Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday Topic: House help

From a reader: A discussion on inside help would be good. Many new ladies to the mission field feel overwhelmed with having someone in their house. They also feel guilt since that is not a part of our culture, but for the wealthy. How do you train a worker? What does this look like in the culture where you are, and how do you deal with the guilt mentioned above, if you feel it?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at fylliska@gmail.com. Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)


  1. The House Helper.

    We've had several over the years. (Many local families here have them because there is just so much work to do.) I've learned to train them by showing EXACTLY what I want done, and at first checking up on it to make sure. Then is the hard part of showing the mistake, and insisting on your way. They should do it your way, it's your house and you are paying them, just like you would for a boss at a business place.

    I did not ask them to do anything that I had not done already. I knew the ins and outs of the job and how hard or easy it was and how I wanted it done, or what leeway I would give for someone to do their own way.

    I'd advise you to decide EXACTLY what work you want or might want the person to do, and spell your expectations out clearly. (Later if you add more, they will see it as a need for more pay.) The more clear you are, the easier things will be, even if this is not a common trait in your culture.

    Our helpers have always been part-time or M-F 9:30-3:00. So, no one is living with us, although some do that. They have also ONLY done MY work, not cared for my children, or cleaned up after children. (The latter has also been made clear to the children--the helper is to help Mama. They have their own chores.)

    I got over the "guilt" of a "servant" quick enough because I lived the first year without a helper, and did all the day-to-day work of home-keeping in a poor country in Asia on my own, with an infant. When I was pregnant with our second, we hired someone, mainly so I could stop hand-washing the clothes, and could put more time into language study.

    More than "guilt," I didn't like having someone in my home that much. I've never gotten used to that completely, and have always been relieved when she left. It is just my private self and US-comfort zone, I think. The ladies were all nice enough, and it wasn't really a personal problem with them, more my wanting to be just by ourselves.

    For the last 1 1/2 years we haven't had a helper, because 1. the house we moved into had a washing machine, and 2. my children are old enough to help with the daily housework, and 3. we knew we were leaving for a furlough in the next year or so, and the thought of finding and training someone was more than I wanted to do.

    Joy in Nepal

    1. Joy, one of my best friends, Tracy, lives in Nepal. I wonder if you know her?? She had a time with getting a worker, but now she has someone she really likes, which is a huge help to her!

    2. With a daughter and son? From TN? We've enjoyed Thanksgiving at a mutual friend's together once or twice.

      Joy in Nepal

  2. A few tips...

    1. Treat them with respect, but also remember that they aren't a friend who has offered to come help you clean. They are paid to work, and you need to expect them to.
    2. Don't expect them to know how you want it done. Even if they've worked with other missionaries. I always sit them down and explain that we all do things differently. No one way is right, just different. Since this is my house I would like things done my way. Show them again how you want it if they revert to another way of doing it.
    3. Readjust your standards. For instance. My mom was very particular about her linen closet. We learned how to fold sheets and towels a certain way. It was always neatly arranged. After teaching, and reteaching my worker how to fold fitted sheets they would still look awful. I had to decide if it was really that important or not. I chose to not make it a big deal.
    4. Have a contract with things spelled out like vacation time, sick days, tardiness, etc. Better to explain things upfront and have them sign the contract, than to decide when in the middle of a situation. (You might need to go to the labor office to know what the government expects.)
    5. Decide if you want someone in your private areas such as bedrooms. It might be important for you to maintain some privacy.
    6. I don't recommend letting the worker clean your children's bedrooms. They need to learn to make up their own beds and put away their own toys.
    7. DON'T FEEL GUILTY. The Proverbs 31 woman got up early to organize her workers. IT'S BIBLICAL! =}
    8. The best advice I was given as a young mom was to disciple my worker. With small children and homeschooling it was not always feasible to get out of the house to do ministry. A great opportunity presents itself in your worker who comes to you. Just before I wrote this I was sitting with my worker teaching verse-by-verse John ch 1. (We recently finished Col.) What a huge blessing it was for me to hear that as she is learning the Bible from me she sits with her children and teaches them! When I am no longer in Tanzania she'll still be here and able to teach God's Word to her children and others.

    It takes time to adjust to having someone in your house. Be patient with yourself and her. One day you'll be like me and say over and over again what a huge blessing your worker is been to you!

  3. Wow, these are some great comments. I second the "Don't Feel Guilty!" In my country, house help is VERY expensive, and I just can't afford it.

    When we lived in El Salvador, I maintained a sense of family privacy by having someone come in two or three days a week, rather than having a live in helper.

  4. we've gone both ways - with house help and without, full time and part time - and for many years our guard and yard worker did actually live on our property, though not in our house. there are pros and cons to both. frankly, i prefer the without, but it is a whole lot more work and does put extra demands/requirements on your family as well as limits opportunity for ministry outside the home if you are living in a developing country and don't have access to many of the amenities and labor saving devices we have available in the west.

    when we first arrived on the field, we hired someone right away because we were told that was what was expected. her father in law died within the week and she and her husband (the oldest son) had to travel back to their home country for several weeks to help their family. so i was brand new in the country, learning everything and had no help. i was so thankful for her when she returned and was determined to make things work.

    some suggestions:
    1. you need to determine what type of a relationship you want to have with the person who works in your house. some prefer a purely professional, fixed hours, business-type arrangement. i figured if i had someone in my house, i wanted it to be a bit more informal. we often work side by side, chatting away and i consider my house helper a friend.
    2. you need to set your own expectations and not try and do what everyone else says you should do. in my experience, people tend to have lots of opinions on what house help should or shouldn't do, how they should or shouldn't behave, what they should or shouldn't call you, what sorts of hours they should or shouldn't work, how much vacation they should or shouldn't have... i was surprised by just how strong those opinions could be - including my own. remember that in general, this isn't a "right/wrong" issue - it is just a "different" issue.
    3. make sure you abide by local laws when it comes to hiring, firing, paying, vacation, etc. some places do have a protocol in place and you may be accountable to some local governing authority.
    4. don't be afraid to change your current situation if/when something works better.
    5. don't feel guilty for having a house helper if you so choose - cooking dinner from scratch, having to hang out all the laundry, needing to sweep or dust the house more than once a day during parts of the year, caring for your own garden, washing your clothes by hand, etc. take significantly longer without all of the readily accessible conveniences available to folks back in our home countries.
    6. be prepared to justify that expense when your supporters ask why... ours have, so they do... especially if you weren't doing so before and have made a significant change.,
    7. don't be guilty if you choose not to hire someone - don't let someone pressure you into doing it because all the other expats do... it is expected... you are supporting a family by so doing, etc.

  5. May God bless you and your fellow laborers in the mission field!

    Thanks so much for visiting and commenting on Saved by Grace!
    Your blog is a blessing and I am now following it, and I invite you to Saved by Grace also:
    Love in Him,
    Laurie Collett

  6. This is such an interesting topic to me! We live in a country where it is not common to have household help (and where it is also uncommon to have more than one or maybe two children because daily life is not so easy!). We have washing machines and now even dishwashers and some people even have dryers, but, even with those things, I've lately been so exhausted by all of the my current daily tasks that I've seriously been considering hiring someone to help a couple of times a week once our new baby arrives in early Spring (even with the conveniences that we do have, many things still do take a lot more time than what I was used to in the US... having to cook from scratch, having to use a miniature washer multiple times a day and hang-dry clothes, having to go outside with my kids every time they play outdoors since we live in a big apartment on the 5th floor and it isn't safe for them to be outside alone, having to scour sinks, tubs, and toilets more frequently and vigorously because they stain so quickly with the metals in our water...) I was reminded by a friend this week that even the Proverbs 31 woman that we all admire had servants. It is our American culture, I think, that trains us that we should be entirely independent of others and able to take care of all tasks on our own. But in many cultures people either hire helpers or live and work in close community with their family. Here, it is very common for the grandmother to be a very active part in helping to raise the children. Other cultures also don't have nearly the productivity expectations that our culture has. I have come to realize that often times our culture, and even/especially our Christian culture, causes women to believe that they have to be super women in order to be good or godly women. Though I have no experience to share about how to train help, I definitely don't think anyone needs to feel guilty about hiring help if they feel that it is a good decision for their particular situation. I might give it a try sometime if we can afford it!

  7. Having a full-time live in house helper is very common in El Salvador for middle and upper class families. We do not have a live-in helper, but we have someone in our home at least part of the day for five days a week. At first I really struggled with it and thought that is was very strange, and we actually didn't hire anyone at the beginning. I found I was spending all day washing dishes, line drying clothes, and cooking everything from scratch. Finally, we made the choice to hire someone just to come during the day so that I could get more involved with the ministry. She does some cooking, laundry, and cleaning. She typically doesn't do childcare unless I need to quickly run to the store and my kids are responsible for cleaning their own rooms! In this country, many people do not treat their workers very kindly or respectfully so we have been able to have a real impact on the woman who works for us because we do treat her with a lot of respect and we ask her a lot of questions about cultural things. She is a very strong Christian and we have prayed with her and been able to minister to her family on several occasions. She also can help our credibility in the community since she has been in our house and knows how we interact, treat our children, etc. I'm sure every country is different, but our worker has been such a huge blessing to us.

  8. We had a real gem of a house helper in our first term. She cooked, cleaned, iron, paid the bills, did some grocery shopping, helped me with acquiring my second language through conversation, etc. I am not real picky about how she did things, though I did have to insist on using soapy and clean water to wash dishes, or not stuffing the dryer full before turning it on. :)

    She had to stop working due to health reasons, and we had a few ladies do some cleaning and bill paying since then. It has gotten harder to keep up with everything, but I don't "have" to keep up with everything. Sometimes the deep cleaning doesn't get done very often, but as long as we have food, clean clothes and dishes, basic cleaning done, and the bills paid, I'm okay.

  9. I would add that it is helpful in the beginning to have a trial period (a couple weeks, a month). That way you can find out if this person is a good fit for you and your family (not only re:the quality of her work, but whether your personalities mesh well or not); and your helper will be able to determine whether she likes the job or not (particularly if she has never done this kind of work before and doesn't know what to expect).