Choosing a childcare provider is no easy decision—there are many options, all with pros and cons to consider. One solution gaining in momentum is the au pair program, which offers many unique benefits. An au pair can provide flexible, loving childcare while opening your children’s eyes to new cultures, languages, traditions and more. Of course, hosting an au pair also comes with its share of challenges—all surmountable, but still important to consider thoughtfully before making a decision.
To help you determine if hosting an au pair will suit your family’s childcare needs, personality and lifestyle, we’ll outline the pros and cons of au pair childcare.
Pro # 1: flexibility
There are many incredible benefits of au pair childcare, but one that our host families appreciate most is flexibility. Au pairs can provide up to 45 hours of childcare per week (up to 10 hours per day) on a schedule you decide, including early morning, evening and even weekend coverage. You can adjust your au pair’s working schedule to align with school hours—many au pairs work a split shift—as well as summer camp, weekly playdates and more! You can also ask your au pair to help with child-related chores around the house, making it easier to maximize your quality family time and reduce the ever-growing list of to-dos around the house.
Pro # 2: competitive cost
One common myth about au pair childcare is that it is expensive. In reality, the cost of hosting an au pair is competitive—and often more budget-friendly—than other childcare options, especially since the cost is the same despite the number of children you have. Families pay a fee to the au pair agency and a minimum weekly stipend directly to their au pair. And even with additional costs families must consider (car insurance, groceries, etc), the total cost of au pair childcare is on par or less expensive in many areas of the U.S. when compared to daycare or a nanny.
Pro # 3: trust
An undeniable benefit to hosting an au pair is the level of trust that’s built between the family and the au pair almost immediately. Because an au pair lives in your home with you—and comes to be considered an extended member of the family—there’s a deep sense of trust and mutual respect that forms quicker than it would in out-of-home childcare options. Time and again, Cultural Care host families describe a feeling of comfort and security knowing that their children are being cared for by someone they know well and have come to love.
Pro # 4: cultural exchange
Last but not least, an au pair will teach your whole family about their culture. They are excited to share their home country’s cuisine, language, holidays and more and to learn as much about the USA. Your children will become aware of a world beyond their own community and cherish their role as part of a global family. Au pairs will also help your family gain a renewed appreciation for your own environment and a desire to see more of the world.
Con #1: loss of privacy
As with any childcare solution, hosting an au pair also brings potential challenges. One is loss of family privacy. Au pairs are live-in providers, and, therefore, will reside in your home as a member of the family. Most families find any loss of privacy they do experience to be worth the trade-off—or not a concern at all—but it is something to factor in as you consider welcoming a new person into your household.
Con #2: longer adjustment period
It’s important to remember that au pairs are not professionally trained childcare providers, and they arrive to live in your home from a completely different country. For these reasons, they will need more time to adjust to their childcare duties and their new environment than an American nanny or babysitter would. According to U.S. State Department guidelines, an adult must be home with a new au pair for the 3 days after their arrival, and it usually takes more like 3-4 weeks for an au pair to completely settle into their new routine.
Con #3: bigger emotional investment
Because au pairs are young adults traveling solo to the U.S., they will need support during their year, and that responsibility will be largely yours as the host family, especially in the beginning. You’ll want to ask them how their day was, invite them to join family outings, include them in holidays and offer comfort during times of homesickness. Once your au pair meets the Local Childcare Coordinator (LCC) in your area and develops a network of friends, they will become more independent, but as their host family, you will still need to be a consistent source of support for them. This isn’t necessarily a con—nurturing a curious and driven young person can be hugely rewarding and fun—but definitely something to consider before saying yes to hosting an au pair.
Con #4: communication hurdles
Communication can be more challenging with an au pair versus other childcare providers because most often English is not their first language. Understanding one another in the beginning can sometimes be difficult, and a low level of English can also make it harder than usual to get to know your au pair. It’s good to know that an au pair’s English competency will improve very quickly, but working through early communication challenges takes time and patience.
The most challenging time during an au pair’s stay with your family will almost always be at the beginning—while you are both adjusting to one another and a new situation. Once an au pair finds their place within your family, and becomes more confident in speaking English, the benefits of au pair childcare truly shine!