After the sudden and unexpected departure of our au pair late last month – who watched our baby full-time, our four year-old every afternoon, and helped out with the evening routine when either Jessicah or I were out of the house – we’ve had our hands full. My work schedule has taken a beating – because I’m doing a lot more childcare, my days start later and end earlier than they had – but thanks to several moms and grandmoms from church, I’ve been able to put some time in at work while the kids are lovingly looked after. Our new au pair – a 26 year-old young lady from Thailand – arrives next Friday.
Many folks don’t understand the whole au pair thing. An au pair "is a foreign-national domestic assistant working for, and living as part of, a host family" (from Wikipedia). Structured as a cultural exchange program, the au pair provides childcare and child-related housekeeping for up to 45 hours/week. In exchange, the au pair receives wages, room and board, six credit hours at a local university, and is included as part of the family for the year-long program.
Obviously, such an arrangement has its pluses and minuses. But for us the pluses – childcare at a fraction of the cost of standard daycare and flexible scheduling (where else would you find someone to watch your children on Sunday morning or Christmas Eve?) – far outweigh the minuses (giving up a room in the house, losing some privacy, managing personal/cultural/childcare dynamics, etc.).
My wife and I have three kids, we both work odd schedules outside the home, we live in a tiny townhouse, and we have very little money. The au pair arrangement – far from perfect, far from ideal – is the best option we have for now. Despite the challenges we had with our first au pair, we are cautiously optimistic about our new au pair. I’ll let you know . . .