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The Help(er) Part II (I’ve got a feeling this will have many parts.)

The Help(er) Part II

ImageHelp in Asia comes in the form of predominantly Filipino or Indonesian women from 16 (those who lie and say they’re 18) to about 50 who leave their homes, families, and support systems and come to live with you, strangers, to become yours.  They’re called “helpers.” Not maids, though they cook and clean your home to your liking. Not assistants, though they can be trained to assist you personally and professionally. Not nannies, though they care for, and in some households raise your children. They’re called “helpers” because they help with EVERYTHING. And, just about everybody has one, especially families with children.    


When I first arrived, it was assumed that we had one already waiting for us. People were inviting us out for the evening, assuming we could leave our daughter with the help(er).  In fact, every week since we’ve been here, we’ve gotten multiple invitations to attend events that are not child-friendly with the thought that, “surely you have a helper by now.”  Wow, really? Really.

Before my husband and I made the move, we were made aware of this helper phenomenon and we agreed that it was not something we needed and it was too reminiscent to our ancestors’ plight. We just couldn’t take a woman from her family and expect her to live with us and serve us six days a week (most get at least one day off a week, but some only get one day off a month!), 24 hours a day under the guise that we’re giving her a better life because we’re freeing her of the criminal level of poverty in her home country. We would not be like the oppressors of our ancestors. We could handle and take care of ourselves. We’ve been doing it. This will be no different. Right? Right. We were on the same page. 


Then, he moved here….first. All of a sudden, he was struggling to take care of himself by himself. By the time I got here, this man was convinced that the only way we could survive was by getting a helper. Remember the state of the home I walked into upon arrival. (See “Singapore Nice.”) And now, a month and change in, I’m torn about it.

It’s frustrating because I honestly can’t singly identify what’s so different about living here that makes me so much less productive during the day. I’m certainly not idle, but I just can’t get everything done, as it seemed I did in the states. That’s why these blog posts are so sporadic and infrequent. I’m always tired, and if it stays this way, we won’t be able to enjoy this incredible opportunity to its fullest.  Now, if we had moved to say Iowa, where we know no one, we still wouldn’t consider hiring a live-in maid/assistant/nanny. We’d just make do, and that would be that. But, we wouldn’t have Bali at our doorstep, or Thailand, or India, or all of Asia and many parts of Africa and Europe just a short and cheap flight away from us. We wouldn’t be living in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with a thriving and romantic nightlife. And, for all intents and purposes, we’d still be “home” where everything would at least be somewhat familiar. I could find a Target or something akin to it. 


Soooo, you see my dilemma? I need help, but I don’t want to play the role of the oppressor by any means.  I also don’t want to lose all of my privacy and the intimacy of my home. I mean what if I just want to walk around and clean my house in the nude on a Saturday morning? Sue Lynn or whomever will be right there ready to take my mop. And, it is MY mop and I am the Queen of MY house. Yeah, there’s all of that too. Clearly, I need help. What to do? (Please post any comments and inquiries on the blog so that I can receive them.)



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  1. Talitha, I would say get the helper but on your terms. Six days a week too much? Hire her for five. Set the boundaries of what you will/won’t ask her to help with prior to hiring her. We’ve lived in DC for two years, still in the States, and have struggled mightily with things like housekeeping, nights out and grocery shopping. That is even with family in the area. How much more difficult in a foreign country? I certainly see the merit of hired help and wish it were attainable. Make sure she’s properly vetted (no 16y.o.) and set terms that are fair and compassionate, which won’t be hard for you. Even if you just hire her for a night out, the time you get to focus on what you want to do will be worth it.

  2. I have no words of advice! I also feel your qualms about hiring help. But I also feel that it largely depends on your treatment of them. Flaunt the convention. Send them home to their families often. Treat them with extreme kindness and humanity. You would be an employer with conscience, and I think that your sensitivity regarding your ancestors will make you even better for it.

  3. Girl….get the help! I don’t know what I would if I didn’t have someone here 40 hours a week caring for and teaching the children (while doing light housekeeping). Also, in just a short 2 weeks of having a personal assistant for 7 hours a week, my productivity on goals that have gone unaccomplished has skyrocketed! I say this to say, God has blessed our families with resources that allow us to have some help. It is a game changer!!!;)

  4. Be the change you want to see! In other words, create a vision of what you’d like your “help(er)” to do, and then evaluate candidates until you find one that fits your needs. You could create a different paradigm from the “live-in” domestics.

  5. Talitha

    I understand your plight. As an American married to a Nigerian I was confronted with a similar dilemma. Having “help” is very common for middle class Nigerians. When we had our first child my husband very quickly told me his mother was coming to “help.” Not for two weeks, my traditional thought method but for six months. All I could think was I don’t need help like that. This is my baby and I can take care of him. I wanted to respect my mother in law so I welcomed her in to “help.” And she did really help but it took me a long time to learn how to accept the help. I have many stories. Could probably write my own blog. 🙂

    At the end of the day I realized how truly blessed I was. Yes I lost some of my freedom of walking around with a shirt on only but I gained so much more. Like five minutes of peace and quiet. Or a movie out with the hubby.

    Hiring help is not being an oppressor but being an employer. Welcome them into your family and that’s what you can build. Maybe don’t have them live in but come during the day. I have many non-American friends who have taught me how to accept help. At the end of the day, that what you are doing. Regardless of if it was family or having hiring someone, it’s okay to need and accept help sometimes.

    The battle our ancestors had was not the role we played but the lack of respect and dignity that was given. I know you have no problems with that. Embrace the culture and learn from it, including accepting help.


  6. Legal & socially acceptable to benefit from another human’s desperation to improve life for her own family by becoming an invisible subservient “member” of another family seems to remain a necessity in westernized upwardly mobile social circles. The ethnicity is certainly different in another country on another continent decades later but I can’t imagine the sacrifice and suffering being much different. Quite the quandary indeed to have inherited the problems of (former) oppressors. Stay strong in who you are and have been.

  7. Talitha with the legal restrictions your only choice would be to get a helper and treat her well (which goes without saying) as a full time live in. Perhaps “vacation” time so she could visit her own family would be a legal option. In Guyana, we received barrels of supplies from family in the states when they could. My aunts continue the practice today for the school children at home. Perhaps you could further help by creating a network among your friends with helpers to periodically send barrels of supplies most needed to the areas of your helpers’ families. I know your heart. Having a helper doesn’t mean you’ve lost it. I trust you will find a way to be impactful within the current system.

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