Granny Au Pair: Around the world at 60 yearsGranny Au Pair sends older women to help families around the world – an adventurous, active alternative to the rocking chair on the porch.
But instead of being the end of it all, aging today is actually the opposite. According to a study by Iconoculture, a global consumer research and advisory firm, today’s seniors are quite active, and more likely than ever to ask: “Why not?”
That was the first step for 52-year-old German Michaela Hansen when she decided to found the very first Au Pair agency for women aged 50 and over.
“I used to watch a TV show that accompanied young Au Pairs on their trips,” she explains to Allianz Knowledge. ”and I wished I had had the chance to go abroad when I was younger, too.” But, typically for her generation, she married early and was then busy raising a family.
But Hansen didn’t see age as pathology, but as potential: “While I was watching the younger girls struggle with the kids and the overall situation, I thought that older women, with a little more experience of life and composure, might actually be better suited for such a job. So I founded Granny Au Pair.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this kind of active aging can improve quality of life and also the individual’s position within society through participation in a range of social, economic, or cultural activities.
“For my generation, especially the female side, being sidelined is not an option,” Hansen explains. “We don’t want to end up in the rocking chair on the porch or on the golf course. We want to be treated according to our abilities and not our birthdays. We have enough courage and energy to tackle challenges that society thinks are for younger people only.”
According to the European Commission’s 11/2008 Flash Eurobarometer ‘Family life and the needs of an aging population’, there is evidence to suggest that voluntary work increases the mental wellbeing of older people. It also has the potential to provide an exchange of experiences between the generations. And one of the best ways in which older persons can provide assistance to younger generations is childcare.
Michaela Hansen shares this opinion: “For the granny Au Pairs, their age is definitely an advantage. Their biggest asset is experience, even though you can’t really blame the young Au Pairs for not having any yet.”
Most granny Au Pairs know how to deal with children and family life, and can be trusted with more complex challenges. “I get that a lot from parents that need to spend the night somewhere else. They have a harder time leaving their kids with a 20-year-old than with someone with a little more experience. Who cares about age if there is expertise to share?”
Senior volunteering apparently changes the perception of aging – not only amongst the elderly but within the entire society. Organizations like Granny Au Pair take the negative feelings about growing old out of the equation. “Society talks about aging as if it were a disease,” Hansen argues, “those who are actually affected don’t seem to have such a problem with it. We need to stop judging by appearance. There’s absolutely nothing bad about growing old!”
And indeed, senior expertise has many faces. On a more professional level, Germany’s senior expert service (SES) sends retirees to companies and small businesses all over the world to share their knowledge and improve business performance. The need for social capital is on the rise – and senior experts can fill the gaps.
Societies need to think beyond age limitations – so far, seniors are mostly treated according to their stereotypically predefined status. Initiatives like Granny Au Pairs demonstrate that aging is more than facing an uninspiring phase of life.
This changing situation calls for a change of metaphor. Jane Fonda would prefer a staircase over the arch: “It’s a typical icon for problems of older people but also iconic for the challenge that can be mastered.”