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Irene from Smartaupairs WINS International Au Pair of the Year Award

We are so pleased to announce that Irene, a Dutch au pair placed by Smartaupairs UK has won the International Au Pair of the Year award!

We met both Irene and her host mum Maisie last night at the awards ceremony and had such fantastic time.

With host families often hesitant to consider an 18 year old au pair, this is a great success story to prove that really... a great au pair placement is never just about the age!

Here is the letter from the host mum, Maisie – read the full story on our BLOG!

In the time between interviewing prospective Au Pairs and the start date, my husband and I separated, though have had to continue living in the same property. Enter into the family Irene, from Holland. At eighteen, she embarked on an adventure and also a potentially difficult situation, challenging for those of us with far greater life experience.

Irene displayed, from the outset, a fantastic maturity. She has coped admirably with a difficult situation, coping with angry and upset children, supporting our parenting and never losing sight of the reason she joined us - to provide quality childcare and enjoy a cultural exchange.

I have been constantly surprised and delighted by her innovativeness. I returned from work to find Irene had made 24 'Cookie Monster' cupcakes with the children, and on another occasion beautifully coloured macaroons. Irene takes the children and dog for long muddy walks, sometimes through parts of the woods where I've never taken them before. She genuinely enjoys 'inset' days and school holidays, as she can spend quality time with the children. Irene regularly produces little 'treats' and motivators from her room, hidden away from when she first left Holland. These small gifts are well thought out, and are used to reward and encourage good behaviour. Together we have put together a reward chart, but it was Irene that suggested the 'big' rewards should be one-to-one time just with her - which all three children has now enjoyed tremendously. A Saturday shopping trip to town (sacrificed from her free time), with coffee and a cake, and a chance to meet other Au Pair friends is so exciting for a small child!

Irene has been challenged nearly every day with difficult behaviour from one child or another, but has retained her sense of humour and commitment to all three of them. There have been occasions where I have spent time coaching and mentoring her within her role, discussing how she has tackled situations and likely consequences during this development time for her. There have, however, been other times when she has (rightly) challenged the way I have reacted to events. She earned my respect very quickly by the way the way she 'upwardly managed' me at times - with sensitivity and maturity, always focussed on the best for the children. She completes her designated duties without reminder, and then looks around to see where she can add value to family life. She has taken on the care of family dog - she would love to have a dog, and so instead dotes on ours; feeding, grooming and exercising her.

Irene's place in the family has become a strong and calming force, and she has contributed to the family immensely. Now preparing for the sale of the family home, and the potential disruption of moving schools and areas, Irene has supported my position and that of the children at every turn. She is un-fazed by the thought of moving away, rationalising by saying that she is here to be with me and the children, regardless of where we live. The knowledge of this support has comforted and helped me greatly on the journey forward.

When initially employing an Au Pair a couple of years ago, I anticipated some of the things to come - the relief of flexible childcare, the cultural benefits to the family, the fun of having a young adult in the home, the bond the children would establish, the good days and the days when it didn't work out so well. What I hadn't thought about was how, with the right person, my life could be so much easier and so much more fun! Across the cultural and age gap I have forged a strong friendship which will endure for many years to come.

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