(Click here to read the full interview, Spanish version)
Age: 23 years old
Studied: Computer Science
Au pair in... Milan, Italia
Blog: The Curious Case of a Boy with a Blog.
Studied: Computer Science
Au pair in... Milan, Italia
Blog: The Curious Case of a Boy with a Blog.
Jack is an English man who explains that he has found a "golden family" in his first experience as an au pair in Italy. He thinks people have "a lot of preconceptions without any real basis" with respect to men's work as an au pair and encourages families to hire au pairs at home because they can be "pleasantly surprised" with their work.
- Question.- When did you come up with the idea of working as an au pair?Answer.- My ex-girlfriend wanted to go travelling after graduating from university and doing shop work for a year, and she found it to be a really great experience as she made lots of new friends and had a really great time. She found a family in Milan that wasn't too great, so had to switch a couple of times to find a family that she could stick with, but then started trying to convince me it was what I wanted, or rather had, to do.However as I was a year behind her in graduating from university, I still had to experience the monotony of a 'proper' job before I got fed up with it and wanted to do something different.Then I went to visit her, saw what a great time she was having and decided I wanted to do it as well!
Q.- Did you read blogs or search on the Internet before that?A.- Not really. I half-heartedly made profiles on a handful of au pairing websites, but knowing how few male au pairs there were, I didn't really expect anything to come of them.
- Q.- Did you know some male au pair before you? And now?A.- I knew of one male au pair in Milan, which was where I was looking to be an au pair myself, and trying to be his replacement was the first actual attempt I made at finding a family outside of the website profiles I mentioned earlier. I've been au pairing a little over four months now and his replacement (which wasn't me) is still the only other male au pair I know.
Q.- I guess there are more families searching Au Pair girls. Do you think that the fact you
are a man was a problem for some parents?A.- Definitely. I think there are a lot of preconceptions that female au pairs somehow are more suited to look after children, be it the 'mothers instinct' or whatever, that somehow men will be too heavy handed or not attentive or caring enough for a mother's babies. I figured I'd have most chance with families that had never had an au pair before, or ones with older children or only boys to look after.I don't think there's any real basis for these ideas, and in fact a family I'm looking at au pairing with after I finish here said that for them, male au pairs have done a better job than the females they've employed. These ideas can also work in favour of a male au pair, in that with some families, having an au pair who is perceived to be able to handle more 'rough and tumble' is an advantage.The boys I au pair for are 9 and 13, full of energy, and liable to be quite aggressive if they are upset, which I think might scare somebody with less strength and maturity. Fortunately they have somewhat adopted me as an older brother, so I can command a little more respect when I'm trying to make them work, or I say enough rough and tumble is enough.
- Q.- Did you have previous experience in babysitting?A.- Not a dime, although the boys being the ages they are, it's been a while since anyone has had to change their nappies or feed them, which is what people imagine an au pair to do. It's really more the English speaking and teaching the family wanted me for, as well as an extra pair of hands to entertain them while they pursue their own interests, so it wasn't so important.
- Q.- What was your first impression of your new family? How did you get used to the new role of an au pair?A.- The first, and continuing impression, I have had with this family is one of incredible warmth and kindness. They are very easy-going, generous, and above all have a great sense of humour, which I am enormously appreciative of. This was all so helpful in helping me settle in, and I think I have hit gold with this as my first au pair experience, in that I feel more like a member of the family than an employee. By all acounts I've got lucky with this family - like I said, my ex-girlfriend had two less-than-pleasant families before she found a nice one.It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the routine and be able to automate myself and not have ask questions about what I was meant to be doing and where I was taking the children on any particular day, but I didn't feel afraid to ask, which was great as I was learning the language at the same time.
Q.- What did your typical day look like? Were your duties different to typical Au Pair duties?A.- I have a slightly unusual set-up compared to many au pairs I know in that I don't live in the family home of the children, but in a building owned by their grandparents, who look after them after school and before the parents finish work for the day. The grandparents have one level of the building to themselves, and rent out the other apartments, of which I live in one, rent free.
I am free in the mornings while the children are at school, to have breakfast with my host grandparents in their apartment, or not as my sleep pattern dictates, and then the morning is mine to do with as I wish. I then meet one of the boys after he finishes school at half past one, and we go back to his grandparents' house for lunch. I then help him with English homework, study or, more often than not, wait to help while he watches television for as long as he can get away with.At about 4pm his younger brother finishes school, which is a short drive away so, if I'm not still helping the older one with homework, I go and meet him and bring him to his grandparents.On various days through the week one or other of them have sports or study sessions, occasionally doctors appointments, haircuts, and other things they need driving to, so likewise if I'm not helping one with study, I'll drive them to and from these. If not, they study and then relax by watching TV or playing games..Any time from about 6pm onwards one of their parents will finish work and come and pick them up from their grandparents house or, if their activity passes this sort of time, from wherever they happen to be. I am then free again to do as I wish, although will usually have dinner with my host grandparents before going back to my apartment or out into the town to meet friends.Weekends are always free, but again I will usually eat meals with my host grandparents, and they have even let me take time off during the week to see the major cities.
- Q.- It doesn't happen often to see a man looking after children. What was the people's reaction to male Au Pair?A.- The first response I get when I say I'm an au pair usually is something to this effect. Then I explain that it's not really a typical au pair job and that I'm also interested in teaching English, they realise I haven't completely sacrificed my masculinity and that it's more of a stepping stone to bigger things. I know a lot of other au pairs in the area, and try my best to balance out the gender imbalance!
Q.- What are advantages to choosing a male Au Pair?A.- Like I said earlier, they can be better with older, more energetic children that enjoy a bit of rough and tumble, and this may be getting a bit deep, but I think the older brother of the family I'm with wanted an older sibling himself to look up to and seemed to find that in me. In the same way that people imagine female au pairs to be kind, caring and mothers in the making, you could also turn that around and presume guys to be able to command more authority as a care figure, and be able to handle more physicality, which could be especially useful with children towards this end of the spectrum. Above all, I think it does well to open people's minds to men in a childcare role, and dispells a lot of the myths surrounding their compatability to it.
- Q.- How did you benefit from being Au Pair?A.- It has been an immense cultural experience first and foremost, living completely surrounded by a different language and a family of a different nationality. That's what I wanted from it, to pick up a new language and learn about a different way of life, which I absolutely have. I've definitely become more brave and open minded. Trying and make friends in a foreign town isn't the easiest experience, especially when you're new to the language and way of doing things, but I definitely have more self confidence having done it. I was initially very reluctant to leave a relatively routine existence in England, but now I can't see myself returning to it for a while.
Q.- What aspects of being an Au Pair did you find the most difficult?A.- Trying to learn the routine of a new family while having only a basic knowledge of the language sticks out as as one of the times I felt less sure of myself as an au pair. However as I've already said, I lucked out and found an amazing family that really put my mind at ease and made the learning experience enjoyable and relatively stress-free.Another would be making friends in a relatively small town, in a country that is already renowned for its lack of English speakers, when my Italian wasn't exactly great either. Fortunately it seems that reputation is unfounded to an extent, as a few friendly locals gave me a great kickstart and seemed more than willing to introduce me to others as their 'English friend'.
- Q.- Could you give us a piece of advice: for boys looking for Au Pair job and for families considering hiring male Au Pair?A.- To au pairs - don't be picky about where you want to go, as although preconceptions may be unfounded, they still exist, so you really have to pounce on any opportunity that you get. It's marginally easier once you're with a family as you're building experience you can refer to later, and in the country you're adopting to, but it's still not a typical male role in many people's eyes. I say this in all seriousness because, as I said, I know of one male au pair in a city as big as Milan, and I was waiting for a few months before I had any success with numerous online profiles. Additionally, direct your enquiries towards families with older children, maybe a teenage boy or two that is into sports, and definitely families that have had experience with male au pairs already, as they have already been enlightened as to how great men can be.To families - if you're unsure about hiring a male au pair, contact families that have and ask them about their experiences with them, because you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.
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