Finding child care has proven to be quite the challenge. Sure, there were some unexpected bumps in the road that left us without childcare for over a year. Finally, a wonderful nanny joined our family in April 2021. One year later, she took time off to finish up some courses and then had a baby. She returned part-time (3 days a week until 3PM) and it was wonderful to have her back. But with 2 kids, a baby on the way, and 2 working parents, we needed more help. 

Everything You Need to Know about Hiring an Au Pair

The term “au pair” is French for “equal.” This is a cultural exchange program – an au pair joins your family, learns about your culture and gets to experience living in a different country. It is common for young adults from other countries to travel to the United States to join an American family, and learn about our culture (while we learn about theirs). Au pairs also offer full-time, live-in childcare, they are part of the family.

As we settled into our new home last winter, we began to discuss the possibility of an au pair joining our family. The stability and savings alone felt so worth it and we were excited at the thought of merging different cultures. So we began the application process of becoming an American host family. 

It’s always been important to me that I have a connection and friendship with the people who are in my home caring for my children. Our nanny has always felt like part of the family, but always went home at the end of the day. So it feels very similar, except she usually has dinner with us on weeknights, which has been really nice. Had our nanny been able to stay on full-time, I wouldn’t have considered an au pair.

Why an au pair vs. a nanny? 

I will share more on this in another blog post. Ultimately, it came down to having more hours, flexibility, saving money, and a great experience. Let’s say we get in a groove with preschool, kindergarten, and Jack’s naps. I could give her 2 hours off to go work out or have some time on her own, and then she could come back from 3-7 to help with after-school and bedtime. We’re planning on a traditional 8-5 schedule for now, but will adjust if that feels best for everyone. 

If you’re looking for a flexible schedule, to save money, and for a wonderful cultural experience, an au pair could be the perfect solution for your family.

To be completely transparent, we planned on having our nanny continue part-time. She’s amazing with the kids and we love her so much. Our au pair would have filled in the hours outside of that. But just this week, she got a part-time offer at a preschool, so she’s leaving us. Lots of tears over here (for me and our nanny). She loves our kids so much but this is a better fit for her family. I know we’ll stay friends. And she knows our door is always open, so she can come back part-time if that ever feels right. 



How did you find your au pair? 

I spoke with a few host families and since we had the space, we decided to look into the two au pair agencies that kept coming up. We made host family profiles with Cultural Care Au Pair and Au Pair Care. It was kind of like dating. You can search for possible au pairs by different countries, age, childcare experience, and availability. Some au pairs are available within a month or two and others are looking for a position 6 months out. You can even see videos of potential au pair candidates. If someone seems like a fit, you click “connect” and if they’re interested, they will request a connection with you. At that point, you set up a time to chat via FaceTime. We spoke with our au pair for at least an hour, and then emailed back and forth. 

How much does it cost?

Finding a nanny has always been a lot harder. Things come up – family stuff, schedule conflicts etc. And I’ve always been accommodating to that, but it’s hard to rely on and felt less stable. 

A full-time nanny will cost you around $40-50k a year and I’ve found that it’s just not as stable. You’ll pay anywhere from $8-10k program fee upfront for an au pair to join your family. This covers their health insurance, international travel, etc. You will then pay a $200 weekly stipend, totaling about $20k a year plus additional fees. The $200 is obviously low but the additional fees are: home, food, cell phone, gas, car to use (she uses one of our cars when she goes out), and all the essentials. So that $200 is their spending money. Au pairs offer 40-45 hours of work over the course of a week and are not allowed to work beyond that. They also receive sick days and 2 weeks of vacation (all paid) but they live with you, so they’re showing up. This also allows for some flexibility with scheduling those hours. 

Did it take a while to find an au pair that was the right fit? 

We registered with Cultural Care on December 13 and started looking at available au pairs. Just a few days later, we matched with someone we loved. She felt like a perfect fit and was a midwife, so lots of baby experience. We thought she was a perfect match, and when she told her parents, they freaked out. She immediately left the program, and we were back to square one. I’d say most people we were interested in replied saying that they did not want to be in IL, so you really have to sell yourself. 

The only other au pair we spoke with now lives with us. I loved her personality and felt so connected to her. She’s fun and vibrant, loves kids, and was very excited to celebrate the holidays with us. Our au pair accepted our connection request on January 5, and we officially matched on January 26 – it’s been the best fit. She wasn’t available until the end of July, but that left us lots of time to get to know each other. 

Will she drive the kids?

We are letting her take our car out on her own, but she’s not driving the kids yet. I have some anxiety around this since a little boy I babysat was killed in a car accident. She knew this going in, and knows we’re happy to drop her off places with the kids, and she can join our family for outings, too. She need to take her driving test and get an IL license, and we’ll discuss. I don’t want her to feel stuck inside when she’s with the kids. 

What did you do to bond/get to know your au pair? 

We would text pretty regularly – sharing photos and stories, and updates from the kids an house, too. She shared her family and life with us, and we even FaceTimed with her dad and little sister. I gave her a tour of the house, and we talked about favorite movies and traditions. I asked about some of her favorite foods and treats and had those waiting for her when she arrived. By the time she arrived, it felt like we know each other. 

Did you get input from your au pair when decorating her room? Is there anything you did to help her adjust to her new home?

I did! asked her favorite colors and showed her bedding options. I gave her a tour of the house on FaceTime, and showed her her room. We bought an IKEA closet for her room, and I showed her two layout options so she could choose the one that was best for her. 

I bought her toiletries, a hair dryer, monogrammed robe, pajamas, slippers, new towels, and other essentials. The day after she arrived, I took her to Target and the grocery store for some more essentials. 

Does she have a private space beyond her room? Is that required?

She does not have another room that’s just hers, but knows she’s welcome to make herself comfortable in our home. I think she’s just ready to check out and be alone at the end of the day, and to enjoy her free time. She also likes her bedroom and has a TV in there, so when she’s “off” she’s in there or goes out. We did give her Jack’s bathroom and we’ve been giving him baths in our room. He’s so little, so that hasn’t been an issue. 

They definitely need a private bedroom and I think a private bath? But we offered both, and she knows our home is her home, so she’s free to enjoy our family room, kitchen, etc. 

How did you come up with house rules? 

I actually turned to other families for this one, and had pretty simple/standard rules in a family handbook. These are really simple guidelines that we all follow, like no burning candles on bedside tables since we have young children. The agency has some rules, too. We do not have a curfew unless she’s working the next day. She just needs to be home 8 hours before watching our children so she’s rested. I’m not sure I would have thought of that, so I’m glad a few families shared it.

We did ask that she tell us what time she will be back so we do not worry. And we need to know if she’s not coming home – we are her family here, and need to make sure she’s safe. That is all very standard. I also really stressed the importance of telling us when something isn’t working, or if she’s not comfortable. It’s been less than two weeks so nothing has come up yet, but I really do think we’ll be collaborative and make sure everyone’s happy.

How did you come up with a schedule? 

We talked about this early on, and will revisit monthly to see how everyone’s doing. Fortunately, the agency has some rules and guidelines that protect the au pair, which I appreciate. We wouldn’t really have done things differently though. Au pairs are able to work up to 45 hours a week and cannot work more than 10 hours each day. So we cannot have her do a normal work day and then babysit at night. She’s open to watching the kids at night if she doesn’t have plans, so we’ll plan around both of our schedules when that happens. And when it does, she’ll start later in the day so we can be sure not to exceed the 10 hours. 

Au pairs are required to have at least 1.5 consecutive weekend days off and one full weekend each month. We will not have her work weekends unless there’s a wedding. And we don’t go out too often, but would like to go out once every week or two, so when we do, we’ll plan ahead. I don’t want to go out every Friday and don’t want to take her Fridays away. So we’ll just figure it out together which we both seem happy with. 

You have to give them their schedule at least two weeks in advance, but we came up with a set schedule. If we want to go to dinner with friends, we will ask for a date two weeks ahead of time and see what works for her. It’s so easy for us to pick another night, so we’re easy there. 

Did you have a preferred country? 

We were pretty open and requested connections with international au pairs from a handful of countries. I was most excited about France since I’d love to learn french and Margot loves all things French.

How did you get over the fear and anxiety of a stranger moving into your home?

Having 6 months to get to know her really helped. But yes, of course I was nervous. This is our house so we’re comfortable, and she was moving across the world to live in a new country with complete strangers.  It also helps that I know a handful of people who have au pairs. And most important – this is not my first experience. When I was 10, an au pair from Denmark who lived with our family. I loved her – we are still in touch to this day.

What if it’s not working out? Can you end the term early?

The length of an au pair stay is one year. She can extend by a few months or up to an additional year, but we are less than 2 weeks in, so that has not been discussed. And yes, if it’s not working either of you can request a rematch. I really appreciate that someone from the agency already came by for an orientation, and she said she will check in every single month, and has to hear back from us. 

Did you worry about balancing family time while also including her? 

Great question! I did worry a little bit, but we have both been so honest with each other from the beginning. What if we want family time alone? And I never want her to feel pressured to say yes, or like she’s being left out. It felt really tricky, and so far, it’s not. We talked about that, and she knows it’s always ok to tell us she doesn’t want to join or wants to relax on her own. She doesn’t want to spend every waking moment with us. 😂 Last weekend, she went out with a handful of au pairs and is creating her own life and experiences outside of our family which is great. We went to dinner with family friends and said we were taking the kids out. She was happy to have a quiet evening at home. 

Positives and negatives (if any) so far? 

It’s only been two weeks, and it’s all been positive so far. I’ve loved getting to know her. Like me, she seems to be an open book so we’ve shared a lot about our lives and families. This has been so good for our entire family. I haven’t left her with all 3 kids yet because I want her to feel fully settled and comfortable. But – she’s wonderful with all of them and is the perfect au pair for our family. We are her family – her host mom and host dad. She’s already like a big sister to the kids. It’s like being a parent to a really helpful 20-something. 

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