Belle, an experienced au-pair from Australia working in Vancouver, explains what it’s really like being a foreign live-in nanny in Canada while explaining 14 of the things every potential au-pair needs to know before committing to this unique job/lifestyle. The story originally appeared on Belle’s blog belletakesontheworld and has been used with her permission.
14 Things You Need to Know About Being an Au-Pair in Canada
Becoming an au pair (live-in caregiver from abroad) in Canada has been a very rewarding experience for me – one of the best jobs I’ve had as it combines two of my great loves: travel & children. But no two au-pair’s experiences are the same, and before you sign up and commit to living with a family of strangers and taking care of their greatest pride & joy for an extended period of time, consider these points:
1. You Must Love Travel and Children
This one is obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard of au-pair’s who’ve been placed with a family only to miss their boyfriend/family/pet squirrel back home too much to stay… and others who have no experience with children of a certain age and don’t know how to handle them yet accepted the job anyway. Be realistic of your abilities and limits.
2. It’s More Than A Job
You are responsible for the formative years of a child’s life, keeping them alive and healthy, teaching them about the world – don’t take that responsibility lightly. Go back to point one because if you don’t love kids, it’s easy to get lazy and just do the minimum expected of you – but in my opinion, if you just want to follow orders and do the minimum expected, go get a cafe job. Because your bad attitude, your lack of interest in their activities and questions/puzzling emotions will affect that child’s future and feelings of self-worth for years. Don’t make a child feel unwanted or stupid because you can’t be bothered engaging with them.
3. Make friends with other area au pairs
This one is important, especially if you’re new to nannying/au pair and want to make sure you’re on track and not getting the short straw when it comes to salary or duties with your host family. It’s also a great way to meet new friends. A convenient and easy way to do this is join groups on Facebook for nanny/au pairs in your city (This is also a goldmine for easy matches with host families looking for au pairs).
4. Register with an online agency
It really is SO easy to find potential host families – and most parents are pretty detailed in their profiles about what they’re looking for, who they are and how their family works, as well as photos of them all. There are a few online services who are completely free of charge for nannies to create a profile, and if you find a family’s profile which you are interested in, you send them a message and they can visit your profile. I received LOADS of au-pair job offers and potential leads through CanadianNanny.ca
5. Find other kids for playdates
This one is a great tip especially if you look after an only child or few siblings. Get together with other au pair buddies in your area for playdates with their kids, or if your child(ren) have friends who enjoy playdates, lock them in. Not only does it minimize your workload as the children are occupied playing with each other, it is great social interaction for the kids. Only children need to learn how to share toys and engage with other kids so they are ready for school – they won’t get this practice sitting at home playing games on their own.
6. Do your research before accepting a position
This is especially true if you have past experience with children or teaching, and/or you come from a country (like Australia) that offers 2-year open work permits – you’ll get flooded with job offers. Be selective and find a family who feel like a good fit – remember you have to live with these people as well so you want to be compatible and feel comfortable.
7. Compare more than just the wage
I have an au pair friend who looks after 3 children, (one a baby), and gets paid LESS than I do for just one child. Go back to tip 6, and do your research. If you can do a Skype video call, or visit the house, or at least see photos – do all of these. I initially accepted a job without much research whilst still abroad; the money & living situation were perfect however the family was a completely wrong fit for me – luckily we discovered this 3 weeks in and as I was already in Vancouver I had the option of visiting all families in person this time, meeting the kids, seeing my living quarters for all potential job offers… For example, one job seemed great but when I arrived at the house my room was a single bed & nightstand squeezed between the 2 kids’ rooms. No thanks.
8. Be respectful of their family time
Be mindful that families who can afford to hire a live-in caregiver, probably work long hours to provide for their children and understandably that time away from their kids can make them feel guilty, and they like to have time alone with their kids too. Plus you know how you can never really relax & feel like yourself when there’s someone else over? Give them a little space when you can.
9. Read your contract and be certain of your responsibilities
This one can work both ways. If your contract says you only have to clean up after the kids during the day yet soon you’re being expected to babysit overnight, cook dinner or maintain the entire house, speak up. Ask for additional money for these chores, or politely remind them what was stipulated in the contract. You don’t have to do more than you were employed to do (but you do have to do your job so remember to clean up the toys/dishes at the end of your work day – you’re not one of the kids too).
10. Communication is vital
I keep in touch with one (often both) parents about how their child is behaving throughout the day. Some parents will want to know more than others (One employer required me to fill in a form each day as to what time the child woke up, what they ate, what activities we did, etc) whereas others just want a text at the end of the day with the highlights, or important stuff (i.e; “Little Annie was tired and complaining about a sore throat today, I gave her 10mls of Tylenol at 2pm and she only ate half a bagel for lunch). Don’t be shy to ask lots of questions at the start, to learn how the family likes things done; everyone is different!).
11. Don’t be flaky
Like I said above, know your responsibilities. Know what days and times you’re supposed to work, be there, be sober/not hungover, know the schedule. Sure your job might be cruisy most of the time, but the biggest part is being there, and being present so you can keep the kids safe.
12. You can’t take holidays whenever you like
With my host family here in Canada – not all are the same – I get 2 weeks paid vacation every 6 months, and both of these vacation weeks will be spent with the family on a trip to Disneyland and then a summer getaway mid year. Two fantastic holidays! Brilliant. However this means I will miss friends’ weddings overseas, and I can’t go for away for more than a couple days at a time – Small price to pay for a free trip to Disneyland and everything else, so I’m not complaining! But just remember to be a team player. You can’t take a 6-week break to go backpacking during a nanny job.
13. Get a life outside of the house
Make friends. If you have a lot of spare time, or weekends off like I do – get a second job. Get a hobby, join a gym – Just stay busy and be out of the house whenever you can. Because with this job, even when your workday ends, you still go home with your “work colleagues”. And as much as you might love the kids you care for, you deserve a break sometimes too.
14. Respect their house, their rules
An au pair is, by definition, “on par” with the rest of the family and all parties involved want the au pair to feel comfortable and welcome. But you are still part of the family, not a royal guest; so just like you would with your family at home; clean up after yourself, take the dog for a walk or cook dinner every now and again and ask before you bring friends/dates over.
Honestly, it’s a fun job overall. Sure, some days will have you climbing the walls and swearing you’ll never have children, others are filled with cuddles & love. Being there to help a child learn how to do the simple things we’ve been doing without thought for years is challenging, no doubt; but it can also be an incomparable experience to be there to help a child grow like my current placement. Patience is key! But hey, for the most part my job involves watching cartoons, singing Disney songs and behaving like the big immature kid I am, and some days I get to work all day in my PJs. Not so bad :)
You can keep up with all of Belle’s adventures in au-pairing by following her blog: bellestakesontheworld
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