The live-in helper is a much common phenomenon than past years. Helpers are not just hired by working parents, but are also an extra pair of hands to the homemaker. As many would agree, there are pros and cons to having helpers. Having extra help in the house no doubt frees up parents to spend more time with their children, keeps a house in shape, assist with elder care to name a few benefits. On the other hand, it is inevitable that there will be a degree of adjustment, privacy issues to manage and the fact that the helper may indirectly have some parenting influence on the children.
How do parents strike a balance? TNAP writer Yew Ya speaks to two mothers: Joanna, a banker, and Pam from the chemical sector to find out more.
How do you segregate childcare duties between yourselves (family) and helper?
Pam: Our plan has changed a few times from the time Josiah was born and as he grows. I am lucky to have a helper, but she takes instructions from me. She is in charge of all the housework, but I plan the diet and cook for the family at the moment. She supports me by feeding Josiah what I cook. Joe and I make arrangements with work and in-laws such that usually at least one adult besides the helper is at home.
Joanna: Mark and I work as a tag team when it comes to childcare duties. I focus on the academic development of the kids while he takes care of the rest like sports and music. Both of us assume the disciplinarian role when needed. Our helper focuses mainly on household chores and cooking for the family.
What is your thought process in coming to such an arrangement?
Pam: It is important to be clear on the reason one has for hiring a maid. Part-time cleaner may also work out for some people. Domestic helpers are helpers and they are here to work and not groom children. I believe the helper should also discipline the children in the sense to be consistent with the standards set by the parents and avoid confusion to the child. She needs to be respected by the child as well.
Pam and Joe with son Josiah | Photo credit: Pam
Joanna: By rotating the duties with Mark – such as putting them to bed, bathing, feeding etc, both of us get the opportunity to bond with our kids and they are comfortable with either one of us. These are precious moments for bonding hence we are very hands-on and the helper’s focus is on household chores. However, we believe the helper is part of our family and the kids need to respect her, hence the helper has the right to discipline them if they are rude to her.
How does a typical day run in your household?
Pam: I used to have a schedule but now I find that it doesn’t work at least for me. Generally, Joe and I work from home on separate days and my in-laws come over on days when we are not at home. Josiah is in school from 9 till afternoon. I make major points and what needs to be achieved in that day for the helper. In my experience laying down general principles for the helper works out much better as compared to tracking a set schedule of what she has to do.
Joanna: Our kids wake us up in the morning and we have breakfast together. We play and read together before sending the elder boy to school while the younger one stays at home with my mother. On the way to school, we will read and / or sing. My mother and the helper will bring Rheanne and pick Tyler from school. I will return from work to bathe them, feed them dinner, play and read before putting them to bed at 8.30pm. Thereafter, Mark and I have some time to spend together.
Joanna and Mark with son Tyler and daughter Rheanne | Photo credit: Joanna
Any general principles or perspectives you have as an employer parent?
Pam: Major on the major. I only take experienced helpers. I do spend a lot of time talking to my helper and ensuring her well-being is good. I do not believe in micro-managing maids. It will likely fail. All helpers have their own weaknesses as do the employers; it is a give and take relationship.
Joanna: A maid is a wonderful help at home but they can never replace the place of a parent. So take every opportunity to feed your child, bathe them, play with them and be silly to make them laugh. They are only little for that long!
By Som Yew Ya
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