Au Pair Horror Stories: this is my au pair horror story and how I got the guts to walk out on my au-pair host family in Sydney.
Au pair horror stories are not so uncommon. Either the host family is a nightmare or equally the au pair can be one too. Often if the host family is a nightmare the au pair can feel trapped and quite isolated. Their work place AND their home environment becomes somewhere they aren’t comfortable, and of course they are outnumbered by the parents. They are living in someone else’s house and so if there is a problem they can sometimes be afraid to speak their mind incase the host family kicks them out on the streets there and then. And yes this does happen. So they often just suffer in silence.
So many au-pairs stay with their host family even if they are unhappy. They stay because they don’t have anywhere else to go, or they are worried that if they do find somewhere else it might be worse than their current situation, or they are just scared of the parent’s response if they tell them they want to leave as they don’t like confrontation, so they just stay and hope it will get better.
AU PAIR HORROR STORIES: MY AU PAIR NIGHTMARE IN SYDNEY
For me it was partly the latter, but mostly because the host dad was often extremely inappropriate towards me and I just didn’t feel comfortable around him. When I first met the family I had a funny feeling about him. Something just wasn’t right. Instead of listening to my instinct I tried to ignore it. I felt bad for the family and wanted to help them as their last au-pair had just walked out – another big warning sign I chose to ignore.
Not long after moving in, the dad started to make me feel uncomfortable. For example, on my 10th day living there he asked me if it was true that au-pairs and host dads sometimes hook up. He took my hand and told me I was very beautiful and asked whether I found him attractive (to which I replied no). He told me that previously it hadn’t been a problem having an au-pair live in their house as the last au-pair was ‘fat and ugly’. He also proceeded to tell me about the problems him and his wife were going through, whilst pouring me drink after drink of vodka. And all the while his wife was upstairs sleeping.
Each time he went to the toilet I would gulp down a glass of water and dilute my drink with more mixer as I just felt quite uneasy in the situation and wanted to have a clear head as his behaviour seemed quite bizarre to me. My gut was telling me to get out of the situation so I kept telling him I needed to ring my parents, but he kept telling me to stay. In any normal situation I would have just left and told the guy to do one, but when you are living in his house and he is technically employing you, it’s kind of hard as you feel you can’t be rude.
Over the coming weeks the dad tried to be all friendly with me, regularly offering me alcoholic drinks once his wife had gone to bed (she always went to bed early). I would always make excuses and even started teaching English online so that I would have a reason why I needed to escape to my room early. I wore scruffy clothes around the house and never wore make-up so that I wouldn’t look nice in front of him. A couple of times he came home drunk at around midnight and knocked on my bedroom door and called my name through the door. I just froze, waiting for him to go away which he did thankfully. I then made sure that every weekend I had plans that usually involved staying over at friend’s places for the whole weekend just so I wouldn’t have to see his face. He just made my skin crawl to be honest.
A couple of months later after dinner again he offered me a drink. After having made excuses and running away into my room for weeks, I felt bad that I wasn’t spending that much time with the parents so kind of reluctantly agreed. Heck it was a Friday night and a drink would be nice. After the mum went to bed I said I needed to ring my parents within the hour, hinting that I would shortly be going to my room. I didn’t want to be alone with him so I suggested to go to the local pub for one quick drink so that it wouldn’t be just me and him, and the atmosphere would be better. He then said that we shouldn’t sneak out tonight, but we can sneak out another night and he will show me a good night out. What? That wasn’t what I was asking for. And sneaking out… was he thinking it was some sort of date?? He then proceeded to tell me that him and his wife were in an open relationship and she is fine with him going off with other women. I don’t know what he was hoping to achieve by telling me this (well I do, I’m just choosing to ignore it) but I made it clear I thought this was very strange and quite disrespectful to his wife.
I had hoped he wouldn’t be so creepy this time, and if he was that I would be able to just walk away. But he was even more annoying. He started telling me did I realise how lucky I am to be staying here in this neighbourhood, did I realise how much money it would cost me if I were to rent a room in this house, did I realise how much money I was saving on food and bills? All for doing an ‘easy gig’ here as he kept calling it (30 hours a week with a 2 year old). He made me feel like I was an inconvenience and that he was doing ME a favour by having me stay in the house. Seems he forgot how much money it would cost him if he were to put his child into daycare. Especially seeing as he was trying to put me through the books of his company and claim the tax back off my ‘pocket money’ by doing dodgy and technically illegal stuff just to save some money.
He then asked why I was in their house – was it because I wanted to have a baby but didn’t find a man to have one with yet? Excuse me. I found that totally inappropriate. And then he whipped out bags of cocaine. I don’t know if it was a lot because I don’t do drugs, but it looked like a lot. I was completely shocked and a little bit disgusted if I’m honest too. And by my facial expression he could tell. He told me if I ever told his wife about it he would kick me out straight away. So now he was starting to threaten me.
He asked me several times if I wanted a line of coke, each time I politely declined saying it was his choice if he wanted to do it, but to keep me out of it. I don’t touch drugs and I won’t have anyone pressure me into doing them. But each time he did a line, again he would ask me if I wanted one. Seriously, asking someone 7 or 8 times is a bit much. But he clearly wanted me to have some so that I would feel scared to say something to the mum.
Making plans to leave the host family
The next day I knew I just needed to make plans ASAP to get out of there. No way did I want to stay with a family where the dad is regularly doing drugs. And certainly I was not going to live with someone who was threatening and trying to pressurise me into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. I thought I would give the family 2 weeks notice and then leave, pretending I would be flying back home as I had been offered a better paid job. How could I tell the mum the real reason why I wanted to leave – because her husband was a creep being inappropriate towards me and offering me drugs. I didn’t think she would believe me – this was definitely one of those au pair horror stories you only hear about right?
But then I thought no. I don’t want to be blamed for walking out on the family and breaking the contract. I was being made to feel uncomfortable in my own home and the mum should know the real reason I am leaving. But then if I told her, for sure I would get kicked out by the dad once the mum would mention it to him. Even worse he could deny it all and say I was the one doing drugs! So I felt like I had no choice but to wait until the day I was leaving to go to my new place to tell them. It felt cowardly doing it that way, but equally I needed to look after myself and ensure I wasn’t kicked out on the streets and that I would get my pocket money. I knew it would be so hard to tell her and I was dreading it. Every time I saw here those weeks I felt such guilt inside for knowing what I would be doing, and the stress I would be putting her under of trying to find a new au-pair. I sought advice from friends and family and they all told me I needed to look after myself, do what was best for me and that I was doing the right thing.
The following weekend the dad cornered me, thanked me for not saying anything to the mum and asked if his drug taking had made me annoyed. To which I replied much the same as to what I had said the week before: if you want to do drugs that’s not my business but just do not pressure me or ask me if I want to do them as I am not interested. When people start to pressure me that is when I start to get annoyed. I am not into trying drugs just for the hell of it.
He then said that the stuff he got this time was really good though, and that I should at least try it. Clearly he did not listen to a word I said or respect my decision and values. Again he pressured me several times into trying it with him. Why was he so desperate for me to do it? Even if I did want to do drugs, I would do them with friends and not a creepy 40 year old dad.
Enough Is Enough
Of course after this I knew I had to get out. I was so glad I had a plan – I would continue being able to afford living in Sydney by housesitting – looking after people’s houses for free when they go on holiday. I would be able to live alone again which I was really looking forward to, as living with a family in a small house had been so claustrophobic for me.
The dad clearly didn’t respect me or his wife if this was how he treats both of us. I just felt so guilty all the time that I would be letting the mum down by leaving. And the poor boy would be so upset as we got on really well and always had fun. But at the end of the day I deserved happiness – this was my year abroad and yet the dad was just making life difficult and uneasy for me. I confided in close friends and family back home. It really helped having their support, and I would recommend for any au pair going through a similar difficult situation to always talk to your loved ones or other au pairs if you are in a difficult situation with your host family.
I feel quite furious that a grown man would take advantage of a young woman who is all alone on the other side of the world like that. I was in a position where I was able to get up and leave and stand up for myself, but I feel mad that he could have done this to a much younger and more naive au-pair who would have felt completely trapped and had no option but to stay. By standing up and telling my truth I am standing up for other women. Nobody should be made to feel like this, especially by someone who has the power of authority over them.
Leaving the host family
I was incredibly anxious thinking about how I would tell the mum when I would leave. Would she defend the dad, would she cry, would she shout at me? I had no idea how she would react. Would she be in denial and accuse me of lying? I literally had no idea. She knew full well he wasn’t perfect and had previously told me that so many times that year she had wanted to leave the dad but I don’t think she could ever go through with this.
I kept trying to rehearse in my head how I would tell the mum. My housesit was starting from the Friday afternoon so I would leave on the Friday lunchtime. The mum always worked from home on a Friday so I would tell her then. I really wanted to tell her to her face but I didn’t know if I would have the guts to. I hate confrontation. If I felt I didn’t have the courage to tell her to her face I would leave a WhatsApp voice message. Much better than just writing a note because at least in a voice message I can explain a lot more and she can hear my tone of voice and nothing can be misinterpreted. I knew sending a voice message may seem like a cowardly way out instead of telling her to her face, but at least in a voice message she couldn’t interrupt me, I could say everything that I wanted to say and I wouldn’t have to deal with her reaction.
When Friday came, for the first time since I had been there the mum had actually gone out to the office to work. I felt a bit bad as it meant I wouldn’t be able to tell her to her face. But equally I did feel a little relieved as it meant that I would have to send her a voice message to tell her I was leaving. The dad was at home all day though, and that was my problem. I wouldn’t be able to get my suitcases out without him noticing, and I was a little anxious about how he would react if he saw me leave as he did get quite angry sometimes.
Anyway I cleaned the whole house like I always do on Friday mornings whilst he was lying on the sofa watching TV. I was freaking out how I would be able to escape. Then about 10 minutes before I had finished cleaning the house the dad went to the gym. That was my chance. I quickly finished the last bit of cleaning, frantically packed the last of my belongings into my suitcase (I had done most of it the night before whilst they were sleeping so they wouldn’t hear me) and left. That was it. I felt relief but was also freaking out the dad would come back early as I would be coming out the door with my case. Luckily he didn’t and I managed to escape uneventfully. I feel like leaving was a huge weight off my shoulders.
I then sent a voice message to the mum explaining that I was sorry to have to say this over voice message, but I was leaving because of how the dad had threatened and pressured me. I was polite but firm in the voice message, explaining that I found it quite disgusting that someone would do drugs in the same house as a child and that I was no longer willing to be part of this situation.
I also said that I feel bad for leaving her and the child, and that even though she is probably really angry at me for leaving, I hope she can take herself out of the situation and see things from my point of view as a woman and that it has been very uncomfortable for me staying there. I explained that I wasn’t angry at the situation any more, I just wanted to close that chapter and move on with my life and I wished her all the best.
Au Pair Horror Stories: should you let them put you off?
I am not telling you this story to put you off being an au pair. If you find the right family, being an au pair can be the most incredible experience. Several years back I worked as an au pair for a year in Italy and I had the best time. You can read all about my experience of being an au pair in Italy in my article ‘Diary of an Au Pair‘. Many au pairs have an amazing time with their au pair family and still stay in touch years later. But sadly unfortunately the odd au pair will experience bad situations and have horror stories to tell like I do.