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    Playing happy families: rules and relationships in au pair employing households in London, England

    Cox, Rosie and Narula, R. (2003) Playing happy families: rules and relationships in au pair employing households in London, England. Gender, Place & Culture 10 (4), pp. 333-344. ISSN 0966-369X.

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    Abstract

    This article examines the way that rules about use of rooms, guests and eating practices operated within au pair employing households in London, England, and how these worked to structure relations between au pairs and their employers. Au pair employment has been growing in Britain in recent years and the au pair scheme provides a particularly interesting situation in which to examine quasi-familial relations because it requires host families to treat au pairs ‘as a member of the family’. Using findings from a questionnaire survey of 144 au pairs and in-depth discussions with 50 au pairs, seven au pair employers and seven agencies that place au pairs, it is argued that house rules are an important part of the au pair’s relationship to her employer’s family. Employers could take a strict ‘positional’ parenting approach, a more negotiated ‘personalising’ approach, or a mixture of the two. Those employers who most literally treated au pairs like members of the family, i.e. like children, did not encourage close relations by doing so. It is suggested that whereas studies of other forms of paid domestic employment have found that employers encourage the development of false kin relations in order to place additional demands on domestic workers, in au pair employment, employers may seek to create distance from rather than intimacy with their au pair and so counter some of the demands of the au pair scheme.

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