It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on the “working mom” topic (see here for the previous chapters), but last week was such a fun “working mom” week, I thought I’d share.

First, let me explain the “au pair”. I’ve blogged before on our nannies, but I haven’t mentioned that last summer we added an au pair to our household. The au pair program is a US exchange program where families host a young adult (typically female) from another country and she takes care of the kids for up to 45 hours a week. The match and relationship are managed through an au pair agency. They help match families with au pairs, get her to the country and trained, and then make sure the au pair and the families follow all the rules related to hours, living conditions, and educational requirements. It is a pretty cool setup in the right circumstance and we thought with where we were it made a lot of sense for a year or two. For us, it is a little less expensive than a nanny and associated taxes, but not by much when you factor in the agency fees, au pair stipend, living costs, extra car, extra insurance, cell phone, etc. The main reason we decided to do it is the flexibility. Our kids are in school 5 days a week, but only for a few hours, so we usually want help for a couple hours in the morning, most of the afternoon and then an evening or two. Depending on my travel, we may need some additional help. This works great with the 45 hours offered by the au pair program.

We were a little hesitant to bring a stranger into our house after hearing some horror stories – au pairs who were disinterested in kids, wrecked the cars a lot, or were generally unreliable. That said, I had friends who had such great situations they were devastated when the year was over and they had to match again. We were nervous but started the process. Lucky for us, Sarah fell right in our lap over lunch with one of my friends. I hadn’t seen my friend in six months and found out she had an au pair she loved who wanted to extend for a second year, but my friend didn’t need an au pair anymore. We had to jump through some hoops to get her extended in time, but we did it and we consider ourselves very lucky.

It hasn’t been without bumps. We’ve learned a lot about how to live with someone else in our house. We’ve gotten better at communicating expectations, as has she. But generally, it has been easy sailing, especially compared to some of the stories I’ve heard. The only major bump was a couple months ago when she broke her foot in our house and needed foot surgery, which meant she needed to be on her back and not working for six weeks. I was surprised to find that unless you send an au pair home and rematch with a new au pair, you are responsible for taking care of and paying your au pair her stipend, even if she can’t work. We again got really lucky with a referral of an au pair whose family ended her contract early and was in the states and available for a couple more months. We quickly moved the boys together to make room. It was a nutty few weeks, but all things considered, it worked out really well for all parties involved. That said, I did learn how much more responsibility an au pair can be than a nanny.

Here’s the cool thing though. In addition to all the flexibility related to hours while you are in town, there’s no reason you can’t have an au pair travel with you. Sarah has been on trips with us half a dozen times – mostly up to the mountains for long weekends, but also to visit friends out of state. Last week, I took Sarah and both kids on a “work trip”. I needed to go to San Francisco for some meetings and conveniently one of my very best friends lives right outside of San Francisco with two little boys just a little older than mine. She hosted all of us, Sarah took care of the boys while I was off at meetings, and we all had a blast together hanging out in the evenings and over the weekend. Next month, I’m going early to my parents house for the holidays, bringing Sarah and the kids, and working from there for a week. They’ll get more time with their grandparents, I’ll get a change of scenery, and I’m even going to have some meetings while I’m there. It is great for my husband too as it allows him a few days of time to catch up on things at work and around the house. When we come back, he’s giddy to spend time with them. It is awesome all around.

My partner Erika and I talk a lot about “designing your life” in a way that really integrates work and family priorities more fluidly. Being able to do work travel with the family is one of the things I’ve most enjoyed about our company and my kids. It isn’t always feasible to take the family, but sometimes it is and the au pair program is a great way to make it happen!