Hiring someone to work in your home can cause many challenges. Before my life as an adult expat began, I would have scoffed at such a statement. Are you seriously saying that having someone come to your house to cook and scrub your toilets is challenging? The answer: A big fat “YES”. Inviting a stranger into your home and into your life in such an intimate way is a HUGE deal. Then the responsibility of sometimes a whole family’s livelihood on your shoulders plus in cultural and language issues and help can seem like not much help at all.
My first experience with a having a house helper was awkward at best. I, clueless on how to be a good employer, was young and unsure of myself. Plus, life in a new country was overwhelming enough but now I had two unusual-unfamiliar eyes watching my every move: every goof up and, breakdown and every moment of confusion. After a year, my family transferred to a new city and I was uncertain if I would have a helper again. But an expat family had just moved and a lady with tons of experience was looking for a job. I took the bait…and I never regretted that decision.
Though, I’m still young(ish) and at times can be unsure of myself, I have learned a few things that have helped to live in harmony with a domestic helper.
1) Remember you will always be the Mom. With the first helper, I felt a little (ok, a lot) jealous when I saw my infant daughter being cuddled by another woman. I was a stay at home mom who never lived close to family and having someone actually doing “my” work was hard. I had territorial issues. But over the years I have come to embrace the joy and practicality of house help. No matter how much my children love ‘Auntie’, I am still Mommy. When little ones skin their knees or are hot with fever, they come to me. If they want to hear “Pinkilicious” for the billionth time, they come to me. I tuck them in at night and kiss them in the mornings. I am Mom. No relationship my children have with another will take away from my part in their lives.
2) Personality has a lot to do with a peaceful home. My helper and I have a partnership. She is an employee, yes, but she helps me run my home and I am eternally grateful for her hard work that allows me to have time for other endeavors outside the home. She is in my home interacting with me and my children 40 hours a week. Every minute of that can seem like an eternity if our personalities clash. In my opinion, it is always good to start any employee off on a trial basis. Let them know up front that you will only need them for 30 days. A trial run of sorts…if it works works out and you get along, offer her a permanent place. You can always teach someone how to iron a shirt but you can’t teach someone how not to get on your nerves. Hire someone who you like being around.
3) Take time in the beginning to do on-job-training. There is nothing more intimidating than starting a new job. Especially, if you are left with little clarity and understanding of how to do said job. Even if the woman you have hired is experienced in a foreigner’s home, I guarantee you have preferences. Take a break from your daily activities when you hire someone new and work beside her. Show her how you like things. Our new helper didn’t know how to mop a tile floor when she first started working for us but now she is an efficient cleaner. Be patient and kind and I promise you will reap the rewards in the future.
4) Be careful with your kiddos. As a mother, I feel a constant tension between releasing my children and protecting my children. I want to go on a date night with my husband every now and then. A little alone time would be good for our relationship. But is it “safe” to leave the children in the hands another? When I first moved overseas, I didn’t have a choice. I had to leave my children at home with a helper while I went to school. It was scary and difficult! Thankfully, she was recommended by a trusted colleague who took the time to translate my 15 pages of do’s and don’ts and carefully went over them with her…line by line. Every situation is different and every helper is different. Pray a lot! Stay engaged and look for any warning signs that something isn’t right. Trust your gut but more importantly trust the Lord. Don’t let fear be the deciding factor. When you find trustworthy help, it is a beautiful thing.
5) Be forgiving but know when to cut ties. I heard a story of a fellow expat who fired her helper because she couldn’t remember to put the clean towels on the bottom of the stack. Huh?! If that’s you… you’re just being annoying. No one is perfect and everyone has days that they are a little off or tired or unenthused about ironing your underwear. But there are deal breakers that should cause termination. It is good to discuss the things that won’t be tolerated in your home prior to employment. I always emphasize honesty and integrity during the interview process.
6) Be generous. If I am well enough off to have help in my home than I sure am well enough off to show generosity. Just because a local friend pays her live-in house help $40 a month, doesn’t make it is ethical. Look around. How much does it cost to feed a family in your host country? Are you contributing to the poverty of the family who is working for you by paying her an embarrassing rate. If you can’t pay a full-time salary and a few benefits, think about hiring a part-time helper or better yet, wash the dishes yourself. I enjoy paying my house help well, bettering their life and helping with the education of their children. In my (limited) experience helpers’ most common stressor is for the education of their children. I have decided to eliminate the need to “borrow” by offering help in the beginning. After all, I have no problem sponsoring a World Vision Child, why wouldn’t I want to help a child I have a relationship with? I make the boundaries very clear in the beginning. I will help you with X amount for school. All expenses past that amount is you and your families responsibility. Set them up with a small savings plan. I got that idea from another expat friend. I match a small amount each month and hold it for for future use. This helped a past helper pay for her daughter’s wedding. You could change someone’s life by paying a few extra dollars a month. Think about it. Pray about it and act responsibly.
7) Make them part of the family. Yesterday while sitting on our front porch enjoying the Word and my morning cup of coffee, my 3 year old came outside and sat in lap. She looked up at me and asked, “When will Mrs. Paulina come back? I like Mrs. Paulina. I looovvee Mrs. Paulina.” When we moved earlier this year we knew we would be leaving Mrs. Paulina behind. It was heartbreaking. She become a surrogate grandmother to my kids and my daily companion and friend. She ate lunch with us every day. My girls were flower girls in her daughters wedding. She was my go to for cultural questions. We talked with her about her life, her family and her problems AND my life, my family, my crazy problems. Welcoming her in and having her sit at our lunch table daily, making her part of our family enriched our life in ways I never knew possible!
What about you? Do you have any wisdom on hiring house help? Do you have story that you would like to share? Please do in the comments section below.