If you have maid problems, find out how this Singapore mother manages to have a successful relationship with her helper.
Ruth Chew treats her maid like family. She shares how they manage to get along so well.
“Joy started working for my family in May 2010. The first time we met, she impressed me with her friendliness, openness and mindfulness.
“My elder daughter, who was 15 months old at the time, also took to Joy immediately, which was a bonus. By the time we got home, I thought that we’d all forged a really good connection with one another.”
Like one of the family
“My husband and I trust Joy with looking after our two children, now seven and two-and-a-half years old, but she has done far more than that. She looks after all of us.
“It may seem surprising to outsiders, but we really treasure our helper and consider her a part of our family. I think the secret to our great relationship is, simply, good and honest communication. Joy also respects the roles that my husband and I have, and she understands her role.
“Because she’s practically one of the family, Joy is involved in a lot of our family activities. For instance, in November 2010, we took her on holiday with us to Club Med, Bintan.
“My husband was about to head overseas to work for six months, and I knew that during his absence, Joy would have to look after my daughter and miss out on a few days off. So we planned the Bintan trip as a fun escape before the situation at home got really busy. Since that trip, she has travelled with our family to Hong Kong, Phuket, Bali and Penang.
“Joy is also a regular at dinners with our extended family. Since she started working for us, she’s dined with us at the Ritz-Carlton and Conrad hotels, Tung Lok, and various other restaurants. She always sits with us at the table and orders her own meal. When my husband and I decide to eat out instead of at home, Joy joins us, too. In fact, she dines out with us so often that she now her own list of favourite hotel buffets and Japanese ramen spots!
“My extended family adores Joy and treats her like one of the family, too. She’s familiar with all of them and they all get along very well.”
When the stress gets too much
“In 2013, my husband developed a brain infection and experienced seizures. Joy was home the two times this happened, and I think the drama from both incidents, including the emergency rush to the hospital, affected her emotionally. We decided that she needed a break, so, on the advice of our domestic employment agent, we gave her a week off. During this time, the agency made arrangements for Joy to spend time with her two sisters, who also work in Singapore.
“When Joy returned from her break, we found that she was better able to cope with her work. My husband is now recovered although he still takes medication – and Joy is in charge of putting the pills in his pillboxes.”
Being a boss as well as a friend
“People may say that it’s not easy being friends with your helper when she lives with you. After all, there will be times when you have to be her boss and not her friend. I think the trick to juggling both roles is good communication, and mutual respect and understanding.
“Joy and I laugh and joke with each other all the time, but we also give each other personal space. She has her way of doing things – including cleaning – but I respect that, and likewise, she understands that I have my own way of doing things around the house.
“If your helper knows you well, she would already know before she does something if it’s wrong or not, and if you’d be happy with it or not. If she still goes ahead and does it anyway, then there must be a compelling reason, and your job is to find out what that is, and then to look for the best solution.
“The only thing I don’t really like is Joy spoiling my younger daughter, Elysia-Jane. She was born premature and when I was recovering in hospital, Joy made sure that things at home ran smoothly – she went grocery shopping with my parents and took my elder daughter to school.
“Then, when Elysia-Jane was discharged from the hospital, Joy took extra care of her, together with our confinement nanny. So, while I’m not too keen on Joy always spoiling Elysia-Jane, I can understand her deep attachment to her.”
“I trust Joy a great deal, but would I say that I trusted her 100 per cent? No, because I don’t trust anybody 100 per cent.
“As humans we all have our weaknesses, so it’s not realistic to have such high expectations of others. That said, I understand that not all employers can enjoy the kind of relationship with their domestic helper that I do with mine. It really boils down to the kind of person you are and the kind of person your helper is, and how those two personalities work together.
“The only way to make sure that everything is okay with your helper is to check in with her constantly. Ask her how she is, ask her how her family is, and ask her what she needs.
“The more you know, the more you’ll understand why she does the things she does. I guess that’s how I ‘keep tabs’ on Joy – I check in with her regularly and make sure that she’s happy and well taken care of.”
A version of this article first appeared in Simply Her.
(Photo: Ruth Chew)