Organising your au pair stay is a pretty personal thing! You decide where to go and with whom you'd like to stay. Although all au pair stays should be based on the idea of cultural exchange, every au pair stay is as individual as the people who live it. To give you a greater insight into a special kind of au pairing, au pairs Jenni and Henry talk about their experiences as an au pair couple in Italy.
Working as an au pair is predominantly the domain of single, young women perhaps on a gap year. We, on the other hand, are pushing 30, an engaged couple and living life on the road. Travellers come in all shapes and sizes and while it’s a fantastic experience for somebody younger to be independent, that shouldn’t stop you if you’re a little worldlier, love working with kids, and want a way to immerse yourself in another culture. We found when organising our au pair stay that families were happy to consider us on the basis that we were a bit older, trustworthy and had years of experience in other professions as managers in different fields.
Our au pair journey
The process itself wasn’t at all arduous. We registered on AuPairWorld and filled in profiles for both of us separately with a note to say we were looking together. The host family got in touch with us via email and from there we set up a Skype interview. Skype interviews are a safety net for host families too – they don’t want just anyone looking after their kids. Everyone must be sure that it's the right fit. Mostly you don’t get the chance to visit the family first when making arrangements to serve as an au pair. We were able to do so. It meant a little re-jigging but we journeyed up for a trial run to see how we gelled while we were travelling around Europe. Their Agriturismo business (farmstays and a truffle school) on the farm meant they needed a lot of maintenance work as well as childcare. Together we made a great package deal for our hosts!
The first week of settling in did throw some difficulties. What are your boundaries for punishment when the kids are acting up? How much should you tell the parents about bad behaviour and how many activities should you plan to keep the kids entertained in the summer holidays? The straight and simple answer to almost every difficulty is communication. We learned to ask the parents for the best way to approach bad behaviour and came up with ways to calm down the kids such as a sweet for finishing homework and rewarding them with swimming in the pool if they’ve had a good day. The worst days are when the kids cry, throw massive tantrums and that language barrier is there so you feel inadequate to deal with it. We quickly found being firm but warm and kind leads to a lot of respect from the kids even if they do still argue and disobey us at times.
Managing the kids as an au pair couple
As an au pair couple the kids treat us differently. While Henry is the enforcer of rules, Jenni is seen as the softer more playful one, although we both command respect and enforce good manners at every opportunity. This is a fact of childcare but it’s best to be open on the especially bad days and not stress the parents out when it’s been a day of trivial arguments. The kids are proud of how far our Italian has come along and we’re able to understand each other better now and bond a lot more. In practical terms, we also found making a weekly plan solved the issue of running out of things to do. A spreadsheet of activities (5 a week) and the rest of the time is lunch, film or cartoons and homework. Treasure hunts, gardening, crafts, sports days are all things we do together and one of us can take the reigns if the other, mainly Henry is doing maintenance or farm work.
Perks of the job
As live-in au pairs we get to live like Italians! Learning to cook regional dishes, speak another language, spend time being creative with kids and being a tourist on our days off are the reasons we do the job. The host family have said we feel like equal partners in running the farm, childcare and helping with their business. They have welcomed us into their lives and appreciate that as a couple we have interchangeable skills and we both bring creative ideas and an equilibrium to family life on the farm. Having our own little house on the farm has also given us space to reflect and have quality time together, but it’s also lovely spending dinner every night with the family and friends of the family.
Our future plans
Feeling so connected to our host family has made us realise we are a strong team and that childcare/teaching is the right path for us. Having our own family one day doesn’t seem so scary any more either! You are integral to that child or children’s and family’s lives for months at a time and whether you help them speak another language, take them on day trips, help them with homework or bake a cake together – it’s worth everything for that unique insight into their life. It educates and enriches you in a way we certainly did not expect when we started our ‘summer job’. Now we want to keep doing this! But our future isn't set in stone, which is what makes our nomadic life so exciting! Between us we have a CELTA qualification (Henry) and a degree in journalism (Jenni) so our next step is to look for an ESL teaching job while the latter looks at being a nanny or au pair. Our aim is to stay in Europe while we have freedom of movement and hone our skills in teaching and photography respectively and keep travelling the world.
About the authors:
Jenni Flett and Henry Lecky are both UK nationals who left Edinburgh to travel the world doing seasonal work. As a writer and a newly qualified English teacher respectively, they're using their skills to set out on one big life adventure! See also their travel blog www.hooplaadventures.com and Instagram account: @hoopla_adventures.