Me, upon hiring my first helper soon after moving to Hong Kong:
“Yippee! I’ve been liberated from the daily grind of washing and cleaning up after my family of five.”
Me, a few days later:
“Oh jeez! There’s another person living in my house ALL THE TIME, and I’m just not sure how to manage our relationship.”
There’s no doubt that employing a helper affords a fabulous opportunity for mums and dads to spend more time doing what they want, and less time on household chores. We can have more productive time with our kids and each other, take up hobbies and sports, or focus on careers, all the while coming home to a spotless apartment.
But, as with any working relationship, this is one where it can take time to smooth out the bumps and become accustomed to a new dynamic in the home. It took me several years – and, to be honest, several helpers – before we found the perfect fit for our family. Now, it’s difficult to imagine life without her.
Especially if you aren’t used to it, having another person move in full-time can be a challenge. A sudden lack of privacy, the feeling you’re being watched or judged on your parenting, deciding what roles to hand over and what to continue doing yourself: these are all common dilemmas we face with this major change in the household.
Does she eat with us? Should I ask about her personal life? Should we take her on holiday with us? What does everyone else do? Well, we invited experienced Hong Kong mums to tell us how it works in their households, and this is what they told us.
Q: How would you describe your helper’s relationship with your family?
A: While an equal number of respondents said they were very close or not at all close, the majority said they were somewhere in between.
70% We’re friendly and occasionally chat about personal matters, but not about everything.
15% We consider her a family member; we know most things about her life and vice versa.
15% We have a polite and professional relationship, and we don’t discuss personal issues.
“Our helper is new with our family. [The] previous one was with us over ten years and we decided to be friendly, but more professional, this time.”
“We love her and respect her, but she is not my best friend or family. I would feel weird having her wash, cook and clean for us if our relationship was too close. Also, when I’m home, I just like to relax and not always have to be chatting.”
Q: How do your children get on with your helper?
A: Most of the respondents say their kids and helper are close.
57% They like her and are happy to spend time with her, but they’re not concerned when she’s not home.
30% They love her. They spend a lot of time with her and miss her when she’s not home.
13% They are not close, but it has no effect on her ability to look after the children well.
“They have known her all their life and they love her.”
Q: If you could change your relationship with your helper, would you?
A: The good news? Most of us are happy with the status quo.
90% No, I believe we are all comfortable with the current relationship.
7% Yes, I sometimes think it would be better if our relationship was less personal.
3% Yes, I would like it if we were closer and got along a little better.
“I do not need a relationship with her as such, just trust.”
“We communicate well and are very open with each other and up front about everything.”
“The only change I’d like is with live-in versus live-out. I think she would like more privacy and, ethically, I believe she has the right to it; she hopes they will change the law so that she can legally live out. I can understand this; I wouldn’t want to live with my boss either!”
Q: Who cooks?
A: Almost half the respondents make the most of having someone else to do the cooking.
47% My helper is a great cook and does most of the cooking for our family.
28% We share the cooking equally, or my helper mainly cooks for the kids.
25% I do most of the cooking. I enjoy it, but it’s nice having some extra help in the kitchen.
“I usually do the cooking if we have people over for a dinner party, and she helps. But, for everyday food, she does most of the cooking.”
“My husband and kids would probably walk out (and follow my helper) if I took over the cooking. Domestic goddess I am not!”
Q: Who does the grocery shopping?
A: More than half of the respondents prefer to hit the grocery store themselves.
52% I mostly do the shopping, but occasionally my helper will go to the store for me.
30% It’s about half/half: we share the shopping duties equally.
18% My helper does most of the grocery shopping. I rarely need to go to the store.
“I like to choose the food my family eats. It’s not that I don’t trust her to choose well, it’s just that I know I’m fussier.”
Q: Where does your helper eat her meals?
A: While the vast majority of us eat separately from our helpers, there are a few families who all sit down together.
93% She rarely eats with us. She has her meals separately or with her friends who live nearby.
5% She mostly eats with us at the dinner table.
2% She occasionally eats with us, or sometimes comes to help with the kids
at a restaurant.
“Who wants to share a meal with their boss? She would much rather be with her friends and we’d much rather be with our friends and family.”
“She eats different food and doesn’t want to, or like, eating with us.”
Q: If you have young children, who handles bath time?
A: More than half of the respondents prefer to take on bathing themselves, although some are happy to hand the job over.
“When my kids were little, my helper did it. My youngest hated the bath and I found it very stressful, so I cooked dinner instead!”
Q: Who does the school/bus drop-off and pick-up?
A: Well more than half of the respondents prefer to drop off and collect the kids themselves.
65% I mostly drop off/pick up the kids. I ask my helper to do it only if I can’t make it in time.
26% We share the drop-off/pick-up equally, depending on who’s available.
9% My helper typically does the drop-off/pick-up.
“I always do the mornings and we share the afternoons.”
“I like to be the one who gets my daughter off the bus after her long day at school, as I know it’s me she wants to see.”
Q: Who takes your child to after-school activities?
A: More than half of the respondents accompany their kids to their various activities.
63% I usually take the kids to all of their after-school activities.
32% We split the activities: my helper goes with one child and I go with the other.
5% My helper takes the kids to almost all of their after-school activities.
“As I am working, I can’t take my kids to the activities during the week, but I always do on weekends.”
“We could not get our children to the activities they do without a helper.”
Q: When you go on holiday, does your helper go with you?
A: While most of the respondents prefer to go it alone, almost one in four will consider taking the helper along.
76% We never bring our helper: it’s nice for both of us to have a break from each other.
22% We occasionally bring her along if we know we’ll need the babysitting.
2% Yes, we almost always bring her
along for an extra pair of hands.
“We need her to stay home to look after the dog and fish.”
“It’s my family time. I may have considered it had my children been younger when we arrived, but now I don’t really need the help.”