If you’re lucky enough to have a domestic helper, taking her away with you on vacation might seem an easy solution to ensuring you actually get a decent break. But just as traveling with kids can be complicated, so too can a family holiday that involves fulltime hired help, says father of two, Shaun McEwan. The Singapore-based Aussie dad of Charlie (6) and Mary (2) tells suitcases&strollers about his experiences taking their family maid on holidays.
About 6 months into our expat adventure, we decided to travel back to Australia for an extended 3-week working holiday. As we had newborn we decided to take our live-in domestic helper along with us to help out.
I naively figured that our maid would be excited about this: a change in routine, 3 weeks on the beach at Manly, Sydney, a chance to do some sight-seeing in a place she had never been before. In other words, an all expenses paid working holiday. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Firstly, you have to get the government wherever you are travelling to to approve her visa. This is fairly straight-forward but [depending where you are going] there are numerous forms to fill out and the obligatory administration costs. For us going to Australia, due to Australia’s very stringent labour laws, a maid is not allowed to do any work that could be deemed to be taking employment from the local market. In other words, if you state on the form that you are taking your maid to look after your newborn, that is where her employment duties start and end – she cannot perform domestic duties for you or the rest of your family. Our helper was grilled about this at the Australia High Commission when we presented the application.
About a week before we were due to travel our helper, Chona, had a massive attitude shift. She became withdrawn and sullen. I was still under the impression that when we got to the destination and she saw how beautiful it was that she would snap out of it. As we were walking to the taxi she saw one of her buddies who excitedly asked her where we were going. My helper spat “Australia” like it was the worse possible place that she could be heading. I knew at this stage we had some problems.
[If you prefer the idea of just hiring a hotel babysitter when you arrive, then check out the suitcases&strollers family travel tips on using a Hotel Nanny.]
Once we arrived she begrudgingly went about her duties caring for the baby and did a great job. Her attitude, however, never improved. She spent the whole 3 weeks moping about, burning through phone cards texting her sister (who also lives in Singapore). No amount of coaxing could get her to leave the apartment unless it was to accompany us to the beach. I was envisaging her taking the ferry into the city to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on her day off. No chance. She made it to Manly wharf where I think she sat in McDonalds and texted her sister. I had also arranged my mum to take her to our local Catholic church which has a huge Philippine populace but she flat out refused to go.
Another issue which I was totally unprepared for was the backlash I received from friends and family for having a maid in the first place. During our stay it was my mum's 80th birthday, so we took Chona along to help out with the kids while we did some catching up with friends. I later learned that a lot of people thought we were crass and showing off. Big lesson learnt here: people in Australia (justifiably) don’t understand the whole domestic worker scene and can resent you for it. Fair enough.
In reflection I think Chona’s unhappiness was a combination of many things. Fear of the unknown, change in routine and missing her sister were all part of it. Maybe she felt robbed that she didn’t get to spend the 3 weeks at home as a break? I still can’t put my finger on it even some two years later. Even when I asked her about it while I was researching this article, she immediately clammed up.
What I do know is that having a live-in helper is always a very complex situation. So much so that I know a lot of families that are shying away from the concept. In our case, I really learnt a lot from the Sydney experience. Although we have since taken Chona with us on holidays, I have been very selective about which trips will work. I also give her the choice if she wants to come or not and I respect her decision.
After all, sometimes holidays are a good chance for all parties to have a break from each other, no matter how tempting it may seem to have a live-in baby sitter. Coming home to a clean house and a home-cooked meal when you’ve been traveling with kids is well worth the sacrifice.
If you don’t have a live-in maid but are still keen to hire a full-time holiday nanny, read the suitcases&strollers story here
By Shaun McEwan