It is pretty well-known, in Europe at least, that being an Au Pair is a good way to see the world, travel, live somewhere new and learn a new language, but what happens when all of that goes wrong and you are stuck in a country that you hate with a family that you hate even more?
I have met many Au Pairs over the years that had amazing experiences abroad and saw so many wonderful sights, but most of them had a few horror stories as well. I was one of the lucky ones. I have had only one Au Pair family and they were AMAZING! Top-notch! But from what I’ve heard, that is pretty rare.
Here are some things to watch out for and be aware of if you decide to try out the Au Pair life.
Know the Au Pair Laws of the Country You Are Working In
Every country has different policies and laws for Au Pairs that determine how many hours you can work in a day/week. They also include what jobs you are allowed to preform in the household, how many vacation days you get, what the minimum payment is and what the family must provide for the Au Pair.
Knowing what is legal in the country you go to can help you determine if your family is taking advantage of you or not.
Au Pairing is supposed to be a cultural exchange, not indentured servitude and many families use hiring Au Pairs as a way of having a live-in maid/nanny for less than half the pay.
Many Au Pairs are young, around 18 years old, and don’t have enough life experience to negotiate contracts or confront families on conflicts in the household. These families know that and can take advantage.
Have a Clear Contract
Au Pairs need to have a contract written out that says what their job will be, how many hours they will work and what their pay will be. Make sure that the family either has this in your native language or you need to have it professionally translated before you sign. If you have a basic understanding of that countries language, it might not be enough to fully understand what you are being signed up for.
Avoid signing contracts that have vague language about compensation or hours, families can use this against you later when they start over-working you. Also, don’t be afraid to break contract and find a new family if things don’t work out. Those contracts can rarely be held up in court, it’s mainly just for clear communication between families and Au Pairs.
Do Not Leave the Country with Your Family Under Weird Terms
A friend of mine was working for a very wealthy family in Germany that had 1 child. One day the mom came home and ordered her to pack their bags and get ready to get in the car. It was midnight at the time.
There were people calling the house all day and my friend was ordered not to answer any calls or the door if someone knocked. She was worried and a bit confused, but she didn’t want to say anything for fear of angering the parents with her questions. She packed the bags for the family and for herself and then they (very sneakily) went to the car and drove off in the middle of the night.
In the morning, they arrived in Austria at the families vacation home. No one told my friend why they were there or what they were doing, they just started leaving the house all day and night and leaving my friend with their kid all day. She was working way way more that her agreed-upon 30 hours a week.
After a few weeks, my friend asked to cancel her contract and said she wanted to leave Austria. The mom became belligerent and said that if she left, she was doing to call the police and say that my friend was border jumping. All of my friends clothing and personal items were in Germany still, locked up in their house, and her permanent visa hadn’t been processed yet. She was on the last leg of her tourist visa and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to get back into Germany.
Luckily, she had friends in Germany and found a family on a popular Au Pair site that heard her story and (being lawyers) helped her out of this situation as cleanly as possible.
Turns out the father of the family was evading tax fraud and that is why they had to leave so suddenly.
If something makes you feel uneasy, listen to your gut. No one can make you do anything if you don’t want. If you think you can’t handle the situation, call the authorities (if yo can) and explain the situation.
Families Using the Children as Leverage
This is most common form of manipulation that I have seen in the Au Pair world. Pay close attention to this, especially if you are in charge of teaching their children a foreign language.
In Germany, many families hire english-speaking au pairs as a way of helping their kids learn English. This is all fine-and-dandy until you want to leave and the parents start getting a little desperate.
Usually when you sign a contract, it has the length of the contract on it so everyone knows when you will be leaving. This is good for both the family and the Au Pair, so the family can start looking for Au Pairs a few months earlier than your leave date and getting everything ready for their new addition.
Parents can become a bit stressed during the hiring process, especially if you were a great Au Pair and they can’t find any good candidates, and that can make them start trying to convince you to stay past your contract date. Some Au Pairs like this and want to stay for a bit longer (if available in your country), but problems arise when you don’t want to stay.
Parents, getting desperate, start telling you how much the kids will miss you when you leave, how can you do this to them?, why don’t you stay just a bit longer to help us out?, childcare is so hard to find, and that you were the best Au Pair ever and I really thought we were friends/family.
Maybe they really mean this, but it is just a ploy to get you to stay to benefit them. The kids will miss you, you were great and it would help them out, but Au Pairing is supposed to be a temporary cultural exchange, not a help-wagon going around helping everyone who needs cheap child care.
Have a set plan. If extending your contract is something that you want to do, do it, but if you don’t, don’t entertain them by saying “maybe, ill think about it” it’s easier to stand firm and say “thank you, I really appreciate the offer, but I have plans after this that doesn’t make it possible for me to stay” or what ever it is you need to say to make it clear that you are not interested.
Thank you for reading! I hope this has helped you more than it has scared you away from Au Pair life. Choosing to live with strangers always comes with challenges, but I hope this has helped you become away of the warning signs of bad families and given you some tips on how to avoid being put in uncomfortable situations.
Are you an Au Pair? Are you thinking about making the leap? Let me know!