In my last two posts, I detailed why I chose to become an au pair, and some of the demands of the job. In this final bit, I’ll lay out my advice for anyone considering work as an au pair/live-in nanny.
The offerings for au pair arrangements vary greatly and I’d definitely recommend meeting/corresponding with more than one family before you settle on moving in with one. For example, has this family had au pairs before and offered them as references? Sometimes you may be the first, and the employee and employer will be navigating an entirely new dynamic with lots of tweaks along the way. Other families love to boast that they’ve had dozens of au pairs from all over the world and offer to connect you with a few. This is always great so that you can hear about their experiences and get a better idea of what to expect. If not though, don’t worry; just as it is likely your first time, it may be theirs as well. Just remember to do your due diligence and research so that everyone involved moves in with both eyes open.
A recommendation I would make for first-time childcare workers, especially au pairs, is that you chose a family with one child. Parents will often expect you to provide sole care for their children on a weekly basis, and still learning a job while navigating a new country and new home may be overwhelming when looking after multiple children. My first au pair arrangement involved 2 children, and it was manageable due to their ages and being able to keep them entertained with similar activities, but it definitely took some on-the-job learning when it came to being outnumbered by children while working.
Some factors to consider include:
- Although au pairing is meant to be an immersive, cultural experience, it is also a job and comes with compensation. The typical setup will include a private room in the home, all meals included, and a decided amount of ‘pocket money.’ Some arrangements may include a line on the family phone plan, use of a car, and other amenities, but it all depends on the family and the industry standard in your host country.
- Remember to explore your options, not just on the basis of the family or the compensation, but on these and all other factors. I have seen families advertising with a personal studio apartment next door to theirs, exclusive use of a personal car, and $600/week in pocket money. These same listings were an hour away from my university and the city centre, expected 40+ hours each week, and involved sole care of 3+ children most days of the week. There were also listings that offered a room, food, and little to no pocket money, still working nearly full-time. These scenarios go to say, you get what you work for, but also, don’t let anyone cheat you. If your main objective is to explore your host country, don’t sign on for a job involving a ridiculous amount of hours; if your main objective is to make money for future travel, you definitely want a setup that pays you beyond providing the bare necessities. Don’t get starstruck by a big paycheck that comes with responsibilities you may not be happy with, but also don’t settle for less than what you need. You’d be surprised at the number of people who employ au pairs, so be patient and look for the position that works for you!
- Expected Duties
- These should all be focused on the child, with other potential light house duties like dishes and some laundry as well, but you are not meant to be a full-time maid, gardener, butler, or dog-walker. You should be expected to help the family run the household and raise their children. If a family asks you to do things you’re not comfortable with, or that fall outside of the realm of your agreement (e.g. help their family friend with home renovations or pick up the neighbours children from another school to babysit), you always have the freedom to say no or to ask for additional compensation.
- Parenting Styles- Discipline & Rewards
- Many first-time childcare workers worry that they will end up working with ‘bad kids.’ To avoid this, it is always acceptable to ask parents about their parenting philosophies and discipling methods before signing on. I have heard of parenting methods I never would have dreamed of while looking at roles, and some I knew I would not be comfortable with. Try to choose a family with discipline and rewards already in place that you can implement (e.g. sitting on the step for one minute for bad behavior, getting a sticker/dessert for good behaviour). This will help you avoid the parents who condone any outlandish behaviour you are uncomfortable with and parents who expect you to discipline and teach their child right from wrong, but don’t tell you how/don’t back you up.
To anyone thinking of becoming an au pair, I encourage you to put in the research, go in with both eyes open, and to make the most of what can be such an enjoyable and rewarding experience. My final piece of advice though: have a contingency plan. Au pair arrangements can be amazing, but there are horror stories in every industry, and live-in childcare is not an exception. Be sure to have a back-up option for housing, or money put aside for a temporary accommodation stay or flight ticket home. This will give you peace of mind that you are never ‘trapped’ in an unhappy home/work situation and that you always have your freedom of choice. Signing on through an au pair agency is another great option so that you have help in your host country if anything goes awry.
I wish you all the best of luck with your endeavours in working as au pairs, and I hope my experiences described here may encourage some that have never considered the role to give it some thought! 🙂