Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Don't be Maid Helpless

Yesterday I read that it will now cost RM8,000 to bring in an Indonesian maid. Not so long ago we would be screaming robbery if it was RM2,000 but it appear more and more families that really need a maid to help out with childcare or looking after elderly family members are being forced to cough out the money to get a maid. On top of that the maid salary have gone up by almost double over the past 5 years. Are we really so helpless that we continue to depend on maids? Or don't we have alternatives?

Looking back to the time when I was a child my mother never had any maid to help; neither did my wife's mother. The only external help was to have aunties to mop the floors or iron the clothings once a week. The kids grew up just fine. In fact we were not pampered that we did things on our own. I believe my generation are generally responsible adults and we taught our children the same values. For my own kids we had occasional day maids, never lived ins and certainly not foreign maids. These became a feature when locals refuse to work as maids considering the job low class and demeaning.

Somewhere along the way as we became better off we started harboring thoughts of being served, of not doing chores if we can pay someone else to do it. Subconsciously to be lorded over was a status symbol. In the 80s to announce that you have a maid is telling friends and relatives you were financially well off. But soon that became a real necessity when more and more mothers started to work to bring in extra income to support children's education, healthcare, a more comfortable lifestyle and providing for security for the future. Added to this was the relentless increase in cost of living that outstripped the increase in annual income. So more time were spent to make more money like joining a direct selling network, becoming part time insurance or unit trust agents, or even as commision agents in real estates or starting a small home business in interior design, hobbies, catering, cooking, etc. The need to find helpers to look after both the house and the kids become absolutely critical. So what is RM8,000 fee and RM1,000 monthly salary if they can make RM15,000 or more monthly? Some of these families may be willing to pay more to keep their urge of making more money satisfied.

This vicious circle of making more money to chase maids will have to stop. It will be ridiculous to continue to pay more and more to satisfy your maid needs. And they know that you are totally dependent on them that they start to squeeze you and make unreasonable demands. Plus the fact that the contract lasts just 2 years so you have to renegotiate fresh terms to keep them. All they need to do is to impress you during the first 2 years for you to 'beg' them to stay on since the hassle of getting a new and untested maid is risky. Many have been known to run away within days of arrival. It has happened to our first maid. Impressive girl, neatly dressed and packed with clean and fashionable clothings. In under 2 weeks she disappeared to join her boyfriend. Since then we had the unfortunate experience with the second maid who feigned homesickness, the third maid who was as good after 6 months as on her day one (meaning she picked up no skills at all). Thereafter we hit a dry patch for more than a year. Chose a maid then she turned us down. Chose another maid and she gave some reason to explain why she couldn't come. Either these maids were in hot demand or have cold feet. Many families are so desperate that they don't mind getting from the black market without proper work permits. These maids came in on social passes and overstayed with friends and found jobs through the grapevines. We were tempted to get one this way but resisted as the consequences of being caught will be embarassing. We took the legal route and a few months back succeeded to getting one who is able to do her work of looking after our grandchildren especially the youngest who is just a year old.

We must genuinely need maids to apply for them, not because we can afford to. But houses being harder to clean and owners fussier and lacking time will justify getting helpers to do general houseworks which is the most popular work option for foreign maids. They'd rather do general houseworks than taking care of children or looking after old folks which are more time consuming. Both my mother and father-in-law are in need of assistance as they are very old. My father-in-law is more fortunate. Over the years my sister-in-law had been able to get maids to look after him and she was around to supervise the maid so the old man was not taken advantaged of. My mother is not as fortunate. She lives alone and is unable to control a maid. There is also no adult living with her to supervise the maid if we got her one. Tales of runaway maids, maids who stole money and foodstuff, and maids who abuse their hosts abound that it was out of question for my mother to be cared by a foreign maid. But in the past 4 years she did have local caregivers (I won't call them maids as they did minimal work but just provide companionship and prepare/buy some food/drinks for her.) who are very elderly too, some just a few years younger. Younger caregivers are impossible to find. As the health condition of my mother deteriorated recently these elderly caregivers also cannot provide physical assistance so the idea of my mother staying in an old folks home was considered. She had strong views on where she want to stay and staying with her children is not one of her choices as she wants to be among her peers. It was by chance that a bed was available last month in an old folks home when she became more helpless in moving about and agreed to move in. The old folks home is in the same vicinity she lives in and she has friends, relatives and church members to visit to provide a safe social environment for her. Some people have strong views about putting parents in such a home. However a pragmatic view is necessary. The home can provide 24/7 care which a single home maid cannot. The home also provide medical assistance which is essential for elderly persons. The basic difference is the environment. The dilemma is that at home the care is incomplete but the environment more familiar. Both home and old folks home have their justifiable points. Unless the home have other live-in adults to provide supervision and companionship checking into a care centre is a better option as a team of helpers will provide services throughout the day and during any emergency something will be done.

We have generally cornered ourselves into a situation where we cannot do without maids. Many of us don't want to share maids. How can we create a life that give us more privacy and freedom from maids? A few suggestions below.

  1. Marry as early as possible and start family thereafter so that parents who are still young and recently retired can help out. That's how it was in the olden days. Family members help out instead of depending on outsiders.
  2. Parents should not dissociate from helping to look after their grandchildren. Besides building relationship it also keep them youthful and occupied as some complain of idleness after retirement. They can still go on holidays while their children look for part time help.
  3. Prioritize family relationship and not wealth creation. Develop strong bonds with children during their formative years. They will be closer to you rather than to the maids. Besides they will not be overly pampered but learn to be civil and responsible at home.
  4. If you must have maids, have them when you really need them like in the first 2-3 years when the children are small and need full attention. As they grow older and enter nursery and pre-school they can join day care to develop independence and socializing skills before they enter schools. Plan your family to have all the children you want in the shortest time frame instead of spreading over many years so you can enjoy a maidless family when the children become more independent. As parents we should also treat having maids as a necessity to cover a short term need rather than becoming a fixture in our lives.
  5. Use professional maid services for general house maintenance. Perhaps the reason why our houses are designed without a maid room is a blessing to force us to think out of the box.
  6. Having live-in maids is an intrusion to our privacy limiting our freedom to express our views and thoughts openly and keeping our cash and valuable in open view.
  7. More child care centres professionally run must be licensed in every neighborhood so that families can place their young children in their care such as is done in developed countries where the families don't employ maids at all. We must emulate such a system.
I know of families that breath sighs of relief the day their lives resume minus the presence of maids at home. They can use smaller cars. They can go holiday without worrying where to park the maid if they don't want to buy extra air ticket or book extra room in the hotel. And they certainly don't have to put up with the moods and tanctrum of maids. They are after all human and do become difficult at times.


SAHM said...


My MIL helped me to take care of my two kids age 1 and 3. But she alone cannot cope with two kids hence she asked us to hire maids for her. We went through 4 maids (who either cannot get along with my MIL, homesick, refused to work) before I gave up. Early this year, I resigned from my well paying job so that i'm the one taking care of the kids instead.

I have mixed emotions. I feel very sayang that I left a job that i love, but at the same time i'm happy that I get to spend time with the kids. Guess women can't have it all, unless we have a strong family support. :)

Peter Yew said...

Hi SAHM, I'm sorry to hear your predicament. It is a common story regarding making choices. Women nowadays are as empowered as men to work but they also carry the burden of having children (the easier part) and raising them up (with their husbands of course) (the harder part because it takes longer than 9 months). When your job is less well paid and your husband is doing very well to support the entire family, and you do enjoy being a SAHM then the answer is easier. I guess in your case you struggle between losing a job you love and going home to a non-paying job. Sometimes we feel why study so hard and so high to become a SAHM? I don't believe you even thought about this or plan to be one.

Many women come to this crossroad and there are those I know personally who gave up a career for another of bringing up their kids and they have no regret whatsoever. It is really frustrating and often fill with regrets of perhaps making the wrong choice. No one but yourself can make that decision and if made after careful consideration and discussion with your husband then the process of spending the next 4-5 years taking your kids to the next level is one you consider a 'project'. Many SAHM do go back to work once the 'project' is over. The question is will you trust your kids to be able to make decisions and choices when they are older? Home education you provide to develop their self worth and esteem contribute to their maturity.

I wish you well. But let me end by saying this. Your SAHM career will bring the richest rewards no praise or money can buy. Your kids are your trophies and they will love you nuts till you are very old. I am hoping my kids and my grandkids will do that to me and my wife.


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