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"Hiring an au pair was one of the best decisions I've made".

Hiring an au pair was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I never wanted an au pair. That’s the truth of it.

In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

So two years ago when three of my friends– all of whom work in breakfast radio and all of whom have au pairs – suggested I look into hiring someone TO LIVE WITH US and help me look after our three small kids, I was horrified.

“I couldn’t do it,” I said. “Have someone live with us? A stranger just hanging around in our house? Nup.  I’d rather try and go it alone.“

What. An Idiot.

Bec and her daughter Ava.

Because then I had my son Quincy which meant I had three kids under five. Three kids under five, no grandparents on hand to help and a husband who was never home.

Suddenly leaving the room to hang out the washing became a logistical nightmare. Just the though of doing kindy drop-off with three kids gave me a headache.  HAVING A SHOWER seemed impossible.  And forget my work as a writer, I couldn’t even figure out how to manage the kids’ bath time.

Suddenly having an au pair looked like a not-so-terrible-idea.

And a hell of a lot more economical than paying $20 an hour for a nanny.

This is Pia.Bec’s lovely German au pair.

Six months on from jumping aboard the Au Pair Express and let me tell you – it’s right up there with buying no-iron uniforms as one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Having Pia has given me the freedom to work from home part-time as well as given me an extra set of hands around the house.  When my two boys (aged 1 and 3) are asleep, she might bring in some washing or help chop up vegies for dinner while I work.

Or. Or we might sit together and, well, you know, watch last night’s episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here while I try to answer her questions like, “What is a Daddo?”  and “Why is the High-5 girl so angry?”

Read more: Intruder couple on ‘ I’m a Celebrity get me out of here’, have seen this reality business before.

So how much does it cost? You can expect to pay around $200 for up to 35 hours of childcare a week and in return you provide your au pair with full room and board (so we provide Pia with all her meals and snacks 7 days a week. She also has her own bedroom and bathroom and free wifi).

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Most au pairs are willing to help with light housework including helping to prepare meals and assist with laundry. Or you may want your au pair to drive your kids to school or after school activities.  The key is to be as up front as possible with what you need BEFORE the au pair arrives on your doorstep, suitcase in hand.

Pia’s first week with us involved introducing her to kangaroos and Tim Tams.

There are horror stories, of course. Mostly for the au pairs.  These girls (and some guys) are often young and have come to the other side of the world to experience life in an Australian family. Instead a few of Pia’s friends have found themselves in the role of Cinderella being handed a ‘chore’ list of housework that would make you weep.

Read more: This nanny paid $10K a week to look after famous kids.

For us, having Pia come into our lives has been the greatest blessing. Not just because she helps keep our household humming but also because she has truly become a treasured member of our family.  Our kids adore her and   my husband and I look upon her as a niece.

When she leaves in April to return home to her mum in Germany, I’ll miss her terribly.  She’s allowed me to be a better mum just by giving me the chance to catch my breath and making it possible for me to do one-on-one activities with my kids.

I can take Ava to school and help in her classroom, take Fin to swimming lessons or Quincy to the library without losing my mind.  But more than that I’ll miss our kitchen chats and cups of tea, our botched cooking lessons (coming to me for cooking lessons is like asking Shane Warne to explain Shakespeare) and our joint love of any meal featuring potato.

Pia reading a story to Bec’s son Fin

Traditional day care is not the answer for every working family.  It makes perfect sense to me that the Government should give families the flexibility to find the childcare solution that works best for them. Everyone’s situation is different.

An au pair has been the answer for us. It might not be the right fit for you but – take it from me – it’s worth keeping in mind.  You might be lucky enough to find your very own Pia.

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