Teaching Chores When You Have A Maid

In Singapore, a common comment from parents of school-age kids (especially expats) is that they want to teach their children to do chores, but it’s really hard when there is a live-in maid at home taking over all the chores.

1. If it is still possible, make do without maids

We now don’t have a maid firstly because we want to use our store room as a store room instead of a maid’s room, and we really think that a house with a 13-year old child shouldn’t really need a full-time help to keep. This way, it is easy to teach children why he/she needs to clean up after his/her own space and also chip in to do family chores like washing dishes, grocery shopping, or putting his dirty clothes in hampers. At 13, my son is already able to do grocery shopping on his own (even though he still calls me every 2 minutes to make sure he’s got the right stuff), do dishes, wash bicycle, vacuum, put laundry in hamper, and prepare the extra mattress whenever his friend sleeps over. He would clean up after their mess too – candy wrappers, tissue papers, plates that were not rinsed and stuff. I don’t think this would be possible if a full time maid is in the house.

For certain things that we cannot cope on our own, like washing the car and ironing, we go out for help – my husband’s shirts get pressed across the street and the car gets washed in an SPC car wash. But we have total privacy at home and full family involvement in chores.

2. Hire a part-time maid

There are cleaning companies in Singapore that can give you part-time maids, usually covering laundry and ironing, vacuuming, mopping, and countertop cleaning. Or I think you can directly hire a Singapore “amah” to do it. They cost somewhere between s$12-16 an hour and is a viable substitute to a full-time maid – although some times these Singaporean amahs bitch and moan while they work … just crank up your stereo when they are at work so you don’t have to listen to them whining 🙂

If one of the parents is not working, this is probably a better option than having a full-time maid. You don’t have to worry about insurance and bonds, or about your maid wandering off making friends with people, and on the other hand there would be some chores left – like cooking, dishes, putting laundry in a hamper, cleaning the car and bicycles, grocery shopping, for you to share with your kids.

3. Give your maid a break!

Another arrangement, if you cannot live without a live-in maid, is to give her a day off each week (note: Singapore only RECOMMENDS one day off PER MONTH, but I urge employers to give one day off a week … just like you guys demand your work-free weekends!).

During that one day, make time to do one or two family chores together each week such as cleaning up bicycles, shining shoes, revarnishing your wooden furniture, grocery shopping, or putting paintings on the wall. When you do them together as a family, truly, sometimes they don’t feel like chores because you spend quality time together as you do it.

My mom even took that to the next level. Not only that our maid in Jakarta gets one day off a week. She gets afternoons off (from 1 to 4pm) and doesn’t work 9pm onwards. Every year, she gets a full month of paid leave because her mother is aging and quite sickly, living some 15 hours bus ride away from Jakarta. So there will be pockets of time when not only we have to do extraordinary chores, but also regular back-breaking chores like vacuuming, mopping, cooking, dishes and doing laundry.

4. Tell your maid not to touch several areas

Another way to teach chores is to tell your maid specifically not to do certain tasks. When we had a maid, I told her not to wash any clothes that were not in the hampers – this way, my son learned that unless he stopped throwing his dirty clothes on the floor, he would have to wash the clothes himself when he ran out of clean uniforms. Or worse, he had to go to school with yesterday’s crumpled sweaty uniform. We forced ourselves, and our maid, not to wake up earlier in the morning to wash just that one set of uniform, because he will not learn his responsibilities that way. If two or three days of wearing smelly uniforms and getting detention for lack of hygiene (plus going home to then wash the clothes that are not in the hamper) was what it took to teach him the lesson, then be it.

Note that many kids don’t listen to their parents until they have to pay the consequences of their own ignorance. So whenever the consequences are not really severe or permanent, we usually let him learn from mistakes.

We also told her never to clean up his study desk. If the desk or the floor was full of clutter she couldn’t clean the counter and the floor, then she should just leave them until he started digging through clutter to find his one handout for tomorrow’s major test. Plus, he had to clean up his room on his own.

We also told her not to clear the table when we eat. This way, not only that my son couldn’t get away from not eating vegetables, he also had to put away and rinse his dinnerware.

Another thing that we did when we had a maid in the house is that the maid is the parents’ helper, not the kid’s. The kid didn’t have the authority to give orders to the maid. He could not, for example, tell the maid to get him a glass of water or buy him chocolate from the grocery change. If there was anything that my son needs urgently that I couldn’t take care of because I happen not to be at home (e.g. there’s no food in the house during his meal time), he had to ask her nicely instead of telling her to do it.

This is the antithesis to the common Singaporean habit of getting the maid to do EVERYTHING to make it worthwhile to have them … from feeding your 12-year old son as he plays video games on the sofa, to wiping their butt after they do their business. On the contrary, I believe maids deserve a set work time and day offs, plus I am a firm believer that having maids do everything would only make your kids irresponsible, ungrateful, lazy, and even demeaning to certain ethnicities.

So try this at home, and let me know if it works out 🙂


One thought on “Teaching Chores When You Have A Maid

  1. well-said! you are a very sensible woman indeed, and the above is a very prudent way of bringing up children well.

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