Although sometimes the two titles are used interchangeably, they are very different types of caregivers. Nannies are caregivers, either live-in or live-out, that are responsible for meeting the developmental needs of the child and taking on child-related household responsibilities.
They are hired as employees directly by the parents. On the other hand, au pairs are foreign caregivers that are placed with host families through the Department of State.
Rather than an employee/employer relationship, au pairs are part of a cultural exchange program, and are welcomed as part of the family from the start. They receive a weekly stipend, the opportunity to experience American life and the chance to continue their education while they’re in our country in exchange for childcare. Although there are restrictions on the number of hours an au pair can work and what duties she can perform, there are lots of advantages to au pair care too.
Here’s a look at what many families love about having an au pair.
An au pair can teach your child a foreign language. In today’s world, children who are bi- or multi-lingual have a strong advantage over children who only know English. An au pair can teach her native language to your child, or she can reinforce and expand his language skills if he’s already learning the language in school or from a relative. Because she is also fluent in English, she’s able to communicate with you and your child from the start and introduce her language slowly or provide a complete immersion experience. She’ll be able to approach it in a way that’s best suited to your child.
Your family can experience a different culture through an au pair. Your au pair can introduce your family to the language, customs and history of her country in a way that brings it to life. You’ll get to learn about life in a different part of the world through the experiences of someone who’s grown up and lived there. This can be especially exciting for school age children who may be learning about the au pair’s country in school. She can support your child’s formal learning with unique stories, crafts, cooking and other activities from her background. This is a much more fun and personal way to learn about a foreign land.
It’s an affordable childcare option. Because au pairs are paid a weekly stipend instead of a typical nanny’s wage, this option makes in-home care affordable for many families. While there are some restrictions on what you can ask of an au pair, she can work up to 10 hours a day or 45 hours a week, can provide hands-on childcare and can do many child-related household tasks, like preparing the children’s meals, doing their laundry and keeping the their areas tidy. This lines up with what many families need from a childcare provider, so for many it’s a perfect fit.
You don’t have to take on the nanny tax hassles. While most au pairs are required to pay state and federal taxes at the end of the year, as the host you’re not required to pay Social Security taxes or other employer taxes like unemployment. This means that you don’t have to deal with the time consuming hassles that come with being a household employer.
An au pair has childcare experience and training. Although au pairs are young men and women, all must have childcare experience before entering the program. Also, all au pairs are required to satisfactorily complete a childcare training program before being placed with a host family. So you can be assured that your au pair has a solid foundation of childcare knowledge before she comes to live with your family. This ensures she’s ready to take on the daily responsibilities of caring for your children.
There’s a strong support network for the au pair and host family. When you welcome an au pair into your home, it’s the beginning of a long-term relationship with both the au pair and the organization that placed her. She’ll have a counselor that will help her adjust to the American lifestyle, connect her with other au pairs in her local area and also be there to deal with any questions or problems she has. The au pair organization also provides support to you as you go through the natural challenges of welcoming an au pair into your home. Having this professional, ongoing resource can be a huge help in making the relationship a success and getting the most out of the experience.
Hosting an au pair isn’t for everyone. But for many families, it’s the perfect in-home childcare option and cultural exchange experience, all rolled into one.