Au pairs become part of the family
Au pairs offer help to busy parents while introducing different cultures
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2007 – 2:00 am
By Rebecca Roper
Rebecca Starr looked forward to April 6. That’s the day her au pair from Brazil arrived.
“Just having someone to take to the grocery store with me is going to be a huge relief,” said the Simpsonville mother of 2- and 3-year-old boys, who works from her Neely Farm home.
“Sometimes I have to shut myself in the bathroom or the closet just to have a phone conversation,” she said. “So you can see why we need an au pair.”
Au pair means “part of the family,” and many families seem to agree that is the best part about having a live-in nanny from another culture. It can also be the most trying part.
“I’m nervous about the idea of having someone as a guest in (my) home that long,” said Patricia Harrison, whose 6-year-old son, Colin, is in the Spanish immersion program at Blythe Academy.
She thinks having a native Spanish speaker in their home would be a wonderful cultural experience for Colin and the rest of the family, and is considering a three-month summer program offered through Cultural Care Au Pair.
Having a live-in nanny with a French name may sound like a luxury for the wealthy, but Nadia Price, local coordinator for Cultural Care Au Pair, urges parents to compare what they get with other child-care options.
For two children to attend 45 hours of day care at a typical institution would cost $200 – $300 per week. And mom or dad has to drive them there and back — and fix dinner. With Cultural Care’s yearlong au pair program, costs break down to $285 per week, no matter how many children the au pair cares for.
Lena Forester, local coordinator for Au Pair Care, quotes similar prices for her organization’s yearlong program: $240 per week. She said families have the option of extending an au pair’s stay for a second year if both parties are agreeable.
Au pairs can hail from any country, and, although most au pairs are female, males can apply as well. Forester said Au Pair Care has one male au pair in Asheville.
“They face a prejudice,” she said. “People wonder if this is the right job for a male. But male au pairs work well with households with boys.”
Some families, she said, like that male au pairs have “less hormonal stuff going on.”
However, Forester said, “They eat more than the girls do.”
So who is the au pair for?
“Busy families,” Price said. “Whether both parents work fulltime or maybe the mom is home but they have a lot of children to care for. You can spend quality time with each child while the au pair cares for the others.”
Forester said some families want au pairs for the cultural experience.
“I have a family in Greer where the father is Portuguese, and they have a Brazilian au pair,” she said. “They want the children to grow up bilingual.”
In addition to child care, au pairs do things such as drive children to activities, fix meals and do light housework and laundry. Families devise a set schedule of on-duty hours for the au pair, Price said. The rest of the time, the au pair can spend relaxing, studying or going out with friends.
Price said the au pair experience is life-changing for both the au pair and the host family, but open communication is essential. Her program offers an extensive matching service, trains the au pairs at its own academy in New York, and requires two phone conversations between a host family and the au pair prior to arrival. A criminal background check and 200 hours of previous child-care experience are also required.
But that, Price said, doesn’t always guarantee everything will go without a hitch.
“Even if you have a wonderful match, little things can become issues if you don’t address them,” Price said.
She recalled being an au pair to 2-year-old triplets and a 5-year-old. The host mother told her one day the way she folded laundry drove her crazy.
“I had no idea,” she said. “But it was a simple thing to fix.”
Ground rules can also be difficult, she said. But the host family, being the employer, has the right to set them.
“For instance, in Latin American it is typical for young people to stay out until 3 in the morning,” Price said. “But some host families have a problem with that.”
Drinking and smoking can also be issues, and should be addressed prior to the au pair’s arrival, she said. Helping the au pair adjust to the new culture can go a long way in strengthening the relationship.
“Sometimes it can be as simple as finding a grocery that carries a certain food she misses from home,” Price said.
One host family had the au pair’s application photographs framed and had them on the wall in her bedroom when she arrived, Price said.
Simpsonville resident Brad Nipert said his wife took off work for a few days to help their au pair, Isabella, find her way around town and make sure she had everything she needed.
Isabella cares for their three children, ages 7, 4, and 11 months.
“It is quite evident how much she cares for the kids,” he said. “Even when she’s off duty, she’ll ask Jonathan if he wants to play a game.”
Having an au pair has simplified his life a lot. he said. Nipert also enjoys the cultural exchange.”
Nipert has nothing negative to say about hosting, which he and his wife, Melissa, have been doing since October.
“We went through several applications thoroughly, and we found the right match for us,” he said.
If a match just doesn’t work out — which Price says rarely happens — the au pair must pay her own airfare back home if the problem was caused by the au pair or if she is too homesick to stay.
When choosing an agency, Price urges host families to take a good look at the matching process and make sure the au pairs are trained in person.
Filling out the application itself only took Starr about half an hour. She said the hardest part was determining the schedule since her own schedule varies quite a bit.
“It is very fluid,” she said. “Some days it gets really busy and other days it’s not, so those days I can spend more time with the boys and with the au pair. I feel like she’s really going to be part of our family.
Starr found a match within three days of turning in the application.
“I was amazed,” she said.