This is a belated International Womens day article. On her 45th birthday,my friend decided to thank the important people in her life who had helped her with her home-and-career juggling act all these years; so she took her cook and her housekeeper for a multiplex movie and a good dinner. Working mothers know that when it comes to the crunch,it is the quality of your maid and not the quality of your presentation that determines your career success. You have a major client presentation and your maid delays returning from her weekend off. You are literally left holding the baby. Of course,the husband,as usual,also has a meeting or is travelling. (I wonder,are things different for this generation of young mothers? Has the helpful,responsible,gender-roles-disregarding husband finally arrived?) You jump through hoops and manage to live to fight another day,but you just cut a few years off your life and permanently kill more brain cells than you need to and acquire more IOUs that will come back to haunt you. Sadly,such situations repeat in different ways over the years I have been interrupted during a board meeting,in the midst of an impassioned speech,with desperate mamma,please call its urgent messages from my 16-year-old. The dog ran out and bit the courier man,who insisted that someone take him to the doctor and maybe the police station as well. The maid dissolved into tears,leaving my daughter at home on study leave to deal with it. She called mom,because as Ogden Nash said As for father,why bother? Tons of advice and experiences have come by way over the years,so heres some of my retained wisdom!
1. Rather than try and make a silk purse out of a sows ear,try starting with something approximating silk. It is all about market segmentation. If you pick a segment of relatively better-off families from where to get household help,you will find that things like work ethic (i.e. coming back on time from a weekend off),ability to match your calendar plans with theirs,understanding of the constraints that an office imposes on you etc. are better. Its the nice office peons mother or sister that you want.
2. Intelligence and analytical ability is important. The gas may leak when you are away,the child may swallow something,medicines will have to be administered,needing complicated instructions to be followed. When she calls you to say things are not OK,she must be able to go quickly to the matter without you having to administer the Spanish inquisition and reducing her to more incoherence. I say she because I have no male help on account of having a daughter.
3. Say to them,That is my office,this is your office. That is my job,this is your job. We all belong to the great sisterhood of working women and lets share some rules,principles of how this operates,how to dress right for work,how to never ignore phone calls etc.
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4. Dont sweat over the small stuff. This is not about cloning yourself. There are two models you have delegating or outsourcing. Outsourcing requires process mapping,laying it out,monitoring it all of which are very cumbersome. But life would be far more stress-free if outcomes,and not processes,are monitored.
5. Dont hassle with locking up most things locked cupboards ought to be the exception and not the rule. After all,she has charge of your most precious possession,your child.
6. Job enrichment is everything. Everyone comes with a brain and needs to be moderately excited,challenged and given responsibility. I have a friend who always says,Between the symbol and the substance,go for the symbol. You can always add the substance later. Of course,we were talking about whether being in town for your wedding anniversary was more value-adding to your spouse or cooking lunch every Sunday. But thats good advice. So,the first thing I hand over is God management lighting the prayer lamp,keeping idols clean and polished,saying whatever prayers they wish on behalf of all of us,celebrating whatever festivals with whatever they think is the appropriate offering. For those who like cooking,local language recipe books. Like children? Then local language story books to read to the children. For those who like cleaning,upgrade them to organising and sorting chores. If they like you,train them to be your personal home secretary and wardrobe manager. For those with managerial skills,create the position of executive housekeeper and outsource all home management,gadget purchase management etc. jobs to her.
7. As for power struggles between household help,let the bossy one hire the other one and tell them that you treat them both as a unit and they have to together produce the work,adjust holiday schedules that suit each other and so on.
8. Compensation strategy? Pay monthly compensation slightly higher than the market rate,open a no-frills bank account and say you will decide matching contribution to the amount she has saved quarterly,quantum based on how you feel her performance has been.
Finally,please lets do ourselves a favour and not say,Oh,its a simple matter of getting organised,and I thank my husband but for whom I wouldnt be able to do what I do. There is retribution after death for telling lies and making other women feel needlessly inadequate.