Given that no two au pair placements are alike, you need to find the right one for you. It’s super important to make sure you’re on the same page as your host family– so choose carefully!
Here are some tips on how to choose the right au pair host family.
Do think carefully about what you’re hoping to get out of the experience.
Given that no two au pair placements are alike, you need to find the right one for you.
If you really want to learn the language, look for a placement where you can speak that language with the children and aren’t living in a separate apartment. If travelling is your priority, make sure that you won’t have to work weekends.
Do you need your privacy? Think carefully about whether you want to share a bathroom with the children, or have a bedroom right next door to theirs. If you don’t like cooking, you probably don’t want a role where you’ll be cooking dinner for the family.
Don’t be afraid of making your expectations clear.
‘I don’t want to work weekends, I want my own bathroom and I’m a vegetarian’: it all sounds rather demanding and selfish, doesn’t it? It can be particularly difficult as a young woman to lay out your needs like that, especially if your prior work experience is in jobs where you didn’t have any bargaining power. However, an au pair role is different to other jobs.
You don’t get to go home at the end of the day—you are signing up for a whole new life. It is essential that you are honest from the start with potential families, because it is much better to realize that you aren’t compatible now than once you’ve already moved into their house!
Besides, a host family who respects the fact that you know what you want and are firm (but polite!) about it is more likely to actually respect YOU as an equal member of their household.
Do ask for a rough schedule of the hours you’ll be expected to work, and what the family considers to be working.
As an au pair, you’ll be living at your workplace. Given that your job encompasses things people do in their own homes for free (cleaning, cooking, looking after children), the line between working and not-working can become extraordinarily blurred. You don’t want to end up feeling like you’re always on the job.
It is important for your host family to appreciate that you won’t be working the entire time you’re at home, and asking the above questions is a good way to gauge whether they realize that.
Do ask to speak to former au pairs.
If the family has had au pairs before, you should definitely ask to speak to them. They know what the family is really like, and can provide you valuable information on the positives and negatives of the role.
If the family refuses to let you speak to them without providing a good reason why, it should certainly be a red flag.
Do think about how much you want to be involved in family life.
This was touched on in the first point, but I cannot emphasize it enough. Some families expect an au pair to live a completely independent life outside of work hours, while others want them to become a fully integrated member of the family.
An au pair who feels shut out of the family will often become resentful and lonely.
On the other end of the spectrum, an au pair who feels pressured to go on a weekend outing with her host family will feel like she’s working, while the family will feel like they’ve given the au pair a nice day out. This is a recipe for disaster!
Ask your potential host family about their expectations of you during your off-duty time, and make sure the answers align with your expectations.
For example, are you invited to eat with the family? If so, do they expect you to be present for dinner every evening unless pre-arranged, or are they happy to keep the rest as leftovers?
Do consider the age of the kids (and the number of them!).
Think about the children you’ve looked after before. Do you enjoy the cuddles and giggles of toddlers, or would you prefer having real conversations and feeling like a role model? Can you handle tantrums or deal with a preteen who thinks you’re the most uncool person in the world? The number of children is also important to consider—looking after four children will almost certainly be harder work than looking after one.
Looking after the kids will be your principal responsibility, and it’s important not to underestimate how much of an impact they will have on your time as an au pair.
The Don’ts of Picking Your Host Family
Don’t say yes to the first family you speak to (without thinking REALLY hard).
My Personal Experience
So, you finally got in contact with a nice family and now they’ve offered you the role. It feels great to hear that someone wants to hire you! Saying yes to them and getting started on the next stage of your journey is enticing, I get it. I did it myself. I had an extremely good feeling about the family and glossed over a few small red flags during the interview process. Well, it didn’t work out so well. I should’ve asked more questions and not allowed my optimism and excitement to get in the way.
Speaking to more than one family helps you can get a better idea for what is out there and to become more comfortable asking questions. Of course, if the first family you talk to is absolutely perfect, you don’t have to say no to them just because they happened to be your first. Just make sure you are extra thorough when interviewing them, and that you have discussed as many topics as possible—even those you are afraid might make you look demanding.
Did you end up with a good family? Or not so much? Share below!
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Melanie Holt is a self-proclaimed nerdy Australian living in Belgium. She loves fries, train travel and exploring the heartland of the USA.