Whether you’re facing difficulties finding a helper who's a good fit for your family, or are just contemplating life sans helper, here’s what to expect...
Helpers are superwomen. I say this from experience, having spent 10 of my tween and teenage years with a succession of live-in helpers. However, my parents have always made it clear to us that our helpers’ primary focus was to care for our late grandmother who had limited mobility. My mum did all the heavy cooking, and we did most of the household chores.
Having said so, our helpers still went above and beyond to do deep cleaning and preparing the cooking ingredients for my mum. Our first few helpers also had babysitting on their to-do list as I was still too young to take care of myself and my younger siblings. I often look back on those years, being in awe of how they managed to do all that while caring for my late grandmother.
Interestingly, it’s also my experience that influenced my decision for not hiring a helper when I started my own family. Am I doing a great job at juggling full-time work (I’m fortunate to be able to work from home), an active toddler, as well as all the cooking and chores? I wouldn’t say I excel at it, but it’s manageable with a little help.
So here’s a brief lowdown on life without a helper in Singapore, starting with the reasons why some families (including my own) choose to go helper-less…
Reasons for not having a helper in Singapore
1. Some families value their privacy
This ranks high on my personal list of reasons. Like some, I don’t want to give up my family’s privacy to welcome someone else into our home. Without going into details, let’s just say we like to have maximum flexibility with our wardrobe choices at home. I would also like to keep my rare but embarrassing mum rage moments private. Home is a place that I regard as a safe space, a place where I should be able to be 100% myself. If I can’t feel at ease in my own home, it defeats the purpose of hiring a helper, no matter how amazing and helpful they might be. One mum sums this up perfectly, “I would just think about someone else being there all the time, and I would change my behaviour.”
2. The balance of treating your helper like family, while maintaining a professional relationship
I strongly feel that helpers should be treated like family. This means showing genuine care for their wellbeing, being their pillar of support, and include them into family events. After all, you’re probably the closest people they have to a family in Singapore.
At the same time, I also feel that we should also maintain a professional relationship with our helpers. As employers, we should protect and respect their rights. This includes the basics of paying them the promised wages on time, providing insurance coverage, have realistic work expectations, and not interfering with their non-working hours. Professional distance should be maintained as well to avoid over familiarity which may be improper.
Needless to say, finding a good balance for this is tough. I’m one of those folks who are slow to warm up to new people, but once we’re close I could be your craziest (in a good way) friend. This is something I personally find challenging: having to warm up fast enough to be welcoming so a helper doesn’t feel lonely and homesick; yet not be overly friendly to appear irritating and overly imposing.
3. Is there enough space for everyone?
As it is with Singapore, there’s always the issue of space. There’s the obvious contentious one of where your helper sleeps. This is apparently a debate in itself, though I think it really shouldn’t be. If you think of your bedroom as a place where you can relax and unwind by yourself (or with your partner and child), our helpers should have a similar space for themselves too. And no — the bomb shelter is not an option.
You might think, “Oh but my helper shares a room with someone back in their hometown anyway.” But the differentiator here is that they were sharing a room with a family member or a friend, not an employer. Just imagine having to be roommates with your manager or CEO. Yup, not something we’d like too (as amazing as my manager and CEO are!).
4. It’s all about the money, money, money…
It’s not just the cost associated with wages (which average $800) you need to factor in if you decide to get a helper. You’ll also need to consider the agency and application fees, as well as the monthly maid levy. Alongside this, there’s a security bond, health insurance, six-month medicals, living expenses, and kitting out a living space for your helper. Most employers also provide an annual bonus (usually equivalent to a month’s wage), plus airfare costs annually.
The cost element is something to weigh up, especially in uncertain times, and will vary between families in terms of whether it’s viable financially, regardless of personal preference.
How to manage family life without a helper
If you’re about to start a family and wonder what parent life is without a helper; or contemplating a near future without a helper — let me assure you that it’s not a horrifying prospect. I’m no expert, but here’s what I can share from my experience…
1. Look at getting part-time help or get a regular cleaner
There are a number of housecleaning services available in Singapore, be it for ad-hoc or regular basis. My part-time cleaner comes once a month to do a deep clean of the house. This arrangement works for my family as she comes frequent enough to know our cleaning preferences, is a familiar face (whom our kid adores and we treat as a friend), and she only needs a few hours to spruce things up. Clean house, check. Privacy, check.
2. Get a robot vacuum cleaner!
You read that right. Many mums (and my husband) swear by these robotic helpers, who will have the place spick and span in no time. Just search in some of the Facebook mum forums for recs if you don’t believe us!
3. Enlist a babysitter, or ask the grandparents for help.
Who said spontaneous date nights were now a no-go? There are amazing babysitting options in Singapore, so you don’t need to say goodbye to alone time with the hubby if you don’t have a helper at home. But I understand that these may only work for older kids as the really little ones might want a familiar face. My husband and I are fortunate in this case to have really supportive parents, who are more than happy to spend a few hours with their grandchild while we enjoy a rare fancy dinner.
4. Share the work: not just with your partner, but with the kids too!
One thing I learned as a toddler mum is that toddlers like to be helpful. They can definitely help (a little) around the house, eg. wiping the table, loading the washing machine, chopping onions with a child safe knife (my kid’s fave activity). Letting kids do age-appropriate chores helps with the development of a host of skills, teaches them about responsibility and independence, and encourages them to take ownership of their space.
Last but not least, who says it’s one parent’s job to take care of the household? Your partner can (and should) help out around the house and with child-caring too.
Whatever you decide, it will be right – because you’re a mum, and mums always know best!