I know transitions very, very well. Having moved not less than fifteen times in my life, with three international moves, I know exactly what it feels like to leave what you know for the unknown. The unknown never truly feels that way because our imagination takes over and we think we have a fairly good idea of what is coming. What experience has taught me though, is that, even if it might be comforting to anticipate, reality rarely matches. And we learn to cope.
On my third international move, I was prepared to feel unsettled for the first six to eight months. I knew I would feel uncomfortable at first. I knew that I should not base any actions on these feelings, as they would eventually go away.
We, expatriates, have this acute sense that all is relative, that everything is a matter of perspective.
Are we more comfortable in transitions? Not necessarily. But we have learnt to live with change, and we have learnt that the quicker we accept these changes, the easier it is.
Our view of domestic help, in the Western world, is based on past times.
Domestic help is either viewed as a luxury that only rich people can afford, or it is viewed as the symbol of social inequality. In both cases, negative emotions are associated with domestic help: guilt or envy.
Once again let’s be pragmatic.
Guilt comes from the engrained thought that a woman should be able to handle everything, just as her mother and grandmother did. The problem is that a woman’s life today is not even comparable to her mother’s. Couple interaction, self-fulfillment, social expectations and parenting are nothing like they were twenty years ago. In less than a generation, all settings have changed and we, the middle aged people (God! That sounds awful!), have to define the new rules to cope with this new reality.
Help is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity for women, and also for men. We are social beings for a reason: we need support, especially with parenting.
Even if feminists have succeeded in involving dads and husbands into home duties, the result is that, now, everybody, men included, are stretched to their wits end.
Until we find a good way to handle daily lives in a serene fashion, we’d better get help before the whole family collapses.
Look around you. Check how many of your friends take drugs to cope with their lives. Some might not admit it, but all have to find a coping mechanism to handle a pace that is outside the scope of our comprehension.
The only people I know who do well in these times, are couples with no children, gay and lesbian couples, and singles! Why ? Because they have less pressure and more disposable income.
So why do I claim that domestic help is critical for your couple and family balance, when it is one more expense? I deeply believe that it is the only efficient way to relieve the pressure, therefore the stress on adults in a family.
Adjusting to these new times means reviewing the way we spend. In the same fashion that to stay healthy today, we need to closely review what we eat and where our food comes from, we need to allocate some money to keep our family sane.
The truth is that those who seem to cope with their life give up on essential things such as quality food intake in order to make it. In the long run, this is a dramatic strategy, as it will lead to disease.
When I grew up, cancer was a plague starting in the late 50s or the 60s. Very often today, I hear about cancer as early as in the 30s, sometimes even younger.
Health is the base of everything. Without health, your kids will have no future. It is about time everybody starts questioning, researching and choosing what he or she rationally believes as the best diet for his or her family. This is time and energy…that we don’t have, or that we do not think we have.
I have seen my mother dying from a terrible degenerative disease, after watching my father battling for seven years with cancer. I know, and if you are honest, you do too; everything falls apart when sickness dominates your life.
Staying healthy should be a top priority. Controlling your stress level should also be a top priority.
How can a couple have some time for themselves without help?
How can a woman relax on a daily basis if she has no help?
Women need a clean and tidy home to be able to relax; they can’t just sit on a coach surrounded by mess. The good news is that this is why feminine touch is so important: women have this ability to make an environment special and inviting. The bad news is that because they care so much about that, they will spend their last bit of energy in what seems utterly superficial to most men.
Once again, men and women are different. Let’s just respect what deeply matters to each gender, and find pragmatic solutions.
Delegating part of domestic duties gives breathing space: you have more energy to spend elsewhere.
I know that in the US the motto is “do it yourself”. I have nothing against it but today here what it means:
On week days, wake up, exercise, prepare breakfast, prepare kids for school, drive kids to school, go to work, be efficient if you want to keep your job, find a not too junk lunch that you will swallow in twenty minutes, go back to work thinking of what you will make for dinner, leave work, fetch your children from school, rush them for homework and afterschool activity, squeeze in some clean-up while you supervise your toddler’s homework (yes there is homework in preschool now, don’t you all know, that good kindergartens expect your child to read at the beginning of the school year?), then rush to take your kids to sport practice, then rush back home, and miraculously serve a healthy home cooked meal that your children will complain about, clean up dinner, rush your kids in their bedtime routine, load a laundry, and crash down to be able to get up the following day.
This is an awful sentence that goes against all rules of proper English, but it reflects well what a day looks like. And please don’t think that a stay-at-home has it easier: between charity work and school projects, she has a full time job too!
And I have spared you the fact that electronics, and technology interfere in your day big time. Between your own smart phone that is on duty 24/7, and your children who, according to their age, beg for TV, wii, Xbox, computer (supposedly for homework…), you had a myriad of solicitations to deal with.
On weekends, it’s almost worse: you have to catch up with the unfinished domestic duties, and you need to drive and cheerlead your children for their sports games.
I understand that these weekends spent on a sport’s field is a deep cultural thing here in the US. And most American parents enjoy that because it reminds them of their own childhood. Fair enough.
Times have changed though, sorry.
Children nowadays discuss every bit of decision their parents make for them; they feel entitled but not responsible so their sport’s gear is not their job anymore, but yours. They expect everything from you; you are in charge. They are never ready on time if you don’t see into it. Well it is true that the pace these poor kids have is complete madness: how can we expect a ten year old to cope with a busy day at school, the pressure to get good grades, homework, sports in a responsible manner. Kids have a wonderful way to tell us it is too much: injury!
So now picture the day above with an injured child… Want a glass of wine?
Parenting has never been that difficult: I know so many parents of teenagers who are totally helpless in dealing with their children. Children are more and more out of control, and we have not yet found the best way to handle this omnipresent technology in our lives. Economic uncertainty is everywhere.
We must all stop and think.
Our family is what matters. At the base of each family is a couple. Whatever helps this couple is good to consider: domestic help is the first thing to take into consideration.
It relieves stress and fosters better communication, allowing you to focus on what truly matters.
It also gives jobs to people who need them. It therefore strengthens the community.
I have always had help: I have always been extremely grateful to have that support. I sometimes created strong bonds with the people who helped me. Any domestic job is a difficult one; it requires organizational skills and tact because you deal with people’s intimate life.
Your need highly depends on your own situation. You may need help with cooking, housekeeping, babysitting or tutoring. Whatever it is, think of it as a necessary addition to these times’ way of life. Care.com is a good site to find reliable help.
Hire and be grateful: there are wonderful people out there who will do your domestic duties far more effectively than you would do them, because it is way easier to sort other people’s mess than our own.
And focus on what matters: the blessing to have your long time partner next to you every day. Without him or her, none of your children would exist.