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Becoming an au pair (panic panic)

(41 Posts)
Kittuurn Sat 20-Dec-08 09:40:08

I'm considering looking for a family in Germany to be an au pair for, for about 4-6 months next year. I will be 19 by then but have rather limited child care experience. I'm a native English speaker and have lived in Germany before so speak fairly good German. Before I commit myself and actually register with an agency, I want to get some advice. All advice is most welcome (I'm stressing!) especially about what you would expect from an au pair.
- What sort of responsibilities would you expect an au pair to take over? I'm (obviously) quite happy to look after children, but the thought of taking responsibility for someone else's child for more than a day at a time sounds quite scary! I have basically decided to rule out the families which say things like ''we expect the au pair to be responsible for the children when we have weekends away or business trips etc.'' Is this unreasonable?
- I've done quite a bit of baby sitting in evenings and (once) for a weekend, and I teach horse riding to under 10's. I have experienced trying to get children to listen to me, but have always had the option of getting help from the parents / my mum. Would you expect an au pair to pass things over to you when things start to go wrong? How much would you expect them to deal with?
- Is 4-6 months (May and November) too short? I know many people look for 12+ months. Am I being unreasonable to look for a family for this period of time?
Also, what sort of things would you look for in an au pair? (character, child care experience, fluency in the language ...) All advice is most welcome.

nbee84 Sat 20-Dec-08 09:51:02

I haven't been an au pair or employed one but just wanted to say that you sound very sensible and an ideal candidate. You've obviously thought this through and I wish you luck with your search. smile

phraedd Sat 20-Dec-08 09:56:04

my first au pair was with us 6 weeks (semester holidays)

This suited us as we didn't know if we'd like having someone living in our home. She was lovely and we are now on our 3rd au pair.

My au pair works 5 a day and up to 2 nights babysitting but i will generally get the children into bed for her so that she then can do whatever she wants to do.

The 5 hours are:

8am - 9.30am get the children ready for school and maybe take them (i have already done breakfast time with them). Come back from school run and wash the kitchen floor and hoover downstairs. She also may have something else like put on some childrens washing.

12- 3.30 pick little one up from school and give him lunch. play or go out. Pick up older 2 from school at 3.15 and bring them home.

My children are 10, 8 and 4.

Our current au pair is a lovely german girl and not only does she spend some time in the evenings playing with the children, she is also happy to spend time out with her friends so we are getting lots of "family" time with her being included but my husband and i are also able to get "couple" time as she is very rarely downstairs with us in the evening if the children are in bed.

Get a list of duties written down for you so that is no confusion about when do things and what things you are expected to do

Millarkie Sat 20-Dec-08 12:23:23

When we look for an au pair we prefer those who will stay for more than 3 months, with 6 months the ideal.
We have 2 children 7 and 5.
Our au pair duties are:
supervise kids watching tv after dh has done breakfast/dressing with them and gone to work. Put children onto school bus.
She then empties the dishwasher, puts in breakfast things, wipes kitchen surfaces and hoovers kitchen floor (twice a week she mops as well). Then she puts our robot hoover into one of the living rooms and sets it off. Once a week she dusts the living areas (ie. not bathrooms, loos, bedrooms)
She also walks our dog for 30 mins.
Then she is free (about 10am usually) to go out/read/surf etc until 4pm when bus drops kids back..then if I'm not home she supervises their play (they veg out in front of tv after hard work at school) and gives them a drink/biscuit..if I am back she still tends to stick around and play with them but she doesn't need to. She tends to eat with the children (I cook) at 6pm and either goes out with her friends or watches tv/surfs net in her room in the evenings.
We say we need babysitting twice a week but in reality it's more like twice a month..and we leave the children ready for bed, she just has to tell them to go to bed (they are usually watching a dvd).

Language-wise - I want to be sure that my au pair can call the emergency services and get the message across if there is any need to - so I check their language skills by phone.

Character-wise - I look for someone who mentions wanting to spend time with children in their application ( a lot of APs tell you all about how being an AP will help them, but not so much about what they can bring to us). I like it when APs have a good reason to come ie. need to improve english for a uni exam, or need to be fluent because they work in hotel industry. We also prefer APs who have thought ahead and sorted out references rather than giving me phone numbers (no email) that have to be rung at certain times. We are ok with written references (which we translate), and an email address means asking for clarification is quite easy.

Discipline etc - we give the AP a handbook which includes instructions on how to discipline our children ie. ask once, ask a second time, count to 3, (at this point they usually do as asked), if they still refuse then tell them to sit on the bottom step for a minute. I always back up the AP if I'm at home and she tells the children off for something (even if I feel she is being a little harsh) as I'm well aware that she needs to be respected by the children if I am not at home to back her up.

Look for a family who will give you a good job description so you don't end up working 60 hours etc..if they have a current AP then ask to speak to them (I always offer the email address of our current AP to any prospective APs who have got through most of our vetting system since I think she will let them know what it's like here from the AP point of view, and I value her judgement on whether she thinks they are ok or not (in case any 'madness' is more obvious to a native language speaker!)

Good luck. Hope you find a great host family.

peanutbuttermarmitetoast Sat 20-Dec-08 18:58:59

My turkish aupair has been with us since september and whilst it was hard to begin with as her english was very poor she has improved massively and I absolutely adore her.

She works either 7.45-9 2 days and 7.45 -10 3 days a week when she does DC's breakfast, makes their beds, wipes up from breakfast and twice a week she does their washing

Monday afternoon she has no childcare responsiblities so she does a good house clean and hoover, mops the floors. Tuesday and thursday mornings she irons, wednesday she does a quick hoover and fridays she gives the house a good clean.

She works tues - thurs 3.30 - 6.30 when she does kids stuff such as playing, supervising dinner, bathing and clearing toys. As I have got to know her she has taken on more and now I'll ask her to make some pasta / sandwich for the children and be happy that she'll do it how she likes.

She babysits up to 3 nights a week but it's rarely more than once and I try not to ask her more than twice. I just have the 3 nights as a security but she never goes out in the evenings so it doesn't bother her.

She has a computer and is happy to MSN / Skype most of the time. She is welcome to have friends over and sometimes does, and has free run of my kitchen but barely eats.

I never ask her to work over her hours unless I pay her. Ie she did 3 hours for me today as we had a family party and needed some help and I will give her an extra £30 but I gave her the option to say no if she didn't want to do it.

cheapskatemum Sat 20-Dec-08 19:54:36

My APs do similar tasks to those already mentioned. Although I do ask them to play with DSs, not watch TV or DVDs with them. In the emails we exchange with them before deciding whether to offer them the job, we look for someone with younger siblings, or experience of babysitting or helping out at children's clubs (such as your riding cub experience)and with a sense of humour. We like young women who seem adaptable, with fair language skills (I've had beginners in the past as I'm an English teacher, but the kids definitely prefer APs who speak better English, though they're proficient communicators now!) I would say 4 months is an acceptable length of time, prepare to be flexible about location.

My DCs are 13 and 10.

Kittuurn Sat 20-Dec-08 21:32:47

Thank you for the answers and good advice It really helps to hear it all from the other point of view. I will start making my profile tomorrow. excited When the time comes I will ask to speak to current APs, hadn't thought of this but it seems like a good way of finding out a bit more before I go. I will defiantly ask for a written list of duties so that I can't forget anything, and a clear instructions on what to do if / when things aren't going smoothly.
How many references would you expect and from whom? I have asked 2 of the mums of the children I have taught riding to if they would (hypothetically) write references for me. Would you expect to also see a reference from school?
Thanks again for helping me make up my mind. I’ve just got to hunt around for photos, first aid certificate, sort references... THEN I can finally start the search for a family

Tryharder Sat 20-Dec-08 21:53:29

I was an aupair in Germany a few years ago (OK then,18 years ago). Can it really be 18 years ago? shock shock

I had the absolute time of my life so go for it - you sound better prepared than I was, I had no experience of children whatsoever but still coped. The whole point of being an aupair is that you're not supposed to be a nanny or full time childcarer and I would worry about anyone who was prepared to leave very young children in the care of an aupair for any length of time.

From what I remember it's so long ago(!), duties included light housework (but most families that have aupairs also have cleaners iyswim), a bit of ironing, taking the kids to the park, playing boardgames with the children, the odd bit of babysitting, some supermarket shopping/errands. I think every aupair experience is different - I aupaired on 3 different occasions as a student to very different families and the placements that were more successful were when the family had sufficient accommodation so that I had my own flat so I had a bit more freedom and personal space and we werent under each others feet all the time.

I aupaired in Hamburg and Munich - definitely preferred Hamburg - have many,many fond memories of my time there and made lots of friends. I remember being quite lonely at first but once I had found a few friends, it was great (met people through an aupair organisation and also language school)

I'm so envious, aupairing was one of the best times of my life, the German men are lovely, the nightlife is great.. it was such a marvellous experience. Can't believe it was 18 years ago though, bloody hell....

MerrySquiffness Mon 22-Dec-08 11:00:37

Kitturn I just dropped a line to you on another thread.....

Anyway, I echo what the others have said - the resonsibility is really for drop-offs and pick-ups and tea/bed kind of stuff.

I have had AP's/nannies for the last four years and although I have stayed overnight away from home and had the AP do care for an evening, night and until 2pm the next day, I would never put this in an ad, nor raise it during an interview. We did it only with someone who had already been with us for a year and we knew we could trust her and knew that she would be fine about it too. You should run a mile from anyone who starts suggesting this during interview stage as it signals someone who is going to want to take the mickey.

I would try (if you can) to go for families who are happy for you to speak to previous AP's - they will for sure have absolutely nothing to hide.

phraedd Mon 22-Dec-08 11:17:16

the au pair that i have now came to england to be with another family. She spoke to their previous au apir who said they were a fantastic family etc. My au pair stayed for less than a month as she didn't get on there at all. (hence the reason we have her).

I asked her if she wanted to speak to my previous au pair and she turned the offer down as just because one au pair likes the family doesn't mean that every au pair will.

catepilarr Mon 22-Dec-08 13:05:19

thats what i also wanted to say. aupairs and families are different so you could be unhappy in a family where someone else was happy. generally its said that people in the north of germany are nicer thay in the south. i came to stuttgart area after a year in norfolk and it was i a bit of a shock. i know one should not generalize but geramns are what appears to be rude to someone who had spent time in the UK. they dont seem to have the tact if they want to tell you something unpleasant. they seem to thing tha t germans and germany are the best in everything / me and my friends got asked on ferw occasions 'why are you not studying in germany?' to which my jaw just dropped and i didnt know what to say - shy on earth shoud i be wanting to study in germany??/ i also experienced beeing told off for doing something wrong without beeing told how to do it beforehand. but thats probably the person, not a german thing.
if you are using an agency, they will tell you what they want in terms of references etc. typically an aupair would have one from a school teacher as a character reference and one from babysitting/childrens club.
what the duties are concerned had to pick the children from the school bus, cook lunch /main meal of the day/ and entertain the kids until around six when the parents came. plus family laudry -hankging out, folding and ironing, keep the kitchen and living room tidy.

melissa75 Mon 22-Dec-08 13:29:43

I was an aupair 7 years ago with a family with a two year old and a 3 month old. I worked with them for 18 months, and loved it. I got the job over the phone after exchanging numerous emails and phone calls. I made sure to speak to all the previous aupairs and also contacted some of their friends and family members to get an idea of what the family were like. I also made sure that hours, responsbilities and pay were sorted out before hand, because the last thing you want are any surprises in that area. Also, you need to sort out things like are they going to provide you with a car? if not, what sort of transportation options are available? Will they cover you for car insurance? How about family holidays, will you be asked to come along? and what responsibilities will you have while you are on holiday with them? also ask what sort of au pair communutiy there is in the area, so you know how you will be able to meet new friends. another question to ask is what their thoughts are about you having friends/family over or to stay? Also, find out about your accomodation, will you have your own room/bathroom? will the children be allowed in? is there a lock on the door? (one of my au pair friends at the time had a horrible family, where among other things, the children were allowed to go into the au pairs room whenever they wanted during her off time). also check on what if any household chores will be required? and ask about babysitting in evenings, will this be required, and if so, how often? some au pairs put into it that they will have a meeting after a set time, say 3 months, to discuss how things are going, and a possible pay raise. Another thing I would recommend trying to find out about, is the relationship between the parents, obviously within reason. This perhaps could be a question for previous au pairs. The reason I say this is because I had an au pair friend who arrived to a family where one of the parents was an alcoholic and the other parent was having an affair. A bit of a disaster!
All things to keep in mind! Good luck, it is a great experience, and you get to see so many things, and will become part of a family hopefully for life!

Feenie Sat 14-Feb-09 22:26:52

How odd - how did your aupairing fit around your teaching career of 13 years, Melissa? hmm

SimpleAsABC Sun 15-Feb-09 22:02:44

Feenie, did melissa say she was a teacher?

Feenie Mon 16-Feb-09 00:07:30

Message withdrawn

Twims Mon 16-Feb-09 01:21:01

How odd - I thought maybe you had misinterpretted something Feenie but agree something doesn't add up I thought maybe like me Feenie had referred to different children she cared for and that was why it didn't work - I know I often mention different children I care for when discussing a point of interest which I have come across with a certain age group etc.

Maybe the 2 older children are step children and she is a teacher and aupaired around that?

Twims Mon 16-Feb-09 15:13:13

Oh I forgot to say good luck Kitturn and check out nannyjob where you may find some other nannies/aupairs working in Germany or have had experience who you can talk too.

BoffinMum Mon 16-Feb-09 18:52:15

I have had more than 20 APs over two decades. You sounds like a very thoughtful person and I am sure you will make a great AP. Good that you're asking advice.

FWIW I think other people have covered much of the same ground as I would have done, but I would add it's important to add that the best APs behave as an adult in the relationship, and not see the thing as a kind of adoption or parent/child thing. I see a lot of really alarming profiles on APWorld that go on and on about 'my new family' and so on, as if APs seriously expect this, and I have certainly had a few young women in their 20s work here who were expecting me to swoop them up and mollycoddle them and look after them, as well as do their duties for them, and ended up being sadly disappointed because I refused to be a surrogate mum on those terms. I also moan about it on MN, btw, because it's depressing and tiring when this happens.

A good host family will always be kind and helpful if you have your handbag stolen, get the flu or lose your boyfriend, but as far as day to day behaviour is concerned, you need to be reasonably independent of spirit and stand on your own two feet a bit.

Essentially you are there to provide a service - usually childcare - and the fact that you get some support with lifts to and from the airport, occasional family meals, the odd tenner slipped to you for a taxi before a big night out, and inclusion in occasional sightseeing trips is the limit of what most families will expect, and what marks it out as an AP relationship and not a domestic staff one. Over time if you get on with the family well they will probably do more for you, for example we have had an entire AP's family over to stay for a week recently (and actually all had a great time).

The best APs use their initiative a lot and try to understand the mindset of the host family, how tired the parents get and so on, and appear magically with sleeves rolled up ready to help take the strain. Good APs say things like "You look tired, have you had a hard day at work? Can I make you a tea?" and "I had fun with the children today. Look at what we made" and "Let me fold that washing. You get your feet up" and "Shall I take the kids down the park so they can burn off some energy?" Rubbish APs say things like "I don't want to collect the children from school because it's raining and I don't have a coat, can't you do it?" and "Sorry, we have used up all the milk making milkshakes, can't you go back out and get some more?" and "When you are at work, your children behave very badly and you need to do something about it because it's nothing to do with me" and "I have broken the hoover again because I was trying to hoover up mashed potato". (These are all RL things various APs have said over the years to me, by the way).

So this is a very long way of saying that the more adult you are, the better it will all go. As far as preparing is concerned, it might be useful to read 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, which gives you some insight into how children try to wind people up, and what you can do about it. It might also be good to learn to cook a few simple meals and tackle washing and ironing on a family scale.

Best of luck.

BoffinMum Mon 16-Feb-09 19:06:09

I should also have said something about how we choose APs. We use a grid and tick according to whether an AP has the following:

First Aid Certificate
Can swim
Can cycle
Has done some babysitting
Has done a childcare course (double tick)
Has work experience, eg waitressing or in a shop (double tick)
Interviews well on the phone in our language without it feeling tortuous
Has ideas about activities to do with the children, eg baking and making things
Can stay at least 4 months (double tick for longer than 9 months)
Can prepare a few simple meals, eg pasta
Has helped at home with cleaning and laundry
Sounds friendly and cheerful

We then choose from the ones who are friendliest and have the most ticks.

We organise a letter of invitation beforehand stating duties and rates of pay, and also a contract. We pay overtime if it goes over 30 hours a week. On arrival the AP receives a handbook with information on duties, contact phone numbers and so on.

SimpleAsABC Mon 16-Feb-09 21:03:06

Ah feenie I see.

Does that mean she is a troll??

QuintessentialShadows Mon 16-Feb-09 21:04:51

Message withdrawn

BoffinMum Mon 16-Feb-09 21:08:29

I thought a troll was someone who set up a thread to provoke fighting? Not someone who was just a crap liar?

Feenie Mon 16-Feb-09 21:29:02

A troll can be someone who sets themselves up as a professional, gets people to trust them and then disseminates crap advice, imho.

Twims Mon 16-Feb-09 21:57:39

Saw the post about having twins four years ago and her partner dying. Agree with Feenie about "A troll can be someone who sets themselves up as a professional, gets people to trust them and then disseminates crap advice, imho" and wonder if a thread the other day where someone said how do you tell mumsnet about a troll as they thought someone who stated to be a proffesional wasn't or was giving rubbish advice? After the rev defrocking etc.

Feenie Mon 16-Feb-09 22:00:41

Message withdrawn

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