When I started back at work this year, it was inevitable we needed to think about some form of ongoing childcare.
I had applied for a great job and after months of waiting , not hearing back and assuming (wrongly, so it seems) that they were not interested, I was called for an interview with HR. It all went well and halfway home I got another call asking me if I could turn around and come back to meet the MD. The job was offered to me on the spot and I had to make a snap decision if I wanted it – not knowing if I could get the care for the girls I needed or not.
At the time I was still looking around for (any and all available) childcare solutions that would fit and work for our family. Miss N was in school and Miss Z was doing 1 day of (horrendously expensive but the only thing locally available) Long Day Care, mainly for a little social interaction – however obviously if I was going to be out of the house all day I needed something else. There was no before or after school care available AT ALL for Miss N (booked up for a year in advance!) and even though Miss Z’s Day Care – by some freak of divine interference, could give us 3 other days, it still meant we were down 1 full day of care, plus before and after school and left me freaking out about what the hell I was going to do in school holiday time.
We had considered getting a Nanny, or even sharing one however the whole thing was much too expensive and didn’t really fit with us in the ways we needed. We had heard of the Au Pair program previously, firstly from our friend Dominique, who hosted an French Speaking Au Pair to not only help look after her girls, but also as someone who could speak to them in her native French, as she does. More recently, Himself’s sisters were hosting Au Pairs and we had been watching how the girls interacted with the children, what they did and how they acted. It was a great introduction to the program.
In case you are not aware, an Au Pair (A french term, meaning “Equal to” or “By Mutual Agreement”) is a young person, generally 18-26yrs old from overseas, who comes to live with a family and provides childcare in return for room & board and weekly pocket money. Generally hours worked are approx. 30 – 40 hrs a week but this is all decided mutually between the parties before arrival. They come as a member of the family rather than traditional domestic assistance.
Currently Australia does not have a specific Au Pair VISA like many others countries do, so Au Pairs here can only enter Australia under a Work and Travel VISA, meaning the length of stay is generally capped at 6- 12months. This is one of the bad points of an Au Pair. As a parent it would be great to have someone to stay for a longer period, especially since certain Visa’ have their own restrictions. Of course, a lot of the Au Pairs are using the experience as a gap year between High School and University, so many only want to stay for that short period. In that time they can experience life in Australia, become part of the family and travel. The demand for Au Pairs in Australia has risen dramatically in the last few years and many parties are pushing for Australia to bring in a dedicated Visa for Au Pairs. This article from the SMH last March ’13 goes into that a little further.
We ended up deciding upon not an agency as such, but a website that hosted introductions between Au Pairs and Families. We searched, interviewed, and cut down our list to 3 girls we really liked. Of those three we spoke in detail about our expectations and the responsibilities they would have in our household. We skyped each girl again, with the children, and watched and listened to see how well they interacted with the girls. We knew this final “interview” would be the decision-maker.
We ended up with a fantastic AP who has really melded in well with our family and our way of life. She has her own time and so do we. She sleeps in some days, so do we. She goes out and has fun, so do we. She also hangs out with us on our lounge and shares in our food, wine (and frivolity) which is also fun. We wanted someone to come and be part of our family. Someone to laugh with, to grumble with about the day, and someone who we can sympathise with if the children have had a bad day (because honestly, don’t we all know about THAT!). We are really lucky to have found such a fantastic AP the first time around. Honestly, without sounding incredibly cheesy – we could not have asked for anyone more fabulous. KK loves our girls and they love her. She loves getting down and dirty and messy, she loves doing craft (so of course, my girls think she is a winner!!). She is also a strong, independent woman (traits I was taught and love – another reason we love her so much).
In a cost perspective, hosting an Au Pair is (in my opinion) generally cheaper than full time day care. Of course, having another body in your house means your bills will rise (Elec, food etc) however from our experience its not really so much that’s its noticeable. The bad points are outweighed by the good in so many ways it would take me several posts to tell you them all. We wanted one on one, in home care for our girls. Check. We wanted someone we could trust. Check. We wanted someone we knew and could speak to about anything, at anytime. Check. We wanted someone who could babysit as well (so the girls were familiar with them). Check. We also loved the idea of hosting someone from overseas. Learning a new language, a new culture, new food. We were excited about showing someone the parts of our country we love, and helping to advise them on the places they should visit and why we live in the best country in the world.
So. Long story short (ish). The Au Pair program, has been great for us and we are looking forward to continuing that for some years to come at least.