Hiring my first au pair - a mother's experience

Have you ever thought about hosting an Au Pair? Someone to look after your children, take care of some of the household chores and cleaning, laundry and cooking and to babysit so you can have a night out? Read about this mother’s first-hand experience and the sort of things that you can expect.
Sitting in the Arrivals Lounge at Auckland International Airport with my 1 and 4 year old children, I wondered if I might be crazy!

We were there to meet a young Danish Au Pair, with whom we’d only exchanged a few emails and 2 phone calls - and she was coming to live with us for 9 months!

That was back in 2007, I wasn’t crazy and we’ve never looked back, our children are six and nine now and we are currently hosting our seventh Au Pair. So taken with the Au Pair concept am I that after our second Au Pair I started an Au Pair Agency of my own – Dream Au Pair.

Majbritt our very first Au Pair from Denmark became our lifesaver and helped us rediscover our family and Balance. I was working 3 nursing shifts each week and my husband worked long hours with frequent business trips away. Day-care wasn’t working well; the children were still so little and always getting sick. The laundry pile grew higher and higher and takeaways were getting far too frequent at dinner time.

What we wanted was for the kids to grow up at home, to have play dates with friends, bake scones in the kitchen, help peg out the washing, visit the local parks and the library down the street, like we did when we were kids. We both needed to work to pay the bills and the only option for care at home was a nanny - $20-$25 per hour!

There was no way we could afford to have our babies cared for at home. Or so we thought, a nursing colleague at the hospital suggested an Au Pair...

At first I thought we’d never afford it, and didn’t have the space at home, we weren’t sure if it would work, could we cope with someone living in? Would the children like her? Would we like her? 

We decided on a short 6 month placement. “If it’s really terrible we can quit after that and go back to day care” we decided. We juggled the bedroom setup, putting the children in together and here she was arriving today!

As it turned out the children loved Majbritt, she was playful and loving and cared for our children as if they were her own. Toby at age one was especially in love with his Majbritt, which really helped me to know I’d made the right decision, they were both just so much happier, living life at their own pace in their own routines.

My Husband and I were happy too! Suddenly the home fires were stoked and burning, laundry got washed, baking was done, the children were fed, bathed and playing happily.

While I had thought Au Pairs were for the wealthy I was amazed to find Au Pairs were one of the least expensive childcare options around.

Because the Au Pair lives in with us, a big part of her package is the board and lodgings she receives, making the wage payments very affordable. We now pay $230 per week for 30 hours of our Au Pairs time plus a free night's babysitting, and the cost is per family not per child.

These days families with preschoolers can also access 20 hours ECE, WINZ and OSCAR subsidies when they use a reputable Au Pair Agency making it even more affordable.

Our family has loved the cultural exchange aspect of hosting an Au Pair too. We have picked up little traditions from each of our lovely Au Pairs and the children remember them all fondly. Each special Au Pair has had particular interests and talents which they’ve shared with our family; music, art, cooking, sports...

I love it that our children have a sense of cultural difference they wouldn’t otherwise have, they appreciate that we are not all the same and are excited to discover new cultures, languages and traditions, some of which we’ve adopted into our own family as a result.

I hope our Au Pairs have also taken a little of our Kiwi ways home with them too. It has been great to see them on their own journey of discovery, growing up and becoming independent adults. A little practice for us when we finally have teenagers I reckon!

It’s not always perfect; we have had to compromise on some things. Au Pairs are usually young school leavers with limited childcare experience; they’ve needed my guidance and direction, especially at the beginning. But mostly they want to be part of our family, to be cared for and supported by us.

We’ve loved welcoming these young ladies into our home and family and enjoyed having them join in on our family celebrations. Luckily we’ve always used an Au Pair Agency who can help us if we’re not sure how to address an issue or worst case scenario work through a rematch with us if the fit was not quite right with an Au Pair.

Now of course I run an Au Pair agency of my own together with my business partner and we get to help other families rediscover their family balance through hosting Au Pairs.

When you are considering an getting an Au Pair, I’d recommend you work with an agency with a few years’ experience in matching Au Pairs and Host Families.

Look out for professional memberships like New Zealand Au Pair Association or International Au Pair Association. This will mean the agency must adhere to strict international standards.

Choose an Agency licensed with Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Development, that way you’ll be able to access subsidies and a home based education programme for your children too.

Ask about their Au Pair screening and induction processes – you’ll want to be sure your Au Pair is of good character and well prepared for the role with your family.

Find out what social support does the agency offer the Au Pairs? In my experience Au Pairs are most happy and settled when they have a life outside of your family with friends and hobbies, your agency should be able to help establish these connections.

Source: Dream Au Pair - a home-based childcare agency, placing Au Pairs with families all over NZ

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