10 July 2012, by Darren Lim
We are so helper-less!
Having had domestic help for the past seven years, Evelyn and I decided early this year that we would dispense with the help of one, naturally, after much consideration. When many of our friends heard about this, their reactions were mixed. Some asked, why do you want to do that when your kids are still so young? Way’s only coming to three and not forgetting you have three kids! Others congratulated us on our courage and wished us well, citing more family closeness and privacy as things we can look forward to. One well-meaning friend even dissuaded Evelyn against the idea saying, “You must remember when he (referring to me of course) says he will help with the housework, he’s not referring to it on a regular basis!” Ahem, I’m proud to say, till now I’ve mopped the floors a couple more times than Evelyn and cooked for the family whenever I’m not at work, so I have not suffered from amnesia after I made that promise!
But truth be told, our parents were totally taken aback by our decision, my mother-in-law even doubted if we could survive the first week! (we are now close to our fourth minus vacations!). Who can blame them, both Evelyn and I were brought up in families with domestic help since both our parents are working and having helpers around is really quite the norm for us. That’s why we engaged one even before Kristen was born, to continue with “family traditions” if I may call it so! It was really a way of life for us (and probably for many Singaporeans too!).
But what made us decide at the early part of this year to have a total change of lifestyle, was some time back when we asked our children to pack up their toys after they had played with them and Kristen retorted innocently, “But Daddy, why do we have to do that? Auntie Geralyn will pack up for us later!” Both Evelyn and I stopped in our tracks and looked at each other. Somehow along the way, the children had figured out if they have help at home which they can use, why not use it? It doesn’t matter if the original intention of having one is to assist mummy with the housework.
Flashes of my own childhood days with me calling out to my family’s domestic helper for anything I wanted, came into my mind. “Amelia, glass of water please?” “Amelia, where is my snorkel and mask?” “Ameilia, can you tie my shoelaces please?” Ha, for all you know, I could even have asked her to help me carry my alibaba bag too during army days!
But I remember, when I was in the army and I had to pack my own training bag, make my own bed, make sure that everything was in neat order that even a strand of hair on my bar soap was a no-no, I realized that being responsible for one’s own upkeep need not be such a chore, especially if I had started the habit from young.
And the interesting thing is we thought the kids would abhor it, being made to do chores like cleaning the floor, making their beds, washing dishes, etc. But contrary to that, they were pretty gamed on doing all when asked to, presumably because these made them feel like they were “big guys” who could do “big things” too! (Of course you have to give lots of encouragement and praise for jobs well-done and there will be days when they too would wake up from the wrong side of bed and getting them to even lift a finger would be harder work than swimming across the Atlantic!) But when they know the expectations and it becomes a habit, they generally flow into it quite easily with few reminders needed just every now and then.
More and more, as we home-school our children, we realize that home-schooling, or even learning in general, should encompass more than just the academics. It should also include life-skills such as making our beds, cleaning up our mess after our meals, cooking and more and more such chores because these are really what we need to know to survive. Of course some would argue with time so precious, it should be spent efficiently and if paid labour can achieve that, then why not? Yes, when my children grow up, I’m not going to stop them from engaging domestic help if they wish to. I always believe that managing chores is a life-skill, you don’t necessarily have to do them yourself but you must know how to do them!
The beauty of allowing a child to take on such responsibilities from a young age is that it gives the young child opportunities to practise responsible behaviour, a desired character trait to have, that will stand them in good stead in future. Doing chores also helps them see that they are really part of the family team that’s making the home a place of comfort. That definitely contributes to a sense of bonding and family identity!
So if you ask me is “Helper-less = helpless” or even “hopeless”? I don’t think so! There’s so much to look forward to!