Nanny? Au Pair? Mother's Helper?

Updated on December 01, 2010
S.G. asks from Pottstown, PA
7 answers

At the risk of sounding insanely stupid, what exactly is the difference between a nanny vs. an au pair vs. a mother's helper, etc? I am in so over my head with tasks that need to be accomplished (work, children, the house, general maintenance, etc) and there just isn't enough time for me to do it all by myself, so I am looking into finding someone to help me.

What are the pros? Cons? Any experiences you are willing to share? Or suggestions that I should look into?

Thanks for your help!

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answers from Sacramento on

A nanny is a full-time professional who cares for your children in your home. An Au Pair is usually a college student who lives in your home and watches your kids, but generally they help out with the kids and household tasks in exchange for room and board. A mother's helper is usually an after-school helper - but could be anybody who helps you out with the grocery shopping, taking the kids to soccer, just helps you with whatever you need, up to and including child care. At least, that is my understanding of the terms.

I had a nanny for my first child, and she was invaluable. She was sort of like a live-in grandma, and I learned so much from her, and she loved my baby like her own. Having a nanny was a wonderful experience for us. (But expensive!)

I've also had nannies who didn't live with us (for baby #2) and that can be nice as well. I'd give them money and a grocery list, have them drop off the dry cleaning, whatever. Some nannies won't do that, but I figure if I'm paying them by the hour... why not.

Currently I'm in dire need of a mother's helper type person, but it's not in the budget... oh well. =)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I speak as a nanny here. My job is to tend to the children and all thats related to them. I do children's laundry, help them clean up their messes, drive them to classes and activities, arrange/attend playdates, prepare lunch, things of that nature. I will OCCASIONALLY do extras around the house but my main focus is on the child I watch.

Aupairs are usually someone that comes from a foreign country, lives with you for a year and does STRICTLY kids. Their is alot of regulations, and things of that sort, they are only allowed to work a certain number of hours/week too.

Mothers helper is someone that comes into your home while you are home most of the time, and watches the kids while you do work around the house. Its usually a young high schooler or college student that comes maybe 1 or 2 days a week while you do things around the house, maybe pop out for an hour or two to do grocery shopping...but mostly you are home.

MY OVERALL SUGGESTION...Get a local high schooler or even 8th grader to come over once a week, maybe get 2 girls and have them alternate 1 day/week for 5 hours so you can get things accomplished. I had a mom that did this with me when I was younger. I watched a 1 yr old and 3 yr old every saturday 10-3pm while mom ran to the dry cleaners, did a mound of laundry, and did alot of other things. She was there if I needed her but otherwise she was invisible.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

To me they are all the same thing I know that Au Pair is French for Nanny I think if you really need some help you should get it you sound incredibly busy I have three kids and stay home and it still is hectic just do you reasearch. I would try to spend as much time with you kids as you can and let her do cooking and cleaning and other things.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

- Mother's Helper is a very part time person (often a teenager) who comes into your home to "help out" either with chores or childcare or both. Unlike a babysitter you are both in the home at the same time. Often a mother's helper will come for an hour every day, or for an afternoon once or twice a week.

- A Nanny covers a lot of ground. Most basically they either live in or live out. (in your home, or in their own home). In my experience most live out. They can be full time, half time, part time. They can take care of your children in your home, or in theirs. They are responsible for *everything* in relation to childcare during the hours they work (from taking to and from school, activities, outings, playdates, parks, etc.)... but each family negotiates what is desired including travel range. Some families provide a "nanny car". In our area most do not. In other areas, most do. In some area's nearly none do, but the family pays for alternative transport. A nanny is an employee of your family and as such recieves days off, vacation time/pay, sick days, etc., and is considered both domestic "staff" and childcare expense as far as your taxes are concerned. The range in age from college to grandparents. They are given limited medical & authority powers (aka they interact with pediatricians and schools). They are often, but not always, less expensive than group setting daycare, esp for multiple children. ((Ex: In our area nannies typically get paid about $2500 a month for full time care. Full time care for children under 3/ not potty trained is $1600 a month per child, 3+ is typically ###-###-#### per month. So 2 infants = $3200 in a group setting, making a full time nanny MUCH less expensive. Part time gets even less expensive.)). "Nanny-share" is a common cost cutting process where 2 families will "split" a nanny. One in the morning, one in the afternoon is a common split. It means a family can afford to hire a very good nanny part time, when she or he needs full time work. "Poaching" is what families do in order to secure a good nanny that they see with other people's kids. Young mothers who actively play with their children in public are frequently approached by older mothers looking to "poach" them from their assumed employers. (BTDT). Mothers will often carry cards with them to hand out to prospective nannies they see in parks/museums/and other outing places. Because good nannies are precious, if you find a good one you really want to keep her happy (pay, days off, kind words, good work environment, etc.) or she'll be snapped up by another family very very quickly. Many only clean in regards to messes that are made while the children are under their care (ditto cooking), others do a large chunk of the housework, others are paid separately for household chores. All expenses that the nanny incures while taking care of the children (outings, food, doctor's appts, art supplies, library fees, transportation, etc.) are paid by the family - usually reimbursed at the end of each day with reciepts... and should be worked out in advance what is acceptable for the nanny to spend on a daily basis on

- An Au Pair is TYPICALLY a young person (college age) from another country who has contracted with an agency to work in a specific country. The term of employment is typically 1-2 years. They live in (room and board are required by host/employing family). They are given a weekly stipend (by the family they work for), and are under contract to work for that family alone for a set number of hours. They are usually banned from seeking other employment during their "off" hours. They have complete freedom during their "off" hours... meaning no curfews, household chores, permission to come and go, etc. The family hiring an Au Pair goes through the agency (I'm fond of the State Dept. agencies personally) and pays a large up front fee that the Au Pair will recieve upon completion of their contract. Both the up front fee and weekly stipend are set by the agency and are pretty standard across the board. TYPICALLY 4k up front to the agency + $125 per week for students which is paid directly to the Au Pair. The agency will pay them their bounty at the end of the contract. There are 2 main types of vetted and authorized by the State Dept type Au Pairs. Students & Non Students. Students are required to work a max of 32 hours per week, and the host family has to facilitate them attending at least one college class while they are living with that family. Nonstudents work a max of 40-50 hours per week (varries with different agencies). Families who take advantage of their Au Pairs (requiring 10+ hour work days 5-7 days a week, etc.) will get their Au Pair pulled if they don't start following the rules and the Au Pair will be placed with another family. The family gets to "pick" their Au Pair via looking at info packets and phone interviews. Both parties have to agree.

I've left out a lot of details... but those are the broad strokes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I was a live-in nanny for 4 years for the same family in my late 20's and early 30's. I was always under the impression that there are 4 catagories of home help for child care:
1. Governess (responsible for child care as well as educational needs. Usually a degreed teacher who no longer wants to teach in a classroom setting. Great for families who travel and do not have kids in stable school setting, i.e. families in the movie industry who travel to locations a lot.)
2. Nanny (responsibilities are much like outlined by Riley J below. Some, but not all, are degreed and are professional.)
3. Au Pair (usually younger and have some level of child care experience. Sometimes from a diffrerent country)
4. Mother's Helper (teenager to be an extra pair of hands. Not necessarily expected to be responsible for anythng other than keeping kids busy, i.e. babysitter)

The cost of services are the most for Governess & Nanny (they are professionals) and least for Au Pair & Mother's Helper. No matter who you might get, a background check is VITAL if you are going to be leaving your kids alone with them. It's been my experience that any reputable agency does a thorough background check before making a prospective nanny available for consideration. I was checked out more thoroughly than any job I've ever had before or after my nanny gig, i.e. DMV, criminal, education requirements, health, etc. I was also required to complete an adult/child 1st and and CPR class prior to completing my nanny applicaiton.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Nanny is someone who generally lives somewhere else, comes to your home daily and works pretty much full time to take care of your kids. They generally charge in my area about 400-600 a week depending on number of kids and hours. Legally, you are required to pay taxes for these workers but many of them want to be paid under the table so they can avoid the taxes themselves. They may or may not have health insurance (through a spouse) or their own children to worry about. If you do not pay the appropriate taxes and social security for a nanny, you cannot claim them on your taxes or get dependant care FSA benefits for money you pay to them.

A mother's helper is generally a college age or high school age student who is just looking to help out a few hours a week and would generally help out when you are home so you can get things done. Think -- babysitter. Same rules apply as those for nannies regarding taxes IF you pay them enough money in a year. Again, most of these gals do not want to be responsible for taxes and do not want it reported.

An au pair is a legal alien that lives in your home, cares for your children and does children-related household chores and tasks from driving to cooking to laundry, all while being regulated by the Department of State through an approved au pair agency. Cultural Care is a great one! We have been with them for 2 years and just signed up for a third. Because of the J-1 classification of the au pairs, you can claim the program fees and stipend you pay the au pair on your FSA and taxes BUT you do not have to pay taxes in for them. The au pairs, however, are responsible for paying taxes to the Fed if they make enough money in a given year. The key is that you must have a private bedroom, den or finished basement that would be designated as the au pair's bedroom. We have found that the $16,000-$17,000 a year you pay for the au pair (stipend and program fees) has been MUCH less than we were paying for daycare for 2 kids. We now have a third on the way. The au pairs can provide up to 45 hours a week (10 hour max a day) childcare support and the schedule can be as stringent or flexible as you need. We use ours for date nights out when we have hours left at no extra babysitter cost :) If you are interested in hearing more, private message me.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on


I used to work as a nanny and now I am a Childcare Coordinator for the nation's largest Au Pair agency. I didn't fully understand the differences between a nanny, a household helper, and an au pair until I started working as a Childcare Coordinator. They can all be very similar in their duties, but there are some differences as well.

A nanny and a mother's helper can be live-in or live-out and can be required to do whatever tasks you want.

Au pairs live in your home, are from another country, and are hosted by a family here in the US. They become a part of your family for a year, and most of our host families have au pairs for many years. I have a host family that has had au pairs in their home for 13 years! Our au pairs – young women and men from all over the world – are carefully evaluated, selected and trained. They are between the ages of 18 and 26 and are excited to spend a year (or more!) with an American family to provide up to 45 hours per week of childcare. I love that au pairs bring the world to your child right in your own home!

Our Au Pair Program offers:

• Flexible, live-in care for your children
• Up to 45 hours per week of childcare
• Light housekeeping and household help
• A low weekly cost of just $340/week ( less than $8.00 / hour! )
• Qualified, carefully screened candidates
• Personalized matching service
• A cultural exchange experience for the whole family
• Regulated by the Department of State. Wouldn't it be great if your nanny could come to you with with all of these qualifications?

Until December 6th, you can apply for free, save $500, and lock in 2010 prices. That means you can start looking for an au pair to match with for no cost out of your pocket! If you'd like to find out more, you can call me at ###-###-#### or visit my Au Pair News Website below.

Best wishes to you and your family!

~P. G.
Local Childcare Coordinator, Cultural Care Au Pair

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