Grannies get to see the world as au pairs

If you're stuck for childcare and looking to broaden your family's cultural experience, a more mature generation of au pairs who are fulfilling their lifelong dreams could be your answer.

Jenny Lee hears from one Irish family who have welcomed a 'granny au pair' into their home

THINK au pair and images of a homesick teenager with little or know experience of children, cooking or housework come to mind. But thanks to the vision of a German woman, who herself missed out on her dream of becoming an au pair when she became a mum at the age of 20, a whole new generation of mature, experience, fun-loving grannies are travelling the world and helping out families. Michaela Hansen, from Hamburg, launched the initiative to send young-at-heart grandmas from Germany all over the world, having a "eureka" moment after watching a TV programme about young au pairs. "I thought: Why isn't there something similar for older women?" A few months later she set up Granny Au Pair - an online portal that places women aged over 50 abroad as 'au pair grannies'.

Like most au pairs, they take care of children in exchange for room and board. There is usually no pay, though the family and au pair are free to come to an arrangement, and a membership fee is paid to Granny Au Pair.

Hansen says the advantage for the families is that, unlike some teenage au pairs, older women are likely to have had experience of childcare, many having raised families themselves. "Young people often still lack prudence and sensitivity. Older au pairs draw on a wealth of life experience and take the daily challenges in their stride. They are active and curious and eager to find out about other cultures and customs and they want to improve their language skills," Michaela says. "It helps that Germans have a reputation for being reliable and hard working."

From India to Australia, Dublin to New York, granny au pairs have been putting smiles on children's faces over the past three years.

As yet there have been no grannies placed in Northern Ireland - something Michaela would love to see. "We are actively looking for families from Northern Ireland as many of our au pairs are keen UK and Ireland fans and would love to get to know the way of life. Even though they are able to speak English they also are looking forward to brushing up their English with a family."

The Berger family from Maynooth, Co Kildare, welcomed Maria Mletzko into their home at the start of this year.

Maria, from Frankfurt, helps look after their child Frieda Luna, who has just turned one.

Having German roots themselves, the concept of a German granny coming to their home excited the couple. "Frieda's own grandparents live far away in Germany, so it's a great experience for a child having a granny in the house. We all benefit from Maria's calmness, her routine with children and her beautiful baking skills," Stefanie Berger says.

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