Sarah Vogel is a Cultural Care local childcare consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair. In this role, she helps families decide if hosting an au pair the right childcare solution for them and provides year-round support to host families and au pairs in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Sarah is also the co-founder of DC Baby, an organization that supports new and expecting parents through networking and educational programs. Her most challenging and rewarding role is being a mom of two little ones (ages 3.5 and 19 months).
“What should I do about childcare?”
It’s a question I’ve heard many times personally (as a mom of two) and professionally (as the co-founder of DC Baby). And it’s not always an easy one to answer. From scouring listservs for nanny recommendations to waiting for a coveted spot in a daycare center, finding the right childcare for your family is no simple task. Especially in the DC area, which boasts the highest childcare costs in the country. It’s enough to make even the calmest of parents lose their cool.
There’s one answer to this question that you may want to consider: host an au pair.
Au pairs are 18-26 year old young people from around the world who provide up to 45 hours a week of live-in childcare for American host families. This cultural exchange program is regulated by the U.S. State Department. All au pairs have childcare experience and undergo a multi-step screening and training process before joining their host families.
Hosting an au pair may be right for you if:
- You need childcare with flexible hours and schedules (au pairs can work evenings, weekends, and days. Plus, their schedules can shift from week to week).
- You’re looking for more affordable childcare options. Au pairs can work up to 45 hours a week for approximately $1,587 a month.
- You want to expose your baby to a new language or help your older child become fluent in one that they are learning at school.
- You have older kids and need help before and after school.
- You’re open to hosting a young person in your home and learning about his or her country and culture.
Are you intrigued? You aren’t alone. Thousands of families decide to welcome an au pair each year. But how do they find the right person? Here are four tips that can help you through this process:
- Start early. When people ask me how long it takes to match with an au pair, I tell them: “The more time you have, the better.” Why? Because finding the right au pair to join your family takes time. It’s not a decision you want to make with a looming deadline.Try to give yourself 8-12 weeks to fill out your host family application thoroughly, review different au pair applications, figure out what you do and don’t like, and have interviews with your top candidates.
If you would like an au pair from a particular country (France, for example), make sure you apply at a time when the most candidates from that country are available. In the case of France, many au pairs want to arrive in summer as their academic year ends in June.
- Figure out your “must haves” and “dealbreakers.” As you can imagine, finding the right au pair can feel a lot like dating. That’s why I tell potential host families to think about their “must haves” and “dealbreakers” when considering potential au pairs.
Do you need someone who can drive? Or an au pair with experience caring for an infant? Is it ok if your au pair wants to spend lots of time with your family when she’s not working, or do you want someone more independent? Answering these questions before you start the matching process can save you time and avoid selecting an au pair who isn’t the right fit.
Also, think of the values you consider most important in both a childcare provider and a housemate, because your au pair will have both roles. Consider topics like cleanliness, sleep patterns, and diet. They will have an impact and it’s important to address that in advance.
- Go with your gut. While au pair applications are thorough, your gut can be your best guide in the matching process.Does an au pair sound good on paper, but was aloof during your interview? Move on.Did you think you wanted an au pair from Germany, but find a candidate from Argentina more attractive? Reach out to her. Because you’ll be living with an au pair, it’s more important to consider how that person makes you feel and not just his or her qualifications or availability.
- Ask the right questions. It’s important to interview a potential au pair a few times before finalizing a match not only to learn about their experience, but also to figure out if this is the right person to join your family. I recommend having the first interview be a “getting to know you” conversation to see if it’s a good personality fit. The second interview should focus on his or her childcare experience and related skills and interests. Last, but certainly not least, focus your last conversation on life with your family and how you will take on challenges that you may face living together.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What do you like most about working with children? What do you like least?
- What do you love most about children that are (insert your child’s age or children’s ages)?
- Tell me about a time when… Here, you can ask about a challenge your au pair may face with your children (e.g. a baby won’t stop crying or a toddler has a meltdown).
- What is the most important thing I should know about you as a person?
Finding the right childcare is such an important decision, and I’m here to help! Please contact me to discuss if hosting an au pair is the right fit for your family.