Monday, March 7, 2011

The Help

I was raised in a household where self-sufficiency was prized, and help rarely hired. My father (a surgeon) seemed to know how to do everything, and would take apart a broken toilet, pour concrete, or tune up a small tractor without missing a beat. He is 70, and still mows his own lawn.

My mother cleaned her own house no matter how busy she got. I always had the feeling that this was a morally superior thing to do.

Here in Chile, having help is morally superior. People need the work, and though the economy here is stong, it ultimately rests on these menial, service jobs. I wish there weren't so many people in the world working for such low wages, but by hiring someone legally and treating them fairly and kindly, I can at least make a difference for the one.

Having a maid here is very affordable. I can have a maid (we call them nanas here -- doesn't that sound nicer?) come for a whole day, cook, clean, tend kids, and help with anything I can figure out how to ask her for in Spanish, for the price of about two hours of cleaning in the U.S.

Of course, I could choose to be the only person in my neighborhood with no nana (many households have two), but it would mean hours of cleaning every week -- more than in the U.S. because almost every room in a Chilean house has a hard floor, which takes longer to clean than wall-to-wall carpeting, and we have no window screens which means more bugs and more dust. Also, because everyone has a nana, there isn't a lot of sharing of childcare. (I could ask a neighbor to watch one of my kids while I get a haircut, but she wouldn't be likely to ask me to do the same, because she has a nana.) And if I turn up at school for a program with a toddler (which sometimes still happens, since I don't have a nana every day) I am often the only one, which frankly is a little embarrassing, especially if the child is disruptive.

Besides, having a nana is helping all of us learn Spanish (she speaks NO English). We get to experience her delicious Peruvian food. She irons beautifully (I almost never iron, but now I'm going to have to start because I love having crisp clothes to wear). When I go to the grocery store, I can leave kids home with her and when I get home, she brings everything in from the car for me -- I've never asked her to do this, it's just the way things are done here. The whole thing is kind of dreamy, all in all.

So we're living this fun, vacation-y life and not cleaning our own house. Am I just here to gloat about it? No, I'd never gloat! And it does have a few downsides. There are days when I just don't feel like having someone in my house -- it's always a huge relief when she's finished for the day and it's just us again. Having a maid is making me and my kids a tiny bit lazy about cleaning up for ourselves, which I think in the long term would not be good -- we try to still be responsible for putting our own things away, but teaching my kids to clean toilets and mop floors will probably wait until we're back home in a couple of years. Further, it can be difficult to find a good maid, and I can tell you from the horror stories I've heard that, kind of like with husbands, a bad one is much worse than none at all.

But we're lucky and have one of the good ones. Let me tell you what I love about it. I almost never apologize to someone who comes to my door about the state of my house (which I did regularly before). Likewise, I can have someone over without much notice, because my house is pretty clean almost all the time.

I have more time, and (this is the really important part) can focus on things that matter. I'm more present with my kids, I get the basics (exercise, scripture reading, etc.) done way more often, and I can sit and visit with a friend or write on my blog without feeling guilty about the housework that is waiting for me.

My (American) neighbor friend says simply, "I'm a lot calmer." For a mother of young children, could there be anything better than that?

So here's what I'm wondering. Could you use a little help? Few people in the U.S. can afford the kind of help I have here, and I know for many people having any help at all isn't financially realistic, but give it some thought -- it might be worth saving up a few dollars each week by cutting back in another area.

There are people in the U.S. who are desperate for work, too. Do you know a teenager whose family is going to struggle to send them to college? My sister-in-law Jill likes to pick one out, train them in the ways of her household, then use them regularly for both childcare and cleaning. She pays well enough that the job is in demand, but not as much as you'd have to pay an adult or a cleaning service. It's always a sad day when the favorite goes off to college and she has to find a new one.

There might be a girl as young as 12 in your neighborhood who would love a regularly scheduled job that might incorporate both childcare and light cleaning.

You can hire a service, or a private individual, to clean once or twice a month for around $20 an hour in many areas. I know that sounds like tons of money, but having someone come "catch you up" once in awhile feels amazing -- it's better than a pedicure, and costs only a little more!

I've learned a lesson -- lots of lessons actually -- from having sweet Carmen in my home, and the biggest one is this: I don't have to do everything myself. It is ok to have help. In fact, in some ways, having help has made me a better mother, and a better person. Don't be afraid to give it a try.

I'm sure some of you already have this figured out. Please feel free to share your experience -- how have you made having a little help affordable? What does your help help with? Any suggestions for finding good help?

(PS On a marginally-related note, have you read the book The Help? Highly recommend. Imagine the irony of reading it, as I did, while your maid is cleaning your house.)


Lindsay said...

What memories this post brought back for me! We lived in Costa Rica for a few years and I remember my American friends trying to convince me the first year to hire "help." I had similar misgivings at first, but in the end it was one of our best decisions while living there. Karla became part of our family. When it was time for us to move we both shed many tears.

I don't have regular cleaning service now that we're back in the states and I miss the ability to be spontaneous to the whims of my children. I've hired individuals to help clean on some occasions based on recommendations from friends (real estate agents seem to be a wealth of information when it comes to referrals). My best advice when hiring someone to come into your home is to be respectful. That mutual respect can engender a trusting relationship.

And I did read THE HELP recently and thought it was a powerfully written book. Though I read it while I SHOULD have been cleaning my house!

Christina said...

This is something I've thought about a lot, but I've always talked myself out of it thinking it's something I should be able to do myself. I appreciate your perspective that I can help someone and become better myself, both things I can definitely stand behind. You've given me some food for thought!

Sarah said...

I remember when we were moving from SLC, we hired a service to come in once a week because we were trying to sell the house. It was amazing! When I told people how worth the money the decision way, a lot of my friends told me that they had help also ... they just didn't tell. I think there's a bit of a stigma attached to not being able to keep your house perfect! Here in Texas, help is a lot more affordable, bit we've only done it a couple of times. I should probably cut back somewhere, because cleaning is one of my biggest stresses!
I actually knew a girl who went to counseling with her husband because they always fought about the cleanliness of their house. In the end they ended up spending their therapy money on a cleaner once a week. They stopped fighting and the house was clean!!

Carmel @ Our Fifth House said...

I had a cleaning service when my kids were younger, and I've often wondered if I should I hire some help again. Sometimes it's hard to admit that you need help. I read that book - LOVED it! Such a great story!

Zach and Rach said...

I love this post! It's husband relates all of my "issues" to the fact that I had a "cleaning lady" growing up and I think its ridiculous! Haha. My mom is not the same sweet, funny, caring person she is when the house it messy. She had a cleaning lady to keep her sane and my dad was perfectly okay with that! And so were we! We still had to clean our own things (especially the night before the cleaning lady came over, which I never understood as a child but I do now that I have to deep clean my own house). My husband is against having help, so we'll see what happens in our home as time goes on!
I lived in Brazil as a teenager for 3 years and it sounds like a very similar set up to Chile...we had two maids at our home almost every day. We were amazed at how much they did (like ironed the sheets!?!) and how amazing it was to have so much help. My parents were very busy and often travelled for a few days at a time so it really helped to have someone to leave us with.
I am definitely going to have my husband read this so he can realize that cleaning ladies are not evil! I know they made my mother a better mom! :) Thanks for this great post and good luck in Chile! It will be the best thing that ever happened to your family!

A Jennuine Life said...

We have a cleaning lady come every other week - something my husband had begun before we were married. It's been invaluable only having to do the day-to-day upkeep cleaning! I recently moved to a part-time schedule and we discussed cutting this expense from our budget, but decided that as long as we could manage it, we would keep Jean since it helped us so much and we were contributing a portion of her income - something we didn't want to take away lightly.

Heather said...

This just sounds awesome! It's funny, my husband and I have been discussing this very thing because with a 3 yr old, 20 mo old, and # 3 set to arrive in about 5 1/2 months (suprise!) I just can't happily keep up with it all! Fortunately, I know a wonderful south american couple who helped clean my house growing up and they still do because my parents love them so much.

My Dad is the same - he is a surgeon also, but can fix anything and get his hands dirty, and he still does, but just to give my mom the little bit of help and to see her mood brighten a little was worth it. And now I have been 100% convinced this is a must for me! Thanks for this!

Kimberly said...

Interesting. I would LOVE to have someone in to help, but we really do NOT have the money for that.

Really I've found just having schedules and routines helps keep the house cleaner than anything else ever has, and I think it's important for children to learn how to WORK.

It's just a shame that women now are so busy working and volunteering that we have no time to help each other with basic things like cleaning and childcare.

Michemily said...

I'd like to know how both Liz and Lindsay ended up living in Chile and Costa Rica. I'm looking for an opportunity like that right now, but I don't know where I'd work (yeah, I don't think I'd want to be a nana) I'd love to hear back!

Alicia said...

I actually asked for this for my birthday. I just want someone to come deep clean my house so I feel "caught" up. Otherwise, it's so hard to keep on top of everything for me!

liz said...

Michemily, I'm just a "trailing spouse." My husband was LUCKY to score this job -- happened to be working for a multi-national corporation who needed someone to come down here, and he has fabulous language skills (his mission language, Portuguese, was rusty, but it's back and he's picked up Spanish like a pro) which were needed for the job. He was basically in the right place at the right time with the right background. Neither he nor I have any brilliant suggestions for someone who is seeking an ex-pat job -- they're out there, though. Good luck!

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with hiring help. There is perhaps a stigma about it but there's stigma about lots of things that are good ideas. :)

Carissa Rasmussen said...

#1 I loved reading the help
#2 lived in La Dehesa and still have some friends there...loved having a nana and wish it were that easy here.
#3 Chile is one of the better countries to be pregnant in, never have to get out of your car to grocery shop, personal shoppers at the local grocery store, etc
#4 Jealous as heck you're there. I miss It!

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Mandi@TidbitsfromtheTremaynes said...

JEALOUS! Sounds so fabulous!

But at the same time I know whatcha mean about a bad nana being worse than not having one at all: my sissy had a bad one, and it was pure misery (think majorly high maintenance and asking if she could have all her things.?. Yeah)

Ashlee said...

Love it! My husband and I own a construction company. SO I never felt bad about having help once a week for a full day in my home. Then when the economy went south a few years ago I had to rethink some of the things I spent money on. I cut way back in other areas of my life to keep Myra, who honestly became a part of our family over those early years, because I knew she needed and depended on the money. I was the only steady work she had for two years. After reading this I am so glad I did!

Marlo said...

We have a maid here in Turkey and truly I have a love/hate relationship with the idea. I LOVE not having to bend over our extra tall tubs to scrub while I am pregnant, but I hate when the maid "reorganizes" things and I can't find them. I too am relieved when she leaves at the end of the day. But truly, having the house cleaned is awesome.

I like your sister's idea to bring in a teenager. Once we move back to the United States, I doubt I will hire any help, however, I read an article recently about helping your friends clean. The idea was that you and a friend clean your house one day and her house another day. You can each do what you are best at and there is a second person there to help with all the kiddos. It was an idea I have given a lot of thought, but I think you would have to be pretty good friends with the other lady. It's like you said though, you can't do everything by yourself, plus you don't need to. Here's the article link, in case anyone wants it:

Cherilyn said...

I'm enjoying your posts - thanks for sharing. I live Peru and will be here for a couple of years for my husband's job. Life is an adventure!