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Is this a normal aupair experience?

(15 Posts)
basmattyaupair Tue 10-Feb-15 23:23:32

I've recently moved to Spain to work as an aupair, and as it's my first time I chose to only come for 3 months as part of my gap year to improve my spanish. The family are, for the most part, nice, and I'm enjoying some of my time here. I am not one to feel particularly home-sick and I enjoy the independence of being in a foreign country, so I don't think my feeling of frustration stems from this at all. I found my host family over au-pair world, and was given example routines of what was expected of me, telling me that they don't need the childcare so much as wanting me to teach English to the children. I am a genuinely hard working person, I hate to seem lazy and will always try my hardest to do what my host family would like. However, there are a couple of things which I am finding just a little jarring.
We did not have a signed/agreed contract, but after doing a fair bit of reading over the internet, I see that the expected aupair working hours are around 25 hours a week. I am sure I work more along the lines of 35. I don't have to work at all in the mornings, and until 1pm am free to do as I would like. I then collect the children from school, walk them back home where they stay for around 2 hours for lunch etc, and then back to school for another 2 hours until 5:30pm (this is more common in Spain I think, because I know British schools are rarely on this timetable.) I then collect the children, more often only the youngest, and we play in the park, go home, do some baking or something fun, then relax with a little television. The eldest tends to have after school clubs and comes home at around 8:20pm. They do not go to bed until 10pm, which is again more common in Spain.
My problem arises in that the youngest child tends to have behavioural issues, exacerbated by the fact that his parents never follow through on punishments. He has kicked me, screamed and pulled and tugged very hard on my clothes etc as well as completely monumental tantrums in the middle of the street. I find myself spending long periods of time with only him for company, which can be extremely tiresome as he does not follow instructions and tends to be completely deaf and unresponsive when the tv is on. The parents seem to be coming back later and later, going straight from work to tennis and other sports clubs, giving me instructions (in Spanish I might add) on what to do with the children. I also work the majority of the day on Saturday, which is the bane of my life as the ipads are allowed on weekends and the youngest (obviously) does not want to do anything other than binge-play on the ipad. He will cry and become infuriated if it's taken away from him, but again is completely unresponsive in it's presence. He is allowed to play on it during meal times, so I have been told to feed him while he watches cartoons or whatever. (This is the same on weekdays with the tv at every meal.) I am not able to eat my own food if he requires spoon feeding and his food cut into tiny pieces. This is not helped by the fact that the parents insist that every one eats enormous portions of meat and potato, and so feeding it all to him can be a very lengthly process. Vegetables seem to not exist.
The family has a cleaner to more or less do all of the housework, and I am not expected particularly to do anything. However, I do, since I feel that the family are asking a slightly unreasonable amount of work from their housekeeper, and personally I feel uncomfortable not pitching in since I live here. I tend to clear up after lunch, wash the plates and put leftovers away etc. while the parents are eating. My only issue here is that when I do any housework, I feel that the parents do not thank me, despite not doing anything themselves, and have almost started leaving their things on the side for me to clean. I am also expected to spend this time playing with the younger son, although he tends to watch tv and so I am left sitting awkwardly not knowing what to do with myself, but I feel unable to go somewhere else and look like I'm not working. I also find that the children tend to just leave their rubbish around the kitchen rather than putting it in the bin. I know this is probably quite normal but I feel with the older one it is because he knows that I'm clearing up and will therefore do it for him.
I've also been told that on Mondays I am to give an hour long English lesson to the older son. This would be okay, were it not for the fact that the child would quite blatantly prefer not to be doing it and repeatedly asks to finish early. I am not an english teacher.. but have to make up exercises in the form of the ones he works with in school and explain them to him. The mother told me this is better because this is how he will be tested, which is true, but I don't think particularly helpful in actually increasing his english level (He tells me they're too easy but struggles to put together simple sentences himself). I was not told that this would be expected of me before hand, and what with having to look after the five year old (speaking in Spanish with smatterings of English to increase his understanding but avoiding his rage if he doesn't understand something), giving an actual lesson, and then having to cook their dinner at 9:00pm and getting them ready for bed at 10pm, I'm feeling a little exhausted, not to mention hungry.
I am paid 60euros a week, and this amount doesn't change no matter the hours I work. I'm not saying I've got the worst deal of all, not by a mile, but I just wanted to see other people's opinions on whether this was a fairly typical situation or something that they would expect from an aupair themselves. If anyone has any advice it would be much appreciated, even if it is to just tell me to suck it up and get over myself. I know I may just be having a bit of a moan, this is a very different parenting style to the one that I'm used to (my parents to me) and I'm finding it difficult to get on board with their strange nit-picky rules, constant hand washing and clothes changing.

melimelo18 Wed 11-Feb-15 01:07:52

I know exactly how you feel, I've been an Au Pair 4 times ( twice in Spain) and I can already tell you that you won't work 25 hours only, out of my four families only one respected the schedule we had agreed on and the amount of hours. I am currently an Au Pair in Australia and while I was supposed to work 40 to 45 hours a week I know work 55hours a week for no additional pay so I totally understand you being tired of it as I am in the exact same (exhausting) boat.

While in Barcelona I had the same stubborn child you had who would not follow instructions and with a mom who would not follow up with punishment making me look like the bad wolf in the story. I felt like I spent more time being a cop than an Au Pair so I changed thing by creating a timetable with chores/activities she had to follow and if she did follow it without crying or kicking she would get a green dot/ a star and if she only had green colors had the end of the week we would go together to los chinos in the weekend and she would pick something cheap. ( I was definitely not a fan of this idea as I hate rewarding kids for normal behaviour but truth is, she loved it and improved greatly her behaviour. So maybe you should give this a try ?)

Is the youngest 5 ? if so, unless he has a disability he should not be spoonfed ? does his mom spoon feed him or ask you to spoon feed him ? If not don't do it, if so, tell her (nicely) that you think it's time he feeds himself as nobody will spoon feed him if he goes on a playdate to a friend house or so...

I had the same type of family who would leave everything in the sink or so for me to watch, which ended up in me having to do dishes 5 times a day, slowly reduce what you are doing and I doubt they'll leave dirty dishes forever waiting in the sink. Most families seem to forget how to live without an Au Pair and tend to forget that while we do not mind going the extra mile it would be nice to not take it for granted and appreciate the extra effort we put on. Same with the hours. In my family I am supposed to finish at 4.30pm but now ended up finishing at minimum 6pm every night (closer to 6.30pm than six tbh) and while I never minded the odd extra hour it started to get under my skin a bit.

Have a seat and talk to them about it, they might get pissed but tell them you agreed on a number of hours and chores and would like to stick to them or wouldn't mind doing more as long as the pay follows... It's all give and take and some families seems to take more than they give...

about the english class what were your expectations ?

sorry for the long comment but hope it helped feel free to contact me in PM if needed smile

DragonRojo Wed 11-Feb-15 07:45:55

you are being exploited but sadly this is not unusual in Spain for child carers and housekeepers. The family probably don't even see it that way. If you are only there for 3 months, they probably won't make any efforts to change eithersad

CashmereCake Wed 11-Feb-15 08:54:01

Sadly I think it's 'normal' even though it shouldn't be. The attitude that the family leave you to increasingly pick up after them seems common to all live-in childcare. I stayed with friends with live-in help recently and they told us not to bother putting stuff in the dishwasher or clear up as the nanny would do it. I'm not sure this was quite in her job description...

I think as PP have said, for three months they won't bother to change much. You might just have to put this down to experience and set expectations more carefully at the start next time, the parenting style you can't do much about. I agree it sounds pretty dire, but I know others with live-in help who do the iPad/spoon feed thing with school age kids, as there are enough hands to pander to it and it's the easiest way to avoid mealtime whinging.the other behaviour seems pandered to as well! All you can do is tell them it's not working out for you and move on, or suck it up and take what you can from the experience.

If you were my daughter I'd probably tell you to stick it out for the reference if you want to do another stint, and if you don't, give notice and go and enjoy Spain!

fluffymouse Wed 11-Feb-15 11:26:55

Did you agree on hours before starting the job?

If you haven't that puts you in a bit more of a difficult situation.

How much are they paying you a week?

They behaviour is not acceptable, but as a parent I know how difficult it can be. The key issue for me would be that they are not working with you to resolve it.

I would arrange a meeting to discuss working hours and expectations and strategirs re behaviour.

BeeRayKay Wed 11-Feb-15 11:36:58

Wow, poor you :-(

Im looking into having an Au Pair next year, it should work out nicely. We've a beautiful guest room, and actually we wouldn't expect any where near 25hours work....

Lonecatwithkitten Wed 11-Feb-15 13:50:15

The English lesson is the area that I am going to make suggestions as everyone else has tackled the other issues.
My DD has French, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin lessons at school. So yes I have tried to pick au pairs that can support these languages. So far we have had French, Spanish and Italian girls all who have been lovely. What they have taught DD is songs in their language (first AP was when she was 4). These have really improved her accent and as a keen singer DD loves them. Yesterday morning she sang in French and then in Spanish too me. Maybe this is a more fun approach to take?

basmattyaupair Wed 11-Feb-15 15:16:13

Thank you all for your replies.
Melimelo18 I was not told that English classes would be expected of me at all. It has more just materialised into being what we do on a Monday night.. After a few weeks here, the mother told me that it's what she wants, which in part I do understand but it's a little difficult because I am not a teacher and do not speak perfect Spanish. Explanations of the English grammar system are not my forte haha, especially to an 11 year old who I think doesn't understand me but I have to speak english to. Yeah exactly, I feel like more and more of the chores are falling to me, which while I don't mind would be nice to feel that they're appreciated rather than just expected because I'm an employee. This family refers to me as the 'Older Sister', so that is not a feeling I'm comfortable with, since I feel that my hours of work are not as 'clock-in, clock-out' as an employee. Good idea about the chart thing, this afternoon he spat chewed food into my hand, while simultaneously ignoring me for the tv and being spoon fed. His parents sort of laughed it off, they have specifically asked me to spoon feed him and think that it is normal.

DragonRojo yes, several other aupairs have said similar things to me, I don't feel exploited so much, just occasionally uncomfortable.

CashmereCake Thank you! Yes, my mum has said similar things. However this really isn't as bad as some of the other positions, and I'm halfway through and my Spanish is really improving.. so I most likely will stick it out until the end unless it becomes much worse.

fluffymouse no specific hours were agreed on so yes it is more difficult to say anything. 60euros per week, which suits me fine as it's relatively cheap here. I have tried to raise it, but they seem to think the majority of it is normal.. which I disagree with, but I wouldn't feel comfortable telling a parent that I know best for their child haha!

basmattyaupair Wed 11-Feb-15 15:28:10

BeeRayKay It's not so bad! I don't think I'm having the worst experience of them all, just on duty a lot more than I initially had thought/been given the impression. I understand the family want to get the use out of me.. but I feel like I do a lot of watching the youngest child for hours and hours on end, and he is not the easiest child to deal with at times.

Lonecatwithkitten Yes, they have english lessons at school, which is why I've been chosen to speak only english with them in the house. That would be a good idea, but at 11 he is being tested with grammatical exercises, and the parents do not want us to do fun things in this time, more repeat and practice the academic side of things. But thank you for your suggestion, I'm going to try and include some more fun things!

fluffymouse Wed 11-Feb-15 17:15:42

I was asking the pay because it is possible to make some deduction about reasonable hours from that. 60 Euros a week is a pittance (I pay my au pair 100 pounds per week for 25 h).

It really sounds like they are exploiting you.

Your options are:
Continue as things are: but you are not happy
Discuss the situation with them and hope for an improvement re hours and them supporting you in terms of behavioural management: but they are quite likely to not change
Leave: I think if you were my daughter I would be advising you to do this. 35 hours a week with multiple children for 60 Euros week is exploitative.

Karoleann Wed 11-Feb-15 19:07:02

60Euros per week is fairly standard in Spain. Costs of living are much lower in Spain than here and their economic situation is still fairly poor.

I don't think you have a hope in hell of getting them to change their parenting methods - I think you've been unlucky, there's no way of foretelling if someone is poor parent.

I would concentrate on getting a contract and doing your set hours - 6 days a week is a lot (had they discussed this prior to you arriving). Alternatively, you'd be well within your rights to find another host family.

basmattyaupair Wed 11-Feb-15 22:16:54

fluffymouse thank you for your response. I think the money is pretty much the usual rate here, I have a large group of friends here who are all also aupairs, and we receive the same amounts. Others work longer hours than me.. I think it's the norm here. The money itself is not an issue, I find it goes a long way and the family in general are nice people who treat me well. It just becomes a little stressful in that I feel I have to do a lot more than I originally thought, and the behaviour of the youngest can often make it very hard work

basmattyaupair Wed 11-Feb-15 22:31:49

Koroleann Yeah, I don't think so either. I wouldn't even go so far to say they're 'poor' parents, I just think disciplinary sanctions are really few and far between. Often they don't adjust behaviour until it's gone too far, but this is maybe just my opinion. I don't feel the need to find another host family, I do like this family, there are just a few things with have seemed strange to me and I wanted to hear others opinions. Definitely will speak with them about doing a chart or something for the younger one

CocobearSqueeze Wed 11-Feb-15 23:11:33

If that's how they parent their kids unfortunately you would have to go with the flow. I would frown at an au pair / anyone telling me to change my parenting methods.

You should speak to them about the hours of work or just keep going since it's only 3 months and you are halfway there >>> just aim to get a decent reference and plan better next time.

fluffymouse Fri 13-Feb-15 17:01:24

I stand corrected about the pay but that is still very low for the hours you work. That is an au pair rate, not an au pair plus rate surely?

I wish you well, and hope that things improve with the family.

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