I love kids. But looking after someone else’s as a full time job is more effective than any kind of birth control on the market.
Before I get into blabbing about my American Au pair experience, I want to point out that on a whole I think the Au pair/Nannying abroad programme in general is awesome, and can provide you with a really good set up if you want to live and work in another country. However, the enjoyment level of your experience rides a lot on the family you are paired with.
Obviously there are many factors that influence a lengthy overseas encounter. Self-awareness, foreign awareness, and home sickness levels to name a few are all key players in your ability to fully immerse yourself in the opportunity.
For me, everything was all peachy keen at the start.
Having just finished uni and not being ready to look for a job which reflected my degree, I decided this was a good option for me. With initially having New York as my preferred location, the idea of being paid to watch a couply kids, have a huge apartment style room to myself, and be able to explore America was highly appealing.
“Don’t choose the right city, choose the right family” they tell you. I tried to keep an open mind and broadened my horizons further than New York. So that I did - and as result I landed myself an idyllic (I thought) wee family in Washington D.C. – The Obama Family.
Lol, Jk. But I did go to The White House/stood at the fence of The White House. Same thing really.
A girl (8), a boy (6), and two parents - one in IT and one working for Congress, (Don’t ask me what Congress is/does coz I still don’t know). Your stereotypical American family, if you want to put it that way. Well-paying jobs, a nice house, cute kids, and now a Nanny living in the bottom floor of their three story home. Lovely.
Naturally when you first meet someone, they are going to be on their best behaviour and market themselves to reflect their ideal self. We all do this. It’s not until you really get to know someone that you start unwrapping their layers. Onions have layers, Ogres have layers, humans have layers. So many layers.
In the first instance they resembled this perfect, shiny family – and I probably came across as this bubbly, child enthusiast from little old New Zealand where apparently we all have sheep as indoor pets. Baaaa-no thank you.
In a nutshell, this is what a day in my life as an Au Pair looked like:
Up at 7, make the kids breakfast, force them to eat the breakfast, wrangle them off their parent’s legs kicking and screaming, get them in the car, battle nightmarish traffic for an hour (while also driving on the other side of the road might I add), get them out of the car while promising I won’t be late picking them up, then wave goodbye for 1782347 minutes.
Drop off done. Then I would complete my daily errands (picking up birthday cakes, etc.), head home, fold the washing and cry of homesickness/cry that I am folding someone else’s child’s undies, and wait for 3pm to roll around.
3pm. Basically the morning in reverse but low key worse. Post school pick up would always involve some sort of after school activity, but not usually a fun one. For example, taking the boy to his $200 weekly therapist session.
You must be thinking, what the eff kind of child under the age of 10 needs to see a therapist!? Well apparently one that has egg, nut, and every other allergy under the sun. But above all, one who misses Mom and Dad does.
This was one of the saddest aspects of my experience. I understand that to support a family, parents need to work. But do parents of young children need to be gone by 7am and home by 8pm most nights? Probably not. Not when that leaves about half an hour to spend with them before bed time.
I felt like a surrogate mother to these kids more than the 'big sister' type we were meant to reflect.
I don’t have kids of my own so I don’t actually know what it’s like to raise a family while having a highly stressful full time job – but from a not so outside outsider looking in, it was like these kids were merely an accessory. Like having children was just something to tick off the American dream checklist.
They would spend time with their kids when they had the time, instead of making time for them, which as a result was reflected through their behaviour.
Once the novelty of having a Nanny wore off to the kids, and the fresh off the boat sparkle left my eye, comments like "I wish Mommy wouldn't work so much" really started to sadden me.
The parents got busier, and started to rely on me more. That's when lines were crossed.
As an Au Pair there are pretty strict guidelines on how many hours you are meant to work each week. Among moving house and schools, etc., these guidelines started to get a little blurry. I found myself working longer hours and having a lot of my freedom being taken away.
What kind of 22yo needs a curfew? apparently I did. Did I stick to that curfew? LOL...Can pigs fly?
After having my privacy invaded one too many times, and getting spoken to from the top of the stairs like dickhead Vernon speaks to Harry Potter - I decided to pull the pin after a tumultuous six months.
If you were to have followed me on Instagram/Facebook during my time in the U.S, you'd have thought it all looked like ring-a-ring-a-rosies and fun activities. A lot of time it was, but I was never going to gram a pic of the nut-free-pea-not-nut-something butter sandwiches I made day in, day out, or being yelled at after crashing their car into the side of the house (which btw I had to navigate down a tight, twisty AF driveway - so really it's their fault) ...Hmm.
Funny how mundane, everyday struggles and personal breakdowns don't seem to get quite as much air time on the social media highlight reel, right?
At the end of the day, it wasn’t all bad. I truly did see some awesome places, made some great friends who I still keep in touch with today, and took away a life experience which I learnt a lot from.
No regrets on my part. Just really wish Obama had read my CV.
Tips for anyone considering being an Au Pair:
- Try before you buy – have as many Skype sessions as you can with your host family before you get there.
- Set down your personal boundaries, and be clear on what theirs are.
- When discussing any health issues the children may have, be sure to ask about their mental health also – Ask things like, “Are they happy most of the time?” “What upsets them,” etc.
- Ask about their plans for the year; do they have any trips planned? Will you be going with them? This is important – I was abandoned for two weeks while the family jetted off to Alaska. Lonely AF.
- If any issues arise – act on them early. If you can’t discuss the issue with your host parents, contact your area programme Councillor. A mistake I made was letting small things build and build until I reached breaking point.
- It is possible to change families, but the earlier on the better.
- Most importantly always have activities and trips planned – you’re there to travel and experience new things, so make the absolute most of it.
(Image via Pinterest)