Domestic Help Abroad: More Than Making Your Bed

Living abroad can be the first opportunity for expatriates to explore employing help at home. It is often a new concept for many from some western countries where such services are not always affordable to an average working to middle-class family. However, after living in other regions of the world, I came to realize that maids, nannies, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and cooks are part of everyday life. As a child living in the Caribbean, I grew up with a housekeeper always working at some level around the house. Once I moved to the USA, that changed. When I returned to living abroad on my own, however, I reintegrated the assistance back into my daily life.

In some western societies, the idea of someone who is not family ‘living’ in your personal space could seem very unnatural. Having assistance in one’s home can come in many forms though, such as having help for a couple of hours to someone living in-residence. However, as many expats do, you will find the level of services may vary based on your comfort level.

 Domestic Services are generally available in most expat destinations to assist you in cleaning your house, caring for your children, cooking and helping with the day-to-day running of the household. Your housekeeper will help you out with language barriers and anything else that you may be unfamiliar with within your location, as well as freeing up your time from focusing on cleaning and maintenance of your living space. Although you may feel awkward at first, help at home in the form of a housekeeper will become an asset in your living and thriving abroad, so take full advantage of all the help such a service can provide.

Members of communities which have historically served in these roles in North America or Europe may hesitate to consider such services once they have the opportunity. It is understandable to have mixed feelings about hiring a person full-time or part-time to clean and maintain your living space, however, let me share my perspective:

-First, you can help a family improve their quality of life in their home country;

-Second, you have the power to treat your housekeeper with humility and dignity, and

-Third, many housekeepers you may hire consider it a job in the same way you go to the office.

-Lastly, consider that they are doing this job to feed their children, pay for education, or, in many cases, to provide healthcare for family back home.  

Some people work in the domestic services areas because they enjoy doing this type of work and do not see disgrace in the act of cleaning someone’s home or caring for their children.

 Another area not always considered when hiring a person to help in your home is the factor of trustworthiness. At the core, you will have to trust your gut and intuition about the person you bring into your home. Most people will be honest, value their relationship with you and be grateful for the employment. As is true in all life-matters, some people might not and may have or develop ulterior motives. It is your responsibility to take precautions as needed with cash and valuables such as electronics and jewelry. These items are easy to go missing and often have high resale value. If you find you have a questionable situation in your home, document it, call your agency if you used one, confront the situation in an appropriate manner and take the best action to protect you and your family.

Persons who work in the domestic services areas deserve to be treated with kindness and consideration like everyone else. Far too often, we hear the horror stories of mistreatment in numerous ways. Most of these incidents result from the power and privilege dynamic that you, as the hiring party, possess and choose to execute negatively. Remember, treat each person with respect, dignity, kindness and express gratitude for the service they provide. Yes, the opposite can happen when the person you hire is demonstrating mistreatment or manipulating behaviors. Over the years of hiring part-time help to assist in my living space, I have encountered attempts to manipulate me with a sad family story. These actions are not acceptable and should be addressed immediately and effectively by you or the agency. There will be hires that work well while others will not, but always look for the best-case scenario for all parties involved. 

During the past fourteen years living in the US and abroad, I have taken advantage of hiring housekeepers in a part-time status. I generally have a person do all major household chores anywhere from two to three times per week for two-three hours per day. As a result, I have also benefited from learning about my housekeeper’s culture, tradition, a bit of language and celebrations. I also appreciated my freedom to do other things while my home was being cleaned.

If you desire a bit more time for yourself/your family, or freedom from household chores, consider hiring a well-vetted housekeeper. It could become the best part of the self-care you give yourself or your family.

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