Hello hello and apologies for my 3 month hiatus! A lot has happened and I am very behind, but I am excited to get back into things!
I get lots of messages from girls who found my blog and want to talk to me about the au pair experience, which is what inspired today’s blog post. Most of the girls who reach out have similar questions: how do you live on the small wage? Do you find you have time to travel? What are the hard parts no one talks about? Do you think I should do it?
I love answering these questions, especially if it means I can help someone understand the au pair experience better and encourage them to do something that will change their lives forever.
And since I get so many of them, I thought it would be helpful to just write up a summary of my take on being an au pair! So without further ado…
There are million and one things about being an au pair that I did not expect, both good and bad, and dozens of others that I saw playing out differently in my head.
I don’t think I ever fully understood what my day-to-day life would look like, who my friends would be, how my routine changes, or how any of the other small but important differences would affect me.
I will do my best to share the details of what it’s really like being an au pair.
Your Employer Is also Your Roommate
Think about your co-workers. You love those guys, right? It’s so nice to see them every day and have a familiar face to catch up with. But can you imagine not having the privilege of going home at the end of the day?
Think of your boss. He’s likely a good guy, even if he hovers a bit too much or is passive aggressive in the way he gives feedback. But imagine seeing your boss at 7 in the morning when you’ve just woken up and not had time to wipe the sleepies out of your eyes yet.
Or worse, imagine seeing him on your way back into the house after a night of happy hours.
That’s kind of what it’s like being an au pair.
Most au pairs, I would say more than half, live in the same house as their family with only a private room to themselves. This can cause potentially awkward situations with even the best family, and uncomfortable or even tense ones with a family you don’t get on well with.
Here’s another example. Picture the kids knocking on your bedroom door early Saturday morning when you’re off, or even worse, barging in without knocking. Or having to share a bathroom with a seven year old and an eleven year old, which is common for many au pairs. Or worst of all, picture feeling like you have to stay in your room all the time because you know if you go downstairs you will be asked to do things like cook or clean, despite it being your free hours.
Lucky for me, I live in my own apartment separate from the house which eliminates all that awkwardness. My family is great in that they always respect my privacy and I really do feel like I’m at “home” when I return to my apartment, but I have friends who don’t have it so great.
Prepare For Confrontation
I hate confrontation. I would rather shave my own head than do something that can stir up a heated conversation with someone. I avoid it like the plague and this has always been a struggle of mine.
The thing you should know about being an au pair is that confrontation is going to arise whether you like it or not, and a tough yet constructive conversation is going to be necessary at least once or twice throughout your time.
If you know this and expect it ahead of time you will have a much better time handling it when the time comes.
I am extremely lucky in that I genuinely like my host parents as people – they ask about my life and genuinely care about my wellbeing. I spent Christmas and other holidays with them. I even had an apero night to meet my boyfriend when we first started dating, as if they were my real parents.
But even still, even with people who are easy to get along with and who are great to work for, we still had a few things we disagreed on and had to have a few difficult conversations throughout my stay.
Almost every issue an au pair will have with her host family can be solved with an open conversation and willingness to compromise. This is extremely important to be aware of because the longer you go without addressing the issue the worse things will get, so fearing the conversation only hurts you. And trust me when I say that having tension with the people you live with and work for is not fun.
Here is a list of some of the issues I have witnessed other au pairs have with their host families:
- Babysitting way more than she is supposed to (au pairs can only work maximum 30 hours/week in France)
- Host family not paying her on time
- Being asked to do things outside of au pair duties (cleaning the parents room or ironing their clothes, cleaning up after dinner parties/anyone that is not the children)
- Being told she is not allowed to have a boyfriend (yes this is real, no I am not exgerating)
- Being told she cannot have guests visit
- Host families telling, not asking, her to work outside her normal hours and not giving her proper notice
- Generally treating her like her time is not valuable, and that she is in the country solely to be their childcare provider, when in reality it is designed as a “cultural exchange program” – hence the 30hr/wk limit
Chances are if you are an au pair, one or more of these issues will come up at some point and you need to be prepared to talk about them.
My advice for dealing with confrontation is borrowed from my favorite book How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie (which you really need to read if you haven’t yet), and its simply this: try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view, and try to understand how your initial reaction to the situation could be wrong.
Is your host family asking you to babysit more than you like? Okay, well did you gladly agree the last 5 weekends in a row without mentioning that it’s inconvenient for you or not something you’d like to make into a routine? If yes, they can you see why your host parents would assume it’s not an issue for you and continue asking?
Does your host family pay you late often? Okay, well the last few times that it happened, did you say anything to them about it? Or did they say something along the lines of “oh, sorry we paid you late this week” and your response was “no problem!” with a smile? If so, then can you see how they could not be aware how frustrating this is for you?
See, the thing with confrontation is that when it’s kept internal you allow the frustration to build and build, all the while the other party is completely unaware, until you reach a boiling point and they had no idea they were even upsetting you. This applies to literally all aspects of life but the au pair experience in particular because you will spend a lot of time with your host family!
So often the confrontations we see in every day life are simply a matter of misunderstanding and unclear expectations. There are definitely bad host families out there, but the majority of them are good people and loving parent who are simply looking for someone to act as an older sister to their children. Remember this if you ever have a conflict with your family and try to see all sides before reacting negatively.
And please, before you leave your host family early, try to have a constructive discussion first! Too many girls leave early at the first sign of confrontation and I think that’s a real shame.
YOU HAVE FREE Time In The Middle Of The Day
This is both the best part and the most annoying part of being an au pair. Let me explain.
I start work at 7:30 each morning, where I go to the house and make Max’s lunch and help with breakfast. Then I take him to school and am free until I have to return and pick him up at 4. Assuming it’s a day when I don’t have class, I am completely free from 9:00-3:00 which is six whole hours!
Having that time is incredible but it’s also suuuuuch a tease. It’s exactly enough time to not be able to do anything, which is mega frustrating.
Six whole free hours in the middle of the day is good for or going to a museum, walking around the city, doing some laundry, taking a nap…. things like that.
But it’s also just enough time to not be able to have a second job (which hi, we need money), go anywhere outside of Paris, or really socialize with your friends because chances are they are also au pairs, and guess what, we all have work at 3.
And speaking of having au pair friends…
Your Entire Circle Is Made Up Of Au Pairs
You will meet and fall in love with sooo many other au pair girls. Of course you will meet other people but you’re social circle will most likely be made up of mostly au pairs, guaranteed.
And for good reason! They get it.
They have the same weird schedule as you and the same crappy pay. They feel the same animosity from their host parents at times and struggle with their kids throwing tantrums.
It’s like you’re in college again and you’re all freshmen trying to figure it out, except a million times better because it’s all girls (the nicest, most amazing species on earth) and you’re in PARIS, where they sell bottles of wine for 1 euro.
So e m b r a c e it!
Facebook is Your Key to Social Success
At the risk of sounding so so lame, I have to make this statement: I did not understand the power of Facebook until I became an au pair in France.
Every single friend I have made in France I met on Facebook. Every party I was invited to and attended, I found on Facebook. Every bit of information regarding French Administration, Immigration, Visa status, legal rights, I found on Facebook. My boyfriend, I met him on Facebook.
Do not underestimate the power of The Social Network!
Join as many Facebook groups as possible when becoming an au pair and I promise you will never be in trouble or without friends.
Some of the ones I joined were: Au Pair Paris groups (there are about 10), American Expats in Pars/France groups, Students in Paris groups, Paris Social Groups, etc.
You Will Gain Weight (& Then You Will Lose It)
So this is a tricky one and could vary depending on country, but I know that my experience with weight has been shared by other au pairs in Paris.
When I first arrived I didn’t refuse any food offered to me – in part because I was so excited to be in France eating French food, and in part because I ate almost every meal with my host family in those first few weeks. I’m not sure how much I gained but I would estimate 15lbs at least. All I know is it was a lot and I did not like it.
It took me 2 whole months before this whole living-in-Paris-thing stopped feeling like a long vacation and started feeling like real life. And then once that happened, I stopped eating food like it was going to disappear and drinking every week night.
You will get the hang of your routine and nutrition, so don’t stress out too much if you gain a little weight in your first few weeks – I managed to lose it all, plus a ton more, and I eat bread and pasta every single day! Besides, it’s half the fun of moving to a new country!
You Will Get Sick
If you’ve worked with children before then this might not apply to you, but even with my godmother and babysitting experience I was completely blind sided by how gross kids are.
They are precious little germ filled nuggets.
And I spent my first few months in Paris getting sick every other week. Like, need-to-go-to-the-doctor sick.
It’s gotten way better though and I’ve only had a handful of colds since December (well, and a casual case of Impetigo that’s lasted over a month…kids, man).
I suspect it was a combination of the new atmosphere (different water, different food, different particles floating in the area) combined with the constant germs of everything my kids touch (which is literally everything, all the time, always).
Not a huge deal but something you should prepare yourself for!
You WILL ADJUST TO HAVING NO MONEY
Au Pairs are notoriously paid very little – it’s all part of the deal.
The legal minimum in France is 75 euro a week in pocket money which sounds awful but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Here’s why: nearly every living expense you could possible have is (or should be!) covered.
Let’s use me as an example. My family covers my Navigo pass (metro), cell phone bill, rent (of course), food and groceries I buy, and they agreed to cover half the cost of my French classes, though some families cover all of this cost.
So you can see, I really have virtually no bills here which is very nice. This means you can totally live on 300 euro a month… you just have to adjust a bit. The good news, as mentioned before, most of your friends will also be au pairs so your friends will be on the same page as far as low budget activities! 🙂
Oh, and many au pairs have side jobs like waitressing or tutoring English, so there are definitely other ways to make money.
As I’ve said many times, being an au pair is not an easy job. But it’s the most wort-it thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I hope that can help answer some of the things you’ve been curious about. If you’re considering becoming an au pair and want to ask me more questions, feel free to comment below or inbox me on social media 🙂