SINGAPORE: Can young families do without maids? This is the million dollar question that every new parent struggles with.
The range of opinions on this is vast. Some feel strongly about having one as it allows both parents to work; others would rather do without help as they prefer to be the main care-giver imparting values and teaching to their children.
I’ll be grappling with this reality come next year when we release our helper of three-plus years. She has served us well but her contract is ending and she has expressed her desire to return home and set up a small business of her own.
I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this day. Even though she’s a reliable help, I try to take care of our household groceries and do the cooking, and dishes when it’s her day off, in a bid to keep tabs on the level of dependence we have on her.
I also get the kids to clean up their own mess at the dining table and before bedtime so that they get a taste of what’s involved in keeping a household running.
My emotions are mixed – on some days, I feel an odd rush of exhilaration (my planner persona kicks in, knowing that I’d be in full control of cooking and cleaning) tempered with anxiety (how am I going to handle three kids’ schedules, cook and clean, and put in an honest day’s work at the same time?).
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THE PROS AND CONS OF HIRED HELP
Hiring a helper can be a handy option for some, essential for others. I’m referring to those households where both parents work long or erratic hours and who do not have the luxury of having grandparent-carers.
In the absence of consistent help in the form of grandparents or affordable childcare, or in the case of having multiples or children with special needs, having an extra hand in the house can make a world of difference.
But it also comes with a string of challenges, such as a lack of privacy in one's home, lack of training in household responsibilities for kids, and the issue of trust when it comes to caring for the very young or the elderly.
Most acknowledge that it can be hard finding someone trustworthy and willing to serve the family wholeheartedly.
In the beginning, having a total stranger into the home takes some getting used to. Language can be a major barrier, as with sharing control with an unfamiliar person.
When the child is very young, it is a common worry that she will grow too attached to "Aunty" and choose her over her parents. I’ve even heard of mothers instructing the helper not to hug or kiss their child, as a form of drawing the line.
EMBRACE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD, FOR A SEASON
Like many employers of helpers here, I had to accept both the good and the bad if I were to enjoy the mental space to focus on other priorities.
In some ways, it is like buying time for ourselves. By outsourcing less critical duties in the home, one may be able to rest better and be more intentional in building relationships with our kids or spouse.
For parents who work full time or hold multiple jobs, this time can be sanity-saving.
This is also what tipped the scales for us. On hindsight, I think her presence and support enabled our family to ride through a rough season – when the kids were younger and more difficult to handle.
With all of the conveniences of having a helper, however, the flipside is it is extra tough to train our children in household chores.
Research has shown that enlisting children’s help in household chores imbues in them a greater sense of ownership and responsibility.
Children who help out at home also tend to have higher self-esteem and are less self-absorbed. They learn to see themselves as contributors to the world, instead of only being responsible for (and taking pride in) their academic performance.
Now that our children are older and more independent, we think it is time to end our season of hired help, and focus on building some of these life skills.
GET CREATIVE AS A FAMILY
In my role as a work-at-home mother, there is a level of flexibility as to how I fulfil my work responsibilities. In some ways, this allows me to face the upcoming transition with less unease.
For those working in a more typical office job and who are getting by with little help, it may require more supportive work-life policies to enable these parents to get off work earlier, tend to their children’s needs first, and pick up work later in the night as needed.
It may also call for some creative engineering on our part.
Friends who have survived without helpers cite thermal cookers, dishwashers, dryers, and robot cleaners as their best friends. Not to mention the various online grocers who (almost) magically show up at our doors with food to last a few days.
Or maybe just a mindset shift. Like a friend quipped: “Just accept that the house will be at a new (and constant) level of mess.”
As author Charles Swindoll wrote:
We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.
While I feel for the many young parents who are suffering from the chronic lack of sleep and time, we should also acknowledge that they are gaining new skills. They are masterful at planning, swift at problem-solving, and constantly thinking several steps ahead – surely every HR person’s dream qualities in a new hire.
Can modern dual-income families survive the daily grind without hired help?
I think it’s a situation where: "Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right."
But whether you hire or you don’t, it’s best to be all in with your decision, and be ready to call it quits when the time is ripe.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.