Having an au pair in a single-parent family - What's important?

Katlyn Rainier writes about what an au pair can bring for a single-parent family from her perspective as a daughter who grew up with a single dad.

Father holding his daughter
, in Host families

With 320 million children worldwide living in a single parent home as of 2016, there’s no doubt that many children today may find themselves in a dad-only household myself being one of them back in the day. 

Throughout my experience growing up in a single father household, I can tell you first hand just how difficult it was for my father to balance a fulfilling work-home life without much help. For many, the reality of single fatherhood can be a challenging one, and several may turn to part-time babysitters or daycare services in times of need.

However, one of the most practical solutions for single fathers these days may just be to work with an au pair. 

Relationship challenges for single fathers

When it comes to having a good relationship with the children, single fathers may face challenges when it comes to communication, and especially so in regards to their daughters and issues they may face growing up. Growing up in a single-father household, I found it very difficult to talk with my dad about “girl stuff” like drama, boys, or “that time of the month”, as most girls might. While many girls had their mothers to talk to, I relied on friends for advice out of fear that my father wouldn’t understand  –  not to mention due to my own embarrassment on such topics. 

While it’s true that some single fathers can develop a great line of communication with their kids on all fronts, it can be sometimes be hard for those who are used to a work-heavy lifestyle and may not have spent much time at home – as was the case with my father – or for those who simply  aren’t familiar with such obstacles. In such situations, considering an au pair can be a great resource for any single father – and their kids as well.

Benefits of having an au pair for single fathers

An au pair can bring several benefits to a single father: 

  • For example, while dad is at work, an au pair can engage the children in creative activities  – something that is often lost when single parents have to balance work with childcare. This can include helping with arts and crafts projects, encouraging the children to get active through sports, or taking them out on daily excursions. I know that throughout my childhood, my father often didn’t have the time to take us kids out as much as he would have liked due to his demanding work schedule, or have the energy to help us with every art project at the end of a long day.
  • My retrospective view: A resource like an au pair would have been a blessing for our family. Interaction revolving around hobbies and activities can help develop a strong  bond between the kids and the au pair, resulting in a feeling of security for the children and less stress for the father and the family as a whole. 
  • An au pair can also serve as a positive role model to the children, giving them another adult to learn from while dad isn’t present. For daughters, a female au pair can become a relatable person to go to for advice, and an available source of support for any child when dad isn’t there. An au pair can also reinforce disciplinary techniques under the father’s discretion, like taking away a toy to punish bad behaviour.
  • Discipline is something that can be particularly difficult for single fathers to manage. My father, for example, was quite reluctant to discipline us kids at times, mainly out of fear that he would get on our bad side (something that no single parent wants).
  • Another thing that my father struggled with was completing and keeping up with household duties in addition to everything else on his plate. With an au pair pitching in to help with light housekeeping duties, a single father also has more time to spend with the kids after a long day of work.

Tricky aspects of the au pair's role in a single-father family

While au pairs can provide a myriad of support for single fathers, there are some challenges that can arise. Along with the possibility of an au pair simply not fitting in well with the family, single fathers may face additional difficulties. In some situations, it’s possible that the children may view a female au pair as a replacement to their mothers. For this reason, it’s vital to create a well-defined dynamic in the home where everyone's role is clear and appropriate.

The uncertainty that can come with having a young and potentially female au pair in a father-only household may create hesitations for fathers who are considering the au pair option. However, it is definitely possible to have a successful arrangement with the right precautions in place. Ideally, the au pair will take on the role as a part-time caretaker for the children, and be well-integrated as a temporary member of the family. 

Doing it the right way

If you're a single father who’s considering including an au pair into your family life, it’s necessary to ensure that you’re doing your part in making the situation comfortable for your children, yourself and the au pair.

  • For example, it is important to work out a schedule ahead of time that can ensure that you won’t miss any important events in your children’s routines, and will provide for a clear agenda for the au pair to follow.
  • Establishing clear roles and definite boundaries is especially important, as this will act as a key factor in creating a respectful atmosphere and a positive family dynamic. The au pair needs to have a well-defined role within the household. 
  • Basically, the au pair is there as an additional adult resource for the children. In this function she is like a grown-up big sister who can help out with many daily tasks and take a positive interest in the children. She is certainly not there as a substitute mother nor as a new best friend for the host dad. It is up to the host father to inform the children of the au pair’s role and to make rules and set up boundaries to support that role.

With this approach it should be possible to get the many benefits of having an au pair in a parenting situation where extra help can be especially useful. 

Katlyn Eriksen

About the author:
Katlyn Ranier was brought up in a single-father family together with her sister. Katlyn has degrees in psychology and sociology and has worked in childcare. As a parent, she has hosted her own au pairs.