After three weeks of bacon, cheddar, pies and pubs, I am back and settled in the land of pizza and pasta (incidentally my first two meals upon returning here). Although I sure do miss my English folk occasionally, the three weeks apart from my aupair life have highlighted just how hard it will be to make the final parting from my Italian family. I count myself truly lucky to have found such perfect hosts, because let’s face it, there are some horror stories when it comes to aupairing. And really, it’s understandable why: you are thrown into a stranger’s home and an already established family. Whilst dealing with the normal adjustments to a new job and routine, you must also contend with a cultural and lingual separation in all new relationships, and create a strange balance between family and employers with your hosts. It is this final relationship that I feel is most important to a establish early on.
Yes, the parents are paying for your work, as with any other employers, yet in most cases you are also living with them and the child you are paid to care for. (My situation is slightly different, as I have an apartment above theirs, but I still find most of my time is spent downstairs with them). Unlike a normal job, you do not say goodbye to your employers when your shift is over. The struggles in your relationship are not based only on your job performance but also on your attitude at home. I am fortunate enough to have found a family who make their role as employers seem insignificant, and even hold true the overused aupair expression of “being part of the family”. Yet this is certainly not always the case, and the first few weeks remain a strange adjustment for both parties. But if the effort is made, you will find the experience far more rewarding, and the family may even help you in other pursuits, becoming a primary support in your new life. Of course, the success relies on both the aupair and the family, yet there are some key areas that make for a greater experience:
-Find something in common with the parents. It might be the child you spend most of your time with, but they are not the only one you share the house with. Mealtimes and evenings in become far more enjoyable when you have something other than the weather and your work to talk about. My bond with my family grew rapidly when I discovered the mother had also studied literature (even owning bilingual copies of some classics!), and that me and the father shared a love of British sixties music and science fiction films.
-Be open minded and accepting. Whilst you will hopefully discover things in common, remember that you are cultures apart, and have probably been raised very differently. You will more than likely find views and morals that go against your personal belief, and perhaps some that make you question your own ideals. One of my struggles in Italy has been a much stronger religious viewpoint: though the family don’t follow it strictly, much of the country accepts Catholicism as an inherent part of their culture, consequently often holding more traditional views than I’m accustomed to. I suppose the positive of this is that I’m more aware if my own standpoints, but unfortunately you can not always make your case. That is not to say you should dismiss your own beliefs, or go against them, just try and understand that it is a different culture, with the people raised on different ideals: what is a normal and accepted belief for you might not be for them, and vice versa.
-Have a set working timetable. If you are living with the family it is essential to establish your working hours, otherwise you may find yourself wondering if you get any free time. You don’t want to be unsure of who is taking charge of the child, and whether it’s you who needs to change or feed them. Of course, it’s hard for young children to understand that they are only supposed to play with you at certain times – if you stay at their home you will likely be wanted by the child in your free time too, but at least you know when you must be making an effort with them. Without a timetable you will be unsure when family nights are a must or an option, when you can go out without asking for time off, and when you are responsible for the child. This uncertainty can also lead to a tense relationship: you might feel you’re doing too much work while the parents think you’re doing too little. Make sure to organise some sort of timetable with the parents in your first few days.
-Spend some free time with the family too. Although you will have so many hours a week when you are obliged to be with them, giving up some free time to them shows you are not solely there for the money, and can lead to a more comfortable, homely environment for you. It also gives you a chance to bond with the parents, as you will not be focused on entertaining the child. It may simply mean staying with them for an hour or so after your working hours, or watching a film together one evening a week. Though it was strange to be in such a family environment at first, I now look forward to nights in with the parents, and I’m certain that the time spent with them is the reason I never suffered too much with homesickness – I have found another home here.
-Respect their privacy. In my case, the family has welcomed me into all aspects of their life, yet not everyone will be so. Whilst you should make an effort to spend time with them, remember that even family members are entitled to their own personal life: be grateful when you are invited to social events, but don’t feel insulted when you are not.
-Make an effort with the child(ren). This one should be obvious, as it’s in your job description. It can be tempting sometimes to switch on the Disney channel and lye on the sofa, responding only when the child wants something. But you will get no job satisfaction this way, and probably won’t form a great bond with the child. I’m not saying you need to be some sort of Mary Poppins, but try and do at least one activity for each working day. Taking them to the park or an indoor play area is great because they can play with others, and you might even make friends in some mothers or babysitters. But also being outside generally makes for a more enjoyable day, whether it’s exploring a local lake or simply running around a field. For rainy days, activities like colouring, play doh or painting are always fun, even with young children as they enjoy the different textures – just make sure to have some sort of protective cover, and check with the parents, as it can get messy. Though activities sound like work at first, the enthusiasm you fake for the child often ends up convincing even yourself. I now feel like I’m getting to relive a lot of my childhood through aupairing…having a child even gives an excuse to go in these giant indoor play areas which I’d been missing out on.
I won’t deny that every one of these points has been made easier for me by having a welcoming family; in some cases, even by following these, you might just clash completely. But as the saying goes “there is no harm in trying”, and if it works well, you might just find yourself with a second family.