Three questions you must ask the previous au pair

Children playingphoto courtesy of dreamstime

When I worked as an au pair in Germany, I was the first au pair my host family had, so I broke ground for future au pairs. While it was nice not having any one in whose footsteps I had to follow, it would have been helpful to have been able to learn from someone who was already close to the family.

Lucky au pairs get the chance to speak with former au pairs, either before they decide on working with a certain host family or after. If you are one of those who gets to speak with the au pair before you, it makes sense to learn from her experience. She has spent a lot of time with your host family and knows a lot about them – the good and the bad!

There are three questions you absolutely need to ask the former au pair:

#1 How does your host family deal with problems?

This is important. When you are living in close quarters with anyone, especially a new family in a new country, issues are, at some point, going to arise. This is normal and nothing to stress about, but it is helpful to know in advance how you can expect your host family to react when things gets a bit messy.

#2 How much work do you really have to do?

Depending on the country you work in and your individual contract with your host family, you will have a specific number of hours that you will be required to work. But in the au pair world, it often works out that au pairs end up working less or more than what the agreed upon hours are. I experienced both extremes. Knowing what to expect in terms of work hours (and duties) can help you go into your job with eyes wide open.

#3 What are the children like?

Having a good understanding of what the children you will be caring for are like can make your job a whole lot easier. This is especially true for families with older children who already have strong likes and dislikes. It is helpful to know general things about the kids, such as what they do and don’t eat, which activities they enjoy, potential problems, etc. Some of this you may already have been told by your host parents, but your au pair may actually be a bit more straightforward about the kids then the parents.

Now it’s your turn. What questions have you asked the former au pair and/or host family? Or what questions will you ask them, for those who haven’t reached that step yet?

Au pair warning – please be careful during the holiday season!

(photo by dreamstime)

Blame it on the fact that I am a now mother of three children, but when horrible things happen to people, an alarm goes off internally that simply forces me to warn others. This was the case when I read about a German au pair who lost her life in a car accident in New York state this week. The young woman apparently lost control of the vehicle she was driving on icy roads, crashing into an oncoming car. How my heart breaks for the parents of this woman!

Now no one wants to focus on the bad, especially during the holidays, but it is important, especially with harsh winter weather conditions in many places around the world, to remember to be careful. Au pairs (as well as other international travelers) need to be especially careful, as they are living in surroundings that may be unfamiliar, even if they have been in their new home for some time.

As we approach Christmas and the New Year, please remember to be especially cautious. Be safe when driving and traveling. Enjoy yourself during this holiday season, but don’t take any unnecessary risks. Make sure you do everything to ensure that you stay safe!

Au Pair eBook Holiday Sale through January 2!

(photo by dreamstime)

Going abroad to work as an au pair next year, or do you know someone else who is? Now is the perfect time to take advantage of our sale and be ready for the au pair life!

In honor of the upcoming Christmas and New Year celebrations, my au pair eBook, The Girl’s Guide to Being an Au Pair, is being sold at a discount. From now until January 2, you can purchase the eBook for $9.95 (it is regularly priced at $17.95).

The book is a ten chapter handbook on living and working as an au pair. It is basically the book I wish I had read (had there been one!) before I went left the United States to work as an au pair in Germany. It outlines the things you need to think about before leaving and covers topics such as what to pack, dealing with culture shock, and how to live on an au pair budget.

This would be a great gift for anyone planning on moving abroad to work as an au pair in 2011 and they wouldn’t want to leave home with having read it! To get the book head to our “shop” or click here.

Au Pairs in Ireland treated like slaves?

(photo by dreamstime)

According to a recent article in the Herald, au pairs in or heading to need to be careful. The article reports that some au pairs are being forced to work 15 hour days, barred from leaving the host family’s home, and even have their mobile phones confiscated. This information came from a migrants’ rights representative, who claims that some au pairs living in Ireland are being treated like second-class citizens at best, while others are being used and treated as full-on slaves. She reports that many au pairs are under complete control of their employers and are not free to do anything without approval from them.

These are serious accusations, and while I am not in Ireland do not know how much of this is true (although it appears legitimate, if social workers focused on migrants’ rights are involved), I do know that it is very important for au pairs to do their homework and make sure that they will be working for a caring, welcoming family who will treat them as one of the family and not a servant. While it is not always possible to know exactly what you are getting into, the best way to ensure not becoming a slave (or even a second-class citizen – not as dramatic, but also not fun!) is to go through an au pair agency.

With human trafficking so prevalent in today’s world, it is important to take precautions and be as safe as possible. It is also important to remember that those already employed as au pairs have the same employee rights as others. Because you are working in a family’s home does not mean that you are not a real employee. On the contrary, au pairs enjoy legal employment status. This means that au pairs are only required to perform the tasks stated in their contracts within the specified number of work hours, no more. If the situation is not what has been stipulated, it is important to turn to the agency or to government officials for help.

Remember, au pairs are employees and part of the family – or at least they should be! Any sort of behavior control or abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

When hard times hit a host family

desert

When I worked as an au pair, I was lucky enough to be with a family who did not experience any tragedies while I was with them. Sure, they had a new baby while I was there, and it did get stressful and very busy at times. However, they did not suffer through a job loss, a death in the family, or any other horrible life events during that time, so I consider myself pretty lucky.

But for an au pair whose host family does experience something difficult while they are living with them – what to do? Does the situation change? If so, how will it change? Should the au pair act as if everything is normal, even if it isn’t really? So many questions!

If something incredibly difficult hits your host family, expect some upset, but remember that nothing is your fault and that you need to continue to do your job well. More than likely, the event will not directly impact your job, unless of course, there is steep decline in income due to job loss. In this case, your host family may not be able to continue to hire you. If this happens, your au pair agency will find you a replacement family within a reasonable amount of time, so you will not be stranded. If you did not go through an agency, you may wind up in trouble and having to look for something on your own.

If the situation does not impact your job but is just something difficult, such as a loss of a loved one, then give the family time. You may be living with a host family who is great at masking their problems, or even one who does not get all that bent out of shape when things go crazy. But is something tragic has happened, most families will be impacted at some level.

So give the family time to hurt and time to heal. And expect that things at home may be a bit off kilter for a little while. That’s ok. Everyone reacts differently to tough situations, and when you are part of the family (which you more than likely will be), you are going to feel the repercussions. Just remember to be patient and be available. During this time the host family may need a bit more help, and as long as it is within reason, you can feel free to support them with maybe a little extra help around the house, or by simply letting them know that you are available if they need you.

I am curious to know what other au pairs have experienced. Was life peaceful with your host family? Did the family experience anything during your time with them that was particularly difficult? How did you deal with it?

[note: this post was inspired by the recent loss of a close family member of mine – my uncle, Ryan, who will be dearly missed by all of those who knew and loved him!]