Be careful, because you just might fall in love

love photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime stock photos)

When you take the chance and move abroad to work as an au pair, there is a pretty good chance that you will fall in love. And I don’t just mean with the adorably cute foreign guys and girls you will meet, although there will likely be plenty of them, with all the drama a foreign romance entails (more on that another day … ).

But a recent article about an au pair working in Rome reminded me how the loves you gain while living abroad can be many and life-long. The story was a short one about a New Zealand student wanting to travel abroad before beginning her university studies and moving to Rome to work as an au pair for one month.

She ended up falling in love with a new country and family. And although her experience is recent, I would be willing to bet that ten years out she will be just as fond of her experience as an au pair. Although no host family or host country is perfect, there is a good chance that your new home and family will become very dear to you. So consider yourselves warned!

Enjoying the spring with your (host) children

picture of children(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

Now that spring is officially here, it is time to start spending more time back in the great outdoors. If you are in a cold climate, like I am now (and was as an au pair), then you are probably REALLY excited to be able to see the sun and temperatures that are above freezing.

If the winter has been long and hard and you and the children you take care of have had enough of it, then now is the time to plan some sunny day outings. Depending on where you live you may not entirely out of the grasp of coldness, but spring’s official beginning this week should at least give you hope and inspiration.

So what to do now that warmer days are approaching? First, get ready to stash winter clothes – your own, and if your job is to keep up with the kids’ things, then start organizing there things as well. Again, if you live and work somewhere cooler it might not be best to pack up every coat right away, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to start getting things sorted and ready to be put away for the next season. You can also begin to break out the lighter jackets (I’m excited to be wearing my Gap jean jacket now without freezing!) for yourself and the little ones.

Make sure you spend some time celebrating the spring. Of course, do all the regular things like head to the park, pick flowers, play in sand box, and all of those fun things that kids love doing outside. But make it special. Picnics with children are loads of fun, and you don’t have to pack a gourmet meal. Make a few sandwiches and pack them together with some fruit and cookies (unless, of course, your host mom is one of those who don’t let their children eat sugar – I hope for your sake she isn’t! 😉 ), and drinks, grab a blanket, and head outside. But PLEASE remember – if you are going to be outside with the kids for a decent amount of time, don’t forget sun cream to prevent sun burns – this is one of those things I learned by mistake – spent an entire afternoon out with my little one and came home to host parents who were less than impressed by the fact that I had not brought any sunblock with us.

Many cultures have certain rituals and celebrations that come with this lovely time of the year. And of course, with Easter coming up, this is a great chance to introduce more of your own customs to your host family. Is there something you celebrated at home as a child during the spring or Easter holidays that your “new” family might enjoy?

Questions to ask your host family before starting your Au Pair job

(photo by dreamstime)

A future au pair recently posted a question regarding what questions she should ask her host family. Although I couldn’t respond (because you need a Yahoo account to do so, and I used to have one but can no longer access it – long story). This is an important question to ask though, as au pairs need to know what they are getting themselves into and what the family they might be working for will like.

To be honest, I don’t think I asked my host family much of anything beyond the very basics. I was primarily concerned about where they lived, what they did for fun, what their jobs where, and that was about it. I pretty much just wanted to be sure that I was going to have a good time working for them (which I did!). But seriously, they told me a lot about themselves, so there wasn’t much more to be asked than what they told me.

Actually, there were a few questions I didn’t know to ask. As mentioned, the basics were covered. I knew how many children they had (one – which was exactly right and about all I cared to deal with at the time!), what they did for a living (they were self-employed), what their hobbies were (they were both helicopter pilots and virtually lived to fly), and where they lived.

They even gave me a projected work schedule, which I appreciated and which is something you need to know. They also said some light housework and ironing, which in hindsight, was a little too generic. I should have asked specifically what sort of housework and how much ironing. The ironing ended up being a lot most weeks, and to this day, I still don’t iron (seriously, I ironed so many shirts – t-shirts included – that now my husband gets to iron anything too wrinkled in our home!).

So the life lesson here is to be sure to ask specifics. Know ahead of time what will be expected of you: when you will be expected to work, what your duties will involve, how long you will work, etc,.

And remember – no question is a bad question – be honest with them and expect honesty from them, and don’t be afraid to ask questions that are important to you. Living with a strange family that you will also be working for is a serious change, so cover all the bases.

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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!]

Au Pair Tips part 3 – choosing the right host family

photo by dreamstime

Once you have decided where to go (and to use an au pair agency, then you should be ready to start the search for a family. There can be a tendency for two things here:

  1. To be totally overwhelmed and not know where to start
  2. To simply take the first host family who contacts you because you are so happy to have been chosen

Finding a good host family to work for is a big decision – after all, you are going to spend a lot of time with these people over the next year or so. However, it isn’t rocket science either, and a few tips will put you in control of the whole process.

First, be sure to remember that you do not have to accept the first offer you receive. Shop around a bit. See who is out there looking for au pairs and compare the families. There are married couples, couples who live together but are not legally married (this may be an issue for some, so pay attention to their marital status if it is!), single parents, etc,.

Second, and also very important, is to decide how many children you want to take care of. My personal limit was two, and I actually chose a family who only had one child, but they ended up having another during my stay (which was scary at first because it wasn’t what I had signed up for, but I did survive). Do take into consideration that the family, especially if they are young, may expand. Know your limit and what you can handle, and then choose accordingly.

Third, consider the family’s lifestyle. Do they travel all the time? Is one spouse gone away on business 90% of the time? Do they have hobbies and interests that might be something you are in to (or on the other side, are they excited about something that you can’t stand – a certain sport, for example?). It makes sense that you should choose a family who has similar interests as you, but don’t limit yourself by this. My host parents were HUGE helicopter enthusiasts, which is something that’s never really thrilled me, but frequent heli rides were actually fun and something I would have never experienced on my own.

This should help put you on the path to finding the right host family to work for. I’m curious to hear from others out there too. How did you find a host family? And for host parents, how did you find the right au pair?