Helpers are superwomen - fact. But even superheroes need a day off. So, why do we keep putting unrealistic expectations on our helpers? Mum-of-one and radio DJ, Jill Lim, gives us her take...
Splitting my time between working at home and in the office full-time while being a first-time mum is something I’m still juggling. I have a helper, which, according to some of my co-workers and friends, means I have a magic, ‘does it all’ genie. I’m here to explain why this isn’t the case (and shouldn’t be the expectation)…
“Helpers are such an Asian concept; I don’t need one.”
Let’s start at the beginning, and my point of view back then was (which I think many new-age parents hold) – I don’t need a helper. I had a Singaporean friend living in Perth doing it all on her own. What was the difference? She’s Singaporean. Why didn’t she need a helper? She laid down the facts. She was a stay-at-home mother firstly, second, and more importantly, her son slept from 5pm to 7am, leaving her with enough time for dinner and laundry and to unwind. Wow, unwinding, what a concept.
Another friend boasted that it’s rather shameful that Singaporeans with just one child need a helper. She, too, was a full-time working mother. After a little prying, it turns out she had her mother-in-law come during the day to help with the baby and make dinner. More importantly, again, her son slept from 7pm to 11am most days and went back down for a nap from 2pm to 4pm. If I had a child that spent that much time asleep, I, too, wouldn’t see a need for a helper.
Lesson learned: Do not compare babies or situations (those with help and those without)
The important lesson I learned here was not to compare. I was determined to do it all on my own for many reasons. I wanted to save money, spend more time with the baby and stupidly, I had my pride. I didn’t want to be seen as the typical Singaporean who needed a helper. Sad to say, life with two big dogs that needed to be walked individually twice a day and a baby who could only manage 50-minute naps at best meant that this mothership was sinking fast.
Change of plan – help is on the way!
After three months, which truly felt like a lifetime, we caved and got a helper. Suddenly, life had meaning again; what was once grey and miserable started to look bright and sparkly. I was getting some actual rest.
Strangely, though, the feeling didn’t last as long as I had hoped. Once Lily started being mobile and crawling, it kind of felt like I was doing it all, all over again. While my helper was walking the dogs, I would be changing, feeding, and then playing with Lily on her jungle gym while replying to emails one-handed.
While my helper, Aizel, vacuumed and mopped the floor, I’d take Zoom meetings with Lily on my lap. While Aizel cooked lunch for the family, I’d be feeding Lily her lunch and then putting her down for her nap. Then, I’d head off to the studio to do the radio show. I’d come in frazzled and tired. One college quipped, “Don’t you have a helper? What’s the problem?” And there, my friends, lies the problem….
When were helpers expected to do it all?
It’s a tango between Aizel, myself and my husband. She does the morning shift while my husband handles the dogs. She puts Lily down for a nap. I get the whole morning till just before lunch to do work. After nap, Aizel cooks while I entertain and feed Lily her lunch. This goes back and forth till about 6pm when we fully take over. Aizel is left to do whatever she pleases with her evenings and nights. Night feeds are all on my husband and I.
Why helpers can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all…
What I found, however, in some cases, there is no dance. Some families expect helpers to wake up as early as 5am and get breakfast prepared for the employers before they wake. Once the baby is up, the baby is by their side nonstop, and somehow, they also need to keep the house spotless and cook meals every day before even thinking about their own needs. How is this possible, never mind, acceptable? Have you tried cooking with an active toddler? I just did it today, and I am still searching for the will to carry on.
They then have to put the baby to sleep and attend to nighttime shenanigans before doing it all again the next day. “Isn’t that their job?” is what I often hear when I express genuine jaw-dropping shock. When did this all happen? When did helpers become superhumans who don’t need breaks and had to do it all?
We desperately need to adjust our expectations
It is possible to do it all, but the real question is, for how long? Burnout is real in any industry, and to the people who say, “helpers have good lives; they just stay home and clean”, well, it’s definitely time to reflect on that. Between caring for my child, whom I love fiercely 24/7, and having the sweet relief of going into the office, attending a meeting or replying to emails, I would choose the latter most days. Babies are exhausting! They really are advancing at a quicker rate. Simple blocks just don’t hold attention like they once did.
Aside from the advancements in babies, everything else is fast, isn’t it? Even just a generation ago, our parents didn’t work as long hours as we do. It was more or less 9-5pm. These days we’re working 8-6pm, plus whenever our phones go off, pinging with email notifications. Turning our minds off takes longer, if we even do get to turn them off at all. Having help does mean improving the quality of life, but not at the expense of the helpers themselves.
Why ‘good’ is never good enough for some
I’ve been to people’s houses where nothing is good enough, the helper hasn’t vacuumed the floor well enough, or the food wasn’t prepared on time. The child was fussing a little too long. How many times have you seen a family out for lunch, but the helper is the one running after the child or feeding the kid? How many people do you know don’t allow their helpers a day off, or only once every two weeks?
The best care for your kids starts with the best care for the caregiver (aka helpers)
Some things are indeed mandatory, but who is enforcing them? You want the best for your mental health and for your children. Wouldn’t prioritising the well-being of their caretaker be crucial in achieving that? I have to remind my husband from time to time that it won’t hurt if you make the bed and wash a couple of dishes yourself.
Helpers need help, too. If that means watering your own plants or cooking a meal from time to time, trust me, you’d still be getting your money’s worth (and so much more) out of having a helper.
What do you think? DM us your take on this!
Feature image: Nataliya Vaitkevich via Pexels