the very least didn’t actively take dolls away from them and steer them to other toys, or act as though a little boy’s interest in dolls were strange), we’d overcome some of the embedded skepticism regarding male caregivers. Unfortunately, I think that most of us harbor this skepticism, even if it is deep down in our subconscious and we would not admit it out loud (“some of my best friends are male au pairs, nannies and babysitters”!).

Momma Gadget June 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

I guess I need to just admit I am a cynic- However hopeful I am with each new Nanny/Au pair, I still “harbor skepticism” about all of them until proven otherwise.
An aside- Because of his good looks and mega muscles, my friends have started referring to our new male au pair as “Bro-Beau Pair”. LOL

HRHM June 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm

We have our first male AP in the cluster right now. He’s been here a couple of months and I didn’t even know about him until 2 weeks ago. Sad to say, he’s about to be sent home apparently due to child abuse. He is caring for 6 children from 4-12. The parents saw some bruises on one of the children and when they inquired, the child indicated they were from male AP. When the other kids were asked, they verified that he had indeed hit some of them on more than one occasion. I honestly think this has nothing to do with his gender and everything to do with him being overwhelmed, although that is certainly no excuse.

MidAtlantic Host Family June 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Someone gave birth to 6 children in 8 years. Wow!

We always heard 5 children is the tension point for a second au pair when bunched so closely like that.

This highlights the importance to include a section in the handbook on discipline as well as discuss it during interviews and first weekend in the house.

HostMomX June 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Well, that is unfortunate, and will certainly fuel gender stereotypes. Even though female au pairs have been guilty of the same.

HRHM June 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm

exactly what I was thinking

Sleepytime June 5, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I’ll admit I’ve worried about the higher car insurance premiums that come with single male drivers under 25, and haven’t considered hosting a male au pair. Has anyone seen a difference?

Jenna Black June 11, 2013 at 1:53 am

Wow interesting point of view. I think in the future male au pairs will slowly become a ‘norm’ in society.

Male aupair host mom July 8, 2013 at 3:31 am

Actually we get older ap male ones this is our second female nanny and our insurance didny change much when she came. Lastvap was 26 when he came and 28 when he left. I have two boys and one girl and they were great took more time to train but thet were willing .

nick August 16, 2013 at 12:18 am

I am to happy to have found this. I am having trouble finding an agency that hires bro pairs, can anyone please refer me to a good one that hires.

Returning HM January 10, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I have a question for HMs of male APs, and in particular, those who have a male AP caring for a female child:

We have a boy and a girl, ages 8 and 11. Our boy has some pretty significant developmental delays and learning disabilities, but our daughter is typically developing and high achieving. Much of the AP’s job entails bringing our son to his various therapies and activities, and then after, playing very actively with him and helping to advance his play, whether it’s active or imaginative. Because our daughter is a serious athlete who practices 5 days a week, she is almost never around with the AP at all; her interactions with him mainly include him picking her up at school at 3:30, making her a quick meal, and helping her pack her swim bag to be ready for her carpool to pick her up for practice at 4:30. Only very occasionally do they spend any other time together – an occasional day off from school, a very occasional Sat night that we are out and she isn’t somewhere else.

I share all this about the children because last night, my daughter told me she doesn’t want another male AP for next year (we are just starting the matching process again). When I asked her why, she said she loves our current male AP but that “sometimes people might think it’s a problem to have a male AP.” I asked if anyone had said anything to her, and she denied that they had. She just said that “maybe people might not want to come over if she has a male AP” but then wouldn’t say more. She ended up getting very upset – which happens when she has said something that she doesn’t feel right about having said but doesn’t have the language to explain what isn’t sitting right – and storming out.

I was very surprised by this, because despite the fact that I wondered if there would be reaction from her friends’ parents, everyone who has met our AP has loved him and no one has raised any issue at all about us having a male AP. So this came a little out of the blue.

Anyway, I’m now wondering what to do. It is very clear to my husband and me that having a male AP has been fabulous and right for our son. This male AP in particular has been outstanding, but we also think that a male in general is just good for him. Our son is literally surrounded by all females – special ed teachers, therapists, aids, you name it – and he needs help doing the “boy things” such as playing legos, kicking a soccer ball, and riding a scooter – that other boys just pick up seemingly automatically. So it’s clear to us that a male AP is the way to go for him. And frankly, after six years of hosting females, it has been refreshing to host a male with whom there is literally no drama and no issue, even in challenging times. We both were planning to go ahead with another male next year.

But now I am facing a big question mark. I don’t know that I can get another male AP when our daughter came out and said she doesn’t want one, but on the other hand, due to activities she has chosen, she is simply not around with the AP nearly as much as her brother is, and he certainly would benefit from one.

Has anyone else faced this, where a female child did not want a male AP (or, I wonder, where a male child did not want a female AP)? How did you approach or handle the situation? What, in the end, did you do? I would love some input here. I do not by any means want to force the issue with my daughter, but it does seem like there is a clear benefit to her brother to having one, so I also don’t want to let her one negative statement (which was in response to a question I raised and not just offered by her) totally cause us to change course without further discussion.

Thank you so much.

Should be working January 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I’ve always wanted to try a male AP–lower drama, more boy-stuff for my son who is surrounded by “girls”. When I’ve raised it my daughter has flipped out. It seems normal to me that a preteen girl wouldn’t want a boy AP–can you imagine a boy laundering your training bras and potentially-eventually spotted underwear (although I would take over girl-laundry if we got a male AP, for these reasons)? And all the crush potential, and all the boy-girl considerations going on?

In the end, though, it’s DH’s preference to stick with female APs and so we do that.

If I had a son with your son’s needs, I’d stick with male APs. The daughter is entitled to her feelings and discomforts, but ultimately her discomfort can be managed in my view. I can easily imagine that some girl (or boy) at school said something about “how can you have a male AP?” or even made some unkind joke about “your boyfriend” or who knows what.

And I totally know the “storming-out-when-no-other-verbalization-possible” routine. Good luck. I want to hear what others say.

hOstCDmom January 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

SBW – Curious q for you, if you will indulge me :) we have a male AP, and we have 6 kids: 3 girls, 3 boys. Our AP does the kids’ laundry, including our teen and preteen daughters laundry (and our 7 year old daughter’s too). So, I guess I’m wondering why it seems normal to you that a girl wouldn’t want a boy AP? Many/most girls have fathers/brothers; and possibly fathers who would do their laundry. Why is a male AP washing training bras or underwear problematic? Wouldn’t a female AP wash a boys boxers/briefs and jock straps? And couldn’t a boy host child/teen have a crush on a girl AP? I understand that there could be comments by the host child of either gender re an opposite gender AP, but I would think that it goes both ways, and could be managed in either way in a matter of fact “get over it, suck it up and deal with it, everyone wears underwear and be glad someone is washing it for you!”….or maybe that’s just my suck-it-up parenting style coming out :)

Should be working January 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

HOstCDmom, I was embarrassed to look so gender-conservative in that comment, I’m a feminist in everyday life. The comment might be a reflection on how much our strong-personality daughter tends to dominate things whereas her easygoing younger son goes with the flow better. Good to reflect on this.

I’ve only gone through girl-puberty so far with kids, and I get how it would be “embarrassing” to have a boy AP at that age for all those bodily/hormonal/crushy reasons, while for my young son a girl AP is not “embarrassing”, because he’s not embarrassed by much anyway. Maybe when my son is older he will be embarrassed by that stuff with a female AP, and then we’ll see. I was willing and even eager to try the male AP, but ultimately it was my DH that nixed it–I was ready to deal with daughter’s discomforts and thought it would be good to not just “suck it up” but also learn what it is to have a friend/mentor who is a boy.

And for better or worse most of the kids and families and schools we know have more female than male caregivers, so it is more “usual”, although I don’t ultimately care about that–but it does mean my son is more comfortable with a female AP than my daughter would be for a male AP.

Meanwhile my son has definitely had ‘crushes’ on the APs, in his little-boy way–and for that matter so has my daughter, in her own way. So I guess my comment really was from the perspective of “I understand life with the preteen girl who doesn’t want a boy AP”, but ultimately I think in this family the girl will have to make do and it might be a good thing all around, in unexpected ways.

hOstCDmom January 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for responding SBW! :) No criticism was intended! We often seem to have some similar views on this board on some issues, so I was genuinely curious.

I get the strong personality kid/squeaky wheel affecting dynamics disproportionately — we have those in our family too!

My eldest is male, next in line female, and given the bio differences when kids hit puberty, and the fact that my eldest two are less than 1.5yrs apart, it means we went/are going through boy and girl puberty simultaneously with these two….great opportunities for daily comparison of who makes my life harder!

We chose a male AP partly for the contrast effect after a WONDERFUL, PERFECT female AP who was with us for 2 years; we felt that male and female APs would be more like apples and oranges, at least with our kids expectations, and thus our kids would be more open-minded and less apt to compare new female AP to old female AP…and when the old one was the AP I would have adopted if I could have, I knew that theoretical new female AP would come up short no matter what she did. We also thought that some of the stereotypically male attributes would benefit our boys (active physical play, sports etc.) BUT, like you note below, we also wanted our kids to see another male besides their father take on a caregiver and household task role. I wanted my girls to see that young men can do dishes, laundry, care for kids, vacuum and clean (and it isn’t just their very equitable father who does those things, since most of their friends’ fathers do not…).

I, of course, agree that it is more usual/typical to have female caregivers, so no one thinks it unusual to have a female AP.

The funny thing is that the ones who had the biggest issue with our having a male AP were my in-laws (another story entirely…!! LOL) and the friends of my eldest daughter. However, the former was irrelevant to me ;) and the latter turned out to be a bonus in unexpected ways — my eldest daughter reacted defensively to her friends stupid comments, and started asserting why having a male AP was good, why it wasn’t weird, and why it isn’t the case that only women can be childcare providers (I was a fly on the wall for one of my best feminist-parenting moments ever when I overheard this conversation — I was so happy to hear that my eldest daughter had been drinking my feminist Kool-Aid!! :))

Emerald City HM January 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm

I can see the “friend” issue being an issue at school, particularly at that age. Preteen and teen girls are mean and terrible to each other over some of the most ridiculous things. The drive to fit in and be accepted is large. I dread the day when my girls are that age because I don’t have the tools to deal with ‘mean girls’ at that age and even now. Which is probably why I work in a male dominated area myself.

Southern HM January 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm

“The drive to fit in and be accepted is large.” My daughter is 12, and this is what we are living. We don’t have a male AP, but just having an AP (and let’s say not mom picking her up) makes her “different” in her eyes and might cause some major drama in our house.

hOstCDmom January 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

You are a parent of two kids, both of whose needs/opinions matter, but not both of whose needs/opinions matter equally in every situation. Read what you outlined above — a male AP is what is best for YOUR FAMILY, when all factors are weighed. You can take account of your daughters feelings, and acknowledge them, but you should not give her veto power. You and your DH retain the sole veto power in this situation, and you and DH have the ability and perspective to weigh all the factors, and make the best decision for your family, which may not be your daughter’s preferred option.

Emerald City HM January 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

In your situation I would also stick with a male au pair because you son needs the au pair more.

I think to approach it better you need to find out what is really bothering her and address that issue. Have her suggest ways to deal with what the problem is while still being able to host a male au pair.

For example, if it’s having friends over, the au pair is bound to be in class some nights and maybe she can make that particular time as her time to watch a movie with girlfriends.

If it’s a puberty thing, if she can have a bathroom that her brother and the au pair aren’t allowed to use, maybe that would help.

To really deal with the situation, I think you have to get to what the root of the problem actually is.

Host Mom in the City January 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I don’t know – I would want to know more about why my daughter said that. Did something particular happen? Did someone say something? Or is she just feeling awkward? Clearly she had it bottled up and is afraid to tell you something. That really concerns me, and I wouldn’t just ignore it. Certainly your son is important, but so are your daughter’s feelings. I might even go so far as to say that if she really really doesn’t want one and can’t verbalize why, that perhaps not getting an au pair at all might be a better choice. Perhaps some kind of a male babysitter for your son that wouldn’t actually live in the house? The way you described your daughter’s reaction is concerning to me.

Momma Gadget January 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

I think regardless if you have children of both sexes,or of the same sex, they often need very different things… and as they get older and develop their own opinions, choosing an AP who is a great fit for all family members is challenging to say the least.
I have 2 boys 3 1/2 years apart. My eldest is fiercely independent and adventurous. His catch phase at 2 was “I do myself”. My youngest has always been clingy, and sensitive. Because of their difference in age and personality,they inevitably have opposing needs, preferences, and opinions…on just about everything.
I think 11 is an age that you can level a little with your daughter.
But I think it is critical not to give her the impression that her brother’s needs are more important than hers are. I would list out what the requirements are for the Au pair. Since she has voiced such a strong opinion, I would agree to look at both male and female candidates BUT I would emphasize that final choice is Mom and Dad’s. We will ultimately choose the best AP for the whole family, and that may or may not be a bro-pair.
We are facing the dilemma now of one child wanting a new AP and the other one not wanting one. We are taking a break for a few months… we’ll see if my eldest changes his mind when he has to help out more around the house, and has to be flexible with his schedule.

Momma Gadget January 11, 2014 at 12:04 am

Just to Clarify- we are taking break from the program, after our current AP finishes up his year the end of March.

Busy Mom January 13, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Momma Gadget, be sure to let us know how it goes and what you end up doing for childcare in between. I’m planning for the current AP to be our last and to transition to an afternoon “sitter” next fall – probably 20 hours/week – who will drive, cook, do some laundry. It will be less convenient, but I’ll save a bit of $ and will have my house back to myself after 16 years of live-in help! Would love to know what you end up doing.

Momma Gadget January 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm

My DH is currently not working so he will be handling the AP duties for now. I am a little worried that it will be a huge blow to his ego being a “house Dad”. He is doing some consulting work from home, which is doable while the kids are in school- Not sure what we will do in the summer. Once we get through this stretch, ad he gets a full-time position,we’ll have to re-evaluate whether we really need an AP or an afternoon babysitter/chauffeur. In our area the basic cost is not so different (if you don’t include the extra costs of having another adult living with you).

Should be working January 11, 2014 at 1:17 am

I knew my kids weren’t hot on the quick transition with our extension AP leaving early (today–and she did, to her credit, make it a very nice ending). But I pointed out that the other choices included lots of time at after school care and they quickly saw the light.

cv harquail January 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm

ReturningHM- Thanks for bringing this issue up– since it touches both on the question of ‘male au pair’? and the question of ‘what about when our kids don’t want the same thing?”
And you other host moms chiming in with such thoughtful responses? <3

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