On having house help

I lived in Nigeria when I was young (three to six years of age), but I didn’t have an interest in the topic of house help back then, and I don’t remember anyone around our house who wasn’t family.

My grandmother does not have house help. She has tenants and during our last visit she would ask her grandson or the daughter of one of the tenants to run errands for her. Because she’s such a special lady, most of the tenants seemed happy to help her with tasks that she’s unable to do anymore due to age. One of my aunts (the mom of these twins) has been particularly helpful to her mother-in-law over the years, helping her wash her clothing or do any heavy cleaning, like mopping the floors. The woman is incredibly hardworking.

I associate having house help with having money, probably because on both sides of our family, only one aunt (who is arguably the most well-off of her siblings and whose husband is a judge I think) has house help. If any of my other relatives have house help, I never saw them.

When I learned that some married friends my age (or younger!) in Nigeria have house help, I have to admit being surprised at first, but that was because I was comparing life in Canada to life in Nigeria, which you can’t do: very few people here have to consider washing clothing by hand on a regular basis, for example. Even if you don’t have a washing machine in your house or apartment building, there are laundromats where you can carry your clothing to and pay a fairly affordable amount to get the machine to do the hard work. Whether you decide to dry your clothing with the dryer at the laundromat or hang it to dry in your apartment or home, the hard part is over once you’ve used the washing machine. I’m not saying that washing machines and dryers for clothing (or dishwashers for that matter) don’t exist in Nigeria, but my impression on my last visit (based on the minute I spent in Lagos and the time spent in Ondo state), is that the average Nigerian citizen does not have easy access to these appliances (or do they?). Washing clothing by hand is labourious and exhausting, and I don’t enjoy it. I especially don’t enjoy washing jeans, which I attempted to do in 1994. Two years ago, I was a lot older and stronger, and I think I actually managed to wring a bit of water out of my capri pants and shirts before hanging them out (but you should have seen how much water dripped for a long time during the drying process!). I am seriously considering just bringing my dirty clothes back to Canada the next time I go to Nigeria.

It’s not common where I live to find someone my age with an average salary like mine with house help (or cleaning ladies, which is what most house help here are). My colleague and her fiancé have a cleaning lady who comes in every week or two and does heavy cleaning, and the reaction from most who know is one of surprise, along the line of “what do they need that for; it’s just the two of them and they’re both able-bodied, fit people?” My colleague told me that since she and her fiancé both hate cleaning they decided to put a cleaning lady higher on their list than the average person does. I mean most people wouldn’t turn down a cleaning lady…as long as the lady was reliable and not likely to steal their belongings and as long as they wouldn’t have to pay for the service.

Nannies (live-in ones) are equally uncommon here, except among wealthier folks. Maternity leave is one year here, and the husband can also take parental leave (though it reduces the length of the maternity leave). After that year, most parents put their kids in daycare while they’re at work, but when they come home they become the primary caretaker of their children. Some mothers (and more and more fathers) decide to stay at home until the child starts going to school full time. But maybe the idea of a live-in nanny just isn’t common here, since I know it’s more common in Europe.

But in Nigeria, it seems like many more two-income households have house help, including drivers, nannies and people who do anything from cooking meals to washing clothing. That’s all well and good but when an able-bodied woman my age doesn’t work and has house help, I have to admit it raises my eyebrow. That might just be envy on my part, though.

Did you have house help growing up?

Do you have (or would you get) house help (you have to pay for it!)?

If you have house help (in Nigeria or elsewhere), how did you decide that it was the right choice for you?

25 thoughts on “On having house help

  1. Did you have house help growing up? Yes houseboys and house girls and suffered sexual molestation as a result

    Do you have (or would you get) house help (you have to pay for it!)? when i get married, i dont think i wold bother. il probably get and pay for a cleaning lady or guy to come in twice a month, preferably on weekends to scrub the floors and stuff.. currently, i use a drycleaner for all my clothes except intimates; we have a washing machine at home(my father's house) however, i hate ironing. I figure will continue to use the dry cleaning services for myself, husband and kids when am married.

  2. we had housegirls and houseboys growing up and i loved it. most of them have graduated college now and are now working cos the deal with their parents was that they'd live with us and my parents would train them in school.

    after they all graduated and left my mum felt like she wouldn't find anyone as trustworthy as these people cos everyone commented on how lucky she was to find them so she just didnt bother.

    did i get molested?nope.

    did i love having people do everything?yes.

    when i got to ss1 though my mum limited the things they did so that we wouldnt get spoilt and they never cooked through out the time they were there cos my dad like my mum or himself doing the cooking.

    i loved having them around and they still come and see us from time to time whenever my parents would complain that they dont come around more.

    wil i get one?probably but i'd rather a cleaning homework who just comes and goes cos from stories ive heard about househelps, we were damn lucky to find those 4 awesome people to live with us.

  3. House helps are helpful. They come in handy when grand parents are involved lol. But we should be careful when choosing them though

  4. Yes we had househelps and Yes I am not opposed to having a househelp but the wahala is too much so i might prolly just have a washman and cleaning person.

  5. Well, yes, I grew up having house helps in our home…both male and female…and if I lived in Nigeria, I would very likely have one/more (though not in the first few years of my marriage)…

    I don't really think it's a case of Nigerians not having easy access to washing machines/dishwashers, but a case of "where is the electricity to power those appliances?"…my mum's washing machine has been in it's original packaging for God knows how long now cos she doesn't see the need to unpack it (even though there's a huge Gen in the house)…she uses a laundry lady instead…

  6. Did you have house help growing up? Yes, I did. I saw the last of them when I turned 10.

    I couldn't agree more, washing jeans can be quite a pain. I get sores on my fingers each time I attempt it.

  7. I grew up having house help in our home. but when we move to another state, we didn't get another one. i don't like the house help idea anymore cos of the funny stories I've heard over time. Especially from underage girls(from 12 ) from some West African countries. I think it encourages child trafficking and abuse.

  8. I was really surprised when I went to Lagos this summer and my uncle's house had a person come just to wash clothes. I knew of house-helps and all that but I never knew you could get people who just washed your clothes. Maybe it's obvious but never occurred to me…

    I would want house-help if I went back but if I didn't get any I wouldn't mind too much. I would like to take care of my family if I had the time but a lil help never hurt :)

  9. i need a cleaning lady. the work is just too much jare.

    to answer ur question, no we didnt have househelps growing up, but we had cousins, aunties, uncles that stayed with us and they helped out ni the house.

    i am serious about a cleaning lady o..they are just expensive!

  10. Yes, we had nannies and housemaids growing up. Eh, they were okay I guess. They didn't do everything for us, as soon as we were old enough my mum drummed it into our heads that the maids were there for my parents,lol. So we were responsible for ourselves which worked out fine.

    I plan on having maids when I can afford them and when I set up my own home.

    To address the human trafficking angle that a commenter brought up, it can be circumvented by getting an older maid, one who is like 17 or above, I think the youngest maid we had was 15 and she stayed with us till she was like 22, that way you are sure that they can take care of themselves and any money they are making is theirs.

  11. My dear, how is it possible that two years ago you were older? Please tell me the secret to growing younger! LOL

    I have never had house help. In the UK here noone I know has "help" When I was young we had a "nanny" when I grew up I realised she was a housegirl brought from Nigeria to live in practical servitude. She ran away in the end as they all do. that would soooo not be acceptable now, my mother would have probably been locked up if that was today!

    As for hand washing I feel you. That is not my forte at all. when I went to Nigeria I did not wash a thing. If clothes are dirty they can come back dirty… LOL

  12. Yes, we had multiple househelps floating in and out of the house while i was growing up and 98% of my friends and family did too. The poverty in Naija is what makes the househelp business boom even more than the convenience it offers. My parents would go to teh village and people there would be sooo poor that they'd beg my parents to take their children to the city to be househelps in exchange for school or a trade. So sometimes we would have 2 househelps instead of just 1.

    Now that I am older, I am more critical of the househelp culture 'cos like others pointed out the potential of abuse/slavery is there. Our househelps were not beaten any often than we kids were, so i would say they were not abused, but I feel somehow when I remember they had their own seperate plate, cup,and cutlery to use…as if they were not gd enough to use ours.

    I do support our househelp culture and will definitely get help if i can afford it…as long as humanism is the modus operandi. For one thing, i feel it helps marriages because hubby and wife will have time to still bond and have fun, unlike here were raising kids often strains the relationship :)

  13. 1 YEAR maternity leave?!?!? Wow. I am super jealous. the USA needs to be more like Canada…I'd be lucky if I even got my full 3 months whenever I decide to have a baby!

  14. You have to remember that in many parts of the world, help is relatively cheap. In Hong Kong, professional families, especially dual income ones tend to have not just help, but live-in help. The housekeeper/nannies are usually from the Philippines (Filipino nannies are also common among upper middle class families in the Toronto area) and sometimes from Malaysia. The women usually work for very little money and work six days a week, for probably 12 or so hours.

    I'm personally not a big fan of the one year maternity leave thing unless it is split between two spouses. Unless you're a teacher or something similar, it can drastically slow your career down. Things change so much around the office that you could be returning to a job that is very different. Teachers, on the other hand get something different every year anyway.

  15. Wow! Maternity leave in canada is ONE YEAR! Mehn we dey suffer for the usa o. Even naija is just 3 months!

  16. I grew up with aunties and househelps,but annoyingly enough, my mum never allowed them to "help" me out( help being, washing my clothes especially my uniform,plates etc)…

    TBH, if I lived in Naij,a househelp…or more like a cleaning lady will be a major priority for me!

    Let's not forget that Nigeria is rich in human resources so there is easy access to help.

    Unlike here where the cost of employing a cleaner is a bit pricey.

    Having said,I see no reason why I can't have a cleaning lady come clean up once every month….

    In my opinion,if you can afford it,do it…cos you'll be helping another individual have a job!!!:) Plus you can spend the time saved on other pending issues!

  17. I'm shocked about the length of maternity leave in Canada. That's a long time!

    Did we have househelps? On and off

    Would I have any? Probably not. If I were in Nigeria, I would definitely consider it.

    I used to have a cleaning lady here that came in once a month to do really intense cleaning. It was good, but it didn't mean that I didn't have to do my own cleaning.

  18. I am ready to move to Tacoma as soon as possible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Living with people to help is scary!!!!!!!!!!!!!! People can molest you mentally so that you think it's better to live in america but it's really scary because seeeeeeeeeeeeeeexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxy people will try and turn you on and molest you mentally!!!!!

  19. We had househelps up to when the all the kids went to secondary school. Even when we had them, we kids still had to wash our clothes and do all the things that pertained to us by ourselves.We however, had an aunt that lived with us when the househelp left.Still the kids had to wash plates, sweep and do everything else.The aunt only helped my mom in the kitchen. If i move back to Naija, i do not think i will get a househelp, maybe someone that comes in occasionally to clean but that would be it.I cant trust househelps because when i was 8 years old or so our male househelp decided he was going to stick his tongue down my throat.Till today i still shudder at the memory of him kissing me.Thank God it was only once that happened( i threatened him i was going to tell my Mom)…

  20. I have my thoughts on the househelp culture in Nigeria (which I blogged about here http://favouredgirl.blogspot.com/2010/04/social-i… ). I think househelps are generally treated unfairly like second-class citizens by their employers. And in Nigeria, they are low-paid with little or no rights. So for me personally, I will not encourage that culture whether I'm in the UK or in Nigeria. I would rather employ someone who comes in at certain times and has a specific task, like cleaning or ironing, but not a live-in helper.

  21. My Mom was a big believer in having helps oo. till I was born and she tired. Mscheew.

    My married girlfriends all have helps. You need one if you're working. what with the crazy work/traffic hours we have here.

    Oh and times have changed..Helps are mostly paid nowadays or gotten through agencies. The relatives are not eager to give out their kids like before…good for them I say.

Comments are closed.