By Sierra Rix
All too often, we Bunchers lament our need for an extra set of grown-up hands. Here’s how I got mine - We decided to host an au pair. Some background: I am a former stay-at-home mom, in the trenches with my Bunch for four years, who rejoined the work force in January of 2008 when my kids were one, three and four.
Before I launch into just why I love hosting au pairs to help with my bunch, I should let you know that I work at Cultural Care, the agency we host through, so I am a bit of a cheerleader for them. That said, when I did go back to work, we tried a number of options before going the au pair route.
Childcare arrangements we tried included: a patchwork of college sitters who had class schedules and school vacations to work around; family members who had their own full-time jobs; high school sitters who were available in the afternoons and babysitting co-ops. After several months of stress – not only going back to work, but from cobbling together a childcare chart each week that made air traffic control look simple, I decided it was time to simplify our lives and provide some consistency for our kids. I looked into daycares, but I wasn’t comfortable with the classroom set up and lack of one-on-one time for my little guys. That aside, the fees, especially for more than one child, were over the top. I also considered a nanny, but again, cost was a concern as was the idea of abdicating our role as parents to a “professional” childcare provider.
Ed, my husband, and I made a list of what we wanted: something personal, flexible and affordable. We desired a situation that allowed our kids to nap in their own beds, play with their toys, have playdates, go to the zoo, or the playground and enjoy story time. I wanted to know that when they were sick, they could be at home in their jammies and snuggle up with their lovies, while I could remain productive at work. We also wanted an arrangement where we could adjust the hours to fit not only our work schedules, but to allow for the occasional (dare I say it) date night (crazy, I know) or family outing without Ed or I going off the deep end. I won’t lie, cost was also huge consideration for us; the idea of working just to afford childcare really didn’t appeal to me.
Enter in the au pair program. An au pair runs about $340 week for 45 hours a week of childcare and light housekeeping. Au pairs can do playdates, run the kids to activities, and take them to all the fun places they love. The housekeeping was a huge bonus for me because I felt like I spent a significant portion of my free time doing laundry, corralling toys and loading/unloading the dishwasher. (In case you missed it, I said the “L” word. Laundry. I have a hate-hate relationship with laundry; it’s never “done,” especially if you are parenting a bunch.) She or he (yup, there are guy au pairs) lives with you. This is beyond helpful when there are 3 feet of snow on the ground, schools/daycares are closed, or potentially one (or all) of my little ones are sick, but I still need to get to work. It also fosters a family-like relationship which is hugely beneficial for the kids. If you are wondering why we didn’t go with an au pair sooner, all I can say is so do I. Nicole with Jane, 4wks. October 2009
We made the plunge and got our first au pair in June of 2008. Since then, we’ve welcomed several more au pairs as well as our fourth child (September of 2009), something that in my pre au pair days would have sent me into a tail spin. I returned to work this January without a qualm. My baby girl loves Nicole, our Swiss au pair, and I know she is in good hands. Our kids have benefited in so many ways from the young women we’ve welcomed. Beyond the enthusiasm they’ve brought to the role of childcare provider and big sister, our au pairs have opened up the world to our kids by sharing their own culture’s songs, crafts, language, food and games. The kids are not the only beneficiaries, Ed and I have peace of mind knowing our kids are happy and well cared for. And certainly don’t forget, the aforementioned date night!
Sierra is a wife, mom to 4 kids (2 girls: 7 & 5 mos & 2 boys: 5 & 4), Host mom to a fabulous Swiss au pair, dog walker for Rusty the Jack Russell, litter scooper for Mr.Clark the cat and Development Director for Cultural Care. She blogs about family shenanigans at Mom on the Run and au pairs at Sierra Rix, DD.