I found this article really interesting this morning. There are lots of au pairs in this area and I'm always a bit intrigued by them.
The only au pair I've ever known was my friend's au pair. She was nice and friendly and involved with the kids the few times I saw her in action. I haven't known any other au pairs, but I've seen them around. I've seen some good ones, but mostly, I haven't been too impressed. Granted, they are often no worse than uninvolved moms (of which I am one), but if you're paying for childcare, I'm guessing your expectations are a bit higher than someone sitting by the pool or hanging out at a playground, chatting on a cell phone, and ignoring your kids. I can do that for free. Alright, I suppose there is lost income. But I want to be the one to ignore my kids.
I recently saw a small group of au pairs at a local playground. They were talking with each other while their charges played together. I was particularly interested, because I'd seen a couple of the kids before at library programs with a different nanny. The prior nanny was an older woman, the new caregiver was a young au pair.
While the young au pair talked with her friends, the older of her charges pushed over the younger of her charges -- i.e. the older brother pushed the younger brother over. The younger brother just sat there crying for a few minutes. It was pretty pathetic. Meanwhile, I'm looking around, trying to figure out who is in charge. To add to the interest, a full-time dad of foreign origin (his accent and looks suggested to me that he could be Scandinavian) was also watching the action. He actually said something to the older boy, that he shouldn't push his brother.
Later, the Scandinavian dad was commenting to me about the boys. We were both trying to figure out who was 'watching' them. I might have mentioned that I'd seen them before with a nanny. Later, when the au pairs were closer by and interacted briefly with the kids, the ScanDad went up to the one in charge of the boys and told her what had happened. She didn't have much of a response.
I would love to know what was going on in ScanDad's head. I imagine he was wondering about me as I watched the brutish behavior and did nothing. He was probably also wondering why I was not moved to say anything to the au pair. I admired him for saying something, but also sort of felt it was none of my business and it wouldn't make any difference anyway. Or at least, not unless I pretended to know the mom and could be seen as a threat.
As much as I thought it was terrible that these poor kids were left to a Lord of the Flies existence on the playground while the au pair chatted with her friends, I could not escape the fact that this could have happened if their parent was there, similarly distracted. I've heard many stories of my husband's childhood that involved brotherly hazing and his mom was an at-home mom throughout his childhood. I also know that I've missed happenings on the playground because I've been talking to someone or looking the other way (two kids -- one goes one way, the other another way).
So, I'm off my high horse. But it was really interesting to read about that article about the au pairs' perceptions, their ambitions, as well as their views of the lodging they receive.