Au Pair, Au Pain

by admin on November 10, 2011

I’m not sure what category this goes it, but this is my tale of life as an au pair/nanny to an evil host family. Names and details changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

Fresh out of high school, and barely eighteen, I decided to go work as an au pair/nanny to a family in Spain. We connected over an au pair website, and we seemed perfect for each other. I learned otherwise.

The family had two sons, Pablo (age seven) and Tomas (age three,) who were total hellions. Tomas especially. Both parents worked demanding jobs, and by the time they came home, both children were eager to spend time with them – but they were simply too tired, and told me to “keep the children out of the way.” Tomas would scream and scream for his mother, who did not want to see him, and I was berated for letting him misbehave and disturb their relaxation. Whenever the parents did spend time with the children, they let them run wild because they were too tired/stressed to discipline them. Tomas threw the most horrific tantrums at least twice a day, over the smallest issues, and would throw things, stomp around, refuse food, and scream and cry on a regular basis. I hated it but also felt bad for him, since I’m sure he would’ve been a sweet kid if his parents had given him just a bit of attention.

The parents were very stern, exacting people. They would make pie charts to plan out their mornings, and get upset when anything would deviate from it. The dishwasher had to be loaded perfectly, a specific certain way, and the mother would practically panic if it was done wrong. Once I accidentally left a scratch mark in a pan, and her husband literally had to calm her down and take her to another room, she was that upset about it. I absolutely HAD to take the boys to the park EVERY day after school/daycare, rain or shine, and if I dared to let them watch TV or play with their toys, I’d be reprimanded. (I discovered later that they wanted me to take the kids to the park to tire them out, so they’d have peace and quiet in the evening.) After dinner, and on weekends, was supposed to be my “time off” to spend as I wished. I spent most of the time off in my room, but apparently to them this meant I was always available. I would be called down to help them and spend time dealing with the kids. They would make subtle, sarcastic comments about how I needed to “help out” and not do the “bare minimum.” Once the father was sick, and I asked him if he needed help making dinner. He said he didn’t and I was free to go, so I went to my room. I later got in trouble for not helping him!

One incident I remember in particular – one of my errands for that day was to pick up medicine from a pharmacy. I was proud of myself for having done so, since my Spanish was not the best at that point. I put it on the counter where I knew the mother would see it. After dinner, when I’d retreated to my bedroom, she came flying up the stairs and began to scream at me. It turns out that the medication had to be refrigerated, and since I’d left it out, it was ruined. Terrified by her outburst, I apologized and said I wasn’t aware, but she continued her tirade, telling me it was common sense and I should’ve known better. She yelled and waved her arms for another ten minutes, telling me to “use my head,” and went stomping away back down the stairs.

I’d hoped for a great relationship with a family from another culture, but it was not to be. The morning I left, they didn’t even bother to wake up and say goodbye to me. (It even stated in the contract that they were supposed to help me to the airport, but they didn’t. I had to shell out a hundred euro for a taxi.)

I was originally supposed to stay for a full year, but I was so unhappy that I ended up leaving early. It was such a negative experience that sometimes I wake up thinking I’m still there, and have a mini panic attack. Several months after I left, I was job hunting, and I emailed them and asked for a letter of recommendation. What I received was several pages to the effect of “she’s a nice girl but doesn’t put in much effort.” Needless to say, I did not use that letter! 0416-09

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Twik November 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Coolerbecky, it was Psyche who used the phrase ” knew they’d been put in here because they were an incovenience on their families”. Not a greater burden than they could bear, an inconvenience. (Not to mention, it was in the context of a discussion of parents who appeared to consider their children an “inconvenience” as well.) If she did not mean that implication, I accept her apology, but she does need to choose her language carefully when discussing such issues.

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Katie November 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I agree with Ann.

‘Reaching out’ to these people does not seem to have been an option. Interesting to see how easily things can be blamed on ‘inexperience’ and ‘lack of communication’. I bet what the OP has posted is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not surprised she has nightmares!!

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--Lia November 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm

You see someone old, disabled, and in need of a lot of care in a nursing home. That person complains about being dumped and abandoned there. They complain that the nursing staff make too much noise, that the nurses don’t listen to them, that the care is terrible and the food is worse. You feel horrible for them. The person you don’t see is the one who is old, disabled, in need of a lot of care, and in a family member’s private home. That person complains about being ignored and not taken care of. They complain that the grandchildren make too much noise, that their daughter doesn’t listen to them, that the care is terrible and the food is worse.

There are some things about the aging process that just suck no matter where you are. It’s the rare person who at an advanced age says “gee, I just love not being able to take care of myself and losing control of my bowels. This is terrific.” Instead, it’s normal to blame the surroundings and the caretakers. It’s part of the human condition. I’m sure if we had a solution to that, we’d take it.

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Enna November 13, 2011 at 10:51 am

Some people know why they have been put in nursing homes, it’s not because they are an inconivenace to the family, it’s because the family cannot look after them, as they don’t have the manpower to look after the person 24 hours a day 7 days a week or they don’t have the expertise to do it, or they can’t cope because it is too distressing for them. Also, if the elderly person is widowed, they may be able to interact with the other residents of the care home, whereas if they were still living in thier own home they would be living on their own, with the odd visit form family. Also by being in a care home if (heaven forbid) an elderly person falls over and they can’t get back up again they are more likey to be found sooner rather then a few days later compared to living alone.

Yes sometimes care homes maybe away for some inconsiderated families to put elderly relations and some care homes are bad, but there are some very good care homes where the residents are looked after properly with respect etc. I caught a taxi driver once and he was saying his mother was in residental care as he couldn’t look after her due to the shifts he worked. He clearly loved his mother very much and wanted the best care she could have, he just could not give it.

With the OP’s story – on second thoughts she was employed as an Au Pair not a Nanny. Au Pairs maybe help out with the children a bit but they are not meant to be primary care givers the same way as a parent or qualified Nanny would be. If the OP was a Nanny who has had training etc,she would have had no problems with discussing the issues with the parents. I think the parents were trying to get a nanny “on the cheap” by going for an Au Pair – I don’t know how much an Au Pair costs but I think a Nanny would cost more as there is more training and expertises involved, compare to an Au Pair who would be assisting in the keep of the house. Also Au Pairs are only meant to work 20 hours a week or so, not 40 plus hours.

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vanessaga November 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I’m confused about this tendency to dismiss this entire story as “there are 2 sides to this.” Of course there are; there are 2 sides to every story. We can’t critique this one based on what we imagine the employers perceived, expected or thought. We can only judge based on what we are told here. Imagine if the OP told you this story in person. Would you immediately say “oh, you must not have realized what they really wanted you to do, I’m sure they were dissapointed in you as well”, ect? To le, THAT would be terribly poor etiquette.

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Stitchin November 21, 2011 at 3:55 am

TypoTat, the behaviour that the OP describes vaccilates between “abusive” and “illegal”. The fact that the OP was berated for doing what she had CONTRACTED for in an effort to extort work for which she would not be fairly paid makes it clear that, while she did not complete her contract, it was in response to the fact that her employers violated the terms of it first and repeatedly. Saying that the OP wasn’t “experienced” is no excuse for the way she was treated; an au pair just out of high school is not, and is not expected to be, on a par with a professional nanny. Nor is she a full-time maid. Her employers were abusive, plain and simple. Has nothing to do with their being European, American, old money, new money, etc.; it has to do with the actions they took.

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ElBandito December 5, 2011 at 6:07 am

Man, really feel sorry for the poster here. I’d really have to break to it you, but it’s not that uncommon for them to expect you to shell out more work than was said in the contract (or anything). Granted, I knew people who worked in nanny and babysitting jobs in the 80s, and it’s still the same thing. Even if you’re Spanish born and bred, you do get nasty shocks where you’re expected to not only put the kids to bed at 8, but also iron some guy’s shirts til 4 am because somehow the employers decided it’s your job all of a sudden. I’ve had older neighbors who simply dropped the nannying job in a month willingly to work in tougher jobs. One neighbor was nannying some kids of a hotel owner, and she quickly requested to get transferred into a vacancy in the hotel cleaning staff, where even though she’s expected to do an entire floor of bathrooms in 15 minutes, she smugly admitted, “At least I got weekends with that job.”. I don’t know how it’s culture…I mean, we had part-time help coming over, and I *definitely* remember my parents never putting the help up into doing laundry or anything in the kitchen. First off, we get weirded out of having someone else touch our dirty clothes (and underwear) who isn’t part of the family. It’s a job no right man/woman should do and it’s shameful to expect it. Plus, we make messes in the kitchen, and we clean it up. And these are hired housemaids we’re talking about. But I guess the differences are that we are still middle-class (and especially only a generation away from european white trash), so we know the hassles of jobs such as that, and we try not to stoop to the same level as our own bosses. Still, it was very brave of you to try to stick it out initially. Hopefully you’d never have to deal with situations like it ever.

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Natashia January 25, 2013 at 4:19 am

Aur pairs get paid significantly less than Nanny’s, and are supposed to be more of a mothers helper. In Australia at least, an au pair isn’t supposed to be left alone in the house/park/wherever with the child/ren, but to assist the primary caregiver to do what they would normally be doing with their child.

I know this because while I was young and naive I decided to take a job as an au pair, without having any idea what that actually meant, and ended up doing a Nanny’s job on an au pairs wages. It wasn’t until I interviewed at a Childcare agency after leaving that job that I discovered the discrepancy between my job description, and what I was actually doing. They were nice enough people, and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. But I will never do live in work again, I felt like an intruder, and felt particularly down about the whole experience once I learnt she’d taken advantage of my naïveté.

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