Hiring Help


In the world of parenting blogs, there has been much discussion lately of how we “do it all”: cooking healthy and homemade meals, maintaining an immaculate house, and raising perfect and adorable children, all while finding time to blog about it.  Of course, the answer is, we don’t.  No one “does it all”.  The meals are not always the most nutritious or made-from scratch perfection.  Houses are almost always dirtier than we’d like.  And, though the kids are always perfect and adorable, the same may not be the case for the parenting.

(It made sense at the time.)

Not too long ago, there was a post on Motherlode about Tina Fey, who is expecting her second child, and how she juggles career and family.  More than one commenter pointed out that she “juggles” by paying nannies and house cleaners and managers, etc.

As the discussion on “doing it all”  has played out in the blogs I read, it’s become clear that for professional bloggers, too, the answer is often hiring help.  Tsh on Simple Mom, recently had a post about how she makes working at home work.  The post included comments from nine other professional bloggers, all of whom receive help to keep things going.  She said she wants to “help dispel the myth that my fellow pro bloggers effortlessly run a successful business while taking care of perfectly-groomed children and an immaculate house.”

But hiring help, especially with housework, isn’t always uncontroversial.  On the Motherlode post about Tina Fey, some readers stated that they did the same, but a good number of readers were not as approving.  As Megan of The Happiest Mom discovered when she mentioned having a cleaning person (3-4 hours at a time, twice a month), not everyone approves.  She received a lot of comments, one from a reader who “admitted that she no longer felt able to identify with me as much as a homemaker, and that it materially changed the way she viewed my perspective and advice on cleaning, organizing, and managing a home.”  The comments prompted Megan to post last week about the stigma on paying for help, which opens with a historical perspective stating that

many–perhaps most–”ordinary” families had some kind of hired help back then, even those who weren’t very well off: whether it was a teen girl helping out in the kitchen, a boy to work on the farm or a local woman “taking in” the wash or even live-in cooks, nannies and other servants, having “help” was just an accepted fact of life among the middle classes.

She specifically points out the fictional, but still interesting example of the March family in Little Women — who are so poor that there might be no gifts for Christmas, yet still employs a live-in servant.  She argues that there is nothing wrong with hiring help, and that the stigma that comes from doing so is a result of our unrealistic expectations of ourselves (and perhaps perpetuated by the fact that most of us don’t talk about it).  Barbara Ehrenreich might disagree on the ethics.

Before I became a stay-at-home (or am I a work-at-home?) mom I never understood SAHMs who had nannies.  To be honest, I wondered if they were indulgent, getting a nanny so they could go get their nails done or go out for drinks with friends.  Or worse, the word lazy might have even crossed my mind.  How hard can it be to take care of a child and keep a house (…and blog and babysit)?

Pretty hard, as I’ve learned.   I’ve even found myself thinking, if I could just have someone come 3 hours per week…oh, the things I could get done!  Or lately, I’ve found myself wondering if I could find a mom with a cleaning service and a kid so we could swap a couple of hours of cleaning for a couple of hours of babysitting.  I’d love to take Nora and a friend out for a few hours and come back to freshly mopped floors and shined windows.

I’m not sure what I think about the class and feminism issues Ehrenreich raises, but I do know that even if we could afford it, I’d feel guilt about how hiring a cleaning service.  Would I look lazy and indulgent?  Would I feel lazy and indulgent?

I think it comes down to what is my purpose at home.  There was a study in 1997 on Children’s Use of Time, Family Composition, and the Acquisition of Social Capital, which found that “children of a mother employed part-time watch less TV than children with a mother who is a full-time homemaker” and that full-time homemakers often spend less time with their children, because they are engaged in other tasks such as housework and the “care of children is a secondary or auxiliary activity.”  Yes, it is incredibly helpful for me to be at home to do the housework when my husband works 80 hours per week and isn’t as able to contribute, but that’s not why I’m home.  I’m home because we have a little girl who we think should spend her days in the care of a parent; housework should come second, not childcare.

The current state of my house is a pretty good example of the fact that childcare and Nora comes first.  Which is good…but also bad.  If we could afford it, I do think I would hire an occasional cleaner (and would try not to feel guilty about it) or even babysitter to keep her constructively entertained while I cleaned.  But in the meantime, I’m resolved to be happier with doing the best that I can and knowing that even the people I admire don’t “do it all”.  I also think I need to cut back on all that I try to do, but that’s another post all together…

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4 responses

  1. Great piece! I read that same study about tv. I think of it a lot. There was also one about playing that a full time working mom play more with her kids. My thoughts are that doing housework, chores and the mundane are important things to do as much with a child as possible. They are learning opportunities. That being said every once in awhile we hire someone to clean. It’s great in a lot of ways. But I always feel a little jipped because no one cleans as well as we would if we had time.

    1. Amber Avatar

      I do try to involve Nora in cleaning because I, too, think there are positive lessons in it. But I’ll also admit that I get frustrated with the amount of extra time it takes me to get things done when she’s “helping” and there are often times when she’s not interested in helping or self-entertaining. I think about the TV thing often. We don’t have a TV, but she does get to watch shows on the internet…sometimes as much as 40 minutes per day, which I never thought I would let her do…but sometimes I really, really just want to check my email and relax or need a distraction so I can get dinner out at a decent hour. The 4:00-6:00 hours are really hard since I’m here by myself and she’s usually tired and hungry then…

      I would totally feel the same way as you about the cleaners. My dad and step mom had a service that came every-other week and I never thought they did a good job.

  2. nantuckettiechic Avatar

    Hi! Just found your blog this morning. I’m on the island with six kids–five home-born. Did you have CB Andersen for a midwife? Our 15 year old was her first solo. We hire help for washing windows and refinishing floors. Big jobs. I put myself through college cleaning houses so I know all the short cuts. Number one: less stuff. As my kids were mostly home-schooled we had years where the house was taken over with clutter. I finally gave them each a milk crate for their books and left it at that. When it got to be too much ( and I get you on how much slower it can be with toddler help!) I’d have a friend over to help. Then the next week we’d do her place. Way fun. Looking forward to Papoose…

    1. Amber Avatar

      That’s a great idea about doing cleaning with a friend! I’ll admit, clutter is my weakness. We don’t have much stuff in comparison to many, but in such a small space it seems like a lot.

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