I have a very stubborn "I can do it myself" attitude. It is very difficult for me to say, "I've taken on too much...I need help." Usually, I exhaust myself trying to complete all the tasks myself. Because I'm exhausted, stressed and cranky, I find little joy in completing the tasks. I get so stressed that I then collapse in a weeping heap and yelp (finally) for help. This vicious cycle has put stress on my relationships particularly my relationship with Mo. He is always very willing to help but he has his own list of responsibilities and he ends up in a heap too. So he has been advocating for a domestic helper to come once or twice a week to do the laundry and the cleaning. I have been resistant...
We are one of the few families living in our building who does not have a helper. It is an expectation that middle and upper class families have at least one helper, if not a whole staff of support people working for them. In an economy riddled with consistently high unemployment, domestic help is a viable employment option for many, particularly for those who may be under educated. By Jamaican standards, it is a good living. By U.S. standards, it is extremely inexpensive to have a helper. Most helpers charge $2000 JD a day (less if they are full time, meaning they come everyday or are live-in workers). This works out to be roughly $25 USD a day which to me feels like exploitation...which is part of my resistance.
I need to let go of my U.S. standard and remember that this is a well paying job for most Jamaicans. Mo makes many valid points for why hiring a helper would be good not just for us, but for the other person too.
So why have I been so resistant? First, I can't shake this whole "Ladies who Lunch" stereotype. You know, the Upper Eastside "housewife" who wears Gucci and drinks martinis for lunch at the new chic boutique cafe with "the girls" and pays for it all with her husband's credit card. Second, I am acutely aware of my privileged status as an educated, white American and I don't want to be accused to exploiting the locals by wielding some kind of imperialist power by making them scrub my toilet. Nor do I want to be taken advantage of because of my status. In a conversation I had with my neighbor regarding hiring a helper she told me this: "You want to hire someone who first speaks clearly...no patois. (The patois issue is a topic for a different post!) You want someone who is from a decent neighborhood; who is clean; who is mature and does not have young children or grandchildren because otherwise they will steal from you in order to give it to their children; who takes directions well; who will work all day without looking at the clock; who comes at a moment's notice and is flexible with your schedule; etc."
The conversation shook me. I've become friendly with many of the helpers who work in the building because I'm right out in the laundry room with them, scrubbing away. Some of my favorite helpers are those my neighbor would deem unsuitable hires. I know each family needs to hire someone they are comfortable with but my conversation with my neighbor highlighted a deeper issue prevalent in the culture here. Many middle class Jamaicans feel the need to set themselves apart from "the help" which usually means belittling the lower class or by making it very apparent that they are a family with financial means. Anyway, it makes me sad and it is not something I want to participate in or be perceived as participating in.
Lastly, I have been resistant to getting a helper because I would have to admit that I cannot do it all myself. It is this above and beyond all other reasons that I have been reluctant. I know women who have more children than I do, who work full time outside the home and who still manage to run a household. If they can do it, why can't I? I feel like if I admit that I need someone to help me out, that I am admitting defeat...admitting a weakness...admitting that I am not a good wife, mother, homemaker. It's silly, I know. I need to start thinking about how hiring a helper could make me a better wife, mother, homemaker by providing me with the time to enjoy my family, make art and live a little.