How to find/hire au au pair
Updated version following recent experiences 😉
I now realise that there is no such thing as being an “experts” in au pairs!!! After several amazing experiences and one or two “not so great” experiences we have just welcomed our eighth (yes eighth) au pair! Our latest au pair arrived a week ago…and so far so good :)! Unfortunately things didn’t work out with our seventh au pair, and we mutually decided to “call it a day” after a few weeks. Like any relationship, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Even with the best foreward planning it is very hard to see over a few skype calls if you will fit with the person or not and if you will share the same values.
The process and different experiences we have had with these au pairs has taught us many, many things. We have laughed, we have despaired, we have been in shock, cried (when they left J)… The experience has been eye opening and although not always perfect, it has been full of intense emotions! We are still in contact with most of our “ex” au pairs and many have been back to visit, one has even had her own little boy (we didn’t put her off children for life). Luckily this amazing person, stepped in to help us out this Autumn at short notice. She even came with her own little boy to help look after our girls whilst we were away for a long w/e. Even after three years, the girls still loved her and were overjoyed to see her and she is still worth her weight in gold (as her reference said before we ever employed her). When it works the relationship can be amazing and the au pairs genuinely become part of the family, however opening up your home and trusting someone with your children is not something to be taken lightly. This is the point I would like to really highlight, if you don’t trust the person completely with your children, nip it in the bud straight away. You can normally tell this within a few weeks.
Lots of my friends/contacts ask me lots of questions about it so I thought I’d write a little post on it.
First and foremost:
1: Having an au pair does not mean you have around the clock help 24 hours a day, seven days a week…Au pairs are here to “help” approx. 35 hours a week (that still leaves you with 133 hours a week – and yes I’m including nights as au pairs don’t do them!) They are supposed to study French and the whole concept is founded upon the notion that they are a foreign student here to experience the culture of a different country under your supervision, in exchange for helping you out with child care, light household tasks in return for food and board and “pocket money”. Despite this, quite frequently friends and family will think you have a fully qualified, permanent nannie and house keeper and will fail to understand if you so much as seem slightly tired… But… “she has an au pair!” …how can she be tired! Get used to this and don’t get annoyed. After the birth of my third daughter, a close family member was sympathising with my au pair at how tired she must be with the girls and recommended they get an early night. When I then excused myself to go to bed at 23h after clearing off, as my two month baby would wake up in a few hours for the next feed and the three year old was waking frequently in the night with nightmares…they asked why I was tired!! Given it was Christmas and despite the fact I hadn’t slept for 2 months with my new born and had raging post birth hormones surging through my body, I managed not to hit the said family member…who obviously has no children. I have resigned myself to understanding, the said person will never, never, never understand.
2: Invariably the au pair has their own reasons for coming that they most probably won’t reveal in your initial exchanges prior to coming. They will tell you…¨They love children, they want to experience a different culture, they want to learn French, they have always dreamed of working with children”…and although some of this may often be true, quite often they are escaping something – it may be an ex-boyfriend, boredom or something else, they may be lost in life, they may simply have nothing to do after finishing their studies, need to fill in a gap, be escaping an economic situation that isn’t great in their own country (Take Spain & its unemployment rates – Over 50 % unemployment in under 25’s), fancy “travelling Europe” and need a base (This is the one that most au pairs seem to slot into, which is not a problem if things are clear from the start and working arrangements/times are clearly defined – every family has different needs)… Whatever it may be, bear this in mind very few au pairs come with the sole intention of nurturing your children and making your life easier.
How to find an au pair:
You can try various networks: friends, family, facebook groups (most towns have a good one – Annecy does), book clubs…you name it. Or…most people tend to use aupairworld.com. It’s like plunging into the dating site world for au pairs & families! Both parties create a profile indicating their likes, dislikes, which sex they prefer, smoker/non-smoker, driving licence required, which nationality they would like, what languages they need to speak, what dates they need to be available from and for how long, etc. etc. You then have texts to describe yourself and your family, what you are looking for etc. You can also add photos to show them how angelically perfect your children are, how happy you all are, what a fabulous place you live in and how much fun you have !! Competition is fierce especially when you have several children and are at critical times of year…”back to school” etc. being the hardest time to find someone.
The au pairs too create similar profiles indicating how happy and wonderful they are too, how much children love them, how they have always wanted to work with children, how sporty and balanced they are, how worldly wide they are and if they have any sense they also add a few pictures with them and some happy looking children doing some activities. Some wannabe au pairs however seem to forget that they are selling themselves primarily to families (invariably it’s the mother who is managing this most of the time) and show pictures of themselves on a night out with a skimpy dress on, too much make up, doing a selfie style pout, men loitering in the background and a drink in their hand…Really…Yes it’s the 20th century we all know how to have a fun night out…but is this the first impression you want to make in this context. I tend to discard these ones from the word go. Strumpet radar & party girl extraordinaires may not be the perfect material.
Once you have found a few suitable candidates and have trawled through the numerous requests who have blatantly not read what you’re looking for – yes I need someone for longer than one month, yes you need to have a driving licence, sorry I’m looking for someone older than 18 etc. etc. the next step tends to be the skype call.
From experience…be prepared. Re-read their profile and make sure you ask direct, specific questions! I say this as we once recruited someone who said “YES” to pretty much all our questions and seemed really positive. “Do you know how to cook for children” – YES, “Have you already looked after young children?” YES , “Do you like the outdoors?” – YES (and she had picture’s to back this up)…The reality was she hardly spoke good enough English or French to understand us…YES was her statutory answer to everything, even if she didn’t understand us, her idea of a balanced meal was ham & crab sticks (I don’t think she knew what a vegetable was and we taught her how to make her own national dish), she seemed terrified of my children (they can be quite scary I admit but still…) and tried to pick up my then 2 year old by yanking her from her arms (not appreciated by the said two year old), put on her nappy the wrong way round and spent her time off in bed either skyping her boyfriend speaking so loudly we felt she was talking to us despite the fact we were two floors above her or watching episodes of god knows what, even when it was glorious sunshine outside…Needless to say this relationship was short lived.
We have had a few rather strange skype calls too…A Ukrainian girl who was dressed in a traditional Ukranian folk costume and was perched rather provocatively on her bed, squeling at everything we said…An American girl who rocked up to our skype interview in her bikini and had her younger brother and sister (also in swim wear) yelling “Take her, you can keep her” in the back ground…Really…Be prepared!
BE SPECIFIC – Focus on questions like:
What would you make for lunch for my children? What would you make for dinner for my children? What dishes can you cook? Do you like food? What kind of food do you like? Specific questions, need specefic answers and you can tell straight away if they are used to children or not.
Many potential au pairs have done babysitting or looked after children for a few hours sporadically but few have actually experienced the “delights” of young children in their full glory in a home environment in situations such as bed time, meal times and eating vegetables, not having chocolate for a bed time snack, getting ready for school and not letting them wear sandals in the snow, not letting them wear their Frozen dress to school, putting their seat belt on and keeping it on, sharing with their siblings etc etc. I find it’s good to ask them direct questions on how they would deal with one or two of these situations whilst being careful not to scare them off. Au pairs with younger brothers or sisters tend to be more hands on too.
Good answers involve distraction tactics, patience, persuasion…common sense!
Bad answers involve confrontation or total ignorance.
Essentials (for me)
FELXIBILITY is key and I would really emphasise the importance of flexibility and establishing this before the au pair arrives. If like me, one of the reasons of having an au pair is to make your life easier, so you can have a more serene professional situation and spend more quality time with your children, rather than always rushing round like a mad hatter be clear. For example, if a child is ill and you would expect the au pair to help out so you don’t have to take a day off work, be clear. If your au pair is unwilling to be flexible and is rigid within their role, this can become complicated. We had an extremely stressful situation in the Autumn where my baby daughter was hospitalised for two days after vomiting blood. Given her age, I had to stay in the hospital with her and unfortunately my husband was at the other side of the country away on business. If you have someone who is reluctant/resentful to do more than five hours a day to help out wth your other children in an extreme suituation like this it’s a non starter…far from making your life easier, this creates stress. On the other extreme when I went into labour too early with my third daughter and my husband was away on business (again!!!), our ex au pair took complete control of my other children despite it being her “day off” so I could go to the maternity with no worries. She even brought the children to the hospital for visits after my third daughter was born prematurely and we had to stay in hospital for two weeks. Being part of a family involves dealing with the unexpected. Life always throws the unexpected at you…
An important subject to bring up is education and discipline. Whatever your take upon it. I have always viewed our au pairs as adults within the household who have authority over the children. They need to be part of the “adult team” and support you in your education of your children. You can’t have an au pair who secretly gives in systematically once you’re not around, giving them treats all the time and inversely you can’t undermine your au pairs decisions in front of the children. I find it important to assess this and ensure that the person you are potentially leaving in care of your children has the maturity to do this. If they don’t you may find yourself discovering what it’s like to have an extra child in the household. We too have had this situation.
Detail what you expect your au pair to do with the children, how you expect them to interact with your children when they are looking after them. We find the best au pairs we have had ENGAGE actively with the children and do activities with them, obviously not all of the time. Children react better when you interact with them. If this is important for you then make it clear from the start.
Don’t forget to ask:
Do you have a boyfriend?
(Invariably they won’t mention them unless you do). Having a boyfriend can be good…it can avoid late nights out and au pairs MIA or random visitors to the house. A friend in the Uk once recounted her au pair having several “visitors” in the same night and a stock of condoms that could cater for half of London!! Needless to say this au pair was short lived. We have never had this, but friends have. Make the household rules clear on this too. It can also be negative them having a boyfriend …they can miss them and become love sick and pine for their partners or spend their lives on skype. Either way it is best to know.
Have you ever lived away from home? If so for how long?
Yet again this can cover potential home sickness, especially when an au pair comes from somewhere on the other side of the world.
Whatever it is you love doing, it makes sense that your future au pair enjoys this too. We love the outdoors, sport good food and wine. We have always got on best with au pairs who share this. Yes, they are here to look help look after your children and it’s good they enjoy craft activities, cooking cakes etc. but they are also part of your life and if you get on as adults and can share some passions this helps. Shared values are key.
My last piece of advice reamains the same – be clear from the start. I have now written a detailled guide (based on one a close friend did) to send to future au pairs before they arrive detailling pretty much everything. It may seem extreme but in this situation there is no such thing as too much information and if it can avoid future misunderstandings it’s well worth the time. Don’t pretend your children are angels (unless they are – mine aren’t!) and living with you is going to be a fairy tale, be honest. Make sure that the future au pair is at ease with the ages of all your children. If like me your children range from 1-7 years old…you need someone who is happy playing with a baby sometimes, as well as pretending to be a horse with your seven year old! I have always had the philosophy that it’s better to be realistic and honest from the start. Young children can be very hard work as much as they can be amazing. Like in any relationship, problems always appear when miscommunication or quite simply misunderstandings arises. At the outset of any problem “nip it in the bud” too…before any resentment gets involved. If things aren’t working it’s better to stop straight away…Children are the most precious things we have, if you don’t feel comfortable with whoever is looking after them it’s best to stop. For the rest, it seems basic but…Let them know how much holiday they are entitled too, but also when they will be able to take it. Let them know if you will expecting help with household duties and how you like doing things. Let them know if you plan on going away for w/e’s…At the end of the day they are here to “help” but they are also here to have fun and experience a year abroad. Let’s face it…it can’t be easy slotting into a family and their way of doing things and it is a huge responsibility. If your au pair is happy, your children will be happy and you will be too. Let’s see how we get on with our latest au pair…
If you have any advice to add or funny stories please share!!!
Or if anyone would like the guide to adapt to their own needs…don’t hesitate to ask me!