How my au pair saved my life + my top tips for finding the right one for you


A few weeks ago was one of the scariest days ever. Let me set the stage: my husband was out of town and I was not feeling well at all. I went to urgent care, where they immediately told me to go to the emergency room for further testing. I am OK now, but it was all so scary and so fast. Without my au pair, my three-year-old and seven-month-old would have made the trip with me first to the clinic and then to the ER. Can you imagine?

For those that don’t know, an au pair is a young adult from another country who lives with your family and provides child care for a maximum of two years. It is a cost-effective childcare option, that is a government-sponsored program. When people find out that we have an au pair living with us, I am bombarded with questions. We truly love our au pair so much, though there is a lot to learn along the way. Today I am answering all of my most frequently asked questions because us mamas have to stick together!

Are there organizations you work with to find an au pair?
There are multiple services out there for finding an au pair. We used Cultural Au Pair, and it seems like most of the people I’ve talked to in Chicago use it as well.

What does Cultural Au Pair do?
They facilitate the screening process for the American families and also the certification process for the au pairs.

What is the certification process?
There is an approximate six month certification process for the au pairs before they are eligible to work. This includes English training, CPR certification, and an optional infant care certification.

What is the screening process like?
This process is different for every family. I have friends who interviewed au pairs for six months until finding the right fit. We interviewed three and chose the first one we met. I did a lot of filtering up front so that when we interviewed people, we were already very familiar with them. My friend Shannon Norwood, the popular mommy-blogger behind Graytmama, was also a huge resource in guiding me through the process.

Once you are in the screen phase, Cultural Au Pair’s website becomes like You are able to filter around their family status, driving skills, allergies, experience, etc. After you’ve made your selections around who you would like to interview, we started with a video with just my husband and me, and if that went well, then we did a video with the kids as well. This was the best way to gage the connection with our kids.

What did you look for in your au pair?
This is a very personal part of the process, but here is the list of criteria we used in making our initial selections:
* My most important criteria was to find an au pair about to start their second year. Au pairs are legally allowed to stay for two years. My goal here was to find someone who was already acclimated to living in the US and had already received their driver’s license, social security card, etc. I lead a very busy lifestyle, so having all of this done already was important to me. The downside to this setup is that we only get our au pair for one year, but for us the pros outweigh the cons.
* At least 21 so they are able to enjoy going out in the city and create a fun life for themselves here
* Since we live in Chicago, it was important to me that our au pair have experience driving in snow. This is a great question to ask during an interview!

When is the best time to look for an au pair?
While you can certainly start the process at any time of year, I have seen some general seasonality trends. Families seem to hire au pairs so that they start right around the beginning of the school year. If this is the timing you are going for, then start the screening process early for the biggest selection.

What is it like having someone live with you full-time?
I 100% understand that this setup isn’t for everyone. But for our family it works very well! With my husband’s travel schedule and my late hours, we need someone with flexible hours (which sometimes means late night assistance). We also love having an extra hand around the house, plus the idea that there is another adult in the house if we have a last minute work request. Our au pair has become part of our family! It will be very hard to say goodbye!

Have you considered hiring an au pair? I would love to hear about your experience!