Jeremy and Zahra live in Dordrecht with their beautiful daughters Emma (8) and Everly (1). Zaira, their Colombian au pair, has been living with the family for a while and is having a great time! She feels completely at home with Jeremy and Zahra and has really become part of the family. And Zaira is not just a part of the family, she can also be heard in the podcast ‘Moedermelk en Oesters’. Curious about their great experience with an au pair? Then read on quickly to learn more about host family experiences.
Why did you choose to have an au pair?
Zahra: “When I was younger I saw more families who had an au pair. I liked the idea of having someone in the house who grew up in another country. You can learn a lot from each other and the children will see that there are many differences in certain countries. Which is also okay! On the other hand, I really enjoy giving Zaira the opportunity to embark on a new adventure and discover new things in another country. And from both sides, it is a special and fun adventure.”
Jeremy: “It’s a win-win situation. For us, it is very nice that there is someone who can look after the children while we are at work and for her, it is a great experience to be able and allowed to live here. It offers a lot of flexibility to have an au pair.”
What were the doubts about taking an au pair?
Jeremy: “The only thing for me was whether there would be a click between us and the au pair. Of course, you don’t really know who you are getting. You can meet via FaceTime but that’s it. Fortunately, we have been very lucky with Zaira and she says the same! We never had a discussion or disagreement. We are very happy with that, we all feel at ease with each other.”
What questions did you ask Zaira in the beginning to learn more about her?
Jeremy : “Have you ever changed a diaper?” I think that was the first question I asked because I was very curious about it. We also asked if she had any experience taking care of children. You always start with a list of questions that you have prepared in advance.”
Zahra: “Yes, exactly. But when we saw Zaira I immediately had a very good feeling, she seemed so intelligent. We were also very curious about her life. Where does she come from, who are her relatives, what are her interests and not entirely unimportant; what does she like to eat.”
How do you know if it is a good match between host family and au pair?
Zahra: “We were lucky that Zaira was already in the process of a rematch and was therefore already in the Netherlands with another family. This allowed us to meet in person instead of, for example, via FaceTime or Zoom. When we saw each other it was kind of love at first sight. That may sound a bit strange, but after the first conversation, I immediately told Jeremy that Zaira could be such a friend of mine. We laughed so hard when we first met. You don’t immediately click with many people. My gut feeling is usually right, so I was confident that this would be a good choice to choose Zaira as our au pair.
Jeremy: “Perhaps a good tip for aspiring au pairs; send a nice video about yourself where you are nice and open and above all honest. Then you will find the best match.”
What are the biggest advantages you experience from having an au pair?
Zahra: “An extra family member and friend for life. Living together for 1 year is not nothing. You build a bond with that person and you share so much in a relatively short period of time. We both work from home a lot, so Zaira is often around us. This makes her a real part of the family. This may be different for working parents because they are not at home during the day. Also for our girls by the way! For example, ‘Zaira’ was one of Everly’s first words and Emma found a best friend in Zaira. She is also always disappointed when Zaira is not at home, very touching.”
How do you deal with each other’s privacy?
Jeremy: “Haha, this is the most frequently asked question ever! We literally never had a second that we thought how are we going to do this? One time she is upstairs and watching a movie or series, the other time she is downstairs with us drinking a glass of wine and watching TV or she is having fun with friends. For example, on the weekend when Zaira is away and we have a chill evening on the couch, we sometimes think, where is Zaira? When will she be back? We miss her!”
What advice do you give to parents who are thinking about adopting an au pair?
Zahra: “Let the au pair do his or her thing. Let them be themselves. I’ve never told Zaira “I want you to do this with Emma or that with Everly”. I have the same with food. When Zaira takes care of the girls, I hand it over. I know Zaira wants the best for the girls, so I trust her in the choices she makes. Of course, sometimes things will go wrong, but we all learn from making mistakes. We like to give Zaira the freedom to learn and discover new things.”
Jeremy: “We are of the opinion that an au pair is not a housekeeper. She came here to be there for the children and to discover the Netherlands. So those are her two responsibilities haha. And it is our job to give her those responsibilities as well. And if that’s not your mindset, don’t do it. If privacy is a thing for a family, don’t do it. If you like to be in control on a Saturday night and only think about what the au pair is up to when she’s out for an evening, don’t do it! They are all adults who come to the Netherlands as an au pair, they make their own choices and as a host, you have to be able to accept that. Of course, with respect for you as a host family, that is very important!“
Do you notice difficult things when having an au pair?
Zahra: “That she’ll be leaving soon… that’s the hardest part. You have to realize that the whole family builds a bond with the au pair. It is a beautiful adventure that you embark on together, but that also comes to an end.”
What do you expect from an au pair?
Jeremy: “The only thing we expect is she has all the attention for the children. We think that’s really the most important thing. I myself know how difficult it can be sometimes to be with children all day and to give them the attention they deserve and need. That is why we think that it is actually impossible to give Zaira all kinds of other tasks and why should we? I think the main goal is that the au pair has a good time with the children and that they learn a lot from each other. So being active with the kids is our biggest goal!”
Why did you choose to come to the Netherlands as an au pair, instead of another country?
Zaira: “Before coming to the Netherlands I worked as an au pair in the USA. This was a nice experience that I wanted to do somewhere else and that was Europe. I knew right away that I wanted to go to Europe because I had never been there. Countries such as France and Germany did not appeal to me personally and I read very positive stories about au pairs in the Netherlands on the internet. So that’s why I ended up here!”
What do you like best about the Netherlands?
Zaira: “How well organized everything is here. People here are always on time, most of them haha, and I really like public transport. We don’t have that in Colombia. I like that so much! I also like that it is so clean here in the Netherlands.”
What surprised you most when you came to the Netherlands?
Zaira: “The lunch! I was so surprised to see people eating sandwiches here at lunchtime. In Colombia, we mainly eat rice, meat, chicken, soup, etc. for lunch. So I am used to lunch being the most important meal of the day.”
What does a normal day as an au pair look like for you?
Zaira: “I work from Monday to Friday, but I always have a day off. My day off can vary from week to week. That depends a bit on the days when the family needs my help or if I have an outing planned. I usually get up around 8:00 am. I spend most of the day with Everly and as soon as Emma finishes school she joins the group. We often play games or go outside. Around dinner, I cook for them and then we have a nice meal together.”
What do you enjoy doing most with the kids?
Zaira: “With Everly, I like to go outside and go for a walk, for example. Everly really likes to do that. With Emma, I really enjoy coloring, painting, and tinkering. Emma and I both enjoy being creative.”
What do you like most about being an au pair?
Zaira: “I find this a difficult question… I like so many things. But what I like the most is the bond you build with children. Despite only living with them for a year, you spend so much time with them. I think that’s really nice to see.”
What do you like least about being an au pair?
Zaira: “I couldn’t think of something I don’t like so quickly. I find it very difficult when Everly cries. You want to be there for the kids and help them, but because Everly is still young, sometimes I don’t know what’s going on. In addition, they are two nice girls who demand a lot of attention from you. So you have to be very patient and sometimes take a deep breath haha.”
What advice do you give to others who are thinking about becoming an au pair?
Zaira: “First; do it! In addition, I would advise everyone to always be yourself. You won’t be able to pretend to be someone you’re not. Ultimately, you just want a family that suits you as a person. Tell your hobbies and what you like to do. I myself have experienced that that is really the best. In this way, the family can of course also see who they will receive and whether it clicks or not.”
How did you look at this adventure before you started as an au pair in this family?
Zaira: “At first I didn’t want to be an au pair for babies because they are so small and vulnerable. So I was really excited that this family did have a baby. But if I were to be an au pair for a baby again in the future I would love it! Now I know a lot better how to deal with babies.”
How do you combine your social life with being an au pair? Isn’t that difficult?
Zaira: “No, not at all! I have never found it difficult to combine my social life with being an au pair. I get the space here to be able to do my own thing in addition to taking care of the children. Jeremy and Zahra also support me in that and that is really nice. It’s been like that from day one, so I’ve never experienced any problems. On the weekend, I often go out to discover other cities in the Netherlands. When I come back after a weekend away, they are always very interested in what I have done and experienced. It really gives me that family feeling! In the evenings, I sometimes go to Rotterdam to dance. I think it is very important to have hobbies and a social life in addition to your life as an au pair.”