Top tips for hiring an au pair
Janey Fraser, author of THE AU PAIR, page turning read for families and perfect for busy mums/summer reading and fans of WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING, has sent us great tips for hiring an au pair.
You can never generalise but in my experience (and that of my friends):
The French can be moody – although they’re great cooks.
The Italians are too beautiful if you have a loose male round the house. Ditto for Scandinavians.
The Germans will re-organise your kitchen even if you don’t want them to. They can be very good at it.
Eastern Europeans work so hard that they make you feel guilty.
The Swiss are great time keepers. It takes time for them to appreciate our English habit of being late.
(Not to be taken too seriously!)
Ask yourself if you’re the kind of person who can live with a stranger (honestly). An au pair should be treated like a member of the family which means sharing your sitting room, your kitchen and your bathroom. Hopefully not your husband.
Some au pairs think they are here just to get a man/go on holiday/improve their English. Looking after the children can come second. Somehow you will have to get her to achieve a balance!
Your au pair will do things that you don’t like. This isn’t necessarily her fault. She is trying to find her feet just as you are trying to get used to having someone new in the house. The trick is to write out a list of reasonable house rules and go over them with her, in a friendly fashion.
Write down a daily chart of jobs you would like her to do.
She probably won’t be fluent in English. This can be funny at times but also serious if she doesn’t understand instructions about the children. In my book, one of the au pairs takes a toddler to the garden nursery instead of the play nursery! You will be expected to provide details of local language schools.
Not all au pairs are honest on their application forms. ‘Experience with children’ might mean that they’ve once sat a nephew on their knee. Ideally, ask the agency if you can talk to your prospective au pair on Skype. Emails don’t tell the full story. Always check out references (if you use an agency, this should have been done already).
An au pair is not a nanny. She shouldn’t be left in charge of babies.
Some au pairs expect more than a small bedroom. Others are quite happy just to have their own space. It’s important, however, that her room is clean, tidy and private.
It can be very expensive to put your au pair on the car insurance. If you decide to go ahead, ask her to take you on some test runs so you can see what her driving is. After all, her cargo will be very precious.
At times you will feel as though you have acquired another child. Some girls become au pairs in order to escape home problems. On the other hand, you might become great friends. Be careful to keep boundaries otherwise it is difficult to ask someone what to do. Some of my friends are still in contact with their au pairs and go to their weddings or become au pairs to their children.
There are good and bad au pairs. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that get the bad press. Although you can find the perfect au pair on the net or through friends, it’s wise to go through a recognised agency. Then they can try to help you sort out any problems. BAPAA is an umbrella organisation in the UK with details of registered agencies. email@example.com
Theoretically, au pairs are young women. But it’s still possible to get an au pair-type job at a later age. Try:
*Advertising in specialist magazines like The Lady
*Contacting foreign au pair agencies on the net. Also talk to British au pair agencies to see if they know of any openings.
*Asking friends abroad to spread the word that you’re looking for a job
*Talking to au pairs in this country and ask if they know anyone who wants mature help abroad.
*Trawling the net under ‘Jobs wanted for mature au pairs’. (Hopefully your mature common sense will make sure you’re not applying for a harem by mistake!)
Be prepared to share your bathroom (but not your tweezers). You’ll have to make space in your kitchen and sitting room too. Au pairs are meant to live as members of the family.
Au pairs need friends too. You may well come home to a kitchen full of other foreign bodies, drinking your coffee. Someone will invariably be using your special mug.
Male au pairs can be great! They can play football with your sons, keep your husband on his toes and be the envy of your friends. But the best thing is that he won’t suffer from once-a-month blues or borrow your Tampax.
Their English pronunciation can be very amusing – and misleading. One of our French au pairs came down stairs one day and announced she had ‘changed the shits’. It took us some time to realise she meant she had ‘changed the sheets’. I put this true story in my novel!
Be prepared for the words ‘We don’t do that in my country’. One of our au pairs always said it when I asked her to vacuum every day.
Au pairs can get very homesick. You will need to be a shoulder at times and console her – even though you may not speak her language and she’s not very good at yours. A cup of coffee and kind-sounding words can be wonders in crossing that barrier.
Your au pair’s hygiene might not be what you expect. If it all gets too much, buy her an under-arm deodorant and say you just happened to have a spare. Might be worth checking your own hygiene habits too in case they don’t come up to scratch.
Having an au pair is a responsibility. Teach her certain safety rules such as not giving out her phone number (or yours) to strangers. Also explain the 999 procedure for calling the emergency services. I once lent an au pair my personal alarm when she went up to London one night. She dropped it under a train, causing a major security scare at Paddington Station.
Sadly, not everyone is honest – regardless of nationality. You should be able to leave out valuables but if they disappear, ask her if she’s ‘happened to see them’. At the same time, don’t jump to the wrong conclusion as one of my characters does in my novel.
It’s easy to criticise someone else. Be patient. Give him/her time to settle in. Even the United Nations can’t achieve miracles overnight.