Last week saw my halfway point here in Weimar- six months down, six to go. Although I believe that I still haven't quite worked out exactly how I feel about the whole experience, I have come to the conclusion that my time au pairing has been simultaneously one of the hardest and most rewarding periods of my life.
One of the main difficulties I have faced in this job has been that of living with my employers, and I am still wondering why the possibility of problems arising from this didn't occur to me when I was considering becoming an au pair in the first place. The basis of au pairing is that the au pair is treated like one of the family (luckily I can say that my host family has treated me very well and have really made an effort to integrate me into their lives), however unfortunately the same liberties are not granted to the au pair themselves and I still feel as if I am living with my bosses and have to alter my behaviour accordingly. I am not sure whether my host parents know the real me, and to live with two adults in this way creates a somewhat strange environment.
An issue stemming from this is that I have no real equal within the house, which is ironic given that the job title 'au pair' implies equality. In my first few weeks here I spent a lot of time trying to work out where I belong in this house, and sadly I have come to the conclusion that I will always be something of an exception. These people are already a complete family and when spending time with all five of them I feel not only slightly surplus to requirements, but also that I am intruding into their lives. I often have to remind myself that it was in fact out of my host parents' free will that they decided to employ me as an au pair, as I cannot help the feeling that it must not be easy for them either to have a relative stranger living in their house.
Au pairing is not a regular 9-5 job: you live in your workplace and therefore are more or less 'on duty' at all hours of the day. Certain things that you may have taken for granted previously are off-limits when living with a host family. Want to loaf about in front of the telly for half an hour after getting back from somewhere? Can't do that. Are you hung over after a Friday night out and want to shut yourself in your room for the day? Saturday might be your day off, but your host parents won't be pleased if you do that. Fancy cooking your favourite meal? Well you can't, it's spicy and the kids won't eat it. As an adult used to having a large degree of freedom, it can feel very trapping to have to adapt completely to another family's lifestyle and values.
However as I said earlier, au pairing has also been a very positive experience for me. The last six months have passed by incredibly quickly for me and I know that this is because I have been busy for the majority of my time here, either with my host family or with my ever-expanding circle of friends here in Germany. I have been lucky with my host family- the problems I have listed stem more from the basic concept of au pairing rather than any specific problems I have with the people I live with. I know that the challenges I have faced here have been good for me, and I feel as if over my time here I have somehow become a different person- if not better, then at least more self-sufficient. And lastly my command of the German language has also greatly improved, which was my reason for coming here and is one of the reasons why I have full intentions of sticking it out for the whole year here.
Roll on the second half. Expect a full-time update in another six months.