There are several childcare options out there. From asking a family member to take on this responsibility, to hiring a nanny or seeking a licensed daycare, it will be up to you to decide what’s best for your children.
One of these options is hiring an au pair. There can be a lot of buzz about programs that offer international young adults (usually females) for childcare. In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of going this route. We hope you can be better informed when deciding whether or not you should hire an au pair.
Pro: an au pair can expose your children to other cultures and languages
Probably the most obvious reason to hire an au pair, is the exposure to language and culture. This not only works for your children, it also works for the au pair.
An au pair may be a student or young person seeking to do a semester abroad from their home country. Keep in mind that they will leave eventually! If you are hoping to teach your children a language from scratch, this may not be a long-term solution (plus the au pair may not be a language trainer, or may be trying to learn English, too). However, if you are hoping to reinforce your mother tongue by having a native speaker in the house, it may help.
For this to work well, and to create a positive influence both ways, the au pair will need to spend a lot of time with the family. It would be advisable to take them on family outings. Of course, they will need their own free time, too. That includes travel time to see your local city as a tourist.
Con: an au pair is not a trained early childhood educator (ECE)
Make no mistake that even if an au pair has some babysitting experience, or a first-aid certificate (which you’ll need to check on), they are not trained early childhood educators. They don’t always have a diploma, nor a degree in child development and learning (at most, they may have just graduated, or be currently studying this subject). They may not even be fully aware about basic parenting principles, such as how to change a diaper, or how to deal with tantrums and ‘rules.’
This will be a far cry from the quality of child care that you can get with a licensed, quality daycare program.
Are all au pairs going to be a bad choice in this regard? Not necessarily! But, like all groups of people ‘out there,’ you may find some ‘bad apples,’ and there is no way to guarantee the quality of your au pair. While your matching agency may do some vetting, it’s unlikely they will have lived with the au pair they’re matching you with. They won’t know everything about them. You will want to do some interviewing and screening on your own, too.
Pro: an au pair can be affordable, but with some caveats
It may be true that an au pair is cheaper than hiring a qualified nanny. However, keep in mind that in addition to their ‘job’ fees, you will also need to cover room and board. They will not be your domestic worker – they will be more like a family member coming to stay with you for an extended period of time. It is expected they will have their own, private room in your home, too.
For many families, they go into this arrangement with ‘eyes wide open,’ and it’s no issue at all. In those cases, the ‘family’ arrangement is considered one of the best parts of hiring an au pair. Parents love the idea that a young person will be around to care for their kids while living in their home. Kids will have a ‘friend’ and mentor to look up to.
However, it’s possible the agency you used will expect certain things in return from you, too. This can include paying for time off, limiting work hours, and ensuring the au pair has transportation to certain events. The au pair may not have a valid driver’s license in your city, so you may have to drive them places to meet all these demands.
Plus, be mindful that in your jurisdiction, there may be laws that govern au pair hiring. You may be considered an employer, with legal obligations to your au pair. See this article for examples of cases that ended up in court, over unfair working conditions involving au pairs. Also remember that in B.C., there are limits to how many children can be cared for by one person, even in your own home.
Con: an au pair relationship can turn sour easily
More to our points above about caveats and the quality of child care you can receive from an au pair, know that some of these relationships don’t always work out.
You may have a disagreement with the au pair about working hours, which may not mesh well with your needs. They may bring friends into your home that you are not happy about. They may start a dispute over earnings. They may leave a mess everywhere they go. The language barrier can become unbearable and lead to miscommunication. The list goes on.
In many ways, hiring an au pair can be like taking on a new room mate that you’ve never met before. All their bad habits will start to magnify when you are around them day in, and day out. These will be complete strangers coming to live with you. Keep that in mind, and have a plan in case either party wants to back out, if it becomes necessary.
If you do end up with a ‘walkout’ situation, or need to ‘fire’ your au pair, be prepared to find alternative childcare quickly. This can create added stress to your situation. It may not be worth the trouble, even for the seemingly low cost.
To conclude: hiring an au pair must consider the mutual benefits, and drawbacks for both parties
We can’t stress enough that while an au pair may be excited to get to know your children, and live in a ‘real’ home with a foreign family, their primary concern may not be babysitting. They are young, and hoping to see the world. They are travellers, first and foremost. As a parent, you need to be fair to them about that.
Yes, there will be expectations of child care with an au pair. You may want to come to an agreement about schedules before they land on our shores, in case you find out you won’t have someone to take the kids to school in the morning or pick them up afterwards.
Whatever the case may be, consider an au pair benefit as being mutual. Each party needs to get something, while sacrificing something else.