Ellen’s blog: New au pair: advice for first-timers

We have recently welcomed our third au pair in four years, and she and the children are getting used to each other and their new routine. My lovely new au pair is Italian and has a wonderful can-do attitude of wanting to do as much as possible to help around the house - and my children are happily exploiting this by allowing her to do everything for them (note to self: must clamp down on this behaviour)!

I wrote a blog some time ago about my first au pair experience - having now done it three times, here are some top tips for au-pair first timers, based on my three years of being an “au pair family.” It works well for our family, but if it’s your first time trying this type of arrangement, it’s useful to remember that you need to allow some time to establish a routine.

Make a list of the little things about your house that only you know, but which are vital to the smooth running of your household and its facilities - even the smallest of details can be important!. For example you and our kids know that the light switch for the downstairs toilet is on the wall outside, but your new householder doesn’t and may end up going to the loo in the pitch darkness as a result. In our case, everyone knows that the hot tap in the laundry room initially starts running cold before switching from freezing cold to boiling hot after about 5 seconds - if you have got your hand under it at that point, you may need to see a doctor for a possible skin graft. You need to make sure you communicate all these things to your au pair as soon as reasonable practical.

Be prepared to be very patient - particularly when you go from your first au pair to your second - you’ve got used to your previous au pair and how efficient she / he had become, and now you’re adjusting to things being done at a slower pace, or not quite right. Give it time. In the future you will manage to laugh at how long it took to make the kids’ dinner because your au pair made sure the frozen peas were fully defrosted before putting them in a frying pan to boil.

Try to be empathetic - when you were that age how responsible / capable were you?? If I’m honest, I don’t think that when I was 20, I would have been totally on top of ensuring the right sports kit was washed and ironed on the right day for the right child. It has taken 4 weeks for my au pair to develop her own laundry-management-system (seems a bit complicated, but it works)!

English lessons are vital - they are an inexpensive way of getting your au pair out of the house, meeting new people and improving their language skills. Google your local adult education college - they are a very valuable resource.

Bank accounts are not as easy to open for recent immigrants as they used to be. It could be due to Brexit, or concerns about money laundering, but it is no longer the case that you can go to the local branch of your own bank and provide a letter of introduction in order to open an account for your new au pair. Our trips to the high street banks were interesting – in one the staff advised me that she would need to provide proof of address in the form of a council tax or utility bill. Although I pointed out that she has come to the UK to learn English and babysit (rather than to cover my gas and electricity bills) he was still unable to help. Two other high street banks said exactly the same thing, but then we finally found one which is all on-line and you can open an account using their app to photograph a passport and take a selfie video (yes, a “selfie video” is part of the account opening process of an FCA regulated financial institution). The account is available immediately and you get your debit card the next day.

Many other European countries do not use contactless payment as much as we do - your new au pair may be stunned by having to use a contactless card for a bus journey or a low-value product/service.

Be clear on what is routine and what is not: if the usual rule is that child A finishes school at 4pm, but for this week only he / she has a sports fixture and will be finishing late then you need to be very clear that it’s a one-off and not the new collection time applicable henceforth forever.

If possible try to create lists (with timelines) of the au pair’s responsibilities after school - if you just say “do homework, have dinner, have bath etc” then don’t be surprised if the homework is being done well past bedtime and the kids are still dressed as Batman and Spiderman respectively. And try to be specific on what time your kids should eat - or else don’t be surprised when their dinner is served at 8pm and they won’t eat it because they hit the biscuit tin at 5pm to stave off the ravenous hunger. Saying “5pm dinner, 6pm homework, 7pm bath time” is much more helpful for everyone.

And finally - another useful tip to make sure that nothing has been lost out in translation is to always re-confirm understanding at the end of a conversation. That sounds obvious, but I have learned that saying “do you have any questions” will always be answered “no thanks”, whereas if you ask something specific (eg “there is not much time after football for the kids to get changed - do you think that 15 minutes will be ok”? will then get you a more meaningful response (especially if it indicates that she hadn’t realised this would be an issue, or just hadn’t understood at all what was required).

I hope that’s been helpful to any au pair first-timers out there!

Ellen has worked in the City for 18 years, mainly in banking, and currently for an inter-dealer broker. She has two children aged 7 and 4, with an au pair at home to help out

Category: A Citymother's Diary

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