Reflections on 2012-the year without a maid

One year ago today we fired B.  Go here if you want all the gory details. The short version was that she stole money from my purse (600 SGD) and when the police arrived and told me go through her room (something I’d never done) we found far more troubling thefts.  As we did not want to play jailer for 3 months-the time we were told the case would take to come to court during which we would be legally responsible for B-we canceled her work permit and put her on a one-way plane home.

One year ago today, I felt fragile and lost.  I’d considered B a personal friend and had trusted her with my daughters-two of the people I care most about.  How had I been so wrong?  I’ve since written about where I went wrong (and where B did as well) here.  There’s no need to rehash it again.

Instead, today I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and how it has changed me.

Over the past year I’ve stumbled and fallen, but overall I would say that I’ve found what works for me…without a maid.  (I’m not saying that having a maid is wrong, or that all maids are bad people, or that every family should fire their maid.  Different families, different needs.)

What I will say is that for me, this past year has been a revelation.

I am a better mom without a helper

Without a helper, I am closer to my girls.  If I’m on duty, I’m there for the good and the bad moments.  But I know my girls (especially Elanor) more completely.  I know the other parents.  I know the teachers.  I know her friends and classmates.  I know the shopkeepers at most of the stores around GUG because I’m there five days a week.  I know that Ellie cares a LOT about who was the classroom helper.  We have lots of talks on the drives to and from school.

This is not to say I’m a great mom every moment of every day.  Because I’m there all the time, I sometimes have days where I’m a bit checked out.  Today I was feeling run down and I mostly vegged on the couch and let the tv run and the girls play without a ton of active parenting.  I lose my patience with Ellie.  I feel overwhelmed at times.  I do not cherish every last second of my day with Ellie because she can be a pain in the ass (as all 4 year olds can be).  I don’t cherish the diaper changes with Rhi where she squirms like a rabid badger.  I don’t always love trying to keep track of both girls when they are going in opposite directions or trying to ensure everyone stays alive while I cook dinner or put away laundry or whatever chore.

I am more active in my life in Singapore

I will confess that I spent a lot of time online when we had a maid.  If I was lonely, I’d just call/skype a friend in the US while she watched the girls.  I was busy throwing up while pregnant so I skipped a lot of pick up and drop offs at school, which meant I didn’t develop friendships with teachers or other parents until this year.  I went places-but mostly those easily accessed by MRT or bus. I had a rut of places I went and ate at.

Granted, some of the reasons that I was passive in 2011 are valid.  I was in a wheelchair for 8 weeks following my broken ankle.  I spent my pregnancy prone on my bathroom floor having just thrown up or waiting to puke again.  2011 was never going to be a great year with those two things running the show for the majority of the year, so 2012 would likely have been a better year regardless.

But without the crutch of a maid, it’s me who deals with every delivery, (almost) every grocery run, school and all that jazz.  What that means is that I’m out in Singapore more.  I’m interacting with people more, and that has created new friendships.  Those friendships have brought me into a more present life in Singapore, and I find myself integrating better now than before. (I also grant that some of that is the product of having been here longer and likely also just part of the natural progression of things, but it does feel significant to me).

Do I miss having a maid?

At times, of course I do.  My house was FAR cleaner when I had a maid.  I didn’t deal with laundry for the most part.  I could get a night off whenever I wanted.  If I needed to sleep in, I did.  If I was sick, I stayed in bed.  But those are really shallow reasons to have a maid.

There are times when not having a maid has been a challenge.  I had a bad case of flu earlier this year, and Ravi took the girls for a day, but I had to battle through the exhaustion on the others.  I came down with an ear infection and had to wait for Ravi to get home from work to go to urgent care hours after I would have gone otherwise.  When something is getting delivered or the aircon needs servicing and I have a limited of window in which it can happen for example.  Ellie has been late to school because our aircon guys showed up late and weren’t done when it was time to go.

Biggest change in the last year

The biggest change in the last year is in me.  I am more confident-as a mom, in running the house, and in navigating Singapore (both figuratively and literally).  I am happier-I am great at managing a class of unruly 11 and 12 year olds, but I am not good at managing a helper and that caused a lot of doubt and stress.  I feel lucky to have made the new friends and had the new experiences I’ve had in the last year.

Most telling, however, is that I’ve gone from having a mental “when we’ll go home (to the US, permanently)” clock counting down at the back of my mind to being open to whatever the future might hold for us.  I’m thinking of things that are years from now, like the local Primary school for Ellie’s P1 year.

Life isn’t perfect, but it never is.  But I’m happier today than I was a year ago.

People said that I couldn’t live in Singapore without a maid.

In 2011, they were right–my broken ankle/leg and my pregnancy were severe conditions that necessitated a wheelchair and bedrest respectively.  I was sidelined and incapacitated by those conditions.  Had we not had a helper, we would’ve had to hire one, or begged for family to come and stay with us, or E and I would have had to temporarily go back to the US.  Yes, B turned out to be someone very different from who we thought she was, but without her 2011 would have been a far more difficult year.

2012, however, was the year I was able to take back my life.  I am proud of where I am today, even if I would be ashamed to let you all see my dining table and the giant pile of junk sitting on it as I type this instead of cleaning it.


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12 Responses to Reflections on 2012-the year without a maid

  1. Katrijn says:

    Having no helper (but we do get daily cleaning, yay!), I can definitely relate to a lot of what you’re saying here! Having gone back to the post you link to on what you’ve learned, I think it might also be the step from having no help to having live-in help that could trip people up. Way back when in the eighties my parents first had two live-out helpers who’d come in during the morning, two afternoons and/or two evenings. They got a live-in helper around the time the third child arrived and by that time it was a blessing – but they’d already gotten experience with the employer thing in a setting where both parties had some breathing space. It’s a pity that live-out help has become so expensive/unusual.

    • I think that’s a good point. A live out helper would be a much easier transition. That they live with you is a really strange adjustment, and one I didn’t do well.

  2. Dawn says:

    As I read this post, the song “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” kept running through my head.

  3. notabilia says:

    rabid badger — hee hee. been there, done that.

    great post, as usual. i don’t have a maid – a regular cleaner and babysitter – and it works for us. a lot of folks do without. it’s funny that we expats are expected to do with!

    • The longer I’m here, the more families I meet who don’t have a helper. I think when you’re a stranger in a strange land (so to speak) you accept the tropes people tell you as gospel, and it can take a while to learn that reality may have little do with those tropes.

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  5. littlehills says:

    We are coming up to 4 months without our helper and I feel the same – happier, more confident as a Mum and a hell of a lot more relaxed! Yes, the house is not as pristine as it was but I no longer have to question my sanity over having an unsound stranger in the house who continually put our daughter at risk.

    And after spending Christmas here this year, I am extremely happy that I don’t have to worry about the helper throwing parties or inviting strangers into our condo, as I have noticed many others have done…

    I too, am finding lots of other Mums without helpers who understand WHY we have chosen not to have one – I am however getting very tired of others questioning why we don’t have one, and “how on earth do we cope?”. But you know what? We just see less of them and our problem is solved.
    We have found a fantastic PR who comes into clean once a week. I have a fantastic Canadian girl in our building who is on a gap year and has turned out to be a fabulous babysitter.
    Life is good 😀
    Thank you again for your blog as you gave me the strength to change our situation for the better!

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  8. rye says:

    I’m not thrilled to find out what the maid did more so since I’m a Filipina. I am here in Singapore as well and would like to get a stay out maid who could come in and clean the unit and iron the clothes (we do not want anyone staying in with us). That might not require having to come in more than 2-3x a week. Been here for just a month so I’m still learning the ropes.

    Another time consuming activity is sending my daughter to and fetching her from school. She’s in montessori so it’s only 3 hours. I work from home. It’s nuts trying to work on a full sched and taking care of her at the same time. Appreciate if you could forward any info on this.

  9. Umqais says:

    Thank you for this very honest post. I can identify with everything you have said. I am a private person and having a live in helper has caused me more stress than I think is necessary. Yes I can do with the additional help as I have no family support in a foreign land. But I am sick of having a constant outside observer and the balancing act of being too friendly and understanding. I think it would be less of a headache for my family if we do things on our own.

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