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Au pairs - advice please...

(24 Posts)
mrschigley Sat 15-Aug-09 20:28:01

I'm new to this so please bear with me... we need to find an au pair for beginning September (I know, I know, we've left it too late) never done this before. Please can all you much more experienced people tell me;

(i) sign on with one au pair agency, all of them, what do you do?
(ii) language courses - am I supposed to find one for the au pair? Do I pay for it? Most of the courses in nearest town seem to be 25 hrs+ per week and early morning start which would be tricky as I need AP to help out getting kids out of the door for school...
(iii) food! are you lot feeding your AP on Iceland multipacks of chicken nuggets and pizza or do they get fillet steak every night?

and any other advice for an AP newbie gratefully received..

Millarkie Sat 15-Aug-09 21:02:00

i) I would look on local gumtree (especially good for imediate starts) and register with There are generally a lot of aupairs looking for a September start. Have a really clear idea of what you want the au pair to do and what hours they need to work..when they contact you, you need to give them as much detail as you can about the job, their room, your family, the local area, pocket money.
ii) Language courses - is a good idea to find out about what's available locally so you can send links to the au pairs (look at local education authority websites for the cheapest options). We expect our au pair to pay for their own course. 25+hour courses are probably too expensive for au pairs anyway - could try ringing the language school and see if they have any courses aimed at au pairs if you are in a big enough town. Our first au pair did local education authority evening classes (ESOL) £200 for the year, 2 hours once a week. Next au pair did a dedicated au pair english course at a private language school, £25 per week for 1.5 hours twice a week..
iii) Food choices can be a problem - I ask the au pair in our first set of questions, what they like to eat and what they will not eat. When they arrive I take them to the supermarket and try to get an idea for what they like. I have a whiteboard in the kitchen and I ask them to write any food requests on the shopping list there. For the first couple of weeks our au pairs have eaten with the kids/family in the evenings, then they tend to branch out, first au pair tended to cook her own hot meal for lunch and then eat toast or something, second au pair was a food nightmare - doubled our food bill because she didn't eat carbs. Latest au pair eats with us every evening but only eats toast and bananas for lunch so is very economical! (We are vegetarians and tend to eat food cooked from scratch so no steaks here )

mrschigley Sun 16-Aug-09 09:30:51

Thanks millarkie that is so helpful, have put my own ad on gumtree this am. Do find the idea of having a compete stranger come to live with you quite scary, no matter what number of official looking forms they show you. Any other advice gratefully received!

becks5109 Mon 17-Aug-09 15:17:52

Hi Mrs Chigley we are in the same boat as looking for an au pair to start asap as mine is on her last week. I put an ad on gumtree and got quite a few replies (about 15 I think) but we whittled it down to e mailing around 5 girls, then some didn't reply so we got it down to 2 girls who were in London and available for interview. We offered the job to one of them on Saturday and she will come back to us tonight to let us know if she will accept. If she doesn't we've only got about 1 - 2 weeks to find a replacement. I've also been looking on au pair world where there are quite a few candidates but again some that I've e mailed have not replied and some are not interested so its does whittle the numbers down quite quickly. If all else fails I think we will use an agency, probably Abacus or The London Au Pair agency but they do tend to be quite expensive. Where abouts are you based? I think in the end it is slightly down to pot luck as to how it works out. Obviously the better/more attractive the package you are offering then the more interest you will get. I think it also depends on how reliant you are on them - for example my au pairs have sole charge as I work so they are vital to us. I think its important to have a clear view before you start of exactly what you want/need and then just go for it! I know someone who chooses her au pair most on their pictures and so far she has been lucky 3 times!

dreamteamgirl Mon 17-Aug-09 21:51:10

Hi Mrschigley
I have my first AP arriving in 3 weeks so I am probably not much help, but I dont plan on buying anything very special for her to eat- will take her to supermarket and she can have what we have apart from maybe a couple of fave things

mrschigley Tue 18-Aug-09 10:58:16

We have decided to go for boy AP, partly because of preference by DS1 + 2, but mostly because I think male AP would be able to put up with the general mess/chaos chez Chigley better than girls would. Has anyone had good/bad experience of male au pairs? Never been able to persuade DH to do stroke of housework and worried that he may form beer swilling footie watching sofa alliance with AP.

becks5109 Tue 18-Aug-09 16:51:17

We had our current AP's boyfriend to stay once and the kids adored him and we thought he would make a great manny! I'm guessing they are harder to source though that a girl?

rupertsabear Tue 18-Aug-09 17:10:59

My tip for au pair picking is don't pick an only child and don't pick someone who's never had a job. You want to avoid having a stroppy self-important teenager to live with you. Our au pairs have never eaten with us - I just did giant shop every week and let them eat what they liked. Always seemed to be OK. One wanted me to buy a special kind of mineral water, but I said no as we all drink tap water so as not to be throwing away loads of plastic. She didn't buy it herself, so it can't have been that important. I didn't like her much though, and had I liked her I might have bought it blush

mrschigley Wed 19-Aug-09 18:04:34

thanks rupertsabear, I was hoping that by going for a boy AP I would avoid too much stroppy behaviour/moodiness/PMT etc (that's my job..). Money is going to be tight so I'm worried that we will all end up drinking tap water & eating toast whilst boy AP munches his way through the weekly shop!

Summersoon Wed 19-Aug-09 18:21:18

@ rupertsabear

The assumption that only children are necessarily stroppy or self-important is one that drives me absolutely nuts!! I am an only child and I have been confronted with this prejudice throughout my life and always felt that it is deeply unfair. We only children are often not stroppy or self-important because we have to work much harder for friendships/company. On the other hand, I have known plenty of oldest siblings (including in my parents' generation) who would become extremely stroppy when not allowed to be in charge of everybody else - I am not saying that all oldest siblings are like that, but neither are only chldren!

NewTeacher Wed 19-Aug-09 22:06:41

my current AP is an only child and she is proving to be very helpful and lovely so I dont go with stereotypes!

Treeesa Thu 20-Aug-09 01:43:39

If you are looking for a boy then this one looks like a nice young man..

nice young man

Sorry - browsing my agency's web site while waiting for the call buttons to go off for their bed pans..!

rupertsabear Thu 20-Aug-09 18:30:36

See - strop from Summersoon

LittleMissTuffet Thu 20-Aug-09 19:12:48

It wasn't a strop from Summersoon, she was responding to your ridiculous assertion that an au pair without siblings would be a "stroppy self-important teenager".

I'm the 2nd of 4 kids BTW.

frakkinpannikinAGRIPPA Thu 20-Aug-09 20:34:00

I'm the eldest of 3 and I can be pretty stroppy however even I knew not to do that at work. I would be a useless au pair because I wouldn't be allowed to be in charge but I make a damn good sole charge nanny because of it. My sister is the middle one and beats both my brother and I in the stroppiness stakes. By contrast my only child cousin is extremely well-adjusted, not stroppy at all and very adult for her age (she's 15) but she doesn't know how to treat younger children because she's never had to live with them and finds them irritating. I'm sure for adults she's a joy to live with but she gets ticked off very quickly with our other younger cousins.

I agree that only children can be difficult to live with (4 of the 9 people I lived with during my time at uni were only children, they were all difficult to live with but made up for it in other ways) and a little on the self-important side, because they don't get that give/take dynamic that comes from having siblings who rank above you in the needs-pecking-order. However all eldest children were only children at some point, and some of us remember that and probably carry a lot of that only-child mentality with us!

As far as generalisations go you should avoid only children because they might be stroppy, self-important and not know how to deal with young children, elder children because they're bossy, middle children because they're either argumentative and attention seeking so they get noticed OR completely pushovers and younger children because they're used to being waited on hand, foot and fingernail. On the other hand only children are confident, good at making friends and initiating relationships; eldest children are used to caring for younger children and playing inane games because it keeps the younger ones happy; middle children can be adaptable and are used to bossing and being bossed and youngest children are smiley, sunny and used to sharing parental attention.

TBH I think the having had a job is a much better indicator than birth order. If you've had a job you're less likely to be stroppy and self-important, unless said job was as a model or other celebrity.

And I'm reading far too much into this.

LittleMissTuffet Thu 20-Aug-09 21:07:04

"I agree that only children can be difficult to live with (4 of the 9 people I lived with during my time at uni were only children"

hmm maybe they thought you were difficult to live with?

"a little on the self-important side, because they don't get that give/take dynamic that comes from having siblings"

I know plenty of children with siblings who don't "get that give/take dynamic".

mrschigley Fri 21-Aug-09 13:09:47

Oh dear, I am an often stroppy eldest sibling married to another eldest sib who can strop for England. I know lots of lovely only children and would be happy to have one for an au pair! Does anyone have any other useful advice re first time living with an au pair (as opposed to birth order)? Thanks!

Badpups Fri 21-Aug-09 14:44:37

To answer the original questions!

i) I think it depends on the the number and ages of your children and where you live. If you have one or two school age children and live in London you may be lucky and find an AP through AP World. However if you have say 3 under 5s and are in the countryside you may struggle (this comes from personal experience smile).
I'd recommend approaching several agencies and also putting an ad on APW. Be as specific as you can with your requirements. E.g. driver, pet lover, hours to be worked, evenings of babysitting, days off etc.

ii) Not all APs want language courses. We're on our 7th AP and only 3 have wanted to go to college. Our local college runs daytime and evening classes but they are very popular and there can be a waiting list especially for the beginner and intermediate classes.
The course leads to an internationally recognised qualification and is about 6 hours a week.
We don't pay but do allow the AP the use of the car to get to and from the class.

iii) Food is a tricky one!
Up until now we've always asked our AP to get her own breakfast and lunch and I cook an evening meal for all of us. I always ask AP if there is anything special that she wants e.g. types of yogurt, fruit, cheese, cold meat, cereal etc and tell her to help herself from our fridge/bread etc. I don't expect her to pay for any of her food but also don't expect to provide her with the ingredients for a full cooked 3 course lunch when we have a large evening meal!

Good luck with your search!

frakkinpannikinAGRIPPA Fri 21-Aug-09 16:44:38

LMT - they probably did. They constantly complained that everyone else was difficult to live with mostly because they were used to having houses practically to themselves, or so they said, and they didn't get sharing kitchens, bathrooms and living space. Although to be fair only 3 of the 4 only children were difficult, the 4th was a compulsive cleaner who always did my washing up grin. In return I did all her shopping because I had a car. And if you'll notice in my post I went through some good and bad points for any given birth order.

As I said - having had a job is going to be better than birth order at predicting whether someone's a good au pair!

mrsc - although I've never been an au pair my parents used recruited one of ours on short notice through personal recommendations so if you know anyone who might know someone who wants to be an au pair then that might work. Or anyone with an au pair who has a friend who wants to try it, or someone who had a summer au pair that wants to stay...

Try greataupair, au pair world, nannyjob (there are some au pairs on the jobseekers section, let me know if you want me to scout around on my membership to see whether any are suitable for you as I can see their profiles but you'd have to pay) and gumtree.

Summersoon Fri 21-Aug-09 20:45:00

@ rupertsabear

You know, I kind of thought that you would say that ("Summersoon: strop")!

And all I can say is that if you think that anybody who is merely diagreeing with your opinion or indeed even taking exception to something you say is "stroppy", then must know an awful lot of people you regard as "stroppy", only children or not!!

FeatheredHeart Fri 21-Aug-09 22:42:41

Having just gone through it I think you basically need a) list of stuff to ask them when they get in touch and what you're going to tell them about you / area / what you offer etc b) list of telephone questions c) contract.

Contracts are apparently a legal requirement. I was suprised to discover your a/p is less a kind of family member (as they all think) and are legally an employee with holiday rights etc. You legally have to have a grievance procedure etc.

Our contract includes room, money, travel here, notice period, what's dismissable behaviour, details about phone use, internet, weekends, inclusion in activities, review, curfew, alcohol, medical and dental treatment, friends visiting, cleaning own accommodation etc.

I also have a document which has the a/p routine and schedule.

I would also say that it is a very big and hard decision to have someone you have never met come and live with you for a sizeable period of time. It's pretty amazing it works at all and prudence probably pays off.

I am (after a terrible experience) very careful in recruiting and twice recently have lost good candidates with whom we we had chatted a lot and were getting references to other families at the last minute who I suspect were less demanding in the recruitment process.

I now also think experience and probably age count for quite a lot.

mrschigley Tue 25-Aug-09 16:31:34

Thanks featheredheart & badpups, so good to hear from people who've been through all this before. We've found a male au pair who arrives in a couple of weeks. Got a very good contract off the agency which seems to cover all bases but I do feel if it's going to work I need to set out some house rules and kind of a "job list" for the day (I will be out all day at college/teaching). Don't want to wave lots of lists in the poor bloke's face as soon as he comes through the door but it also seems to me from reading other messages that you need to be pretty clear about what you expect AP to get done during the day. Any suggestions? thank you all ;)

catepilarr Tue 25-Aug-09 20:48:53

well it depends what kind of person they are, some do need a detailed list while others just get on with stuff once they know what your general expectation is.

MissSunny Wed 26-Aug-09 01:48:06

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