Adventures of an Au Pair: step one out of one thousand

step one out of one thousand

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I present to you.... my passport.

Step one down! Here is where you imagine my squeals of excitement that escaped my lips earlier today.

This week I've been doing some major research. I happened upon a website that really opened my eyes about the dynamics of being an au pair. The website is meant for au pair host families (shortened to HF) but I would encourage potential au pairs and current au pairs to read it, as well.

I'd love to say that browsing that website left me inspired and even more enthusiastic about this gig. But it didn't. I'll preface by saying I think host families in the US and host families in Europe have different attitudes towards the arrangement (at least I hope so.) The systems are set up to reflect that- most European au pair programs put the working hours at around 25-30 per week. In America the limit is 45 and the pay is not too hot. In general I see American HFs looking at this as mainly "cheap childcare" with the added benefit that the au pair will always be around if you need her.

Let me just say that I would never be a foreign au pair for an American family. For me, cheap childcare isn't what it's all about, and neither is working my butt off all the time. Of course, I expect to put in long and many hours being a great "big sister" to the kids, and I don't expect to be making the big bucks. But my philosophy is this: if I wanted to be broke and over worked, I can certainly find that job in America.

But, to be more positive, the Au Pair Mom website opened my eyes to some aspects of this job that I hadn't ever thought about. I'm a fiercely independent girl, always have been, and now I know that some families don't let you be that independent. They set curfews and require check-ins, limit your travel time and all kinds of other restrictions. This free bird wants to FLY in Europe, not be locked in a cage. So now I know to ask potential host families about their rules and expectations in regards to that.

The general au pair philosophy, in all its glory, is that an au pair is supposed to be treated as "part of the family." Now I know that this definition can hugely vary from family to family. Do they expect to be taking on another child, and therefore treat me as their own? Or do they look at an au pair as a mature adult moving in with them and participating in "family" activities? I'm sure if you and I were to explain what it means to be "family" within our own relatives, it wouldn't be the same, so figuring this out is definitely something to discuss BEFORE booking an $800 plane ticket.

There really is SO much to think about, and so much to discuss with a family and it kind of makes my head spin.

....But at least I have my passport.



I'm so saddened and truly hearsick that you think host moms and dads are all looking for "cheap" child care. For us and many where I live don't feel like this at all. I have had my male au pair for two years he is truly part of our family. He is our third and I remain in contact with all our au pairs we exchange gifts via the many miles and facebook. Yes it's a job but we care about them as people and not slaves. Yes aupairmom is a great site also for host moms and dads to vent their problems and frustrations. I always been over backwards trying to make sure they take a vacation and let them decide, give them chances, trips, tickets, or just to take them out to the movies to hang out. Please don't generalize us like that as we won't of you or other au pairs from "wherever". I am not perfect and admitly have bad days and don't treat my au pairs right 100% by like any good friend or family we forgive and hug it out. Good luck to you!

L au pair

As an American who just finished an au pair experience, and as someone who has read a whole lot of Au Pair Mom, I think that you and the anonymous commenter both make valid points.
I think that Americans are more uptight than Europeans about having au pairs. period. This can be good and bad. The nice thing is that the host parents on Au pair Mom try really hard. They give their au pair tours of their town. They think of them on Christmas. They really do bend over backwards for them in many ways. The negative (and I do agree with you on this) is that they seem to be much, much more controlling when it comes to curfews, visitors, time off, car use, etc. I, also, don't think I'd have any interest in coming to the US to be an au pair-the pay is bad and hours are long-but I think being an au pair in America is marketed more as a study abroad trip to young European girls...another issue all together.

My host family was the opposite in both of these ways. I had no curfew, I could pretty much take the car whenever I wanted, I had ample time to travel, and they didn't mind at all when my boyfriend at the time came to visit from the US (we traveled for about a week and stayed at the house the remaining 3 or 4 days, but there was never any question about him being able to sleep in my room).
And I didn't take advantage of the freedom. I didn't use the car an excessive amount and I made sure that I traveled only when the grandparents were available to come help out for a few days.
But there is a trade off- my host family didn't give a crap about me. It's not that I wanted them to treat me like a daughter- I'm 23, graduated from college, have held a full time job for a year, and haven't lived with my parents in several years (until now because I'm broke). But they made no effort at all to make me feel like a real part of their family. They didn't seem to notice or care that I was incredibly homesick. They never asked about my family or my friends. And when I left around Christmas time-early, but on good terms-I got them all nice gifts (even though I was totally broke) and made a homemade card for the parents thanking them profusely for everything...and the parents got me a pair of mittens.
I haven't heard from them since I left, even though they know that I loved their kids and would have liked to stay in touch. I'm sure not all families there are like this, but just be prepared.

My point is, yeah, you probably will have much more freedom as an au pair in Europe than you would have if you worked as one here. But don't expect most of the European moms to be concerned enough about your stay there to take the time to write on a blog in the first place. There are pros and cons to both situations.

On another note, I'm glad there is finally a (current) blog about the process of becoming an au pair in Europe. It's definitely the first one I've found that has been informative at all, even though you haven't left for Europe yet!

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