Rule no. 4- You are NOT a maid

This rule is very difficult. Not just to follow, but difficult in general. Most families, when describing your duties will say "light housework." As soon as you hear this ask for a specific list of what you will be expected to do. This is essential. I did not do this with my family, and I have been having an incredibly difficult time with them because of it. You are not a maid. You are not there to clean their house. You are there to look after their children. So not only ask for a specific list of duties, but ask for them to email it to you. That way you have a hard copy from them on what you will be required to do. So that if you ever feel like you are being over-worked, or taken advantage of, you can take that paper and say "See! I came here with these tasks to do, and nothing more. I am not your maid!" And always remember that they need you more than you need them.

A few things that will be normal for an au pair to do for their family:

  • Sweeping (once or twice a day)
  • Vacuuming (max. every other day, NOT everyday)
  • Mopping (once a week, sometimes more)
  • Ironing/ Laundry (I recommend keeping your clothes and the children's cloths in the same hamper and washing them together, separately from their parents so that you will not have to handle your employer's laundry at all)
  • Dusting (once a week, or when needed)
  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Light cooking for the children (If you do not know how to cook, make sure that your family knows this before you get there)
  • Picking up the children's room
These things are normal to do, it looks like a lot, but it's not that much really. Things that an au pair are NOT required to do:
  • Laundry (touching your employers dirty underwear is not your job)
  • Cleaning up after the children/pets if they get sick (meaning if they vomit, NOT your job to clean up)
  • Spring cleaning
  • Cleaning of bathrooms/ toilets (unless the au pair is the only one using said toilet)
  • Cleaning windows, walls, ceilings, floors
  • Mowing the lawn
Now I recommend that before agreeing to go work as their au pair, both family and prospective au pair must be clear of the duties expected. Therefore if the family is asking more than what you are comfortable with you know that from the beginning and you can either find a compromise that you are both comfortable with, or you can find a different family. 

Another thing that is very important: an au pair is allowed to work a MAXIMUM of 5 hours per day, and 30 hours per week with one full day off. 

This is very important to remember and make sure is clear to your family. Do not let them over work you. And do not allow yourself to be over worked! This is where Rule no. 2 comes in handy. Go to your room, read a book, skype your parents/friends/boyfriend/girlfriend, take a nap. Your room is your sanctuary. Use it!





PS. Rule no. 3

When is comes to French food, it is delicious, but very different from any other food. I recommend that before coming to France, go to your pharmacy and buy some pills called 'probiotics'. These pills will help line your intestines with extra cells so that your body can cope with the change in food. Otherwise the food change can shock your digestive system and you'll get sick (diarrhea, vomiting, just grossness in general). So buy these pills and take them once a day for the first week before you leave for France, 2-3 times a day for the first week after your arrival (3 times is preferred, but 2 times will probably work as well), and then just once a day for the next two weeks afterwards. This way your stomach is eased into the transition, and you won't get sick.

Now some people have strong stomachs and the change won't effect them at all. I'm sure there are people reading this and saying 'I went to France and I never got sick!' But hey, everyone is different. And for some people the change will be a bit delayed. My last trip to France when I was 16 I didn't get sick for the first three weeks, but week four came around and I was miserable! So just stay on the safe side, get probiotics, and stay healthy!!


Rule no. 3- They are French!

Not so much a rule as a daily reminder. For you and for them! You are not French! You have different food, habits, customs, humor, and a different language! It's not always easy to deal with! French food is very different from most other foods. I am American, so I am used to certain foods and customs of eating. In France a meal can last for over three hours. In the US they generally last about an hour. They have different habits, like their means of discipline as well of their over all manners. In the US most people are very success oriented. What I mean by that is that they mostly point out the good things that you do. They don't make you think that you are doing perfect work, but they do try to emphasize where you have done well. French people mostly point out where you can improve, and then forget to tell you where you have done well. This needs to be spoken about with your French family and discussed regularly. They are French, it's the way they are. But you are the au pair (and not French) so you need to remind them often that you have needs as well! As for humor, every country has different humor. The main problem is that since you aren't French you aren't going to understand the humor. How I cope is that I laugh when everyone else laughs.

Language is the big thing. It will give you a headache, literally. Having to think in a different language al the time is EXHAUSTING. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. You would be surprised how tiring it is. My advice is to bring some books in your mother tongue. Don't read them all the time, but they can help. And also sleep as much as you can. Don't stay up too late after you put the kids to bed, and don't be afraid to take a nap if you need it.

The French have a lot of different customs, but if you just speak openly with your family about what you are struggling with, things will get better.


Rule no. 2- Boundaries

Set them as soon as you can. Specifically in relation to the kids and your room. Your room is yours. Are the kids cute? Yes. Do they wanna play with you? Yes. Do you want them to like you? Yes. Can they play in your room? NO. After a month or two the room rule should be slackened a little bit, but for the first month at least your room is your sanctuary. You set this rule early because then the kids know that your room is NOT their play room. You set this rule so that when you need alone time, you have it. If you let them in right off the bat, they will never leave! Prime example happened the other day: the boys were downstairs watching a movie, so I decided that since they were fine I would take a few moments in my room to read a bit of Terry Pratchett's genius (Moving Pictures). I go upstairs, I go into my room, grab my book, turn around, AND THEY FOLLOWED ME!

It is normal. You arrive, and the kids are cute and you want them to love you! You will be TEMPTED. Don't give in! You NEED an alone place! YOU NEED IT! Because otherwise you'll end up with the event that transpired with me and my charges. (the ending of which turned out with me being the bad guy for saying that they have to go back downstairs)

Rule no. 1- Your Security Blanket

Your security blanket can be any number of things. It can be one thing, or it can be a lot of things all at once. It can be your pillow from home that just makes you feel safer at the end of a long hard day. Or it can be a photo of you and your family, so that when you are feeling unappreciated and taken advantage of, you can look at it and say "See! I'm loved!" Security blankets are the number one thing that you DO NOT forget to bring with you when you are leaving your home, country, and language behind to start a new, completely alien adventure. My security blanket consists of a few things:
1. A picture of me and my boyfriend, Mike, taken on one of the happiest days of my life.
2. A collection of shirts that I stole from Mike and wear as pajamas.
3. My pillow from home that I've had for I don't know how long (I take it everywhere, I can't sleep without it)
4. A picture of my parents
5. A picture of my brother, Tristan
6. A picture my other brother, Robin
7. A few books by Terry Pratchett (my favorite author). He has a way of putting things in perspective for me. 

The best security blanket, of course, is your family. This is the one thing that has gotten me through my first three months as an au pair. Make sure that you DO NOT leave home without a means of talking to your family. Skype is the most amazing thing ever in this respect. Make sure you have it on your computer, or if you have a smart phone, iphone, galaxy tab, or ipad make sure its on there. I bought a plan through skype for $80 that is active for a year that allows me to call any phone in the US (mobile, or landline, UNLIMITED) It has already been worth the money. Talk to your family as often as you can. In a country where you either dont speak the language, or you don't speak it as well as you'd like, you need to be able to call home. You need a safe place to be able to speak your feelings and frustrations. Being an au pair is a wonderful experience, but it is not easy. You need a safe, non-biased place to be able to speak your mind. Your French family (of course) wants to hear all of the wonderful things about their life and children, but the children are not always adorable sweet little angels. You need to VENT. You need to get it OUT. But DON'T vent to your French family. Call home and say: Mom, I need to vent. Those five words are LIFESAVERS. 

There will always be times when you want to call it quits and just go home. But those times aren't supposed to dominate your experience. So through out my time as a "jeune-fille au pair" I will post the rules I follow, and the experiences that created those rules, in order to help myself (and all future au pairs) have the best au pair experience they can have.