Au Pair wanted to help single dad

A single-dad wants an au pair - is it just some kind of joke?  Even a rather sick joke perhaps? But where’s the joke?

Is the automatic snicker to a single-dad's desire for an au pair a little like what confronted women 100 years ago when they declared their desire to engage in society with the same freedom as men:  to vote, work, play sports, etc?

I have a lot of time for single parents, partly because I know that they have so little time for themselves!  And  because I am a single parent myself.  Or at least, a half-time single-parent.

Since my son was one, he has been raised by his Mum in her home and by me in my home.

Now, I know that my son’s mother found it tough being a single parent.  Me too. 

She showed the good sense to ask for help, and in particular, she applied to an agency for an au pair.

She got an au pair in no time flat.  And when one would finish up and head back home or wherever, my son’s mother had little trouble finding a replacement.

My son liked the au pairs at his Mum's house.  He talked to me about each one and the fun they had during the au pair's stay. 

I’m guessing it made my son’s mother’s life much easier too.

I naturally thought ‘What a great idea’, and I applied for one too.

To the agency’s credit, they did not laugh when I submitted my application. 

On the other hand, they did not do anything else either.

I was not offered an au pair.  I was on the books for some years.  During that time, my son’s mother had a number of au pairs.

I was left perplexed – and acutely aware of the burden of operating as a single-parent without any household help. 

Occasionally I would call up the agency to remind them that I was still looking.  On one such occasion, they admitted that they were still looking too.

The difficulty it appears, was that of placing an au pair with a single father.  I heard phrases like “young women”, “living with a single man”, “concerned families back in Europe”.

Ah, I see.

I gave up and realised that I would just have to sail solo, even though single parenting is no kind of plain sailing.

Then one day, out of the blue, the agency called me: “We have an au pair that we think might be of interest to you.  Can we send you the details.”

“Sure!”

The au pair looked very impressive with lots of experience caring for nephews and nieces (the sister’s children), good references (from the sister and others), good English, late 20s (which I thought to be a good thing) and so forth.

Oh, and one particularly interesting point, the au pair applicant was male!

Having gotten cranky about the double-standard of the placement of au pairs with single mothers, but not single fathers, I was now confronted by my own biases.

Would I accept a male au pair?  What if he was some kind of weirdo?  What male chooses to be an au pair?  Out came my biases!

Why do we fear men so much?  Yes, me included!

Well, from a psychological point of view, it has to do with something called the ‘availability bias’.  We can think of instances of men having been convicted for child abuse much more easily than women.

Is the fear justified?  Not really.  The media run stories that are interesting.  A mother neglecting a child is not nearly as interesting a story as a complete stranger abducting a child.

Couple of reality checks.  First, child abuse of any form is rare, very rare.  Second, the most likely offenders are people known to the child, particularly mothers as it happens but that probably simple reflects their degree of time with the children.

So the horror stories of children abducted by strangers and abused are far more memorable than the more numerous and less media-worthy cases of children neglected or abused by their own parents. 

Just like how we are far more fearful of a shark attack than we are of drowning even though the latter is statistically many times more probable than the former.

So, I am looking at a young German man’s application to be an au pair.

I took him on.  I overcame my gut reaction and realised it was the same one that leads to squirliness in our society about men around children in general.  The prejudices that lead to so many stories of men being challenged when looking for undies for their daughter, or watching their children / grand-children in parks, or sitting next to unaccompanied minors on airplanes, or looking for an au pair.

Our German au pair was a great success.  He was with us for one year.  My son thoroughly enjoyed the time the au pair spent with us.  And I really appreciated his help with my son and around the home.

Maybe this experience will help my son will grow up with different views (read: less biases) about men than our generation?  I hope so.

2 comments:

  1. I'm currently writing a paper on how women cant get well paid jobs a easily as men. I'm an 18 y/o male and in my research I read this article. It made me think about my own biases. Thanks for the good read.

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  2. Pleased to hear you enjoyed the things the 'au pair' did for you around your house for 12 months - wow what a find - all those household chores and renovating - looking after your child - well done! A question for you - is there a female/s in your life as yet ( intimate connection) after all your time alone? if so how does she/they feel about all this and other interactions with you and your child and your life?

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