Irene, au pair from Smartaupairs UK, has been awarded ‘Au pair of the Year 2014’ by the International Au Pair Association (IAPA). The award was handed over during the IAPA annual conference in London, on the 16th of March 2014. Our UK team were so glad to be there for Irene’s special day & celebration!
We are immensely proud of Irene – WELL DONE!
We would also like to give a special mention to Carlos, our second finalist, whose nomination was a testimony to his commitment and motivation.
About the Prize:
The IAPA ‘Au Pair of the Year’ award recognises the achievements of young people as au pairs and acknowledges the efforts of au pairs across the world.
Irene was nominated for the award by her UK family (based in West Sussex). As part of the application process, the family had to write a nomination letter detailing why they thought Irene was such a brilliant au pair, Irene herself also had to write a letter detailing her experiences.
Nomination from host mum Maisie:
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.
Letter from Irene
My au pair experience
My au pair year started well; I quickly found a family meeting my preferences of two parents,
three kids, pets and not too many household chores. However one month before my start, they
told me they were divorcing, and asked if I still wanted to come. I had such a good feeling about
my family and I would be there for the kids, so I decided to continue.
My first two weeks I had the children for the whole day, because they were on school holidays.
This was a challenge at time. It was a new environment, with a different language and dealing
in a different way with problems. The kids were difficult at times and I realised that I was no
longer a child in a family but one of the adults. I had some ups and downs, but with patience
and support, from both parents and children, I found my place not just as an Au Pair, but as part
of the family.
I really enjoy the holidays, this was already from the start – some think it’s hard work and don’t
know what to do, but in my opinion you can undertake big projects for which you don’t have
enough time on school days; from crafts or baking(like cookie-monster-muffins) to having an
adventure to the woods. Of course it’s hard work and there are moments everyone is annoyed
with each other, but there’s enough time to make up and to start another project.
When school started it was a completely different story! I get the kids ready for school, spend
time doing chores and then have time to myself. During the time to myself I meet friends and
we go for a coffee or we explore England. But whatever we do we always have a lot of fun
together. Afterwards I collect the kids from school, spend time playing and finish by making
supper. This may seem like an easy job, but to manage the kids when they misbehave makes it
hard. I have learnt to anticipate when times might be difficult, and try and head off problems.
An extra challenge is the divorce where my host family is going through; there are times when
things aren’t great, but I try to stay focussed on the reason why I’m here: the kids.
I keep a good relationship with both host parents. I have a good friendship with my host mum,
we can talk about everything and we regularly go for a coffee. She said once: ‘When I employed
you I had never thought we would have so much fun together and I hope we’ll stay in good
contact after this year.’ I never expected such a good friendship with her, so I am really pleased
with it. With the children I have a lovely time and I try to give them a great year, which we will
always remember. Also with my friends I’m making great memories. And I am really glad that
I did continue with this host family. They all made me feel at home, so much that even my
dreams are in English!