Think your secrets are safe? Not if the nanny's about
Caitriona Durcan on the au pair and your dirty laundry ...
Wasn't it only yesterday that nannies were dowdy, Mary-Poppins-and-Fraulein-Maria-esque models of discretion and discipline?
These types still pop up occasionally on shows like Supernanny, but these days au pairs are much more likely to be young, tabloid-tantalising temptresses, like the one who came between Jude Law and Sienna Miller, or, confessional careerists, like Madonna's former nanny, who embarked on a tell-all tour about Madonna.
While most Irish couples don't have to worry about their marital problems being splashed over the front pages, it does highlight an uncomfortable fact.
You can hide your secrets from your friends, family and even your partner, but there's one person you can't fool and that's the au pair.
"The mass migration of au pairs to Ireland is in full swing as holidays finish and schools go back," says Sylvie Levasseur-Reilly who runs the 'European au pair agency' in Dublin.
"Despite the downturn, full-time childcare can equal the cost of a mortgage payment each month, so it's not surprising that an increasing number of parents are moving away from crèches and after-school care, and are instead choosing to have their children looked after by an au pair," says Sylvie.
The basic cost of having an au pair look after your children is €100 a week, along with the associated costs of providing food and board.
"It's possible to recruit an au pair via the internet but my advice is to use an agency. My agency's fee of €450 for a long-term placement recruits the family a reliable au pair and provides support over the course of the arrangement.
"Hosting an au pair is a lot cheaper than full-time childcare, but it's important to realise that they are very different things," says Sylvie.
"In return for their pocket money, an au pair will do a standard 30 hours a week child minding, as well as two nights a week babysitting. Included in the 30 hours are light housekeeping duties such as tidying, vacuuming, and preparing light meals for the kids.
"Families can pay their au pair whatever they like in pocket money, but €100 a week is really the minimum."
Sally, a 36-year-old mother of three, says that it's an economic necessity for her so that she can work and pay the mortgage. "It's a great relief knowing that there is someone there to supervise the boys after school." she says.
Like many au pairs, Elizabeth, a 22-year-old from Austria, has a small room within the main house. She shares a bathroom and kitchen, plus general living space with the family.
"Do we gossip?" says Elizabeth. "Of course we do! If we did not talk about our 'parents', we would go insane."