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An au pair sounds great, but they're not for everyone

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An au pair can make for cheap childcare but ithe arrangement may not work for everyone

An au pair can make for cheap childcare but ithe arrangement may not work for everyone

An au pair can make for cheap childcare but ithe arrangement may not work for everyone

Anyone else afraid to look at the calendar for December? Between work-dos, family events and get-to-togethers there's barely a free day left, and that's before you factor in the kids' events.

With school concerts, Christmas fairs, sports events and a rake of birthday parties there's hardly any time left for down-time (or even Christmas shopping.)

No matter how much you love the festivities there's no denying that the babysitting bill can get out of control pretty quickly. We have five nights booked with our babysitter for December. At €10 an hour we're looking at a bill of well over €200 for child minding. That's before a taxi, a drink, a gift, never mind a new pair of sparkly earrings.

I'm not complaining about having a social life. I love the Christmas festivities and realise no one is forcing us to go out. Our babysitter is a gem and we're lucky to have such a trustworthy kid living on our road, however, there's no denying that an au pair would be a far cheaper option.

NIGHTMARE

Like so many modern families, we've no space for a live-in au pair. Our modest semi-d is full to capacity, and even if we did have a spare room I work from home. It would be impossible to have the children arriving home from school mid-afternoon with a child minder with me trying to write and meet deadlines.

As a naïve 18-year-old I tried au pairing in Germany. Foolishly the family lied about living in the city, when, in reality, their home was 50 kilometres from Hamburg in a sleepy village.

I arrived a week before their second child was born. Their son, an only child for six years, suddenly found he was no longer the centre of attention and decided this was all my fault. Most mealtimes began with him asking his mother, in front of me, when I was going home.

On the plus side I improved my (very basic) German (which ultimately lead to me doing a degree in the language), lived in a magnificent house, learned to play backgammon and got to eat some delicious Persian food (the lovely mum was from Tehran).

Negatives included my inability to communicate properly, the spoilt child I had to entertain, my failure to adapt to country living, and the trauma of seeing the creepy father wandering around the house in his Y-fronts. I started planning my escape within weeks and barely lasted two months.

Despite my nightmare flirtation with au pairing I've seen friends live in blissful harmony with their child minders.

One family gets a new au pair every year, manages to keep them for the full 12-months, and always stays in touch after they leave.

Some even come back to visit. In essence, the girls become part of the family.

Average au pairing rates in Ireland are €80-120 a week for 20 hours of childcare and housework, plus one or two nights babysitting.

Compare €440 a month to our current bill of €1,000 for 3-days a week crèche and after-school care and an au pair seems like a far more attractive option, especially with the added bonus of a babysitter.

While we have no space for an au pair, it does sound like a great solution, if you have the room - and the inclination to share your home with a stranger.


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