“What should I do about childcare?”
It’s a question I’ve heard many times personally - as a mom and professionally as an educator. It’s not always an easy one to answer. From scouring listservs for nanny recommendations to waiting for a coveted spot in a daycare center, finding the right childcare for your family is no simple task. Especially in the Boston area, which boasts the highest childcare costs in the country. It’s enough to make even the calmest of parents lose their cool.
There’s one answer to this question that you may want to consider: host an au pair.
Au Pairs are 18-26 year-olds from around the world who provide up to 45 hours a week of live-in childcare for American host families. This cultural exchange program is regulated by the US State Department All au pairs have childcare experience and undergo a multi-step screening and training process before joining their host families.
Hosting an au pair may be right for you if:
You need childcare with flexible hours and schedules (au pairs can work evenings, weekends, and days. Plus, their schedules can shift from week to week).
You’re looking for more affordable childcare options. Au pairs can work up to 45 hours a week for about $ 400 a week.
You want to expose your baby to a new language or help your older child become fluent in one that they are learning at school.
You have older kids and need help before and after school- getting them to actives during the week to free up your weekends for family time.
You’re open to hosting a young person in your home and learning about his or her country and culture.
Are you intrigued? You aren’t alone. Thousands of families decide to welcome an au pair each year. But how do they find the right person? Here are four tips that can help you through this process:
Start early. When people ask me how long it takes to match with an au pair, I tell them: “The more time you have, the better.” Why? Because finding the right au pair to join your family takes time. It’s not a decision you want to make with a looming deadline. Try to give yourself 3-4 months to fill out your host family application thoroughly, review different au pair applications, figure out what you do and don’t like, and have interviews with your top candidates.
If you would like an au pair from a particular country (France, for example), make sure you apply at a time when the most candidates from that country are available. In the case of France, many au pairs want to arrive in summer as their academic year ends in June.
Figure out your “must haves” and “deal breakers.” As you can imagine, finding the right au pair can feel a lot like dating. That’s why I tell potential host families to think about their “must haves” and “deal breakers” when considering potential au pairs.
Do you need someone who can drive? Or an au pair with experience caring for an infant? Is it ok if your au pair wants to spend lots of time with your family when she’s not working, or do you want someone more independent? Answering these questions before you start the matching process can save you time and avoid selecting an au pair who isn’t the right fit.
Also, think of the values you consider most important in both a childcare provider and a housemate because your au pair will have both roles. Consider topics like cleanliness, sleep patterns, and diet. They will have an impact and it’s important to address that in advance.
Go with your gut. While au pair applications are thorough, your gut can be your best guide in the matching process. Does an au pair sound good on paper, but was aloof during your interview? Move on. Did you think you wanted an au pair from Germany, (you heard they are excellent drivers- they are!) but find a candidate from Argentina easier to talk to and a generally happy person- consider her! Because you’ll be living with an au pair, it’s more important to consider how that person makes you feel and not just his or her qualifications or availability.
Ask the right questions. It’s important to interview (usually by Skype or a phone call) a potential au pair a few times before finalizing a match not only to learn about their experience but also to figure out if this is the right person to join your family. I recommend having the first interview be a “getting to know you” conversation to see if it’s a good personality fit. What do they do when not watching children? Are they in school, help with the family business or work in retail or other customer service industries? The second interview should focus on his or her childcare experience and related skills and interests. Are they the oldest child in the family, have they helped watch their siblings or relatives? What are their duties in their home, have they ever loved away from home? How long have they been a driver? Last, but certainly not least, focus your last conversation on life with your family and how you will take on challenges that you may face living together.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
What do you like most about working with children? What do you like least?
What do you love most about children that are (insert your child’s age or children’s ages)?
Tell me about a time when… Here, you can ask about a challenge your au pair may face with your children (e.g. a baby won’t stop crying or a toddler has a meltdown).
How would you handle, if you have multiple children that wanted your attention?
What is the most important thing I should know about you as a person?
Debbie Hayes is a National Childcare Consultant for Cultural Care Au Pair, the leading provider of intercultural childcare and educational exchange. Since 1989, Cultural Care Au Pair has placed more than 55,000 au pairs in welcoming American homes. A division of EF Education and a U.S. Department of State regulated program, Cultural Care Au Pair is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., with an extensive network of recruitment, screening and orientation offices worldwide.
Finding the right childcare is such an important decision, and Debbie is here to help! Please contact her to discuss if hosting an au pair is the right fit for your family.
National Childcare Consultant
781-395-8624 – 617-967-2246 cell