Snow Day or Sick Day – An In-Home Au Pair is There
Finding flexible childcare can be quite overwhelming.
There are so many options nowadays: daycare centers, in-home daycare, nannies, …. au pairs.
That’s right, au pairs are a thing, and they’re not just for wealthy European families like I thought.
Au Pair in America is the latest childcare option to hit Grand Rapids and it’s more accessible than you might think.
Read on to find out how having a live-in au pair can not only be an incredible cultural exchange experience for your family, but it can also actually save you money on your childcare expenses.
Save even more with a special promo code just for GRKIDS readers!
Au Pairs Fly in From Around the World to Care for Your Family & Experience America
An au pair is a live-in nanny from another country – often a young adult interested in experiencing America. Think similar to an exchange student.
Au pairs live with their host family and help with childcare responsibilities while experiencing American life and taking college courses.
When you host an au pair, you’re getting more than just childcare. You’re also getting to experience a different culture.
“Au Pair in America is a cultural exchange experience first,” says Mary Tjoelker, Community Counselor, “and a great childcare option second. ”
Young adults ages 18 – 26 apply to be part of Au Pair in America. Candidates have at least 200 hours of recent, practical childcare experience. Among other requirements, they also must pass a background check.
“I always wanted to live abroad and improve my English,” says 26 year old Bea from Brazil. “The au pair program was a great opportunity to live, study abroad and experience the American culture.”
“The cultural immersion is really good,” she adds. “I was able to see a different lifestyle, food, languages.
“Living abroad opened my eyes to the fascinating cultures around me. Not only American, but also from the other au pairs’ countries.”
How Au Pairs are Different from Nannies and Baby-Sitters
In addition to living with a host family for a year, there are other key differences and benefits of an au pair vs. nannies or baby-sitters.
Families with Au Pair in America set up flexible, weekly schedules with their au pair. Au pairs can provide up to 10 hours a day of childcare with a maximum of 45 hours per week.
“We never used daycare – the hours for daycare never worked for our work schedule and we always needed to have more flexibility,” says a local Grand Rapids mom.
“We don’t have any family support and needed a childcare solution that offered flexibility. The benefit of having an au pair is that you can split their hours up during the day.”
Since au pairs live in your house, they are already there to take care of the kids on snow days and sick days – plus they come along to help on vacations.
“The opportunity to travel is great!” exclaims Bea. “I’ve been to different states and I wouldn’t be able to do this just traveling as a tourist.”
Nannies and baby-sitters may not have the flexibility to change their schedules to accommodate your family’s changing needs or last minute emergencies.
“Our two experiences with a nanny offered us flexibility,” a Grand Rapids mom, and Au Pair client, reflects. “But at times, we could have benefited from even more flexibility and reliability.”
Au pairs can do anything related to childcare: getting children up in the morning and out the door for school, making their meals and picking up their rooms. Plus au pairs can take kids to their appointments and practices.
Nannies and baby-sitters don’t always have the ability to do extra duties – or they may charge extra for it.
In order to hire a nanny or baby-sitter, families are often left to do their own reference checks and interviews.
Au Pair in America already does that for you. All of the au pairs in the program are interviewed by a trained interviewer. The au pair’s application must include three references, one of which must be a child care reference.
Applicants must submit a medical report, pass a background check and personality evaluation. During the interview, the interviewer assesses the candidate’s suitability, ability to speak English and education level.
How Au Pair in America Works
The Au Pair Process
While they’ve been around since 1986, Au Pair in America is new to the Grand Rapids area.
Potential au pairs come from over 60 countries throughout the world. They must apply and be accepted into the program.
Au pairs come to the U.S. on a J-1 Visa and are matched with a host family for 12 months. There is a possibility of extending the placement for up to an additional 12 months.
Once in the United States, the au pairs are required to take six credit hours of extended learning.
How to be a Host Family With Au Pair in America
When a family decides to host an au pair with Au Pair in America, they are agreeing to provide room and board for 12 months. In addition to a base fee to the program, host families also pay the au pair a weekly stipend.
“We are saving a significant amount of money compared to having a nanny (even with having an additional adult living in our home) and have so much flexibility!” shares a Grand Rapids Au Pair client.
“The cost of having a full time nanny was very high especially when factoring in employment taxes.”
The family submits a childcare schedule for up to 45 hours per week of childcare.
Hours are very flexible and do not have to be strictly 9 AM – 5 PM. The hours can even be split up throughout the day.
“It’s very specific to the family,” Tjoelker explains.
Host families learn about their au pair’s culture and native language. Children even learn some of a new language!
And au pairs learn about the family’s culture and traditions.
“I believe that a strong relationship with the family is built with good communication and good quality time,” explains Bea. “It’s easy to create a bond with the host kids and with the host family when you have those things.”
“Our current au pair is our third au pair and we have had such a positive experience,” says a Grand Rapids client.
“Our children have developed such loving relationships with all of our au pairs and having them live in our home has helped to foster that. Our children have been exposed to different cultures and have developed an appreciation of having an additional ‘family member’ living with us.”
Quick Tips on Hosting an Au Pair
Don’t worry about the au pair intruding on your personal life. While she definitely wants to be part of the family, she’s also there to get her own experience. She will have her own social life and not be in your house 24/7.
Set up her room as a space where she would want to hang out. Provide a TV and comfy seating.
Most importantly, be upfront during the initial interview about what your day-to-day looks like. For example – do you eat dinner as a family or do you eat after your kids go to bed?
Remember, communication is the key to a successful experience for everyone.
Ready to Sign Up to Host an Au Pair or Learn More About the Program?
If you live within an hour of Grand Rapids (49506 zip code), your family may be eligible to host an au pair.
Tjoelker and the Au Pair in America team are committed to supporting the Grand Rapids community. Look for them at area events including the Grand Rapids Kids Marathon on October 14, 2023.
Au Pair in America also currently serves the Lansing and Detroit areas and throughout Michigan.
Contact Au Pair in America or Grand Rapids area community coordinator, Mary Tjoelker at 616-287-3661 to learn more about the program and how to get started as a host family.
Apply by September 30, 2023, and receive a $350 program fee discount.