Au Pair meaning – the definition of Au Pair and the Au Pair arrangement

Those who are searching for the meaning of the term “Au Pair” may be interested to become an Au Pair themselves in order to experience living abroad, to learn about new cultures  and to improve their language skills. For people who like to spend time with children and can imagine to help with daily duties in someone else’s household, going abroad as an Au Pair could be the perfect experience.

Prospective Host Parents might also be looking for the meaning of an Au Pair when they are considering to hire an Au Pair for the first time. At this point, it will be important to also learn about all the duties and obligations which arise with hiring an Au Pair.

In an ideal world, both – Au Pairs as well as Host Families – understand the meaning of the Au Pair arrangement and set realistic expectations for each other. Hence, one of the most important objectives of is to help Au Pairs and Host Families with setting the right level of expectations.

Is there one official definition of the Au Pair meaning?

Depending on the country, the definition of an Au Pair may differ a bit. Originally, the term  “Au Pair” is French, meaning “at par” or “equal to” saying that an Au Pair should be treated like any other FAMILY MEMBER.

Most commonly an “Au Pair” is a young woman or man from another country between the age of 17 and 30, who comes to live with a family for a certain period of time typically ranging from a couple of weeks up to 12 months. An extension of stay beyond 12 months is possible.

While the Host Family provides free boarding and lodging for the Au Pair, the Au Pair is obliged to help with daily family duties, especially with the children. Help means HELP: An Au Pair is not a fully qualified nanny and hence should not take care of children under the age of two and not be asked to take care of children for entire weeks on a regular basis.

The Au Pair participates in the family life but should be able to enjoy some independence at the same time. As a minimum, the Au Pair must be given enough free time to attend a language school and to study the foreign language at home. In the UK, the regular Au Pair working hours are up to 30 hours per week. If an Au Pair works up to 35 hours per week the arrangement is called an Au Pair plus, which should be compensated with higher pocket money.

Pocket money is normally paid at the end of the week in addition to the free boarding and lodging, which is provided.

What is an Au Pair responsible for?

This is one of the most important questions which should be discussed quite detailed even before you agree to become the Au Pair. Although, there is a risk that what the Host Parents tell you in advance is still different from what they ask you to do when you are there, going through the Au Pair duties in advance is nevertheless important.

In general, there are two main responsibilities for Au Pairs: The children and helping with light household work. Some Host Families may also ask you to take over other responsibilities like pet care or cleaning. Those responsibilities are a bit out of scope of the Au Pair arrangement so if you don’t feel comfortable to do any of that extra work, you should tell the family as soon as you hear about it.

General duties for Au Pairs include

  • Helping getting the kids ready in the morning (waking them up, dressing them, preparing and feeding breakfast)
  • School and nursery runs
  • Visiting activities and play groups with younger children
  • Dropping off and picking up children from afternoon activities for older kids
  • Helping with homework
  • Taking the kids to playgrounds, parks, library, museums etc. or coming up with fun and creative ideas to do with the kids at home
  • Taking care of sick children when they can’t attend school or nursery
  • Organising and hosting play dates
  • Cleaning up the kitchen after the meals
  • Preparing and feeding lunch and dinner for the children (not for the parents)
  • Doing the children’s laundry
  • Keeping the play areas and kids bedrooms clean and tidy
  • Light housework (loading and emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the dinner table, high chairs and worktops as well as the kitchen floor, vacuuming. You could be asked to do more cleaning work, but that should be agreed on)
  • Cleaning the Au Pair’s room/ bathroom is mostly also the Au Pair’s responsibility

Do all Host Families know about the Au Pair meaning?

If you are thinking about becoming an Au Pair and did research on the internet, you will find good and bad experiences of other Au Pairs. If Au Pairs had a bad experience, there is one question which will arise: Did the Host Family really understand what an Au Pair is? Were their expectations too high? Were they rather looking for a nanny and/or a cleaner or pet sitter?

We have spoken to many Au Pairs with mediocre experiences. During our assessment we found certain commonalities for Host Families, who did not treat their Au Pairs very well:

  • The family tends to look for Au Pairs without an agency
  • Normally, they look for Au Pairs on Au Pair matching websites or Facebook
  • They don’t answer questions via email but prefer calls or skype
  • They may explain their family situation and the Au Pair’s duties on skype, but may not ask many questions about the Au Pair
  • They tend to hesitate to send written schedules or duties
  • They may offer the candidate the job and often want them to come as soon as possible already after one single skype call
  • Questions from the candidate are rather postponed until “when you are here”
  • Talking to the previous Au Pair is mostly not possible
  • The Host Families often don’t provide a contract

I think the possible Host Family doesn’t understand the Au Pair meaning the same way I do?

When you are in contact with a prospective Host Family that you like in general but is giving you the impression that they expect more help from their Au Pair than the common Au Pair arrangements entail, it can get a bit tricky. It’s understandable that you don’t want to discourage the family from hiring you if you like them and can imagine to become their Au Pair.

Nevertheless, you have the right to understand all the details of the Au Pair arrangement. If your questions seem inconvenient to the family, you should be suspicious. If this family for instance does not have or does not want to provide a daily/weekly routine in writing, rejects to sign a contract even if you say you would like to sign one or reacts surprised or evasive when asked about your free time, something seems not quite right.

In this situation, we recommend to be confident and to insist on getting proper answers to your questions. Friendly Host Families will always be available for another call.

After the first call it is beneficial to ask for another skype call together with your parents. Host Families with good intentions will never reject such a request. If the Family rejects to speak to your parents, it seems like they have not understood to treat Au Pairs like family members as otherwise it would be quite “natural” to also meet the Au Pairs’ parents briefly on a skype call.

Don’t worry – there are Host Families who appreciate the Au Pair arrangement

If you have the (slightest) feeling that the Host Family you are currently talking to, doesn’t understand the meaning of Au Pair the way you do, we recommend to thank them for the time and to move on and look for another family.

When the family is hesitant or secretive about duties, free time or doesn’t provide more information when you ask for it, chances are high that you will not experience the Au Pair life you are expecting.

It is always easier to look for another family as long as you are still at home than to go abroad despite your mixed feelings. If worse comes to worse, you end up being unhappy and having to sort out the situation in the host country. It’s much more difficult to leave a family when you are already living with them because you might feel attached to the children or obliged to stay because you agreed to the arrangement even if you haven’t signed a binding contract.

If you can’t find a good family on your own, you still have the chance to contact an Au Pair agency. Most of these Au Pair agencies are not very expensive for the Au Pair and going through an Agency will help you to reduce the risk of ending up with a family which does not understand the meaning of Au Pair or does not appreciate the arrangement.

If you are interested, you can also read the following articles about: application, preparation, settling in and au pair life.

Back to top button