First – our story
Long distance nappy changing
I was in the last 3 years of Royal Air Force service and I needed to complete it if I was to see my pension! Hubby had been stationed in the USA for the 3 years prior, and we had been lucky (or crazy?) to have 2 babies during my sabbatical. On return from California (not that we wanted to come back!), he was to be stationed near London. On the other hand, I would be working in Preston (to run the Armed Forces Careers Office ) a mere 200 miles away – not quite within nappy changing range! I needed help and leapt online for some Au Pair advice.
The search begins
Of course, there is a mountain of information available, but as recruitment and interviewing was my current expertise, I was confident we didn’t need the expense of an agency. Many friends had had all sorts of mixed experiences, but I was cautiously optimistic we would find a suitable candidate. Having ruled out an agency, Au Pair World was the obvious choice – here you can load your details as a family to be searched, or search for help yourself. I guess it’s a bit like a dating agency, but hubby did feel uncomfortable looking at the photo’s of candidates (seriously, some of the photo’s were inappropriate if you are selecting someone to take care of your children) and left it to me to narrow the search. Living in the NW of England is not quite as sexy as a major city to a visiting young person; most 19 year olds don’t care too much for beautiful scenery and walking! But eventually, applications to us came in, despite our home not having the kind of facilities most au pairs seem to expect – you know, like a private wing, swimming pool, hot and cold running butlers and exotic foreign holidays. Anyway, those poor souls who were not selected for such rock star homes were left with ordinary families like ours and after disregarding some very scary candidates, our rollercoaster began.
Not what it said on the tin….
The photo and description of our first au pair was that of a quiet, petite, non-smoking blond with good cooking and language skills. The 5′ 10″ peroxide blond, pitched up with piercings, tattoos, smoking and a desire to socialise a little too intimately with as many local men or women (she informed us to check what kind of shoes were outside her door if she had bought someone home) as she could. Her cooking skills did not seem to progress beyond fish fingers and chips and I got numerous calls from school saying the kids were late (we lived a 7 min walk away) or had turned up in slippers or crocs. After just 10 days, a friend informed me that she saw our youngest run across the road with no supervision, and we sent her packing. (Her language skills were good though!!).
Our second young lady seemed like a dream, despite discovering her feeding my daughter an apple that she was slicing and dipping into sugar (we chatted about nutrition and she saw my point). She was a good cook, an imaginative craftsperson and became a real member of the family. We threw her a Thanksgiving dinner (she was from the USA) and I really felt lucky to have her around. During these first 3 months, my husband had been deployed, so it was just us girls in the house, but when he returned and during subsequent weekend visits, she would stay in her room, was rude when he (or as it turned out, any man) spoke to her (even my Dad, who is so gentle and kind) and it became apparent that there were definitely issues around men. I felt sorry for her and we did everything we could to make life good for her, but Sam felt increasingly alienated from his own home when he was back. One weekend, nearly 6 months in, she went to France for a visit and after 3 days of no contact (we were trying to phone to see if she arrived safely) we checked her room to discover it had been stripped! She had had all her belongings shipped over from America and clearly had had them all shipped off again in secret, her phone and keys were on the bed and we never heard from her again. Ever.
I took this very personally and it took me a long time to accept it was her issues and not us. We would have happily written a great referral if she wanted to move on (we did actually discover by accident that she ended up working for another family in Switzerland) and would have totally understood her desire to see more of Europe than our quiet town in England. Our girls missed her and couldn’t understand where she had gone without saying goodbye, but worst of all, it was Monday morning and I should have been heading in to work!
The search resumes
So, I got back to Au Pair World and searched again for au pair advice and a suitable candidate. I also checked some local resources and finally came across a lovely local girl. We immediately knew she was the one and whilst it did cost more, it was great to have our spare room back! Of course, there were pro’s and cons, but for us, this worked really well.
I know this does not compare at all to some tales from other parents. Au Pair World is a fabulous platform and in today’s social media society, I think it would be far easier to get a more rounded view of an applicant, but this process is tricky from both angles. I’ve heard horror stories from mistreated Au Pairs as well as families who have had terrible times. I’ve also heard many stories where things have been amazing on both sides. I think so much hinges on expectations, setting boundaries and being honest. My little rollercoaster is nothing like some of the journeys I’ve heard from others and it’s another reason I was keen to look for work opportunities where I could be my own boss.
Au Pair Advice
1. So, my first bit of au pair advice is to think about why you need one.
- Is it because you LOVE your job?
- Is it because you need to get away from the kids YOU decided to have and take responsibility for?
- Is it because you are tied to a job; perhaps one that does not motivate or inspire you, but pays OK?
- Will you just be working to pay the au pair and have little left over?
2. Secondly, do your homework! An obvious point, but do whatever you need to to find out about the person (I’ve heard some great reports back from families with male au pairs) you select to look after your children.
3. Make expectations realistic and fair from the start, discuss them and agree together. Many au pairs end up feeling like glorified cleaners, but many families end up with au pairs who think they are on holiday.
4. Set boundaries and agree on a code of conduct from the start. Their ideas of parenting may be different from your own!
5. All these points are dependant upon great communication. Don’t second guess and don’t assume. Write stuff down and both sign off on it.
6. My advice in all areas of life – Be Kind. It’s scary coming in to a family. Be prepared to deal with homesickness, language barriers, emotional problems and any other situation young people face. Find other au pairs in the area they can meet with, get them involved in your community.
When I left the RAF, I knew that I wanted to be there for my girls and not have to leave them with young girls who had their own agendas. I thought that being self-employed would give me the freedom to work my own hours and whilst it does to some extent, it’s taken 6 years of discovery to fully realise that I am still swapping time for money. It’s still tied to other people agendas and it is more time consuming than I ever thought it would be. I totally love training others and through my other business GO Health and Fitness, I now coach online, which is great for me and my clients. The economy is changing and if you want the opportunity to be there for your children and future proof you from inevitable redundancies, then discovering a way to leverage the internet IS a great way forward!
Do you really need an Au Pair?
Spend some time considering the first point –
- Why do you need one?
- Why are you searching for au pair advice?
- Is there another way?
How about –
- You raise your family and work from home instead?
- You take your kids to play dates, to the pool, to tumble tots?
This is the life I choose now, I wish I had known earlier that working online is so much more varied and interesting than I thought, that there are courses, guidance and coaching for individuals from all walks of life at all levels of knowledge (including ZERO knowledge!) and that it’s not too late. At Laptop Mums, my mission is to make sure mums know that they DO have a choice, even if they have NO IDEA WHERE TO START. That there are alternatives to going back to working for a boss. If you have no idea where to start or what to do, I can’t recommend having a look at this video series HERE enough!
Any questions, as always – give me a shout 🙂
Cheers for now,