Au Pair vs. Nanny Share
July 14, 2017 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Should we terminate our current au pair relationship and switch to a nanny share?

Mr. Duck and I welcomed a baby boy seven months ago, and at the end of my maternity leave last month, we introduced an au pair into our household. She is from a Spanish-speaking country and is semi-fluent in English, but there have still been fairly significant communication challenges on an almost-daily basis. When we made the decision to hire an au pair, it was primarily for the convenience and flexibility that we can have with scheduling (45 hours/weekly and we can shift the hours as needed based on our needs), as well as for the ability for our son to remain in our home while still getting socialization through playdates, storytime, classes, etc. While the flexibility has been a wonderful thing, we have really been struggling with some aspects of the situation and primarily with the reality of having another adult living in our home full-time. While she does often go out with other au pairs or explore the city on the weekends, she is also home the majority of evenings and as part of the program we are strongly encouraged to create a family atmosphere and have meals together, bring her on outings, etc. The difficulty there is that my husband and I are still adjusting to our new dynamic of being a family of 3, let alone a family of 4, and with the communication challenges it just doesn't feel natural or easy most of the time.

We also have had a few bothersome/mildly disturbing situations that have led us to question her judgment or ability to be open and honest with us. Minor things like not telling us when she broke a mobile; leaving his belongings behind in the park or at playdates; and misunderstanding our instructions on how to dress him for weather, etc. My instinct is that most of these things come down to (mis)communication and we all need to work harder at clarifying expectations and continuing to get to know each other, but my husband is more skeptical that we will be able to make progress.

At the same time, we have been given the opportunity to join a family we know in a nanny share situation. The share is hosted at their home which is located less than 5 minutes from my work and the nanny is a very clear communicator and very competent at taking care of infants. We would have a set schedule of 8-5 each day, meaning we would lose the flexibility of evening/weekend care that is built into our current situation, but we would also have a lot more free time as a family. Our morning routine would have to change pretty drastically as right now I typically hand my son off to the au pair after my husband has gone to work and then get ready myself; if she were not there, we would need to coordinate much more closely (and get up earlier!) to be able to get out the door on time. As another lifestyle anecdote, my husband and I both run and it has been very nice to have the ability to either run before work or come home early and run without having to first pick up our son.

If we end the au pair relationship, she will be placed with a new family and we would then shift to the nanny share situation. I cringe to think of how terrible it would make her feel to have us tell her we want to terminate, but would definitely provide solid resources and she the agency we work with has assured us that re-placements are not uncommon and she won't be sent home.

I'm very twisted up over this decision and hoping others can share anecdotes about what you see as the positives/negatives of each situation (au pair vs. nanny), and in particular, any experiences with successfully navigating through the initial time of transition with an au pair. I'm not sure at this point how much of what I'm feeling is typical of introducing someone new into the home and how much is that our family dynamic just might not be a good fit for an au pair.
posted by DuckGirl to Human Relations (12 answers total)
How old is the au pair? I am asking as I worked as an au pair when I was 18 and I was terrified by my family and would tie myself in knots over telling them when I had made mistakes. Also, I definitely needed a motherly figure to tell me off for coming home late at night or skipping my English lessons.

Every au pair/family connection is different, but there is often an element of letting someone be an extension of your family and supporting them as they find their feet in a foreign country (whilst taking care of your kiddo/dogs/house/whatever). Maybe if that's not an easy fit for you, a professional nanny might work better?
posted by kariebookish at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Switch to the nanny share. There are too many negatives and it sounds like this is a reasonable thing to do with regard to your contract/agency. Let her know she's done a great job and you'll provide positive references. You just feel it's the right time for your family to change the child care arrangements.
posted by JenMarie at 11:28 AM on July 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are not interested in having an au pair relationship, just employing someone for childcare. The nanny share is the way for you to go, not even because you don't like her work, but because there are elements of the au pair situation that turned out to be not what you were looking for.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:31 AM on July 14, 2017 [14 favorites]

Like gideonfrog said above, you don't seem to be interested in an au pair relationship. Slip ups aside, it sounds like she is doing a good job; chances are that you and your husband would sometimes forget things at playdates or the park, break things and forget to tell each other, and accidentally dress your child in a way that's not best for the weather if you were at home full-time with your baby. It's really hard to be a young person abroad, especially when there's a language barrier and you're working for a family who is so different from you. It sounds like she is a hard worker and a caretaker but also not a trained professional, which is the case for most young au pairs versus trained and experienced childcare providers. Her English will probably be much better in a month or two, especially if you talk to her a lot and help her get out more, but I understand your frustrations. I spent a summer living with a family in Germany at age 18 and had so many cringeworthy moments and misunderstandings, however wonderful they were and well-intentioned I was. I always appreciated their generosity but also was glad to live abroad on my own later on. It sounds like your au pair is lonely but not sure how to make new friends or perhaps turns things down so she can be available to work in the evenings when you want alone time or to go on a run. Have you been able to help sign her up for an evening language class or try out a meetup group? Does she seem happy or homesick? Do you feel she and your son have a good connection so far?

It sounds like you really want to do the nanny share. It also is clear that you are thoughtful and want the best for your au pair, that you don't want her to feel abandoned for rejected. I think it'll the nanny share will be be more comfortable for you, that you'll enjoy quieter nights at home as a family of three. However, you'll probably also miss having the flexibility that this young woman affords you at present, which absolutely has its perks. Ultimately, she may also be happier with a different family, too, so this switch could be better for everyone! If you work with the agency and focus on the positives, how you like and appreciate her work but recognize that aren't currently interested or available to give her the full au pair experience and would like to help her find a new placement.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:52 AM on July 14, 2017 [13 favorites]

There are a lot of things you can do, like a thoughtful gift, a farewell dinner, and kind words, that could help the au pair not feel devalued and reduce any feelings of guilt on your part.
posted by trig at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

You've got the au pair and you don't like it (and I don't blame you, the having-another-person-around thing is the reason I didn't do it despite its obvious utility) so it sounds like the nanny share thing is a stroke of luck that you should take.

Be very nice to her, tell her it wasn't mistakes on her part but rather that you're having trouble adjusting to all the changes in your own life, give her a nice gift, and go forth with no guilt.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:32 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yup -- I think you're probably seeking permission to leave the au pair relationship, and this internet stranger is happy to give it. I think even apart from the other issues, I can't imagine having another person around when trying to get used to adding a new member to the family. We have a nanny share and absolutely love it; it's been one of the best parenting decisions I've made (assuming, of course, that you like the nanny -- we adore ours, and because there are two families, we're able to pay her very well and it's still cheaper than daycare.)

Be kind to her, emphasize that it's not her. You might even have some other excuse that you can make that isn't 100 percent true but will not hurt her feelings!
posted by heavenknows at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am in a nanny share with a really professional nanny who is sincerely quite awesome, and lost belongings are still a thing.

But leaving the au pair situation is fine. A few things to consider: You talk a lot about the morning, but what about the afternoon? Will you leave at 4:45 every day? Also, you and the co-family should really think through things like sick days and vacations for your children and for the nanny, and how you'll handle it when one family is ready to move on. Some of these questions sound simpler than they are.
posted by slidell at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

More nanny share questions: food sharing / sensitivities? Where do they nap? Who buys the double stroller? There are good templates online, or this could be its own Ask.
posted by slidell at 2:12 PM on July 14, 2017

Oh, one last comment. Maybe you could tell her something like "I wanted him to be closer to my work so I could see him on lunch breaks" or something else positive about the new situation. I'm sure you wouldn't say "we didn't like living with you," but the question of what to say is not easy.
posted by slidell at 2:17 PM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another way to help inform your decision would be to give her a week off and see how you get along without her.
posted by metaseeker at 2:26 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nanny shares are great, but you're still going to run into issues like lost toys and other small mishaps, as well as coordinating with the other family. For example, you'll have to coordinate and compromise on preferences for nap times, activities, outdoors times, etc. Also no childcare professional is ever perfect, so you have to figure out what is most important for you and let the rest slide. Maybe there are true supernannies out there, but in my experience, there's always a tradeoff. The cheap nanny will stay inside all day. The nanny your kid adores will give him too many cookies and won't do the dishes. The nanny that spontaneously does all the dishes AND the laundry won't be as attached to your baby as you'd like. And so on. The key is to communicate CLEARLY about your must-haves, and not to have unreasonable expectations.
posted by yarly at 6:57 AM on July 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

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