Family Matters: Cultural Care Au Pair

We recently found out we are expecting our UNEXPECTED fourth. Whew! We thought we were done. Nope! We're going to need help! Actually, we already have help, but I feel like four little kids reaches the "we need another adult on deck at all times" level.

It took about two minutes for the shock of it all to sink in, then my husband and I looked at each other and said, "Let's get a bigger house and an au pair!" Boom. Done. Here's the scoop.

"What Is an Au Pair?"

Pronounced "OH" + "PAIR"

French nanny? Ha. Close guess! It is a foreign exchange program  primarily for women aged 18-26. Someone from another country who wants a fully immersive experience will come live with us and essentially become part of our family. We provide room and board plus a stipend in exchange for up to 45 hours/week of childcare and household support (related to the children). Au pairs take college courses while they are here and usually come specifically to improve English fluency while experiencing a new culture. All of us have the expectation that she will be fully integrated into our family and be included in on everything... meals, vacations, etc.

Having an au pair is more popular in bigger cities. We got to see it firsthand when we lived in Washington, DC and thought it looked pretty amazing back then. Much to our surprise, we've learned there are already a couple of au pairs here in Billings!

Why an Au Pair?

Kinda scary, kinda awesome? That's what we thought too! This experience will be completely new to us, and there are a lot of unknowns, but hey, that's how we roll. 

We currently have part-time help, and this will actually be less expensive with more hours and more flexibility than our current setup. Will I be gone from the house for 45 hours/week? Nope. I just think having another person in it with me as we welcome a new baby will make this next season less overwhelming and more of a fun, unique experience for the whole family.

I always wanted to live abroad, so I love the cross-cultural element. I am happy to share our home, and I also am so glad for my kids to get exposure to another culture and language. How cool would it be if we come out of this with multilingual children? I will set my expectation level lower than that, but I count any little glimpses of life from another part of the globe as a win.

I also really love the personal aspect of the program. Au pairs that come here are looking for a home and a family that will fully embrace them. We have heard many wonderful stories about the close bonds that are formed, and the life-long relationships that follow hosting an au pair. Maybe we will get to visit our au pair and her family next year when she returns home? I hope so!

Hiring an Au Pair

I'm not going to lie: it was quite the process to get this all lined up.

If you are interested in welcoming an au pair, save yourself a big headache and start from the very beginning with an agency. I didn't discover until several months in that we actually have an au pair agency right here in Billings (Cultural Care). They are amazing, and once we got connected, the agency pretty much took care of everything.

Finding the Right Au Pair

This is a big deal right? How can you find someone that you can trust with your kids? Well, it's surprisingly a lot like online dating. You create an in-depth profile (no joke, it took me 3 hours) with photos and personal details about your life. Our profile included information about each family member, our daily routines, our values and religion, our lifestyle, our likes and dislikes, our city, our neighborhood and house, and so much more.

Au pairs also create in-depth profiles. They typically start a screening and interview process with the agency months ahead of time. They are background checked, take a personality test, have to pass base level English requirements, and provide personal and professional references. They all have childcare experience. Their profiles also cover all of the personal information you would want to know before inviting someone into your home.

Once your account is set up, you can log in and browse au pair profiles. You also are assigned a "matching specialist" who learns more specifics about your family and helps recommend some options.

After you find several favorites, you reach out and see if they are interested in you as well. Guys, for real it's like dating. It's heartbreaking when you find an excellent profile, connect with someone, and they don't like you back. We had a couple of heartbreaks!

I found that, for us, it was a little hard to recruit someone to come to Billings (when they could alternately choose locations like California or Paris). Also, some people were not up for four kids! One sweet gal candidly said to me "You look very kind. I don't think I can handle four kids. Have you considered hiring two au pairs?"  Haha. No.

Our matching specialist was actually the one to recommend the au pair that ended up matching with us. I couldn't believe how spot on she was with what we were looking for.

If both parties are interested, then you usually email about all of the details and then do three Skype interviews. Essentially, it's like three dates, and then you move in together. We’ll see how good my matching intuition was once she gets here!

One great bit of advice: My friend Robyn, from the UK, said that it is best to be as ultra honest as possible when describing your family and life. You want someone to look at your reality and choose that. You don't want someone to come with false expectations and then be disappointed when they arrive.

In our case, we started with all the good stuff, and after things were looking like they might be a fit, we tried to give them all the reasons they might not like living with us or living in Billings. It didn't scare her off, so now I am just praying that she is happy with her choice once she gets here.

Remember that “use an agency” business? Well, once you and an au pair have agreed to work together, the agency takes it from there. They handle the visas, all of the travel arrangements and health insurance for the whole year. The agency also provides a four-day training program in New York where the au pairs get First Aid and CPR certified, attend a classroom driver’s safety course, review child safety and development basics, and gain useful insights on the cultural exchange process. Finally, once our au pair arrives, our local Cultural Care Representative will check in with both the au pair and us monthly. It’s awesome.

Our Match

When we finally matched with our au pair, I was so happy I could cry. Actually, I did cry. Our last video call was the sweetest.

We talked with her and her sister and her mother. Her mom got on and with tears said she had been praying every day, that God makes a perfect path for us, and that she knows He is in this and now she feels relieved. Then we all cried.

So who will be joining our family?

  • She is 24
  • From Columbia
  • Just finished her accounting degree
  • Is a worship leader at her Assemblies of God church
  • Loves the outdoors
  • Loves coffee and healthy food

I am sure this will be quite a leap for both of us, but I can't wait!  We already love her.

Are you interested in hosting an au pair?

Contact our local Billings Cultural Care Consultant

Whitney Oden | 406-669-3105 | whitney.oden@lcc.culturalcare.com

Or find out more online at CulturalCare.com/woden

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s March 2018 issue.

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