This blog is part of the host parent interview series where we get to know other families who are hosting au pairs. Every family is different and we like to represent the variety of views.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
Hi there! So just to tell you a little bit about us. I am Jenny, I am 44 (nearly 45…but the last few months of being 44 are VERY important!) I am married to Julian (52) and we are coming up to our tenth wedding anniversary. Julian and I both work within the emergency services.
We have two children, Megan age 11 and Emily age 7. We also have two dogs, Rosie (a Welsh Springer) and Lacey (a working cocker.) To add to this family, we have 11 amazing au pairs who have been a HUGE part of our lives in the last ten years.
We live in Penarth in Wales – UK. Penarth is a very diverse and beautiful seaside town. It’s an affluent area, but full of middle aged professionals or retired people. It’s mainly a family based area with exceptional schools. We live slightly outside of our pay bracket, but to us a home for au pairs and children to grow up in, you cannot ask for a better set up.
Q: How did you find out about au pairs?
I was traveling the UK, lecturing on a specific topic related to work, and met an amazing woman from the World Health Organization. I stayed overnight with her around 13 years ago and I was introduced to her au pair. I didn’t really understand what an au pair was until this point. I had a nanny as a child, as my mother was single at the time and also worked within the Emergency Services.
My husband and I live over three hours away from my parents and siblings, and he has no family, so when I got pregnant I panicked a little. I was worrying about how we would cope with the demands of our jobs and a child. My position demanded 18+ hour days most of the time, so I knew that conventional nannies or nurseries were never going to work for us. I recalled the au pair I had met and started to do some research.
I learnt that an au pair was a person 18-30 looking for a cultural exchange, who in return lived in with you. One thing I noticed about the au pair I had originally met, was that she wasn’t really a part of the family. She went to her room as soon as her chores were complete. I definitely didn’t want this. I didn’t want a ‘live in’ maid or ‘servant’ – I wanted an extension on our family and a friend. My au pairs have all become so much more than ‘a friend’ – they have become surrogate daughters to both Julian and I.
Q: Why did you use an au pair (instead of daycare, nanny, etc.?)
My hours of work can be in excess of 18+ a day. I never wanted either of my children to be bounced between friends or family. To be rushed to breakfast clubs or after school clubs. I also, (as much as I hate to admit it) am not the most maternal of people.
An au pair for me, offers stability, routine, friendship, a big sister, a confidant, love, fun and support for my girls. Personally, they have each made me grow as a person. They have been there through some of the worst times of my life, been a pillar of strength, a shoulder to cry on. They have told me off, made me see sense, laughed with me, cried with me, drank copious amounts of wine and danced around the house with me. They have only extended my family for the better.
If something serious happens at work, meaning I have to stay on (sometimes this has been for days – I literally have not seen my children for a week at a time, and this happened quite often before I changed departments)…I was always able to relax, knowing they were safe, in routine, homework done, a hot and healthy meal in their tummies and to bed on time. We ensured that the time and hours worked by the au pair was made up and paid back.
Thanks to the love and dedication of my au pairs, I have two happy, emotionally well balanced and bright young children.
Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?
I have always used AuPairWorld. AuPairWorld was the first site I ever tried. It was easy, I liked the search criteria and ‘easy find’. I was able to easily contact and message potential au pairs through their messaging system, and the cost was relatively inexpensive. I also like the fact that the searching and the decision making was entirely left to me as the host. I much prefer this concept over an ‘agency’.
Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?
Generally I wanted au pairs who had no previous experience of ‘au pairing’. This was mainly because I wanted the experience to be one that we went through together, and there was no comparison to others. I wasn’t concerned about childcare qualifications. I looked for a warm face and personality. I generally skipped over any au pairs who had a pouting ‘kiss blowing’ photo, or half naked photo as their profile pic. I looked for someone who was family orientated and loved animals as well as children.
Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?
I would ‘like’ and message quite a few au pairs that matched my search criteria. I looked for those that replied, and engaged rather than just sending a notification. I always tried to make my profile letter funny and honest. Most au pairs said they loved this and it stood out from people that just listed chores and needs. For me an au pair is not about the chores it’s about the engagement. Of course, helping with general household jobs is part of the role. But they would never be asked to do anything that I wouldn’t do, or that I wouldn’t give my kids to do. Both of my children help the au pair with the hoovering and polishing when they can. I am a bit of an OCD freak, so I would always do this when I can or do with the au pair.
Anyway, back to the question…I would whittle down the search by responding to those that asked questions and genuinely seemed interested in the children, their likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests, schooling, music etc etc. Both of my girls play the piano, one to a high standard. For a brief period, I looked for au pairs with musical knowledge, but I found that this didn’t work and it limited my choice. All the au pairs I have had joined in with the children and started to learn music for themselves, I loved this.
Once I had the au pair choice down to three or four, I would Skype with them. Speaking clear and fluent English was a criteria I did look for…so Skyping gave me a good sense of their language skills. It also demonstrated their real interest and desire. For me, au pairing is about experiencing a new culture through a family and being part of that family – this, in the main, was what I looked for.
After I had chosen my au pair and offered them a home to come to, I would then get them talking to my previous au pairs. Each au pair was told to be 100% open and honest with the new family member. This meant good and bad. Each family has good and bad points and there is absolutely no point in trying to hide anything. 100% transparency is definitely the key to a successful relationship.
Once the new au pair had a few weeks engaging with the current and old au pairs, I would then start about four weeks of Skyping with the children. They would slowly build up a rapport with both girls and the current au pair. The girls would play games with them online, and generally build up a rapport. I always found this eased the transition for everyone.
Oh where do I start? We have sooooo many funny stories from each and every au pair. From first time drunken nights out, to wearing goggles whilst cleaning the shower. Spraying nappy poo’s when Megan was a baby, to dancing around the kitchen. I have endless videos of the girls and au pairs singing to songs, dancing, playing, camping, surfing, dog walking. You name it – we have done it. These memories are treasured. I have belly laughed with each of them… sometimes so hard that a little bit of pee (apologies for the graphic description) may come out. Honestly, the fun we have had is irreplaceable.
Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?
Last May we traveled to Sweden and as one big group (au pairs and the Coleman-Humphreys family) we hired a big Airbnb in Gothenburg, right on a lake. We had a long weekend together and the Swedes showed us around. We ate Swedish food, visited national parks, and had a stunning and valuable few days away.
Here at home, we try to cook national foods. Most of my au pairs love to bake and cook. I’ve woken to the fresh smell of cinnamon buns, and eaten lovingly prepared dishes from their home country. The girls are introduced to games from each country, and we have had each set of au pairs parents and siblings also over to stay. Some au pairs have had their boyfriends to live with us for a few weeks. They have engaged with the kids just as much as the au pairs have – and my girls have grown really close to them also. We try to learn cultural traditions and celebrate their own national holidays.
I have always told my children that they are the luckiest children in the world – they can literally travel the world and have a second home to go to in each of the countries. I know that they are always welcome and will remain part of each au pairs family, forever.
Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?
Life is not a bed of roses. An au pair is a person who you watch and help grow, emotionally and mentally. They are away from everything they know and love, and whilst this is an exciting time for them, they can get home sick and feel sad. I have had au pairs feeling very low and down at times. It’s a really hard job at times. Overnight they are becoming a parents, friend, big sister, and more. It’s a lot of pressure for them and that has to be remembered. I loved Japan when I was younger, and I always tell my au pairs that it took me three months to stop feeling homesick. This is very normal. I find it takes time and patience for everyone to adapt.
We have a complete open and honesty policy in our house. If there is something they don’t like, or worried about, they are allowed to say it. They won’t be judged, and vice versa… we will adapt and change accordingly. It took me a while to learn how to adapt, and there are mistakes I made with some of my first au pairs that I don’t make now. I guess as a person and family we have grown also.
I have had a couple of au pairs who have started and we have had to return home. We have had to find a new aupair very quickly and that’s made the transition harder. I say harder, because we have 3-4 weeks where the old au pair helps transition the new aupair. When one has been replaced because its not ‘worked out’ its been difficult to transition so seamlessly.
One example of such, was when I was pregnant with Emily. Sofie looked after Megan who was 4, me who had hyperemesis gravidarum and was very very ill, and also a poorly puppy (Rosie had IMPA). I would just like to add at this point, that the love and care Sofie gave us, made us not only very close, but exceptionally grateful. I love her like a child of my own, and she literally saved my life.
Hanna started with us when Sofie was due to leave. As the weeks went on, I started to get concerned about Hanna. She wasn’t engaging with Megan at all. When Sofie left – all communication stopped… and we agreed to part ways. I think it must have been very difficult for Hanna, seeing how close Sofie and I were, but also with me being very poorly and constantly in and out of hospital.
Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?
Our next au pair, Thea, starts with us in June and our current au pair, Mary, leaves us mid May. Unfortunately this is because of the restrictions of the lock down. It means that Thea will miss out on building a relationship with Mary, whilst gently being transitioned into the role. If the girls are home still and being home-schooled, it’s even more pressure on her. This is going to be a first for us, and we will just take each day as it comes.
As I have had more and more au pairs, I have learnt to park my OCD, and accept that the house doesn’t need to be spotlessly clean and tidy, timetables have a habit of going out of the window, and there are bad days as well as good days.
To start with – I think I expected too much. But with the help of my au pairs I have grown as a person and seen myself develop and become more accepting. We have rows like any parent and teenage daughter would – but we have the respect and closeness to talk and park it. Learn from it and adapt.
I would urge any one having an au pair to just be ‘human’ and treat them as you would want someone to treat your son or daughter. Never forget that they are someone else’s son or daughter. They deserve to be treated with love, kindness, and fairness. They are not a housemaid or servant, they are part of your family.
Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of welcoming au pairs)?
Be accepting, open, and committed. Make the au pair part of you and your children’s lives. Embrace the experience. Become friends. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, but do it diplomatically. Take them with you on holiday and out for walks, bike rides, swims, meals etc. This is a relationship for life. They are here to learn and grow with you. Remember that they are new to this, and still young. Treat them as you would want someone to treat your own child. Enjoy the experience. My life is enriched because of my au pairs, and I owe them the world.
Q: Have you had a gap or overlap when transitioning between au pairs?
Yes – we have four weeks of having two. The first week, I let them sleep and find their feet. They join in when they want…and generally get a feel for the house.
The second week I like to see them engaging more with the kids and just having fun. The current au pair takes them on dog walks and shows them the town. They go to after school clubs with the kids so they know where to go and get to meet any teachers etc.
The third week they muck in with the housework and kids, meal prep etc…pretty much helping out the current au pair with everything. We will have family nights, go to the cinema, or out for a drink/meal etc.
The final week they totally take over. The current au pair has the week to pack, say goodbye to her friends, do a bit with the children and just get used to the idea of leaving. When they do leave it’s always emotional for everyone.
By the fourth week – I find the new au pair is very ready for the old one to go, and for them to put their own stamp in things. But in this time, the new and old au pair have made a new friendship and become part of the bigger group. This method has worked AMAZINGLY for us. I am not looking forward to not having this option on this transition, but we will go with it and do the best we can.
Q: Do your au pairs talk with each other?
Oh yes – we have one big family group. As a group we talk every day. We share problems, or funny stories, recipes and cooking tips. We play online games… together we try to meet up as much as we can. I am so happy that we all get along and that each of them have found new friendships through us.
Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?
This has only been a positive experience for us. I cannot imagine my life without them. I have alluded to how much I love each one. I love them all for their own personalities, and what they bring to our relationship. As a group I love how we all gell and come together for Megan and Emily. I love the au pair community, but it’s not all a bed of roses. It’s hard at times, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Having an au pair is a game changer in terms of family life, it gives you back quality time as a family…just never forget that they are part of that family.