From frazzled to dazzled - my 1st experience with an au pair
When my children were aged one and three I returned to work on a full-time basis. Not knowing of any real alternatives, I researched all the available childcare centres in my local area and enrolled my children in what I considered the best one. Even then (in 2008) it was not cheap, especially for both kids at once.
I'm blessed with children who are naturally late risers, so every morning I'd have to wake them up, dress them, prepare their lunch and scramble to the childcare centre. My older daughter had gotten used to the routine, but my one year old would scream blue murder as I tried to tear myself away. The childcare workers assured me that his screaming never lasted too long, but it could never assuage my guilt for allowing him to get so distressed.
My co-workers tended to stay back way later than me, but I always had to leave work by 5:17pm exactly if I was to make it on the train in time. This was so I could reach the childcare centre by 6pm when it shut, lest I be charged the dreaded $1 per minute per child extra if I was late. My childcare arrangements made it nearly impossible for me to stay back later, even when requested by my boss.
Everything about my life was a mad scramble. From work to the train, the train to my car, my car to the centre, grabbing the kids, coming back home, preparing dinner, bathing them, putting them to bed, cleaning the house with whatever energy I had left, then waking up the next morning to start it all over again. I barely had time through the week to even look at the kids let alone play with them. It was horrible always feeling like I was never able to give enough time to either my work or my kids.
Then one day I happened to meet an au pair who was working for a local family. She described how she looked after the kids, helped out with housework and even cooked for the family. I was astonished by how cheap her wages were compared to what I was paying for childcare. It was only a couple of weeks later that I got my own au pair for our family. She had no qualifications or experience on her resume that made her stand out from the other candidates, but I could tell from the moment she started interacting with our kids that she was phenomenal - like our very own Mary Poppins.
Instead of waking the kids up before I left for work, I was able to leave while they were still sleeping. When they woke up, our au pair - Gemma - fed them, dressed them and then filled their days with amazing imaginary adventures that included trying to avoid crocodiles on the floor by only stepping on cushions, or barrel-rolling out the garage door as it shut, like Indiana Jones. She even made household chores seem like so much fun that the kids couldn't wait to vacuum or mop or cook. By the time I got home from work, the house was clean, the kids were happy and dinner was already on the table. Although I didn't normally stay too long at work, I no longer had to stress about leaving by a particular minute. And when I did arrive home, I was actually able to completely relax and simply enjoy being with my kids.
I honestly didn't think work-life balance was possible until I started getting au pairs. I made it my mission from that point to help as many other families experience the same transformation - from frazzled to dazzled!
Have you had a similar experience? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.