A Musing Mom's Tales, More Musings & Tales
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Looking for the perfect helper

A helper is supposed to help make your life comfortable by assisting you in getting things done. But if you’re not careful, she/he could also make your life miserable.

Why I’m looking for a maid

I’m a full-time mom with two young daughters, a graduate student attending a very prestigious (and expensive) university through a scholarship, a home-based worker without a maid to at least help me with the house chores, and without a husband (because he works in another country) to help me supervise, entertain, reassure, and discipline my growing up girls. And yes, I live very far from my parents; my nearest relative is my eldest brother who still won’t count as living near my area. I’ve been managing on my own by the grace of God for nearly a year now, which makes me wonder why I am looking for a helper now. My girls and I have been doing okay so far without assistance, aren’t we? Well, yes, to some extent, that is.

My husband says that I get a maid to keep us company and to make sure that there’s someone who would look after the house whenever the girls and I go out or stay over at my parents’ house for the weekend or during holidays. My children say that we get a maid because they want to be free of house chores, i.e., there’ll be someone to clean up their mess. And I’d say that we need a maid if I were to have very good grades, keep my scholarship, and finish graduate school earlier than expected or at least, on time.

I think having a helper would be good, so I won’t have to keep bringing my children with me if I need to go out for an errand, even go to school. Moreover, I’ll have more time with my children and help them with their studies if we have one. I also think we need a maid so I won’t have to deal with house chores anymore, but work instead on different projects that will help me put into good use my education and work experience and help my husband bring income to the household, at the same time have more time to help the girls with their lessons.

However, after my last maid left, I also realized that having one also gives me a headache. Now, why don’t I go back in time and see how many maids I’ve had in the past and how things had been with each one of them…

My personal experience with different helpers

I first hired a helper in May 2008, just after we moved to Laguna. Both my husband and I were working and there’s simply no one else to look after my 4-year old A and barely 2-year old Z. A started going to school that year, and as much as I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom then (I’ve always wanted that ever since I gave birth to A), my husband and I needed to work to pay for her education and the house.

My in-laws helped me (we were still in good terms then) find a nanny for the two girls and her name was Zillah. She was only 17 and has not finished high school yet, so we had her attend the DepEd‘s program that allows the out-of-school youth to complete their secondary education on weekends. She was good with the children, quiet, industrious, and shy. However, as soon as she had her own cell phone, which she bought on her second month with us, she started getting addicted to it and met some guy who became her boyfriend. By the time she finished her studies, she bid farewell to us to go back to the province.

The person who replaced Zillah was referred by my husband’s aunt, my mother-in-law’s younger sister. We were all surprised, however, when we found out that the person she hired on our behalf was already 60 years old. We decided against hiring her, since she was supposed to be retiring already, but we really needed a helper then so we let her stay nevertheless. We called her Manang Ester. She was a petite lady who looked like she was only in her early 50’s, widowed, and had been living on her own as a maid for more than half of her life. She proved to be very industrious, quick, and attentive despite her age.

Being an elderly, Manang Ester was very superstitious and would often tell us how our house would bring misfortune to us because our bedroom doors were directly opposite each other. She also believed the ghost stories that my husband’s relatives had told her about our house, so she acquired permission to sleep at my in-laws’ house instead, who lived across from us. Since she and my husband’s relatives came from the same town, the arrangement was made rather easily. I think things went well between us, except she was very sensitive. Moreover, since she had been spending more time at my in-laws’ house, her loyalty became divided. When I tried to correct a notion or one of her old habits, she’d apologize and promise to do better, but at the same time, would tell the incident to my in-laws, who would then start making mountains out of mole hills. In the end, she left us because, apparently, the same person who recommended her wanted her job.

Hence, our third maid was my husband’s very own aunt, his mother’s younger sister, who started to bring hell into my life. Since her two teen-age children were both living with and serving my in-laws (in exchange for sending them to school), she also never used the spare room for our helper and would stay with them most of the day and even at night. She would only come to our house to pick up my children before I would leave for work, iron our clothes on weekends, and do the laundry in the afternoons. House cleaning was apparently being done by her kids when they get back from school.

Once, both of my daughters happened to be sick and I desperately needed her assistance. I had to ask her to come over because one of my girls kept on crying, while the other was vomiting all over the house. I asked her to clean up the mess, which she deemed humiliating, it seemed. How did I know? A couple of days after that incident, my mother-in-law called me up, in rage. She said I was mistreating her sister, that I treating her like a servant. Hmm… She apparently made our previous helper leave, she volunteered for the job but let her children do most of the housework, and my husband and I paid her for both her service and non-service to our family.

As I see it, my husband’s aunt tried to ruin my relationship with my mother-in-law by making up stories, although in the end, she and her sister finally went against each other. And so she left like all my other maids. For the first time, however, I felt relieved that my helper was gone. Although she had the decency to apologize to me for everything she’s done, the animosity between my mother-in-law and myself was already so thick by the time she left. Moreover, my husband and I had started to have marital problems.

Since it was already summer vacation when my husband’s aunt left, I decided to bring my children to my parents’ house and stay with them, especially that I still needed to work and there was no one to look after my children at home. Little did I know, however–or all of us, for that matter–that my mother was already battling with cancer (stage 4) then. Instead of a short summer vacation, my children and I stayed in my parents’ house all throughout the year, as I took charge of the household affairs.

That was the most devastating part of my life, but at the same time, it was when I had also seen myself the strongest by God’s grace. Having a very sick mother who would never get well, a troubled marriage, two little girls who were very dependent on me, a household to manage, and jobs to juggle, I eventually had to drop my part-time / home-based jobs and work only 20 hours a week in the office. It was a good thing that one of my nieces came to live with us, to help look after the children. Her name was Jam.

Jam was different though. I didn’t really hire her; she’s a family. I asked a favor from her father, my half-brother, and they both agreed to help us, given the situation. I offered to give her money in return for her services, which she and her father declined, but I still gave her money anyway, especially on her first month. She was 19, had to drop out from school for financial reasons, and was very much in love. It didn’t take a long for her to get used to the chores, and she also helped  take care of my mother. However, after 3-4 weeks, she said she was feeling homesick so I let her go back home for a couple of days, but she did not return until about a month later.

Her father finally found out that she had not returned to us. She would stay in their home when her father’s at work, then would stay at her boyfriend’s or one of her girl friends’ house to spend the night. When her father brought her back to us, he was very apologetic and ashamed of how his daughter had behaved. We welcomed her back nevertheless, and she became more comfortable with us. This time, she didn’t leave us till the end, that is, until Mama died and was buried. That was November of 2009.

The next time I had a helper was June of 2010. Her name’s Gina and I must say that she’s already a pro in her trade. She was referred by one of our neighbors, and trusting the recommendation, I didn’t bother to know much about her before hiring her. Finally ridden with guilt, the person who referred her told me that Gina was three months pregnant. I waited a few days for Gina to tell me her condition, but she didn’t until I asked her directly. She immediately guessed that the person who referred her had told me. Well, yes, our neighbor did tell me, but after a few days of having her around the house, I would have guessed as much and I pointed out to her that I’m already a mother and was pregnant twice.

Since she’s an unwed mother and was not getting any financial support from her unborn child’s father, she begged to stay until it was time for her to give birth, assuring me that I won’t have problems with her. I knew I didn’t need her much since I was finally a full-time stay-at-home mom by that time and I could always leave my daughters with my father for my graduate school classes.

We allowed her to stay, however, for humanitarian reasons. Moreover, her condition reminded me of the time my parents took care of my family and me when I was pregnant until my husband and I were finally able to move out and make it on our own. Besides, despite her condition, Gina proved to be quick, assertive, and reliable. I didn’t have to tell her what to do; she had her own routine. The girls found her okay, especially with her sense of humor, and she doted over my younger child Z. However, Gina was not really three months pregnant, but five. I brought her to the clinic since she never had a checkup and that’s how I found out.

I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her so much given that she concealed a very important information from me, but somehow, Gina had grown close to my children and me. At one point, I even started treating her like a dear friend, closing the gap between an employee and employer. She also tried to protect us from my vexatious mother-in-law (another story), since by this time, we were already back to our house in Laguna, which was just across their place.

However, over time, something changed in Gina. Or, maybe she finally revealed her true identity? She started being annoyed with the girls, especially when I wasn’t around. I later on found out that she won’t let them watch TV and made them play outside the house so she could watch TV herself. I refuse to believe that she did those things due to hormonal imbalance, since she’s pregnant. She has become abusive. Perhaps because she knew that I would always be grateful for the loyalty and protection she’s given us when the my in-laws tried to attack my children and me. Perhaps she knew that I wouldn’t do or say anything that would cause her discomfort because she was pregnant.

It’s a shame, however, that I only found out about these things after she left, when my eldest daughter finally told me everything. And by the time she was gone, I also realized how many of my clothes as well as my children’s clothes were missing despite the fact that I had already given her so many of them–both for herself and her unborn child. Worse, some of my jewelries are missing.

I felt so betrayed. It was the first time that I had allowed myself to get very close to a helper; I’ve always maintained my distance. A week after she had supposedly left for her hometown, however, Gina came back one night with bruises all over her body. She said her older brother was drunk and hit her, especially after the latter found out about her pregnancy.

Again, for humanitarian reasons, I was unable to send her away. After a few days, however, it became clear to me that she wanted to stay with us, give birth right in our home. I also remembered my children’s story and even found hard evidence of her theft–a silver necklace my late mother gave me was in her drawer. Finally, I told Gina that she had to leave us.

I did not hesitate to tell her the things I found out about her during her absence. In response, she kept on crying, but did not apologize for any thing. She just begged that I let her stay. For five consecutive days, I gave her money so she could go out each morning and find two of her brothers who were supposedly living near our area, or any relative or friend who would be willing to take her in. By the end of each day, she would come home and sleep in our house. I couldn’t do much but pray for wisdom on how I would handle things then. I didn’t want to turn her away because of her condition, but I had to admit that I cannot take care of her and her soon-to-be-born baby.

Toward the end of the week, she announced that she finally found some distant relatives who knew where her brothers lived. She even introduced one of her female cousins to me, hoping I would let them both stay along with her baby when she finally gives birth. She tried to arrange to have her cousin do the house chores and care for her and her baby until she’s strong enough again to do things on her own and bring her baby to her sister who promised to care of the baby. How convenient for her, isn’t it? But this time, I became very firm and made it clear to her and her cousin that she could no longer stay with us, and do not want her or any of her relatives near us.

A month after Gina was gone, I also discovered how abusive she had become in terms of the use of resources. My electricity and water bill simply went down to about 45%. And to think my children and I were always away on weekends! Wow. Not to mention we’ve saved so much from food expenses.

Oh, did I mention that she would cook something for herself in the middle of the night (without permission) or eat all the leftovers in the fridge, especially my daughters’ favorite cake, when we’re away? I tolerated it because she was pregnant. Also, she used to buy clothes for us despite her meager salary and after I have insisted that she shouldn’t do so. Well, it looks like they were replacements for all the clothes she had taken from us.

Please tell me how you would have dealt with such a hired help!

Lessons I’ve learned so far 

Based on my unique household setup, there are a few things that I have learned, which I believe, would apply to other households as well when it comes to dealing with helpers, such as:

  1. As much as possible, find out as much as you can about the person before you hire her. If you are like me who prefer personal referrals rather than hire someone through an agency, it would be better if the person referring is someone you could really trust, too. Consider talking to the applicant’s former employer also, or find another person who’s credible enough to vouch not only for the person’s abilities, but character as well.
  2. Be prepared to interview the candidate and ask for a copy of the person’s valid IDs as well as her family and close friends’ contact information. Better yet, require a police and NBI clearance, and be sure to keep a copy of these documents for yourself once you’ve hired her, not only for emergency reasons, but for your own security as well.
  3. Try not to hire someone (closely) related to you or your husband. Believe me, it’s so much easier to train and deal with the infractions of someone you are not related to. And, I am not just talking about my own experience, but also my siblings’, who had hired relatives as helpers.
  4. Avoid giving too much (and obvious) trust and confidence in your helpers. Sure, they’ve earned it and no matter what they do, they should feel valued and respected. However, it should also be clear to them that you are the boss and they will always be answerable to you. They must know that they will never be the head of your household or have power over the younger members of your family even when you’re out of their sight. They’re assigned caregivers and they’re being paid to do the job.
  5. Make it clear that you have hired your helper to serve your household, not someone else’s household. It doesn’t matter if they’re willingly serving another household during their spare time. Later on, issues on loyalty might surface, which could be extremely ugly to deal with.
  6. Give them a copy of the house rules and make sure they understood them clearly. Go as far as posting them in an area where they could easily review them. If you are training a newbie, create also a schedule for them to ensure that all the chores are done before bedtime while they also get enough rest during day time. This should also help ensure that they only use their mobile phones or do their hobbies during their breaks.
  7. Lastly, although it’s good to give someone the benefit of the doubt, still, try to follow your (woman’s) instinct; I don’t think it ever fails, especially when coupled with prayers.

Now I’m looking for a new maid for the same reasons that I have enumerated at the beginning of this story. But each time I would interview one, I would realize that something’s just not right. For some reason, I couldn’t find the perfect fit: a Zillah who’s meek and gentle, a Manang Ester who’s very motherly and takes pride in getting things done right, and a Gina who anticipates our needs, agile, strong, protective of my family, and has a good sense of humor. (Yes, Gina had many good qualities despite the unscrupulous behavior she showed in the end or whenever I was away.)

Indeed, having a maid, a helper, a housekeeper, a nanny, a babysitter, an all-around assistant, or servant–whatever you want to call her–can make life comfortable for you, but having one can also make your life complicated, even miserable, if you’re not very careful.

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