For many of us who decide to take on an au pair role, the decision is fuelled by the desire to experience a new country and culture, rather than a passion for the job itself.
Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these motives (for this particular role only), but I’ve come to realise that these intentions often mean that new au pairs show up to their host families with no expectations of the role and how they should be treated.
As a result many au pairs are easily taken advantage of and quickly come to resent their jobs in a short amount of time.
So, after one particular au pair experience in Spain, I thought I would share a few tips for au pairs that I wish I had known before I started.
Kids swear, they don’t like vegetables, they don’t like doing their homework, taking showers or going to bed when they’re supposed to. They can be manipulative and have no trouble lying about whatever they want – even when it’s completely ridiculous and pointless.
2. Choose a family who will actually help you out
This is something I didn’t appreciate before finding my own family last year, and so I had to figure out everything about Madrid on my own. It would have been nice to have help with transport timetables, Spanish courses, legal paperwork (which is all in Spanish) and just to get some general tips from my local hosts about Madrid.
I had au pair friends whose host families paid for their monthly transport passes, mobile phones, language schools and helped them out with legal documents – things which I think are totally reasonable, being that the standard au pair wage isn’t very much.
Make sure you negotiate as much as you can BEFORE you choose a family.
My family had a lovely house in a rather posh suburb out of Madrid, which they unfortunately treated like crap – seriously none of them ever tidied up anything. Luckily for them they had a housemaid who came 5 days a week, to put away all their dishes and crap that they’d left all over the place. On the weekend, when the maid didn’t come, stuff just accumulated in piles, and was left for her to deal with on Monday.
Seriously cleaning up after them, IS a full time job, and should be paid as such.
4. Location, location, location!
Ok so this sounds obvious now that I’m writing it down, but make sure you really think about the location of your family!
If they say they are 15 minutes from the centre, it probably means 30 minutes using public transport. If you want somewhere in a city, choose somewhere right in the centre! Although I was living in a schmancy suburb of Madrid it would take me about 45 minutes to get into the centre, and over an hour on the night bus home after a late night.
It was the bane of my life, and I would not recommend it.
I took one holiday with the family when I first began working for them. A long weekend at a gorgeous 5-star resort in Costa del Sol. The parents were entered in a golf tournament, so we never saw them, and I was on kid-watching duty.
Although I do appreciate that I got to stay in such a gorgeous place – if I had known what the work would have been like, I would not have gone…
I worked all weekend – on what should have been my days off. I had to eat at the kids table each night (french fries and fish sticks are NOT ok with me), I had to sleep in the same room as the kids (who fought non-stop), and not only deal with my kids, but also the other snooty kids they were hanging out with.
In short, it was NOT a holiday.
(The buffet breakfast was however, delicious.)
6. Find the Au Pair Facebook Group relative to your location
Being an Au pair seems to be a pretty popular gap year experience for many people, no matter where it is. Madrid, Barcelona, London, Munich, Paris, New York…etc. Search for the city where you plan to work on facebook with the words au pair, eg. ‘Au pair Las Vegas’.
Most of the time a group will come up, and you’ll be able to meet other au pairs in your area, and start having a social life.
Check out this Pinterest board for networking too.
For me, simply being an au pair was not fulfilling enough.
It drives you crazy and makes you terribly dull. Having conversations with others about the homework your 8 year old has, or what you cooked for dinner last night, are conversations that NO ONE wants to have with you.
So please, find something else to sink your teeth into. Join a language school, study part time, become a gym addict, join an art class or work on your own fulltime project. Just do something. Get better work stories.
I mean, it’s great for travelling and experiencing something new… but one season is enough.