Hiring a domestic helper is an increasingly common childcare solution for many families. Is it something for you to consider?


“When I got pregnant and found out we were expecting twins, one of my first thoughts was, ‘How are we going to cope?’ Both Jason and I work, and I couldn’t see myself giving up a job I love,” says Marisa, a public relations manager and mum to twins. “Hiring a domestic helper seemed like the easiest and most straightforward solution.

“While we had some initial teething problems with our domestic helper, Virginia, it’s an arrangement that suits us best,” she observes.

Many couples only consider hiring a domestic helper when they start a family. In a double-income household, nothing beats having an extra pair of hands to ease the way — besides looking and cleaning up after the kids, your helper cooks, cleans and keeps the house running smoothly.

But before you jump on the maid bandwagon, it’s vital to first assess your family’s needs.

Practical considerations

Can you afford it?
Work out your finances. Hiring a maid works out to at least $1,000 expense every month, an amount that covers her salary, food and essentials, home leave and maid levy.

When to bring her in?
For couples who plan to hire a domestic worker, it’s best to get one a few months before the baby is due, to give both yourselves and the maid time to get used to each other’s rhythms. Having ample time will also give you time to assess the helper and even change your minds.

Space: yours and hers
Where will your maid sleep? Will she have a space or room of her own? Your live-in helper needs her privacy as much as you do. Indeed, such quality-of-life issues will have a direct impact on the quality of care she can offer your child. Once she is settled, give her days off, so that you can bond as a family.

Says Claire, mum of two, “I give my helper every Sunday off — we call it our family day, and it’s a day when we do fun stuff together. The kids have to clean up their mess, my husband has to do the dishes and I get to take back my kitchen! It’s important for us and for our helper, Gemma, because she comes back recharged and happy.”

Responsibilities and job scope
What are you hiring her for? Help her prioritise her work by stressing that looking after the needs of the children should come first. You may even want to forgo some housework, for example, by ordering tingkat rather than having the helper cook dinner, or by cooking yourself. This way, you are sure that she is paying maximum attention to your baby.

One way to do this is to draw up a daily schedule for your helper. Block time for certain chores, but ensure that there’s room for flexibility. For example, arrange for her to clean the house and make the beds between 7am and 9am, as opposed to her making beds from 7am to 7.30am, then cleaning the toilet from 7.30am to 8.30am. And work in some time for a rest — she’s a human being, not a robot vacuum cleaner.

Emotional Considerations

Cultural differences

When you hire someone to care for your child, you must be prepared for her to bring her own cultural perspective to child-rearing. This may not be in line with your own philosophy, so be patient, and explain to her how you would like things done. Be sensitive, since she may also be communicating in a language she is not comfortable in. Some new-to-Singapore domestics may have been living in rural villages, so they may need time to adjust to city life as well as modern household appliances, like vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Educate and supervise her on how to handle your mod cons.

Letting go
Face it, as parents, most of us would rather look after our children ourselves. When you give up part of that, you may lose out on certain things, but if your helper works out, you can gain in the long run. Your family gets to enjoy the benefits of your dual income, and you’ll find time to pursue your own career and interests.

Judy hired an experienced helper, Siti, when her son was 6 months old. She laments, “Michael took to Siti too easily — when he cried, only Siti could calm him, and he’d only sleep when Siti put him to bed. As a mum, it’s hard to watch your child prefer someone else when he is upset... I thought about quitting my job, but it would be a struggle financially. So, I tell myself that it’s a sacrifice I’m making, so that Michael can have a more comfortable life.”

It is not easy for some parents to relinquish their role in supervising their children’s needs. Discuss it with your husband, perhaps you could arrange that you are to be the ones to bathe your children or designate bedtime to be “parent” time. Your helper’s day off could become your family’s bonding time, too. Win for you and win for your helper!

Gaining trust and confidence
Part of a domestic helper’s “job scope” is to integrate with the family, which takes time and openness on the part of the employer’s family. You or your helper may want to keep a diary on her babycare duties, where she records feeding times, as well as the quantity of milk drunk, or medicine given. This way, you can track your baby’s feeding habits as well as your maid’s work.

A recent Ministry of Manpower report showed that some half of all maids placed in residential homes by maid agencies do not even complete one year of service before being transferred to new employers, or are sent home. Tricky maid situations are sometimes due to employers prejudices and fears and not actual experience with the helpers. For instance, thanks to stories passed on from friends or relatives, some do not give their helpers a day’s rest, others disallow the use of handphones, or restrict their helper’s calls to her family. And there are others who ask their helper to work in more than one place.

Notes domestic worker Analisa Braga, who looks after 8-month-old Dewi, “No one chooses to be a maid. We become maids to support our families. Some of us are lucky, we get to be a part of our employer’s families, others, not so lucky. And we’re not here to steal your child’s affections. Loving and taking care of your child is part of our work. That is what I hope employers realise.”

Hiring a helper 101

■ The Employers’ Orientation Programme (EOP) — $20/three hours — gives employers a basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities when they hire a foreign domestic worker. Employers can complete the programme online or in a classroom.

■ Your domestic worker’s medical insurance coverage must be at least $15,000 per year to cover any day surgery and inpatient care while she is in Singapore.

■ Employers are required to take up a Personal Accident Insurance policy for their worker. The minimum sum assured is $40,000.

■ Employers are required to post a security bond of $5,000 to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for every maid they hire. If you fail to repatriate the maid after her work permit is cancelled, you risk losing the sum.

■ Employers may purchase an insurance policy package from NTUC Income (www.income.com.sg), which charges $256.80 for a $40,000 personal accident insurance coverage, MOM’s $5,000 security bond, and $15,000 hospital and surgical expenses coverage for 26 months.

Photo: iStock

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