Monday, July 14, 2008

So much for parenthood

From Voices, I Say

Wednesday July 9 2008 TODAY

 

Domestic helpers should not be substitute parents

 

Subana Hall

 

TWO children are playing. One falls and the other shouts: “Mei Mei has fallen down!” A woman runs towards the little girl, looking worried. She pacifies the crying child. What a loving mum, I think.

 

But I am wrong. She is the helper. The mother is sitting on a bench, reading a magazine.

 

It is common to see helpers pushing buggies and carrying bags in shopping malls while their employers walk about empty-handed, executing instructions. I have seen helpers playing the role of parents, carrying and feeding babies — in the presence of the actual parents.

 

Over the weekend, I saw a couple with two young children and it was quite apparent that it was their petite-sized domestic helper’s responsibility to ensure that the kids were attended to as she was constantly ensuring that they had their drinks and did not get lost in the crowd. The helper, of course, was also carrying the children’s bags while the parents — empty handed — leisurely window shopped.

 

Where I live, I have seen helpers play with the children in the pool while the employers enjoy their weekend barbecue. When the children approach their parents with a request, the parents ask their helpers to attend to them.

 

But shouldn’t parents be using weekends as an opportunity to spend quality time with their children?

 

Whatever happened to the good old practice of including your children in family events and communicating with them?

 

I recently saw two girls at a swimming school, waiting to register at the school’s office. The girls looked between 10 and 12 years of age and seemed completely at ease with the helper carrying their bulky swim bags.

 

I overheard the clerk telling the girls: “When you get home, can you give this form to your mummy and ask her to sign it and bring it in next week?”

 

The girls took the form and instinctively handed it over to the helper and told her to remember to give it to their mum.

 

Are families becoming too dependent on helpers that they are in danger of crumbling in the latter’s absence? Will these families struggle to cope without a helper should their financial situation change?

 

Are some parents making a rod for their own back by allowing the younger generation to become overly reliant on domestic helpers for even the simplest of needs such as packing and carrying their own bags?

 

Are employers becoming confused over the role of a helper with that of a substitute mum and dad?

 

Or are some grown-ups losing touch with the reality of being a family and avoiding facing up to the responsibilities of being a parent?

 

Perhaps I am old fashioned, but as a parent I take pride in attending to all of my children’s needs whenever I am with them. My children are my responsibility alone and I make the time to take them to parties and extra curricular activities. My husband and I pride ourselves in teaching them to take responsibility for their own things and to be independent.

 

We also stress to our children that a helper, unlike a washing machine or a dishwasher, is a human being with feelings and should therefore be treated with some humanity. I think, more importantly, my husband and I want our children to feel confident that a family can function without a helper, just in case they decide to migrate to a country where domestic help may not be readily available.

 

Of course, all parents deserve help with domestic chores and babysitting when they are at work or are having an evening out.

 

As a full-time professional and mother, I appreciate and understand the demands and pressures of juggling work and family. Therefore, I wholeheartedly welcome domestic assistance that would ease some pressure on the parents and allow them to spend more time with their children. I also accept that helpers sometimes have to take on a supervising role in the absence of their employers. However, it is important to avoid complacency from setting in and letting helpers take over the parental role.

 

The situations I cited may be isolated, but I have seen far too many to think that they are just exceptions. In fairness, I am sure there are employers who treat their helpers appropriately and with dignity.

 

But to all those who rely on their helper as a substitute parent, it may be a good time to take stock, as your behaviour may inevitably have a negative impact on your children’s attitude and bonding towards you.

 

The writer, a Singaporean, teaches in an international school. She has just returned after 10 years in the United Kingdom.

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