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?