I believe every mom should have a mother’s helper. Period. Several mother’s helpers are best but one is a minimum.
Mother’s helper is a concept I bumped into when we first moved to the US in 1987. We went to spend time “in the country” (upstate NY) and moms who spent summers in “rest colonies” took themselves a mother’s helper. I was 11 so I was a bit young to earn money that way, but evidently the concept stuck in my memory.
Fast-forward to 2005, I was a new mom and seeking help. Naturally, the options were to hire a babysitter or a nanny. But, there was a problem. A babysitter takes care of the baby while mom is away for a few hours and a nanny spends the day with the baby and often does minimal house tidying that is baby related – while mom is away.
That is *not* what I needed.
What did I need? I needed to replicate myself. I needed for someone to help me with a little bit of everything while I *stay* in the house. Changing diapers, doing dishes, cooking, folding laundry, sweeping, organizing closets, holding baby when he cries, tidying toys, special projects, watering garden, tidying restrooms after toddlers, feeding and cleaning after kids meals and more and more. You know, everything mom does.
That’s when I remembered the concept of mother’s helper from 25 years ago.
In the last 9 years since I became a mom, I have had many mother’s helpers. Some stayed longer, others left after a couple of months. Some are my dearest friends and biggest supporters today even after we have changed countries and states.
Why should you hire a mother’s helper? If you needed help at work and were swamped with tasks, you would hire a personal assistant, wouldn’t you? Yes, you would. Then why is it that the modern mom who is often a full time worker outside or inside the home, whose task list is inhumane, who is not sleeping at night, who is in charge of household maintenance AND childcare AND budget AND cooking AND providing emotional support for everyone AND the list goes on and on – Why doesn’t she have legitimacy to hire help? I almost feel like moms are considered “weak” or “incompetent” if they can’t do it all by themselves and they need to hire someone. That isn’t fair.
And you know what else isn’t fair? Our society prides itself with equal rights for women. Yes, you women of the world can go out there and make careers for yourselves. That indeed is an accomplishment for the feminist movement. But – and this is a big but – although you are out there working and earning a salary, you still need to take care of the household and kids just like you did before this feminist revolution. That is infuriating! Yes, make a career but we won’t decrease your responsibilities in the home because – helllllo????!! – you are THE MOM.
This creates an impossible situation for moms. IMPOSSIBLE. If you are mom reading my post, chances are that you are overworked, fatigued, stressed, maybe not 100% well health-wise, overweight, sleep deprived and generally finding it hard to stay positive when the responsibilities are endless and the show must go on. Because if mom stops for a second, everything collapses.
In the past, moms lived in communities and supported each other daily. Today, you, Mom, are alone with the house tasks. Yes, dad is involved sometimes and I have been fortunate to have a partner who is very involved, but still the majority of the responsibility is on mom.
You have no choice but to take help.
But, you say, we can’t afford it. That is rubbish. If you can afford to eat out, if you can afford to go on a yearly family vacation, if you can afford to buy coffee in starbucks daily – then you can afford to hire help. Set your priorities straight and make sure it is understood by everyone that mom isn’t weak – she is just human and the list of tasks that the modern mom has to do is inhumane.
Why do I recommend hiring several mother’s helpers? This is one of the best tips I can give. If you hire several helpers who take on different short shifts during the week, you can leverage their abilities. We had one who loved to cook, was great with the kids but preferred not to fold laundry. Great! We had one who was terrified of being with the kids but made my house spotless and could be just with the baby. Excellent! We had one who was so talented at being with the kids but preferred no housework. Wonderful! One wanted morning shifts, another wanted afternoons, and another preferred weekends. I leveraged their talents and had a team ready to support me whenever our family needed it. I like short shifts – 2-3 hours at a time – because that was all we could afford and frankly helpers get tired after a few hours. I like energetic people around me since I basically have no energy myself after the long nights.
But, won’t my child be overwhelmed with so many people coming and going? You ask. Children need stability, you say. Well, I beg to differ. Yes, kids need stability. But if you have several regular helpers coming by, the kids get exposed to different people. They were exposed to an Argentinian, a Filipino, a Polish American, a Russian Grandmother type, a cadet on leave from the US military, a teacher, several college girls, and more. I brought the world to them on a silver platter. From each one, they learned something new and they learned to communicate in a variety of ways in order to get what they want. Not to mention the different languages that they were exposed to daily. Oh, and yes, they learn that people come and people go and family always always stays.
How to hire your very own mother’s helper
1. Create a sign or message and post it online or offline. Great offline options are a local university, churches and synagogues, near high schools. Online options are Craig’s list, Facebook, mommy groups. In the sign, make it clear that the job description involves dishes, laundry, tidying and organziing, childcare. The more specifically you describe the position, the better the chances that those who contact you are ready and willing to do the tasks. It makes it clear that this is a position for a hard worker and it encompasses many tasks in the house. Important to note: a mother’s helper is *not* a cleaning lady. She will not sparkle your house. She can do daily home “cosmetics” but you would need to hire a cleaning person to do an overall cleaning project. Always ask for references in advance and call the references. This is your family we are talking about!
2. Set up interviews: I have had a ton of girls cancel on me when we set up interviews. Its infuriating – especially when you have 5 kids who you rush to toss into bed so you can be available to meet. Anyways, make sure to tell the interviewee that you expect her to come at the set time and to absolutely let you know if she is going to cancel. Prepare a list of all of the house tasks which you expect for the mother’s helper to do and share it with your interviewee. This is so there are no surprises or disappointments. She will know what she is getting into. Ask her to let you know, which tasks on the list she feels she will like best and which she is not so good at. This will help you understand what skills you can leverage on her shift. What I usually tell the women that I am about to hire is this:
1. I am a tired, overworked mom. You are here to make my life easier. That is why I am hiring you.
2. Me and you are going to be coordinated as in a dance. On your shift, you will need to be in tune with me and see what help I need at every moment. We are going to be a team. We will dance together so stay in sync with me.
3. I expect you to come here after you have slept at night. Don’t come here tired because I am tired and that is why I need for you to be full of energy. (This is super important, especially with college girls who stay up all night and would come to the shift completely tired and out of focus. I sent them home to sleep and told them not to bother coming when they are so tired).
3. Once you are going to hire the mother’s helper, commit to a mutual trial period where you both can see how it is working out. A week is a good time frame. Decide that she will work with you during that week and after one week you will sit and discuss whether you want to continue this arrangement or not. Of course she is paid for the trial period.
4. Payment: Ask around your neighbors and other moms what is the acceptable rate to pay a babysitter or mother’s helper. This will help you set your hourly rate.
5. Meals: I always tell the mother’s helper that meals aren’t part of the deal but what ends up happening in reality is that the mother’s helper becomes a part of the family and we invite her to sit and eat with us during meals. Not daily, but often enough. If its a short shift (2-3 hours), we don’t provide meals. If its longer than 4 hours, I always offer a meal (although you don’t have to – I have had girls bring their own meals and take a short break to eat it).
In conclusion, I want to say a few words to the former mother’s helpers – and the current one – we have had that I know are reading this post. Girls, moms, ladies – you were truly the wind beneath my wings. No words could describe how much your help meant to me and still means to me today. The warmth and caring and love that you have given us and the kids was not something I could pay you for. You have huge hearts and I bless the day that I hired you several years ago. Meeting you in the mornings after long sleepless nights was like a breath of fresh air. Some of you came in the afternoons so that I could rest. I don’t know how you did it – keeping 4 kids occupied quietly while mom tries to nap is an impossible task – and you were so talented at it. I wish for every mom reading this post to have the fortune of hiring someone as wonderful as you – and you know who you are. I am indebted to you always.
Take care of yourselves, moms and dads.