This post is also available in: Japanese
Autumn is the start of the new academic year across Europe. Parents rush around trying to make sure all the right pieces of clothing, stationery and sports gear have been purchased and labelled. At the same time, working parents have to deal with a sudden burst of activity at work, as customers wake up after the long summer holidays.
We have just welcomed our seventh au pair (a French word used to describe a domestic assistant from a foreign country, working for and normally living with the host family). Without the assistance of our au pairs over these past five years with taking our son to school, helping him with his homework, cleaning the house and being available for babysitting, my husband and I would not have been able to cope with both our jobs and looking after our son.
Most of our au pairs have been German – it is easiest to hire au pairs who come from one of the European Union countries because there are no visa problems or worries about illegal workers. We are fortunate that because we are based in the UK, we have many candidates to choose from, as most au pairs want to learn English. Usually au pairs are around eighteen years old, and want to take a year before university to experience another country and culture and give themselves more time to choose which university and which course they want to apply for.
As well as being a help to parents, I also like the fact that my son gets used to communicating with people who are a different nationality to him, so he is aware of other cultures and ways of behaving.
I wonder whether the Japanese government, in its quest for Japan to become more global in outlook, particularly with the 2020 Olympics in mind, might consider a similar au pair scheme. I realise that many Japanese homes are too small to accommodate another person. But I remember very fondly the year I spent with a Japanese family in Hiroshima when I was 18. They had to move their son and daughter into the same bedroom to free up a room for me, which was not very popular with their children, but I think overall they felt everyone benefitted from having a foreigner as a temporary member of the family.
The mother did not work, apart from some occasional English language teaching, so I did not have to do much to help around the house. Instead of the family paying me an allowance (we pay our au pair £75 a week), my parents paid some money to the family for my upkeep.
However, if Japan were to introduce an au pair scheme, I would expect the other benefit to be that Japanese mothers would feel more able to rejoin the workplace, with the peace of mind that their children and house were being looked after. This would also support another objective of the government, to get more women back to work by improving childcare.
This article originally appeared in Japanese in the 9th October 2013 edition of Teikoku News
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