Thursday, March 18, 2010

Women's Work: The Nanny

So, let's talk women's work here. More and more of us are joining the formal labour force: how do we pull off the multiple demands of being wife, mother, housekeeper, cook, cleaning service, stellar employee, supportive friend, occasional party girl in a very brief dress and all-round paragon of feminine virtues? By outsourcing! It is my pleasure to introduce my first guest blogger, the fabulous multi-tasking yummy mummy Sarah Majengo who has this to say about the women who stand behind the successful working mom:

They say everything changes once you have a child. It does indeed, and not in the ways one would take into consideration pre-baby delivery. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of nannies and housegirls soon after the birth of my daughter. In a span of 15 months, I've been through 4 housegirls and 4 nannies. In between however, I had a slew of temporary replacements on loan from my mother to fill whatever gap was required in the housegirl or nanny department.

The separation of duties in our household has the housegirl taking care of all matters domestic and culinary. The nanny concerns herself with the baby- diapers, feeding, entertaining, and so forth. The one in charge of the house comes and goes while the nanny lives with us. Being an HR practitioner by profession, I realized that the two roles- housekeeper and nanny- had to be separated. One person would be overwhelmed, and while having two people is slight overkill, it does ward off any friction in the house. Naturally, I pay over minimum wage to both. Of the 4 nannies I have employed, two ran away and one was fired. The latest addition to the statistics is only a week old.

When things are good, they're really good! My baby thrives while the household seems to run on automatic pilot. The first threat to domestic utopia is the neighborhood in which you reside. Domestic workers need to be able to gossip with their counterparts. Failure to provide that outlet shortens the employment span of the domestic worker in your home. The second threat is the day off. Like I said, I am an HR practitioner and know all too well the downside of having an employee that hasn’t taken a break. The day off exposes your employee to events she may be missing out on in your household: advances from men, a chance to flaunt her attire, coiffing appointments and just generally being ‘in the mix’- the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The third issue that can throw the harmony in your house off is the employee who misses home, usually the village. Enough said.

Both of my nannies that ran away were really good with my baby girl. One wanted to return to her home while the other fell into the trappings of the 'day off'. Being a working mother, I can’t begin to tell you how the heaven on earth that is your household quickly becomes a hell on earth. Naturally, the responsibility to restore the balance falls on the mother. I tell you, “mother” is “multi-tasking” by definition. When a nanny leaves, the euphoric days of a thriving baby with well-adjusted parents quickly come to a halt as the scales threatens to tip over. Here, I have to give props to my husband for pulling his weight and then some during these times. He's been stellar and hasn’t succumbed to frustration in the same way that I have been known to do.

As a working mother, when all matters related to the baby aren't as they should be, the 8-to-5 job also suffers. I almost want to add a clause in the nanny pre-employment screening interview: 'I also have a job, therefore I'd appreciate it if you would give me notice when you want to leave.' And why not? We always complain that the girls don't know better, maybe what we need to do is manage them better in order to make our own lives a little less complicated.

How did our parents manage to keep the same house help for years on end? Why is the same not happening for us? More importantly, how can I blame the media for this turn of events? Clouds FM? Local tabloids? I kid. A little bit. Perhaps there is a high demand for nannies and housegirls, hence the huge turnover. Have our housekeepers picked up their own version of Generation Y-ism? You can give them a great salary, show them the respect they deserve for taking care of your house and loved ones but in the end, the decision to stay or go is theirs and we are entirely at their mercy. Their departure from our lives has a domino effect: everything suffers until the balance is restored. Lord, and the process for hiring a new one!


  1. I still remember vividly the time our "dada" left when my sisters and I were home for December holidays a few years ago.

    It was pure HELL ;-) (but kind of funny - at least in hindsight)

    I guess I have to give props for Americans for being able to manage without. I bet they are green with envy at this whole scenario. ;-)

  2. i am also a full-time working mom and i totally relate to this article.
    i just loved this i had to share it with ALL my first, second and third-time super-mom friends
    is there no dial-a-dada hotline?
    let's talk to Tigo!!


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