As a single mum CEO – I couldn’t do it without an Au-Pair

I was living in Asia when both of my children (now six and seven) were born. At this time, I had help from a wonderful live-in nanny, which was not considered a luxury in the Singaporean culture.

When I moved back to Australia following my divorce in 2010, I realised I needed this help at home if I were to be a successful CEO and mother to my children.

For less than $300.00 per week, my Au Pair looks after my children from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, at which point I take off my CEO hat, switch off my computer and am with them as ‘Mum’.

My son has special needs, and he benefits from having regularity and routine in the house, which an Au Pair can provide over a babysitter who may not be as reliable.  I like knowing that our Au Pair is not just an employee, but part of the family. We eat dinner together every night, and the kids love learning about the various countries that they come from.

We have had nannies from Asia, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. At the moment the government has stringent working holiday requirements, which prevents Au Pairs from staying with us for more than six months.  The government is considering relaxing the laws and allowing them to stay for 12 months which would be wonderful. For mums considering an Au Pair – here are my top 5 tips.

1.      Spend more time hiring then firing. 

Use social media and not just agencies. Like in business, some of the best referrals come from word of mouth. If you do the ground work and proper vetting at the beginning it will pay off.

2.      Let them live their own life outside of work hours. 

It’s important your Au Pair switches off and has a break. The more relaxed they are, the greater it benefits your children. In allowing them to switch ‘off’ – they will be more ‘on’.

3.      Be extremely straight forward as to what you want, need and expect right from the beginning. 

Besides the standard contract that exists between yourself and the Au Pair, I have a few extra expectations that I make explicit to the nanny prior to them starting. It’s harder to change and create ‘new’ rules when the Au Pair has settled; it is confusing for both them and your children.

4.      When you work from home, as I do, let the kids know that the Au Pair is in charge Monday to Friday, not you.

Do not interrupt unless it is absolutely necessary; I have found the Au Pair will feel more confident and supported. Remember, they’ll never do the job exactly as you would, but that is the price you pay for running a successful business that will eventually benefit your family greatly.

5.      Show your appreciation.

The better you treat them, the better they look after your children.  How you decide to do this is up to you. I show my gratitude in various ways, whether that be a night off or some extra spending money. I have found that stopping and saying thank you will always mean a lot.


Abigail Cheadle is CEO of 1300Plumber, 1300Builder and 1300Electrician.