10 Things you should know when becoming an Au Pair
Dear (future) Au Pair, my name is Salo and I just finished my year as an Au Pair in London. Originally I’m from the south of Germany and I’m also a blogger. My (German) Blog Lichtfarbenspiel is all about Lifestyle & Travel, my Photography and of course being an Au Pair.
When it was time for me to board that plane to London, I was excited, full of expectations and a little scared because I actually had no idea of what there was about to come! In that year as an au pair I realised, there were quite a few things I wish I knew before. So here they are, all the things I wish someone told me before becoming an Au Pair.
1) Trust your guts!
When it’s time for you to choose your future host family, always listen to your guts. If you have the choice between your dream location (but not your dream family) and a family that’s just perfect for you (but doesn’t live in Manhattan, where you desperately wanted to live) always rely on your gut instinct and go with the family you feel most comfortable with. It is probably the most important factor and the point of the matter that you get along with your host family. You’re going to be living with them for a year!
2) You are not a slave!
Yes, sadly they still exist. However, nowadays they are called “Au Pairs” (luckily not all of them though). Some families seem to either not know what exactly an Au Pair is meant to be doing or they simply don’t care. Just remember, as an Au Pair you are not a housekeeper! There might be some light housework you have to do – as long as it is somehow connected to the children you are taking care of. You should not have to clean the entire house or do the washing for the parents and the like..!
There are rules everyone has to respect, therefore it is advisable to form a contract that both parties (you and your host family) agree with. This contract should clearly state all the duties and rights of the Au Pair, e.g. the amount of working hours/ free time. You certainly won’t need a lawyer to do that, there are lots of contract templates to be found on the internet or just create a new one.
3) Settling in takes some time!
From one day to another you will be living with complete strangers. Sure, you might have Skyped with them before or maybe even seen them in person, but still they will be strangers. And so are you! You are a stranger jumping right into the middle of the family’s most private life. Both, you and the family, will need some time to get to know each other. You will need some time to get familiar with their routines and of course all the cultural differences and the new surroundings in general.
All this will take its time – this is not going to happen in the first couple of days! It will take a few weeks for sure, maybe even a couple of months. And even once you feel yourself as a, more or less, complete member of the family and perfectly at home, there will be times in which you will feel like a visitor, a stranger in their home. But luckily these feelings are only temporarily. It’ll all need some time, so don’t just quit after two weeks or when things get a little hard.
4) Eventually you will get homesick!
Speaking about hard times, homesickness is probably the most common one. It doesn’t matter how perfect your surroundings may be or how independent and strong you think you are, sooner or later it will get to you too! Especially in the cold and darker moths we all are more prone to becoming homesick. This is totally natural and happens to all of us at some point. Just don’t forget about that!
Homesickness is definitely no weakness and clearly no reason to finish your stay early! It again is only a temporary feeling. Give it (and yourself) some time and this too will pass. And don’t forget to talk about how you feel. Talking about it and opening up, to your friends for example, is one of the best cures to almost everything.
5) It’s all about friends!
Next to “getting along with your family” and just as important is having friends! Friends you can talk to, spend your free time and explore your new home (country) with. Having friends nearby when abroad is the nuts and bolts of being an au pair. Of course, you can talk to your friends at home, miles and miles away from you across the ocean and through the tiny screen of your phone. But it’s just not the same as if someone is actually, physically standing next to you. Ready to give you a big cuddly hug if needed. So first thing for you to do: make some friends! Best if they are Au Pairs too – they know exactly how you feel and understand best the situation you’re in.
Finding Au Pair friends is also rather easy. There are many groups on Facebook for Au Pairs all around the world to get in touch with each other. And, in places like London, there are also many events for Au Pairs being organised to meet other people. Such as weekly picnics, parties and pub crawls – only to name a few!
6) Asking for permission… literally all the time!
Suddenly you will feel like a child again that has to ask for his/her parent’s permission. Although you might not even be a teenager anymore you will have to ask if friends can stay over, if you can borrow a bike or maybe even a car (if you are lucky enough) and the list goes on and on. In some cases you might not necessarily have to ask for permission, but you’ll probably feel like you have to anyway. So you’ll still end up asking. Brace yourselves strange times are coming! Every now and then you will feel like something weird in between child and adult. But trust me, it will pass… just as everything else.
7) “Holidays” doesn’t always mean holidays!
Everyone is excited, the school holidays are just around the corner, but not for you! Most parents are working during school holidays. So for you, it is just going to be the same old routine as every other day as well. In fact, it might even mean more work for you. The children won’t be in school half a day and if they aren’t doing any holiday clubs or the like, you will have to take care of them all day long. But don’t worry, everyone gets their turn! As an Au Pair you are entitled to at least two weeks paid holidays (when staying for a year). And, depending on how much money a week you get, you will be paid for any extra babysitting. But be aware this might differ in other countries, so better check that in advance!
8) Endless responsibilities!
Being an Au Pair bares quite a lot of responsibilities. Most of the time you will be alone with the children and then you will be taking the sole responsibility for them. You will have to be the adult and act as their role model. As well as making sure they behave the way they should (it’s easier said than done). What people might not say that often when talking about being an Au Pair is, that in a way it actually is a job!
There are duties that are being expected of you to fulfil. In exchange for that you will be treated as part of the family and receive weekly pocket money. Since you are taking care of minors, you should always make sure that you are able to comply with your tasks. The parents should be able to trust and rely on you. If you are only looking for good times and party all night, then becoming an Au Pair might not be what you are looking for! Also, if you don’t like kids and the whole package they come with, what are you still doing here? This clearly isn’t the right thing for you then. As an Au Pair you will spend a LOT of time with children. Anyway, that’s what this whole thing is about, isn’t it?!
9) Growing up!
During your time as an Au Pair you will learn countless new things and grow as a person. You will grow up! Especially if you just finished school and are now spending your gap year as an Au Pair somewhere far away from home. In that case this might be the first time you left, or going to leave, home for such a long period of time. Now there are no parents around to take care of you and help you with every, not so pleasant, task. Instead you will be the one people will look up to in search for help. As an Au Pair you will take over some of the parental duties. You suddenly aren’t a child anymore!
10) This is going to be the time of your Life!
Au Pair life might be tough sometimes, but it is one of the greatest experiences in so many ways! You will meet a lot of new people, probably from all around the world. With this you also get the chance to experience different cultures from right within. Besides all the working (and what I said above), this year will be all about learning new things and simply enjoying life!
So go and find your host family – you won’t regret it!
With Love, Salo♥