What actually is an au pair?

Sometimes it can feel like the hardest part about being an Au Pair is trying to explain to other people what exactly it is that you do. 

About halfway through the explanation you’ll usually notice their brow is still furrowed and you’re forced to use ‘nanny’ or ‘babysitter’ as back-up words. 

Ah, yes. They’re starting to relax again.  Nanny and babysitter are terms people are familiar with and you can see them nodding in agreement. This feels much better you see, because people like being able to categorise.

What they don’t know is that we don’t fit into a box.  Au Pairs are different.  

Different how?

Let’s put duties and renumeration aside for one moment and agree that the focus of the Au Pair experience is on the cultural exchange. The focus isn’t necessarily on learning or perfecting childcare skills. Au Pairing represents a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture. But more on that in a minute.

Let’s take a quick look at how the oracle that is Wikipedia defines Au Pair:

“A young foreign person, typically a woman, who helps with housework or childcare in exchange for food, a room, and some pocket money’. 

No mention of cultural exchange there.

Ask someone who has been an Au Pair, or a family that has had an Au Pair, and they’ll probably tell you that the arrangement is generally designed to be temporary or for a pre-agreed amount of time and is not regarded as a permanent job.  

They might also go on to tell you that it’s standard to work around 30 hours a week and the monetary allowance usually equates to approximately AUD $100 a week, although it varies depending on the family you work for and your duties. Typically, Au Pairs stay for a few months, or as long as their visas allow, but some Au Pairs have been known to stay with families for years. 

So what are an Au Pair’s duties?

Families are often looking for someone who can act as an older sibling to their children and look after them, most commonly in the afternoons. They’re also looking for someone who can help with some light housework and share their own culture (especially their native language) with the children and often with the family as a whole. 

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Sharing culture. That’s a start.

So, how long have Au Pairs been Au Pairing? 

The term Au Pair can be traced back to France and the end of World War II, when experiencing new cultures and learning foreign languages started to become a socially acceptable aspiration for females. 

Meaning ‘equal to’ or ‘on par’, the term Au Pair was created to move away from the stigma that was then associated with traditional ‘servants’. The idea was that the Au Pair was to be a member of the family, and it is this idea that paved the way for us today. 

And while Au Pairs have traditionally been females, it’s becoming more common for males to work as Au Pairs as well. 

So there’s a new definition for Au Pair then?

Yes. A brand new definition courtesy of The Au Pair Movement. It’s one of the reasons we started this movement. 

It’s time to define Au Pairing in a new way. It’s time we started to empower the Au Pair and to think about Au Pairs and Au Pairing differently. It’s time to embrace the concept of Au Pairing as a modern, life-changing pathway to personal freedom. It’s time for a new standard of holistic-centred Au Pairs. 

Here’s The APM definition:

Au Pair: A person who helps a foreign family with their childcare and household management in a cultural exchange for living conditions (eg food, a room, a small allowance etc) and the time and freedom to design their own lifestyle, while going above and beyond for children who aren’t theirs.

Being an Au Pair is such a unique and special experience. To learn to love other people’s children as if they are your own, now that is courage. That is bravery. That is a real-life superhero. 

Our definition doesn’t mention age or gender. Neither does it specifically mention domestic household duties. The point is that it’s an exchange. 

The terms are to be decided between yourself and the host family, so long as both parties feel they are getting an exchange of equal value. 

The truth is, Au Pairing isn’t easy. It wouldn’t be rewarding if it was. It is, however, a viable stepping-stone for anyone interested in discovering that there’s more to life. And since the experience will be what you make it the potential is limitless. 

So now that you understand the larger essence of what it means to be an Au Pair in today’s world, what are you waiting for? 

The world’s your oyster. 

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