What is it like to be an au pair?
Published on Wednesday, 15 May 2019
Last updated on Monday, 16 November 2020
Host families have much to gain by inviting an au pair into their home. It be cost-effective and culturally-enriching, with children benefitting from a care-giver who is more of an older sibling than a babysitter.
However, it's not just host families that reap the rewards. Once they’re settled into their home away from home, au pairs have the opportunity to embrace new experiences, explore a different country, bond with locals and earn some pocket money along the way.
To gain a feel for the au pair experience, we spoke with Katrin Krzoska and Jess Demain - two au pairs who found their host families through AuPairworld.
Interview with Katrin
Katrin, you're an au pair two times over, and are currently caring for four Australian children, a nine-year-old girl and three boys aged seven, two and seven-months-old. Why were you attracted to au pairing?
I am German and when I finished school in 2017, I didn't feel ready for university. I wanted to go abroad and think that living with a host family gives you the best opportunity to experience the culture and way of life in the country you're living. Being an au pair is definitely the best way for me!
After one year of au pairing in Sweden, I decided to take another gap year and came to Australia as an au pair.
What child care experience did you have before becoming an au pair?
I've had a lot of different experiences in child care. For example, I babysat for two different families, helped children with their homework and learned with them for exams, helped in holiday activities and had a youth leader role in my church community. I was also part of the first aid team in my school, so I received a first aid certificate every year.
How did you locate your Swedish and Australian host families?
I created an online profile containing lots of information about myself, my experiences, why I wanted to become an au pair, plus some references and pictures. Then, once my profile was live, I texted many host families and talked to quite a few through Skype or WhatsApp until I found the right one. Both times I started looking for my host family six months before I wanted to leave my home, to allow enough time to organise flights, visas and everything.
After I'd spoken with my Australian host family about three times, they offered me the job. I spent nine weeks with them in Canada (where we met for the first time) and I now live with them on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Why was your Australian host family looking for an au pair?
Both parents are doctors, with the dad working full-time and the mum working part-time. They were looking for someone to pick-up the children from school when they were working, take them to after school activities, do the occasional school drop-off and stay home with their baby. They also wanted their children to learn a bit of German.
What does your working week look like?
I work mainly Tuesdays, every second Wednesday and Friday, then for two or three hours on Mondays and some Thursdays.
On the long days, I stay home with the baby until it's time to pick up the toddler from kindy and the older children from school. I take them to several after school activities, such as tennis, soccer, swimming, ballet, gymnastics and jujitsu, then we head home and I give them a bath or shower and prepare dinner. Most of the time, their mother is back by then and we all have dinner together. The parents put their kids to bed and that's when my day finishes.
On the short days, I only have the two younger boys and I take them to the playground or pool or just play with them at home.
My family has a cleaner, so the only household chores I do are tidying up after the children and normal things you do at home, like emptying the dishwasher.
How much time, and space, do you share with your host family?
We share all meals together, but there's no obligation, if I prefer to eat later or go out with friends.
I also get plenty of time off to do my own thing. Weekends are mine and so are most Thursdays, with lots of free time on Mondays and every second Wednesday. My host family understands that I want to have travel experiences too, so if I want to go on a longer weekend trip to places, they'll give me the Monday off.
In terms of accommodation, my host family is waiting to move into their new house, so they currently live in a unit and I stay in the unit next door. This means I have my own bathroom and a lot of privacy. In the new house I'll get my own room and bathroom again, and I'm also allowed to use one of their cars whenever I want, which gives me independence.
What are the best things about being an au pair?
Well, I really, really like my host family and their kids! We have a lot of fun together and I love spending time with them. It doesn't feel like a job.
Plus, the Gold Coast is amazing! We live only 100m from the beach and as an au pair, I get to experience the Australian lifestyle and culture every day, plus save some of my pocket money to travel to other places, like Sydney, Melbourne or Byron Bay.
What are some challenges you've faced as an au pair?
Driving on the other side of the road was a bit daunting at first, but after a week it was fine! And I know that some au pairs get very homesick, but this hasn't been a problem for me. The kids accepted me after a very short time as the 'new big sister'. And my families have been very welcoming, which made it easy for me to settle in. I just love the au pair experience – it's so fantastic!
Interview with Jess
Jess, you're originally from England and spent the first part of this year au pairing for an Australian family, with three boys aged zero to seven. How did you find your way into au pairing?
Well, I had been living in South Africa for eight years and came to Australia, looking for a job to take up time during my gap year. I looked into au pairing and thought it would be a great opportunity to work as well as experience a country I'd never visited before.
I have many little cousins back in England and am always looking after them during holidays, so I realised that I love being around young children! Also, my family had au pairs when I was a child, so I knew how great it was to have this experience.
Why did your host family choose an au pair over another child care option?
I was my host family's seventh au pair. They've always had au pairs and say it's nice for their boys to have an 'older sibling' living with them. They also think that an au pair is a great way for their children to learn about other cultures.
What were your hours and duties as an au pair?
I started work at 6:45am and finished at around 6:30pm from Monday to Friday. I have weekends free and went to the gym in the evenings, so that I could have some time to myself.
My duties included getting the boys dressed and ready for school, making breakfast, doing school runs and attending story time and playgroup with the younger two children. I entertained the boys at home and also cared for the baby – changing, feeding and putting him down for naps.
Their mum was home from 9:30am until 2:15pm, but I still cared for the boys during this time and their mother helped out when she could. I also did light housework, which included cleaning the kitchen daily and helping the boys tidy up their toys.
When it came to your living arrangements, what did you share with your host family?
I shared meals with my host family, so breakfast with the boys, lunch with the boys and their mum, and then dinner with both parents.
For my accommodation, I had my own bedroom and shared a bathroom with the children. I also had full access to WiFi, was given a SIM card for my phone and had the family car for both work and personal use.
Now that you've finished up with your host family, what would you say is the best thing about being an au pair?
I was given the opportunity to live somewhere that I would never get to experience otherwise. I adored the boys I looked after, and it was incredible watching them grow up during my time in Canberra, Australia. Au pairing was also my first fully independent adventure since leaving home, which made it an exciting experience in itself.
Do you think there are any downsides to being an au pair?
As much as I enjoyed the family, there were times where I found it difficult to settle in and adapt to their ways of living. Some things were very different from home and this was quite a shock at first. Being an au pair can also be a lonely job – especially when you first arrive and don't live near other au pairs you know.
All in all, though, being an au pair has many more positives than negatives, and I'm so happy to have had this experience.
If you're interested in home-based child care with a cultural bent, then there are lots of amazing au pairs looking for host families in Australia. Businesses like AuPairworld can help you find the right person, and for more information about au pairs, explore our library of articles.
An overview of au pairs: what they are, what they do and don’t do, who uses them, how much they cost, how you can employ one and your legal obligations.
Using an agency to source a nanny, au pair or babysitter saves time and effort but there are a few things it is useful to be aware of before you start the process.
Both nannies and au pairs provide individualised in-home child care, but in many ways, the similarities end there.