It was December of 2018, and my daughter was just under two years old when our second nanny informed us that she would be leaving because she was moving further away to a lower-rent home. She is a single mom from El Salvador who divorced her husband years ago and has raised her now 17-year old son. At the time, we would pay her approximately $3,200 per month, this is without any extracurricular activities like date nights or a friend's birthday party; with those in and the occasional long workday, she could easily cost us up to $4,000 a month.
Once again, I was disheartened and daunted by the thought of finding a new nanny. If you are a parent or parent-to-be, you know finding someone to come to your home and take care of the most precious thing in your life is not easy. That night my husband brought up the idea of trying Au Pair stating the benefits of more hours with less cost and more flexibility. Still, I immediately shot it down, saying that I would not bring a young girl I have not met to my house to take care of my baby, and...of course, 3 months later, we welcomed our first Au Pair from Brazil to our home. She stayed with us for two years, creating some of the loveliest memories with my daughter growing to four years old.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" Lao Tzu
The thought of bringing a young girl and having her live in our house seemed too risky for me; here is a sample list with a few of my concerns:
Despite all my concerns and after a few unsuccessful interviews with nanny candidates, I was desperate and convinced enough to begin looking into bringing on an Au Pair. The idea of having 24/7 access to 45 hours of help for only $200 per week (excluding the agency fees) was too attractive to pass on. We did a rough estimation to compare an Au Pair's cost with a Nanny. The bottom line is that having an Au Pair, including all costs, is about $20K - $28K cheaper per year. That is equivalent to a couple of solid family vacations. You can find further breakdown and table of the costs below.
Another advantage is that when you have an Au Pair living in your house with some advance planning, you can wisely use the 45 hours to include date nights or adult outings. With a nanny, you have to pay hourly every time you need additional help in the evenings or weekends, so the flexibility with the hours is a real plus and game-changer for us.
Moreover, when the Au Pair lives with you, it's much easier to carve out time to do some quick and spontaneous adult activities like an early morning or evening walk. When we had a nanny, we had her start exactly when we had to go/ start to work, and we let her finish right when the first parent was done with work. The commute for Au Pair is from her room to the living room, so you can easily have her start earlier and squeeze in an early morning activity without worrying about additional hours.
Considering all these benefits, I started talking to a couple of my friends who already had Au Pairs for a few years to get an idea of where to start. And soon I realized the process at the beginning is indeed overwhelming with a list of initial decision points:
Once we had an idea of the decisions above, then the real work began: we needed to create a thorough family profile on the agency website, get through background checks including somebody inspecting our home and family life and submit some formal documents in order to start the search and interview process.
Note: Most agencies let you search for Au Pairs with a small fee ($50-$150). They usually waive it if you formally go with them, but you need to have an approved profile if you want to start interviewing Au Pairs.
It's like a dating site where both you and Au Pairs look through profiles, do interviews and ultimately find a match, so if you want to get a high-quality Au Pair, you need to step up and create an appealing family profile that reflects the reality of your family life.
Once we had our profile up, we started interviewing mostly second-year Au Pairs. (In the next article, I explain the rationale behind why we decided to go with the second year). We really liked the very first girl we interviewed with. Still, since she was our first interviewee, we were not ready to match right away. Of course, that girl was matched with another family in two days; remember the dating analogy!! After 3-4 interviews, we liked one girl who was an Au Pair on the East Coast. We continued with more interviews with her and a reference check with the host family, and we decided to close the match with her as our first Au Pair!
I vividly remember the day I picked her up from SFO airport. I was super nervous about meeting her in person for the very first time and bringing her to our home. All those initial concerns were still alive in my head to some extent. I was planning to welcome her at the arrival gate with a bouquet of flowers, but instead, I was late, and she was out by the time I got to the airport. We got in the car, and we chatted a bit on the way home, and that was the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. Long story short, over the two years she stayed with us, she became part of our family; she was my daughter's best friend and a little sister to me.
During the pandemic, and when I was pregnant with our second baby, she was there with us all along and even helped with sleepless nights when we had our son. We learnt a lot about Brazil, its lively culture, beautiful people, and the food with her occasional cooking. She learned about our family's cultural backgrounds from Iran, Afghanistan, and Canada. After two years, when she was leaving because her visa was up and she could not stay any longer, I felt like I was losing a piece of our family which took a good amount of tears and a while to get used to. Fast forward to now, we just welcomed our third Au Pair from Brazil, and this time she is a first-year Au Pair.
Reflecting on the list of my initial concerns, none of them became an actual issue. I am not saying we had no problems with our Au Pairs, but the ones we faced were not material, and we worked collectively to resolve them. Let's go back to some of the initial concerns:
Family Privacy: The truth is that Au Pairs spend all day with the kids/ family, and probably the last thing they want to do after they are done working is to spend more time with us. It's like me wanting to stay on my laptop or office after the work is done, plus even me as a mom cannot be around my kids all day long, let alone the Au Pair!!! They usually want to go to the gym or room to relax/ watch TV or go out with their friends.
You can mitigate other risks like partying, drinking, bringing boys, etc., by doing thorough due diligence in the selection and interview process, reference checks, and creating clear and balanced house rules. Regarding their health and wellbeing, the agency does health and background checks. Some of them have personality test results that we used as part of our selection process. There are pros, cons, and different risks for the first year, second year, or rematch Au Pairs which I will talk about in the following article.
The search, selection, and onboarding process of an Au Pair require a lot of work, stamina, and attention. The more effort you put in upfront to set your priorities, conduct due diligence and create an onboarding process, the higher your chances of success for your family and the Au Pair. In my next article, I explain our journey's selection criteria, decision approach, and success factors. If you are interested in reading further about this topic, you can sign up for our newsletter here. You will get notified when the following article is out.