Au pair may solve childcare dilemma for some
Finding childcare is always a challenge for parents, no matter what their lifestyle. While most Vineyard mothers and fathers have to juggle busy working hours with making sure their children are safe and happy, some vacationers with young children need a hand with the youngsters while they are playing tennis or seeing friends. A mother with very young children may want someone to team up with her when her husband or partner is at work and one adult just can't do the job alone. For a single parent, live-in help is invaluable.
The need rises in summer when school and after- school activities are ended for vacation, but for most families the challenge is a year-round one. The Vineyard is rich in resources for childcare and early education, but even in the best of situations when children are signed up for day care, pre-school, or a full schedule of classes and activities, an unexpected cancellation, school holiday, or case of the sniffles can throw parents' schedules into disarray.
In certain cases, an au pair could be the answer to a family's prayers. Although locating and hiring an au pair is a complex and costly process, and like any childcare option has potential pitfalls, when it works smoothly it is a boon for busy parents.
According to Meg Higgins of West Tisbury, who has been the Vineyard's community representative for the national Au Pair Foundation since April 2007, the program was established decades ago to create cultural exchanges for young people. Providing childcare was not the primary purpose.
One Vineyard family, Bill and Emily Coggins of Vineyard Haven has an au pair currently in residence. A second family is in the midst of the application process.
The phrase "au pair" in French means "on par," said Ms. Higgins. It signifies that the young man or woman is meant to be an equal part of the family.
"They didn't want people to see it as cheap labor," she explained. "Primarily it's a cultural exchange, an opportunity to bring someone into your home and learn about their culture, and they can learn about ours. A successful host family would be open to that."
Although the experience can be satisfying for a family and their au pair, it requires considerable groundwork on the part of the hosts. And Ms. Higgins cautioned that a family considering an au pair should not expect to obtain immediate childcare. Not only is the application period lengthy and arduous, but also it will take some time for the au pair to get acclimated to the culture and the family's lifestyle after he or she arrives. The young visitor may be homesick, and must have a chance to adapt to the new environment.
"You have to be willing to put the time in," Ms. Higgins warned. "In exchange, if you do lay that nice foundation, you get a very rich experience."