A lovely new lady by the name of Vivi started working as a live-in helper with our family recently. For many of my friends around the world the idea is just weird. I understand. It was certainly weird when we hired Vick back in 2007.
But living the life we live in Singapore requires an extra set of hands. Singapore isn’t like Australia, the UK or other Western countries. Professionals regularly have to travel for extended periods of time – Steve’s on the road for weeks constantly at the moment! And while I don’t currently travel as much as Steve, the working hours here are longer and evening obligations more plentiful. When I was employed, it was rare for me to be home before 7pm every night.
There is also no after-school care at our boy’s schools in Singapore, and essentially, without a full-time live in helper, we can’t do what we do. Not to mention, living in another country there is no grandma or aunt down the road to step in when timing gets tight! It’s a necessity.
While a lot of friends are not used to this lifestyle and often think we’ve got it super easy having someone doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc… it really just opens up our time to work longer hours.
There is definitely one benefit though. Having everything taken care of on the home front means that when you do have downtime, you spend it with your family. That’s one bit I really like.
Although all of my downtime in the last few years has been about building my personal brand so when the time was right, I was in a strong position to launch my business. That is happening right now. I’ve launched my business and it’s all cylinders firing.
But I couldn’t do it without backup. And that brings me to the main topic of this little blog. We interviewed a handful of ladies to replace our last helper, Aunty Jona. When I first interviewed for helpers back in 2007 I found the whole interview process extremely painful.
I had no idea what to ask them to get a sense of who they were, so I could know if they were right for our family. I also got it wrong a lot. Really wrong. Some just aren’t a match, and it’s definitely a case of luck.
In fact, when we hired Vick in 2007, the main reason I was determined to hire her was because she was a smart arse and took the piss out of Steve! The rest of the girls wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that. They didn’t believe they ever could. The sense that they were powerless broke my heart.
Besides that, I needed someone strong. Powerful. In control. How could anyone handle the boys in my absence if they didn’t have strength of character?
Vick was with us for six years and we hit the jackpot with her. Amazing.
Since she left to go home to the Philippines, it’s been hard to replace her. Our expectations are very high, and that’s a challenge. We’ve had a few ladies come and go because they just didn’t work out. However, the main thing I struggle with is lack of care. I know it’s a job for these girls, but for me, it’s my family. It can’t be just a job.
It’s challenging, because how can I expect anything else from them? That’s where Vick spoilt us.
This time around in the interviews, the girls had more fire in their soul. There was one lady we both adored. She was beautiful and serene (but too quiet for our lads), however when we asked what her expectations were, she said one thing: “please don’t ever scold me.” Bless her. As if we ever would.
Overall, on this round of interviews, I found all of the girls more powerful. Some were interviewing because they were unhappy with their current employers. You never used to see that. Most would stay employed for years in unhappy situations because they thought they had no choice.
Many still get terrified of not being able to find a job, because they don’t want to be forced to go home. These ladies sustain entire, extended families on their salaries, so staying employed is critical.
As we interviewed more and more ladies, always from the Philippines, I wondered if it is the economic boom their country is experiencing that is making a difference. More opportunities to work are opening up at home, and that means they may not have to stay away from their families for years at a time, as they have been forced to do.
I didn’t grow up in a part of the world where I needed to leave my children to earn money to help give them the best opportunities for their future. A future based on a great education that opens up different possibilities for their kids. Real opportunities.
I have to say it destroys me that so many ladies around the world have to leave their kids behind to help raise other people’s children. It’s why we work so hard to make sure the ladies who are working for us earn good money and feel valued in their role. It’s super important to us that they feel this way, because we value the role they have in our lives.
They really are an amazing part of this economy and the success of Singapore has been built off the back of these women – as well as the men coming from developing countries to build this gorgeous city.
Check out this video on the construction of Singapore, if you haven’t seen it.
All of this helper stuff is not easy for me. I struggle with the need every single day, but then I know that we can’t live here without it.
The solace I take from this unbalanced world is that these ladies are giving their kids a chance at a great education, and that is what lifts countries out of poverty. I believe it is because of what these ladies have sacrificed that the Philippines is taking the great strides it is taking today. I hope they’re appreciated for it.
They are definitely giving up a lot. The sort of sacrifice I could never make. Not being able to watch my kids grow up? I am so lucky I was born in a part of the world where that wasn’t ever an option I had to consider. The world is definitely not balanced. That doesn’t make me happy.
I’m just pleased to see that the ladies we’ve been meeting recently are feeling more empowered. It’s awesome and a big change in the decade since we hired Vick.
Yours, without the bollocks
Photo cleaning equipment courtesy of Shutterstock.