October 11, 2012

Thoughts on AuPairs

I had the funniest conversation with a girlfriend of mine today- it was her birthday and I was calling to wish her a happy birthday and see how her day was going.  It sounded like she was having a lovely, lovely day- now she has a little boy that will be two in January, and had a baby girl about 2 1/2 months ago- so- it is still a sleep deprived struggle!  I could feel her beaming through the phone as she described her day- "I got up and got to take a shower, and my husband and I went out for coffee and walked along the main street in our town,"  If you are a mother of young children reading this, you're thinking what I'm thinking- that you love your children so, so dearly, but the idea of a) taking a shower when you'd like to and b) having a coffee and a leisurely stroll with an adult sounds pretty much like the most luxurious thing you've ever heard, right!?

Well, making it all work- and having a moment every now and then to yourself is a great thing.  How do different moms achieve it?  Well, I haven't found one template that fits everyone, and I'm sure you haven't either.  For starters, some moms may work, some moms may have other activities that require their time, or simply the number and ages of the kids is quite a lot for just one person- granted that person is a mom and therefore on par with a superhero, but still, one person!

The AuPair option is an interesting one- if you're unfamiliar with the term, it is French for 'on par with' and refers to an arrangement where a young foreign student helps with childcare and lives with the family.  This means they live with you, so you need an extra bedroom- which, I do not have right now, so it's not an option.  But, I have a girlfriend that got one a year or two ago, and she has said such positive things about it.  She and her husband had been interested in having a Spanish speaking AuPair- and this is interesting, in the past AuPairs were primarily from Europe, but in the last few years there has been an increase in the number of AuPairs available from South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.  My friend had already gotten her child involved in a school that also taught Spanish, and so having an AuPair that could reinforce it at home would be great- and it was, I remember her describing how she decided on the agency and found her- she used skype to meet and interview the candidates and after two skype sessions with the young lady they chose, she felt comfortable and chose her.  She also tried to use an agency that had a good representation of AuPairs in her area- for a few reasons, first, the AuPair would have other AuPairs to ask questions to, spend time with, etc., and the support for the young ladies from the agency would be good since they were well represented in the area.  In the middle of the AuPair's placement, my friend learned that she had to move her family across the country for her husband's job, and the AuPair was able to move with them, which, if you've just moved down the block, sounds heavenly, doesn't it?  Help while moving into a new house!  Did I mention that she had an 18 month old and was expecting her second when the AuPair started while at the same time starting her own company?

The bilingual aspect of having an AuPair I find very appealing- I heard about a study recently where children that were monolingual and bilingual were tested in problem solving.  The experiment tested the ability of the children to solve a problem, then have the parameters of the problem change, and be asked to solve the problem again.  The children that were bilingual had no issue with a new set of parameters, while the monolingual children struggled with the concept of rule changes.  I LOVE that- the bilingual children inherently understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat- which, I don't know about you, I feel like that's one of the best things I could help my children be able to do.  So, if you wanted to get an AuPair and have her teach your children her native language, you could!

Ok- so how does it work from a nuts and bolts perspective?  Here's how it works- the AuPair lives with you and your family, so you provide them with room and board.  You pay them a small stipend each week, and you work out a schedule with them in terms of hours- for example, my girlfriend did 9-5 each weekday and sometimes also on the weekends.  Obviously, this set up isn't for everyone.  For example, I don't have a spare bedroom, so it's not an option.  Or, perhaps you really value your privacy, obviously, each family has to make their own decision.  And if you do decide to take the plunge, choose your AuPair carefully, and, remember that they are young and may need to be guided in things that you might take for granted- let them know what you need and expect.  If there are problems, deal with them immediately and involve the agency- perhaps it's a simple misunderstanding, or perhaps it's not a fit.  We all know that finding the right people to help you in your home, especially with your children is an art as well as a science, and involves good skills at communicating and managing expectations on both ends.  If it is a great fit, imagine the impact it will make on your children, they'll have a friend that they can stay in touch with and potentially visit in their home country.  It just might inspire your children's interest in something that they never would have been exposed to otherwise.  As an example, I will tell you that one of my nannies growing up was a belly dancer.  So, every Wednesday night, I put on a coin belt and make some noise :)  Never would have done it without her.  She also read us the Princess Bride aloud and that is still to this day one of my absolute favorite books- and I can't wait until my children are old enough to have it read to them.  Maybe it will be by me, maybe by a nanny or an AuPair with even more interesting hobbies, only time will tell.

Who should you contact?  AuPairCare is one of the largest and more established agencies.  Check out their website at:  www.aupaircare.com  What does an agency do? It's their job to pre-screen candidates, deal with different countries' visa and travel requirements, placement of the AuPair, monitoring the success of the placement, and they connect AuPair families within the same area.  They have lots of experience and have dealt with issues you may not expect, such as taxes and health insurance (the structure of the program includes providing health insurance for the AuPairs).  So obviously, it's good to have an expert on your side :)

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