Since I’ve been doing this for awhile now, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips and hints for anyone thinking about working as an Au Pair in America. Some of my friends also contributed to this list, and believe me I wish I’d known half of this stuff before I started! So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the last sixteen months:
Or the sick. Or the tired. In fact I can guarantee that the kids will act the worst when you’re not feeling your best. If you’re not on your game, fake it.
After teaching a kids class in Tae Kwon Do for a few years, and having two younger brothers (one with ADHD) I knew I couldn’t afford to show any weakness. If I had arrived and immediately tried to be friends with the kids, they would have walked all over me. So I was the horrible Au Pair who refused to back down for anything, even when the fake tears came out. And a funny thing happened; the kids respected me, and a few months later I was their “cool older sister”.
I curse like a trucker and within a couple of months if my little girl couldn’t do something she’d say “shut, shut!” Apparently that’s what the word shit sounds like in my accent. So now I have to swear in my head. Definitely not as satisfying.
If you threaten a host kid with a particular punishment often enough, eventually you have to follow through. Otherwise they’ll think they can walk all over you. It’s also no good punishing the kids if the host parents don’t follow through. If I tell the kids they’re not watching T.V after dinner, my host dad will back me up. The kids wouldn’t listen to me at all if he didn’t.
Take the best medical/travel insurance you can get. I was unlucky enough to use mine repeatedly the first year with two broken toes, an infection in another toe, strep throat, and a stress fracture. The cost of health care is ridiculous over here and it’s worth a bit of extra money for the insurance.
At seven in the morning the kids will hop around the kitchen like a frog or engage in a quick game of tag-complete with ear piercing shrieks. Kids have way too much energy. If it’s the weekend and you’re anything like me, you’ll want to climb out of bed and pull out a can of whoop-ass. But you can’t. So believe me when I say earplugs are your friend.
All Au Pairs have a bad bathroom story. Enough said.
If they’re fighting/crying/distracting you while you’re driving then pull the hell over. I’d been here two weeks when I crashed into a parked car because my attention was on the kids (who were being little monsters to be fair). Explain to them that they can’t behave like that when you’re driving. If that doesn’t work then show them some pictures of crash victims. (Just kidding.)
Try not to talk on the phone in front of the kids. Because even when they look like they’re not listening they are. And never talk about your host parents when the kids are around unless you’re fine with them repeating it verbatim later.
While I’m on this point never write or text anything about your host parents that you wouldn’t be okay with them reading. This seems obvious but after a long day when they’ve done something particularly irritating you’ll be tempted to rant to someone. It’s a lot more satisfying (and safer) to do it in person. While drinking wine.
They never forget anything. And they’ll bring it up at inappropriate times. Like the first time I met their grandparents and they told them about an incident three months earlier when I “did the loudest fart EVER”.
This is one of the most important pieces of advice we can pass on. Get out of the house at least once during the week. Even when you’re tired and have to get up early, hanging out with other grown ups-even just for a coffee, will help you stay sane. Also someone always has it worse than you, which is strangely comforting. When you’re homesick, getting together with a few friends is a much better idea than sobbing to your mother on skype. Trust me.
For more information on the Au Pair program itself, check out this post: Au Pair in America-Some things you should know