Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks

by cv harquail on May 27, 2010

Lots of us host parents schedule our pairs not for an 8 or 10 hour stretch, but for one or two (or sometimes three) portions across a day. Often this is to accommodate ‘before school’ childcare needs as well as afternoon needs, or to have our au pairs come back on duty so that we can take an evening out.

When you have little kids, you might also schedule your au pair to be off duty during the baby’s naps.

Whenever we schedule our au pairs for ‘split’ days, we need to keep in mind a few principles of simple fairness– the most important of which is to make the break long enough to be ‘meaningful’.

What is a “meaningful” break?

A meaningful break is a break that is long enough for your au pair to use sensibly, either to socialize, to rest, to get his or her errands done, or to go to the gym. I personally think that any break that you schedule for an au pair should be at least 90 minutes… and two hours is even better. That’s enough time to get to the gym, work out, and get back home before you’re on duty again. And, it’s enough time to meet an au pair friend at Starbucks for a frappucino and some non-English conversation. Also, a break of 90 minutes to two hours offers enough time for a mental break.


Does this mean that, if your child regularly goes in for a nap at 1:30, doesn’t wake up until 3:30, and you work at home and are there to keep an eye on the baby, you can schedule your au pair to be off duty during the child’s nap? Yes.

Be careful, though, if your child does not have a ‘regular’ schedule. Consider that your au pair may want to make plans during his or her break– and making plans requires being firm on a time. You might just have to tuck the baby in or get the baby up yourself (which is fine, I’m sure) if the baby’s napping doesn’t go perfectly according to schedule.


The only times that I’m tempted to ignore my own 90 minute guideline is with an au pair who is not interested in eating dinner with the family.

Rather than have her just sit at the table with us and be ‘on duty’ just so that she can help out with the early evening piano, homework, baths, or whatever, I have sometimes just scheduled her to be off duty during dinner (for maybe 45 mins…. longer if that’s possible). And, when I do this, I’m always careful to make sure that somewhere else between the beginning and end of her work day, she’s had a meaningful break. So, is she’s on duty from 7 am to 9:30, and then back on duty at 4:00, I don’t sweat it quite as much if she’s then off duty from 6 to 6:45, then back on until 7:30 or so. She still has time to go out for the evening. (And most of our au pairs have done just that.)

I would not schedule an au pair to be off duty if I were home for dinner for an hour before going back to work (Yes, this happens, especially when I’m teaching night classes) unless she really needed to be away from the house.

More than two breaks a day

I’ve rarely (never?) scheduled my au pair to work for more than three separate sessions on any given day, with more than two breaks.

I’m not sure if there is any specific rule about it, but it seems a little mean to give an au pair a schedule where her on duty time is parceled out in drips and drabs, over a long span, so that she never has any time in that day or evening to just ‘hang’. There is a way that having three or more on-duty sessions in a day ends up putting the au pair ‘on call’ for 12 hours or more… Imagine being on duty from 7 to 9 am, 12 to 2 pm, 4 to 6 pm and then 9 to 12 pm. Sure, it’s a legal 9 hour day, but still…. I’d only do something like this in a complete emergency, or on a vacation where she could really enjoy those breaks to go snorkeling alone or ride that roller coaster no one else is up for.

Do you have any implicit or explicit rules for yourself when you schedule your au pair’s breaks?


MTR May 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

The first agency I was with stated that au pairs break should be at least 2 hours. I am not sure what my current agency’s guideline is on this, but I think 2 hours is fare.

Also, I am careful when au pair takes kids for activities to account for travel time. A two hour art class is not a meaningful break for au pair is it takes 20 minutes to get to class. Her plans would normally be closer to our house, so takine 40 minutes (round trip) out of the 2 hour class leaves au pair only with 1 hour and 20 minutes of “free” time, which I do not think is fare. Because this, my au pair usually only has break when kids are in school or camp.

Taking a computer lunch May 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

I think scheduling nap time as break time is fine when a parent is home and willing to take responsibility for the child, but for those of us who work outside the time, it’s not fair to tell the AP that she’s on break, but she can’t leave the house. In my opinion, if my AP is responsible for the well-being of my children, then she’s working. And I agree, unless there’s a real stretch of time or access to a vehicle, then it’s a break from duty and not really time off.

There are times when we schedule our AP to work through the evening, because DH and I are going in separate directions for varying amounts of time. I admit, we have the luxury of giving her break time during her working hours because we don’t have to count every minute in a 45-hour week. For example, this evening DH is working from home and should be done around 4:30, about the same time as I get home. He’ll take respsonsibility for getting dinner ready for our son while I do household chores, and our AP gives The Camel her dinner. The Camel usually finishes eating around 5:30. I’ll head off to my softball game around that time. DH may give the AP time off until he takes our son to his karate class at 6:50, but she won’t have access to “the au pair car” because I’ll be driving it. She can’t really go anywhere, except to her room, on a walk, or make herself dinner, so it’s not meaningful down time, just a break. From 6:50 to 8:30 she’ll be responsible for The Camel until the rest of us start returning.

MTR May 27, 2010 at 11:13 am


I agree with you regarding nap time not being off time for au pair if parents are not home. My children are too old to nap, so that has never been an issue with us, so I did not comment on it in my original posting.

former aupair May 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

As far as I know, nap time cannot be counted as break time if the au pair is the only person in the house (and thus responsible for the child).

My 2 cents May 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm

That’s right in our agency’s handbook and the counselor reminds us of it every year at our annual, new au pair meeting.

cv harquail May 27, 2010 at 2:07 pm

M2C, can you tell us what’s in your agency’s handbook? (While all agencies follow US rules, some agencies have additional rules.)

My 2 cents May 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm

There’s no “reply” button under your reply CV, so here’s the information directly from the Cultural Care website under the information about work hours and schedules:

Work hours
According to the U.S. Department of State regulations, your au pair is allowed to work no more than 45 hours per week, with a maximum of 10 hours in any one day. This 45-hour limit includes the direct care of your children and all childcare-related tasks. The children’s sleeping time is counted as work time if your au pair is alone with the children.

JessicaLV May 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I have a toddler under two. My AP is scheduled from 8 a.m. – Noon, and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. (for a total of 8hrs a day). At 1 p.m. my son takes a nap for two hours, and during that time she does a few “chores” for an average of 20 mins. This means she has roughly a 2.8 hr “break.” Seems like a sweet set-up to me… On Saturday, she watches our son for about 1 hr on her own, then accompanies us to the grocery store for a total of about 44hrs a week.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm

But do you count that time against her as “off duty”? If she is the only one home while your son is napping, then it is still work. It’s not that sweet of a set-up if she can’t leave.

Host Mommy Dearest May 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm

note that the nap time is at 1, when the AP comes back on duty so she gets a break and down time… seems like a very good deal to me.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry. I misread it :)

JessicaLV May 27, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Yeah the nap time does not count as official break time, but it is still downtime for her, for a total of 2.6hrs of break + downtime. I’ve asked her several times if she would prefer to work through lunch and then not work on Saturdays, and she says she likes having an hour lunch break to Skype with friends and family back home.

JessicaLV May 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

*Note that either my husband or I always come home for lunch.

some Au Pair May 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

How would you feel if your boss would give you such a schedule?
I think its not… nice to interupt the working day of your Au Pair with 1,5/2hour breaks.

Sure, I am also using the naptime of the little kids to write a few mails and relax, but I also clean the kitchen without the little “monsters” (*g*) running around me, clean the bathroom, do the laundry,…

I would feel bad and used if my host family would change my schedule like that, so they can save a few more hours.

BLJ Host Mom May 27, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I don’t count nap time as time off (in fact, our agency reminds us that if AP is the only one home while kids are sleeping day/night it counts toward the 10/45 hrs), and I rarely break up our AP’s schedule.

However, in response to “How would you feel if your boss would give you such a schedule?”
When I was 19-25, you better believe I had such a schedule. I was “on” at my corporate job from 9-noon and 1-6, I had a lunch hour that I didn’t get paid for, and had to account for transport time. Every work day, every work week.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I was going to say…when I taught preschool we weren’t paid for our lunch time. And we weren’t given a set time of when (if) we would get that lunch!

Nicola aupair May 27, 2010 at 3:51 pm

When I was young… ;)

Just kidding… but I do agree with some Au pair on this matter. 1.5 and 2 hour breaks are not meaningful :( I myself am about an hour away from the city so that wouldn’t even be possible for me.

BLJ Host Mom May 27, 2010 at 4:27 pm

The only reason I mentioned “when I was young” is because now I’m old and salaried :) and don’t get paid more or less for not taking a lunch, for taking a 2 hour lunch break, or for working 30 extra hours in a week. :) But normal jobs available at Au Pair ages do give you exactly one unpaid hour in the work day, and that extends your work day by exactly one hour, it’s not optional.

I think if host parents are splitting days all the time, it would be rude to schedule your Au Pair on and off all day with short increments of off time, but a one hour lunch break to email, read, or lay down in her room, to save a few hours, isn’t taking advantage of her and it can be considered down time, just as a lunch break is. In fact, in some cases it may be the considerate thing to do; some of the host parents I know (who aren’t on this board) would just schedule the extra few hours without being mindful of staying under 45 or 10.

I have split time before to save hrs for a date night, when I’m working from home, and my AP doesn’t ever work longer than the rules allow, but in her circle, it sounds like I am one of the few to pay attention to the rules, and the APs feel that they can’t say no. I’d rather give an hour lunch break, and keep her hours to 45/10.

HRHM May 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Our schedule is always 7-9 am (before school after HPs leave for work) and then 2:30 -6:30ish (from school until both HPs are home and dinner is done. Once in a blue moon we’ll ask her to do 7pm to 10pm so we can go to a movie, but it’s more likely that this would be on Sat rather than during the week. I think that if you are just giving your AP a “break” in the middle of the day (ie while baby is napping and you’re home) to then make her work longer hours elsewhere, you may be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Better to ask her to use that downtime to get household stuff done (wash kid’s clothes, clean up the kitchen from lunch, clean the kid’s bathroom, straighten toys and books) and count the time than to nickle and dime her for 90 minutes just to apply it elsewhere. A lot of the flexiility of the AP arrangement comes from goodwill between the 2 parties, and I think you run the risk of making her feel used if you give her a crappy schedule and “take over” while the baby is asleep or tell her she has to cart the kids to a hour long class, and pick them back up, but then while she’s waiting for an hour she’s on a “break”. AP often takes DD to gymnastics and waits to bring her back an hour later and although she spends this time reading a magazine, this hour is still considered on duty time.

My 2 cents May 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I completely agree. The 1 or 2 hour breaks mid-day are not qualify off time hours, especially if you are counting on those to maximize the 45 hours a week. Definitely not how you would want your boss to schedule (as some au pair sagely reminds) your work week. You are bound to sour your relationship with your AP and that will not be worth it in the long run.

Breaking up the schedule into any more than 2 shifts in 1 day seems a bit crazy to me. It’s like your AP is tied to the house and the immediate 5 mile vicinity all day. One day a week, maybe. But 4 or 5?? No way.

BLJ Host Mom May 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I completely agree with this. The relationship and nickel and diming with it always being in the host moms best interest will eventually lead to burn out and your kids pay the price. No question that the goodwill is MOST important.

JJ host mom May 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Hmm, we’ve actually never asked an au pair to work a split shift. I wasn’t aware that this was okay. It definitely makes sense for au pairs that work around a school schedule.

I think you’d have to be really careful with this in other situations. It’s pretty physically exhausting to watch small kids at the age when they still nap. I think you’d be doing your au pair and your kids a disservice by not giving her paid downtime during naptime. It’d be okay to do this every once in awhile but I definitely would not suggest doing it on a regular basis.

cv harquail May 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm

JJ, your comment made me rethink– when I wrote the post I was coming from the perspective of “hey, wouldn’t it be great to bee off duty during the nap if HM is home– I can go to the gym”. … I’d forgotten about how the same action– having the ap be off duty — can also look like being stingy about her schedule…

There’s a fine line here– as one mom wrote me: “My daughter takes 2-3 hour naps each afternoon and I don’t know if those hours should count towards her 45 hours, since I am home to take care of her if she wakes up…. 3 hours/day, 5 times a week adds up to a lot of “free” hours if I have to count them. ”

That’s true, these hours of ‘down time’ can add up to a lot, even if you can ask your AP to use this time for laundry and other kid things. At the same time, some HPs are really pressed for childcare time, and might want to use these nap hours to save ‘on duty’ hours for another time….

So I’m agreeing with you– maybe do this a few days a week, and ‘save’ 4 or 6 hours for another time, but also have some days when naptime allows your AP to get caught up on quiet kid chores.

Darthastewart May 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I’ve never had an au-pair work a split shift. I know many do, but we just don’t do that.

Host Mommy Dearest May 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

My agency/LCC has never communicated anything about breaks, but I agree with and have stuck to the guidelines that cv mentioned in her post.

When I asked the au pairs I have had, they said they like the midday break to get to the post office or do some errand that it’s hard to do in the evening after work. Do most au pairs, like ‘some Au pair’ above, think a split shift is unfair? or is it fair as long as it is truly free time (for a gym trip, errand, or Starbucks trip) and sticks to the program rules and guidelines cv mentioned? At times the breaks bring down our au pair’s total hours to under 45, but most times the breaks are needed to stretch our childcare coverage to keep the hours to 45. If we need 50 hours of coverage for the work week, for example, we might hire a sitter for 3 hours each midday on Tues & Thurs and give our AP a 44 hour schedule around those breaks. We take what we can get for the supplemental coverage each week, so our AP’s schedule varies depending on that (but we figure it out prior to each week and give her a written schedule). Without this schedule flexibility we could not have an AP as 45 hours would not cut it and it is too hard to find consistent, reliable gap coverage at the same time every week.

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 1:55 pm

When they’re in school all day there really isn’t a choice. Mine works 7:30 to 9 and 3:30 to 7 weekdays. I have had three AP’s do this and nobody has complained yet. Seems easier than chasing toddlers for a full day.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm

That’s sounds perfectly fine if the AP is able to leave the house and go places. Between 9-3:30 gives them pleanty of time to do anything they need/want to do. And no, they shouldn’t expect those hours to count.

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Yes, she can definitely use the car and go places. Worst case scenario if one of the kids got sick and had to be picked up early I could leave work and do it if she was far away but she knows not to go too far!

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Then that’s an awesome scenario! :)

Calif Mom May 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm

My au pair is the only one in our house who gets naps anymore, and boy does she appreciate them!

The split shift also makes her very willing to throw in an afternoon or evening here or there on the weekends. She knows her schedule is not maxed out, and she’s grateful to be able to run to the drugstore, gym or whatever during the day. Not to mention that regular nap!

PA AP mom May 27, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Our AP works 730a-830a (school bus pickup time) and then 4pm-830pm (bus drop off till bedtime). The daytime when they are in school, she is free. She goes to the gym, runs her personal errands or visits AP friends. She says it’s the best schedule of all her AP friends because she has the majority of everyday free to do as she pleases. This is the only schedule that makes sense for us because of the boys being in school all day.

There is one HF in our cluster who gives her AP off from 1230-130 when HM is home for lunch. She counts that as “time off” for the AP. I agree that in the “real working world” a 1 hour lunchtime is considered fairly standard, but I think that it’s a little stingy for an AP work schedule. In our area, there wouldn’t even be time for the AP to leave the house, run an errand or two, and get back before the hour was up.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 1:59 pm

When I was an AP, I worked 6:45-8:30 and then 3:30-7:30. I also provided one night a week of babysitting. I was given the paid time off in between. If there was nothing that needed to be in the house, then I just did what I wanted until I picked the little girl up from school. I wouldn’t take a job with a family that sliced and diced my schedule into little pieces just save hours. I have nannied for families that tried to tell me they wouldn’t pay me for when the kids were sleeping. Needless to say, I didn’t work long for those families.

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Just curious, are you saying above that they paid you for the hours when the little girl was in school when you were an AP?

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I’m not really understanding what you are asking. Why would I not be paid while she was in school? I was still working the X amount of hours we agreed to each week. Can you clarify what you are asking please?

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm

It would only apply if you were an Au Pair where those hours would not be counted as you would be considered “off duty” so they don’t count toward your 45 total limit. It’s different from a nanny situation. That’s why I was confused because you said you were an AP (au pair).

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I said I was an AP while working that schedule. I was not considered “Off Duty” because I was the one that needed to be available to pick her up from school if she was sick, etc. Since we lived in a rather rural area, and there was no transportation that wouldn’t take forever, I stayed at home. So yes, the hours between 8:30-3:30 were counted. More clear now?

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm

The parents didn’t want me leaving the house in the event something happened and I needed to get their daughter. If I can’t leave the house, then it’s not free time.

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Yes, it’s just surprising because it seems that you were working 6:45 to 7:30 every day (assuming those school hours were counted) and that would be way more than 45 hours a week. That was my confusion.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Yeah, tell me about it. lol. I wasn’t very happy about not being able to leave the house M-F until after 7:30pm for a year. But, I put up with it because I was given more vacation time than any other AP I knew as the family traveled frequently during school vacations. And I was only required to go on one ski vacation for a week, where I basically worked 24/7. But that’s another story.

ChicagoMommy May 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm

So it’s unfair to the au pair to schedule a 3 hour break midday? My daughter takes a 2-3 hour nap every day and I am at home to supervise during that time. I certainly don’t have 3 hours of busy work to justify NOT giving her the time off. She’s able to leave the house and do whatever she wants at that time.

Am I being stingy to not want to count 15 hours of weekly naptime/downtime towards her hours worked if she isn’t working? I mean that’s like 1/3 of the 45 hours we are paying for….

cv harquail May 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm


I think it’s find to schedule her off duty, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, in the middle of the day. You’d do that if the baby were in PreK. … Your situation is on the other side of the grey line, in the clear as far as I’m concerned, because 3 hours is a decent amount of time.

JJ, who I was responding to, was talking about 1 to 2 hour breaks, not the 3 hour breaks I referred to in my quote, or that you’re talking about here in your comment. Is there a difference between a 1 hour break and a 3 hour break? Of course.

An important distinction for us all to keep in mind is whether there is another adult there to care for the child. An au pair who is the only adult at home may haven some downtime while a baby naps, but it is still working. In your situation, naptime would/could indeed be time ‘not working’ ….

It is being stingy if the host parent is counting a one hour ‘break’, 5 days a week, when it takes 20 minutes to get to a Starbucks from their hours. A one hour break is not being stingy if you au pair really wants to take that hour to go for a quick run. The difference is whether the amount of time is a _meaningful_ break for her. Similarly, 3 hours waiting for a laser tag birthday party to end is ‘on duty’ even if the laser tag place is at a shopping mall, b/c your au pair really doesn’t have a choice of what to do in the ‘downtime’. As always, the devil is in the details, and the intent.

JJ host mom May 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Actually… my boys consistently start their nap at 1 pm, and nap for 2-3 hours. Most days, neither I nor my husband is home anyway, so it’s a moot point, but I still count those as working hours for the au pair. She makes dinner two nights a week, and she spends some time doing laundry etc, but most of that is just downtime for her to surf the internet or what have you.

In the past, when I’ve had an evening event that I wanted to attend, I’ve always just taken a vacation day so as not to have to split the hours. Based on this post I will definitely split hours occasionally in the future.

I know how exhausted I get on the weekends when I have the kids all morning, try to get stuff done during their naptime, and then watch the kids all afternoon. I just wouldn’t want to impose that on my au pair. But maybe I am being overly nice. That is 10-15 hours a week of paid downtime, which is indeed about a third of her working hours. Maybe for the next au pair, on the days I work from home, I’ll do a bit of splitting on some days so that I can get some of those hours back.

Thanks as always for making me think about things, CV.

Whybotherhavingkids? May 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I’m sure I am going to get flamed for this, but I’m not trying to be rude here. It just bothers me when parents complain/state how tired they get with their kids on the weekends, or those that need the AP to come grocery shopping, or on vacation. Why did you choose to have children? There are pleanty of families, and a lot of single moms/dads at that, that realize the effort that children require and do not have “help” in order to be around their kids. It just bugs me that parents can’t be with their kids for a weekend without either scheduling the AP or wishing that they could. They are your children. You had them, and you probably knew what you were getting into. It’s like parents who employ nannies 50+ hours a week, and are never with their kids. What’s the point of having them? I know I probably irritated a lot of people with this post, and for most of you, it won’t apply. But for the few that it does apply to, all I can say is the truth hurts.

Whybotherhavingkids? May 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

“I know how exhausted I get on the weekends when I have the kids all morning, try to get stuff done during their naptime, and then watch the kids all afternoon.”

Welcome to being a parent!

cv harquail May 27, 2010 at 7:06 pm


Saying that you get exhausted caring for kids, working during their naps and caring for them the rest of the day is *not* the same as complaining…. and it is perfectly okay to tell the truth here, which is that caring for kids (whether as a parent or an au pair) is hard work. And it is tiring work!

Most everything we do that matters to us is hard work. Acknowledging that it’s hard is just honest. It is not a veiled way to say “this is not important work’. I busted my behind in college, worked my butt off at my first job, worked even harder in graduate school, and even more when I became a mom. Hard work, yes. I told the truth about how hard it was, yes, Complained even, too. All of these tasks/activities/goals/jobs were and are important to me– which is, of course, why I worked so hard at them.

Let’s be sure to make a *clear* distinction between working hard caring for your kids, having a job, and having an au pair to help — and never being with your kids b/c you dislike parenting.

By the way, NONE of those “I can’t be bothered with parenting” parents reads or comments on AuPairMom…. ;-) The only parents who spend time on this blog are the ones who want to do their best.

It’s important to me, then, to make sure a tired mom can winge if she needs to… and just think how thoughtful that mom is being… she knows how hard a full day of childcare is without downtime, and so she’s sure to make things easier for her au pair by giving her au pair downtime. [done ranting. cv]

JessicaLV May 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm

WBHK, I think it’s tempting to feel that way when you are young. But consider the reality of having a 40hr+ workweek, only to struggle to find time to be with your kids and husband in the evenings – a time when you are expected to do a second full time job (cooking, cleaning, caring for elderly parents, tailoring, budgeting, etc., etc., etc.). If I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t work full time. If I didn’t have to cook and clean, I wouldn’t (period). If I could be with my child more (just him and me an extra 20-30hrs a week), I would jump, nay, leap, at the opportunity.

With that said, this is the reality of my life: I do not and cannot feel guilty for the hour on Saturday when I go to the gym, and my husband mows the yard, and we schedule our AP for that time. That is time I use to try to make myself healthy, and one of the only times I expend energy on myself.

Additionally, my AP likes to go to the grocery store because she can decide what meals and snacks we prepare in the coming week. It’s “light duty” for her because we both care for my toddler son. And it’s nice for me to have a second set of hands when he runs off into the frozen food section. I’m pregnant, and it’s getting hard for me to run.

JJ host mom May 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm

WBHK, you took my statement completely out of context. All I was saying is that it’s physically difficult to look after small children, and if possible, host parents should leave room for downtime to make up for that when they make their au pair’s schedule.

PA AP mom May 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I think 3 hours is a fair break especially since you are at home to take care of your daughter and the AP is able to leave the house. That’s not the same as saying “the baby takes a one hour nap. You must be home while she’s sleeping, but since you aren’t actually doing anything, you are off-duty”. BIG difference in my opinion.

Sota Gal May 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I totally get the split shifts with older kids, but with our situation we rarely split her schedule. Our 3.5 year old twins still nap most days from 2-3 hours and I just schedule our AP to work a full day. She does have some house work to do – maybe pick up some toys, clean up kitchen from lunch and put away laundry. I also try to encourage her to use nap time to prepare any activities for the kids when they wake up, print color pages or writing activities online, get paints out, fill up toddler pool and get out towels or what ever she feels like doing with them in the afternoon.

When we really need the hours when DH is out of town and I need another set of hands at bedtime, I will split her schedule. But then if I am not super busy I have her breaks scheduled for when the girls are awake. I think a break is more meaningful in our house if you can get away from the crazies. Doesn’t seem fair to me to say “here – you watch my kids, play with them, feed them, put them down for a nap and then I’ll take it from there and then you can have them back when they wake up.” There are times when I am out and nap time is the earliest I can get home but I really try not to.

We also split her schedule on occasion if we are going out; if we are just going out for the sake of having a date night we’ll leave it up to her when she works so she can still make plans with her friends. For anniversary/birthday/parties/concerts we try to provide as much notice as possible.

StephinBoston May 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm

This is interesting, I’ve never done a split shift, I even drop off my kids at preschool in the morning so I don’t have to ask my APs to do the split shift (It’s only 2 days a week, the rest of the days she works 8-5PM). Next year is going to be different, one will be in kindergarten (morning or afternoon we don’t know until July and then it switches mid year, what a nightmare!) and youngest will be in preschool 3x per week 9-11:30. So my plan is to make her work 8-9AM to do drop offs (kinder is a walk away) and drive to preschool on the days where he has it so she would be off 2.5 hours (3 days a week) and then back on until 5pm. I think that’s fair, right?

Busy Mom May 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I thnk it’s completely fair as well.

PA AP mom May 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Sounds reasonable to me!!!

NJMom May 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Yes, I think it’s very fair. But you’ll be smart to tell a new AP in the interview process exactly what the schedule is and make sure they’re on board with it. At least this way they can’t say, “Hey, you never told me …. ” It helps prevent problems down the road.

AnnaAuPair May 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Two things you have to keep in mind:
IF the AuPair is off duty during school-time, what happens if the child gets sick or has off earlier? Who is supposed to take care then? Surely these situations might be rare, but if you’re the AuPair and you are “off”, but at the same time you might at any time be called to work, it doesn’t feel that “off” anymore. (just sayin :D)
Second, giving her off while the baby sleeps can be hard sometimes, especially when the nap isn’t always around the same time.
I had the situation the other way round: my hostmom would want me to take care of the child while he was sleeping (she wanted to spent the “awake”-time with him) in the morning – but he would start his nap anytime from 7 am to 10 am… meaning: my on-duty time would start whenever he fell asleep, but I had to be there in my room (and not in the living room where she was playing with him) and wait to be called on-duty.
Sometimes I would have liked to go out to the post office or so, but she wanted me to stay, in case he fell asleep. needless to say that I didn’t really like the situation that way.

aria May 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I like your point AnnaAuPair. If you’re technically always on call, is that really counted as not working? I work a split schedule and it works for me, because I’m able to run errands during the day to places that would be closed at night when I finish, AND I get to sleep late every day!!! << That's the best part. But during my break/downtime, my HM and I are pretty cool about it being my time, and (this is going to sound really bad, but I swear it's not) my plans come before hers. If one of the boys is sick, of course I stay with him. But if I need to do something and she wants me to run an errand for her, my plans get priority!

Taking a computer lunch May 27, 2010 at 9:05 pm

In our case, it’s the first person who can get to The Camel. It’s not always the AP, sometimes it’s HD (even when he’s working in town, as opposed to the two days he works from home) – because sometimes the AP is in the gym with her phone in a locker. We give our AP a cell phone with texting and nearly all of the combined minutes, with the idea if The Camel’s school calls, she’s supposed to answer. However, we would never tell her to remain in the house on call (even The Camel, with her 2 potentially fatal medical conditions, doesn’t come home from school all that often – and I’ve probably just jinxed myself by writing this). I must say, The Camel actually tends to hold out until she gets home and then collapses, while my son tends to wake up and protest that he’s ill.

We tend to forgive our AP any scheduled weekend ours if she has to work a full day or two during the week – even if it doesn’t add up to 45 hours.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 9:11 pm

From all your posts, you sound like such a great AP mom. I know it probably isn’t easy to care for a special needs child, but you seem to really care about your AP’s needs/wishes, and that is awesome.

aria May 28, 2010 at 5:12 am

*Like* ^ I agree!

PA AP mom May 28, 2010 at 1:09 pm

If the boys are sick in the morning and can’t go to school, then I ask the AP to work that day assuming she doesn’t already have plans. If she does, my mom or my dad covers the day. If she does fill in the extra, then I allow her to have another day without any duties.

If the school calls and asks that the boys be picked up due to illness, then my mom or my dad picks them up. Sometimes AP is home and she will offer to watch them till I get home, if not grandma stays with them.

Our AP only works 27.5 hours per week and has every Saturday and Sunday off, so she is VERY flexible when we need additional help in an “emergency situation”. She loves her “easy” schedule during the school year.

CS Nanny May 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I would have told her those would count as your working hours. To be told you can’t go anywhere or do anything, yet your not “working” is ridiculous.

Busy Mom May 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Our schedule is split, but since we have school age children, the break is a meaningful 4 hours. The break buys us a great deal of coverage in the evenings for sports/other activities.

We don’t ask our au pair to stay close to home, but do tell them that they need to be in a position to answer the phone just in case someone needs to be picked up from school. If a child is home ill, our au pair understands that her daytime plans may need to be cancelled. We make this clear in our handbook and our LCC reinforces in her meeting during the first week that that au pair needs to be flexible if a child is ill. However, we do everything we can (work at home, call in grandma) to avoid having an au pair miss classes. If we do end up needing her to work a long day due to a sick child, we juggle things around to make sure we don’t go over the 45 cap.

Annaaupair – since these situatons happen rarely, I don’t think that any of our au pairs have felt like they’re “on call.” I would never say “don’t go shopping, because you might get a call from school.” I do think that your hostmom was taking advantage of you by having a schedule tied to an unpredictable nap time – that’s simply not fair.

The flexibility of a split schedule (combined with cost since an au pair saves us $10K/year over a nanny – see my other post on that) is what makes an au pair huge advantage over a nanny. However, I think that breaks need to be scheduled for a specific time and last at least 2 hours – long enough for the au pair to actually DO something. It’s also important to cover schedule in detail in interviews to set expectations – preferably in writing or in pictures. If someone verbally described our schedule to me, I might get confused! Now, I email the schedule and a screenshot of our google calendar. Actually, this time around, I emailed narrative version of the typical schedule, an example from a particularly nutty week, and a 5-day gcal screenshot.

zurial May 27, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I did the 3 shift schedule for one of my APs. At the time, I had 3 kids going to 4 different schools every school day. The AP was on 7 am – 8:30 am for breakfast and to help send off the 3 kids to 3 different schools. Then noon to 1 pm for arrival of one of the kids from bus then lunch, and drop off to second school. Back on duty again from 3:30 pm – 9 pm. We counted this as an 8 hr day for 40 hrs for the week. Rarely, did I need AP for weekend help. I knew this was a crazy schedule and on the 1-2 days I worked at home, AP had that noon to 1 pm time slot off. AP was great and often volunteered to work that lunch hour if AP was around and saw I was busy with my work. During the 1 pm – 3:30 pm break, AP had class. It was 10 min away. During the morning break, AP had enough time to go out or just sleep. AP was a night owl and often went out after 9 pm. It was a busy time but AP seemed fine with it and later AP extended with us.

Anna May 28, 2010 at 12:22 am

Lets not get ridiculous and say that time when kids are in school should be au pair’s working time. This is how most families with school age kids are able to have au pairs and fit in the 45 hour time limit, by having time off for them when kids are in school.

Saying that when kids are in school should count as au pair’s working time, is the same as saying that for a mom whose kids are in extended care at school and she doesn’t have an aupair, her time at work every day doesn’t really count because she is really on call in case the school calls her to pick up her child.

There are emergencies and unusual circumstances, and schools have several people for each child on the emergency contact list – usually parents and neighbors, and not only the au pair.

NjMom May 28, 2010 at 6:41 am

Well put!

clairetheaupair May 28, 2010 at 8:05 am

I’m the first emergency contact at the school (HD works up to 2 hours away), but I don’t see myself as always “on call”. Rather, if one of them did get sick, I would worry and drop everything to get to them.
Not becuase I am supposed to, or scheduled to but becuase they are my kids, and I love them and I wouldn’t want them lying with the school nurse all day because I was more concerned about having a latte with my mates.

Thinking that you are on call, becuase kids might call for you is the same category as refusing to say goodnight to a child, becuase it falls outside your working hours. You’re just setting yourself up for a miserable year; unable to properly become part of a family.

anonmom May 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

What a great attitude you have! interested in extending with a new family for a year?? ;) lol

NJMom May 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

I agree. You sound wonderful!

M in NY May 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

I never thought about it really, but I work a split shift schedule because my kids are in school most of the day. I usually work 7-8 in the morning and then 3-8.30 in the evening, and that gives me plenty of time to work out, have a coffee or lunch with a friend, go shopping, watch a movie or run errands in the day.
Sometimes it’s hard to work late in the evening (I have worked until about 9.30 several times), but since I have so much time off during the day it works out well.

But – if I didn’t have a couple of friends who worked almost the same schedule, I would probably be bored out of my mind during the week.

Au Pair in the US June 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I would love to have the mornings off like a lot of au pairs do because they have kids in school. My scedule most of the time freaks me out but I learned to live with it. Today for example i have 2 breaks, one for 1 hour (turned out 10 minutes less… -.-) and one in the evening vor 1 1/2 hours. Thing is, I mostly always have this break in the evening and we start eating right when I’m supposed to be off. But I’m expected to join the meal because the kids are supposed to see that eating is something we do together as a family. So every time I have my break in the evening we’re eating at that time and at least half an hour of my break is gone. Which sucks majorly! So my breaks are always very short and there’s just no chance to go out and do something in that time.

Should be working June 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Sounds to me like if you are truly required to eat with the family, that should count as work time. And at 10 hrs/day, if your HF sticks to that (they unfortunately sound like people who take advantage), and you work from early morning until after dinner with 2.5 hrs “off”, you at least get complete weekends off.

I don’t like it that an HF can be so manipulative about its AP’s “free” time.

Au Pair in the US June 3, 2010 at 6:47 pm

since we had the baby I’m working mostly 45 in one week or i work one evening for 3-4 hours… but still it just sucks… I mean, I’m just in my 1 1/2 hour break that got shorted by the meal so it’s just one hour now… -.-

NoVA Host Mom June 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

We do not have scheduled breaks in our schedule right now because we have a toddler and an infant. However I can see once they are both in school (likely one in pre-K and one in 1st) that a break will happen. The AP will be scheduled around the school schedule to work with whatever our work schedule is at that time..

Because of our work schedules (at least for the previous 6 months before the baby was born), we rarely had the AP scheduled for night hours or anything past dinner. With my newest schedule starting next weekend, she will be working afternoons and evenings with more time to herself in the mornings. I am hoping she will be able to use that time to attend a class or two, as our previous AP did.

Pa Host mom of two au-pairs June 13, 2010 at 4:30 am

ClairtheAu-pair: you go girl… it appears that alot of Au-pairs are not willing to step into your shoes! I certainly would not ever have an au-pair that makes her plans more important than my children. Your family here is the most important aspect of this program, all of the other things should follow afterwards. Building that bond with your family and children are very important to HP. You must be a lovely young lady :)

Xtreme Trampolines January 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Fairness in the workplace is something that I feel is so important but is also something that so very often seems to get overlooked. It is very easy for an employer to overlook the fact that an employee is a person and has needs and wants of their own.

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