Are you interested in travelling the world and experiencing another culture with local people? Do you want an authentic experience, not just to see the tourist destinations? Becoming an au pair is an incredible opportunity to combine safe affordable travel with one of the most fun jobs you can have: working with children.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I have a genuine love for kids?
Do I have a lot of babysitting or childcare experience over a range of ages?
Do I want to become a part of a host family?
Can I handle being away from friends and family for at least 6 months?
Am I ready to travel on my own?
Am I willing to help with light housework?
Can I make new friends easily?
Am I patient?
Am I energetic?
Am I creative?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, congratulations; looks like you might be suited to becoming an Au Pair!
What is an Au Pair?
An au pair is an overseas domestic helper who lives with a host family. As part of the family, an au pair literally means “on par” or “equal to” in French, indicating that they help parents to cover the responsibility of running a household, especially with caring for children and some light housework. Au pairs are not nannies or paid housekeepers; rather, they are considered a member of the family during their stay, and enjoy the benefits of creating a relationship with their host family while learning about a new culture in a foreign country.
What is the role of an au pair?
As an au pair, you will also be responsible for the basic needs of the children and the running of the household – cooking, laundry, tidying up toys and kids areas, bathing, and much more. Apart from interacting and playing with kids, helping with baths, meal times, homework, picking up and taking to school etc., here is a list of common tasks an au pair may be responsible for:
preparing simple meals for children, ironing and washing clothes for children, making and changing children’s beds, assisting with shopping, vacuuming common and your own areas, keeping your own/children’s bathroom clean and tidy, putting washed clothes away, keeping toy areas neat and tidy, washing dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, keeping kitchen and common areas tidy after children, and assisting with shopping.
Why do an increasing number of families choose to have an Au Pair?
Less stressful environment for small children
Suits working parents’ schedule
Relatively low cost for the family
Helping hand in the house
Why be an Au Pair?
You will have a second family!
Being an au pair gives you a chance to form relationships with people you wouldn’t have otherwise met
Enjoy the benefits of travelling whilst being somewhere safe where you feel at home
Your host family will be able to show you the best places to see and things to do that only a local would know – you won’t feel like a tourist!
Lifelong bondswith your host children and family
Enjoy the benefits and comforts of living in a home
As an AuPair, you will have a safe and comfortable place to call home. You won’t need to buy all the things you would if you simply rented a room – things like furniture, bed linen, towels, cooking equipment, television, cleaning products. This can save you a lot of money!
No filthy youth hostels or expensive hotels – every au pair enjoys the privacy of a clean, private room in the home of your host family.
Plenty of time to socialize and have fun
Host families know you want to have funand will encourage you to do this. With a set schedule of work hours, you will be able to schedule plenty of time to meet people your own age. There are also many Facebook groups in each country where you will be able to find and meet other au pairs living near you.
Start an international social network: Make friends with other au pairs from all over the world
Improve your language skills: the best way to learn a languageis to be immersed in it. Being an Au Pair and speaking with your host family and friends is a great way to learn the local language quickly.
Family holidays are fun
Travel with your host family and see the sites – often families will pay your way on holidays. In exchange for help with the kids, you will have a chance to see new, exciting places.
Free Amenities, like food and internet access
For the most part, you will eat meals with your host family and eat for free. This can save you a lot of money, as food can be very expensive!
Most families will have internet access– but be mindful of your usage and don’t download music/ videos etc without host families consent. Please bear in mind that in many places, households are on a package for data usage so unlimited downloads and internet usage is not a guarantee. However, your host family should provide you with internet access for Skype and email to use when you’re not working. If this service is available, bring a laptop or iPad with you on your travels.
Earn your own pocket money
The AuPair allowance may seem low at first, but when you consider that you have no bills to pay and that your money is all your own, it can actually go a long way. By spending wisely, you should be able to see a lot on your AuPair pocket money.
Au pair experience looks great on your CV and helps with future jobs – especially with a Sitter Train certificate in hand! Employers will look at you as someone who is independent, responsible and willing to engage in new experiences.
Discover yourself- living for a year abroad may allow you to find your true passions, helping you decide what you want to do when you return to your home country.
So why doesn’t everyone want to be an Au Pair?
Au Pairing is not for everyone!
Au Pairing can be hard work! There may be long hours involved and some of the work is far from glamorous – think changing nappies and cleaning up kid messes. If you are visualizing just sitting by the pool soaking up the sun whilst the kids splash around, think again!
Au Pairing involves domestic work as well as childcare
As any parent will tell you, taking care of kids involves much more than just playing games and hanging out with the kids. Children need lots of attention both physically and emotionally, and this takes a lot of energy. You will need to be the ‘big sister’ in a host family, which means being responsible and able to manage the kid’s behaviour – both the positive and the negative!
But you are not the maid or the kid’s slave!
What you shouldn’t be responsible for is all the housework! What you are is an extra pair of hands to help the household run smoothly. Obviously, your main responsibility will be to look after the children, but you will also be responsible for keeping children’s areas and your own clean, and you will likely be asked to help with dishes, laundry, and bathing, for example. Encourage the children to be part of this responsibility by taking dishes to the kitchen, helping tidy toys, etc. but ultimately it will be your responsibility to make sure it’s done. At times you may be asked to do work around the house outside of the children’s needs which contribute to the upkeep of the rest of the house, particularly if kids are at school or daycare and you are working the average of around 30 hours a week. If you do find that your host parents are asking you to do tasks which are not part of the running of the general household or are taking you outside of the hours you have agreed upon, you should sit down to talk to your host family or seek advice from your agency.
Taking on the job of an au pair is one of the most responsible jobs you will ever have. Parents are leaving their most precious assets to you and so it is a job you should take very seriously. It is essential you think very carefully about whether you are suited to being an au pair. When an au pair situation doesn’t work out, it can cause a huge disruption to the children’s lives and the family, who will have been counting on your help for many months.
It can be tough to be living and working in the same place
When you have a bad day at work in a regular job, you can go home and try to forget about it. But when you’re Au Pairing your workplace is your home, so that can be tough. You sacrifice some of your independence and comfort when living in someone else’s home. While you are definitely entitled to your own privacy and quiet time, most host families expect you to be a part of the family. Of course, shutting your door serves the purpose of gaining some privacy and blocking out noise, but it can also be perceived as a wall between you and the family. That means you shouldn’t lock yourself in your room ALL the time or stop communicating with the family when you’re not “on the clock” working. A simple “I am going off to call my friend now, good night” or ” I’ve had a great day but I’m tired so I’m having an early night” sends the message that you are open and communicative but would like some well deserved time out.
Guests to visit
Unlike living by yourself or with friends, you can’ t turn up the music to full volume, raid the fridge, have all your friends over, or have a girl/boyfriend to sleep over as you would if it was your own apartment. Host families expect you to live within the family rules. This means definitely no intimacy in the bedroom! If you would like to invite another au pair or friend over, make sure you ask your host parents first and explain to them exactly how long they will be staying for and if they are ok with this. If you would like another au pair or friend to stay over on the odd occasion, again, ask your host family in advance.
Less control over your diet
Do you live off of coffee and doughnuts? Are you vegan? Do you have bags of chips and chocolate under your bed for a midnight snack? For the most part, families with children are health conscious. They don’t want someone providing a bad example to their children with their eating habits.
You’ll have to accept that you’ll have less control over your diet as an au pair. Families usually cook things that the kids will like to eat, so you may end up eating a lot of kid-friendly food at meal times earlier than you’re used to.
If you have special dietary restrictions, be sure to let your host family know before you arrive. In general, your host family will expect you to eat with them and also help to prepare and clean up after. This is not part of your working hours, just part of living with a family.
If you want to buy and cook your own food, be sure to discuss this with your family. Be respectful of how much groceries cost in your local area, and do your best to set a good example by not wasting food or eating unhealthy food. Likewise, remember the food is there for you when you are living and working with a host family and not for you to load up for a weekend getaway with your friends. If you are a “junk food junkie” discuss with the host family where you should store your food and make good choices about when is it appropriate to eat it. Chances are most families won’t want the kids to see you eating lots of unhealthy snacks, lollies or fast food.
The rules for the way your bedroom looks at home are possibly not the same as living with a host family. Whilst this is your private space when you live there, your bedroom should always be neat and clean. That means no food in bedrooms unless it is a glass of water! Apart from the germs and smell food can attract, Australia is well known to attract ants and cockroaches who love au pairs bedrooms full of hearty meals!
When arriving in a new country, especially when the spoken language is different than your own, it is easy to experience culture shock. Different customs make fitting into a new culture difficult at first. Even if you have had experience working with children as a babysitter, in a child care setting, camp or your own siblings, this will be completely different! Luckily, your host family will be excited to welcome you, support you and help you with your adjustment period.
If you don’t understand some of the local vocabulary or customs – ask! Most people will be happy to chat with you, ask you about where you are from, and answer any questions you have.
Every au pair goes through an adjustment period, where they ask themselves if this experience was a mistake. Missing home – family, friends, familiar environment – is a natural feeling when travelling abroad. Try to reach out to make other au pair friends, explore your new environment, and get out there! Once you have your feet on the ground, you will feel much better.
Skype and phone calls also make keeping in touch with loved ones at home very easy. Our advice is to make one or 2 nights a week to try to connect with family and friends back home. Friday and Saturday are great nights because you can stay up late without needing to get up for work the next day! Experience tells us that stopping communication with loved ones at home can make you feel isolated and runs a greater risk of feeling homesick.
Families will have expectations of you
Families want someone on their side, another adult in the house, not a moody and unreliable teenager. Parents will want to deal with someone respectful of their home and belongings, who has the maturity to handle the challenges of raising children.
Families will expect that you make your bed and keep your room tidy. You will need to wash your own bed linen and towels regularly. You will need to play by the rules of the house in order to get the benefit of living in a household.
Many au pairs are required to take kids to and from school – you must be on time always, as late arrivals and pickups at school are unacceptable. You should be familiar with your family’s school hours, regulations and holidays schedules. You should be aware of whether your family is in a parochial school (religious) or a private (non-religious) or public school, and what expectations for learning each school has. Many au pairs also are expected to help children with their homework on a regular basis.
Living with a family can be noisy and you will lose some of your privacy.
Kids are usually early to bed and early to rise. Having a long sleep might be something of the past, especially if you need to get yourself ready before helping the children in the morning.
Most good host families make your ‘on’ and ‘off’ time very clear so that you are able to relax. If you and the host parents agree, your room can be off-limits to the kids. However, be considerate as a member of the family – there may be times when the parents need you to jump in even if it is your time off. Finding the right balance between privacy and being part of the family is one of the greatest challenges of being an au pair.
Some families will give you a curfew or a time to be home by at night! ‘WHAT?’ you ask? ‘These are not my parents!’ Well, no they are not but you are living with them and you need to play by the rules of their house. Even if a family doesn’t impose a curfew time you on you, make sure you respect the important job you are doing and be home at a reasonable hour on the nights before you work. You must never be late to work, nor should you be too tired to complete the job satisfactorily if they expect you to be up in the morning looking after their kids. You should also be mindful on the nights you are out late and not to wake the parents when you arrive home. Be sensitive to the fact that host parents will have a sense of responsibility for your whereabouts when you are living with them. Be respectful of this and let them know who you are going with (provide an extra contact number in case they are worried), the approximate time you are expecting to be home, and send a text message to let them know if you are delayed or out later than expected.
The kids will test you
All kids like to push the limits. If you invest time and show the kids that you care about them they usually behave well. But you have to remember that they are children and they will at times drive you crazy! You will need patience and consistency to deal with challenging behaviour.
You will need to follow the lead of your host family as far as discipline goes – your family may approach the issue of behaviour differently than that of your own family. There are significant cultural differences that affect the behaviour of children in different countries, so keep an open mind and don’t expect your host family’s parents and children to behave in the same way as your own native country.
Set a good example as a “big brother” or “big sister”. Offer rewards and privileges to the kids for good behaviour, and prepare yourself for some frustrating moments. If you are thinking you will always be dealing with the smiling little angels in the family profile pictures you’ll be in for a shock!
Host families won’t be tour guides
Families need Au Pairs that make their lives easier, not harder.
Whilst they really want you to have a good time, it may sometimes seem to you that your host family is not interested in you. In most cases, this is not true – they are simply too busy with the demands of their family life. You’ll need to remember that most parents work and don’t have time to be a tour guide. However, most host families will go out of their way to show you the local attractions and include you on family outings.
You may feel like an employee rather than part of the family some of the time
Whilst all families talk about you being ‘part of the family’ you will need to work hard and show love to the kids to earn this. It doesn’t happen the minute you walk in the door – it takes time to create real relationships with your host family members.
Remember, families are paying you. You are not an exchange student, so they will expect you to earn your keep. Some Au Pairs are disappointed that it feels like a ‘work relationship’ with contracts and task sheets – but hosting an Au Pair is not cheap, and families need to know it is a worthwhile investment. Families pay a substantial amount of the family wage to their au pair, so they will have expectations that you will need to meet. If you don’t feel the expectations are fair, have a chat with the family or your agency.
As an Au Pair, you will need a toolkit of child care strategies and creative, fun activities
Being an Au Pair doesn’t mean doing laundry all day – most importantly you are a teacher and role model for the kids! This means modelling positive behaviours and having lots of fun, educational activities for the kids to do.
Come prepared with reading, art, sports and other fun activities that you can do with kids. Sharing parts of your own culture is a real benefit too – is there a great song or story or tradition from your country that you can teach the kids?
Just being able to be creative and fun when caring for kids is essential – parents will want you to restrict TV and computer time, and instead get outside to play or do an educational activity indoors on rainy days. Helping with kids homework is another task you may be asked to do. Does this sound fun to you? If you answered yes, let’s continue!
What if I’m struggling?
The au pair experience is a big adjustment but one that can be very rewarding! Friends and other au pairs are great to talk to about their experiences and can provide you with some support. If you are looking for a mature experienced voice, consider talking to your host parents or contact the agency who placed you – they will be able to help and support you if you have trouble adjusting.
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