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Published: Friday April 18, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday April 18, 2014 MYT 6:47:37 PM

One of us: Treat our maids better

Having help in the house is a privilege, and this writer makes sure her children respect their maid.

Having help in the house is a privilege, and this writer makes sure her children respect their maid.

Our children learn about respect and compassion from how we treat our maids.

Many Malaysians have grown up with domestic help, and my children are no exception. I’m not here to debate the rights and wrongs of imported foreign labour, though I strongly feel we need to have some framework on what is acceptable and what is not for families who raise children with hired help.

First and foremost, my mother taught me that having hired help was a privilege that should not to be taken for granted.

Her mother was from a wealthy family; they were one of the first to own cars in Malaysia. But my grandmother went from being a pampered daughter to having a disastrous marriage and losing everything in two years. She then had to wash clothes and cook for other families to raise her children.

Our family’s fortunes improved, and my parents had maids when I was growing up.

I began to see a pattern. The maids all wept miserably but all the agents forbade my parents from allowing them to call home in the first three months. When a maid did run away, my parents lost their fees because they were accused of being too lenient with phone rights.

My mother, of a more docile temperament, would nod apologetically to the agent and then bear the brunt of my father’s ire. I, on the other hand, was livid. The poor girls missed their families and it was only reasonable to want to let them know they were OK.

When I hired my first maid, she cried whenever it was meal time. She eventually told me it was because she wished she could send the lovely food back to her children instead. Prior to coming here, her family had not eaten meat for six months.

Knowing how desperate these girls are, and how brave really, I have always been appalled by people who misuse them. I am especially incensed by parents who allow their children to abuse the help, too.

My children have never been allowed to raise their voices, never mind stamp their feet or hit out at my helpers. The youngest, who does have a more fiery temper, has yelled at our maid and has promptly been punished.

When my three children were under four years old, friends and relatives would ask why I didn’t just tell the maid to bathe them or change their diapers.

But I have always been very clear. I have a maid to help me, so I can focus on childcare. Not having to worry about sweeping, mopping and ironing was such a luxury and treat. I took pleasure in bathing my children and changing their diapers. I cherished rocking them to sleep and combing the knots out of their hair. Why would I relinquish the sweetest time of parenting? Plus the maids had enough to do anyway.

Now that the kids are much older, they are obviously full of questions. They ask why other people bring their maids out with them at meal times? And if they want to bring them out, why don’t they get the same food? Why do some babies like their maid more than their own mamas?

In our family, when I ask them to count portions, they know that we need to include our maid Clarita. They wish her a nice weekend when she goes off for her break and wish her good morning when they wake up. Even though, I have had maids run away, I never assume the worst of the next maid. Everyone deserves to be judged by their own deeds and words.

We had a month when we had no maid. We had our usual pets, some foster kittens and a foster puppy plus a bedridden aunt to care for. I did my best and so did the kids. But I was tired and certainly more prone to angry outbursts.

They consoled me and said it was OK, and that I had too much to deal with. They woke earlier and worked out which chores they liked best. My youngest child, who is only seven years old, forbade me from dealing with dog poop. He said it was a job for a man. The eldest would set the laundry going before I even got out of bed.

I truly wish more parents would think about how they treat their help, and how they react when help is no longer available. Children learn so much from watching us. They are our mirrors. So, every time I see a child lashing out at their maid, I cringe and worry what the girl endures at home.

Then, I remind my kids that we are all human and deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion.

We want to hear about your different family experiences, wherever you may live. Parentpost is a new column to share how you are bringing up your children in different environments and cultures, as well as the insights you have gained. Please e-mail stories (800–1,000 words) with photographs in high resolution to star2@thestar.com.my. Articles will be edited for clarity and to accommodate space constraints.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Parentpost; Maid; Parenting; Family; Domestic Help

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