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A granny au pair agency based in Germany is offering British families an experienced alternative to younger au pairs.
Edith Widmann 's children are 23 and 25. She has no grandchildren yet and only works over the summer months in a restaurant in rural Austria. She was looking around for something to do over the winter when a woman told her to check out a new Granny Au Pair Agency.
Edith fancied a change of scene so she registered and was soon snapped up as an au pair for a family in London.
She spent six months looking after their three children aged from two and half to 10. They were in nursery or school most of the day so she had a lot of time to explore London.
Edith really enjoyed the experience and did art and yoga classes. Unlike many younger au pairs, she had her own savings which helped her to enjoy an expensive city like London. She also feels she was able to be more independent than a younger person. Not only did she benefit from her time abroad, but the family also learnt about Austrian culture and benefited from her parenting experience.
Edith says: "I was a single mum and didn't have much time for my children because I was working. I wanted to see what it was like to be with children when you did have time for them and can be more patient, although I think it would not have been enough for me just to stay at home with my children as you get no life for yourself."
Given her own experiences as a mum she was able to support the children's mum who worked full time. "She was like a daughter to me and she looked after me and wanted me to feel good," she says.
Edith has a husband back in Austria as well as her job so was unable to commit to a longer period away, but she says she would do it again. In fact during her stay her husband, children and friends came to visit because London is fairly nearby and she went home for Christmas. Because of the friendship she built up with the family, they are also likely to visit her soon in Austria.
Edith's experience is similar to those of many who sign up to the German-based Granny Au Pair Agency, which was set up in 2010 by PR expert Michaela Hansen. It has since placed 350 older women [‘grannies’] with families in 40 countries.
Michaela [pictured] got the idea to set up the agency while sitting on her sofa watching a TV show about young au pairs abroad one Sunday afternoon three years ago. She says: “Some of the au pairs seemed to have a lot of problems with their duties. And I wondered: why should only young women get the chance to do this. That’s not fair. It was like an epiphany – like a flash!” She adds that it had also long been her dream to go on an extended trip abroad, but she got married, had children very young and became a single mother so didn’t get the chance. She did have a Spanish au pair at one point and says: “I liked her very much, but somehow it was like having a third child – she couldn’t cook or help the children with their homework. She loved Hamburg though – especially for going out and partying!”
Her children are now 31 and 30 and she has two grandchildren and two more on the way.
She had previous experience of starting up a business, having set up a PR agency with her husband. The agency works through a series of internet profiles. Both the au pairs and the families create detailed profiles on the website and upload photos and families contact the au pairs who most closely match their needs. Both confirm that the information they have provided is correct. The agency checks the information as much as it can, but strongly advises families to discuss the placement in detail by email, Skype or over the phone. Those who are being placed in Europe can meet the family beforehand and families can request police clearance certificates or similar forms directly from the au pair.
Michaela says older au pairs have more experience of life and tend to be more efficient. “They draw on a wealth of life experience and take the daily challenges in their stride. They know how to run a household and many have raised their own children,” says Michaela. “They are women who used to work or still work as teachers, flight attendants, child care workers, secretaries, nurses etc. They are between 45 and 75 years old, they are active and curious. They love doing useful and interesting things, they are eager to find out about other cultures and customs and they want to improve their language skills.”
Part of the family
Sigrid Wolter would agree. She wanted to come to the UK as one of her daughters lives here. After leaving the legal profession for health reasons, she has been looking after children in Germany, but she wanted a new challenge. She was placed with a family in Staffordshire and stayed for four months looking after two three-year-old twins. Their mother worked full time and Sigrid looked after them during the week when they were not in nursery.
“I was part of the family,” she says.
Gerda Sehr, another au pair who recently completed a 10-month placement in Nottingham looking after a one and a half year old, says looking after a toddler is the best way to learn a language. A retired social insurance worker from Austria, she says she would definitely repeat the experience. She states: “It was a great experience and greatly enriched my life!”