The Darling Nomadess: Diary of a Runaway Au Pair

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Diary of a Runaway Au Pair

This may be stating the obvious, but sometimes, things don't always go our way. Things aren't always going to go the way we imagined them to be. Sometimes, we think the best of people and they turn out to be completely different.

Traveling, whether a good or bad experience, changes us. Before this grand adventure in Europe commenced, I was full of ideas of how perfect the whole trip would be. My host family has four darling children and two loving parents who will show me the ropes of life in Italy. Flash forward: man, was I wrong!

Do not get me wrong. Italy is an incredible country filled with beautiful rolling countrysides, depths of history, and hospitable personalities. Working as an au pair is similar to working as a nanny but quite different. The au pair experience is supposed to be a cultural exchange. It's a mutually beneficial situation that allows the au pair to explore a new culture while the host family receives childcare assistance. The word "au pair" means "on par," an equal to the family. Au pair work typically includes light housekeeping (like changing the dishwasher, keeping the kids' rooms clean, etc), teaching English, and keeping the kids entertained.

What I experiences with my first host family in Italy was absolutely nuts. I honestly still can't believe that it happened to me. I think the best way for me to share what happened is to give you a look inside my journal.

"My heart breaks for these kids because they can be cute sometimes and they're very intelligent. Their parents are raising them to be useless, rude, and elitist I can't even begin to understand why someone would want to hinder their child's ability to be an independent individual. I wish I had it in me to stay but I refuse to be treated the way this family treats me. I refuse to be a part of this vicious cycle of spoiling these kids to the point of complete dependency." - November 19, one week after arriving in Rome

Rather than typical au pair duties, I was spoon-feeding the 9 and 10 year old kids their breakfasts in bed every morning (insert jaw drop here), putting toothpaste on their tooth brushes, bathing them, blowdrying their hair, and picking up their dirty Kleenex's off the floor (never mind a please or thank you). This is only half of it all while these kids called me "au pair" or "ragazzi" (meaning "girl" in Italian) often refusing to call me by my real name. After only one week, I had already felt completely degraded and worthless. 

"Today the kids told me they liked me. I asked them why. Their response: "Because you don't cry." - November 22

"I'm not here for the family and the kids. I'm here to have the time of my life. I'm here to see sights and have experiences unique to Italy. I'm here to unlock a part of me I've never known before. I'm here for me and this family cannot take that away." - November 22

During this time I was battling with the idea of staying. I had yet to truly experience the reason I chose to begin my travels: Rome. Even though I was living in the city, I felt as though I was giving up too soon perhaps. I still had so many things to do and see in Rome, how could I leave so soon after arriving? I tried to remember why I came to Europe in the first place and that gave me some hope to continue on, at least for a few days and despite the children's tempers.  

"It's starting to get to the point where I don't even want to wake up in the morning or roll out of bed. Please, I'm better of in my dreams. Daytime has become a nightmare. Each day, I wonder, "how bad will the kids be today? Can it be any worse than yesterday?" Answer: it usually is." - November 25, the breaking point

Yeah that hope thing didn't last too long. The breaking point was dinnertime. The kids had gotten up on their chairs and were screaming profanities in English and Italian at me (F*** You, You're a B**** W****, etc). I asked them to stop and they continued. I looked at the parents for help and they continued their conversation like nothing was happening. I had enough.

Later that evening, I had to babysit for the family until around midnight. Once the parents returned home, my host father guided me to the door. As I exited, I turned around, extended my arm, and dropped my house key into his hands. "Thanks for everything, hah, but I'm leaving. Goodnight." I ran to my room and dragging my suitcase and backpack, I ran to the nearest bus station, never looking back.

While some au pairs have a similar experience to mine, a lot of au pairs truly enjoy the job and their host family. Among my Roman au pairs friends, my story was definitely an odd one. Most of their families had them doing far less chores, paid better, and the children and parents respected the au pair so both parties could be good representatives of their home countries. If you're looking to au pair, please do not chicken out because of this blog post. I am now happily living in Germany, a country that I wouldn't otherwise appreciate as much as I do had the Italian experience not happened. 

I learned a lot about myself in Italy. I learned to stand up for myself and that my path of happiness is up to me. I learned that while my trust in people can sometimes lead me to trouble, it is my optimism and desire to learn from experience that will guide me through the tough times. For every cruel person in the world, there are at least double that in nice people. I learned that kindness goes a long way. If I wasn't nice before, I am overly conscious of how I treat others now. 

All in all, while the Italian experience was difficult, it was an eyeopening experience that I think God wanted me to have.

With Love,


  1. Oh my goodness... I'm so sorry that this happened to you, and kudos to you for being brave enough to leave rather than try to stay in a miserable situation. My friend who nannied in Italy had a terrible host family--they wouldn't let her eat with them and had her serve the kids. The food she got was the leftover food that the family didn't eat, and she had to have it in a separate room with the maid! She did go back and nanny for two other normal Italian families and had much better experiences.
    Anyway, I'm relieved to hear that you got a new placement. ENJOY!!

  2. That is a terrifying story and I can not believe that your host family treated you that way. It is awesome of you though to stand-up and get out of there, you did not deserve any of that!

  3. I'm so sorry it didn't turn out how you hoped! My friend au paired in France and had a very similar experience to you. At one point the children even hit her and that was her breaking point. However, my Mum did it when she was my age and absolutely loved the experience! I hope this experience is everything you wish it to be :)

    Laura |

  4. Oh man, that is absolutely horrible! I wouldn't have lasted as long as you did. My tolerance for bullshit is non existent. Then again, I guess you have to go into it knowing that getting a crazy family is a possibility. Though my parents weren't perfect, this story really makes me appreciate the way I was raised. I'm glad you got out of there and moved on to a better family! Good luck with everything and I respect your courage!!

    xo Megan, Lush to Blush

  5. Wow this is so insane! I can't believe the parents and how they brought up their kids...completely unacceptable! I'm glad you got out of the situation and didn't let it break you down. I probably wouldn't have been able to stay strong as long as you did!

  6. So glad you shared your story! I'm so inspired that you remained positive about the Au Pair experience regardless of the bad experience you shared. I'm glad things are turning around :) Can't wait to hear more stories..

  7. What a horrible experience... I am so happy you stood up for yourself!

  8. Yikes! I couldn't believe this actually happened. The nerve of some people! Good on you for standing up for yourself and leaving. I've been looking into possible doing au-pair work soon and I really hope I get luckier on my first shot!

  9. I'm so sorry that you had such a bad experience. That's awful that the kids were so badly behaved and that the parents didn't even care.

    When I was growing up I had au pairs from when I was around 2 until I was 8. I loved them so much, and, at 25, I still speak with the au pair I had when I was 5, and she calls me her first American friend.

    My au pairs were nannies. They changed my diapers, cooked my meals, cleaned, took care of me when I was sick, bathed me...I remember the au pair I had when I was five made me oatmeal baths everyday when I had the chicken pox, and applied the medicine cream all over me when I was itchy.

    Its so easy to become jaded by a negative experience, and I myself have never been an au pair so I can't tell you how you should act or think. But you ARE there for the family and kids. My parents weren't letting these women live in our house just to give them a place to live. They both worked, and needed someone to take care of me. Of course, in your free time, your should be out exploring the city.

    Again, I can't talk from personal experiences, so please don't take when I'm saying the wrong way. I am just speaking from the perspective of having au pairs. I really hope your next experiences are better.

    1. Thank you for sharing things from your side as a child with an au pair. I truly appreciate your perspective.

      The duties of your au pairs are the duties I would expect for the age you had au pairs. Im now an au pair for a 4year old and do many of those things for her. I definitely am not the type to just be lazy and live off of my hosts. My biggest problem was that the Italian children were 9 and 10 years old. They should be able to was themselves and put toothepaste on their toothbursh and change their clothes on their own by this age. I understand that it is my job to be of assistance to the family but when the whole family just treats you with no respect, ignores you, and calls you awful names, that makes it very difficult. My new hosts are very kind and helpful, the 4 year old doesnt expect dor everything to be done for her and is polite. In return, i plan fun activites for her, make her snacks, help with the dishes and keep her toys and rooms neat and orderly.

      The italian experience was so difficult because it was continuing to enforce the idea thaty these kids shouldn't do anything for themselves.

      I truly love being an au pair and hope this further explains my understanding of the job!!! Thanks again for sharing your point of view!!!!!! Xoxo

  10. You are so brave to come forth with your experience. Very proud of you for doing what's best for YOU. And so so so glad it all worked out in the end in Germany! Can't wait to see you in a week (AHH)!

    Chloe | Wanderlust in the Midwest

  11. This sounds so awful! It's great that you were willing to share your story though. I think a lot of people can benefit from. Kudos to you for standing up to him the way you did and handing in your key. Those kids sounds so horrible! How dare their parents not try to stick up for you. I hope you make it back to see Rome!

  12. Wow, amazing inner strength; I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself and having personal boundaries. I did not learn that life-skill until I was well into my 40s. It's telling that the kids picked up on your inner strength with their comments about you not crying--they were pushing you to that and didn't get it. I am sure the parents have been through a lot of agencies and it's unfortunate the children do not have any stability which is due to their disengaged parents. I agree with you that God had a specific reason of putting you through that experience and it sounds like one's romantic notions and idealized expectations about how something will be, in your case, Italy, was the exact opposite. (This goes along the lines of 'be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.') I am glad that you are in a happier place now, literally and figuratively speaking. You have probably since been able to meet more people and expand your opportunities with your exit out of that terrible place. I just love how you walked out (it's so brash American!) and I am sure you felt very powerful in that moment - a moment you will dial-into at various points throughout your life. Thanks for sharing and all the best to you on your continued self-discovery.

  13. Wow, what terrible people they must be. They'll be "blessed" later in life when those children never leave home. :P So sorry that happened to you, but am so glad you got out of there!

  14. I dont even know what to say. How can people raise their children to treat other people that way? How would they feel if it was their own child being treated like that? Im so glad you got out and I wish you all the best for your future!

  15. I hope you'll respond... Anyways, I'm planning on leaving my current host family. We skyped many times and they seems perfect. I naively trusted them and didn't write a contract and as soon as I got there, they used me for everything. I work literally 76 hours a week (12 hours a day mon-sat and 4 on Sunday). I cook, clean, drive, bathe their severely handicapped 19 year old son who they NEVER NEVER NEVER mentioned. I've worked as respite before but this was on another level and they didn't tell me how to take care of him. I'm shy and I'm not sure how to break it to them. Should I just leave in the night or what... I can barely greet them in the morning, they're so intimidating.


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