Childcare can be a tough choice. First of all there is the concern with quality of care, and the hassles of morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups, and dovetailing that into the already busy schedule of family life. We have a live-in au pair.
When we tell our friends we have a live-in, 2 things seem to get blurted out – “OMG – you have a stranger living in your house!” or “OMG – you must be rich!”
Neither is true.
An au pair is a young person willing to care for your children in return for lodging and meals and a reasonable stipend. The amount you pay is determined between you and the au pair. Our au pairs have all been happy to be paid around $150 a week to care for the 2 boys, with weekends and free time to themselves. Most have come from France, but our current au pair is from Ontario, about 4 hours down the highway.
Most reading you do on au pairs says to treat them like an older sibling to your children and to think of them as a babysitter rather than as a nanny. Have low expectations and be prepared to be surprised. In our experience, this is a good approach. We treat our au pairs like young adults, and expect that they will party on weekends and travel and explore. We hope they will join us on family outings and share their joys and experiences with us.
Most of our au pairs have been a great success. We have had one that we had to let go quickly (one week after arriving we sent him packing) but that experience was a lesson in itself and no one got hurt. The au pairs are excited to live in a different country with a local family. They want to learn the language and cooking and daily routine. In return our children have been enriched with stories of faraway places and learned a little French.
Here are some examples of our au pair experiences:
AP 1 – Marjolaine came to us from downtown Paris where she worked as a booking agent to a hotel on the Champs Elysees. She loved perfume and beautiful clothes. Every morning she would come upstairs and set the table before we were even out of bed, then sneak back to her room for the boys to 'wake' her. Marjo absolutely doted on Cuppa. Both boys still sing the song she taught them, “Pomme D’Annette et Pomme D’Api” although she has been gone for months. Marjo was precise, timely, and accountable. She was fantastic from a systems management and scheduling perspective. Her old boss in Paris called her with an offer for her old job back, with an increase in pay, and she couldn’t turn down the opportunity. We lost her too soon. She was only with us for a couple months.
AP 2 – Agathe had big shoes to fill when she arrived from a smaller city in the North of France. She was very young (only 18) but had spent a previous summer with friends in America, and was determined to continue to improve her English, and enjoy our culture. While here she took weekend trips to Quebec City, Algonquin Park, New York, Toronto, and about every other place nearby. She worked hard, but struggled a little with James. She did a good job of keeping the house clean, and she was very dedicated to the boys. Agathe was studying for her entry exams into a culinary school in France. She wanted to be a chef, and often cooked delicious dinners for us. When she returned home to write her entry exams, the cost to travel back to Canada was too much for her to bear, and so she too cut her stay short, opting to find a job in France rather than come back to Canada. The winter weather may have helped with her decision. Agathe stayed with us for about months.
AP3 was our nightmare. He also came from France, and was on his way to Canada already when we contacted him. Since we were in a bind with losing Agathe, we accepted this young man as an interim placement for a couple months while we searched for a long term person. Since he had a flexible start date as an au pair with a farm family in Quebec, it was mutually agreeable that he come to Canada early to work for us, then head off to the other family when we had our next au pair arranged. Sortof an early start for him, and a bridge for us. When we discovered that he was closing the boys into the playroom, then going spending the day in another room altogether, we decided his idea of childcare and ours were so completely different that we couldn’t have him. He smoked (thankfully not in the house), he was rude, couldn’t cook, didn’t clean up, and was just a really bad choice. A week after he arrived, I told him we were through with him, packed his bags into the car, and drove him to Union Station.
Our current au pair is fantastic. We were pretty desperate to get someone quickly to replace AP3, but didn’t want to make the same mistakes. We briefly discussed switching to a home daycare or other arrangement, but in the end decided to give one more kick at the au pair can. We found AP4 with a family in France, looking to return to the familiarity of Canada. Since her contract with that family had ended, she needed to get home quickly, and so things were mutually agreeable. We told her to get on the next plane, and she was here within a week or two. AP4 loves the boys, cooks with them in the afternoon (she makes great cookies!) and helps Chuck with homework and studying – Chuck’s grades have gone up by about 10% with AP4 in the house! AP4 focuses on keeping the children happy – which is what her key role is meant to be, but she also takes time to prepare lunches and tidy up. She spends loads of time with the family going to community events and festivals with us, but also finds time to visit friends and even do charity work in the community. Every day she calls her parents and shares their stories with us as well. I have never met someone who is so chronically happy.
This fall when Buddy heads off to Senior Kindergarten we will see the end of our au pair adventure. Cuppa will go to a preschool then, and we will be back on a more ‘normal’ path. Overall though, I think having these young people in our home, and the things our children have learned from them has been very positive, and it’s an experience I would encourage anyone to try.