The truth about au pairs

The dream of having a nanny or au pair looms large in the conscious and sub-conscious of most parents at some point or another.  Visions of happy children playing in the park with the German au pair, delicious cuisine cooked for dinner when you return from work, clothes folded and house tidy, some ‘you-time’ and regular date-nights with your partner and – oh, right, where were we?

Unlike a trained nanny, an au pair can only work a set number of hours per week, may or may not have the skill you expect, and don’t cost nearly as much. However the reality of in-home child care is about as random as children themselves are. In the excitement of having an extra set of hands to help you get from one end of the day to the other, some key facts can be overlooked.  These facts include, but are not limited to:

  • The fact that you have another person living in your house. Having another person in your house can be more invasive than you realise. Use of the bathroom, shared spaces and the laundry can all become an issue. Personal space means different things to different people, you may find the au pair is in your hair and not a magical presence who understands your needs.  You will also have to cook for them.
  • The fact that this person has probably (if you are lucky) just graduated from teeenager-hood. You may suddenly find you have another child on your hands – one that is somewhat useful but only under specific instruction, which translates into more work for you, not less.
  • The fact that they may not have lived away from home before. More common with au pairs than trained nannies – leaving it up to you to show them what is expected of them in terms of what you need as well as what they need to know about life without staff (aka Mum). You haven’t gained help, you’ve gained an oversized child with expectations vastly different to your own.
  • The fact that they may not be able to cook a meal without supervision. This is where ‘willing to cook’ does not always translate into ‘is able to cook’. Finding someone who comes from a large family with working parents is a good start as they will usually have had some domestic responsibility in the past.
  • The fact that they may not have the level of initiative you need from someone who is dealing with your children. Looking after children and general household duties requires quite a lot of intuition, motivation and general ‘get-up-and-go’.  Arriving home to hungry children, a messy house and a surly Swedish nanny who is focused on her social media is not what you signed up for.
  • The fact that every time you mention you have an au pair, some bloke will pipe up and ask “is she hot?” as though that is The Number One consideration every mother looks for when choosing child-care for her children.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the selection of an au pair is an inexact process. Not only will they need to fulfil the practical criteria you have but they also need to quickly build an affinity with your children.

The other problem with finding the right au pair is then keeping them. Different countries have different regulations regarding au pairs, student and working visa constraints and payment. Sites such as Au Pair World can help.  Often they are travelling, using in-home care as a kind of convenient  AirBnB type accommodation, which means they can decide to move on at any time, leaving you with heart-broken children and 7 gaps in your schedule that you have no chance of filling in under a week, let alone in the next 5 hours.

When you do find the right person, they can give you extra time, a great experience for your children and someone to visit when you are next in Kemstadt, Germany.

Still thinking of an au pair, try these agencies:

Smart Au Pairs

AIFS Au Pairs in Austraila

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