Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A new addition to the family

Yes that's right. We are expecting another new addition to our family.

And I am not talking about Baby Number 2.

We are getting an au pair. WHAT??? Yes that's right an au pair. Pass the Guardian and that bowl of Quinoa salad please.

Now I don't know about you but I always imagined that people with au pairs are the kind of people that drive gas guzzling 4x4s (that never see even a speck of mud let alone cow shit, unless they are off to their second home in Cornwall), wear matching deck shoes, chinos and popped collars and are friends with David Cameron. In other words posh, rich people.

Look very carefully. We are NOT in this picture.

Well we don't own our own house or even a car and neither of us have ever worn chinos. I am certainly no friend of David Cameron, I vote Green. And we definitely aren't financially rich. That's not to say that we aren't doing okay. After years of the usual mix of crap and good jobs we have got to a place were we are comfortably off and happy with our lot.

So how did this all come about? How did we, of all people, decide that an au pair was the right thing for our family, or at least something we wanted to try.

It all started with the painful search for affordable, flexible childcare.

We currently have a lovely childminder but she's moving far far away at the end of June so we had to start the search all over again. I looked at nurseries and childminders but here in Bristol it seems that you have to sign your baby up when it's still in utero to get in to a good place!

Another important factor in our decision was my work as holistic massage therapist, which I love. I have been struggling to build my client base as I have to turn people away if they can't come on a Thursday (when L is at the childminder) or a Saturday morning (when Ingo looks after her). This isn't good for business or family life at the weekends. I decided that we had to find something more flexible so that I could accept clients on any day at any time.

My parents live and work in France running a B&B and Ingo's Mum lives in Germany so there's no quick fix there. I don't think you can babysit via Skype...

Back in March I went out for my birthday to the wonderful Bishopston Supper Club (could I sound any more middle class - might as well embrace it right?) and remembered meeting a couple who were treating their German au pair to a lovely meal and night out to say thanks before she left. I remember thinking "they don't seem like the sort of people who would have an au pair." I managed to get in touch with them as they live round the corner from us and we met up and had a long, honest chat about what it was like to have an au pair and how they went about finding one. I was reassured to see that they were a family very similar to us and that they didn't live in a mansion. There was however a 4x4 parked out the front. I didn't ask if it was theirs.

Well I was converted. We are lucky enough to live in a big house with a big spare room that our parents contribute a little to so that they can stay for a couple of weeks at a time a few times a year without us all driving each other mad. The room is empty most of the time and it make sense to use it properly as it seems a bit of a waste at the moment.

And what about having to be rich, surely it costs loads? Well here's the thing. An au pair works out far cheaper than any nursery or childminder. Most people I know pay anywhere between £45-£80 per day for a childminder or nursery place. We currently pay £55 for 8 hours of childcare on a Thursday and of course it means that I can only work on that day... it appears that not many people want a massage on a Thursday. We are offering our au pair £65 per week pocket money, board and lodgings in return for help with looking after L when we need it, babysitting occasionally and here's the best bit... help with the cleaning and sometimes cooking.

I hate cleaning so much I get my toddler to do it for me
So that's about 25 hours per week of childcare and help, giving me the flexibility I need to pursue a career I love and to finally bring to fruition some creative, work projects that have been ripening nicely in my many notebooks and sketchbooks.

It's not just about childcare. L is half German and we really wanted to bring her up bilingually (that's a whole post waiting to happen) so that she can speak to her Oma who doesn't speak any English. It's also a pretty awesome thing to be able to speak other languages and according to studies it's easier for people to learn languages if they already speak more than one from birth. The reality of that isn't as easy as you would think as Ingo only spends about 2 hours a day with her and the rest of the time she is with me babbling away in English.

L and her lovely German Oma
I couldn't speak my Granny's language and I regret it to this day
An au pair becomes part of your family, they aren't just someone you palm your baby off on to (although there are people that do this) so it is a really big step for us and if we didn't have this house I don't think we could do it. It's not for everyone as you are opening up your home and your lives to a relative stranger. We have a track record of doing this on a very small scale as we are veteran couch surfers (both hosts and surfers) so in some ways this is an extreme version with mutual benefits all round. I am really excited about it, for us it just seems to be the perfect solution.

What do you think? Could you welcome a stranger into your family. What do you think about effectively buying in a 'member of the family'? Does this mean I have to wear chinos and buy a 4x4?

Welcome to our family