One of the challenging things about becoming an expat is how often I have to eat my words, “I would never…” When you’re thrown into a situation you really never expected, no amount of planning can account for all differences in culture and environment. Some examples in my life include:
I would never have a baby in another country.
I would never fly with an infant younger than a month. What sort of parent does that?
I would never be the stay-at-home parent. I have two masters degrees. NO thank you!
And the latest one to bite the dust:
I would never have an au pair live with us. That’s just too awkward.
A few weeks ago, we had a chance to host a temporary au pair in our home for 12 days. A friend of mine was looking for someone to take the au pair she had originally contracted with. Her family was going out of town, and she didn’t need the au pair as expected. We decided this was a great time to try out an au pair and see how it might work for our family. Au Pairs aren’t really common in the US, but they are very common in Ireland. There are all sorts of au-pair arrangements: live-in, live-out, temporary, full-time… One program for temporary au pairs is called Workaway, also known as a “Cultural Exchange Volunteer”. In this arrangement, in exchange for room and board, you can contract with an individual to work in your home for 4-5 hours per day. They could do housecleaning, cooking, child minding, or other forms of light manual labor.
I was really nervous about the whole idea, even though I am the one who volunteered to host her! We spoke with her several times and exchanged numerous emails. I know that constantly watching 3 young kids can be mentally and physically exhausting. What if she didn’t like kids? What if it was too stressful for her, or we didn’t have good communication? What if all she wanted was a free place to sleep while she did some sightseeing? What if she stayed out late partying every night? What if I met her and decided I didn’t trust her?
In reality, all my fears were overblown. Jenny stayed with us for 12 days, and it was AMAZING. We picked up Jenny from the train station, and from the start, she was outgoing, kind, fun, and responsible. She had just turned 25, graduated from university, and completed an internship. She decided to do a Workaway trip to practice her English, and see Ireland, before starting her full-time job back in Germany. She played with the kids, helped out around the house, and was genuinely interested in how we came to living in Ireland. She watched the kids for 4 hours a day, while I worked. One day, she took the kids to a museum in town. She even watched the kids on Saturday night so Brad and I could sneak away for a date, and then came to church with us the next morning. The rest of the time, she did sightseeing in and around Dublin. We gave her a train/bus card (Leap card), so she could get around on public transit.
I was nervous that it might be awkward having someone else living with us, but we have a spare bedroom, and it really worked out well. Her English was great, and more importantly, she jumped right in to our family. It was wonderful to have someone dependable at home. One of my friends described having an au pair was like having a wife, in that there was always someone at home to watch the kids, move laundry, load the dishwasher, and all the other little things that can fall by the wayside, especially when life gets busy. We will definitely consider an au pair as a viable option for childcare in the future. Do you think you would consider an au pair, if you had the opportunity?
Oh, the picture above was taken at one of our favourite coffee shops in Dublin, and Liesl is at that stage where she gives a fake grin in every picture…