Maidless in Singapore

She is someone I have come to depend on a great deal! Perhaps more than I should. Hence her absence was acutely felt and sorely missed throughout the day when I saw clothes piling up in the laundry basket, toys strewn on the floor, dishes in the sink unwashed. The person I am referring to is my domestic helper. She was recently back in her home country on annual home leave. Oh those 14 days seemed like forever to me!

Every day I would jump out of bed to get breakfast for my kids, do the laundry, hang up the clothes, cook lunch, wash the dishes, tidy up the house, vacuum the floor, fix dinner, clean up, mop the floor, bathe the girls and get them ready for bed. In between all of these chores, I had to attend to an active tot and do my writing assignments from home! Thankfully my 8-year-old -daughter is independent and not needing my constant attention. But I am pricked by guilt now and then for not spending as much time with her as I’d like. Sigh… the trap of a working mom trying to find work-life balance. But I consider myself a little more fortunate than other working moms because I work from home. Thanks to the family-friendly organization – Focus on the Family – I am on a part-time, flexi-work-hour arrangement that allows me to do my writing from the comfort of my abode. For that reason, I am able to be home with my kids and organize my working hours around my family needs. Well, the down side is I have never been able to finish a piece of assignment at one sitting and without interruption. Five minutes into my writing, my 21-month-old daughter could have climbed up the piano top or made her way into the washing machine. I also need to keep an eye on her to prevent her from licking soap powder (yes, the one for washing clothes!!!). To look on the brighter side (and help keep me sane), there’s never a dull moment at home. Anyway, I digressed.

During those 2 weeks of my helper’s absence, I would collapse in my bed every night after trying to do a thousand and one things in the day (ok, maybe not that many, just a thousand!). My husband and I would spend some time talking and praying together. We discussed about how life had been without domestic help. Our parents and grandparents used to rear a brood of 10 or more and did everything without a live-in maid!!! How they did they do that?! My husband and I concluded that it has everything to do with perceptions and expectations, imposed on us by others or by ourselves. We, like many other Singaporean families, live in a fast-paced and stressful society where efficiency is highly prized. Everything must be fast and flawless. We frown upon “inefficiency”. This culture we adopt at the workplace has also crept into our homes. For that reason, we have become too reliant on external help (foreign domestic workers) because we want everything in its “proper place” and completed as fast as possible.

When we were in Oxford, England in June this year, we stayed with our English couple friends who have 3 small children below the age of five and another on the way. Their house was perpetually messy and dirty (according to our standard) but they and their kids were cheerful, easy-going and a delight to be with. Whenever I look at my messy house these days, I (or my husband) would remind me of our friends in Oxford. It is about perceptions /expectations and managing them instead of letting them overwhelm us. But I did heave a BIG sigh of relief on the day of my helper’s return!

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