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Helping Hands: Friendship and Mutual Respect Between Employer and Domestic Worker

helping hands, heather
MamaPost Category - MamaMama

A beautiful balance

In Hong Kong, we are all so lucky to have the opportunity to hire incredible women that are such a huge help to us. For these women who are so intricately interwoven into our family life, it is a special thing to find the perfect balance between a professional and personal friendship. It can be even more challenging at times since we share the same home!

For some, it can be tricky to develop a professional boundary whilst embracing, and acknowledging your employee’s integral role in your every day life. Sassy Mama reader, Heather wrote to us to share about her friendship and appreciation of her domestic worker, Mary Grace. In this edition of Helping Hands, it was refreshing to learn more about their story and how they’ve found such a beautiful balance and mutual respect in their household.

heather lin

Tell us a little bit about yourself! What brought you to Hong Kong?

I am a Canadian from Montréal which is where I grew up until the end of my university years, when I got my teaching degree. I was gung-ho about teaching in Northern Canada on a First Nations reserve, but happened to meet my to-be husband in the Vancouver airport during my gap year. From then, I’ve moved to Asia, married him and had a kid with him! While my romantic dreams of the Aurora Borealis have fluttered away, I have embraced our Hong Kong life with open arms. This city is my husband’s home (20-year resident of Asia!) and our family’s home for the long-term. My parents were born in Hong Kong, and immigrated to Canada as children. I feel a certain inherited citizenship to this city, as I speak passable Cantonese and understand much of the culture here.

heather and mary grace

What made you decide to hire a domestic worker?

We have always employed part-time domestic work in Asia. Our agreement was that when we had our child, we would employ a full-time domestic worker. My husband and I both enjoy our careers very much, and would not give them up readily. Thus, in my third trimester of pregnancy, we hired the wonderful Mary Grace, and have employed her since.

heather and son splashing

What is something you appreciate and respect about Mary Grace?

We are simply head-over-heels for Mary Grace, or MG as we call her. My husband and I spend our date nights talking about how fortunate we are to have happened upon her. I absolutely appreciate the sincerity and integrity MG brings to her work, every day. She would jump through fire to save our son, and money simply cannot buy that kind of emotional devotion. Before employing a domestic worker, I wondered whether I would ever feel territorial over our son with MG around. I now happily say that our son loves MG, and she loves him. What more could I ask for, in a caregiver? Not only does MG take care of our son with a loving heart, she takes care of our home with equal attention. MG does her job to the best of her ability every single day, and I appreciate her dedication from the bottom of my heart.

heather and mary grace with son

What’s something little that Mary Grace does regularly that means a lot to you?

I love that MG lets me chat with her. She by all rights has no obligation to share her thoughts, opinions and dreams with me. I love that she humours me when I want to gossip about other families, talk about President Duterte, or ask intimate questions about her sons or her childhood.  I look forward to coming home from work and sitting on the kitchen stool while she prepares dinner and my son plays (read: screams) at our feet.  We chat, laugh and sometimes I even get a Tagalog lesson out of it.

It really is a special relationship, that of an employer with their domestic worker. It is a thoroughly intimate one, though also a professional one.  I feel eternally fortunate that MG and I have created such a healthy and sincere relationship, when I know many domestic workers and employers do not have that pleasure.

heather, marygrace, son

Tell us about a special moment between you and Mary Grace.

An event that really solidified our bond (for me) was when MG’s eldest son got dengue fever in the Philippines, 6 months into her first contract with us.  He spent considerable time in a private hospital, and we could see how stricken and worried MG was.  It put the privilege of our lives in perspective when I saw how MG’s concerns weren’t only for her son’s health, but for the mounting medical bills that she would be solely responsible for.  Her son made a full recovery, thankfully.  MG then came to us with a request for a very modest loan, complete with a plan on when she could repay us.  She was so visibly aware of not wanting to impose on us, but had very few other options available.  We decided to pay the medical bill in full, and MG promptly burst into tears.

It has happened on subsequent occasions, where we have given her substantial gifts of money when times were difficult.  The fact that MG never expects anything more than her fair wage from us is the cherry on top.  We wave away her grateful thanks, because we quite simply have an emotional investment in MG’s wellbeing, and that of her family’s.  We want her to be happy and free of worries; we feel she deserves as easy of a life as we can give her, and more.  Sometimes I think MG is hesitant to treat herself to a nice pair of secondhand shoes with the salary and gifts we give her, and that she thinks she is destined to only scrape a living together in this life.  I want MG to embrace the idea that she deserves to have a good life, and that we are absolutely exhilarated to be able to empower her to achieve this.

mary grace

Hi Mary Grace! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your family and where you’re originally from?

My name is Mary Grace. I’m from the Philippines. I have two teenage sons, the older one is 18 years old. He is a college student now taking up a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology, and my younger son is 15, he is in grade 7. My mother is the one who looks after my children and my loving father passed away just five months ago. I have two brothers who also have their own family. Before I came to Hong Kong I worked in a garments factory for several years as a quality controller but then the company shut down and that made me decide to work abroad to support the needs of my children as I’m taking care of their needs all by myself.

How many years have you been in Hong Kong?

I have been working in Hong Kong for eight years.

When did you join the family you’re working with?

I join this family I’m working with since 1 May, 2015, and we just signed for a new contract and hoping for more contracts to sign and more years to work with them.

Read more: Preparing for your Domestic Worker’s Arrival

mary grace and heather's son

What’s something you enjoy about your job?

What I really enjoy about my job is the family itself I’m working with. They are super nice, very thoughtful and funny family most of the time, and it’s really enjoyable working with them. No pressure, no stress.  When you’re happy with the people you’re working with, everything will come easy and you’ll just enjoy doing your job both hard and light.

What also makes me enjoy my job is when they appreciate my hard work. It’s really nice to know that they are happy on how I take care of them, the house, and when they say that my cooking is delicious; and that encourages me to do my work even better.  And also one of the most enjoyable things about my job is the cute little one in the house, the 22-month-old son of my employer. He’s the one who makes me forget the homesickness because everyday he’s making me laugh, giggle, dance, sing, run around the house, make me busy, and I can express my love for my boys through him by hugging and kissing him. I really enjoy taking care of him and I love this little boy so much with all my heart. He is such a cutie and a happy boy who brings joy to me everyday.

heather and mary grace swinging son

Tell us about a special moment between you and Heather.

A special moment for me was when they help me all throughout when my father was sick and until he passed away. They let me to come home when I have to leave to see my father in his critical condition. I know it wasn’t easy for them as they are both working full time, how important their job is and also their son, but still they find some ways just to let me to come home to be with my father. It was so hard and stressful to me and to my family but they make it easy for me by helping me financially too. It wasn’t the first time they lend their hands to me, also when my son got hospitalised because of dengue fever and they gave me money for the hospital bill even though I’m just new to their family. I really didn’t expect it. I am so very thankful and I’m still thanking them every day in my thoughts.

welcome back mary grace

A lot of special moments in my two years with them that I like to share, even this little special moment (photo above) means so much to me. The simple “Welcome Back Mary Grace” note in my room with chocolates from Ma’am Heather when I came back from my vacation. I just can’t forget that little note because it was my first vacation.  I was new to them but they made me feel that I’m important.  And also when they take me to Malaysia, I experienced to travel in other part of Asia. There’s a lot more, but I think the most special moment is the everyday life with my very nice employers and how we treat and respect each other and how we’re happy and comfortable working with each other which is very important, instead of feeling uncomfortable. I would want to return all the good favours that they gave to me by giving all my best to take good care of their family.

heather, son and mary grace

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time/day off?

In my spare time/day off, sometimes I just enjoy staying in my room to rest, watch movies on Netflix that my employers share with me, chat with my two sons and other friends in the Philippines who I have not seen for long. And sometimes when my close friends, here in Hong Kong, want to hang out, most of the time we do picnics at the park and hiking or go to the beaches. I also go to church.

mary grace and heather's son smiling

What is something you wish families in Hong Kong knew about domestic workers?

I wish they knew (especially those who mistreat their domestic workers) that it’s really not easy to be away from our family, especially to our children who also needs us, but due to our life circumstances back home and our dreams for our family, we sacrifice. Every domestic worker’s top prayer before we leave home to work here in Hong Kong is to have a nice family to work with. I know employers also wish the same, to have a good Tita. It’s easy to work when our heart and mind is at peace so we can do our work very well, we can focus instead of feeling worry, scared and feel bad when mistreated.

Thanks to the talented Jenna Louise Potter from Lucky Fish Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Facebook.

If you would like to honour and highlight the amazing work your domestic worker does for your family, please email [email protected]

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