Are you thinking about hiring a helper? Or have you just hired one and are now having second thoughts? This mama of two takes you through her thought process… and what she learned the first time around
Over here in the little red dot it’s pretty common to have a live-in helper. Actually, if you have a young family and don’t have a helper, you’re probably the exception, not the norm. Reason being, it’s so cost effective. Having a live-in helper actually works out cheaper than having a regular cleaner and babysitter.
Shortly after arriving in Singapore, we hired a lovely Filipino maid whom I’ll call Belle. This was a totally new concept for us having always lived away from family with next to no help. We were very much looking forward to an extra pair of hands — I was seven months pregnant with a toddler in tow after all! However, fast forward six months and our helper had decided she wanted to leave us for another family. What led to this and how could we have done things differently? Here are five things I wish I’d considered before hiring a helper…
1. Our living space
My husband and I fell in love with our apartment when we viewed it. The kitchen overlooks the living and dining areas with a clear flow out to the balcony. What we didn’t consider, however, was what it would feel like with a live-in helper. Open plan living means there is no real separation and because of this, Belle was always very present — cooking, washing up, cleaning.
It was amazing having these chores taken care of for us. It definitely freed us up to do other things and also solved a lot of bickering over the tiny things!
But – and for me it was a big but – someone was always around. We forever had an audience. Despite encouraging Belle to take afternoons off, she preferred to stay in. I wish I’d considered the layout of our apartment more before hiring a helper. I would now choose an apartment which isn’t so open plan and where the kitchen is separated.
2. Her living space
The helper’s room in our apartment comes with a built-in high bed with storage underneath which Belle really disliked. She couldn’t relax easily when she didn’t have any work to do and instead spent more time in the communal living space. This contributed to the feeling that she was “always around”. As we interviewed Belle when we were still living in temporary accommodation, she didn’t see our apartment. She never asked about her bedroom setup and, not thinking it an issue, we didn’t think to touch on it.
3. Expectations around childcare
When we employed Belle I was seven months pregnant, our older child had just turned two and my husband was starting in a new job. Sleepless nights and potty training lay ahead of us. I was always very clear that I was the primary caregiver but that we needed help with chores and cooking. The boundaries quickly became blurred though when hubs would offload his daddy daycare (early morning shifts) to Belle. While he merrily skipped off to work, I was left trying to realign expectations. When your children go to nursery, there’s a very definite boundary of them being away at daycare versus being at home with you. It’s not so easy with a live-in helper to distinguish the time and roles you want separated, especially as the children don’t always know either. That’s why it’s important to set expectations around childcare early on, not just between you and your helper but also between you and your partner.
4. How my role in the home would change
I had a mini identity crisis in the first few months of having a helper. I was so used to doing everything that when we had a helper, I was suddenly questioning what my role was and where my worth came from. I definitely wasn’t prepared for these feelings and found tackling them challenging. If you’re a stay- at-home mum, think about how you want your home life to look. I felt like a hotel guest for the first three months. Whenever Marlowe wanted a drink or food it was our helper that she went to. I started to recognize that this wasn’t ideal for our family so I ended up taking a greater role again in the domestics. It’s very important to me that my children see me cooking and that it’s something fun we can do together.
5. My attitude
I definitely went through highs and lows and would feel unfairly resentful that we didn’t have our own privacy. I missed creating havoc in the kitchen and having doll tea parties with Marlowe without everything getting tidied up as we went along. It was hard adjusting to having someone around all the time, feeling like I couldn’t listen to podcasts in the living room or chill and listen to music. I wish I’d considered more how I would react to having a helper and how it would affect my home life.
What happened next?
It was actually all very amicable. Belle told us she wanted to find another family with young children where she could be the primary caregiver. We supported her in her job search and shortly after she found a family with twins and the mum was going back to work. This set-up suited her down to a tee! We adjusted back into having no live-in help, opted for a cleaner and a babysitter instead, and for this period while I’m not working, we prefer it (although we do miss the freedom to go out spontaneously in the evenings!).
How could we have done things differently?
As my family back home told me, embrace her! Yes, I think this mindset would definitely have helped. I also think living somewhere that isn’t so open plan would have tremendously changed our experience. When our lease is up, we’re thinking about moving and if we did, our top consideration would be how the layout would work with a live-in helper.