Who’s looking after the baby?

So, you’ve delivered your beautiful bundle of joy and before you know it, you’re being asked about when you’re going back to work and arrangements for ‘the baby’.

I have had the pleasure of this rite of passage three times over, and each time the response has been different.  We have used a private nursery, child-minder, grandparents, after school clubs and our life saver, au-pairs.

When my youngest turned 18 months, it was time for me to re-launch my career in education and it wasn’t long before I secured a full-time leadership position.  The driving force behind this decision was that our child-care would be placed solely in the hands of an au pair.  At the beginning, my husband was hesitant as this was unknown territory, with the expectations in our society of regulated and certified child-care, this was a risky road to go down. I couldn’t see any other way of affording child-care when our children’s needs were so varied.  Baby Brown needed full-time care, Big Girl Brown needed to be dropped off and collected from school and Big Boy Brown was at pre-school in the morning and needed entertaining in the afternoon.  It was a logistical nightmare.  And so it was agreed, me returning to full time work  would only work if we had a live-in au pair; it made sense in terms of ease, finance and reliability.  The search began.  We searched the numerous websites available that provide the opportunity for au-pairs and host families to find each other.  It was a time-consuming and laborious process but one where we found our first au pair.

Our debut au-pair stayed with us for nearly 4 years! It was the most reliable and consistent child care we had ever had.  It wasn’t just the child-care that worked but the fact that she also made the packed lunches, changed the kids beds, did the ironing, cooked meals and arranged play dates.  The down-side of course is having someone live with you, but for us, the benefits of having an au pair far outweighed having someone living in the house.  The reason it worked so well was that we treated her as we would want someone to treat our daughter if she was an au pair.  This is critical for a positive and successful experience for both the au pair and the host family. The young adults who want to be au pairs are often female, straight out of school and looking to improve their English; they are extremely vulnerable but also courageous as take this huge step on their own into a different culture and way of life.  I was as keen for it to be a positive experience for them as it was for us.

Not all au pairs have the same experience though.  There are unscrupulous families out there who treat their au pairs as modern-day slaves.  We ‘rescued’ two au pairs from families where their treatment went against the whole principle of what the au pair/host relationship should be.  They had been made to sleep on the child’s floor, clean skirting boards with toothbrushes, act as a waitress at the host family’s dinner party never mind being full-time carer for the children.

When it comes to the child care conundrum, an au-pair can be a winner for both the children and the au-pair.  We are still in touch with our old au-pairs and their families, the children have a greater awareness and understanding of other cultures and countries  and at the end of the day, it was just like having a big sister.  I’m glad we took the risk and withstood the incredulous reactions to the fact they were not OFSTED registered.  Instead, our children were looked after in their own home, with consistent boundaries and routines.  A winner for #teambrown.

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