Host Parents in the AuPairMom community do their very best to follow the spirit and the letter of the Au Pair Program.
Yet even the most honorable, rule-abiding host parents can feel pressure to push the limits of the Au Pair program.
Why? Because — as designed– an Au Pair working according to the rules simply cannot provide all the childcare and the household help that a family with full-time working parent/s needs.
This is not to say that Au Pairs don’t work hard– they certainly do. But every family with full-time working parent(s) needs more childcare and more help than an au pair can reasonably give.
Why do Honorable Host Parents push the Au Pair rules?
— The family needs more hours than the 45 hour limit, and
— The family needs help with tasks beyond those specified in the Au Pair job description.
The simple truth is — when there are two parents employed ‘full time’, or there’s a solo parent employed ‘full time’, both the total hours of childcare you need and the range of tasks you need help with fall outside the bounds of the Au Pair program.
Childcare Takes More Than 45 Hours Per Week
Kids need care 24/7. That’s 168 hours per week, and 123 hours more than an au pair can provide.
Of course, all of us parents want to spend time with our kids and caring for our kids — so we aren’t trying to outsource all our childcare to others. But most of us with full-time jobs (and in some cases, significant commutes) need to be at work for 45 hours (assuming we eat lunch), so it’s really easy to ‘use up’ all of our au pair’s 45 hours.
Luckily, if you just need more hours of coverage, parents can try to stagger their schedules, enroll the kids in pre-K, school or structured activities, or even get a traditional babysitter to cover the hours that an au pair can’t.
Households Need More Than Child-Related Cleaning
Au Pairs do lots of important work in addition to watching and playing with the kids. They also do key tasks like preparing and serving kids’ meals, washing kids’ clothing, and keeping the kids’ toys and space tidy.
Again, though, this work is just a small portion of the work required to run a house. There’s still grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, making dentist appointments, getting the computer repaired– you don’t need me to list all this, I know.
With household tasks, it gets a little harder to outsource. We can hire a cleaning service for the bigger dirt, we can
wear dirty clothes send the laundry to a laundromat and buy groceries online for delivery, and all that good stuff.
But there is so much that we can’t outsource, can’t do ourselves, and “can’t” leave undone.
If you’re unwilling to let this stuff fall through the cracks, you run around like a crazy person always behind the 8-ball, bickering with your spouse if you have one about who has to do what, and generally trying to make peace with the feeling that the chaos all around you is something you ought to be fixing.
And, in these moments, do you ever start hoping, wishing, suggesting, or expecting that your au pair will do these tasks?
Yeah, I thought so.
Your Parenting Philosophy to the Rescue!
I think it’s important for every family and every host parent to come to terms with this simple reality: No amount of outsourcing takes care of the drudgery of home life. Therefore, you must craft your own ‘Parenting Philosophy’ about what matters and what doesn’t, and let some of it go.
I know this is easier to recommend than to practice. Believe me, I know. And thank goodness there are zillions of resources available to help you craft your parenting philosophy.
[If you've got resources that you just love, send me the links and I'll add them to this post!]
You’ll find that as you think about what matters to you (and your parenting partner/s) when it comes to your family and your home, decisions about how to manage the gap between what “needs” to be done and what you can do will get easier.
And What About Your Au Pair?
As an Au Pair Host Parent, you’ll also need to have a “Host Parent Philosophy”.
We’ve talked about how our Host Parent Philosophy helps address how you want to incorporate your Au Pair — as a role and as a specific person– into your family’s life. It will cover how you’ll manage the employee-family member tension, how you’ll approach cultural differences and learning, how you’ll help your au pair bridge the space between depending on you and becoming an adventurous adult, and more.
Keep in mind that your Au Pair Philosophy must address how you’ll manage your own awareness of the fact that
Your Au Pair simply cannot fill all the space that’s left over after you’ve given your family everything you have.
We can’t just add a great Au Pair and think that s/he can fill all of our family’s remaining child-related needs.
Whether it’s the number of hours of childcare that you still need help with, or the insane array of tasks that somebody has to do, remember that NOT EVEN THE GREATEST AU PAIR IN THE WORLD can do it all for us.
Don’t push the limits of the Au Pair program — respect them. Acknowledge them. Work within them.
They say that accepting limitations is the key to creativity, and that creativity is the key to joy.
What do you say?