Want to hire an au pair? Ask yourself these 5 questions first
Heard of au pairs but not quite sure what hiring one entails — or even if it's the right child care solution for your family?
Indeed, au pairs are a great option those in need of in-home child care for their kids. But they're a bigger commitment than hiring babysitters or nannies, largely because you agree to have them live with you.
Au pairs are foreign nationals — young people from outside the United States who are looking to come here for a year to work in child care, take classes in higher education and experience life in America. It's as if they're one-part nanny and one-part exchange student. An au pair lives with a host family, cares for their children and, in return, the hosts provide room, board and a weekly stipend.
The term "au pair" is French for "on par" or "equal." An au pair is supposed to be an equal part of the family, rather than someone you simply hire to help out.
Many parents love hosting au pairs because they're such a cost-effective way to provide high-quality child care. Au pairs generally cost less than $8 an hour, and they're required by the U.S. State Department to have special training before they're accepted into a placement program.
But they're not the best solution for every family. So what about yours? If you're trying to decide if hosting an au pair is right for you, here are a few questions you'll need to ask:
1) Are we comfortable having someone live in our home — and do we have the space?
If you hire an au pair, you'll usually agree to host her in your house for 12 months. Make sure you are OK with sharing your home in this manner, and ultimately adding another person to your family.
2) Can we afford an au pair?
The State Department requires families to pay au pairs a weekly stipend of $195.75 and a one-time fee of up to $500 towards educational costs. Au pairs aren't allowed to work more than 45 hours a week. But there are responsibilities outside of financial ones, too. As a host family, you have to meet a list of requirements from the U.S. State Department. They include providing not only housing, but food and transportation.
3) Do our schedules change often?
If you're a parent who works odd hours or travels for work, au pairs can help cover those times when your career keeps you away from home. Au pairs are great because most are available and willing to work around your schedule. But you do have to keep in mind that the State Department regulates the hours an au pair works: They can work up to a maximum of 45 hours a week or 10 hours a day.
4) How long of a commitment do we need from a child care provider?
Typically, au pairs stay with your family for one year. That means if you choose an au pair, you'll likely have to find a replacement for her 12 months down the road. Transitioning to a new caregiver can be tough for your kids, so you'll have to decide if you want a child care provider to be a part of your family for a longer time period.
5) How important is the cultural experience an au pair can bring into our home?
Every au pair brings her own country's heritage, culture and history with her. It can be exciting to have someone from another country live in your house and help open your family's eyes to the world outside of the United States. Plus, showing your au pair how we do things in America can be so much fun! But you'll have to think how these cultural experiences will impact your family before making your decision.
Read next: The complete guide to child care
Tiffany Smith has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.