My maid is almost 3 months old now and so far things are ok. I think that having a stranger living in your house for an extended period of time requires careful management. In fact, having anyone living in your house for an extended period of time requires careful management whether its a younger sibling, a parent or in-laws.
I have certain standards and rules in my house which may not work in other homes because each household has their own different set of dynamics. For example, I am home all the time, so I can manage the maid better but at the same time I have to build a very good relationship with her because we will be seeing each other so much.
Anyway, firstly, I do not let her handle the house keys. Knowing that the doors are closed and locked by me gives us more peace of mind. I have small kids and its dangerous to leave gates or grills open these days. However, the price to pay for this is, we have to take her with us everywhere we go, even if its just for a ride round the neighbourhood for fun or to a family gathering etc. We will not take the risk of her being locked in the house in case of an emergency. We also take her along whenever we eat out which raises our living expenses a little bit but that is the price we have to pay. Not letting her handle the keys also mean we wash the porch and car just once a week. It is more manageable that way. The car and porch can be a little dirty. We don’t mind. Safety first.Â
Secondly, we don’t watch much tv at home so she also doesn’t get to watch tv freely. However, we do have movie nights where we invite her to watch a rented dvd or movie together with us and she also munches in front of the tv with us. No problem. When there is a good program that we are watching we will call her to watch as well like the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games so she is not totally restricted from watching tv. To compensate for her not being able to watch tv during her free time, we buy her magazines and story books to read. I find this much easier to manage. I remember once when my sister’s maid came over to stay, she watched so much tv that I had to get up at night after I went to bed, to make sure she switched off all the tv and light switches. I think restrictingÂ tvÂ also prevents me from having to request her to turn off the tv halfway during an excitingÂ tv program and getting a sour face as a result.
Thirdly, she is not free to come upstairs whenever she likes. She comes upstairs to do housework, that is all. This gives us some privacy because hubby sometimes likes to walk around in his birthday suit. 😛 I also make my beds myself most of the time unless I am sick. My bedroom is still, well, my bedroom. It is a private place afterall. She helps me fold the laundry and put them in a basket. Then I keep them in my closet myself. This ensures privacy and reduces temptation too IMHO.
Fourth is regarding the kids. This is actually first in terms of priority. 🙂 The maid does not handle the kids. I am their mother. So I bathe and feed them myself. She plays with them occassionally when I am busy. I also set rules for the kids. I tell them certain things that they are not allowed to do with the maid, like leaving the house with her alone, for example, unless daddy and mummy says its ok. Sometimes I hear my girl tell her “Tak boleh kakak, nanti ibu marah.” so hopefully that means the kids get the message ie always ask daddy and mummy first. The kids get along with her very well. She sometimes writes lyrics of children’s songs in Malay and teaches the kids how toÂ sing them. Even the 4 year old has learned some Malay songs now and he can say simple words like “Mahu” and “Tak Mahu”. Quite often I can hear the kids telling her “Kakak, lihat saya” or “Kakak, sembunyi” or “Kakak, racing car” If the kids get in her way while she is doing the housework she sometimes tells me “Ma’am, he is stepping on the dust, can you take him away, please?” To me, that is good. I also find it difficult to work when the kids are in the way so I can understand her position and I take them away to another part of the house. I prefer this to her beating them behind my back. It is also easier for her to have a better relationship with the kids by not handling them. You can always have a better relationship with the kids if your job or responsibility is just to play with them. When it comes to caregiving, that relationship changes. She will also find it hard to care for the kids if she does not have the authority to discipline them. I also tell the kids off sternly if I find them misbehaving, talking to the maid rudely or trying to bully her as I will not tolerate those.
Fifth,Â no doing work withoutÂ being told.Â Because I am home all the time, I can have a tighter management. I delegate work to the maid on a daily basis. She does not do work on her own initiative, only occassionally. This reduces the risk of her doing things without my knowledge or breaking things and hiding it etc. She is also clearer about her role as miscommunication can lead to misunderstanding.
Sixth, no reason to lie. We have a rule of not eating in the room. She eats whatever we eat. As soon as the food is cooked, I scoop up the dishes and serve them straight onto everybody’s plate including hers. Her portion is the same, in fact much more than mine because I am afraid of putting on weight. 😉 There is never anything lacking so there is never a reason to steal food and eat secretly and then lying about it later on.
Seventh, she does not stay at home alone nor alone at home with the kids.Â Even if I am just going to the nearby kindy to take myÂ girl home, I take herÂ and the boy along even though this is obviously more inconvenient. It would be too easy to just let the boy sleep in and the maid toÂ do the housework while I collect or send theÂ girl but no, IÂ don’t mind a littleÂ inconvenience. Safety first. I have seen maids with a baby in a sling while walkingÂ another toddler to the kindy unaccompanied by anyone.Â Perhaps theÂ employer really has no choice but I can’t help but worry at the sight.
Eight, building a good relationship. Because I spend a lot of time with the maid, I have to establish a good relationship with her. I do this by trying to do things together with her. If I try a new recipe, I saw “Let US try this new recipe together and if we fail BOTH OF US have to wallop it together because no one will eat it!” This usually makes her laugh heartily. Or if someone gives a food which I know the hubby and kids don’t really like that much, I tell her “Aiyoh, finish lah, BOTH OF US have to finish all this cake! Surely we will grow fat!” I always use “US” instead of “you” and “I”. I usually ask her opinion about gardening, about cooking (even though I am a better cook than her since she didn’t cook before in her previous employment, her job was mainly to take care of the kids then) or about how to tie my girl’s hair up etc. This draws her in and ensures she is not left out and makes her feel more involved and accepted. I chat with her about my past stories when the kids were younger etc and she tells me about her maid training experience, her family and herÂ previous employment etc.Â When I see that a task is too difficult to handle by one person, I do it together with her. For example, when washing the backyard, I may sweep, while she washes the drain or I may carry pails of water for her while she brushes the floor. If she is out washing the porch, I may prepare breakfast including hers. Sometimes I serve herÂ meals to her when she is busy but thats ok with me. This makes sure that she is not overburdened and it keeps us doing things as a team. It also encourages her to work harder when she feels that she is not alone in doing the work.
Ninth, during mealtimes, she eats in the kitchen, my children and I eat in the dining room and hubby eats in the living room in front of the tv. During breakfast the kids and I eat in the kitchen with her. The rest of the time, we keep it separate unless we’re eating out of course. This makes sure that the kids do not get into the habit of asking her to feed them. It also makes sure that we don’t spread viruses around by sharing food. So far, when the family was sick for months one after another after another, she managed to avoid being sick. It is also easier for her to complete her work. Sometimes she washes up before eating and sometimes afterwards. Its up to her. It is easier for her to manage her work that way. I always clear up the dining room myself and bring the plates to her for cleaning up. Then I cut fruits for the family while she is washing the dishes and I save some fruits for her.
Tenth, drawing the line. Much as I’d like to treat her like part of the family, I have to remember that she is still someone whom I only know for 3 months whose only background I know is what she tells me apart from whats printed on a biodata on a single piece of paper. So, although I am as nice to her as I can be, I cannot lower my guard. This is especially so with my kids. Thats why I have the above rules.
I remember previously when I blogged about maids, a commentor mentioned that he has not enough work for a maid but if he does not have a maid, he will be very busy. I find this to be true with me too. The maid is quite often very free and goes jalan jalan and makan makan quite often with us. My only worry is that she would be bored, feel lonely or left out at times. How to solve those areas?