Expat children and household help usually go hand-in-hand when you’re living in Indonesia. It’s always been advantageous for us to have help around but as my children are getting older, I’m starting to believe that household staff is actually detrimental to their development. Why? The main reason is because it hinders their independence and creates the mindset that responsibility can be outsourced. Although I am not rushing to let my maid go, there are many changes that I can make to ensure that my children grow up with a sense of accountability and ownership of their duties. The best way to teach them this is by allowing my children to complete their own chores and help out around our home.
Truthfully, it’s not an easy task because children are more concerned with playing rather than cleaning. The following are some monumental steps that families can take towards having a balanced household:
When my children were babies, they weren’t aware of their surroundings therefore I could have full-time staff without worrying what impact it would have on their perception of the world. As my children have grown up, I have slowly worked towards cutting back on hired help. I have cut down on my nanny’s hours. She now plays a more inactive role and helps with coordinating my children’s conflicting school hours and extra curricular activities. She has never been and will never be the type of nanny that follows my children around, catering to their demands. The children understand that she is my helper and not theirs.
I am also cutting back on the hours of our maid, aligning them with my children’s school hours. This helps tremendously with our family dynamic because my children no longer sense her presence around and won’t have a fall back person to clean up their spills. They also can’t go to her asking for a biscuit, after I have said no.
Weekends are staff-free – we focus on family time.
BEING A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Although I hire someone to come in and clean my house, I did not lose my dignity, nor did my arms and legs fall off! My maid does not need to present our meals on silver platters or serve us like we are royalty. She is a respected employee in our household and we appreciate her. We acknowledge that she is ultimately our “helper” only and not our scapegoat to pick up after us or cater to our every need.
How can we be good role models for our children if we cannot sweep the floor when necessary or wash our own dishes? My husband and I like to display positive behavioural modelling to our children because we want them to know that ultimately it is our own responsibility to keep our home clean and tidy. I want my children to witness us taking pride in this.
Household responsibility is also not gender biased. Males and females both take equal responsibilities.
CHANGING MY MINDSET
I have started to shift my mindset on household chores. Of course, when I was sleep deprived with three young children, I relied heavily on my staff to help me. But I’ve come to realise that just because my maid is capable of completing a particular task around my home, that doesn’t mean that she has to do it for me! For instance, she doesn’t need to do our laundry or wash our dishes, especially if delegating these responsibilities onto my children will have a more positive impact on their morale. More so, if the outcome of my children witnessing me completing a chore is reinforcing good behaviour, then this intangible benefit clearly outweighs the tangible benefit of outsourcing it. Once I started to view household chores in this light, my whole perspective changed.
SETTING AGE-RELEVANT HOUSEHOLD CHORES FOR MY CHILDREN
I have seen first-hand that children are never too young to start helping out with chores. There are many age-appropriate chores that children can participate in and although they may seem insignificant to adults, they are huge milestones for them. My two-year-old makes his own bed, puts his shoes away and is expected to pick up after himself. Yes, it’s difficult to constantly enforce these rules and he needs a lot of help, but I talk him through them and I make him accountable. If he leaves a dirty sock on the floor, I ask him if that’s where it belongs. At this age, he enjoys helping out.
All of my children help set the table at meal time and clear their dirty dishes. They rinse the dishes (including my two-year-old) and clean the dining table… They know to get a mop if they’ve spilled a drink and ensure all toys are packed away in the evenings, otherwise those toys will be donated and taken away. Of course, at their age, mistakes are made and the task isn’t done to perfection. I definitely need to refold their clothes and make sure the dirty ones hit the inside of the laundry basket! The most important thing is that they know that it’s their responsibility. They know that I will ultimately hold them accountable for it. Having children help out with chores is much harder for the parents because we need to follow through and check that they have done them. There is a lot of nagging and encouragement but all of this extra effort is a part of parenting, and I acknowledge that parenting isn’t always fun and easy.
HAVING A HOUSEHOLD PLAN IN PLACE
My long-term goal is to have our household running self-sufficiently with no household help. I want to create a space where each family member is equally responsible for all of the chores. I want them cooking, cleaning hygienically and most importantly, learning that they are a part of a team where we help each other out and feel proud of our contributions. This, I hope will be a lifelong habit.