What it’s really like to be an au pair, by former au pairs
‘One day he jumped into the swimming pool and nearly drowned’
Whether you’re wanting to master a few Spanish phrases or spend summer somewhere warmer and prettier than your hometown, a season au pairing can seem like a budget option for making the most of long summer holidays.
AuPairWorld, a website that matches au pairs with families, talks of “unforgettable experiences” and entices prospective nannies with stories of former au pairs making lifelong friendships and even finding love during their stays.
On the other hand, there’s always the risk your family could include a Mother who thinks every young woman is dying to shag their middle aged husband, and a child who shoots strangers with a water pistol full of pee.
To see what version of au pair life best fits the reality, I spoke to some former au pairs about their truly “unforgettable experiences.”
Dave, 21, stayed with a family in Toulon, France
The family were really nice. It was actually with two fifteen year old twins: a boy and a girl, which was good for me because I didn’t have to do any babysitting.
I didn’t like it because of the lifestyle clash. They came from a small French village and were very set in their own ways. They were quite judgemental about other ways of life, for example to them it was such a crime to get drunk- especially for a girl. It was crazy what they were saying, like she wouldn’t hear the end of it for the rest of her life. And I was like holy shit this is the kids as well. They were sort of brainwashed into this sort of thinking. I was like to them, do you realise that most people like maybe slightly older than you drink to get pissed every weekend? And they were like oh no not in France, that doesn’t happen in France.
They lived like a ten minute walk from the sea. We went there twice a day for the first two weeks. It actually got pretty boring. They didn’t have much in their house: they didn’t even have a TV. They had the internet but they only had one laptop between everyone. I don’t know what the kids did during the winter. The guy had some comics and things. He had an entire collection of Astérix, but I’m not sure what they did which is why we spent so much time swimming.
For someone who just enjoys the days relaxing it would have been better. I found it quite repetitive. I got along really well with the kids, but it just wasn’t my sort of lifestyle at all.
Ffion, 21, stayed with a family in Mori, north Italy
I would never au pair again. I stayed in a place called Mori, in North Italy – about an hours train ride from Verona.
My first impressions were that it was a lovely house. The dad picked me up from the airport and I got on well with him. The family was made up of the Mum, Dad and the little girl I was looking after. I didn’t get on with the Mother at all. The little girl was absolutely awful.
It wasn’t what I was expecting because I’m used to the idea that if a child is naughty they should be told off. In Italy, I found that the children are incredibly spoiled and very badly behaved.
I think the mum thought I was trying to become the daughter’s Mum and didn’t think I was doing a good enough job. A lot of the time we were packed off to the grandparents’ house because I don’t think she trusted me or something. I was trying to get through the days without hot footing it across the globe.
I wanted to quit a few times, but I convinced myself to stay. My advice to anyone doing it in the future would be to be patient and to stick with it. Do not quit. Despite finding it difficult, my language improved leaps and bounds.
I know a lot of people who have done au pairing and I must say that my experience was a lot nicer than theirs. Despite not getting along with the Mother or the child, the rest of the family were lovely and made me feel welcome.
I liked what I learned, but that was about it.
Abi O’sullivan, 21, stayed with a family in the Venice region, Italy
I don’t really know what I was expecting: a culture shock, but hoping to embrace every minute. My mum and I came across the family online. They had posted an advertisement on a website- not an au pairing website.
It was supposed to be for five weeks. The family was made up of the Mum, her three year old little boy, the Mum’s boyfriend and the hotel staff. When I arrived at the hotel which they owned, they were so welcoming.
As soon as I was left alone with the little boy he absolutely hated me. I found this so so hard. We were at one of their friend’s fiftieth birthday party in a posh restaurant and he didn’t listen to a word I said. He was running around the restaurant being a total nightmare. He even ran across the road which cars were racing down. I was worried he’d get hurt. I went to the mum and voiced my concerns and she told me everything was okay and not to worry.
The days went by and every day was a nightmare. One day he jumped into the swimming pool and nearly drowned. I again went to the mum to say he was not listing to me and I was finding it difficult to keep him safe. Each day there was a saga of him biting me, spitting at me or kicking me. One day he threw his bike at me.
The final straw was after lunch one day. He went wandering off with some children staying in the hotel. I’d told him he wasn’t allowed as the mum made it clear he was not to leave the hotel unless she was there. The mum went crazy: shouting and screaming.
I told her I was sorry but couldn’t stay any longer. I was afraid the little boy was going to get hurt as he wasn’t listening to any of my instructions. He wouldn’t talk to me, except say “I don’t like you. Go back home.” After only one week there, I booked my flights back.
I would definitely consider au pairing again. I would just advise people considering it to make sure they use a reputable au pairing site, not any old advertising site like I did.
Ellie, 21, stayed with a family near Madrid, Spain
It wasn’t what I expected. I think I had too high expectations thinking that the kids would love me. In reality, the fact they have a random English girl coming into their house is something they hate. They will do anything in their power to manipulate you so they get their own way.
The family was made up of a Mum, Dad and three kids: one boy who was twelve years old and two girls, one who was ten and the other who was seven. I found the family on the AuPairWorld website.
They seemed so nice when I arrived. They gave me a tour of the house and the kids were chatty and seemed welcoming when they were around the parents. But ultimately the kids were vile most of the time. They spat on me, bit me, and said vile things to me. I just did my hours, then as soon as the mum came home I would go out with my friends from the town.
I would still do it again. I explored Madrid loads, and made amazing friends through au pair groups on Facebook. Plus my Spanish improved a bit. I just wouldn’t go in with such high expectations.
Becky, 23, stayed with a family in the Val d’Isère region, France
There were four girls and the youngest two were twins. That was really tough at times. They were really lovely children, but it was difficult when they would throw a tantrum and I’d have to deal with the situation there and then to make sure I was assertive.
Because their parents were professional ski instructors, they worked long hours. Normal au pair wage is about 300 euros. Between February and May they paid me 600 euros a month.My normal day would normally start at 8 o’clock in the morning. I would prepare breakfast, get them dressed. I would play with them a bit, read them some stories. We would go out and play in the snow a lot.
The parents were quite lax so there was a couple of days when they were really busy so they forgot to do any shopping and I had to feed the kids tinned food which was a bit gross. One day they forgot to pay their water bills so I had to take a cold shower in the Alps, at minus ten degrees.
Because of the location there wasn’t a lot I could do. I didn’t have access to a car. It was tough. I didn’t have a social life. I eventually found a couple of au pairs staying in a nearby town though, so I would catch the bus and spend the weekend with them.
Overall, I had a really good experience. I’m still in touch with the family. It’s difficult to compare my experience to others I think. I did get really lucky. I’ve heard some people who had horrible au pair stories, like were made to sleep in the same bed as the child.