An Au Pair (often searched online as “opare nanny”) is a young woman (often from another country), usually in her late teens or early twenties, who travels to the United States to live with a host family and care for their children while going to school and learning about life in America. Au Pairs are typically less expensive than traditional nannies because they are always Live-In; payment comes in the form of room and board and a small allowance. Au Pairs are found and hired through Au Pair agencies that handle the logistics of employing someone from overseas. They typically stay for only a year or two, and are intended to be embraced as one of the family rather than seen primarily as domestic help. Under the right circumstances, Au Pairs can be a wonderful way for children to connect with someone from a different culture and learn about life outside the U.S.
That said, Au Pairs are not for every family. Because they are younger, they tend to do best with caring for older children rather than babies or toddlers. In fact, many agencies don’t allow Au Pairs to care for babies less than 6 months old. Also, given some of their working hour restrictions, if you need 7am to 7pm coverage during the week, an Au Pair alone is not the solution. Furthermore, since they only stay for a relatively short period of time, the job is high-turnover by nature, which is never ideal for young children. Older children (ages 8 and up) can understand that the Au Pair is only coming for a year. But if a younger child bonds with Greta, and then with Marie-Claire, and then with Annika, and they all keep leaving, it can be very upsetting and confusing for them. You also want to think about how you will potentially feel about having a teenager or twenty-something living under your roof. If you are used to the routines and predictable hours of a five year old and a toddler, adding a teenager who wants to go out on the weekends or have friends over will certainly alter the dynamics.
The best way to have success when hiring an Au Pair is to be very clear about who you’re getting. You can do some of the same steps from the Gold Standard hiring process that you would do in a nanny search: you can’t typically meet them face-to-face, but you can interview them using Skype and check their references, either via Skype or email. Know your rules and expectations and be clear about them up front, so that when the Au Pair arrives she is prepared for the realities of your job.