Working as an au pair involved some of the happiest, saddest, funniest and most frustrating moments of my life. When your job is to look after someone else’s children, you see both parenting and childhood from a completely different perspective.
If you’re fortunate to work for a good, decent family, the over-all experience can be rewarding and a great way to get an up-close view of what parenting entails. The other great thing about au pairing is that you can give the children back at the end of the day and go home to your quiet, uninterrupted lifestyle where your only responsibility is to yourself.
At 29, most of my friends are married and planning on having a baby. A lot of them are in a big hurry to get there. I’m not suggesting that au pairing would put anyone off, and whilst I do understand that biologically it is said to be better to have kids when you’re younger, but I wonder if they’d be in such a rush if they had spent a enough time having sole-charge of someone else’s kids.
That being said, maybe it would make them want kids even sooner than expected. Either way, there are some valuable things to be learnt from the twelve years I spent au pairing and here are some that I hope will one day make me a good parent:
Be prepared for anything
What you think won’t happen, will probably happen. When you’re walking out the front-door and remember you forgot to pack the wet-wipes, but think that it’s ok because you’re just going up the road, Murphy’s Law goes with you. Every time a mother has asked, “do you think I should take (xyz)”, the answer was always “Yes. Definitely, yes”. It’s almost guaranteed that you’d need that particular item on that particular occasion just because…Murphy.
Stick to a schedule if you want to live
It’s hard, and some obstacles can’t be avoided, like noisy renovations next door, or special plans, but maintaining a consistent routine is key to sleep (for both you and baby). The more regular your child’s nap time, feeding time, bath time etc is, the more productive you’ll be able to be with your time. Parents seem to think that sticking to routine will make it harder for their child to adjust to different environments and changes, but really it doesn’t. If anything, it makes it easier. The more you stick to your schedule, the more familiar your child becomes so that by the time your child’s head is down, they know that it’s sleep-time.
Ignore 90% of what people tell you
Your mother, your mother-in-law, your friends, even other parents will always try and tell you what they assume is best for raising your kids. Every family is different and everyone will have their own ways of working things. Don’t assume that what others tell you is right for you and your family. Take time to work out what works best for you and your kids and stick to it.
When you’re stressed or upset, your kids will play-up
Don’t punish your kids unnecessarily when your emotions are high. Parents tend to shout more, demand more and expect more when their tempers are shorter than usual due to tension. Kids pick up on a lot more than we think, and can catch your stress the same way they can a virus. And on that note, don’t argue or fight with another family member or partner in front of your kids. It’s so easy to start raising your voice during a disagreement while the kids are around. Even without raising your voice, your kids learn your behaviours and somewhere down the line you’ll tell them off for shouting the way you do to other people in front of them.
Mommy’s got a potty-mouth
I always thought that parents who thought they’d be able to prevent their kids from ever hearing a swear-word were delusional. I mean, you can’t stop your child from overhearing someone cussing over the phone in a supermarket. But you can stop them from hearing you do it. I swear like a trucker, but somehow (and maybe this is just something I’m used to after twelve years of au pairing) I manage to omit any bad language from my vocabulary entirely when I’m around kids.
And lastly, don’t try mold your kids exactly how you want them
Personally, I believe that children come with their own nature and the best way to nurture that with the most positive outcomes is to let your child grow into their own person. Enjoy discovering who they are, without forcing them to become what you want them to be. Give them the tools to develop their own character, but don’t push them to conform to your ideas of what people should be
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
What is the most valuable advice you would give to a parent?