- Becoming an Au Pair: Who, What, When, Why, How?
- 10 Things to Consider When Looking for the Perfect Au Pair Family
Deciding to become an au pair is a big decision and requires a lot of planning. While there are a lot of elements to consider, I believe that the most important thing is picking the correct family because, regardless of your location, their home is where you will be spending most of your time and it is important to feel welcome, comfortable and safe.
Whether you are a city person or someone who prefers the countryside, location is a huge factor when picking a family — not only the country itself, but which part of it. What are you looking to get out of your experience? Do you want to travel to nearby places and meet new people? Or would you prefer to be in a smaller town where you could potentially get more language practice? Originally, I was only open to considering a family in Madrid, Spain. Since I’m from London, I thought I’d only enjoy being in another big and busy city with loads of different people to meet. However, little did I realise, the people who actually live in Madrid leave during the summer because it becomes so hot. So, with my Spanish agency, my choice was dramatically reduced. Therefore, I decided to be more open in terms of location and ended up in a small town in the south of Spain, El Puerto de Santa María. It actually worked out great because nobody speaks English there, so I’ve had plenty of excuses to practise my Spanish. While I still prefer cities and would prefer somewhere with better transport links, it is nice to be near a beach when it is incredibly hot.
The general gist is that you are there to be a member of the family, acting as an older sibling to the children, helping the parents care for them, practising your language skills and doing some light house work. There are different degrees to which families need help in different areas, so establish how much help they require in advance, before accepting the position. Check if you’d be expected to cook, how much you’d be expected to clean and whether you’d need to help them academically with their language skills, or purely speak to them in English.
Often, when you become an au pair using an agency, a timetable is drawn up that shows when you will be working and when you will have free time. If not using an agency, it is a good idea to not only ask when it is likely you will be needed, but suggest that you draw up both a timetable and a contract so that there is no confusion once you’re there. I can’t stress this one enough — I’ve found that I’ve been sticking to my timetable but the family don’t seem to pay as much attention to it as I do. A common au pair complaint is working more time than scheduled, so as long as you’re clear about this before you decide and arrive, you should be fine.
4. How many children/parents
How many children you are able to look after is another key decision to make. If it’s just one, maybe you have to entertain them more. Or if there are two, how big is the age gap between them? Three — is that too many for you? Will you get help from the parents? Any more than three, well, that would be difficult. I look after three children aged 6, 5 and 3. At first, I thought it wouldn’t be too hard because I’ve babysat for families with 3 children before. However, those children were angelic, and the children I am looking after now, although lovely, are a lot more to handle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay with a family with three children. Just be aware of what you are comfortable dealing with, before you decide. This point is a bit obvious, but sometimes with one parent you may be expected to do more work than if you were living with two parents, but this may not always be the case.
Age is definitely important to consider. Are you comfortable looking after an almost newborn baby? I certainly wouldn’t be, but that’s because I’ve never done it before. It is easier to narrow families down if you decide a minimum age limit.
I think it’s really important to share interests with your host family. I read about a family that loves to play golf and although they sounded lovely, I have no interest in golf, so living with them probably wouldn’t have worked for me. Compare your introductory letter to theirs, prepare some questions for a video call and after you’ve asked these questions it will be easier to tell if you match each other. For example, they may love surfing, but you may prefer lounging around by the pool.
7. Personal Space
For some people it is important to consider how much personal space you will have. Living with a different family can be strange, especially in another country with different customs. For that reason, some people prefer to have more personal space than others. Will you have your own bedroom and bathroom? It is very rare not to have your own bedroom, but it’s worth asking. Also, will your bedroom be on a separate floor to the children? Trust me, if not, you could find the children wandering in at all hours.
Some au pairs get given a travel card, a pre-paid SIM card and their language classes paid for, but not all of us are that lucky. It is useful to establish with a family how much money you will be paid per week and whether any other costs will be covered. Of course, your food and your accommodation should be free, but other than that, it is something worth thinking about in advance.
9. Language barriers
If you don’t speak any other languages apart from English, it would make your life easier to only search for families who can also speak some. Otherwise, picture yourself trying to care for young children that you can’t understand! If you’re prepared for the challenge by all means go ahead, but it’s something to keep in mind.
10. Special assistance
This is one of the most important points and something which demands careful consideration: do the children of the family need any special assistance? This could be anything from illnesses such as asthma or mild allergies to severe behavioural and/or learning difficulties. It is a good question to ask, because often a family will prefer you to have experience in that area, and from your perspective, you need to know how much you can cope with and how capable you are to handle a child’s specific needs. Would you be comfortable if you had to regularly organise and administer medication? Could you handle the responsibility of caring for a child with a severe nut allergy? Think hard about this final point and make sure any special requirements are made clear before you accept the job.
The last thing to remember is that no family is perfect. You will always have to make compromises and sometimes things that you thought would bother you, aren’t problems at all. If you get a sense that you will fit into a certain family and are comfortable with what they ask of you, that is what’s most important.
Featured image © Mona