When it was time to decide who would take care of our girls, we considered three options: in-home daycare, a nanny, or an au pair. We ultimately felt that paying a nanny’s salary was out of reach for our budget, and I wanted my girls to grow up in their own house, not someone else’s. That left the third option—an au pair. With this arrangement, our children would be at home and we would pay the au pair primarily in room and board. A few friends and acquaintances had had good experiences with au pairs, so we did some research and then started the process.
Working with an Agency
There are several au pair agencies. We looked into the two biggest ones because we felt that they would have better candidates, would be more professional, and would provide better service. We gave both agencies a list of what we were looking for—an au pair who spoke Spanish (I am from Peru, and I want my girls to grow up bilingual), who was at least 23 years old (au pairs can be as young as 18), and who had some amount of experience.
One of the agencies gave us a couple of options based on our criteria, but in our opinion there were not enough people to choose from. The other agency gave us a longer list of candidates and allowed us to choose from there. We decided to use the second agency.
Once we selected the agency, an agency coordinator came to our house to interview us and see the room where the au pair would be staying. The same coordinator planned activities for the au pairs that lived in the area so they could get to know each other and become friends. The coordinator was also to be contacted if we or the au pair had issues with each other that couldn’t be resolved.
From the long list of candidates the agency provided, we chose one person to interview. She was from a small town in Argentina, and she had helped raise her niece and nephew as well as other kids in her neighborhood. We spoke with her over Skype several times and had a good feeling about her.
The agency was in touch with our au pair after we made the selection, and it took care of all the travel and visa arrangements. We paid a fee of about $8,000, which covered, among other things, plane tickets from and to the country of origin, CPR and other training, and all the paperwork needed to get a U.S. visa.
In the meantime, we got our au pair’s room ready and cleared some storage space for her. We also wrote a document that included the babies’ schedules as well as the chores we expected her to be responsible for, such as doing laundry, preparing meals, and keeping the kids’ area clean. We also included rules about her driving my car and going out at night during the workweek or on weekends.
About a month after we interviewed her, our au pair arrived as our new family member. For the first several weeks, we took her with us everywhere we went, including on weekend road trips to show her the area. (That is one of the responsibilities of host families, but not many do it.)
She got to know our girls very well—their likes, their needs, everything. She was great with them and had a positive impact on their lives. They adored her. She worked 9 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and had evenings and weekends off. During the day, she could take the girls to the park or the library, both of which were within walking distance of the house.
Most of the time, she would go to her room or out with friends after I arrived home from work and relieved her. Sometimes we would go shopping with the babies or have a snack together, but that didn’t count as work because she was shopping for herself as well or we were just chatting. She seldom had dinner with us. She spent Christmas with us, but all other holidays she would go on trips with her friends.
We were responsible for paying our au pair a stipend, which was about $125 a week, plus giving her two weeks of paid vacation a year and major holidays off (Christmas, New Year’s Day, etc.). Besides that, we were to provide room and board. Whenever we needed her to work in the evenings or on weekends, we had to pay her by the hour, just like we would pay a babysitter.
Making It Work
We got along with our au pair really well. It’s not easy to have somebody living in your house, but we are happy we did it for the time we did. I think it helped that we were all easygoing and that she had her own space, with a full bathroom (even though that is not a requirement to host an au pair), a TV, and a computer. We also paid for her to have a cell phone and gave her a set amount of minutes to use every month. And we let her drive my car for non-work activities. We felt that she was doing so much for our girls that we gave her what she needed to be happy.
Our au pair stayed with us for one year and nine months. Partway through the second year, she got homesick for Argentina and decided to return home. The agency could have found us a replacement au pair, but we decided it was a good time for our girls—who by then were 2½ years old—to go to preschool and have a more social life.
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