au pair reading

Perhaps you are considering getting an au pair, but you are not sure exactly what an au pair is or what you can expect from one? If so, this article is for you!

I think the first point worth mentioning is that “au pair” means slightly different things in different countries. For example, au pairs in the USA are almost always foreign, live in the home with the family, and perform domestic-type duties in addition to taking care of children. Au pairing locally in South Africa has become something quite different from that. Our au pairs are normally somebody who lives in the same city. And in terms of the type of person, yes, au pairs are often young people who are studying or teaching and have some extra time, but some have also chosen it as a career.

So what is an au pair?

An au pair’s duties generally centre around these two main areas:
Children (driver, educator, companion)
Home-related tasks (to help out mom & dad when needed)

Au pairs in South Africa don’t generally perform domestic-type duties, which are instead performed by a domestic worker.

Let me elaborate on the two areas mentioned above.

Child-related Tasks

Your au pair’s main function should be to take care of your children, and the majority of her duties should be centered around this. By ’taking care’, I mean to include things such as stimulating, driving, feeding, dressing, doing homework and activities with and supporting your children. In other words, all the things mom or dad would do if they were there, but perhaps with a slightly different approach. The role of the au pair is never to replace the parent, and it’s not healthy for you child to view it that way either. An au pair is something in-between, perhaps 50% companion and 50% authoritative figure. Also, keep in mind your au pair will need guidance from yourself as parents when it comes to things like discipline, rewards and other style-specific issues.

Other Home-related Tasks

Though the majority of your au pair’s time and energy will be spent on the children, you may also need her to do a few other things such as shopping, cooking and organising. It is not unusual for some families to have their au pair do a lot of the grocery shopping for the family. Expecting your au pair to prepare lunches or dinners for the children could also form part of her duties, and although not all au pairs would be able to, some can also cook for the whole family. Organising is another task your au pair could assist with – organising things around the house, planning and assisting with birthday parties. Au pairs could also assist with care of pets.

I would suggest that you don’t overcrowd your au pair’s schedule with too many home-related tasks. You don’t want them to end up feeling like your personal assistant. If you have chosen a good au pair, she probably got into au pairing because she really loves and wants to spend time around children. Whenever possible, allow her enough time to spend as much as possible time being focussed on the children.

Here is a list of some general au pair duties:

  • Driving children to and from school and to extra murals
  • Preparing lunch & dinner for children, or the family
  • Assisting children with homework and projects
  • Running errands and doing grocery shopping
  • Traveling with the family on holidays or business trips
  • Staying & watching the kids when parents are traveling (may involve staying over)
  • Bathing and grooming kids
  • Planning outings and activities for kids
  • Doing some evening babysitting when required

Above all, an au pair is someone that your family can depend on. She will play a huge part in your children’s lives and in that of your family. Having a good au pair may just be the best thing you can do for your child, especially when mom can’t be around!

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