Let’s go back to a typical morning routine from about six months ago:
6:30 – Kids’ wakeup alarm goes off, they come in for cuddles.
6:40 – We stumble into the spotless kitchen, untouched from the previous night’s post-dinner cleaning. Their lunchboxes, water bottles, and backpacks are laid out and waiting. They pull out a tupperware of homemade breakfast bites (my recipe, but not my labor), and I gather lunchbox ingredients. We sit at the table together chatting about the day ahead, me packing lunches while they eat breakfast.
7:00 – We leave the breakfast dishes and lunchbox prep mess next to the sink as the kids run to grab their freshly-pressed uniforms, socks, and shoes from their closet. Nothing is ever missing or misplaced.
7:10 – Kids dressed, hair is done, there’s some extra time for them to run around and play. I start making coffee.
7:20 – Time to go! Husband drops them off on his way to work, I sit down to plan the day and drink my hot coffee.
8:00 – I hear a key in the back door and in walks our housekeeper.
Employing full-time help is such the widespread norm where we lived that the national airline was one of the first to employ “flying nannies” on long haul flights – regardless of class of travel. Everyone had a nanny. Everyone. Despite this, I was reluctant to hire help once we started our own family. We’re American! I don’t want a stranger in our house! None of my friends back home have help and they’re doing just fine! I’m gonna be a SAHM for the first few years; a housekeeper would be useless to us! We have me!
Spoiler alert: LOL. I lasted 18 months.
I scowled at my husband for working out – because that meant he changed clothes three times a day. I hovered around the baby during meals, lunging at every crumb before it fell to the floor I “just” mopped two days ago. I needed a week’s notice to have anyone over. I started avoiding the blouses in my closet because that meant more ironing in the next load. Meals were planned to use the least amount of cookware possible. I pretended we didn’t have any fingerpaint, because I didn’t want to deal with the mess.
And this is all normal to a typical American household. But let’s not open up the can of worms that is the changed structure of society, where independence and individualism is prized over all else and has left families torn apart, with new parents fending for themselves without the natural tribe of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to hold the baby while you take a nap.
For now, let’s focus on you.
Self care is having a moment, and rightfully so. But so many mothers are still so derisive and condescending to those who employ help around the house. Probably because nannies and housekeepers are usually reserved for those who also have chauffeurs and spend their resulting free time neglecting their kids for a two-martini lunch or day spa. Right? Nope. And the proof is in the popularity of sites like Care.com that attempt to stand in for the peer-reviewed, neighbor-affirmed network of babysitters and housekeepers that used to exist.
So I caved and hired live-in help. She did all of the cleaning and laundry, and was my sous chef in the kitchen (btw, do you know how FUN it is to cook when someone else is chopping the onions and washing your prep dishes as you go?). Not to mention, we had worry-free date nights back. I could run away to the gym a few times a week. I could go pick up kid #1 from school without waking the baby mid-nap to strap her into a searing hot car that had been sitting out in 125-degree Arabian Gulf heat.
I was a better mom. Not only thanks to less stress, but also because I was showing my kids something other than total martyrdom. Parenting was fun: I’d lay on the playroom floor with them for hours because someone else was ironing, I’d take them out on hot chocolate dates because someone else was waiting for the repairman, and, most importantly, I wasn’t completely lost in an identity that was a complete 180 from who I had been.
And now we’re back in the U.S.
And I’ve felt the transition from having peers who view at-home help as being somewhat of a sanity-saving necessity, to it being something to roll their eyes at, puff their chests out, and say, “I can handle it.” Trust me, that $75 you’re earmarking for a well-deserved massage will be wasted when you come back to the same pile of dishes. Just for once, spend it on a 4-hour clean or a few hours of nanny care. Then earmark it again and go do something you really want to do.