Last week my friend blogger Blessing over at WorkingMomJournal, made an impassioned pitch for why she thought working mothers needed to embrace nannies, housekeepers and other household help. She referenced a blog posting by Meagan Francis of the Happiest Mom. In the post Meagan sought to clarify why she employed household help on occasion and start a frank dialogue among her readers about why having domestic help was so stigamatized. Apparently, she had been chastised by her readers for not coming clean about hiring help. A reader even judged her authenticity as a homemaker.
I’ve written in the past about my need to outsource as a working mom and was curious about other bloggers’ take on the issue. I have to say I was surprised at the vehemence of the comments on her blog – more than 200+ weighing in on the topic. Some mothers commented on how they felt guilty about wanting to hire help to either allow them more time for themselves or simply get control of busy households. Other mothers firmly stated that hiring help was nothing short of laziness and a shirking of one’s motherly duties – not to mention a waste of money. The column was even picked up by the New York Times spurring more vigorous debate.
Most of my friends in my circle (stay at home and working moms and those without kids who are just busy professionals) have some kind of help and frankly it never occurred to me that this would be such a hot topic. So what is going on? It got me thinking about what the meta-message to all this debate might be. It’s understandable (especially in this economy) that not everyone can afford to hire household help but why is this such a contentious issue? Why do women who say they want help feel guilty about asking for it? Is it the anti-elitism/anti-bourgeois sentiment that seems to dominate our popular culture these days that makes people uncomfortable with hired help? Is it self-indulgent and pretentious as some comments implied? Or is it that as women we still wrestle with our roles as independent beings with hopes, dreams and aspirations apart from our children and husbands that runs in conflict with our role as chief nurturers, care givers and keeper of all things domestic? Do we secretly feel guilty that needing help is somehow an admission that we are really not cut out to be good mothers and wives after all?
I don’t have the answer but here’s what I know for sure. The myth of being the do it all, handle it all Super Woman is just that – a myth. Being a mother and running a household, regardless of whether you have a paying job or not, is damn hard. Life today is busier and more chaotic than ever. I believe every woman deserves as much help as she can possibly afford. The average woman is working a job, then coming home to cook dinner and handle childcare, do laundry and a myriad of household chores. Yes, it’s rewarding but it’s also exhausting. If you are one of the rare birds married to a sensitive new age guy (SNAG) who joyfully splits the housework 50/50 good for you. Celebrate. Most women are not and if you don’t believe me Google what married couples fight over most.
When I was a young graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Anthropology, I remember reading about polygamous societies and thinking it might not be so bad under certain circumstances. Fact is being in a household with multiple wives (especially if they are your sisters – called sororal polygyny) could be quite advantageous (except for the sharing your husband for sex part). You could split household and childcare duties and have lots of good company. Alas, that’s not a legal reality in the US - and probably a good thing, really.
So yeah, I have an amazing nanny who watches my son during the day and a fab cleaning lady who keeps my house from turning into cesspool. Having this help makes me a better mother to my son, a better wife and lover to my husband and a better employee. Having this help allows me to be more me and less Shrieking-Rat-Woman-Banshee from Hell. I’m only half-kidding when I say that if I could afford to have a wife (who didn’t sleep with my husband) I’d probably do that too but for now I’ll take the outside help for long as I can afford it. I don’t judge people who have moral qualms about having hired help and I don’t celebrate those of us who do. What I know for sure is that we need to ask for help without feeling shame or guilt. If you can get that help for free through extended family, great. But for many women, especially working moms, hiring a little help can make all the difference between between being content and going crazy.
What do you think? What is it about our culture that makes us feel so ambivalent about hiring household help? Do you agree with those who think it is self-indulgent and lazy? Or is it a necessity for working families who can afford it?