For families seeking at-home childcare, there are many options, including nannies and babysitters. One type of at-home childcare that has grown in popularity over the last few years is an au pair, but what is the meaning of '˜au pair'?
Au pairs are live-in childcare providers. They travel from their home countries around the world to live with and provide childcare for families in the United States. This is part of what makes au pairs unique: In addition to providing childcare, they also create immersive cultural experiences for their host families.
This tradition of cultural exchange with live-in caretakers has a rich history spanning decades and continents, but where did it originate, and what does '˜au pair' mean?
The term '˜au pair' has a unique history, and its meaning has shaped the unique type of childcare they provide. Read on to learn how au pairs have been living up to their name for decades.
What Does '˜Au Pair' Mean?
The etymology of '˜au pair' can be traced back to the mid-1800s. It is a French term, with '˜au pair' meaning '˜at par' or '˜equal to'. This may sound like an unusual term to be so widely adopted for these caregivers, but it has an important meaning for the type of childcare they provide.
Traditionally, live-in childcare providers like governesses and nannies were viewed as employees of the family. These types of domestic workers often had a very formal working relationship with the family that employed them. They generally did not participate in activities with the family, instead maintaining a strictly professional relationship.
The role of an au pair is in sharp contrast to the childcare workers of years past. The term '˜au pair' itself means these care providers are on equal footing to their host family. They aren't intended to be viewed as domestic workers or household employees.
Instead, the meaning of the term '˜au pair' inherently tells about the relationship these caretakers have to their host family. They are '˜at par' or '˜equal to' the families they care for, and as such, au pairs become close-knit parts of the families they join.
The term '˜au pair' has a much longer history than only the time it has been used for these childcare providers. It was previously used to refer to an equal working relationship between any employer and employee.
The definition of au pair that we're familiar with today was popularized in the mid-1900s. It became particularly commonplace after World War II. During this time, more and more young women began seeking paying jobs that could give them the opportunity to live independently.
In the United States, the au pair program origins were in the 1980s with a small group of au pairs from Western Europe. Now, about 20,000 au pairs come to live and work in the United States each year. Most of these au pairs are young women between the ages of 18-26, but in recent years, more male au pairs have begun entering the field.
So, what's an au pair? This term means a live-in childcare provider who is viewed as an equal member of their host family. The meaning behind this term is part of what makes the childcare service an au pair provides so impactful and distinctive.
What Makes Au Pairs Unique?
When compared to other kinds of caregivers like nannies, babysitters, and daycares, au pairs have many differences. These differences enable them to provide high-quality childcare while developing meaningful relationships with their host family. Let's break down what makes au pairs special.
When comparing childcare providers like au pairs vs. nannies, it's easy to see how this benefits the kids they provide care for. By being '˜at par' with their host family, au pairs can develop closer relationships than other types of caretakers usually do.
When an au pair joins a household, they become an additional family member for their program year. They form familial relationships with their host family, and often even stay in touch long after they return home.
These '˜at par' relationships are also what gives an au pair's style of caregiving unique benefits. Supportive connections with the adults that care for them are essential for children as they grow and develop. These relationships teach children social-emotional skills including empathy, compassion, and coping with stress.
When kids have close bonds with the responsible adults around them, they experience many other benefits, including:
- Supporting kids as they explore their world
- Instilling a higher level of confidence in children
- Encouraging kids to learn by safely taking risks
- Helping children feel secure and supported
- Developing self-esteem in kids
By forming close-knit relationships with their host families, au pairs allow children to expand their network of love and support. This is a unique benefit of their equal, involved relationships with their host families '” a benefit embedded in the meaning of the name '˜au pair'.
Since au pairs are focused only on the children of their host family, it's easy for them to build these relationships. While a childcare provider at a daycare center or preschool will need to divide their attention between a room full of children, au pairs are dedicated to providing focused care for only as many kids as a family has at home.
This allows each child to receive more individualized attention, assuring their unique needs are met. In turn, this also makes it easier for each child to develop a bond with their au pair. Plus, as live-in care providers, the role of an au pair is different from other types of childcare.
Au pairs can help with essentially any task related to childcare. They can lend a helping hand at bedtime, or help to prepare meals for the kids. They can guide school-aged children through their homework, or engage in imaginative play with young kids.
As live-in caretakers and bonus family members alike, au pairs are unique in their ability to provide top-notch childcare and meaningful relationships at once.
Au Pairs Nannies' Daycares Relationship
As equal family members, au pairs have close, familial relationships with their host families.
Nannies typically have employer-employee relationships with the families they work for. The relationship between daycare providers and families tends to be formal.
Ratio Au pairs focus only on the children of their host family, lowering the adult-to-child ratio significantly. Nannies generally are focused only on the children of their host family, providing low adult-to-child ratios.
Daycare centers provide care to larger groups of children at once, resulting in the attention of each caretaker being divided between more kids.
Role Au pairs can help with essentially all childcare-related tasks.
Nannies often help with housework in addition to childcare. Daycares generally focus on childcare and educational services.
Cultural Exchange with an Au Pair
The supportive relationships au pairs form with their host families aren't the only things that set these caregivers apart. In addition to becoming an essential part of the households they join, au pairs also create meaningful cultural exchange opportunities.
These live-in childcare providers travel from more than 40 countries around the world to provide childcare for families in the United States. They bring a huge array of cultures and experiences directly to their host family. An au pair can introduce their host family to their:
- Cultural recipes
- Home language
The cultural exchange an au pair creates has enormous benefits for kids. Experiencing a new culture helps children develop empathy and tolerance. It also helps them understand the differences between people, as well as the value of diversity.
Plus, an au pair can immerse the kids they provide care for in their home language. By naturally integrating their language in everyday life, kids can pick up practical words and phrases through organic learning experiences. Many of our host families find that, before long, their kids are greeting them in a different language at the end of the day!
Bilingualism has many benefits for the development of the brain, particularly during childhood. Speaking more than one language is tied to impacts such as:
- Heightened attention and focus
- Improved overall academic performance
- Better reading skills
- Improved problem solving abilities
- Better overall communication skills
An au pair can start introducing these benefits by seamlessly working another language into a child's everyday life. Maggie, an au pair from Mexico, has done exactly this with her host family.
Maggie has used daily tasks like chores and mealtimes to teach words in her native Spanish to the kids she provides care for. Now, instead of asking for milk, her host family's four-year-old requests 'œleche' at the breakfast table.
The immersive cultural exchange experiences au pairs create for their host families are yet another aspect that make these caregivers unique.
How Can I Add an Au Pair to My Household?
If the unique care an au pair provides seems like the right fit for your family, AuPairCare can help. Our tenured team of industry experts is ready to help you hire the perfect au pair to add to your household.
Our goal is to make the process of finding an au pair easy. To do this, we handle lots of the behind the scenes details so you can focus on preparing for how an au pair will change your household. When you partner with AuPairCare to find a childcare provider, we handle:
Helping an au pair secure their J-1 visa
Making sure all Department of State requirements are met
Booking your au pair's flights to your family
Since au pairs travel to the United States on a cultural exchange program visa, they need to meet several program qualifications set by the Department of State. We start by screening all our au pair candidates to ensure they meet these requirements.
Au Pair Requirements Details Experience
Au pairs must have previous childcare experience.
Language Au pairs must have working English proficiency.
Age Au pairs must be between 18 and 26 years of age.
Education Au pairs must have a secondary school or equivalent education.
Background Au pairs must pass a background check and be in generally good health.
Potential host families can use our award-winning database to search through our qualified au pairs for a candidate that meets their unique needs. For example, some families may want an au pair with previous infant care experience, while others may need an au pair who is confident in helping school-aged children with their homework.
In addition to equipping potential host families with these powerful tools, the AuPairCare team also provides personalized matching services. Most of our staff has been or hosted an au pair in the past, so we know how important it is to find the right person to add to your household.
Once you've found an au pair candidate you're interested in, we'll help facilitate interviews. We'll set up video chats online, or connect your international calls while you get to know each other.
An au pair is only placed with a host family if they mutually match with each other, meaning they both think it will be a good fit. This helps us ensure that every au pair placement is a success.
Once you've matched with an au pair, all that's left to do is agree on an arrival date and get ready for your family's new caregiver.
Hosting an Au Pair
Once your family's new au pair arries, an AuPairCare local Area Director will conduct an orientation to prepare both you and your care provider for your new roles. Then, your new childcare provider and family member will be ready to start thriving in your household.
Au pairs are live-in exchange visitors. Joining a family's household is part of what enables them to have rich relationships with their host family.
In fact, the live-in nature of an au pair relates to the origin of the term '˜au pair suite', meaning a private living quarters within a family's home. Also known as an '˜in-law suite', these layouts are growing in popularity in new homes and removals.
However, when it comes to living spaces, a host family is only required to provide their au pair with a:
- Private bedroom
- Adult-sized bed
- Adult-sized closet
Many families also strive to make their au pairs feel welcome, especially at the beginning of their placement. They may decorate their bedroom, include them in family outings, or plan a special celebration to help welcome their new au pair into their home.
Once they settle in, your au pair will find the routines they can become part of, and the tasks they can help your family with. Before long, you au pair will become an indispensable part of your home. Au pairs can help with essentially any task related to childcare. The care they provide is flexible to meet each family's unique needs.
Plus, hosting a live-in childcare provider is immensely convenient. They'll never run late because they got caught in traffic on the way to your home. Because they're focused only on your family's kids, they're dependable in the event of unexpected school closures or changes to your work schedule. They can also keep a flexible schedule that can accommodate your family's busy life.
Throughout your caregiver's entire program year, AuPairCare will be there to support you and help to ensure hosting an au pair is an incredible experience. Our team is always available to answer questions about program details, or to help you navigate integrating your new caretaker into your home.
Our local Area Directors will also check in on at least a monthly basis to make sure your au pair's placement is going smoothly. At AuPairCare, we're committed to making every au pair placement a success. We'll be with you from the initial search until your au pair flies back home.
Family Members, Parenting Partners, and More
So, what's an au pair, and what does '˜au pair' mean in English? The translation of '˜au pair' is '˜at par' or '˜equal to', but it has come to mean much more as a part of these caretakers. An au pair is a:
- Family member
- New older sibling
- Cultural exchange visitor
- Partner in parenting
- Reliable helper
In essence, au pairs are dedicated childcare providers. It's the details that set them apart from other types of childcare. From the cultural exchange opportunities they create to the familial relationships they form, every experience with hosting an au pair promises to be both enriching and unique.
An au pair can transform your household, enrich your family's life, and meet your childcare needs. Contact us for a program overview, and to find out what an au pair will mean to your family.