Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Au pairing: the final chapters

In little over two weeks my au pairing contract will be finished, and my remaining time with this family feels like the stirring stages of waking up from a very strange dream. Increasingly I have the feeling that, had I known beforehand how challenging this experience would be, I would have had second thoughts about jumping into it quite so blindly. However that does not mean to say that I regret spending almost a year as an au pair. I have changed hugely as a person, met incredible people from all over the world and had huge amounts of fun during my time spent so far in Weimar.

I maintain (see my last post) that one of the fundamental flaws of au pairing is that it is unnatural for a twenty-something university graduate used to living on their own to then go back to family life and have to adjust their lifestyle and, to a certain extent, their attitude and morals, to that of a group of strangers. Before becoming an au pair, I had not lived with my own family long-term for nearly four years and was accustomed to being able to dictate how and when I did things in my daily life. Living with a host family means that you always bear a certain amount of responsibility towards them, which can become exhausting after a while. When I am with my host parents, I cannot be the same person that I am when I am with my friends- I always have to be careful not to say the wrong thing or make a joke that they don't see the funny side of.

Straddling the boundary between employee and family member has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome about being an au pair and after a few months in this job I came to accept that I would never feel completely comfortable living like this. In a way, always living out of my comfort zone is one of the things which has changed me the most from this year, and looking back I think it has done me a huge amount of good, but it does mean that at 'home' (I still hesitate to call this house that word) I exist in a permanent state of never quite relaxing.

My host parents have told me that I appear unwilling to totally integrate myself into their lives and that I seem more concerned with my own; my response to this would be ('would be' because I cannot tell them how I really feel- I live in their house, they pay my wages) that it would be abnormal for someone at my stage of life to feel any differently. I feel as if I have relinquished my status as an independent adult in becoming an au pair and I crave the freedom which my friends take for granted. I am not lazy in my work and I always try hard to please these people, but I sometimes feel suffocated by my living situation and need to distance myself from it, which is something my host parents seem not to understand.

One of the things which I think appeals to potential au pairs is the comfort of family life. However living with a family means that you are exposed to all aspects of these people's personalities, and they in turn see every side of you, whether you would like them to or not. Families work on the basis of unconditional love and acceptance of the fact that mistakes are made, bad days are had and that nobody can be perfect all of the time. I am not saying that my host parents expect me to be some kind of flawless superhuman, but I am aware of the fact that their forgiveness of things I may do wrong will only stretch so far because, when it comes down to it, I am not a member of their family. Living with my employers and their three children is, at times, a struggle for me, and the distinction between work and home is something which I desperately miss.

This sounds like I have had a negative experience this year, which is worlds away from the truth. I have had a lot of good times spent with my host family and the children especially, but the living situation of an au pair is a strange one and now my time here is drawing to a close I am able to think about it more objectively and I wanted to put my thoughts into words.