In Hong Kong, achieving a work-life balance can be tough, especially when you’ve just had a baby but are feeling the pull from the office after just a few weeks. Most working parents in Hong Kong have no choice but to return to work full-time, despite wishing they could spend all day at home with their new precious bundle! Hiring a helper is often essential, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible for the upcoming transition:
1. Stay organized and plan ahead
It’s best to hire your helper well in advance of the new baby because if things don’t work out, you still have time to find a replacement, and if things do work out, you have time to get her up to speed! It’s also a good idea to set up some training courses for your helper that teach caring for newborns.
How do you find the right helper? Well, only time can tell if it’s a perfect fit, but I advise trusting your initial instincts and not forcing the relationship; after all, you can teach almost anyone to look after your baby, but you can’t create the chemistry if it’s not there! Get to know your helper, communicate a lot and try to understand her strengths as well as her weaknesses. You will soon know if she is the right person or not to look after your baby.
2. Do your own research
A common assumption that we see every day is that if a helper has previously worked with a Western family in Hong Kong, then she’s naturally preferred as a candidate because she’s learnt the “right” way to care for a baby. This is something that should not be assumed! There’s no guarantee that they’ll have learned the “best” or even the “right” way to care for your baby and the household. Many local households have a fantastic setup, so don’t just count on her background as a measurement of good standards.
3. Use your own methods as a starting point
Once the baby arrives, take time to learn how to take care of your baby and get confident in the field. Have your helper help with everything else but the basic baby care to begin with. Find your own confidence as a caregiver and then give your helper very clear instructions on how you want her to take care of the baby. Make it clear in as many details as possible how you want her to deal with things, but the most important thing is to stay in charge. Gradually give her more space, minute by minute, hour by hour, then half days to eventually full days.
This way, by the time you return to work she’ll be able to do things the way you want. Without your guidance, your helper may do a task the best way she knows how, and that might be the way she learnt with a previous employer, or the way she did it back in her home country. It’s unlikely that it will match your expectations. It’s a journey, not a destination – review your own methods continually and update your helper on how you want things done as the baby grows.
4. Overcome the fear of attachment
It’s very common for mothers and fathers to fear the bond that develops between the baby and the helper. If your helper is caring for your child for a full work week, week after week, the baby may learn to rely (at least partially) on the helper as a caregiver, and the child will sometimes prefer the helper to do certain things. Accept and understand the fact that your helper may love your child and vice versa – there is plenty of love to share.
Use the time with your baby to do things that helpers normally don’t do with the children day to day. Take over as a main caregiver as soon as you come home and shift the roles. Basic baby care routines become essential moments to reconnect so be sure to put your phone on silent and give your child 100% of your attention for those precious moments.
5. Define the role
Make it clear what you expect from your helper when it comes to household duties v.s. baby care. Think about what you’re able to cope with and use that as a benchmark for delegating tasks. Try to avoid overloading your helper with work. If she is the main caregiver of a baby, chances are she won’t have much time to do housework except when the baby is asleep! And after all, your child is top priority!
6. Communicate your needs
Communication is a two-way street so be sure to encourage your helper to communicate openly with you. Even if she asks a question you consider obvious, don’t put her down or you’ll risk severing communication ties in the future. Communicate clearly and don’t forget that there is both a cultural and a language difference. Ask her to explain in her own words how she understands what you are saying to avoid miscommunication.
7. Work as a team
Don’t be afraid of problems, and try to focus on finding appropriate solutions. You can suggest improvements by watching videos online together or running through a checklist of scenarios, including sleeping, playing, washing, feeding, hygiene, emergency situations and general health and safety. Write it down and make your own handbook. It will take time, but you want to feel confident that there is as little room for misunderstanding as possible.
There are many courses around the city that offer training for helpers, so research some options around you. Although a training course can’t provide 100% preparation, it’s a great place to start. Beyond that, building trust and working together is an ongoing learning process for all members of the household.
Best of luck!