Updated: Jan 28
I was all three (nanny, au pair, babysitter), but not all at once, throughout the past 10 years of living in London and during my recent travels so I am aware of the different responsibilities the labels come with. I, however, was not prepared that my new family didn't know or didn't care about it... I couldn't tell.
I traveled to Denmark to be an au pair for the summer season. The position would have lasted for 5 months, starting with a 2-week-unpaid-trial-period of which I was not informed, and eventually I chose to leave after 6 weeks. As soon as I found out that a) I was not paid for the first 2 weeks (and because it was not discussed), b) my contract said "Service job" as my job title,
c) and the family had serious dust allergy of which they forgot to inform me on the interview I thought I was gonna take them as seriously as they took me to discuss these issues.
In my video below I talk about what I do as an au pair in Denmark and seemingly enjoying my time which was true when I was with the child but, in fact, most of my working hours were spent on doing laundry and ironing, cleaning and dusting, and setting the tables in the family-run restaurant.
Little I knew about how angry I would feel a few weeks later when it dawned on me that my childcare responsibilities permanently narrowed down to weekday babysittings (mostly after the child was already put to bed by her mum) and 4.5 hours Saturday playtime with her. The rest from the 36 hours/ week was house-keeping and restaurant work. As an au pair, I should have had the other way around: main responsibilities around the child and minor engagements in household duties. One of the reasons the family hired me was because they loved the fact that I spoke English and they wanted their child's English to improve. May I ask how on earth would her language skill improve if they don't even let me spend time with her? The child was hooked on her iPad watching a Thai youtube program (her mum was Thai) next to her dad on the sofa who was watching the Danish telly broadcast or sleeping. The parents took turns in childcare in the afternoons while I was officially off, and more often than not, they used this time to catch up with some sleep, so the child got to spend no quality time with anybody at home. Once the child had a playdate with a school friend and I came home from my afternoon trip earlier (I often spent the afternoons outdoor discovering the island) seeing them trying to reach something on the shelves and they turned to me for help. When I asked if anybody (mum or dad) was home, they just ran away playing, they didn't understand what I was saying. And then I figured that somebody must have been sleeping in the bedroom because the door was closed. Otherwise, the door was normally open if no one was in there.
I tried not to judge the family's lifestyle but it was hard not to form an opinion. If my child was over here for a playdate and I'd find out that the parent in charge was sleeping behind closed doors, I'd get mad. I couldn't tell if it was irresponsible or a typical Danish afternoon. No way such a thing would have been acceptable in London.
Here's a list of au pair responsibilities, click here to read the full article.
What should an au pair do?
Playing with the children
Driving and picking up the kids from school and other activities
Cooking easy recipes
Keeping the children's rooms tidy and clean
Ironing the children's clothes and do their laundry
Helping the children with their homework
Putting the kids to sleep
Loading and unloading the dishwasher
The lines in green are the ones I did not or rarely got to do.
What should an au pair NOT to do?
Cooking for the entire family
Cleaning non-shared rooms or work in the garden
Washing the car
Doing laundry or ironing clothes for the whole family
Taking care of others' children besides the host kids
Taking care of pets unless previously agreed
The lines in red are the ones I was asked to do at least once or regularly.
I remember the child's father asked me to pick up after him in the house and I didn't understand why he couldn't bring his mug and plates to the kitchen himself and place them in the dishwasher (or better yet don't take them out from the kitchen) or why he couldn't leave his hoodies and cardigans on the coat hangers in the hall where all the other outerwear were hanging instead of throwing them on the sofa. With time I saw clearer and realized that the reason he didn't care was that there had always been a woman (mum, girlfriend, wife) doing it for him. However, it did NOT feel right for me to pick up after him and I didn't do it. They explained to me that sometimes they were (both mum and dad) so busy and running out of the house that they didn't have time to tidy after themselves. I understand if that happens sometimes but during my 2-month-stay at the beginning of summer when the season didn't launch yet there was not one day with a rush and hectic. I know because this picking up request bothered me so much that I observed them. Somebody being lazy is the least motivating reason to please them with my service.
Unfortunately, this family made the wrong choice with hiring me as I had no intention of becoming their maid. I genuinely enjoy looking after children, that was the reason I registered on greataupair.com (where they found me) and to connect travelling with the work I love doing. On my profile, I clearly detail my experience and main responsibilities working with children and I have housekeeping visibly CROSSED OUT from among my services.
When I brought up to discuss my work responsibilities, with the intention of creating a better management and work schedule at home and in the restaurant that could have made the family's life easier, I was simply shut down by the child's dad who said: "If you don't like what you're doing you can go because the rest of the summer will look like this". That was it. That was all I got. I found it very irresponsible from a 50 something-year-old man (53 I think) that he was okay with me paying my own travel cost from a foreign country coming to work for them and he gave me the "my way or the high way" ultimatum with only 2-week-notice (by the way my contract stated 21 days) knowing that I was in an unknown country with no one else to turn to. I am well-traveled and creative enough to come up with solutions but my heart breaks for younger girls (as au pairs are generally btw the ages of 18 and 30) who may go through with similar experience. So I needed to make a choice to go (where?) or out of fear I compromise my needs and stay in a toxic work/living relationship feeling trapped and unworthy.
WE SHALL ALL BE HEARD AND NOT SHUT UP!
I chose me and took the risk to the unknown. I knew I would be better off by giving myself the opportunity to find a new family rather than continue to feel trapped and unhappy with the current one. I took the chance to enrich my travel experience and embarked on an adventure to travel across Germany for 2 weeks with that I had altogether 4 weeks to find another position. And what lovely people I met on my trip! I could stay positive with believing it was my chosen adventure to embrace rather than a failed experience that broke me. You can watch the video of my travel journey below.
I believe I could have reached an agreement with the Danish family if the child's dad was open for solutions, interdependency and if he would have respected my integrity. Nobody wanted me to go except his childish pride and controlling ego. He told us (employees) to turn to him with trust if we had any problems and looked at what happened when I voiced my problem.
You may ask where was his wife?
I ask the same. She was physically there but she didn't have a voice. She was looking at her husband to tell her what to do. It sounds oppressive in our western culture but she was from Thailand where women are submissive. I don't know about Thai culture but I could read bits out from her behaviour. Apart from being the child's mum, she was also one of the employees of her husband who put her husband's needs and his opinions before hers. Fully dependent on him. I don't think the husband demanded her to give up on herself and put his needs first but he didn't either ask her NOT to do it. I saw it more like a traditional habit she grew in to pick up in Thailand that she carried over to Denmark, the apparently 2nd happiest country in the world. She was a woman feeling miserable for herself, feeling lonely and unhappy with her chosen roles. She was a plastic rose.
"The rose doesn't bloom all year unless it's plastic"
She was watching a Danish TV programme similar to the Real House Wives of Beverly Hills, and when I asked her why she was watching it, she said she was educating herself on what local women are like. I suggested if she wanted to learn about Danish (or western) women that programme was not the best source for that reason. She loved watching horror movies too. Not because she wanted to learn about Danish women but because she wanted to escape from reality.
Funny, that except from one person (kitchen assistant girl) no one asked me where I was going to go or what I was going to do, or if I had a place to go to at all? Emotionally immature people separate themselves from other people's experiences so that they don't have to deal with the feelings and consequences they cause to others.
Are Danish people emotionally cold? Some...maybe.. not sure if I could say that. I hardly get to meet and talk to local people. I was on a small island where, I believe, people generally were a bit more isolated and reserved than those on the mainland.
How can such misunderstanding happen?
The family either didn't read my profile or simply ignored what they read. I can't think of anything else.
I am not going into details of what happened between us but consequently, I was not satisfied with what they used me for and calling their attention to it caused resentment between us that lead to my choice of leaving.
Do you want to hear something funny?
I felt so trapped that I attracted spiders in my room. In the last 2 weeks of my stay I saw a spider in my room every day. They were coming out from behind the door frame. I never saw two or more at once (phew!). Only one at a time. And I killed them if I could. I am not proud of killing them (every creature have a reason to live) but I was too stressed to sleep if I knew they were crawling around me.
I also got drawn to listen to the song Oh freedom! during this time which clearly explained what my soul was yearning for.
This little crazy life, honestly. :) There is a lesson here for me too to learn (ASK EVERY DETAIL BEFORE YOU SAY YES TO SOMETHING). Still. Denmark, you have to make it up for me!
Until next time! ♡