Securing flexible, affordable childcare has always been a challenge for American families. But COVID-19 has unleashed even more havoc upon hardworking families who are trying to do their jobs and manage their children’s needs at home simultaneously.
The three traditional childcare solutions are suddenly causing parents to hesitate.
Many daycare centers, for one, have had to lower capacity, and their limited number of spots are often reserved for essential workers. They also introduce risk of virus transmission, leaving some parents uneasy and unwilling to compromise their family’s safety.
Nannies are an obvious choice for parents looking for support during this time, but they are in higher-than-ever demand and may command salaries that some families cannot afford. And while many families and their nannies are aligned on social distancing practices, there is inevitably increased risk associated with a live-out caregiver.
A third option, which is to rely on family members—usually grandparents—to help out, is off the table for many parents due to fear of exposing their older relatives to the virus.
Enter the unicorn of childcare providers during a global pandemic—an au pair.
Au pair childcare has seen an uptick in familiarity and popularity in the last few years independent of any world crisis. But after the virus hit, interest from parents across the country has increased even more, while inspiring stories from from current host families surfaced almost immediately. According to both veteran and new host families with Cultural Care Au Pair, there are many benefits to hosting an au pair during COVID-19 including: limiting your exposure to the virus; structure and support for kids at home; competitive cost; and a new perspective and extra family member during these unprecedented times. And despite the obstacles overseas au pairs are facing when it comes to getting to the U.S. right now—including travel restrictions and a recent executive order suspending the issuance of J-1 visas through the end of the year—many host families are willing to wait a few months for their perfect childcare provider.
Au pairs can help limit exposure to the virus
Sara, a three-time host mom who is expecting her third child this fall, says hosting an au pair has helped her keep her bubble small and her family safe. “One of the benefits of having Amanda here during these wild times is the fact that we have a stronger handle on our ‘quaranteam’.With Amanda’s help, we’ve been able to plan socially-distanced outdoor activities with another au pair and family who we know and trust. We know how much importance Amanda places on safety in her own life and we can literally watch her manage it in her comings and goings during her time off. We feel an extra sense of security in tackling this.”
Host mom Lauren agrees: “Because our au pair lives in our house, I don’t have to worry about who she has been exposed to, or whether she’s following the same safety precautions as our family.”
Au pairs can provide structure and support for kids at home
Lisa, whose family has hosted au pairs for the last three-and-a-half years, says she’s grateful that her Mexican au pair Denisse has completely stepped up to the plate since March to facilitate the kids’ online school schedule and to provide structure. “She’s been able to say, ‘this is what we’re doing in the morning, then we have lunch and then after lunch we go outside and play.’ She’s outside right now playing street hockey with my son!” Working a demanding job that is “so much harder right now”, Lisa admits that “Without our au pair, I don’t know what we’d do. We’re feeling like this has been a lifesaver.”
Host parents Nish and Sheetal feel similarly appreciative. “Our schedules are very busy work-wise so having Claudia here has been fabulous—not just for taking care of lunch and laundry but to be there as a companion for the boys.” Outside of helping them keep up with their schoolwork, Claudia has engaged their sons in countless adventures. “They’ve been baking lots of different cookies and cakes and cupcakes. They play different games. She goes for bike rides with the kids. They do a lot of arts and crafts. Our younger one is really interested in building forts out of large cardboard boxes so she spends a lot of time with him building different aspects of the fort. She’s very creative.”
The cost of hosting au pairs is competitive
When compared to daycare or a nanny, the cost of the au pair program has historically been very competitive in most areas of the U.S., and one reason host families continue to host year after year. This may be even truer now, as daycare costs and nanny salaries are on the rise. Host mom Sara: “When it comes to budgeting for our au pair, we like knowing that we’ve all agreed to the terms of the program which means our costs and her stipend remain the same. What it also means is that we’re able to show our gratitude with gifts or bonuses as we go— because we want to make sure Amanda feels appreciated.”
Au pairs provide a new perspective and an additional family member
During a time when travel and entertainment are limited, a fresh perspective and exposure to a new culture, language and traditions are more welcome than ever—as is the opportunity to embrace a new extended family member.
Host mom Lauren, whose family just welcomed their seventh au pair in February, shares “Having this extra time at home together has allowed us to get to know our au pair on a deeper level. We’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about her and her culture, and she really, truly has become a member of our family.”
Nish and Sheetal have considered all of their au pairs part of their family, and Sheetal explains, “To me, that makes the experience a lot better. You have someone living in your house—how can you not include them as part of the family?” Which means they’ve taken care to ensure Claudia is feeling happy about being here during this time. “We check in with her pretty regularly. We’re asking her ‘How is your family doing? Are they concerned about you being here with everything that’s going on? Do they want to speak to us?’ We’re always available if they want to talk to us. Another thing we’ve been doing is talking about, ‘Oh when everything opens back up, we’ve got to do this, and we have to go here and here.’ When we look back on this time, I know we’ll remember that it’s been so nice to have Claudia here.”
For more information on hosting an au pair, visit culturalcare.com.