The Harsh Reality of Being an Au Pair: Part II (Their Experiences)

When you have an Au Pair Visa in France, you are required (by law) to take French classes every week. Those classes were really our only “safe times” during the week because the families were never allowed to make us work during the hours that we had classes. The class that I was in was small, and had about 7 other girls, all of whom were au pairs. Little did I know it would become my support system during the months that I spent in France. The way that the classes worked was that we had actual class in the

My support group

mornings and then we’d have to go to a workshop in the afternoons. Often, we’d walk to the cafe for lunch and multiple times, we wouldn’t end up going back to class in the afternoons. It was our only free time and our only time to spend with each other since everyone’s schedules were so different. I quickly learned that no one was truly happy with their situation and I truly think that those cafe visits were the closest thing that we had to therapy.

One girl who I met was American and after a few months, she expressed how miserable she was with her family and said that the mom didn’t treat her very well. I remember her asking if I would come help her pack since I lived in the same city. I met up with her when the kids were at school and while the parents were at work, and helped her pack up all of her stuff and take it to the station. Then, she picked up the girl from school and when the dad came home, she snuck out and went to a hotel. The next time we had school, we were told by our teacher that the family said the au pair had dropped the girl off at school the following day and never returned, which we knew was a lie. The family also said that they were extremely concerned because she left without her stuff, and they had called the police who were out looking for her. Apparently the mom also called the au pair’s sister in America and got mad at her, as well as called another one of our au pair friends (six times) to ask where she was.
Also in France, my friend had another au pair friend who was living in Versailles. She was working for a family that had three kids and an army dad, but the mom had left. The dad was more of a “tough love” type of guy, and the kids were absolutely horrible to this au pair. She thinks it was because they thought if they could get rid of the au pair, they would be able to get their mom back. With the France Visa, you start with a 3-month Visa and then you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork to get it extended for the full year. The dad had forgotten to send the forms in time, meaning the au pair would have to go back to America in order to reapply for a Visa. The dad admitted that it was his fault and said that if she found the ticket, he’d reimburse her for the flight. She went back to America, reapplied, and continued to work, but on top of the money that the dad owed for the plane ticket, he also owed multiple weeks’ worth of pay. She finally decided to ask him about it and he replied that he “doesn’t pay people unless he sees good work being done, and he hasn’t seen her do any work.” He then grabbed the kids, unplugged the phone and internet, took her keys, and left – locking her in the apartment (in France, you need a key to unlock the door from the outside AS WELL AS the inside). She had to wait until he came back again and then the next day, she left while the kids were at school and the dad was at work (knowing that the grandmother lived nearby so she could look after the kids). She then stayed with my friend at her host family’s home until she was able to go back to America. I’m not sure if she ever received the hundreds of dollars that he owed her…
Sonia also had her own au pairing experience. She had spoken to the family once on Skype before making the move to Perth at 20-years-old. She had been very clear that it was her first time au pairing and that she had never had any experience with babies, and the family said it was okay and that they would teach her. It was also the family’s first time having an au pair, but Sonia felt like she would work well with this family, which had a 2.5-year-old and a 6-month-old. The dad said he was vegan, so Sonia was glad that she wouldn’t have to tiptoe around the family when it came to eating meals and having snacks since they would know the types of things she could and couldn’t eat. The first warning sign went off when she kept asking for pictures of the house so that she could show her family before she left, and they kept saying that the house was messy and they’d send some later. Sonia arrived in the Perth airport, only to find no family there waiting for her. As she didn’t have data, she had to connect to the spotty wifi to contact the family, who ended up being an hour late. They brought her back to the house, which wasn’t what Sonia was expecting whatsoever, based on what they had told her before she moved over. It was much smaller and extremely messy. They said they’d give Sonia a week to get over her jetlag and to sort out her bank account, phone, etc., but that week ended up only being a day. Sonia was woken up the next morning by the mom, who was upset because she was supposed to start at 6:30am when Sonia had been told 7am. The dad worked from home, and Sonia felt like he was belittling her when she said she had never changed a diaper before. He replied, “You haven’t learned by now?” as if she’d have a baby to practise on during the few weeks before she left Canada. Sonia’s days ended up being from 6am to 8pm for $250 each week. The meals that she was given had chicken or fish stock added for the mom, and Sonia was eventually forced to start having milk products again because she had no choice with what was given to her. She couldn’t eat most of the snacks either, so her friends started bringing her food that she’d be able to eat. The parents taught her how to use the car, and asked her to start taking the kids to the jungle gym, and said they’d reimburse her for it. It would cost $11 each time they went and they’d often go everyday of the week but she never ended up getting paid back for it. Sonia finally brought up the fact that she was being overworked, so they agreed to change her hours – 6am to 6pm. That gave Sonia some free time to do what she wanted in the evenings, and she’d often make plans, only to have the parents not come home in time, or the dad say he was going to guitar so he could leave her with the kids. Whenever the dad wasn’t home in the evenings, he’d start getting upset with Sonia for not making the mom dinner by the time she got home from work (even though making meals wasn’t in Sonia’s contract). Sonia got a 10-day-holiday and did a road trip with her boyfriend, but when she got home, she realized that her room had been used while she was gone – mostly due to the fact that all of her clothes that were hung up in the closet were put in a pile in the laundry hamper. Towards the end of her second month, Sonia started going to weekly Pilates courses. One night, she got a text from the dad saying, “I realize you’re at Pilates but this isn’t working for us. We have dropped the kids off at the babysitter’s and we have both gone to work so we want you to have all of your stuff moved out by the time we come home.” It was 6pm and she had less than three hours to move out her stuff. They sent her 50 dollars to give her two nights in a hostel, even though she had little to no money for anything else. Lucky for her, her boyfriend picked her up and allowed her to stay with him until she found a place of her own.
These are just three stories of “Au Pairing Gone Wrong” that I know of, and I think more of them have to be shared. It’s important for young girls to know that if they are being taken advantage of, are unhappy or uncomfortable, or feel like they are being emotionally abused, they never have to stay! No one will think you’re a failure for not making it through the entire period. It’s more important for your emotional and mental well being to get out of those types of situations as soon as possible! 

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