Finding child care can be so difficult and expensive. 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 lives in your home and becomes a member of your family. They learn about your culture, introduce you to their culture, and get 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. Au pairs also offer full-time, flexible live-in childcare. 

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 and caring for my children. Our nanny always felt like part of the family (she still is – we text almost every week and are planning on getting together soon). But a nanny always goes home at the end of the day. So it feels very similar, except she lives with us and usually has dinner with us on weeknights. 


Why an au pair vs. a nanny? 

Had our nanny been able to stay on full-time, I wouldn’t have considered an au pair. She was only able to come 3 days a week, and that felt worth it because we love her. We really struggled to find someone when she left after having her son. I worked with an agency again but it was such a discouraging experience. We needed more hours, flexibility, and stability. Once we get in a groove with school and Jack’s naps, we 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.


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. I spoke with her via FaceTime twice for at least an hour. That really helped! We matched pretty quickly and started texting after that point. 


How much does it cost?

A full-time nanny will cost you around $40-50k a year and I’ve found that it’s just not as stable. And I say that as someone who loved her two nannies dearly. 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. We cover all her groceries and pay for all meals or travel if we go out. 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, car (she uses one of our cars when she goes out and we cover gas), and any other essentials. I bought her all her toiletries, new towels, etc. 

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 July 28, but that left us lots of time to get to know each other. 


What was your criteria?

Newborn and infant experience were a must, someone flexible and helpful, great personality, and someone who loves kids. If this person was going to drive my kids, they needed to have years of driving experience. 


Any tips for the interview process? 

Honestly, just talk about everything that matters to you. Talk about how you parent, what your family values, and what you like to do for fun. Everything. Share your expectations. What do you need help with? What will the schedule look like? Be upfront about the little things. We had two very long chats over FaceTime and talked about everything. No perfume around the kids (seems like a weird request but I learned that one the hard way with a nanny who drowned herself in perfume while I was pregnant). 

She had a ton of questions for us, too, mostly about our family, schedule, and the holidays. I would just say be very honest and talk about anything and everything you need help with, and what kind of a relationship you hope to have. Do you both want someone to really be part of the family, or something more transactional? 


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. 

We have since talked about anything and everything. I’ve loved our late night chats – they don’t happen all the time, but we’ve had a handful of those and some movie nights, too. I really enjoy spending time with her. It’s never felt forced at all. Most nights, she does her own thing. 


Did you have vaccination requirements? 

Yes, and I believe that au pairs must be fully vaccinated before traveling to the US. But we talked about this, too. Flu and C*vid vaccines (among others) were a must. 


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

Yes. Either the host family or au pair can request a rematch. The length of an au pair stay is one year. She can extend by 6, 9, or 12 months. On Christmas morning, she let us know she wanted to stay another year! She knew I was hoping she would stay, so it was a wonderful surprise. 


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

Great question! I did worry a little bit, but it hasn’t been an issue at all. I keep saying it but we love having her around, and there hasn’t been a time I wished she wouldn’t join us for something. We have both been so honest with each other from the beginning. She’s also very much ready to do her own thing at the end of the day and on weekends. I never want her to feel pressured to join us, and she knows that. It felt really tricky going into the experience and there have been zero issues. 


Does on and off duty time feel blurry? 

Sometimes it does, but only because she’s so helpful. It’s never been blurry in a negative way. She’s great about showing up on time, but it works out that dinner is when she’s technically “off” and she does usually eat with us. I try to have us handle the kids as much as possible. She’s so nice about helping clean up after dinner, but that’s also just part of being in the family? We all chip in. 


How do you determine work and non-work hours? 

We have a very set 9-5 schedule, but she’ll have dinner with us, and occasionally join us for fun activities after work and weekends. That’s not very typical, but happened a bit more with the holidays. If we want to go out at night, we’ll check with her schedule in advance and adjust hours accordingly. 


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 does it feel knowing your time together is limited? 

We haven’t really had anyone long-term. Our first nanny was so sweet but left when the pandemic started. Our next nanny is a dear friend – I love her dearly but she was with us from when Kate was 10 months until she was almost 2. Then she came back part-time, but the lesson her is that nothing lasts forever. I was a little sad about the thought of having to start the interview process again in early 2024. We would have had to do that if she planned on staying a year, as it can take months to find a match and some au pairs aren’t ready to travel for a few months. Knowing she’s staying another year, until July 2025, feels so good. I think we’ll probably get another au pair at that point since Jack will be 2, so we’ll start the search January 2025. 


Does she drive the kids?

This one has been a slow roll for me, but she knew this going in. She’s driven the girls a few times very locally. I have some anxiety with people driving my kids, and it’s something I’m working on. It also happens to be the case that Jack naps during school pickups, so she stays back with him and one of us gets the girls. 


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. 


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, so I was worried about how she might feel, too. I felt more anxious for her than us. I was a little nervous about things not working out, but she was exactly who she was when we FaceTimed, and even better in person.

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. 


Do you feel like you have to make polite conversation when you’re both home? 

it never really feels forced, so no? She’s usually in a different room with the kids if she’s helping with them, but sometimes we’ll chat. It really depends on the day. There’s a lot more together time right now. 


Is it stressful having someone in your home who isn’t family?

Not at all. She really does her own thing and hangs out in her bedroom or goes out when she’s off. Much like any 20-something would. 


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.


Does she speak English fluently? 

Her English is fantastic, which was my preference for the kids. She speaks French to Jack and my girls count in French and sing French songs. It’s the best. I still remember the Danish songs my au pair taught me. 


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. Her best friend (another au pair) comes over all the time, and will sleep over on weekends. They know they can use the family room but they really like being in her room. I offered her our family room for a NYE party if she wanted to have some friends over, but she’s going out. 


Positives and negatives (if any) so far? 

It’s been such a great experience. I’ve loved getting to know her. This has been so good for our entire family. She loves our kids, they love her, and Conor and I love having her around. It’s like being a parent (I want to say big sister but she’s told me I feel like a mother figure which is sweet and impossible to wrap my brain around) to a really helpful 20-something who is extremely kind and respectful. 


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