When Being An Au Pair Goes South

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In life there are heroes and villains. Personally, I’m the type of person who likes to believe most people are the former. But, sometimes, you end up tricked into a situation where the ‘heroes’ turn out to be anything but.

Note: Before reading this (mom!) note that I am fine, I am safe and I am completely happy, now. 

When I arrived in France I could tell from the start that something wasn’t quite right with the family. It wasn’t immediately apparent, but after seeing the way the parents interacted with the kids, I knew something was off. As the weeks went on the yelling escalated and eventually the physical aspects of abuse started to show themselves.

Part of me knew that I wouldn’t be able to work in a family where there was physical and verbal abuse prevalent, but another half of me almost didn’t want to believe that it was happening. There was a lot of tension in the house, and the littlest things would set the parents off on tyrannical rampages.

When I finally decided enough was enough, I sent my letter of resignation to the father. His email responses were aggressive and ended with the words I had come to dread after weeks of “talks” : We’ll talk about this tonight. That night I was yelled at for close to three hours, and while the mom tried to defend me she was violently told to shut up as the father roared for me to get out of his house (it was 11:30pm) and to give him my keys. It was the night of September 19th – my birthday.

Crying and shaking, I went downstairs to pack my bags. The mom followed when I was about halfway done to tell me he “hadn’t meant it” and that “I had to understand” what had started his behavior. She convinced me to stay one more night, since I had planned on leaving for a weekend in Paris the next morning, anyway. I’ve never been so scared in my life, and I knew as soon as I came back I would leave immediately.

When I told the family I had found a replacement family the following Tuesday the dad “informed me” that if I left the house before HE TOLD ME I could, he would call the next au pair family I wanted to move to and would tell them I had abused their children (which is, of course, not even remotely true) so I wouldn’t get hired. I was so scared I would have panic attacks throughout each day, but I knew I had to leave.

So, I waited until the kids were safely at school on Thursday and both of the parents were at work, and then I packed my bags and called a taxi. I sent another emailed letter of resignation, as well as leaving a written one (and the keys), to the family. This is the abridged version of the story, of course, but I’m trying to keep it brief while not omitting any details.

The reason I’m writing this is because I want any other au pairs or nannies who find themselves in this situation to know that it is not ok for a host family to ever yell at you, demean you or threaten you. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to have the courage to pack my bags and leave. I was so incredibly scared for my safety, but that fact alone was an indicator that it was necessary.
My mind told me it was my fault for getting myself in the situation, and the parents told me I had “a responsibility to the children” to stay. But those are both classic indicators of abuse (whether verbal, emotional, physical etc.), and if you find yourself thinking either of these things while you’re employed with a family there is one option – leave.

If you’re reading this and you don’t know how to leave, or you don’t feel like there’s anywhere else to go, start telling people outside of the family about your situation (message me, even!). Pull your resources. I didn’t think my French was good enough to call a taxi, so I went to the visitors center in my town to have them call and schedule the taxi for me. I didn’t have a ride to my next host house, so I used a carshare website (blablacar.fr) to ask for a ride. I had friends through Couchsurfing that offered me a couch in their houses, and places to keep my luggage if I needed to travel light.

I AM SO THANKFUL FOR YOU ALL. You know who you are if you’ve been supporting and encouraging me throughout the past weeks. You are invaluable and it is because of you that I’m now in a safe place.

Oh, and there is a happy ending to this story!!
I am now living with an awesome family in Paris and I already feel like part of the family. The mom is a professional artist (painter!), and we’ve already been able to visit her gallery, in downtown Paris, and talk about art and the life of an artist. There are four boys and they are all awesome (ages…get ready for it… 21, 18, 8 and 5). It’s kind of fun being the only girl in the house (other than the mom) although there are, of course, some things that remind me of the fact (toilet seat: put it down).

My room is lovely, there are three beautiful cats (2 gingers!) and there is always jazz music playing 24/7 in the house (which is also beautiful and covered in the mom’s giant graffiti style art).
Oh, AND I’M LIVING IN PARIS. As in, I can see the Eiffel Tower from my street and I’ve learned that I absolutely love living in the city. It really is where I get my strength and inspiration from, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday I start French lessons (finally!), which the other family had also refused to let me attend, and I’ll be starting painting lessons (IN PARIS – Eeeeek!) soon also. This weekend I’m also going to try and visit Hillsong Paris – I seriously CANNOT wait!

Life is so much better, fuller and more alive than it has been for the month I was in France, and I’ve only been here a couple of days. I’m just so in love with Paris, excited to be working with an awesome family and I CANNOT wait to spend my year here.