Having a yaya is not customary in American culture. In fact, it is sometimes even hard for expats who move to countries with domestic helpers to become acclimated. Our first year here in the Philippines we had a maid who came once a week. It was before we had kids, and my husband and I were both working. By the time we had our second child, we had decided to hire a live-in all-around helper. It was marvelous…until it wasn’t.
The hard part came when my husband and I couldn’t walk around in our underwear or we felt the need to settle disagreements behind closed doors. There was a level of discomfort to always having someone else around.
Plus, I wasn’t open yet to letting other people outside of my immediate family love and care for my children. I thought it could and should only be my responsibility.
I wasn’t great at having a working relationship with our first live-in helper, so the relationship and job eventually fizzled out. We decided the best fit for our family was to have a full-time all-around helper who lived near and could be home with her own family at night as well. We were fortunate enough to know Chanda a year before she came to work with our family.
Chanda, who has been with us for four years, has become like family. We've lovingly given her the nickname Chanda Poppins because she is so magical like Mary Poppins.
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I have learned so many valuable lessons from this amazing woman. I learned that poise is often the best answer — and social skill — one can have. In case you didn’t pick up on the subtlety, she’s better at this than I am. I was able to finally release the grip of control on my household, and we share the duties together.
The hardest part of having a yaya was allowing Chanda to become like family and love my children as her own. I thought I should be the only one mothering my children, but I have come around to the notion that it really does take a village. We live across the world from family and to have someone step into that role has been one of our family’s biggest blessings.
We are now fully on board with having house help, but I understand it’s not for everyone, especially those back home in the U.S. The cost is simply too high that most cannot even afford a part-time helper. The range of a house helper’s salary varies in Manila but what you get for a few days in the States is often equivalent to a month’s salary in Manila. Since having house help or a nanny is a foreign concept to most of our relatives and friends in the States I have to prepare myself for the cross-culture questions and comments that arise.
The rude comments were unintentional, of course, but they still sting, especially when it comes to motherhood. They'd say something like how tired I must be since I was not used to doing all the work alone. (For the record, I think any mom with three kids under 7 is probably tired with or without help.)
When I ask family members if they've seen the latest movie or have they gone shopping, I would receive a condescending explanation about how people don’t have helpers in America, that they “can’t just leave their kids and go do what they want.”
Most of these comments are not personal attacks — many of my family members express how helpful it would be to have an extra set of hands. And they all adore Chanda as well and include her in our Christmas packages.
It’s common for my friends and family in the States to go on a date night once a week/month. A number of my friends rotate babysitting with girlfriends so they can go to the salon or even a dentist appointment. You learn to use your social circle and family as a support system instead of a house helper. Many gyms have daycare as their main selling point so parents can leave the kids and work out. Ikea even has a drop and play area so the kids can play while parents shop.
Because we live in Manila, I don’t have a family to help support me, but I do have a yaya. Imagine being able to have an extension of you or an extra pair of hands to tackle the incredible list of duties you have. Amazing, right? I have found a great working situation with Chanda, not just me but our whole family. Nonetheless, when the remarks about me having a yaya are made, they still hurt. It’s as if I am a less than mom because I go on regular dates with my spouse, grocery shop alone, or heaven forbid, I am tired when my mom duties shift from help to no help.
I try and practice gratitude and am reminded once again, there is no one right way to do motherhood. So while the comments come and go, at the end of the day all I can do is feel a helluva lot of gratitude for our yaya, Chanda Poppins, and confidence in my own way of mothering.
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Amber Folkman, the blogger behind "A Momma Abroad," is a California native who spent her university years in Hawaii where she met her husband. After a few years in Seattle, her husband's work brought him to Manila where Amber and her eldest son relocated in 2009. They now have three crazy boys ages 6, 4 and 2, whom they refer to as "#3PinoyBoys" because life in the Philippines is all they know.