It’s a sunny, lush day in Amsterdam – I wake up in the home of my boyfriend who I met in a dive bar in Sydney and leave the house to meet a friend I met during a walking tour in Melbourne. On my way over I check Facebook and see horribly nice new pictures of the girl that “has taken my place” as the au pair of the family I worked for. Actual sunscreen has to be dusted off from its slumber in the back of the bathroom cabinet and used to make sure my pale, Dutch winter body slowly get used to the outside world again. On days like this, I can’t help but look back on my time as an au pair in Australia and be thankful.
When I left the Netherlands I had finished my time at uni, already having added a second Masters because I was simply not ready to stop being a student and start being an adult. My need to procrastinate and travel was still as strong as ever. However, my bank account was also still as pathetic as ever (unfortunate side effect of fully enjoying student life). Furthermore, I was considering how I could combine traveling with adding to my CV. All of this put together with my love of children and educating led me to an Australian family in need of an au pair. This brought me to Sydney in December 2015 to start a working adventure that would last for 8 months.
I’d like to share some of my experiences with you all and throw some pro’s and cons of the au pair world your way.
Let’s start with the positive! Pro’s:
– Being an au pair is an easy “in” into the Australian culture. You’re not going to be stuck in the world of backpackers and travellers because however magical and fun that world may be, it is certainly not going to be filled with Australians. And those are exactly the people you will meet when dropping kids off at swimming practice, rugby training or family events. It may not be glamourous, but it sure is authentic!
– Obviously, this job comes with a place to stay. And it will more than likely be a lovely, big house that is a far cry away from having the wonky top bunk at a hostel. The moment you arrive at your destination, you have a home base: a place where you can sleep without having to deal with the various noises one hears during hostel nights. A place where you can actually unpack your clothes and belongings without having to worry about things mysteriously disappearing. A place where you can shower without feeling slightly more dirty when you come out. Not bad at all!
– You immediately have a replacement family around you that care about your wellbeing and invite you into their lives. There is also a close net of other au pairs to meet, especially if you use an agency. Some of them are girls I still happily hang out with to this day. All of this makes traveling to another country a smaller step to take, especially for people who aren’t used to travel or starting up a new life alone. However, not everyone has been as lucky as I was! Make sure you spend some time finding a family you click with.
– With a bit of luck you actually get to make a difference in the kids’ lives and give a hand in raising them and helping them deal with their lives. Sure – this isn’t always easy, but going from a situation where the child you care for screams his lungs out and gets physical with you when emotional to a situation where he will actually put himself into a time out when he gets too frustrated is a pretty big win.
– You get moments of such unbearable cuteness that you will instantly forgive the kids for that moment when they asked you why your legs get so fat when you sit down. Or that moment when they ambushed you with Nerf guns. Or when they walked in on you in the shower.
– Story time and cuddles at night. Nuff said.
Although being an au pair can be a pretty intense job with long hours, you do get weekends off and, depending on the age of the kids and the schedule of the parents, time off during the day when the kids are at school. Plenty of time for some exploring, partying and going on trips!
That sounds pretty good, eh?! But fair is fair, it’s not all beer and skittles. So here they are: the cons
– I mentioned a pro connected to the house and family, but there’s a clear downside too. I was used to living on my own and having the freedom to do what I wanted, with who I wanted, when I wanted it – and, frankly, I looked like an absolute slob while doing it (don’t judge me! Nobody in their right mind wears jeans or a bra when hanging around at home). Going back to living with a family and giving up that freedom and privacy was way more difficult than I imagined. For instance, on the one hand it’s quite cute that the kids open the door to your bedroom at 7 in the morning to see if the groaning zombie their lively au pair turned into on weekend mornings was still alive after a night out, but on the other…. ouch. Or, God forbid, you happen to reel in a boyfriend but have no apartment to find out what his favourite colour is or which pizza they would be if they were turned into a pizza. Joking aside, this is something to seriously consider before taking on the job.
– Being an au pair entails so much more than you realise, and not all of these things are fun. For instance, I never could have imagined the incredible amount of washing that two small boys go through every single week. Or how tough it is that some kids only like 3 different types of food but you still have to try to make them eat healthy and balanced meals. And then there are visits to the doctor, dentist, and hairdresser. Homework that needs to be done and checked. Different uniforms that need to be clean and ready to go at different days. Hobbies and sports that take up evenings, but naturally don’t happen at the same time as the brother’s hobby. And so on and so forth. It’s not as easy as it may seem.
– You’ll have to get through your fair share of tantrums that feel surprisingly personal – even though they aren’t always directed at you as a person, but at you as a figure of authority. And I don’t mean the tantrums you may know from when your drunk friend is lamenting about how her boyfriend follows this cute girl on Instagram. I mean full-on crying, screaming and kicking in the middle of the supermarket because you won’t give them the specific toy they just HAD to have. It was a whole new level of tantrum – and the judgemental looks other shoppers gave me at that moment still haunt me. Never again.
Clearly, being an au pair isn’t always easy but the effort can sure pay off. I’d like to leave you with a bit of advice here. When you consider becoming an au pair, decide whether you will be able to take the downsides as they come and yet always make the upsides outweigh them. Because this decision will influence not only you but a whole family, and those kids should definitely not spend almost every day during those months with someone who is solely there for the money.