Au Pair! How to get the help you need
This year our beloved nanny is leaving us to move overseas. After 3 years of having her as an integral part of our family we will be hard pressed to replace her. I have decided that I need more help than I am currently getting in order to juggle work and family thus I have decided to hire an au pair. An au pair is a nanny that comes from an overseas country and lives with your family, caring for the children and providing other help (such as cleaning and grocery shopping) in return for accommodation, food and board and the chance to immerse themselves in Australian family life. Many want to travel and learn english and see this as a perfect way to do so. I must admit that up until recently I hadn’t even heard of such a thing. I just thought au pair was a fancy word for a nanny. The more I leant however the more I realised that this is just what our family needs. The main differences between a nanny and an au pair are that an au pair lives with you, a nanny does not, and the cost: au pairs earn approximately $250/week for around 35-40 hours work, or $6-7/ hour, nannies earn around $20-$25/hr.
Friends of ours, Pete and Meg, have had au pairs for many years- four in fact. I was luck enough to sit down with Meg and pick her brain on how to successfully choose, hire, integrate, train and keep a great au pair!
Meet Pete and Meg!
They have 4 amazing boys!
Leo age 7
Patch age 5
Jules age 3
Ethan 2 months old
Pete (Dad) – Current job requires shift work of evenings, weekends and nights– also studying for an exam which requires at least 20 hours of study per week outside of work hours :[
Meg (Mum) – On maternity leave but works 1-2 half days / week locally
When did you decide to get an au pair? We decided we needed to get an au pair when Pete had first set of medical specialist exams brewing which just happened to coincide with our 3rd baby being born. As Pete became a ‘trainee’ again he had to take a major pay cut so having an au pair seemed much more attractive financially than paying for a private nanny or for childcare.
How did you find your first au pair? We found our first au pair through a local agency which supplied demi-au pairs – this means they are half time. Being half time the hosts supply room and board only and are not required to pay the au pair in exchange for 20 hours work. These au pairs are usually attending “language school” which requires them to be able to get to a bus route and commute to school. This situation did not suit us we quickly realised we really needed a full time au pair. Our first full time au pair was found through an online agency. The agencies I registered with were Au Pair House and Family Match. She was from Germany and stayed with us for 9 months with a bit of travel time in between. It took her about 3 months to settle in and get comfortable with the language and our routine. Two out the next three au pairs came from Germany as well. I found them through Au Pair WORLD which is an online bank of billions of nannies and au pairs. Each of our au pairs had their strengths and weaknesses but overall the girls were extremely helpful and loved being part of the family. The children loved them and they loved the children – the au pairs all cried when it was time to leave. I found the girls whom had previously spent time in an English speaking country and had work experience in hospitality or childcare settled in very quickly. I also found that the girls, although teenagers, were very mature and very family orientated. I also found that if the girls had worked hard in a café they knew how to stay busy with the family. Our current au pair is from America (which is where I am from) and I have found that this has probably worked the best so far as far as communicating needs and cultural understandings between the two of us – plus I like the fact she understands AND laughs at my jokes.
What’s the best part about working with an au pair? The best part of working with an au pair is that you can divide and conquer and work as a team. A good au pair will know with time what you like and how you like it and be able to do things to your expectation without being asked. A super au pair will go beyond what is asked and do things that obviously need doing but never get done (i.e. tidying the linen closet). The down side of having an au pair is saying goodbye to them as they really do become part of the family and they grieve going home. The other negative thing is the constant searching and training. The turnover can be quick if the girls only agree to six months. I found my girls took a good 2-3 months to really work things out and hence before you know it it was time to find a new one.
What are your top 12 tips for finding and keeping a great au pair?
- Put it out there exactly what you want – put the bar high and see whom responds. Spell out exactly what you would like – even include time outs for yourself to go to Yoga or the gym.
- If you decide to go through AP WORLD: Once you commit to finding an au pair dedicate at least 4-6 weeks of searching and communicating with them. Come up with a standard questionnaire to ask them and then compare the answers. Sometimes the potential au pair will find a better offer with another family just when you thought you had her. This is a time consuming task – but if you commit and get back to the girls asap you will find one quickly.
- The au pairs know they have to pay their own way to get to your country. As a family decide what you are willing to pay and stick to your budget.
- Look for an athletic or sporty au pair – some one energetic.
- Look for an au pair that is close their family and I recommend meeting their parents via Skype.
- Get at least 2 references from families/employers that they have babysat or au paired for.
- If it’s your first time hosting an AP I would recommend getting one that has either been an au pair before or who has been a full time nanny.
- Plan out their day and the routine for them. Make a checklist for them of everything you expect of them – add some jobs to the list if they can’t find anything to do so they aren’t left wondering what to do.
- Download a ‘Nanny Contract’ from the web with a confidentiality agreement attached. The au pairs get together on their days off and naturally debrief with each other however it’s not nice to hear your family news from another host mum via their au pair.
- A communications book with emergency contacts and a dairy for the daily plan and instructions like what to cook for dinner or specific chore requests is also very helpful.
- Upon arrival take the first week off work to get them settled in – take them to the bank and set up an account for them so you can do automatic transfers. Take them to get a sim card for their mobile and any other electronic support they need to keep in touch with back home. Show them the local FB page for au pairs so that they can meet new and local au pairs on their days off. Remember they are often jet-lagged and home sick the first few weeks.
- I would recommend hosting an au pair that does not have a boyfriend back home. This can be a big issue and cause a lot of home sickness and tears! Also make sure they are arrive to work fresh and ready to work and are not tired from skyping late at night – consider shutting the internet off after 10pm if it becomes a problem.