To recommend or not to recommend

After my last post, some people have been asking me if I can provide agency recommendations for families looking for au pairs in Spain. So, while I hesitate to call them recommendations, there are a few agencies out there that I, or other parents I know, have used successfully in the past, which I’m happy to mention:

  • RCIbased in Barcelona, has a track record for professionalism and for doing things right. I know a few families who’ve worked with them, and they have been very pleased with the candidates proposed, and with the fact that the agency was happy to say “no” when they didn’t have the right candidate,
  • Au Pair in Spain, based in Madrid, was originally recommended to me by an experienced host mother for their professionalism, and I then also discovered that their website has a wealth of information about hosting or being an au pair. Really worth the visit if you’re trying to learn more about the topic, and also interesting to follow them on the different social networks.
  • Au Pair Castellón and Au Pair Mallorca, work both with Spanish families who want to host an au pairs and with young people who want to be au pairs outside of Spain, so they know both sides of the experience. Au Pair Mallorca is active on Facebook and Twitter, as well, and worth the read!
  • Best Au Pair Barcelona, based in Barcelona (as their name implies). While I’ve never spoken to them myself, I’ve heard great things about them from other families who were able to find au pairs with them on short notice.
  • Last but not least, and please forgive me for tooting my own horn, I’ve recently co-founded an au pair agency myself, Amazing Pairs, to meet the demands of a market that we felt wasn’t quite being met yet, and with a focus on the win-win for both families and au pairs. Take a look if you want to know more about what we believe in.

Again, this isn’t to say I think an agency is right for every family (please see my post about it to see what might work best for your specific case), or, of course, that any agencies not on this list are not recommended. There are a lot of great agencies out there, and it’s just a question of doing your own due diligence to make sure the one you choose is knowledgeable, responsive, and professional.

I just wanted to provide some ideas for both au pairs and families as they begin their research, because more transparency is always good in a sector that’s sometimes still a bit opaque!

 

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Finding an au pair alone vs. with help

One of the questions my husband and I get asked most often by other parents is whether it is better to look for an au pair yourself or trust an agency to help us. In reality, it is possible to find a great au pair both ways, it depends more on your personal situation than anything else. Here’s a few questions to help you figure out which way is right for you at this moment in time.

1- How busy are you?

a) One (or both of us) has time to dedicate to a specific project, particularly if it is only for a short amount of time

b) We are both extremely busy, all the time.

2- Do you know exactly what you are looking for?

a) We have had multiple au pairs stay with us, and know exactly what our family needs and how this fits with the current market.

b) Not really, we are new to this au pair business, we know we want to try it out but don’t yet have a good feel for the market, know how much we need to pay, or have any of the appropriate templates

3- Where do you live?

a) In the center of a large city, in a recognizably cool location.

b) In the outskirts of a large city, or in a smaller town.

4- How comfortable are you communicating in English (and/or other target languages your au pair candidates might speak)

a) Language is not a problem for us, we communicate easily in English and/or other languages

b) I don’t feel that comfortable communicating in English, particularly if I have to write and do a lot of Skype calls.

5- What language are you trying to foster at home?

a) English.

b) Some other language that is not English.

6- How do you feel about conflict resolution?

a) I know how this works. In case of any problems we’ll speak to the au pair, worst case scenario we’ll let her go and start the process again to find a new one.

b) I would like some support during the on-going relationship, including the certainty that somebody will work with me to find me a new au pair in the shortest possible time-frame in case of problems.

7- When do you need the au pair?

a) We are very flexible, not set on any specific dates. When the right person comes along, we’ll work around her availability.

b) We’d like her to start yesterday, if possible, and stay with us during the most coveted months of the year (e.g. summer months, when kids are out of school).

If you’ve answered a) to many or most of those, looks like you’ve got this covered and you’re probably best off looking for the au pair yourself. Remember to let people around you know you’re looking (word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find an au pair), but take advantage also of some of the great platforms out there. I’m partial to www.aupairworld.com because I’ve had some very good experiences with that site, but there are multiple others as well.

If you’ve answered b) to many or most of those questions, working with a trustworthy agency might be the best bet for you this time around. Ask around to find a good agency, and always trust your instinct when you first speak to them. Do they seem knowledgeable? Is it easy to speak to them? Do they respond quickly? If somebody is not responsive in those first conversations, chances are you don’t want to be working with them on something this important.

Remember that some agencies also offer support as part of a DIY pack, a sort of in-between solution that might be worth considering if you’d like some help but want to manage the search yourself.

Good luck for those families still looking for a summer au pair, now’s the time to get to it (I’m actually running late myself this year, that’s my project for this coming weekend)!

 

All good things…

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. and a great au pair relationship is no exception. Whether your au pair has been with you for a few months, six months, or even a year, the day will come, usually between one and two months before her departure, when she will need to start planning the next step in her journey.

Even if you’ve already discussed dates together in the past, the moment she books her return flight is perhaps the inflection point, when her departure becomes real and the countdown starts.

It might be tempting as a host parent to start thinking about how to make the departure as easy as possible for everybody else, but take a minute to acknowledge that it is probably also going to be hard for you. Really hard. If your au pair has been with you for a long time, it might seem a little bit like saying goodbye to a family member.

Now, if the relationship has been a successful one, both parties will probably aim to make the transition as easy as possible for the children, who are the least likely to understand, perhaps, particularly if they have not been through this kind of goodbye before.

There are different philosophies here. I’m a firm believer in being as upfront as possible about the au pair’s departure. Even if the child in question does not quite grasp the concept of time, I think it is useful for the child to get used to the idea that the au pair is going to leave at some point, and to let her express her feelings about it.

Where words are not enough, here are some ideas to help a young child come to terms with the au pair’s departure:

  • Work on a surprise craft project (small, preferably, unless you’re willing to mail it) that the au pair can take home with her.
  • Print a picture of the au pair and the family and have two copies framed, one for the au pair and one for the child.
  • Discuss where the au pair is going to go next. Is she going to university? What is she going to study? Go online and look for pictures of the university together.
  • Plan and throw a good bye party, including everybody’s favorite foods, cake, music…

Planning to keep in touch can also make it easier to say goodbye. Choose a postcard together to write to the au pair, and ask the au pair to send a postcard when she arrives wherever she is heading next. Keep in touch (gently, not obsessively), you never know when you might have the chance to meet up again.

As well as thinking of the child(ren), it is important to think of the au pair, of course, who is approaching a big transition in her life. If she is planning on leaving the country after her stay with your family, she will probably have a list of things to do, people and places she wants to see before she leaves (Valencia? Sevilla? San Sebastián?). Remember that these adventures are part of what being an au pair is about, and help make the end of her stay memorable.

You will probably need to start thinking about a new au pair, such is the nature of hosting au pairs, but take your time and do not rush into a new relationship if you think your children might benefit from a short break before welcoming a new au pair into your home.

When illness strikes

It looks like winter is finally behind us (is it too soon to write these words?) and with it, hopefully, the winter flu season, which  has been particularly brutal this year.

If you’re not used to spending that much time around children, you have no idea what it is like. Children share things you would not imagine. They lick things you don’t want to think about. The hypochondriac in me shivers and reaches for the soap every time I think about it.

If you have a child in the house, and your child spends time with other children (think school), he or she probably spends most of the winter wiping at a runny nose. Which is fine, because children are really quite resilient, but what about the adults in the household? And yes, I’m thinking particularly of the au pair, who might be caught unaware, and who might not be as familiar with the healthcare ecosystem as a local would be.

Let’s face it, going to the doctor, or even to a pharmacy, in a foreign country can seem like a jarring experience, even when you have health insurance, simply because it does not feel exactly the same. You’re far from home, far from your family, you have a cold, and you know exactly what you would ask for in your native country, but here you need to go explain your symptoms in a different language, and hope that the medicine you’re prescribed, which is of course called something completely different, is the right thing.

It can be a frightening experience, no way around this, but it can be made easier in a few ways.

First, prepare in advance. Check insurance coverage with your carrier to understand what is/ is not covered. Learn where the closest doctors and pharmacies are.

Second (or first, if you haven’t done #1), talk to your host parents about it. They might be able to recommend a doctor, or at least guide you in the right direction, and give you the vocabulary to describe your illness.

Third, take the time to heal. You might want to keep going. You’ve got your responsibilities with the children, your friends, you probably want to be out and about exploring. But, remember that by taking the time to rest and to heal, you’re probably minimizing the time before you can go back to doing all those things.

Seguridad

Las au pairs que viven con nosotros son adultas, pero son jóvenes (cada año más jóvenes, parece, aunque entiendo que soy yo la que se hace mayor).

Para algunas, es su primera vez viviendo fuera de casa. Para otras, su primera vez en una gran ciudad. Para la mayoría, su primera vez en España.

No puedo evitar preocuparme, pero estas 3 reglas nos ayudan a minimizar riesgos:

 

  1. Niñ@s. Esta es sencilla, cuando está fuera con los niñ@s, distracciones 0. Evitar usar el teléfono excepto para temas relacionados con los niñ@s. Sin sorpresas, tenemos que saber dónde están. No cruzar la calle solos. Cosas así.
  2. Cosas. Las cosas se pueden remplazar, pero perder algunas cosas (pasaportes, tarjetas de crédito, etc.) genera un lío tremendo. Y, aunque Madrid no es una ciudad particularmente insegura, sí debe tener un número de carteristas interesante, particularmente en el centro. Precauciones básicas como, dónde guardar las cosas (no en una mochila abierta a la espalda). Dónde no dejar el teléfono en un restaurante (encima de la mesa, a un paso de la puerta). Con un Chipolo o similar para las llaves, se minimiza el riesgo todavía más.
  3. Noche. Madrid es famosa por su ambiente nocturno, y tiene todo el sentido que las au pairs quieran aprovecharlo. A riesgo de que me consideren pesada, pregunto dónde van, y a qué hora esperan volver (más si piensan dormir fuera). Saben que me pueden llamar a cualquier hora del día o de la noche,

So far, so good. Toquemos madera.

 

Stay safe in Spain

All au pairs who have stayed with us are adults, but they are young adults (and getting younger each year, ah, no, that’s just me getting older).

Seriously, though. For some, it is their first time living away from home. For others, their first time living in a large city. For most, their first time in Spain.

I don’t want to worry but I can’t help it, so I’ve come up with 3 rules for safety:

  1. Children. This one is simple, when out with the children, 0 distractions. No phone calls except those related to the children. No surprises (we should always know where you are). Holding hands when crossing the road. Important emergency numbers. Things like that.
  2. Things. Things do not matter that much, but some things (passports, credit cards, etc.) are a pain to replace. And, while Madrid is not a particularly unsafe city, it is rife with pickpockets, particularly in the city center. So, some basic awareness and precautions go a long way. Things like, where to carry your belongings (ie. not in an open backpack on your back). Where not to put your phone when you’re eating out (ie. on the table where anybody can run in and grab it). Add in a Chipolo or similar device for the keys, and you minimize the risk a bit further.
  3. Night-time. Madrid is famous for its nightlife, and au pairs (obviously) want to enjoy it. Which makes a lot of sense. But, better safe than sorry, so I ask where you are planning on going, and around when you expect to be coming back (definitely if planning on sleeping out). This, combined with frequent reminders that you can call us anytime, day or night, and we’ll come find you, no questions asked.

So far, so good. Toquemos madera.

 

If you have a mason jar…

If you have a mason or some kind of glass jar, you have a treasure.

Today I wanted to share an activity designed as an ice breaker, perfect for those first few days with a new au pair or nanny, when the child and the au pair are still feeling shy around each other.

The example is shown in English, but it’s quick to update to other languages with very little effort on the part of the au pair, and the activity can also be calibrated to take into account age and language level.

There’s just something about the physicality of the Q&A jar that really helps loosen kids’ tongues and gets them practicing English!

Please click here for the printable PDF version of this activity.

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