Since August, the Medeiros family of four — Camilla and Mike, and their two daughters, Malin, 13, and Sofia, 10 — has been a party of five.

The Darien family has an au pair, and has had one for the past seven years.

An au pair is a young adult from overseas who lives with a family and provides child care in exchange for a weekly stipend, room and board, and an opportunity to become part of an American family.

Au pairs are required to take some college courses in the United States, for credit.

Elise, the Medeiros’ au pair, is 19 and from Sweden. She came to live with the family after being matched through Cultural Care Au Pair in Massachusetts. She’ll return to Sweden in late August to begin attending college.

Day-to-day life

Elise works full time. On school days, she wakes up the girls and makes their lunches. She makes sure they get to school.

She’s also responsible for making the girls’ beds and doing their laundry.

During the hours they’re in school, she’s off-duty.

“I go to the gym, meet up with my friends, and have face time with friends and family from home,” she said.

During the day in the United States, it’s the evening in Sweden, so Elise’s family is around to chat with her.

Once the girls come home, Elise is back at work, helping them with their homework and driving them to all their after-school activities. Between the two girls, they have taken tennis, softball, soccer, volleyball, and piano lessons.

Whenever there is downtime, they play games and hang out together.

Elise is usually on duty over dinnertime, so she sometimes helps prepare meals if she’s not with the girls at practice or an activity.

“But even days she’s off early, she often joins us to eat,” Camilla Medeiros said.

Elise is friends with other au pairs who host families in nearby towns including Ridgefield, New Canaan and Westport.

“I hang out with au pairs from different countries such as the Czech Republic, Germany, and Argentina,” she said, adding she learns about those countries from them.

On weekends, she goes with her friends to New York City and other places.

Flexibility

While the family initially had a nanny, once the girls began school, they knew they needed the flexibility that can best be provided by an au pair.

“I work in Shelton in a global marketing group and travel around the world,” Camilla Medeiros said, adding the hours aren’t predictable.

Mike works for ad agency in Manhattan, and commutes in every day.

“If I get stuck at work late, I need help at night, and count on Elise,” Medeiros said.

On some Friday and Saturday nights, Elise will work if the couple goes out to dinner or sees friends. Also, if schools are closed or a child is home sick, Elise is relied upon to help.

Culture

Medeiros said that while many families get an au pair as a way to learn about a different cultural experience from their own, she wanted one who shares her own culture. That’s why all seven of her au pairs have been from Sweden.

Her mother first came to the U.S. as an au pair. Later, her parents came over from Sweden as young adults, “so I was raised in a Swedish home,” Medeiros said. “I learned the language and all the traditions.”

“I like having someone in the home who can help teach my girls some of the Swedish songs I know or show them Swedish movies and be able to explain them,” she added.

“The most popular foods they make together are Swedish pancakes, which are super thin and eaten as dinner,” she said. “The girls really love having pancakes for dinner.”

They bake a lot, too. They make chokladbollar, which are chocolate balls. They also enjoy baking American foods too, like cookies.

“Our au pairs have in the past read books and sang nursery rhyme songs in Swedish,” she added.

Camilla and Elise speak Swedish to each other “so hopefully, the kids will catch it,” Medeiros said.

For Christmas, the Medeiros’ have a few Swedish traditions they do with Camilla’s family, for which they include their au pairs.

“A Swedish holiday we don’t have here is called Midsummers,” Medeiros said. “It’s always the third weekend in June where they celebrate the longest day of the year. In Battery Park in New York City, there is a Swedish Midsummers fest that we all attend. We wear head crowns we make with flowers. And there is a maypole we dance around.”

The Medeiros family vacations in Sweden every few years. “About two years ago, we rented a vacation home for a week outside of Stockholm, and we had four previous au pairs visit,” Medeiros said.

Another year, while in Sweden, they were able to meet the next au pair that hadn’t worked for them yet.

Choosing the right au pair

Medeiros shared some advice to ensure a successful au pair-host family relationship.

    When selecting au pairs, make sure they have been around children of the age of those for which they will be caring.

“If they only had experience with older kids, such as being a coach or helping out in the school, verses a family that has toddlers, you have to question if they would be happy watching young children every day,” Medeiros said.

 Make sure the au pair has similar interests as the host family.

The Medeiros’ need au pairs who can drive and who like dogs, since they have a dog.

  Stay in contact with the au pair after the selection is made.

“After the interview and selection process, all the way up until the au pair arrives, continue to get to know them,” Medeiros said, adding that by doing so, the transition will be much easier when they finally meet in person.

 Don’t ignore red flags

“If there is a sense that it’s not working, raise the issue sooner than later verses dragging it out, because the person is going to live with you for a whole year,” Medeiros said.

 Utilize the local community counselor

To help mediate any issues that come up, the host families and au pairs work with a local community counselor, or LCC.

“They are a touch point for both me and the au pair to be able to raise issues, ask uncomfortable questions, or help mediate an issue,” Medeiros said. “The LCC can help everyone work through that.”

 Understand there is an adjustment period

“Once you welcome the au pair into the home, it’s usually at least a month where you’re getting to know each other,” Medeiros said. “Be flexible and open minded to this.”

Bonding

“I love having someone else around — someone to play with us and do fun stuff with us,” Malin said.

She added that Elise plays board games, and does arts and crafts and puzzles with her and her sister.

“It’s really fun having someone else here,” Sofia said. “We do fun stuff.”

Sofia added that Elise is a great help with homework and school-related activities.

“It’s sad when we have to leave the old au pairs, but getting a new one gives us a different experience each year — meeting people from different places around Sweden,” Malin said.

“My girls form such great relationships with our au pairs and they continue them long after they have worked for us,” Medeiros said. “They will keep in touch with us on social media. The girls and our au pairs form a really nice bond.”

sfox@darientimes.com