When I was 18 I spent a year abroad and worked as an au pair for a family in Spain and a family in France. I really enjoyed myself. Things have now come full circle and we have employed au pairs to look after our twin boys since they started school five years ago.
My husband and I both work full time and have demanding jobs. In general having an au pair as part of the team works really well for us. In this article I’ll help you figure out whether an au pair could work for you and give you some practical advice on how to find a good one and keep her (or him?)!
There are various pros and cons and I’ve set out the main ones below.
There are lots of ways to find an au pair, including agencies – general and specialist, e.g. ones that specialise in Swedish or Australian au pairs, as well as websites and personal connections. I have tried various methods and now I just use the website www.aupairworld.com I make a nice advert to “sell” our family so that we sound like a nice family that potential au pairs will want to live with – we are a nice family, of course! I provide details of what the job entails, what we offer and also provide some information about our local area. I add photos of our family, the house and our au pair’s bedroom and bathroom. You need to provide this information to agencies too. Sometimes an au pair returning home can recommend a friend which works really well.
We live in London and need a driver so I am quite specific about my requirements. I am looking for:
I message people who fit the brief, and look at messages I receive from people who are interested. I ask them some questions by email e.g. why do they want to come to London, why do they want to work as an au pair, what are they doing at the moment, what childcare experience do they have, how would they keep children entertained, what would they cook, who does the cooking and cleaning in their house? etc. I’ll answer their questions too. Then if I get a good feeling, I’ll skype them and if that goes well I’ll skype again with my husband and the children. I think it’s important to be really honest in these conversations about expectations on both sides. Then I’ll check references and make a decision.
We all go and pick up the au pair from the airport if possible. They are generally quite nervous as they come through the arrivals hall and it’s kind and reassuring to do a big friendly family greeting! When I was an au pair arriving in Paris I remember getting propositioned by a weird man in a train station while I was waiting for the exiting au pair to find me. Not the best start but it got better after that!
We give our au pair a welcome letter with all the info they need when they arrive and offer to talk through it. The tone of this letter is intended to be friendly and reassuring. It covers: basic family info (address, phone numbers, etc.), information about the children (likes and dislikes, dealing with challenging behaviour, rewarding good behaviour), meals and snacks, work schedule, health and safety, pay and holidays, directions to important places (school!), some things we ask of our au pair, phone and tv, living and studying in London.
It’s worth putting lots of effort in at the beginning to get to know your au pair and to help her settle in. We also try to be as communicative as possible as I think that’s one of he keys to success. If you, or your au pair, bottle things up that’s when things can get difficult to manage. We also try to introduce our au pair to au pair friends as soon as possible so being in touch with local families with au pairs is handy. It usually takes about a month for an au pair to settle in and then you’re up and running!
I hope this has helped you think about whether an au pair would be a good childcare solution for your family. Check out my website for advice, support and inspiration for working mums.
*Catherine Davies is a lawyer and blogger.