You’re a young girl (or boy), and you have just arrived at your host family’s house to fulfil your dream of living in a different country. You get up in the mornings, get the kids ready for school and, after dropping them off, you get some time for yourself before it’s time to pick them up again. But then, a few weeks in, your host mum asks you to clean the bathroom. Which you agree to do. You can spare an hour to do some chores. Soon, however, the list of tasks starts to get longer and longer until you hardly have any time left for yourself. The host parents still pay you the same amount of money and expect you to work over 40 hours per week for less than £100.
Is this normal?
Unfortunately, this is something that happens quite often. There are no set rules that come with being an au pair. There’s no official contract, and this makes it very easy for host families to take advantage of their au pair. Au pairs are supposed to be a part of the family, and it’s only normal for them to do some household chores. But that doesn’t mean they are responsible for doing work in the garden, cleaning the host family’s car or doing all of their laundry (kids’ laundry is fine!).
What do they expect?
Some host families expect their au pair to clean the entire house (including bathrooms) and do their laundry. And this is not including the childcare. When they come home in the evenings, they sometimes even criticise the au pair for not making the house look the way they want it to look.
I even heard about a host mum who didn’t want to pay her au pair. Her argument was that the girl was living in her house and eating her food. She actually expected the girl to pay her money for being allowed to live there and look after her children.
Stick to the rules!
Au pairing comes with certain rules that both the au pair and the host family should stick to. Make sure you draw up and sign a contract containing every single thing that you have agreed on before the stay. If it’s not in the contract, you don’t have to do it.
Being an au pair can be a great experience, but some host families use their au pairs and don’t even think about making sure that they have a good experience. And those are the stories everyone always hears about. It’s what scares people off from becoming an au pair. They don’t want to be in that situation.
If you are (or know someone) who is in a situation where their host family is taking advantage of them, talk to them. Let them know that it’s not normal for them to work that many hours. Talk to the host family as well. Explain to them that this is not what being an au pair is about. If you’re lucky, they will realise the same and things will get better. If not, time to look for a different family!