Au Pair means great kid care

Live-in child care by au pairs from Germany help keep a Port Washington household with three young children running smoothly

Au pair Franzi Schulze (center back) from Germany takes care of the Leute children, including (from left) Briella, 4, Bryson, 2, and Brenton, 6. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The Leute family in Port Washington found a unique resource for child care and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Josh and Lacey Leute have three children under 7 years old and have had an au pair from Germany living with them the past three years.

“I would never change it. We met three amazing girls,” Lacey said. “I feel like they’re family.”

Au pair, a French term meaning “at par” or “equal to,” translates to having a live-in child caretaker in a foreign country. Au pairs live with a family for one year and may stay for a second if they choose.

For Josh, who got the idea from a friend who had an au pair, it comes with a few advantages.

“It’s nice to have somebody you can trust the kids with. They’re focused on your children, too. It’s not like taking them to day care,” he said. “During the week, they can do kid stuff and pick up so I can spend quality time with the kids.”

Beyond that, his children are learning some German, mostly through bedtime songs. The Leutes have two sons, Brenton, 6, and Bryson, 2, and a daughter, Briella, 4.

“It’s nice because you get the cultural experience,” he said.

For Lacey, an au pair is like having her children looked after by a big sister or another parent.

Quick, unplanned changes in schedules make having child care in the same house a big plus.

“On days there’s no school it’s especially good,” she said.

Keeping up with the Leutes’ unaltered schedules is already a busy task. Josh works as a dentist and Lacey styles hair. She works late on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, meaning so does the family’s au pair.

Au pairs may work up to 10 hours per day and 45 hours per week. They get at least a day and a half off during the week, one full weekend per month and two weeks vacation per year.

A typical schedule starts at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Even during activities, an au pair comes in handy. Lacey said she can take Brenton to soccer and his younger siblings don’t have to sit and watch for two hours.

The Leutes travel often, and their au pair comes along.

“This is our life. We want them to enjoy it,” Lacey said.

Their au pair also allows Josh and Lacey to spend time together.

“When we went to Hawaii, we got to go out to an adult dinner,” Lacey said.

Their current au pair is Franzi Schulze, 19, from Berlin. Last year’s au pair, Alina Brodhun, 23, from Hanover, came back last week to visit.

Both said they feel like they’re part of the family and working a job at the same time.

The job isn’t always easy, Schulze said, but “it’s nice work because we like the kids.”

Brodhun said the nature of the job helps, such as watching the children in a pool.

“It’s work but you’re swimming,” she said.

Schulze wants to be a private school teacher — her mother runs a day-care facility — and Brodhun wants to work with young children.

Neither had been to America before their au pair stints. Language was one of their biggest challenges.

They were taught British English, which is not written or spoken the same as  American English.

“The accent is so different,”  Schulze said.

The nature of the American culture’s personalities was another adjustment. Schulze said she wasn’t used to strangers exchanging small talk.

 All the Leutes’ au pairs can drive, which Lacey required so they could transport the children.

The au pairs had to adjust to much bigger cars and a different style, including “people not using their blinker,” Schulze said.

But she loves the right turn on red privilege, something not allowed in Germany.

Brodhun said she isn’t used to speed limits, but she and Schulze enjoy seeing how quick the children develop.

“She learns so fast,” Schulze said of Briella, adding she picked up a German song in one week.

Since Schulze arrived last summer, Brenton learned to tie his shoe and write, and Briella can now write her name.

Brodhun spent time with Bryson when he was 1. Now, she said “he can talk and talk.”

The au pairs bring more than child care to the Leutes. Lacey raved about one surprise.

“I came home and she organized the pantry. Ahhhhh!” she said of Schulze.

She has cooked some German meals as well, such as schnitzel and Josh’s favorite, beef rouladen.

The au pairs miss some of their native foods, such as bread, or brotchen — Schulze said American bread is “sweet and soft.” Lacey finally found brotchen at a local store.

“It’s like a bagel without the hole,” Schulze said.

They enjoy some American food, especially Culver’s burgers.

They are not used to receiving free water at restaurants — although they said it doesn’t taste good — and Brodhun call free soda refills “amazing.”

Neither au pair had an issue adjusting to the Leutes’ 50-pound mutt. Schulze has two dogs, and Brodhun said she has always wanted one.

Au pairs are required to take some college classes during their stints, but they may not hold other jobs. Schulze took psychology and English as a Second Language at Milwaukee Area

Technical College in Mequon. She also takes guitar lessons and sings to the children. Brodhun took a travel class in Florida and a class at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside.

In selecting the au pairs, the Leutes got to filter their choices online by their qualifications — infant care requires special training — interests and who might be a good match. Interviews were done via video conference. Both parties had to say yes.

So far, she said, the family has made three correct choices. They want to visit their au pairs in Germany someday.

“We now have family over there,” she said.

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