Being an au pair can be a wonderful or disastrous experience depending on the factors involved. Both of my experiences as an au pair were very good, and as a nanny I have also done quite well. However, I have come across a wide variety of cases. For this reason, I have decided to create an article with the advice I would give to someone who wants to become an au pair.
8 tips for Au Pairing
1- Choose the place you want to go wisely
Every country is different, every culture is different and every language is different. There is no better or worse place, only places that suit you. For example, if you want to learn German, you won’t go to Malta to be an au pair.
If you want to learn English, you will probably think of the USA, UK, Ireland or Malta. And within these, each will be more suited to a different type of person. If you’re not afraid to spend a year living across the pond, maybe the USA is the place for you. If, on the other hand, you want to stay in Europe, you would already know that the USA is not in your plans.
From there it’s a case of looking at which option suits you best. Malta is a small country; it’s an island, it has a beach and I would probably choose it for a summer. But not more than 3 months because I already lived in Mallorca for a year and island life is not designed for me. But maybe you’d really like to discover what it’s like to live in a place like that.
In my case I lived in Ireland for 6 months and I am currently living in London. I like both countries. Each country has something that appeals to me. Even so, the balance leans indisputably towards the UK. And within the UK, London. Living in a village in the North of England is not the same as living in London – at least for me.
As I said, it depends a lot on what you are looking for. At the moment I need to live in a city full of contrasts, where every day I have something different to do. But my case doesn’t have to be the same as yours. In the end, when you end up living in a place (unless you’re crazy like me and need a confinement to rest) you adapt to a routine: you have your friends, you go out at weekends with them and you don’t need to be constantly visiting museums or new places in the city. In the end, you end up looking for your own comfort.
2- Don’t choose the first family you talk to
I’ve been in your situation. I know how desperate it can be to look for a family and how much you want to say yes to the first one who proposes. But be patient!
I almost made the mistake of moving to a seaside town in England with a family of 4 years and horrible pocket money because of my desperate need to have something that would allow me to go to London that summer. Luckily, I reacted in time and waited for the right family. And it came.
I lived for 3 wonderful months in London, in zone 6, and looked after twin 3 year old boys. I made lots of plans with the family (they took me to many places in England), made friends and really got to know London.
Families are like boys. There are a lot of fish in the sea. Be patient and something really worthwhile will come along. Don’t accept a family you don’t feel comfortable with, don’t accept a family that pays you less than £100 a week (in the UK) and don’t accept a family on a first video call.
The MOST important thing is that you get on with the family. You must be on the same page. If you want to make plans with the family, look for a family that treats their au pair like a daughter. If you want your free time to be all to yourself and unwind, discuss it with the family and find one that also wants that.
Really, there are hundreds of families. Families with more or less children. Families that ask for more or less chores or hours. Families who live in one area or another.
My first piece of advice is to make a list of requirements: they must live in Fulham, have a maximum of 3 children, the children must go to school and they must pay me at least £100 a week. This will make it easier for you to rule out families.
My second piece of advice is to make LOTS of video calls with the families and write to each other a lot. A “yes” in a first conversation is no good to me. Ask a lot. Ask everything. Ask if they will give you keys. Ask if you can use the wifi. Ask if you can sleep outside. Ask everything.
3- Be clear about your requirements
We have already mentioned that you should have a set of requirements when looking for a family, and these requirements should also include the tasks you have to do.
When we talk about au pairing, we understand this position as an extra hand that is at home and helps us with the children. In other words, you live with the children and it is quite normal to be asked to vacuum the common areas, do the occasional washing machine or do the dishwasher. As a general rule, most families have cleaners and will never ask you to clean anything thoroughly. However, this is an issue that you should discuss with them as it is often a source of conflict.
Regarding pocket money, it varies depending on the country, the hours and the number of children in your care. Personally, I would look for families who pay more than 100 euros or pounds a week. Although it is true that in countries like Italy it is usually less because the cost of living is also lower.
4- Be patient
Working with children is a very rewarding job, but it is also very tiring. There are weeks when I have worked 60 hours with the girls and on Friday when we are having dinner I have felt lucky that this is my job. But it’s not always like that. There are also days when I’m with them for 30 minutes and I feel like running away when they are having a tantrum.
It is super, super important to have patience and to like children – a must if you are going to be an au pair. You must understand that they are children and that they will have better days and worse days, just like us.
There are times when I have thrown my hands up in the air with some of my au pair friends because they didn’t talk about certain things with their families. It is true that sometimes the family should be the ones to ask questions or make sure that everything is in order. But as an au pair, you have the power – and the obligation – to communicate with them.
If you don’t know how to pull down the blinds in your room, ask. If you don’t like the food they make or they don’t have a product you use, ask for it. If they make you work longer hours, ask them if they will pay you overtime or give you days off later.
6 – Don’t be afraid not meet people
Believe me, one of the biggest fears we all have when moving to a new city is whether we will make friends or meet like-minded people. And then, when you live in the place, you realise that it’s a bit of an absurd fear. Unless you live in a town of 100 inhabitants and don’t have a car.
Nowadays, Facebook, Instagram and all the dating apps can help you meet people in your area. For example, Bumble has the option to search for friends, you don’t have to use it for dating. There are also hundreds of “Au pairs in ….” or “Spanish au pairs in …” groups on Facebook. Alternatively, you can write to the Auparizada account on Instagram and ask them to post in case there is someone in your area.
7 – Bilingual in two months?
My seventh tip is going to ease your mind a bit (I hope).
When we move abroad and come home, everyone asks us the same question: “phew, you’ll have perfect English by now, won’t you?” NO. GENTLEMEN, NO. I’ve only been living there for two months, how am I going to learn in two months everything I haven’t learned in 10 years of studying English?
Obviously your English is going to improve incredibly. You will stop being embarrassed to communicate in this language, you will start using expressions that only native speakers use and you will listen and understand much better than when you arrived. Also, if you go to an academy, your level of English will go through the roof.
But even so, I’m sorry to say that you won’t be bilingual in two months. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when you arrive. It’s only a matter of time before you start to get by and feel comfortable speaking a language other than your own 24 hours a day.
My last piece of advice is to enjoy the experience. You are young, make the most of it. There will be time to think about the future, and to save. Enjoy the summer, the 6 months or the year you are there because it will never happen again.
What advice would you add to this list?