25/07/2011 14:40 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Do Grannies Make The Best Au Pairs?

Do grannies make the best au pairs? Getty

Years ago, when my daughter was born, I longed for a kindly grandmother to give me a hand. I already had a three-year-old, plus a toddler who had an alarming tendency to run into fast-moving traffic. My own mum lived miles away.

'You need an au pair,' said my friend Anna.

But I didn't want a teenage girl who might get homesick or miss her boyfriend. I wanted someone mature and dependable who'd brought up children of her own. I wanted someone who could rock the baby to sleep while I took the boys to the park.

In Germany, PR consultant Michaela Hansen, 50, has seen the gap in the market. Eighteen months ago, she set up the agency Granny Aupair in Hamburg.

So far she's placed more than 50 German grannies with families all over the world. All of them are women over 50 (the oldest is 76), and many come from professional backgrounds like nursing and teaching. Some applied because they wanted to travel and learn new languages, while others wanted a safe base from which to explore different cultures.

'Most of the women of this generation did not have the opportunity to go abroad for a longer period of time,' says Michaela. 'Now, they want to make up for this and live a little adventure.'
Families really appreciate the more mature au pair, Michaela says. 'I often hear families say that a young au pair is rather like an additional child. Besides being in the family, they want to have fun, go out and party.

'Our women are life-experienced, well-trained professionals, have generally raised their own children, are able to cook and manage a household, and know stories to tell. Single working mothers particularly appreciate the reliability of an older woman.'

It was Michaela's own feeling of having missed out that inspired her to start the business. She was married at 19 and had two children by the time she was 21, so she'd never had the chance of being an au pair herself.

She used to sit on the sofa on Sunday afternoons watching a TV programme about young au pairs, and was filled with a desperate desire to travel.

'I thought, if that's how I feel, maybe there are other women like me who feel full of life and curiosity,' she says. As it says on her website, 'If not now, then when?'
he idea of matching grannies to families-with-children isn't new. There were 'rent-a-granny' schemes as part of Sure Start 10 years ago, and After School Care has grannies on its register.

But although some British families do ask agencies to provide them with older au pairs, the vast majority of au pairs who come to work in the UK are in their early twenties, according to the British Au Pair Agencies Association.

Will the idea of granny au pairs catch on in Britain? Michaela Hansen is open to the idea of setting up in the UK. Maybe we ought to give her a nudge...