3 Reasons Why an Au Pair is Great for Twins

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I never expected to end up with the help of an au pair. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who have had slovenly au pairs, raiding their fridges down to scraps, piling up dishes under their beds, and making the minimum effort to pitch in. On that basis, the idea never appealed to this ordered, border-line clean freak. But hey, I also never expected to be having twins at forty years old, on top of the two children I was already raising.

When we saw two babies on the day of the scan, my husband’s first panic was about the size of the car we’d need. My fears were more emotionally charged. My anxiety was literally about survival. From the outset, I was worried about the impact of two extra human beings on the day to day existence of our family, on our routine, and on the security of our other children’s happiness.

To be brutal, I was fairly scared of going under. My number one focus became finding the right help at home.

Thankfully, our story is a happy one. With the advice of a relative stranger who heard my worries one day, I was pointed in the right direction of an au pair recruitment website. The process was simple, and I am pleased to say that we had the privilege of opening our doors and sharing our world with a beautiful human being. Our au pair joined in with some of the most magical times in our family. We shared laughter, tears, temper tantrums (fortunately, not our own), homework highs and lows, holidays, and lots of chat. We welcomed a fledgling adult into our home and waved goodbye to an independent domesticated young adult. The experience completely u-turned my thoughts about au pairs, which is why I’d like to provide some pointers, to help anyone reading this as part of their quest to find the right childcare solution.

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What is an Au Pair?

Traditionally an au pair is a foreign student coming to the host country to develop their language skills. The host provides accommodation, food, and pocket money for an agreed timeframe, in exchange for childcare support and domestic help. The classic model is that the au pair is available for help during the day and up to the children’s bedtimes, before retiring to their room in the evenings. The au pair and host usually agree one or two evenings per week babysitting on top of that. (Be sure to consult with your au pair agency for specific details on what is offered/allowed in your state/country.)

The opportunity for the host is to acquire very cost-efficient, available childcare and a bit of extra help keeping things running in the home. The benefit for the au pair is a clean, safe environment, where they can practice their language. A well-matched family can offer an au pair a great experience to set them up for the next chapter of their life.

3 reasons why an Au Pair is a brilliant idea for parents of twins

1. An extra pair of hands

The simplest benefit of having an au pair for a twin parent is the recruitment of an extra pair of hands – quite literally. In the early days, this may be someone to pass you the babies to help you feed, which is particularly useful for twin mums who have had a C-section. Later down the line, it’s a pair of hands to help jostle them into the car seats, a pair of hands for baby massage, a pair of hands for swimming lessons, or a pair of hands to manage the crazy chaos of weaning.

2. A chance to be ‘normal’

An au pair gives a twin parent the opportunity to keep up with a few more regular things in life. It gives the gift of being able to say yes to a coffee with a friend, to be able to run into the shop to get milk and leave the twins with someone in the car, to be able to carry the twins up the stairs to bed in one trip. An au pair in the home gives a twin parent the chance to squeeze in a shower without a major panic, to walk around the block for fresh air or to run an errand without a military operation. (And, if you plan to return to work, full-time childcare at a cheaper price than a nanny or daycare center.)

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3. Solidarity and sanity

Perhaps the most underrated, but important benefit, is that an au pair offers a twin parent much-needed company. Being a new parent is overwhelming, but being charged with two human beings in one sitting adds phenomenal emotional pressure to a new parent. Sharing that load, having someone on hand for a cuppa, a chat, or just to share the twin time is priceless. Unlike family support, it carries no emotional baggage. If managed correctly, it can be an invaluable blessing that bolsters your mental health and emotional capacity to no end over those first few challenging months.

Recruiting an Au Pair

The internet now makes it easy to search databases of au pairs around the world. Websites will allow you to create a profile and search from thousands of au pairs around the world to strike up a dialogue. You may prefer to use a traditional offline agency to run the search for you, paying them a finder’s fee when you have the right match.

When embarking on my own search, I discovered that there were far more au pairs from my own country (England) than I expected. As education fees escalate, more and more students are interested in earning cash before they go away to university or taking a gap year while they make the right choices.

I was also surprised at the depth and breadth of people looking for au pair work. There are plenty of male and female au pairs out there, from all walks of life and all ages.

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Upfront considerations

There are a few things you need to bear in mind before your au pair starts:

1. Where to sleep

You need to provide your au pair with their own bedroom and access to a bathroom. It is probably worth considering a TV for the bedroom.

2. What to eat

You need to either provide a food allowance so your au pair can buy their own food or make sure you have enough food each week to meet their needs.

3. Getting about

You need to think about how your au pair will get around. If you need your au pair to drive, you may need to check your own car insurance policy.

Getting the most from the relationship

I believe we managed to get the most from the relationship with our au pair by being warm and good-humored. We saw the best in her and welcomed her as a team member in our full-on, sometimes frantic world with twins. However, we were also direct and honest about what was working and not working. By informally reviewing how things were getting on, we managed to make changes that strengthened the team along the journey. You can’t get everything right the first time, so be prepared to adjust things along the way.

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Put in a bit of upfront effort. Write a detailed job description and list the responsibilities that you’d like your au pair to cover.  Provide your au pair with a list of house rules and a checklist of things your au pair needs to work towards completing with you every day. I found a collaborative approach worked the best. The ‘To Do’ list in our house was shared and each day we’d work out who could take on what. There were times at the beginning where I could take on little more than getting from the start of the day to the end, in a relatively bedraggled haze. But by the time the twins were a few months old, my au pair and I took on lots of shared challenges, like wrapping the Christmas presents, packing for holidays, and re-arranging the furniture.

Saying goodbye

Of course, the time will come to say goodbye to your au pair. It was emotional to wave off our au pair to university. I’ve lost her day to day banter, the kind way she made me a morning tea, and her effervescent presence around the twins.

But the chapter was meant to come to an end. By the time our au pair left, I was a real-life, fully-engaged mom of twins (and mom of four, in my case). I wasn’t the anxious version of myself twelve months before, teetering on the edge of the journey, petrified of letting the team down. My fantabulous au pair kept me smiling, kept me present and rallied me without even knowing it. She gave a consistency to my big kids and offered unfaltering affection in those first fragile and precious months of my twin’s lives. I have an abundance of thanks for our au pair and would fully recommend anyone to explore this route.

au pairLaura O’Shaughnessy is a mother of four, including one-year-old twin girls. She writes in her blog about the trials and tribulations of family, society, and life. She lives with her bustling family and faithful sheepdog in the Yorkshire countryside.

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