Discover more from SCANDI CLASS by Annabella Daily
Hello, Au Pair! Making Childcare Easier in the US
After realizing there are no good childcare options, we found the Au Pair Program, and I credit that for helping me get out of burnout, and finding balance with family, work & life.
Hi friends! In my last week’s poll, you most wanted to hear about how we make childcare easier in the US—with an option hardly anyone talks about. It makes childcare accessible and increases the quality of care, and, in some situations, makes it more affordable than any other option.
With so much talk about the American childcare crisis, I’m surprised no one talks about this seemingly secret solution to many (though definitely not all) childcare challenges: the au pair program.
Thanks for reading! Subscribe for free to receive new posts weekly and support my work!
Au Pair = Per Au Pair in America, au pair means “on par” or “equal” in French, is a term for a child care provider who lives with a host family as part of an international cultural exchange program. Au pairs and EduCare companions are typically young international visitors who travel to the United States on a J-1 Visitor Exchange Visa to acquire a better understanding and appreciation of American life while living with an American family and caring for their young children.
Have you had an au pair? What was your experience like?
Mission Impossible: managing childcare in America
As any parent in the US knows, childcare options in the US are few and far in between: daycare centers are expensive and low quality with poorly trained staff that’s hard to retain due to low salaries, and have long wait lists.
In NYC and other major cities, a daycare will cost you over $20,000 a year with little guarantees of the quality of care your child will receive. When I toured one $30,000+ a year daycare center in a great NYC neighborhood after my first child was born, I was so shocked of the standards and the spaces and the lack of education on the staff (I searched for their job advertisements) compared to daycare in Finland, that I swore I could never go that route.
Nannies, who often have no early childhood education or official training, cost more than daycare centers, $15-$30+ an hour depending on where you live (averaging about $25 per hour in NYC, which is about $60,000 a year, if they are paid in cash, for a 45-hour week which doesn’t even cover typical New Yorkers average work week hours). (It’s also hard for the nannies, as this salary is hardly livable in major cities, and there are typically no benefits including health insurance.) The major benefit of a nanny is that she can take care of your child at your home.
What type of childcare do you have now? Does it serve you?
Whose your nanny?
I had such a hard time finding a nanny that I felt I could trust, that I initially hired a friend of mine who loved children and wasn’t working at a time—and it somehow worked out to be a magical arrangement until she was understandably ready to move onto other things, and we were back at the nanny search.
With nannies, we had one great experience, and countless bad ones from one nanny being completely inattentive to our child when I wasn’t around (I still regret this choice so much), to nannies who asked for massive raises a few days after starting, threatening they would quit on the spot (they did), to inflexible nannies who at hiring said they would be flexible, but would afterwards work only on a rigid schedule (making combining work, life, kids and a frequently traveling husband-none of which worked on a rigid schedule—extremely challenging if not impossible).
Have you too had a nanny? Lifesaver or not so much?
Solution in sight
Once I was at the habitual burnout stage trying to juggle it all, I decided enough was enough and there had to be another way for us to do childcare.
Was the only option to leave the US and move to Finland with universal childcare? It looked like it.
Then I discovered the au pair program. We could get a curious and energetic 20-something, from outside the US, who loves children and can adapt to our family’s ways of bringing up children, for 45 hours of flexibly arranged childcare hours per week, for $195.75 per week, or for $250 for someone with an early childhood education degree or similarly strong experience? Seemed too good to be true.
Initially it was. An au pair needs to live with you (they have to have their own room with a window, per official rules)—which also makes it an especially fantastic arrangement if you need help early mornings or late nights, or need help a few times a day but not all consecutive hours. But in our two-bedroom NYC apartment, we had no space to house an au pair.
Moving for childcare
We thought about it some, and within a few months, we said good-bye to NYC as well as to our brand new condo that had taken everything from us to get, and set up home in Westport, CT.
That sounds crazy, but it’s true. We really moved for childcare. Having flexible, accessible, attentive and way more affordable childcare made overhauling our lives completely worth it.
The first month I had an au pair, I was so happy, I felt I was high on something.
How do you get an au pair?
You can get an au pair two different ways. First, you can find an already-vetted au pair in an au pair organization’s au pair database.
The top au pair organizations in the US are (I wouldn’t use anyone else):
Au Pair in America
Au Pair Care
Second, you can find someone on your own, or through an au pair matchmaking site like Au Pair World, and sign up as a “pre-match” with one of those au pair organizations that handle all the logistics and visas and supervises the arrangement.
How do you find the right au pair?
The matching process involves you and the au pair having in-depth interviews on Face time together, you learning the motivations and experience of the au pair, and you being extremely clear on what the pros and cons of working with your family are. It only works if it’s a win-win for both, and if you don’t sugarcoat anything: working with kids is never just easy and fun. Also, due to cultural barriers, direct, straight-up communication is critical so there are no misunderstandings. If the au pair knows what tough days or moments look like, and if she feels she can handle them, the easy days will be that much more fun. It’s also good to identify what exactly does she want out of the year beyond childcare experience in the US, so you can support her goals. Our au pairs have always been very independent and wanted the freedom to explore American life on their own, outside of the work hours, so this has never been any extra work for me.
Hi! Don’t forget to tap the like button at the end, it’s like saying “hi” back, I was here!
What does an au pair cost?
Once you have matched with an au pair, you pay a fee for the organization who will handle all the au pair logistics and visas. This amounts to almost the same as the yearly salary of an au pair (about $10,000); the second year fee is less. You provide full room & board, meaning she has her own furnished room with a window (our au pair also has her own bathroom), and we pay for the food (we all share the same fridge, groceries and some meals), and recurring personal needs like cell phone and gas. While it’s not mandatory, we also provide a car so she has more freedom as there’re no options for local transportation (this $9,000 car lasted us for 5 years, which counted for a $1,800 additional yearly expense).
An au pair signs up to stay with you for a year, and she can can renew and stay up to two years. You both can rematch, should there be an issue.
Our au pair experience
The first time we had an au pair, I “pre-matched” with an au pair from Finland, a trained nurse I found through my Facebook post looking for a Finnish au pair, and the second time I found The One from the Au Pair in America database, an elementary school teacher from Mexico. We loved both so much, that we even offered to sponsor them a green card, if they had stayed longer than the two years. (They declined, as the first one fell in love, got married and moved to another state, and the second one is about to return to Mexico to get another teaching certification to teach English and Spanish internationally).
Having an au pair has had so many astronomical benefits for us beyond everything I already mentioned:
Because our current Mexican au pair speaks only Spanish to our toddler, and reads to him in Spanish, he know understands three languages fluently. Because kids have considered au pairs as part of the family, there was no separation anxiety or screaming every time we would walk out the door (which happened with nannies). Because our au pair knows the house and the routines, leaving the kids with her doesn’t take any additional prep. And because she is with us so much of the time, the bonds between her and the kids are next level. I could go on and on, but when our current au pair leaves this August, we will truly miss her and are not sure if we can top this kind of care. Yet, we are excited to welcome a third au pair to our home, whomever that will be.
I think from now on, even if I had to downsize my living situation to a two-bedroom, I would rather sleep in one room with my husband and all kids, and save one for an au pair, at least until the kids are much older and as long as we live in the US!
I know I only had the New York and CT experience. What’s your current childcare situation and does it serve you? Have you had an au pair? What was your experience?
And, if you haven’t yet, subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s post!