House Helps: Weighing The Odds
USUALLY, a married woman, especially one that works in an office or far from home, starts toying with the idea of engaging the services of a house-help when she becomes a mother. As the babies arrive one after the other and she is also saddled with the never-ending household chores, her predicament stares her squarely in the face. Her maternity leave is over and she has to resume work, but there is no help in sight, then she begins to grasp the full import of the saying that “a good housemaid is like gold.”
Generally, it is many women’s ardent desire to excel both at the home front and in their careers. And so, they strive to put in their very best in these two areas. But realistically, it is not an easy thing for a woman to maintain a clean house, care for the children and then perform optimally in her career. With modern-day living and all its possible and impossible demands, it could be a herculean task combining all these and desiring to come up tops.
So, in tackling this knotty issue, families have devised various methods suitable to their circumstances and needs. While some have resorted to engaging the services of house-helps, albeit reluctantly, others, who feel uncomfortable with the idea of harbouring a total stranger all in the name of a helper, have sought to overcome the challenge employing other tactics. These could be in the form of having relatives live with them. But in the situation, where this is not available, it poses a huge problem. More often than not, however, people opt to settle for house-helps, who would be easy to control, as their services are paid for.
Interestingly, engaging the services of a house-help is not always a fallout of urgent necessity. To some people, the idea has come to be viewed as a sort of status symbol; to show that the family is buoyant enough to afford such luxury or that ‘madam has arrived.’ In such cases, the madam in question merely uses the house-help as an escort when attending public functions, whereby she walks elegantly into a gathering with the house-help in tow, carrying the baby and her bags.
But like everything else in life, the act of engaging the services of house-helps brings in its trail certain advantages and disadvantages. While some women feel that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages and would thus go to any length to avoid hiring house-helps and somehow find a way to cope, others just cannot do without them.
To this category of women, it is far better to condone the excesses and vices associated with house-helps than suffer the pains. In recent time, however, there have been growing concerns over the threat some house-helps pose to families, especially the little children in the household. There is an increase in the rate at which some house-helps reportedly unleash terror, brutality and hatred, leading to distrust and insecurity on the part of their employers. Events happening around reveal that many families, especially mothers, whether single or otherwise, have today lost their sleep, privacy, properties, children and other valuables to sheer negligence or nonchalant attitude of maids.
The pertinent questions to ask is: How valuable and indispensable is the ‘gold’ that is being acquired in the form of a house-help? Some people are of the opinion that in the cases where there is no relative that could be invited to play the role of a house-help, why not entrust the care of little children to aged parents rather than total strangers?
A cross section of families that spoke on the issue told The Guardian that some families are reluctant to keep their children with aged parents because of their tendency to spoil the children. Others claim that with their parents being uneducated and ‘outdated’, there is no way they would be able to communicate properly with the children or impart values and qualities that are commensurate with the requirements and expectations of modern-day living. Hence, their disapproval of leaving little children with aged parents, who in their view cannot add value to the child’s life.
For the various respondents, it is a mix bag of the good, the bad and the ugly, as they narrate their different experiences as wives, mothers and career women and their experiences at the hands of house-helps.
Mrs. Tokunbo Adeyinka, a florist and the MD, Comfy Homes and Gardens is a mother of three, who also encountered some difficulty in coping with raising her children and taking care of her home and career.
“I have aged parents, who have lived in Nigeria all their lives and are not very exposed enough to help in looking after my kids who have lived abroad all their lives. The children only came to Nigeria about three years ago and they can’t speak Yoruba. They can barely communicate with their grand parents. So, I was forced to seek the services of a maid, who is taking on the job because she needed to go back to school after dropping out of school when her father died.
“So, I tried to help by offering to send her to school, while she stayed in the house and helped with the kids when I am at work. But this girl steals, lies and tries to abuse my five-year-old boy. I had no choice but to involve the police in the matter. We really had a nasty experience, when she was caught in the house with her boy friends that invaded my flat in my absence. Of course, we sent her packing but not without dealing with her and her cohorts. She is back on the streets, but I’m finding it hard coping. In fact, I feel like leaving my job to take care of my sons, but I can’t. I really need help,” she says.
Mrs. Theresa Anunobi, a businesswoman and mother of six says mothers, who enjoy the support of extended families members have more successful families and live more happily.
“I started having my children very early in life and during those early years, I suffered alone. Despite the fact that I was a full time housewife, I found it difficult coping with my six children, comprising three boys and three girls, as well as their very demanding father. Things were so bad that once the children went off to school, I would just crash into bed and sleep like a log. Most times, I wouldn’t have finished half of my household chores before they returned from school. I was always tired, to the extent that it affected my sex life,” she says.
She recalls that her husband used to nag and complain about her dull attitude towards sex. She also recounts how her husband chose to ignore the fact that she was actually suffering because of the burden on her shoulders.
“He basically refused to render any form of assistance. So, I was forced to cope alone. Housework can kill. I am a woman and I know how it feels. I’m also aware that many women are suffering but they won’t say so. Some men don’t consider house chores as anything spectacular because they feel it is a woman’s duty. But this is not true. We all need one form of help or the other. The children are now grown, but back then, I saw hell because I wanted them to turn out well. So, I practically gave them my life, my time and commitment, my all.
“For many years, I did nothing, but only burnt myself out taking care of my home, which is my all. It is now that that I can work and earn money. Thankfully, my efforts have paid off. Above all, I am happier for it,” she says.
These two life experiences show the frustration of many working mothers. Daily, there are many shocking tales of men abusing and raping underage girls, of husbands raping their housemaids, as well as delinquent sons of wealthy parents, who delight in abusing their maids and even maltreating them. Disturbing stories are told of how maids maltreat and even torture babies. Some also rob their bosses or invite robbers to do the same. The list is endless.
While many are still grappling with the shock of the inhumane incident, the story broke out of a maid in Magodo, Lagos, who absconded with Michael and Rafael, aged two and a half and 15 months respectively brings to mind the fact that there is urgent need for discerning families to think twice before engaging the services of house helps and nannies regardless of their needs.
The parents had left the two boys with their new nanny. The maid had reportedly vanished with the boys after their sick grandmother went to bed and the parents had left the house to purchase some essentials for a birthday party. All efforts to reach the maid had proved abortive and the police are still on her trail.
Josephine Otigba, a legal practitioner says that hiring a minor is a crime punishable by law. A house-help or maid must be at least18 years old. So, families seeking the services of helps should not engage minors. They should also ensure that all the necessary paperwork is procured. This, she says, is necessary when dealing with so-called agencies that hire out under-aged children as young as eight or nine as household helps.
“Before you take on the services of a house-help, you must ask for police verification. The help in question should also sign an undertaking to be of good conduct. Hiring a household help without any verification can be unsafe for you, your baby, or children and or your home in particular. This verification can take from one to two weeks and even longer, depending on the duration of his/her stay. Alternatively, a referee can also stand on behalf of the help as a source of guarantee, especially if you know the family.
“Whatever happens, you must ensure that you do your own background check to ascertain the true identity of the help. This should be a normal security check in view of the times we are living in. You can’t afford to blindly trust anyone including friends or so–called relatives. The house-help should also be medically fit so that your child is not endangered. This is because the help will be in close contact with your family, especially with your baby. Once confirmed, you can go ahead and hire the him or her.”
She recommends hiring maids with basic education, so that he or she would be able to follow written instructions for the routine you want to maintain for or teach your child. In the case of couples not able to get such a maid, they should try getting someone who speaks and understands English, as well as their native language so that he/she can take instructions clearly.
“The salary must be fair. This means that the allowance or salary must suit the maid’s financial expectations and the budget of the intending family. This is because sometimes, some maids victimise babies in their care and even frustrate their employers, if poorly remunerated. Employers should guard against underpaying or overpaying the prospective maid.
“Overpaying does not mean that one would get the best and most reliable help. However, if you’re happy with your maid and the way she works, you could reward her. Offering her a bonus or paying for any essentials she may need are just some of the ways you can show your appreciation for her hard work,” she explains.
On his part, Dr. Tomi Adeyinka of Evangel Medical Hospital, Abule Egba Lagos, says that couples must ascertain the medical and psychological fitness of prospective maids before hiring them, considering the prevalence and number of diseases plaguing the world today. This, he states, would help in ruling out any communicable or infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis, HIV/ AIDS and whooping cough among others, which could have negative effects on the family.
“You must also check if he or she is on any special medication or addictions such as stealing, smoking or drinking, so as to know what to expect or do on a daily basis. Secondly, the work specification must be well spelt out. For instance, are you are hiring her specifically to look after your baby? Or is she expected to sweep and mop the floors, wash the dishes, make the beds, iron, cook and generally keep the house tidy? A well-defined job description would also help you to decide on his or her salary”.
He advises couples to investigate the hygiene habits, which is as important as finding the maid.
“You must ask about her family, faith and lifestyle. This will give you a glimpse of her attitude towards important things such as hygiene, belief, honesty, security and discipline. Asking her how she does certain tasks may prepare you for training her, if necessary. For instance, you may not agree with the way she sterilises your baby’s bottles or changes nappies. Once you know what the key issues are, you can then work on them. If you are uncomfortable with your findings, it is better not to go ahead,” he says.
Experts advise that there are basic issues to consider before hiring or bringing someone into your home, as hiring a house-help is a busy professional’s first step into the world of delegating household chores. It means having someone else focus on the cleaning, dusting, cooking and vacuum cleaning among others, which has the potential of opening up hours of extra time for the employer each week. It can also allow one to spend more time with family and friends, or focus more on the career or corporate responsibilities and activities.
Dr. Alfred Gilbert, a Child Psychologist says the decision to bring in house-helps is a tough decision for many families.
“This decision is confusing for most couples and single mothers because they are not sure of the kind of house help to look out for when hiring one. Hiring someone to come into your home is a big decision, which is as important as your life itself. This is because the individual is not only bringing help into the home, but is also inviting the help into his/her life. Because as soon as they do this, everything else changes in their lives.
“In my line of work, I often find myself coaching people the process of hiring house helps, when the need arises. This decision is tough because no matter who you are, what you do for a living or where you live, or work, there are certain issues to address when bringing somebody into your home. These are: who to engage, the credibility of the source, the terms of service, job description and what happens if something goes wrong,” he says.
In his view, the first thing to ascertain is whom to employ, whether an adult of a small girl, what kind of job is she required to do, and what happens in case something goes wrong in the process of engaging the person. All these are important variables that can ensure that families get good, reliable house-helps and reduce the risk of something going wrong.