Granny Au Pair: Around the world at 60 years

Granny Au Pair sends older women to help families around the world – an adventurous, active alternative to the rocking chair on the porch.
Michaela Hansen\'s organization found an Au Pair position for former stewardess Embjörg Elster in .../ Credits: Michaela Hansen
At the TEDxWomen 2011 conference, 73-year-old actress Jane Fonda observed that society, and especially her generation, is living with the paradigm of age as an arch: “You're born, you peak at midlife and decline into decrepitude.“ Given that life expectancy is on average 34 years longer today than three generations ago, that is quite a lengthy decline.

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.”

"Being sidelined is not an option"

Michaela Hansen, founder, Granny Au Pair Michaela Hansen founded her Granny Au Pair agency in 2010 and since made it possible for many women to experience time abroad and share their expertise with families in need. It all started with a single- mom from Canada. She was the first to contact Hansen in 2010, searching for a granny to help with the kids and the household chores. Within twenty minutes after Hansen published the request, she received the first of 30 applications for the position. And since 2010, her ‘Granny Au Pair’ agency has sent women aged 50 years and older to families around the globe.

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?”

Volunteering changes the perception of aging

Nonetheless some of her grannies are not up to the task, Hansen explains: “Being an Au Pair is a serious job, not an all-inclusive vacation where you can complain about room size, food or weather.” Besides expertise, courage and flexibility are the most important assets. “One of my clients, for example, went straight to Jordan, a country not really known as a favorite spot for vacations. And yet, it took her only two weeks to decide to go,” Hansen says.

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.”

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peter.meier1: 02.10.2012, 16:46


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