We discuss the benefits of hiring an au-pair for expat families, especially when raising children abroad without the help of extended family.
Everyone knows that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. What about those families who aren’t part of a village? Who lack a strong social support network of relatives who live close by and willing to graciously babysit on a regular basis? My husband and I are one of those families. Our ‘village’ is very small – it consists of only me, my husband and our 17-month-old toddler son. This reality is often the case for many expat families.
What is an expat family to do? Many expat families in the Netherlands (and Dutch families too) choose to hire an au pair. An au pair, a French term meaning ‘at par or equal to’, is a young foreigner who provides live-in child care as part of a cultural exchange program. As glamorous as hiring an au pair sounds, our primary motivation is actually down-to-earth: we really need help.
Having an au pair is not for every expat family. Not only does it require an extra bedroom (a rare commodity in some European countries, for example, the Netherlands), it also means having to open your home and heart to a stranger from another culture for an entire year. When you hire an au pair, you are inviting someone, to be a member of your own family.
Now that we’re 17 months into parenthood, my husband and I have decided to hire an au pair. We’re quite nervous about it but we’re confident that we’ve made the best decision given our toddler’s temperament and our current circumstances. Here are our top seven reasons for hiring an au pair:
1. An extra pair of hands at home (convenience)
It’s incredibly convenient to have an extra caregiver living right under your roof. Parents of babies, toddlers and young children know intimately well that life is always full of adventure (sleepless nights, teething, run-of-the-mill colds, clingyness, tantrums, etc). For many first-time parents, simply getting out of the house becomes a 40-minute escapade. Having an au pair at home would help with the everyday reality of parenthood. For pregnant mums, especially those in the later stages of pregnancy or those suffering from morning sickness, having someone play with your toddler can make a world of a difference.
Another definite bonus for having an au pair is that your child stays in the comfort of your own home which can be especially useful during unfavourable weather conditions.
2. Childcare on a schedule you set (flexibility)
In comparison to traditional child care such as a crèche (day care), when you have an au pair, you can actually create a schedule that works best for you and your family. Keeping in mind that an au pair can only work 30 hours a week and no more than 8 hours a day, this lends to a lot greater flexibility to accommodate your family’s schedule. There is no added stress of picking up your child on time.
3. Assistance with household duties
Having an au pair who can help with light household chores would definitely reel in the daily chaos. An au pair can, within reason, do tasks such as daily vacuuming, cleaning up the kitchen, managing the dishwasher (putting dirty dishes in and putting clean dishes and silverware back to the proper places), preparing simple meals, small grocery shopping, and laundry. Please keep in mind though that an au pair is not a substitute for maid.
4. Opportunity for cultural exchange
Having someone from another culture come into your home can really help broaden your family’s world. It’s a great chance to also share your own values and perspective.
Personally, it’s also a chance for me to introduce my son to Filipino culture. I would love for him to learn Filipino nursery rhymes, songs and a bit of Tagalog too (still actually undecided as our son is already growing up in a bilingual home).
The financial costs of an au pair are considerably less than other traditional forms of child care such as a creche, a nanny and the occasional babysitter. In addition to providing room and board, an au pair receives pocket money of EUR 300–340 a month for 30 hours of help. Other costs to keep in mind are the au pair agency fees, and EUR 275 on Dutch language courses, or personal development classes.
6. Personalised attention and care
While it’s hard to argue that the best care a child can receive is in the loving watch of his/her mother and hands-on father, having an au pair who can give your child her undivided attention can be very beneficial.
7. Time to nurture yourself and your marriage
While our son is our utmost priority, we believe that it is really important to take care of ourselves and our marriage too. We would love to start going to the gym together again which we haven’t done for the past 17 months. We have only gone out on dinner dates, just the two of us, less than five times since embarking on this journey towards parenthood.