Everyone loves to talk about work/life balance, however this is rarely a situation achieved by most working mums and dads. Work, school, extra-curricular activities and more family goings-on make it seem like we are pulled in all directions and never obtain that precious balance in our lives. There is hardly a day care or kindy out there that really gives any family flexibility enough to achieve that type of balance. What with the regulated hours, public/school holiday closures, non-attendance if the child is sick and lets not forget my personal favourite….the wallet-sucking penalties for every minute you are late for a pick up. It doesn’t matter how you sugarcoat it – but it doesn’t sound like balance to me.
Something to consider if your family is all over the place with school, day care, sports and extra-curricular activities is the option of hosting an Au Pair. An Au Pair is a young person from overseas with no children of their own (typically 18-26yrs old) who comes to live with a family and helps take care of the children in return for room, board and pocket money.
There are so many advantages, particularly to working families that it would take days to explain them all. Here are a few highlights:
Driving Duties: This is the single biggest and best advantage I have found having an Au Pair. Someone available I trust to drop off my children in the mornings to School/Pre-School and be there to pick them up again in the afternoon. My workday remains normal and my boss doesn’t hate me for continually being late.
Homework or Tutoring Help: Having someone to ensure homework is done daily is a treat. No more late night screaming matches, no more last minute frantic scribbling of spelling lists first thing in the morning. Just quality time to help.
Cultural and Lifestyle Learning: Typically an Au Pair will be fluent in one (or sometimes several) languages other than English. This can be helpful (and fun) for kids and adults alike. Sometime an Au Pair will have gifts such as knowledge of a musical instrument, be competent in drawing/art or any number of other skills they can pass on to your family.
Babysitting and Household Help: Au Pairs can also be a big help with basic household duties such as the washing or dishes (please note – they are not maids!) and can also assist in babysitting when parents need to pop out to parent teacher nights, school meetings, sport games or date nights. Lets not forget days when kids are sick and off school/care or those hard to organise school holidays.
The flexibility of having live-in help is something that cannot be underestimated. It can help families establish proper routines and minimise long days at childcare for younger kids. It can help get the kids settled earlier each evening and creates a more calm and family-orientated environment. You can be happy knowing your kids can spend more time with friends/family for playtime or study and helps parents minimise time off work, meaning more time watching Sports Carnivals and Merit Presentations.
The affordability of an Au Pair is also a big win for most families. Typically an Au Pair is less than what you would otherwise spend on extra day care/after school care and holiday care.
Australia’s child care system is good but most will agree we really do need a more affordable and flexible system, and since this still seems some way off – it’s good to know having an Au Pair can assist working families and provide some stability.
This report – an enquiry into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning from the Productivity Commission, has recommended big changes to in-home childcare, one of which is the extension of visa’s and a specific visa category for Au Pairs. This would definitely assist families with stability – allowing the same Au Pair for a 12mnth period rather than the current 6 months. At present that would not include any form of government rebate, however that said it is still an affordable and flexible choice for many families. In future, allowing that child care rebate to be extended to both Nannies and Au Pairs would be a big win for everyone.
The fantastic news is that as of July 2015, the Government have passed this recommendation and the 6 month restriction has been lifted. Presently there is no word on weather a specific Au Pair visa will be granted but so far – so good! You can read more about that update here .
Not everyone, however, seems to back the idea of Au Pairs, as this article from February 2014 notes. Dial-An-Angel and some of it’s staff have labeled using Au Pairs “risky” and alluded to the fact that parents who hire Au Pairs are “desperate parents who haven’t any other options”. Their comments were also included in the report to the productivity commission. However I must say – I do disagree. Many families choose an Au Pair over other forms of childcare for a ton of reasons, only one of which is cost. Think of all those people who do shift work? FIFO or Defence families? In fact, the flexibility factor alone makes it the most advantageous for working families. Just because something is low cost – does not make it bad.
I really would like to know what’s got the bee in their Mary Poppins bonnets anyway? There are 23-odd Million people in this country, including 4.37 million kids under 15yrs (as of June 2013 – thanks ABS!) and I’m sure that is plenty to go around! Every family is different and therefore every care situation is different. Flat-out labeling Au Pairs as “risky” is a bit far fetched.
Dial-An-Angels’ WA State Manager Kate Spencer said some people who wanted a nanny could not afford one, and so looked to Gumtree or Social Media for an Au Pair with no experience or background checks. As a parent (and a Host Mum) I must agree that this is not very clever behaviour – however thankfully I doubt most parents are that stupid. These are your children! Who wouldn’t go that extra mile to organise reference checks, look up experience and do everything in your power to ensure your kids safety? If you go through an Agency – most times this is something they will do for you – however if you choose one of the Au Pair websites or find someone via word of mouth or (God Forbid) one of the many Facebook Groups out there, you can still do background and reference checks easily (either yourself or by asking the Au Pair to obtain the information). A little research goes a long way.
So long story short – yes, it’s not for everyone, but it is affordable, flexible and it’s proven to work. Who knows….it may just work for you too?
Danni Hanson is a mum, employee and business owner. She’s one half of the popular parenting website Honey, You Baked! and also runs Aussie Au Pair Mum