Number 1 was nice but lacked the ability to discipline the boys. She desired no social life and went almost no where during her 365 days with us. She contented herself to talking on the phone (in her native language) to her boyfriends and friends. She did accidentally spill bleach on the carpet in her room and then cut it out and try to cover it up, but we kept her. We weren't willing to go through the matching process halfway through her time with us.
Number 2 is nice and is very good with discipline. Everyone is different. Her personality is more reserved and she has sought out friendships with other au pairs as well as Americans her age. She goes out all the time and has had a great time. She went out and broke her wrist skating and we kept her too. The time we had to spend taking off work and taking her to appointments was really a strain on our family. I don't think we'd do it again.
The next one arrives in August. She seems very responsible, enthusiastic and serious about doing a good job. All the screening the agency does and then all the interviewing you do..... I still think you might have just as good luck pulling a name out of a hat.
Think au pairs are for the rich? Not so. It comes out cheaper that a day care center if you have more than 1 child. You have to be willing for them to live in your house and make them an adult daughter who lives with you. You have to be good at communication. I have seen some unhappy families and au pairs and I think they were not communicating well enough to get all their needs met. In my professional life, I have never done hiring and firing, so this was a new thing for me: managing an employee. Overall, we have enjoyed it. Not for the cultural exchange part especially, but for the convenience of not having to drive all over town before and after work to drop off and pick up the kids. Once I told a friend I was going to pick up a sitter on a weekend night. They said, "What about the au pair?" Well, she only works 45 hours a week: 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. These girls aren't your slaves. I also liked the secure feeling I get when my husband is away and there is another adult in the house - if anything happened and I had to rush someone to the ER or something, she is there to help in a pinch. I had trouble finding a day care center that opened early enough for me to make it to my job on time (we begin at 7:20 am). Now Matt stays home until his bus picks up at 8:45am.
Think about it - if you have more than 1 kid, an extra bedroom and want to reduce your stress in the daily morning and afternoon transportation frenzy, hiring an au pair might be for you.