Wednesday, August 15, 2012

All About Au Pairs

This post is not at all design related. I decided to write it because I am frequently asked how I am able to manage my time so that I can work full time, be a mom, find time to craft, keep up with my blog (which has been a bit neglected this year), and enjoy other hobbies like running. In addition to having an incredibly supportive husband, I am also very lucky to have a wonderful au pair. "What is an au pair?" you ask. Well for starters its the topic of today's post.

When we moved to the Washington DC area, we knew that sending our children to a good daycare would be very cost prohibitive. One child we could mange, but two would cost us roughly $3,500 per month! We knew that a lot of families in DC had au pairs so we decided to look into it. We learned that au pairs are connected with families by federally approved agencies, they come from other countries and live with their host families, they provide child care 45 hours a week, and they can stay with a family for 12-24 months. We have been blessed to have two lovely young Brazilian women share their lives with us for the last two and a half years.

Our first au pair, Mariana
Although there are many benefits to having an au pair, one of the biggest is the cost. Here's the rough breakdown of what you can expect to pay for an au pair.
  • $5000-$6500 for the agency fee. Au pair agencies screen applicants, connect families with qualified candidates, screen for English language skills, handle visas and travel to and from the US, and provide au pairs with a training during their first weeks in the US. They also provide mediation and support if needed.
  • $198 per week (minimum wage for an au pair). We pay our au pair a slightly higher rate.
  • Approximately $50 per week for Room and Board - this varies of course. I have found that our household bills have not increased to dramatically. Our au pair only eats dinner with us 2-3 nights a week (she dines with friends on other nights) and on the nights when she does eat with us, we make roughly the same amount of food and just have fewer left overs. For us the biggest cost related to room and board was adding a bedroom to our basement - with an exterior door. It already had a bathroom, but the reno was still pretty pricey. I have not included the reno cost in this calaculation.
  • $500 annual tuition assistance. Au pairs are required to complete a certain number of college level course credits. Ours were able to complete their coursework on week nights and weekends.
If you add this all up and divide it by 12 it comes out to approximately $1,600 per month.

Our current au pair, Lara.

So now that you know that au pairs are affordable, here are some other benefits.
  • Live-in child care means no shuttling children back and forth to daycare - resulting in a significant amount of time saved each day.
  • Children are exposed to different languages and cultures. Since both of our  au pairs came from Brazil, my daughter has been hearing Portuguese since she was 8 weeks old. Now 2, she understands everything that our au pair says to her in Portuguese. The children also have play dates with other children and their au pairs - who are from a wide range of countries.
  • Our au pair is our go-to baby sitter. We pay her extra when she agrees to sit the kids and its wonderful knowing that the person taking care of them is someone who knows the kids and the house.
  • Au pairs can have flexible hours. Our au pair works from 8:30-5:30 M-F. An alternative schedule might be10 hour days M-T and a half day on alternating Fridays and Saturdays etc. You should be honest and up front about the schedule in the interview.
  • Au pairs can also help with household tasks related to the children. Ours does their laundry, and cleans their play spaces.
Of course there are also some down sides.
  • Au pairs can only stay in the US for 2 years. This can make for hard transitions for younger children.
  • If you do not live in an area with good public transportation, your au pair probably won't be happy unless she has access to a car. If you give her access to her a car, you are required to pay for her car insurance.
  • For many girls, this is their first time away from home. If you live in an area where there isn't an au pair network, it may be hard for them to acclimate and feel "at home".
  • When an au pair lives with you they become part of your family. Sometimes its hard to be a host mom and a boss.
  • Although they certainly deserve it, the 10 days of vacation they get a year can be a bit challenging to schedule around. We encourage our au pair to take her vacations when we do.
If having an au pair join your family is something that you might be interested in, the best place to start (other than this post) is by checking out agency websites. For a list of federally approved agencies click here. Our family has been very happy with Expert AuPair, it is a smaller agency and their fees are very reasonable. Another great resource is a blog called Au Pair Mom, www.aupairmom.com. She recommends providing each au pair with a handbook containing everything she will need to know about your family. I used her template as a starting point for my own handbook. It was a very helpful tool for setting expectations. Lastly, don't hesitate to ask me questions about our family's experiences. I happy to share!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a fellow au pair family, I really appreciate this. I will say one thing, though. State Department regulations only allow au pairs to work 9 hours a day - for a total of 45 hours in a week. They are also entitled (by law) to one and a half days off consecutively a week and two days consecutively a month. That makes babysitting tricky!

Amanda said...

True, although there is some room for "negotiation" with the au pair - like swapping time one week for extra time the next. We have also used other au pairs in our neighborhood as sitters. No matter what arrangement you work out it is essential that you are up front with your au pair about her work schedule and that you respect her time. I have heard horor stories of families that treat au pairs like slaves.

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