A happily “helperless” mum-of-two shares how she gets things done.
Growing up in Mumbai in India (where labour is easily affordable), we were always surrounded by helpers. And while we had one full-time helper, we had many other part-time “specialists” who would come to perform specific duties. One would come for sweeping and mopping the floor, another to clean the bathrooms, yet another for dish-washing and a separate one for cooking. Then there were hourly helpers too – for washing the car, walking the dog, gardening and other small jobs.
Growing up, it was fun to have all these different influences around. Some maids would even bring their kids along so we could play together! I attribute my fluency in local Indian languages (Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi) to these daily interactions. But while it was amusing for me, I’m sure it wasn’t exactly fun and games for my mother, who besides looking after us full-time, also had to manage this army of helpers!
Read more: A Time For Gratitude: Helper Appreciation
When we moved out of India 13 years ago, that’s the one inheritance I did not carry with me. I was very happy to have my house, hubby and kids all to myself and, apart from one brief spell of having a full-time helper, I thoroughly enjoyed the privacy and peace of mind that a “no-helper home” offered. What I did not know is that most Asian cities are not made for life without helpers.
As a young mother, I remember struggling with our baby stroller – up and down the slopes of Hong Kong island, in and out of public buses driven by impatient drivers and through the narrow aisles of crowded supermarkets (I got irritated or pitying looks from complete strangers in equal measure!). Parks and playgrounds, school pick-ups and drop-offs, along with after-school activities were all filled with kids and their helpers. I struggled initially to make new friends. To my surprise, some schools also took having a helper as a given and I was told that siblings were not allowed at parent-teacher meetings! Nonetheless, I did not give up and weaved my way around the obstacles to suit my needs and lifestyle.
Having or not having a full-time helper is a very personal choice and it comes with its own set of benefits and issues. If you have made a decision to not have one, here are some handy tips that you can put into use, especially when the going gets tough.
1. Plan Your Week Ahead
Supermarket shopping, organising playdates, handyman appointments and fixing your own business meetings can all go smoothly round-the-clock if you plan and prepare for your week in advance. I usually try to schedule two business meetings at the same location one after the other, followed by a quick trip to the supermarket for ingredients, before I head home in time for the kids getting back from school. There might be some minor revisions in the planner if a priority task comes up, but those instances are not often and are mostly easy to reschedule.
2. Assign Household Chores To Kids
These are the best life skills you can teach your children. From helping with laundry to setting the table, doing the dishes to helping with supermarket trips, you can assign menial chores around the house based on their age and skills. Younger kids can be rewarded with stars or stickers, whereas the older ones can get some TV time in exchange. Don’t forget the biggest reward of showering them with kisses and cuddles!
3. Rope In The Husband
Without the solid support of my husband (who also grew up in a house filled with helpers), I couldn’t have survived all these years. From pulling up his sleeves to doing the dishes straight after a long day at work, to bringing in a truck-load of stuff from the supermarket to taking over the kitchen and managing the boys on days that I have my events, he’s been my biggest and best resource. Make sure you make full use of your superhero’s skills!
4. Get Part-Time Help
Once in a while, we do need a helping hand. And that’s ok! Housework can get overwhelming, especially when kids are growing up. First, it’s piles of dirty nappies, then rooms littered with toys and as they grow older, it’s their growing bodies demanding food all the time! Hiring a part-time helper from an agency on a regular basis can give you a day’s break plus make your house look spotlessly clean and tidy (something I can never manage to do, despite my best efforts).
5. Join A Community Online Or Offline
“Helper-less mums” are the minority in Hong Kong, but if you look carefully around your fitness class, hiking group, coworking office or even your child’s class WhatsApp group, you are sure to find someone with a similar profile. Look online too. I had joined a Facebook group called Moms w/o helpers when my kids were little, where we used to share our daily woes (from taking the minibus to using the MTR with our baby strollers) and offer helpful tips to share and support each other.
The magical world of playdates is something that I used to the fullest while raising my kids. While I loved playing along with my boys, sometimes I ran out of ideas and energy and after-school playdates would come in very handy! I also used the “playdate carrot” with my kids to get things done during the week! Very often, playdates in Hong Kong are when kids are accompanied by helpers, but occasionally, a mum would join in.
7. Meal Plans
Having three boys to feed (including the husband) is a lot of work, but what helps is a meal plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is meticulously prepared and proudly displayed on my kitchen door. It helps me plan my supermarket shopping in advance, plus there are no surprises in the lunch boxes that are carried to school, which in turn means less tantrums (win-win!). I’ve has this for meal plan system going for the last seven years. Now that my boys are older and are more adventurous eaters, it’s not followed as strictly. I just use it as a ready reference on those “What shall I cook today?” days.
8. Hire A Baby Sitter
I love having date nights with my husband and having babies hasn’t stopped me from doing that! Once I had a routine in place for my boys (playtime, mealtime and bedtime), I hired a baby sitter to look after them while we went out for a few hours in the evening. Finding the right sitter is very important as you want someone who can engage with your child (especially when they are younger), so do some background research, ask for references, etc. The first few times, perhaps you can step out for just an hour or two to see how it goes. Once you and the kids are comfortable with the babysitter, get set for a night out!
9. Online Grocery Shopping
I am a very “touch and feel” kind of person when it comes to grocery shopping. But then, those were the days before I started my own venture. A time crunch and a lower back problem left me with no choice but to start ordering online. Once I did, I felt stupid not to have used this option all these years! Now I order all my heavier, bulkier and non-perishable items from the comfort of my own home. It’ll take a load off your shopping list – and back!
Helper or no helper, I can’t stress enough about the importance of having a routine in your life. It works well at the baby stage for scheduling feed, bath, nap and sleep times, leaving you with planned “me time” when you need it. Even as the kids get older, it brings more structure to the day. After all these years, having a routine has certainly helped my kids as I observe their self-discipline, time management, eating habits and prioritisation as they efficiently deal with home learning during these Covid-19 times of school closure.