When it comes to being a military family, childcare is especially critical to our stability at home and our ability to focus and have peace of mind on the job.
Finding childcare, however, can be difficult -- especially if you are a dual military or dual-income family. Once you add relocation, deployment, non-traditional childcare needs and waiting lists at Child Development Centers on base, it becomes even more of a challenge.
As a military spouse working for an au pair agency, I am surprised that more military families don’t consider getting an au pair. At an average weekly cost of just $350 per family (not per child), it can be more affordable than you think.
The Liebolds in San Diego are one of the Navy families I work with who have enjoyed the benefits of hosting an au pair. The Liebolds worked with Cultural Care Au Pair and selected Simone Staudenmann, from Switzerland to join their family when Wayne, the father, was deployed.
Their au pair took photos of developmental milestones of the children and posted them online so Lt. Cmdr. Liebold could see the twins sitting up, crawling, standing and walking. She also regularly showed them pictures of their father and helped them connect via Skype.
"Even though I'm on the other side of the world, I can see them clapping and playing, and I know that they are happy and also that they haven't forgotten me," he said. “I know my family does not just have great childcare, but a family member who willingly has taken on the challenges of joining a military family with intuition, grace and an understanding of our needs and the needs of our children."
Au pair childcare, flexibility and affordability
The au pair program is an attractive and affordable alternative for military families for many reasons. The program is regulated by the State Department and offers families affordable childcare customized to their needs with a unique international perspective. Au pairs live as a member of your family while providing up to 45 hours of childcare each week. All au pairs are prescreened and come to the U.S. to work on legal J-1 visas.
Only State Department-designated sponsors are authorized to bring au pairs to the United States. There are 14 designated agencies that screen and select prospective au pairs.
Benefits of hosting an au pair
Perhaps one of the most attractive options about the au pair program for military families is that the family can customize the schedule of the au pair to meet their needs. If military parents work early shifts, at night or on weekends, the au pair’s schedule can be made to fit that timeframe -- so long as the hours do not exceed 10 hours per day or 45 hours per week. Split shifts offer a great advantage when kids are in school or work hours are irregular. In addition, the cost of hosting an au pair is per family -- not per child -- and can be a more affordable option for families with more than one child.
Au pairs, unlike other day care providers, can also move with your family to a new location if it’s an area serviced by the au pair agency.
Finding the right au pair
Whether you are selecting an au pair or any other form of childcare, it’s important to ask yourself what qualities and skills are most important to you. It’s also critical that you clearly communicate your expectations and your schedule. Making this clear in the interview process and working with a placement manager who can help you identify the right candidate will go a long way toward your success.
Navy wife and mom Stephanie Gardner is a representative with Cultural Care Au Pair -- the leading provider of intercultural childcare in the United States. Families in which one or more host parents are actively serving are eligible to receive special discounts and promotions. Contact Stephanie at (858) 205-2371 or email her at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.