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Keeping your au pair isn't down to luck – just treat them right

"I CAN'T seem to keep an au pair," a mother at the tennis club said to me recently.

She went on to explain how she's had no less than eight au pairs in the last five years. She says I'm lucky I've had only two in the same amount of time.

Lucky? I personally don't think luck has much to do with it. A relationship between an au pair and a family is like any relationship.

There is give and take. If one party feels they are being treated unfairly the relationship will crumble.

The woman at the tennis club has four children under five, including twins. Any au pair mad enough to work for her is going to have her hands full. I suggested she needed a nanny and a housekeeper. But she can afford neither so tries to get au pairs instead.

They stay a few weeks and then they walk. Nobody is going to mind four children, keep the house clean, walk the dog and do all the ironing (including husband's work shirts) and cook for €100 a week. Nobody.

I do know what I'm talking about. I was an au pair myself. I worked for four different families. I left three of them and then I found a family who treated me exceptionally well and I stayed with them for a year.

I have since returned to stay with them for holidays and we keep in touch – over 20 years on.

When you've worked as a waiter or a waitress you know how to behave in restaurants. You don't click your fingers, draw circles in the air when trying to pay, and not tip. It's the same for au-pairs. When you've worked as an au pair, you know what it's like to be taken for granted. You treat others as you'd like to be treated.

I had the most unpleasant experience of one father trying to barge into my room, drunk, one night in his underpants. It was so horrible that I packed my bags and left the following morning.

I also had another father trying to get me to clean stains off the living room carpet, and wash all the windows in his house.

The third family wanted me to clean their swimming pool and weed the garden. Hello! An au pair is supposed to be a helping hand, not a heavy duty cleaner, or a landscape gardener. Some people really take the biscuit when trying to exploit a young stranger who is living in their home.


Most people become au pairs because they are trying to learn a foreign language, and being an au pair means that they can live rent-free in another country, have all their food and bills paid for, and can also earn some pocket money. In return they help mind your kids, and make life a little more manageable for you.

What the girls (as au pairs are mostly female) are not here for, is to become your slave, while you play tennis and moan about how difficult it is to keep staff.

Treat others as you'd like to be treated yourself. Then you will keep an au pair for two years. Your home will no longer be like a train station with people coming and going. And both au pair and family will live in harmony.