Retired women find second wind as au-pair grannies | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.09.2010
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Retired women find second wind as au-pair grannies

While most au-pairs who go to work for families abroad are young women, Michaela Hansen thought the idea would also appeal to an older age group. The concept has developed into a unique and successful business.

A woman pulling a suitcase

Many empty-nesters are ready for a new adventure

Her female friends loved the idea immediately, says Michaela Hansen, but the men were skeptical. Who, after all, could possibly want to look after other people's children and not get paid for it? As it turned out, many would.

Various women between the ages of 45 and 76 have contacted Hansen. Most of them are single mothers, widowed or divorced, have grown-up children and are retired but still looking to keep themselves busy.

Experience over youth

Michaela Hansen got married and became a mother at a young age, which is why she never had the chance to work as an au-pair abroad herself. Now she is nearly 50 and already a grandmother, with her second grandchild due in the fall. She works as an independent PR consultant.

It was a television show that gave Hansen the idea of sending grandmothers abroad to work as nannies. "Why should only young women do this?" she thought. After all, older people can often do a better job because they have more experience in dealing with children - and they can cook.

Michaela Hansen

Hansen encourages women like herself to take a risk

Since the beginning of the year Hansen has been running her business, Granny Aupair, which has been well received. Several hundred women have already contacted her, 100 of them have signed up, and 10 have already been placed with families.

Hansen promotes her business via German cultural institutes, but she has also attracted the attention of foreign media, resulting in enquiries from families in various countries. She compares her steadily rising success to a stone thrown into the water, which is "now making ripples."

"I have received emails from Hawaii, from Australia, from Mexico, Spain, England," said Hansen. "I'm noticing now that it's going from country to country and becoming more and more well-known."

Adventure abroad

Sixty-two-year-old Anke Brand has already started packing her suitcase: On October 1, she’ll be heading off to London to stay with a family there. She used to work as the director of a nursing home and has spent a lot of time in the last years looking after her granddaughter. Now she is semi-retired, feels fit and healthy, and has an urge to do something new.

When she read about Granny Aupair, she immediately knew that it was the right thing for her and that living abroad for a year. She said she never would have thought of the idea herself, but the adventure was just what she needed.

Brand was open to the idea of going anywhere abroad and ended up choosing a family in London. She is going to look after a two-year-old girl and has already visited the family for an initial meeting. Brand will have her own bedroom and share a bathroom with the young daughter. She is allowed to have visitors, too, and her husband already has plans to come.

Working for accommodation

A child sitting in a cardboard box

Kids often benefit from having a more mature nanny

The au-pairs do not receive a wage but work to cover the costs of their accommodation. Hansen emphasizes that her business is not an employment agency. The host families sometimes finance their au-pairs' language lessons and some even offer pocket money, but these are individual arrangements.

Contrary to ordinary, young au-pairs, whose rights and obligations are firmly established before their work begins, these women negotiate agreements with their host families themselves. Hansen thinks that this is a good set-up and says that older women are better able to speak up if they're not happy

Brand feels confident about her upcoming au-pair job and does not worry about any potential conflicts. After all, she believes most problems can be sorted out by talking about them. And if that fails, she will simply "get on the plane and fly home."

Author: Heide Soltau (ew)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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