If you read my depressing and whiny post “8 Drawbacks to Working As An Au Pair” and you’re still considering it, I like to throw at you some advice.
I’d like to urge people to do exactly what I have failed to do this year. Small details would have made my experience as an au pair a more comfortable one. So, essentially I am asking you to take my advice that I myself have trouble implementing.
Because no one experience, person, or family is uniform, please take this advice with a grain of salt. Recognize that it comes from my own personal struggles working with an Ibicenco family. Some of these pieces of advice may only be relevant in certain situations. Keep in mind, I did not go through any sort of agency. Rather, I was introduced to the family once I had already decided to come to Ibiza. This can make a difference in negotiation and expectations.
Maybe you think I’m a complainer or maybe this doesn’t make sense to you yet. Either way, I believe it’s best to put everything out on the table at the beginning. And remember: I warned you.
- Be completely honest from the beginning about why you are au pairing
If you are truly trying to enjoy your experience, you must be honest from the beginning, with yourself and with the family. It may be more difficult to find a match that will make both parties feel comfortable, but it is worth the extra effort.
For example, what is your motive for wanting to be an au pair? Is it to be able to learn a new language? To live a “crazy life abroad”? To travel frequently? To get free housing? To make a lot of money?
Think seriously about why you believe you want to do this. It will have a big influence on how you get along with the family. If the family is very wealthy and travels a lot, you will probably get to go with them. However, you might be going to Costa Rica with them for two weeks, but only stay inside a resort without seeing the country. Therefore, you won’t be “traveling” the way you might be used to.
On the other hand, if you make sure to point out that you are au pairing because while, yes, you love kids and want to help out the family, you are also hoping to see a lot of their country. If the family relies on you as the sole caretaker of their children, as opposed to a tutor for homework, it might be difficult for you to schedule vacations.
- Make a clearly defined contract
Especially if you find an au pair job once you are already living in the country, your family might not be interested in making a formal, written contract. However, do your best to create one and make sure that it clearly defines the most important aspects of your work, including:
- Salary. Reflecting differences in increased work hours (do you get overtime?). What other compensation can you expect to get: will they pay for toiletries? Gas? Transportation?
- Hours per week (again, should you be available during your “time off” just in case they need you?). What are you hours specifically? Are they flexible? Can you ‘make up hours’?
- Birthday parties. It seems to be the cat’s meow to send your kid to a birthday party with the au pair. And they are typically at nights or weekends. Which means if you think you have weekends off, you don’t. Make sure to define if and when you have to accompany the children, what your compensation will be.
- When kids have school off are you required to take care of them, and what happens if you can’t? For example, I have a day job at a high school. I cannot take care of the girl when she’s on vacation (her school has a different calendar than the public schools). If you do need to watch the kids on their vacation, ask for extra pay. It’s a lot of work.
- Your duties. A clearly, no-nonsense guide of what exactly they want. Logistics as well as expectations. For instance, it’s important for the mother of this family for her daughter to reach one level higher by the end of this year. That means she expects me to prepare extra homework and learning games for her daughter.
- Expectations around the house. You will be losing your freedom, and probably for the first time in a long time will have to obey like a child again. Try to avoid any confusion that could cause problems. Are you expected to keep your room orderly? Are you allowed to use everything they use, or are there specific items for the au pairs? What is off limits? When are you allowed to have friends over, and who?
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification
And I mean clarification for everything. It is much better to be annoying than to be confused or unclear on what’s expected of you. There are things that will come up that even a perfect contract can’t predict.
I had a conflict at the beginning of my experience because once the mom was discussing taking the girl to the psychologist on a Saturday morning (at the beginning she said weekends would always be mine. Then she switched it up on me. We had no contract set, so I was stuck. She “needed me”). The way she talked about it that Thursday, it seemed like she was just mentioning that we could go together to the early Saturday morning appointment and if I wanted I could meet up to have breakfast with one of my friends. She framed it as if she was gifting me an opportunity to see my friends.
I understood it was a suggestion. I didn’t get any message or word from her about it further. On that Saturday morning, I slept longer than normal because I had gone out the night before. When I finally got up, she had a nasty face on. She said, “I took the girl to the psychologist this morning, because you were in there [she pointed to my room].” I was so confused and it finally hit me that she expected me to go. When it was my “day off?” I didn’t ask for clarification, I assumed. I didn’t know what was expected of me.
OH NO. That’s about when I realized that I had no power, and I was already on my way down a very confusing slippery slope.
- Give warning about vacations early
I somehow had it in my head that if I didn’t tell the family when I was going on vacation until a few weeks before, there is no way they could say no or have any problems with it.
Why that seemed like a good idea, I’m not sure, but regardless, don’t do what I did.
If your family has made it clear you can go on vacation, it shouldn’t be a problem. But they will have to rearrange their schedules and have enough time to do so. Especially if they work and rely on you, they will need to know to be able to find someone else.
- Make a list of what you want from the grocery store
Part of your payment comes from room and board. If you hate the food they buy or miss some of your favorites, don’t be afraid to ask (especially if you don’t do the grocery shopping, you will have little control over what they buy if you keep your mouth shut!).
Do you have any other advice to add? What have your experiences been? Do you agree or disagree? Comment below or tweet at me at @yasminesoyyo