What’s the Real Ratio of Good Au Pair Experiences to Bad Au Pair Experiences?

by cv harquail on November 3, 2016

Something I really don’t understand about the larger cultural conversation about Au Pairs is how negatively the Au Pairing experience is portrayed.  The Au Pairing experience is too often presented as being “bad” — where Host Families are demanding, irrational, and/or punitive, and Au Pairs are beleaguered, exploited, and powerless.

Meanwhile, here on the AuPairMom blog, Host Parents and Au Pairs share experiences that are challenging, yes.  At the same time, these challenges are understood to be a small part of the bigger picture. On balance, our stories and comments demonstrate that most often Au Pairing works well for Au Pairs, Host Families, Host Children, and their/our communities.2738582688_4a14ba78f5_q

What’s the disconnect? 

This issue is on my mind today because of an article in the Washington Post: Are au pairs cultural ambassadors or low-wage nannies? A lawsuit enters the fray.

There are already 160+ comments on the article which– even if you exclude the 40% that are anti-Hillary trolls whose comments are irrelevant to the article — is a lot of comments for a post that’s been up only a few hours.

I’m not completely surprised that some of the information in the article is presented in ways intended to bias the reader.

For example, the Au Pair’s “pay” is pegged at $4.35 an hour, and does not include the value of room and board a host family provides. There are some outright inaccuracies which, along with selective interpretations, present the Au Pair program in an unflattering light.  I get it that the author is writing a ‘feature’ that’s part of the Magazine…. this isn’t an objective article for the News pages, and she needs the ‘hook’ of exploitation to pique readers’ interest.

Still, it disappoints me that, once again, so little information is shared about the positive aspects of the program.  

I don’t see any discussion of how regulated the Au Pair industry is, for example, in ways that make being an Au Pair much more protected than being a Nanny, or in ways that make sure an Au Pair isn’t socially isolated during his/her year. I don’t believe that 17,000 families sign up for an Au Pair each year, with many of us repeating the experience several times over, just so that we can exploit some young adult on a J-1 visa.

What also irks me is The Editor’s note. It claims that the author drew on “thousands of pages of legal documents and court transcripts, news articles, academic studies, a survey of 150 former and current au pairs, and interviews with au pairs, host families, workers’ rights advocates, government officials and au pair agency staff.”  But, there’s no reference to our particular community(the largest one by far) as well as the several Facebook groups and Au Pair Agency parent forums where Host Parents and Au Pairs actively work together to make the experience good for all involved.

No. one. has as many positive stories about Au Pairing as we all do here on AuPairMom.

So let’s hear a few.  

What is the author missing, and what our society missing, about the positive aspects of hosting an Au Pair?  

What do people need to know from us, Au Pairs and Host Parents who’ve found the experience so worthwhile?

Comments are open. Please, no anti-Hillary trolling though.

 

Image by James Jordan on Flickr

 

 

 

 

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

No name, no trail November 3, 2016 at 5:04 pm

I also felt as thought the article was very one-sided – even though the featured au pair actually had a good experience with two out of the three host families she had. If you read the law review article by Janie Chuang that’s mentioned and linked, though, you’ll see these concluding paragraphs:

“For middle and upper-middle class working parents, finding and funding childcare (particularly for preschoolers) under the glare of intensive-mothering norms and absent state-provided financial assistance is an endeavor fraught with contradiction and compromise. Given that legally hiring a domestic worker and at a fair wage can exceed a year’s worth of private college tuition, hiring an au pair is an immensely rational option. This article thus does not mean to criticize those who pursue this option. Many families treat their au pairs well—some, such as Paola’s subsequent employer, even continue to provide emotional and financial support to their au pairs well beyond the duration of the placement.

The problem, however, is that the structure and rhetoric of the au pair program does little to guard against, much less address, exploitation of au pairs, leaving their treatment entirely contingent on the goodwill of their host-family-employers. Regrettably, for some families, treating those who care for one’s children well is not necessarily intuitive. While au pairs offer an affordable childcare option, affordability is often subjective—for those who simply do not value domestic workers or domestic work, it can never be cheap enough. For others, lesser treatment derives less from disrespect than from unconscious adherence to gender, race, and class stereotypes that shape this most intimate of employment relationships. Trying to consciously navigate this fraught terrain without the benefit of external rules designed to resist these presumptions requires vigilance.”

I find that quite persuasive, even as someone who hasn’t had a great experience in the program to date. There have to be safeguards in place; the program can’t just rely on the good nature of participants.

Au pairs should be screened more carefully for the maturity, judgment, and wherewithal to report abuse if/when it occurs, and I really like the idea of lowering the limit to 30 hours/week, with the option for families to pay an hourly wage if they need more hours – but still with a hard cap, though maybe slightly higher than now IF au pairs were earning that overtime.

There are too many bad incentives right now for both the families and the au pairs to lie at the monthly check-ins. And maybe agencies could do more to ensure that the matching process really did address the big questions surrounding expectations (e.g., interviewing the host family and au pair one last time before finalizing/approving the match, and making sure they’re on the same page).

We treat all of our caregivers with great respect, but I’ve seen far too many people – friends, even – who don’t value this type of work, be it a babysitter, nanny, daycare worker, or au pair.

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Frankfurt AP Boy November 3, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Being a host family or an au pair isn’t for everyone, nor even the majority. There a substantial risks on both sides that you made match with unsuitable people. For au pairs, they may end up with a family like the one described in the article but similarly a family is trusting someone they have never actually met to look after their children, unsupervised, for many hours a day. It is always going to be a leap of faith and nothing can be done to completely mitigate that.

The natural dynamic of the arrangement of an au pair living and working in their HF’s home means that the family will be the dominant party in any agreement or changes to it. There are some things though with the US system that increases the stakes. The fact that the family can, in effect, revoke the au pairs right to live in the country for whatever reason they like, leaves au pairs open to exploitation. Particularly when they have paid so much money to get there to an agent and then have to pay for a flight back. There are strong reasons for an au pair to accept an abusive family over paying the costs – particularly if they come from a poor country as many do. I wonder what happens if they can’t afford the flight back? Are they sent back at the expense of the home office and then banned from ever returning?

Both au pairs and HFs paying thousands to an agent also stirs up problems. An au pair should feel able to leave a family if they wish but yet the family have paid thousands to get them there and, understandably, feel entitled to their ongoing services.

This might be a cultural thing but.. what is the average working week in the USA? In the UK it is 37.5. For me, the fact that au pairs have to work 45 hours a week seems a lot, especially considering that for most of them this will be their first job. I feel that it would be much more of a cultural experience if they didn’t have to a job that is more than full-time. This is why the hours in Europe are much less. I work around 20-25 hours a week as an au pair. I do however think that the pay is fair though, as CV says, when you consider accommodation and food are included.

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TexasHM November 3, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Keep in mind the HF is just as vulnerable to AP deciding that they want to go home or go to another family and the HF is often out significantly more money than the AP. The HF cannot revoke the APs right to the live in the US – only the agency can do that and they are incentivized to match the AP with another family so they don’t lose money as well – often you hear of APs that have endangered children being put back in the pool to match over and over again. Also APs don’t get stranded here. These types of assumptions are exactly the kinds of things mentioned in the articles CV is mentioning.

I absolutely agree its not for everyone and I actually wish screening was harder on both sides but agencies want to make money and APs want to come and HFs want APs so there is no incentive to reduce the field.

All of our APs have worked 45 hours a week and none complained. In fact all said it was easier than jobs they had held before and we deliberately screen for APs with long hour work experience.

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TexasHM November 3, 2016 at 6:36 pm

And PS – if an AP decides to bail with no notice they can pack up and leave on the spot with all their belongings and go home like nothing happened or on to the next family whereas the host family is now taking off work, trying to frantically find a nanny or rematch or out of country AP not to mention the impact to the kids!

I have watched great host families leave the program because a single AP burns out and leaves a trail of destruction in their wake. It happened to us and took us 6 months of prodding from our ex-APs to even think about trying again and that was after four years of fantastic APs! I think this is why I, like CV, get so frustrated reading people that have never hosted talk about the “exploitation” when the risks are far greater to my career, marriage, kids, family, home and assets than the risks to an AP and yet we do it over and over again!

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SA_Au Pair November 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Both au pairs and host families are risking something by signing up for this, the risks are different but valid. Host families are welcoming a stranger into their home – the au pair is leaving her country to live with strangers in the hopes that they’ll be the people they appeared to be online. Some host families are welcoming 18 year olds who are fresh out of high school and have never spent a week away from their parents into their homes with the hopes that they will be able to work 45 hours a week and honour the 12 month commitment they agreed to. Having lived alone I can safely say that the weekly allowance au pairs get is enough and perhaps the au pairs who are complaining about the pay have probably never lived alone and don’t understand how much things such as rent, electricity and groceries cost. I do think that au pairs should be given the option of initiating contact with families, maybe then au pairs will start feeling like they’re actively involved (have more agency) in choosing the right family for them (and au pairs will start feeling less like a product on a shelf just waiting to be picked). People are people and that means there are not so good families and great families, au pairs just need to be really thorough while going through interviews (again, this can be difficult when you’ve been waiting for months and 1 family finally contacts you). The great thing is that most of the au pair stories I’ve heard in real life have been positive, the host families seem to treat the au pairs with dignity (and respect their cultures) and au pairs are holding their end of the bargain and both parties come out at the end having learned something worthwhile. I do believe that constructive criticism is needed in order for improvements/adjustments to happen.

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Bitka November 7, 2016 at 4:06 am

I guess that You are doing and doing it again because You see profits in it no matter what. Monetary profit to be strict. You will always have support with your relative right away (not like the au pair – for example difference in time so she can’t even make a call). My host familly burned me out because they were not interested in cultural exchange. They think that only America counts and they are a team. In the beginning when I was joining them for trips they were underlying it we are team of “surname” family. Probably it was comfortable for them that I wasn’t joining for dinner-btw they weren’t buing more food or leaveing a portion for me. It’s easy to burn out when You are try hard and You don’t see any impact from the other side. No appreciation instead of that listening orders, topics only connected with host children or judginc comments. I guess after a while au pair is starting to realize that she/he is all alone it foreign country. Next au pair will get used to it and will be waiting for the end of the programme.

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CozyFarmHM November 4, 2016 at 5:01 pm

In the US, an individual who is not a salaried, professional must be paid 1.5 times their regular pay for hours over 40. Accordingly, for many in the US, 40 hours is standard, which does not include time to commute to one’s job. I would be willing to guess that many (if not most), who have au pairs fall into the “salaried professionals” category. For the salaried professional, hours can range from less than 40 to 80+. In my line of work (attorney), 40 hours is considered part-time by some and I would peg the average week at 50-60 hours (excluding commute time).

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WarmStateMomma November 6, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Another lawyer here. Yes, 40 hours is PT in many professional jobs.

It’s so hard to compare the AP’s experience to a regular job. They get so many extra benefits and have SHORT hours, but they also have extra obligations, like meeting the LCC every month and participating in those activities (unpaid).

I do think the stipend should track the federal minimum wage (with proper accounting for room and board). I think bad host families should be booted faster. I think pressure needs to be applied to universities to accept APs more readily.

The most telling evidence of the AP program not being abusive is the fact that it’s most popular in Western Europe for APs and host families. Those countries are the least likely to subject their citizens to abusive labor practices and they are the ones who most readily embrace this arrangement.

I could go on forever about the opportunities my APs have gained from their time with us or how they wouldn’t do anything differently with the benefit of hindsight, but those aren’t juicy stories for people who want to think we’re just looking for cheap nannies.

I would probably not consider a nanny even though the cost would be about the same in my city. It’s a completely different kind of child care and we’d probably just find a day care if the AP program were closed. My kids and the APs would lose out if the program were closed; who would possibly benefit? The franchise daycare with its poorly-educated staff? Just so that staff can make $3 more an hour to live in poverty? I’m paying that money to the agency anyway, so there’s another set of American employees who would lose.

It doesn’t surprise me that the people who fight against the program have no idea how it works and haven’t participated. Even Humans of New York featured a former AP who lied and said she was “sent” by an agency to live with families who didn’t pay her “enough.” Obviously, an AP chooses which families to match with and agencies don’t “send” her anywhere! It’s disappointing how people just want to believe the world is a nastier place than it is.

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Bitka November 7, 2016 at 4:17 am

Sure the agency is not sending You anywhere. The agency is pushing all responsibility for the au pair. It’s a pressure. There are webinars-“How to make Your year successfull”. Remember in U.S.A. is not good to complain. Anywas the compny should give the au pair the right pool of families. I mean fine, checked famillies who can afford having an au pair and understand that it supposed to be cultural exchange not work. I guess hosts shouldn’t even call it work because it’s not minimum salary. I would say it’s a duty, taking care of children.

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FormerAPinBrazil November 7, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Why did you think being an Au Pair was going to be? I’m glad that your agency gave webinars about how you could make your AP year successful…I’m not sure what you find wrong about that. Also, being an AP is a JOB. It is also a cultural exchange program, but that doesn’t make it mutually exclusive to being a job. Did you not choose the HF that would match with you? I can’t imagine that any US AP agency “sent” you anywhere or forced you to match with any certain family. It was your decision to participate in the program and you mutually agreed to go to the host family you matched with. I feel like you should be taking some personal responsibility for your experience rather than blaming the program.

Bitka November 8, 2016 at 7:21 am

I can expect that on this website there will be plenty of families witch who au pairs would have positive experience. The thing is hosts who read websites like this/put comments are interested in how is it of “having an au pair” and interact with her during her stay under their roof. Those who aren’t interested in getting information won’t make this programme to work better so the host familiy and the au pair could be winners.

TexasHM November 3, 2016 at 6:21 pm

This is a very timely post in our household as we prepare for our next APs arrival tomorrow. I am constantly reminding myself as the nerves and doubt creep in why we do this year after year and have to remind myself that ultimately this is akin to an arranged marriage and both sides have to give 100% for it to be successful.

What I think people need to know about this program (and what I tell people locally that ask me why in the world I would invite a young foreign stranger into my home and hand them my keys and kids) is it is all about communication, expectation setting and effort. You have to be very clear about what you are looking for, what your dealbreakers are and you have to be prepared for mistakes, misunderstandings and cultural differences and be able to separate your emotions from the circumstances.

I realize this probably doesn’t make anyone want to rush to sign up but I follow it with “we have tried literally every childcare scenario – in home, relative, franchise daycare, ivy league daycare and this is 100X better when it works”. Last night as my friend was cutting my hair and my soon departing AP and 6 year old were having a tickle fight in front of us on the kitchen floor I whispered to her “that is what it is all about right there”.

I think the problem is (and the reason we hear so many horror stories) is that there are a lot of families and APs that take this program a little too lightly. Some APs think this is a US vacation and they can babysit a little and joyride the family car and some host families think the rules are suggestions and the APs are so lucky to get to live with them that they should be beyond grateful even when they work them 80+ hours a week. I know many families (and APs) that literally match with the first person they Skype with. Literally reading a profile (if they even read it all) and Skypeing for an hour and they are matched and ready to go! Both figure they will get all the support they need from the LC and are shocked when they are expected to largely sort it out themselves, the host family having expected Mary Poppins and the APs having expected an all expense paid vacation year!

People ask why in the world we host. Because we want our kids to realize that the world is a lot bigger than the town they live in, that certain things are universal (love, joy, fear, struggles, victories) and the rest is noise. That not everyone has the opportunities they have and that we (Americans) don’t have all the answers and that there is no excuse for ignorance especially in this day and age. Because we get the opportunity to invest in someone that invests in our children. Our APs have influenced our kids in ways we never could have ourselves and we would like to hope they learned a thing or two from us along the way.

We host because no matter how great the part time nanny there is no comparison to the bond formed between an AP and her host kids. My APs play with them in their time off, clear their schedules for their important events even though its often in their free time, rejoice with them and cry with them. My 6 year old stopped carving pumpkins Sunday night to tell soon departing AP “AP – I am going to MISS you SO much” with all the emotion in her body and AP, HD and myself all had to take a minute to compose ourselves.

They arrive exhausted, terrified and unsure and blossom into confident, strong, proactive forces to be reckoned with. Every time they think they haven’t changed much and I only wish I could rewind time and introduce them to their former selves! The parents thanking us with tears in their eyes when they see what their daughters have become.

If you are looking for hard costs – straight line clear deliverables for hosting you will be disappointed. It is a complete leap of faith even when you do match well and just like a marriage the relationship takes effort and grooming.

This morning I pulled out a binder that holds all the mothers day cards, goodbye cards, thank you letters, old family calendars, AP/kid art projects, pictures of my babies snuggled up asleep with APs on Thanksgiving, the Christmas ornaments we pull out every year (each AP made one representing her country/term), the return visits, hugs and tears from ex-APs, the inside jokes, family vacation memories, annual traditions, watching them accomplish their goals, get married, have babies of their own – precious, precious irreplaceable gifts.

Just like single friends that still invite you to get lit and limo the town for their birthday and feel sorry for you “now that your life is over and you are stuck at home with a new baby” and we nod and then smile knowing that our world is now technicolor and they have no idea what they are talking about and missing and we wouldn’t have it any other way, I feel the same way about acquaintances that hear about the AP program, ask a million questions and surmise that they wouldn’t want to live with someone and have to deal with all that. :)

To all potential APs and HFs – don’t underestimate the impact you can have on the AP program. For many APs this is a life changing opportunity and for HFs it is as well if you let it be. But these are peoples children (APs) and treat them as such and give grace when you can. And APs remember that HFs make a huge investment in you and look at it as an opportunity to make an impact in their lives and the lives of your host kids in addition to your own and the sky is the limit!

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E.B. November 3, 2016 at 6:32 pm

This is one of the most beautiful and true texts I’ve ever read about the Au Pair program. As a former Au Pair, I agree on everything you’ve said. Sure, there will be bad times and you – HP and AP – will want to throw the towel and just leave. But then you sit down, and you relax for a minute, and you’re fine. Just like with your family or a close friend. All I can say is that my HF taught me so much, most of it unconsciously, I can’t even thank them enough. My older HK just turned 15 and I nearly cried thinking about how he’ll be able to drive this time next year. So – what the article misses is emphasis on all the emotional bonding, the learning-experience of both HF and AP, broadening one’s horizon – and like 100000 more things!

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cv harquail November 4, 2016 at 7:57 am

love love love this TxHM!

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CozyFarmHM November 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Beautifully written.

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2 kids and a cat November 4, 2016 at 7:50 am

We’ve known since before kids we wanted to have an au pair be part of our family.

Until we were where we could do that, we’ve used full-time centers (a premium brand if you will), nanny, nanny-share, mom-and-dad split schedule , and this is just the best situation for us. We love our current au pair – she takes excellent care of our children, they love her, and we enjoy chatting with her after dinner. Even our last (who ended in a tough rematch) was very good to our kids and they adored her. We work really hard to support the cultural exchange. We invite them to do whatever we’re doing, and it’s their choice whether to join in or not.

The tricky thing (with our last) was that she didn’t really gel with our family vibe – she wanted to watch movies at night rather than read by the fire. Just because she didn’t love it here didn’t mean we didn’t treat her well.

I’ve lived with host families in several different countries, and sometimes it’s like that. But, you’re still on the ground with ample time and money to do your own thing. I don’t think it makes for a bad program – it’s a learning and growing experience – perfect for the AP age demographic..

(On the money, not too long ago I worked for a stipend (hello, grad school) that was barely much more than the AP’s – and had to pay for rent, food, my car, and any personal expenses out of that. To have all her expenses covered, an insured car to use, and family vacations, plus $800 spending money adds up to a respectable package.)

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EVC November 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

This part of the conversation is really
Important and I’m surprised that the WP skates past the room and board component. I was the oldest au pair in my cluster, had been tomcollege, worked and lived on my own already by the time I started the program. I think that experience gave me a very different perspective on “only $200 a week”. I would listen tonaunpairs in Chicago complain about how little we were paid. I would then gently remind them that the money we received was basically play money. With some minor exceptions, I had literally no monthly expenses as an au pair, no rent, utilities, phone, internet, car insraunce, gas, groceries etc etc etc. I think if you are an au pair who has come straight from living with your parents there is a greater likelihood that you take all of those things for granted, and don’t fully understand how much all that costs.

I worked out what my approximate salary was if I included all of the things that were provided for me. Assuming rent for a studio in Chicago, it worked out to be a little over $33,000 a year, which might be on the low side. That is about $16 an hour and only $5,000 less than my first full time professional job paid me once I was finished with the au pair program, and actually quite a bit more than he jobs I did for 6 months before I landed a full time professional position. Clearly a lot of those costs my host family were going to be paying whether I was there or not, utilities, mortgage etc, but several were definite extra costs and I thought it was appropriate to give myself (and my fellow au pairs) some perspective on the costs of living. Frankly, even now, as a married and fairly well established professional, in a two income household, I would kill to have $200 a week just to have fun with. My wife and I would be eating at some really great restaurants each week if I did.

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Taking a Computer Lunch November 6, 2016 at 11:00 pm

The bottom line – the U.S. Department of Labor sets the stipend based on federal minimum wage minus room & board. Now, you might argue, some areas of the country are more expensive than others – but equally, so is room & board. In the old days, when people still put classifieds in the newspaper and my APs complained about the paltry stipend, I’d pull out the paper and say, “Here’s minimum wage, how much would you have left over – minus the car, the family trips (our vacation – not hers).” And yes, for great APs DH and I offer a generous “bonus” at Christmas, at their birthdays, etc.

BTW, the story was also on the NPR show “Reveal” this evening. 1) I don’t think most Americans know that you can deduct room & board from wages and 2) I don’t think most Americans really know what the au pair program entails. Is it perfect? No! Is it completely dependent on the quality of the LCC to protect au pairs? Yes and no – it depends on the HF, too!

I didn’t pick hosting an AP because it was cheaper. I did it because it was possible. The Camel is about to turn 18 (she’s 3′ 10″ and weighs a mere 55 lbs) and DH and I are oh so grateful that our current AP is willing to extend for another year, because I don’t think we’ll find too many 18-26 year-olds interested in caring for someone their age. It’s been a great run and I’m grateful that it exists. Unlike many of you I could have “cheaper” childcare – but quite frankly, the model of nursing is “keep the patient alive.”

Even my second-to-worst AP did 100% better job of loving and cuddling with my child than my best nurse.

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DMMom November 4, 2016 at 11:34 am

Of course everyone has different reasons and expectations, but our family loves the program and our Au Pairs. My kids can say good morning in 5 languages, they are eager to learn about the world and travel. Our Au Pairs have returned to visit our family many times and half of them have ended up living in the US.

It is the best of culutral exchange and child care. My children love that they can “teach” an adult something, for example how to self check books at the library and we include the Au Pair in famliy outings, day trips and vacations. Everyday life is a cultural exchange, not a party.

Both my husband and I were exchange students and world travelers before hosting, so maybe that gives us an unique perspective. In some ways we look at hosting Au Pairs as a way to give a young person an opportunity they may otherwise never have – it opens doors and opportunities for many girls and we have watched them grow and flourish. Our Au Pairs are family and we take care of them as such, that is so much more than dropping your kids off at a childcare center with rotating employees who are paid minimum wage.

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Bitka November 7, 2016 at 4:30 am

Being an au pair is also making You dependable from the familly. You can control him/her in so many ways. You can check when is going on what time is she going back. You can even set her curfew it’s awful.

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FormerAPinBrazil November 7, 2016 at 3:14 pm

So are you saying you didn’t know about the rules of the program before you decided to participate? I’m having a hard time figuring out why you did the program. All of your complaints are things the agencies tell you about up front…don’t see how it could have been a surprise.

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Bitka November 8, 2016 at 7:30 am

Sure everyone are responsible for their choices. The thing is that it supposed to be a positive experience which includes – hosts and au pair- so they wouldn’t become irrelevant people for each other during the year. So it’s not even about the money in my case it’s more about the attitude.

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Should be working November 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm

The article misses a lot of points, as has already been stated, most obviously with the wage description. (And why is an AP posting on care.com for a rematch, that part made no sense to me.) The stories are lopsided and don’t capture the nuance of a good HF/AP relationship and how the whole thing works.

I have loved having APs and have appreciated all the world-connecting and family-enlarging opportunities they have given my family. I would also say that we here at aupairmom.com do take pains to treat our au pairs in a warm, fair, friendly way. But while I and most of us on here use the AP program to good mutual benefit and abide by spirit and letter, as a program I don’t actually think it’s a good program. The agencies charge a lot. Does anyone know their actual profits, and who gets that profit? The local support is spotty, as many of us on the blog have noted. APs are paying a lot to come here and it appears that the fees do not scale to wealth of the AP’s country or situation. The APs sometimes have overly high expectations of travel/fun vs. work, possibly fostered by agencies. The 2-week rematch window is really just bad for everyone: APs are under great pressure to find a new family or go home; HFs have to host someone they are ‘breaking up with’ and it’s not pleasant. And then there are the many families who don’t abide by the spirit or the letter of the rules and treat their APs in ways that most of us here would not find acceptable.

It seems to me that the cultural-exchange model would be a more nonprofit kind of thing, rather than the for-profit agency model. This would probably mean the end of the program as we know it though.

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Bitka November 7, 2016 at 4:55 am

Good point. I guess it should be for people who are looking for cultural-exchange model non profit thing.
Now this program is so messed up because:
1. It’s not real job- au pair is getting pocket money not even the lovest salary.
2. Both parts are not familly members for each other (BTW they can’t be-maybe it’s nice to call someone a member of a familly but it’s also ridiculous.
3. Being a host-in my situation it wasn’t true because it means that the au pair should be treated like guest and hosts should provide boarding. I guess a lot of the famillies are skipping that part because there is no minimum wage saying how much hosts should spend for the food for the au pair. I the agreement there is only a note that the host family should provide food for the au pair but actually what does it mean? Probably different things for many people. Let’s consider that the au pair has to pay also for the food… How much does it left from her not even the lovest “salary”?

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Jessi November 7, 2016 at 7:48 am

But the au pair shouldn’t also have to pay for food as the cost for this has already been ‘taken out’.

No its not a real job – it is a cultural exchange programme.
Then you got the wrong family and should have left the family – called for rematch

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Bitka November 7, 2016 at 9:05 am

So again the hosts know that they supposed to pay for the food and? They should be at least intersted what is going on. Councellor should monitor that. Again au pair is alone with her problem.

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Should be working November 4, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Sorry–I just realized that I did not respond to the question and task CV posed–and indeed there are so many positives to report. My previous post is a more coldblooded assessment of the program in general. That perspective on the program, maybe strangely, does not at all match my very happy experiences with APs. Let me try a totally different spin:

The AP program is an oddball. It does involve employment and childcare, lots of it. But it is also exchange and a family stay. There is always a bit of a crapshoot with exchanges and homestays–also true in kids’ high school exchange programs, for instance. Some families are warm and do a lot for their guest, some less so.

We have loved our APs because they add to our lives in so many ways. Language, culture, humor, new relationships, and so on. I like having a “bigger” household, more people around, a young adult to keep things lively. The kids love the APs because they 1. Are not parents 2. Are (usually) cool just for not being parents. We parents mostly love our APs because 1. They love our kids 2. They are not our kids! It is a bit like having a camp counselor in the house. Also, with male APs we change the gender balance of our household, really interesting. We are in touch with all of our former APs (except an early mistake). This means visits, birthday gifts, skype, etc.

I am so happy that my kids have had these relationships. Our relatively small family gives less opportunity for close, live-in connection and the AP provides that. Saying goodbye is VERY hard but the kids also learn that connection remains even over time and distance. I wish that all HPs understood the value of the “spirit of the letter” of the AP program; because it is this strange mix of childcare, live-in help, homestay and exchange it does a lot of things that otherwise aren’t possible in one package.

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PopularAuPair November 4, 2016 at 10:05 pm

I did a high school study abroad program. I lived on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean with a fantastic family. I still call my host mom “Mama” and text her regularly. It’s been awhile since we’ve skyped, but we’ve both been quite busy. I was one of the lucky ones. One of my best friends paid to go live with a host mom who called her fat and ugly and put her on the streets on a moment’s notice because they were going on a vacation and were tired of having an exchange student (my wonderful mama bought her plane tickets from Sicily to Sardinia and almost didn’t let her go back when the program found her a new family! They also still talk frequently and my friend calls her Mama as well.)

Another friend lasted a whole year with a family when they had a vast communication barrier (not from the language difference, but simply personality differences). He changed his return date under the table and told her 2 days before his departure that he needed a ride to the airport. His sensitive spirited host mom was devastated. In her eyes she had tried so hard and she was immensely hurt. In his, they never listened to what he was saying. Both ended the year with bitterness and hard feelings. He told me he will never go back.

Home-stays are a creature unto themselves. It takes a vast amount of understanding and communication to make things work. At 16/17, I did a year long home stay where I spoke none of the language and I attended high school. Now at 21, I am looking at doing a homestay where I’m polishing my knowledge of my third language and I’m working instead of schooling. The expectations are different, but so are my goals. I also am not looking for another Mom/Mama. At this point I have 2 of those. I want another big sister or even a good friend. Some one like my favorite professor here at university. We chill out in office hours together and chat about our personal lives, but she still retains authority. And at the end of the day I do my best and she teaches me some invaluable skills.

With my study abroad I found that it was critical to have realistic expectations. So many of my friends were going to Italy to see Rome and eat pasta. I was going to learn a new language, have a new family, experience a new lifestyle, and hopefully travel some (if not what did I care? This small town Iowa girl was 10 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea!). I was more than satisfied with my experience. Others, not so much. I can only imagine the same applies to au pairing.

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Returning HM November 5, 2016 at 11:29 am

“We have loved our APs because they add to our lives in so many ways. Language, culture, humor, new relationships, and so on. I like having a “bigger” household, more people around, a young adult to keep things lively. The kids love the APs because they 1. Are not parents 2. Are (usually) cool just for not being parents. We parents mostly love our APs because 1. They love our kids 2. They are not our kids! It is a bit like having a camp counselor in the house. Also, with male APs we change the gender balance of our household, really interesting. We are in touch with all of our former APs (except an early mistake). This means visits, birthday gifts, skype, etc.”

SBW – your quote above really resonates with me. This is why we have loved hosting so much —- and it is also why we are struggling so much this year. Our current AP is here 2.5 months and pretty much does the job, but with no heart at all, no energy, no joy. Consequently, not only are my children feeling like they have a caretaker rather than a fun au pair with them, but *I* am missing the fun and joy of having a young adult around who adds energy and life to our household.

We are weighing the “but he knows how to drive and overall he gets much of the job done” with “but we know how great this program can be, and this is not at all great.” It’s our last year in the program, after 10 of the past 12 years hosting, and I just didn’t think we would limp to the finish line quite like this.

Thanks for this post and for reminding me that this program really can be great (not that I forget often — we are in close and regular touch with 9 of our previous APs). I am living how mixed a bag it can be when things are just mediocre (I almost wish for BAD because then I would know what to do and could do it!).

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Host mom in the NW November 4, 2016 at 7:38 pm

We have had 2 au pairs now, and when our current one finishes, we are going to stop having au pairs. I am finding it too difficult and exhausting to navigate the au pair/host mom relationship. Having an audience when I’m parenting my children is getting old. I want my privacy back! I will miss the flexibility and affordability and the cultural exchange, though!

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txmom November 4, 2016 at 9:56 pm

This is timely. We are hosting our first au pair, and she’s a rock star. She’s been with us for 3 months now, and while I think we are good at the interviewing process, I mostly think we just got lucky. Out of the 5 APs that came from her country and went through training with her, one is going home this week due to a bad match/homesickness, and another is in rematch. Two are happy, plus ours, who says she loves our family. It terrifies me that 2/5 ended poorly, and makes me really worry about next year.

More to the question, we are having a great year with our AP. She’s super flexible with her work hours (she only works about 25 hours a week), which allows DH to pick up more work trips and actually make quite a bit more money….honestly, her flexibility increases our earning potential by so much that it will cover the agency fees this year. She had never been on a plane before coming to us. We’ve had so much fun showing her our own state and traveling to show her the country. When my kids have nightmares, they go to her room first and climb in bed with her (because she’s upstairs with them, and we’re down)…and she loves it. DH travels for a living, and it’s been so nice for me to have some companionship. We will all be sad when it’s time for her to go home.

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Should be working November 5, 2016 at 7:18 pm

I’m listening to a radio show about the au pair program that is covering precisely the same cases as the article, it’s called “Reveal” on NPR.

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