Juggle family life with Au Pair In America and Aloha Nannies

The toys are out of control and taking over the living room. The preschool just called to say that your daughter has a fever. You have a miss-at-your-peril meeting at work. Your son has soccer practice. And what about dinner?

Managing the schedules of a working family can often seem like Mission: Impossible. Thank goodness for people like Barbara Bancel who, as the community counselor for Au Pair in America, makes it her job to make it a possible mission. “Relief!” That’s what Bancel hears in her clients’ voices once the au pairs get on the job. “It’s that extra pair of helping hands.”

Bancel has been in the business for 21 years, during which time she has seen an increase in the interest for in-home help. The agency has nearly 20 au pairs currently working on the island. For obvious reasons, Hawaii ranks among the dream locations for au pairs and nannies all over the world.

When they are on the job, what they do — or don’t do — is usually tailored family by family. Au pairs and nannies can take on the role of taxi driver, getting children to and from school or other activities; they may prepare the children’s meals, do their laundry and help with homework. Some nannies are even responsible for household management, doing everything from organizing birthday parties to paying the bills.

For Dr. Shilpa Patel, the fixed hours of organized day care and the vagaries of babysitter schedules just couldn’t cope with her irregular work hours at Kapiolani Medical Center.

“My schedule is very erratic,” she says. “I could work an 18-hour day. I could work seven days straight and then be off for three weeks. I cannot leave work at any given time and my husband also works long hours; he’s a teacher at Punahou and he often has to work on papers in the evenings.”

Patel searched high and low for someone to help care for her son and twin daughters. She had feelers out everywhere; she interviewed people she found in the newspaper, she talked to nanny agencies. Finally, she found the fit she was looking for with Au Pair in America.

The program, which is approved by the U.S. state department, matches young women from all over the world with host families in America. The match is for one year, with the option to extend for a second year. The au pair lives with the family and takes care of the children, while still having some time for their own education and leisure.

This year, Patel and her family are hosting their fifth au pair. And she still remembers the excitement from when they hired their first.

“We were also kind of scared,” she says. “We didn’t know what it would be like to have someone around in the house.”

But, as Bancel notes, the au pair often becomes a real part of the family.

“A lot of them remain in very close contact for years and years,” she says. “We’ve had au pairs come back on their honeymoons or just to meet their host families. We’ve also had families visit the au pair in their home country.”

Realtor Samantha Ahn had a nanny for her son when she lived on the mainland, and when her second son was born 18 months ago, she knew that that was the only way to go. She found a full-time nanny through Aloha Nannies. A big plus of working with an agency, Ahn says, is that they often guarantee their nannies for at least a year’s work, plus they are set up to do all the background checks. Aloha Nannies conducts intensive checks on its staff, mostly Hawaii residents who do everything from one-night jobs for tourists and locals to full-time, live-in nannying jobs. Agency owner April Andujar makes sure that every candidate’s criminal and medical records are clear as well as verifying their work experience and CPR training. But, along with all that, Andujar also has her radar out for what she calls the “warm fuzzy” factor.

“I’m always asking myself, ‘Is this someone I’d trust with my child?’ ” For Ahn, it was a difficult decision to leave her child with someone else, but by employing a nanny, she knows that her son is getting the one-on-one attention that is so important.

“Once I got to know the nanny, I could leave the house and feel secure that my son is safe,” Ahn says. “It’s that peace of mind that’s important.”