We are quickly approaching the one year anniversary of our look-see visit to Singapore. This time last year I was running around like a mad woman, trying to track down summer clothes in Elanor’s size, reaching out to a stranger named Paula, reading books about life in Singapore and questioning if I *really* could handle moving 10,000 miles away from home.
One of the things that struck me from the first book I read about life in Singapore to the future friends I’d meet on that trip was the idea of having a maid or helper living in to help with the day to day management of my home. Most of the women I met on that trip had helpers and swore up and down that they were lifesavers. But I also heard stories from the Indian side of the family…nightmare tales really of servants who stole and who lied and generally made life harder.
Although I’m a fairly open person, I prize privacy in my own home. The idea of a stranger moving in was intimidating and unnerving. While I’d been a manager when I worked in retail/hospitality, and managed classes of students as a teacher, I had never held a management role like that of the expat with a helper. I had my doubts about whether it was a situation that would work for us.
However, getting incredibly sick upon our return to the US…to the point where I couldn’t take care of Ellie for a few days (thank you double ear infection and throat virus) and had to ask my in-laws to pitch it made me realize that the biggest loss in our move was the safety net of friends and family in situations like that. Whether it was a doctor’s appointment, date night, or my just needing a day off from being a full time mom, our friends and family made up the extended village of aunties and uncles (and grandparents, of course) who helped us manage our lives and our child. Leaving them meant we were walking a tightrope without a net.
So we made the decision to hire a helper.
In the almost 10 months that B has been with us, I have swung from wildly grateful to have her here to wondering if maybe we could do without help. The experience has been wonderful and frustrating all at the same time.
As I know a reader is preparing for her family’s move here, (and one or two others are considering moves here) I thought I’d share what it’s like. I am by no means an expert, and I’m basing my comments on 10 months with one helper. Hopefully others will weigh in and share their experiences as well in comments.
Whether it’s one parent or two that are working in your family, you will soon see that in Singapore, a workday is far longer than it is in your home country, especially the US. Ravi works for a bank, and his typical GNB workday is on the order of 11-14 hour work days. Many locals work even more–I’ve had my realtor text me on weekends and at 10pm. The work culture here is ridiculous.
With that kind of work culture, the burden will fall on the other partner (or if both are working…then to whom?). One of the biggest sources of marital tension in the US was sharing of household chores…here it would be a much bigger fight, and there would be a great deal more resentment.
Outsourcing household cleaning is a big deal. We are lucky that we have an in home washer and dryer. But there is no dishwasher, and no hot water to do dishes with. Doing the dishes with hot water (as we Americans are so fond of doing) requires heating water in our electric teakettle (multiple times) and then doing them. Keeping the marble floors clean (especially with pest concerns like ants and roaches) requires constant maintenance. With the humidity, mold is quick to grow. I’m happier to hand that over to someone who knows far better than I how to best deal with everything in this climate.
Not so much a factor if you don’t have kids…but as parents, Ravi and I appreciate time to be just Crystal and Ravi. To schedule a weekly date night. This would be impossible without a helper. There are no high school students to help you out…the locals are too busy studying and the expats don’t need the money or are studying. There is no equivalent to parents in a pinch or any other sitting service. If you ever want a break from your kids (and let’s face it…being a mom is great, but I need a break from my little angel every so often so I can stay sane).
When you get sick
There have been at least two major episodes where I have been too ill to take care of my child. The first was the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve ever encountered…leaving me stuck in a bathroom for the better part of three week (no, I’m not kidding). The second is the broken ankle I’m currently dealing with. Confined to a wheelchair I am incapable of taking care of my child. There is no way Ravi could have gotten this sort of time off from work to be home instead. When the parent in charge of taking care of the home goes down…then what? If you lack family (as we do), there are few people to turn to.
Of course, you will make friends and mine have been wonderful…each and every one has reached out to make sure that we’re doing okay, to ask if we need anything, to check in. But even so, without B, in this sort of crisis, we would have really been stuck.
The Cultural Benefits
B has taught some Tagalog to Elanor, and she also knows some Mandarin (from her previous family). I want to take Ellie (and other future kid) to the Philippines to see where B is from before we leave Singapore (something B has expressed she’d like). There’s never anything bad about one more person who cares for and loves my daughter.
For us, B has cooked some great curries (more that R and my in-laws appreciate than I, gastronomically challenged as I am). Talking with her about her life growing up, it has really helped to give me perspective on the differences between life in the first and emerging world.
Your helper becomes part of your family, and I think that in many real and tangible ways, everyone can benefit from it. At the end of the day, B helps make my life better in a thousand ways every day, whether it’s being the extra set of hands to run out and get milk when we run out just before E’s bedtime or by remembering to put yogurt on the grocery list when I forget.