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Oreoluwa Sonola: Do Families Want Maids or Maid-servants?

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When the word “maid’ is mentioned in our part of the world, the picture that pops up is someone from an underprivileged background. The person is most likely from the village, someone who cannot speak English fluently, but can communicate. The candidate should be a very hard worker – emphasis on ‘very’.

There is also this subtle thinking of the kind of treatment she is entitled to. We think and conclude that someone who is coming from such a background shouldn’t expect to live with privileges. They should be able to fit in and adjust to whatever circumstances they are offered.

I find that picture and thinking a bit flawed, because it is often backed by an idea that the maid has no right and has no say in whatever situation she finds herself. It fosters the idea that the employer is doing a favor by hiring.

This thinking is the reason why families even become suspicious of people who may look decent, seem to know what they are doing and are confident. Potential employers become intimidated. You hear things like “This one will be my Oga”, “She knows too much”, “She will take over my house from me”.

But is the problem really about the person being too qualified? Are families really scared of someone who has proven to be able to do housekeeping excellently well, is knowledgeable enough to take care of their kids in their absence? Or  in reality, they feel that hiring someone who is enlightened will strip them of their ability to have full control and be a lord over them.

Do employers really want maids or maidservants?

It baffles me why anybody thinks it is okay to subject another human being to inhumane conditions, or to think that having or demanding basic human rights is a luxury or sign of  pride. How do people even nurture the idea that some people are not entitled to have rights?

When I hear stories of what some of these maids are subjected to, it is nothing short of heart-breaking.

In all fairness, I do not expect nor advice that maids be offered the exact same privileges given to their employer’s children. This is because many times, employers still have boundaries in their minds that the maid is unaware of, and when she crosses them thinking she is now a member of the family, it becomes a big problem.

Boundaries may be as little as eating the children’s cereal, or as weighty as trying on madam’s clothes or wigs; but how do we expect someone who has been made to feel she is now a member of the family behave, if not like a family member? The other side to the child treatment is that employers somehow feel that making the maids feel like family will encourage them against doing the wrong things. Many maids have, however, used this opportunity to manipulate their bosses, and still gone ahead to do those bad things.

In contrast, maids should be entitled to have a clearly defined employer-employee relationship with the family they are outsourced to. There should be a contract in place, which clearly states each party’s responsibility – where expectations are clearly stated with guiding rules. It should be a relationship where the repercussion for doing otherwise is clear. The law of cause and effect guides this type of relationship. Every action comes with its reward – whether good or bad.

I have seen a situation where a family who lives in a duplex employs a maid and asks her to sleep underneath the staircase. They expect the maid to be “grateful” that she even lives in a duplex. A particular “madam” who always insisted that there should be no waste in her house will gather every other person’s leftover and warn the maid to eat it, while putting her on a guilt trip that God doesn’t like waste.

With a clearly defined contract, these instances would almost be impossible. It is by far easier to manipulate someone who is in an unfamiliar terrain and is probably scared to death of what will befall her if she doesn’t comply with her employer’s rules. Someone who has probably burnt every bridge and has nothing left to fall back on, who was lured to the city in promise of greener pasture.

But you know, these are the type of maids many employers want; maids they can do all sorts of things to and subject to any condition. I find it an irony that after all the treatment given to these maids, employers would still leave them in charge of their homes and sometimes kids when they are off to work, and expect them to be kind. If the maid ends up carrying out a wicked act, they end up with the “All maids are bad” story. Many maids are definitely bad, but we hardly ever get to hear their sides of the story – though nothing at all justifies whatever wicked thing they might have done.

Since you believe all of these maids are truly bad, then one of the ways to stop them from doing further wrong may be to encourage the good, educated people who are willing to carry out the task in the most excellent way, to start to take up housekeeping jobs. These people, however, know and would exercise their rights. They have a clear picture of how the employer-maid relationship should work in ideal situations.

But they have only have one question: Are families who need them ready to stick to a strictly business/contract-based relationship, or do they still want to stick with their maidservant mindset with corresponding actions?

Dear Oga madam, you cannot have it all.

Photo Credit: Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang)

Oreoluwa Sonola is a Household Manager. She ensures the systems in homes run smoothly with little or no supervision from the homeowners. She creates management and training resources, procedural manuals, work schedules and SOPs for Domestic staff within the home and chore schedules for kids where the domestic staff is absent. Some of her resources can be found on her website www.maidformee.com  and Instagram and twitter @maidformee.

20 Comments

  1. Deleke

    June 1, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Guess its a mentality thing. Wifey and I were speaking the other day was asking what my thoughts on why I think the Au Pairs we hired always left within 3 months. I told her from my own observations that:
    1) She was not approachable
    2)She had too many (strict) rules she laid on them
    3)Her tone of voice sometimes was very bossy-like
    4) She gave the impression like she didn’t trust them n the quality of work they do (why hire them in the first place)
    5)Then I sneaked in that she always behaved like rabid pitbull when anyone of them was talking to me (she now said ‘ki won gba oko lowo mi) I laughed die.

    Well I said #5 right there is the Naija girl attitude. Whats so special about me that au pair want to snatch me o? Matter of fact, don’t u even trust me? I was quite insulted to be honest.
    Really and truly I sometimes chip in to make them feel at peace and at home cos wifey could be quite intimidating but hey, I don’t want trouble for my head, I just open my ears, open my eyes and keep my mouth SHUT.

    • kwinny

      June 1, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      hmmm @Deleke #5 is a very dicey one. I understand your wife completely. I think, no, I am like her. Please, sorry about the insult too.

  2. me

    June 1, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I just always like you dear Deleke. hope your wifey know that she also needs to protect your in the cyber space too

    • Dapo

      June 1, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Seconded. Husband goals ?

    • Deleke

      June 1, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      This is my outlet

    • o

      June 1, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Buhahahaha…. You want wifey to seize his phone and iPad. ???

  3. Whatever

    June 1, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    @ Oreoluwa….
    You are obviously trying to sell your market….Hence all this story.
    Have you had a maid stay with you before? I am not saying they are all bad….i have really been blessed in the area of maid

    i am never for people who maltreat them at all BUT……………they come with their baggage. Some of them are really really terrible.

    Why would a maid just go out and not come back until the next day when she knows she is staying with someone she is working for and not in her fathers house. Such audacity!!!!!!!!

    Why would a maid eat cereal that was bought for the children when even the owners of the house restrain themselves from eating it anyhow becos of the cost and know it has to last until the end of the month.
    Why would you ask me to pay you so much and all you do is sleep when i go to work the whole day and talk on the phone all night. Then why you are reminded to do the house chores, it still looks like it was never done.

    You have been employed as a maid for months ….yet…… u cant still do anything and yet want to be paid one crazy amount.

    You see this maid issue………….it is better experienced than all this write up peope do..

    I REST MY CASE.

    • Zedzed

      June 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Why can’t she go out and come back the next day? As long as she informs you she is going out and her duties have been carried out, why not? Does an adult need “audacity” to go out? so because she’s staying with you she shouldn’t have a life of her own?
      Mehn I don’t know how to tell you what I feel you need to hear. But the part about treating your help with respect and dignity is written out for the likes of you.

    • Oreoluwa Sonola

      June 1, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      Hello @whatever, contrary to your opinion, as of today, i actually don’t even have any market i am selling. Ofcourse there are bad maids. I could even use the world terrible. Unfortunately, one write-up is not enough to address all the issues. For all the points you raised, i have addressed them on my website or IG page. You could also read from the first article i wrote just two or three weeks ago to follow my line of thought.
      It is in the bid to end this bad maid menace that has eaten up into our society, that i’m seeking to encourage learned people who love to do housekeeping to go for it. It will save employers a lot of trouble and so many maid tragedies would be avoided. However, that doesn’t change the fact that some employers also treat their maids the wrong way. If the right people are in housekeeping with clearly understood rules, each party will have to stick to their side of the contract. Employers will provide good working conditions and Maids would deliver if not, there would be consequences.

      If we don’t have these discussions, agencies and agents will continue to flood homes with incompetent hands. The only way to chase out bad maids is for the good ones to rise.

    • D

      June 2, 2017 at 7:55 am

      @zedzed don’t be quick to judge @whatever until you’ve walked in her shoes.i once criticised those who beat their maid and I found myself in similar situation, when I started making extra trip to the market which was never my way cause I do stock up for weeks but I bought more cause I factored in the newest addition to the equation.some things got missing and I asked politely but she said No after beating her, she confessed to taking extra for the road when she is going out I felt bad cause I give her everything plus more so why would she do that. So, I called the person who brought her and she asked me to withdraw it all, I couldn’t cause it’s not my thing.

      I have made up my mind not to touch her again since I intend sending her away layer for now I asked to change her ways cause we would really like to keep her cause she is so young I don’t want her going to someone else who won’t treat her well cause she once told me of her former boss.
      My husband is really helping me in the patient department which I lack and for me it is a new experience .
      I don’t support mistreating them and I feel if you look at the situation very well(having them in your house) you can use it to your advantage by making yourself a better person and learning to tolerate others .
      Also, try to send them to school or to learn anything you feel they will benefit from.

  4. Chiomah

    June 1, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    This is a topic I’m passionate about and I agree with having term of reference though I don’t have it written it out but its always better to discuss from the beginning what’s expected in the relationship. I have been accused of spoiling maids..simple because I don’t treat them like second class citizens. In my house you become part of the family (if you aren’t comfy in the role then you don’t stay long). Unless the person you hire has issues generally people respond positively to good treatment. I was raised in a home where most of the help went to school (up to university if they wanted) and were gotten jobs and till today I still relate to them as close as blood relatives. I think a lot of issues people have with their helps are what they saw growing up …so if you grew up in a home where aunty slept on the floor and ate inferior food then you may do same. In my home my mummy’s girls were her girls she shopped for them when she travelled (she may have Bought her own children more) sometimes use the same cloth for our Christmas clothes and we had to join them in the kitchen to do chores (if you as much as left your plate in the sink you were in trouble) .for me if you can’t speak decent English its a problem unless you speak my local dialect and even at that I encourage my girls to go to school from my house if they desire. It is well..

  5. Annie

    June 1, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Most of them prefer the ill treatment.. Infact that’s when they stay longer and work hard..
    Most people really don’t have the intention of maltreating maids but when the maids unpack their baggage… Mtchew .. At that point it’s just better to let them go..

  6. Jola

    June 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Hmmm….this maid matter. I once wrote about a Mai I had who chose to wash my husband’s suit which wasn’t given to her to wash and she still left some of the baby’s clothes unwashed. It was this same girl who had told me she wanted to braid her hair for Christmas and I gave her the money only for her to lock me, my husband and kid out of the house in the name of doing her hair. She claims she was down the road when I got through to her phone and I asked to open the door but she chose to stay for smother 2 hours to finish the hair even though I told her we were locked outside waiting for her. The list goes on…Suffice to say that in 8 years of hiring maids, I must have had up to 30 maids. I have tried everything….being nice, not being nice, etc. I only got some respite when I got an older woman who comes and goes to help with the work. I v never gotten an underage maid before but I am considering getting a 13-14 year old girl whose parents want her to go to school and who really has a chance at doing well in school. Hopefully, this combo ll work and enable me finally focus on other things than constantly recruiting a new maid.

  7. Asn

    June 2, 2017 at 2:11 am

    Have ever experienced maids/hands or drivers whom you registered for Jamb, pray for make feel at home and all they want to do is just hit a fast one. The ones you make to feel like family take you for a ride and disappear only to reappear later begging in hands. See even with trained employees in the office, we are full of entitlement mentality and no one wants to be a servant leader.

  8. Whatever

    June 2, 2017 at 9:05 am

    @Zedzed
    You obviously did not read what i wrote …..
    You mean it is okay for the help to leave the house without your permission or you not knowing her where about and to come back the next day with stories….
    Even i do not leave my house without letting them know where i am going to.
    I pity you. These are stories you hear about daily.

    Like i said i have never had issued with my help as they always want to come back whenever they leave for the holidays….that is December.

    When you have helps…..please tell us your story.

  9. Ajala & Foodie

    June 3, 2017 at 3:38 am

    Why is that everyone still complaining about “wicked maids” are intentionally ignoring the main point the author was making. Let me spell it out : STOP HIRING UNDERAGE, UNEDUCATED INDIVIDUALS. THEN ALL YOUR ISSUES WILL BE A THING OF THE PAST!!!!

    You are forced to put things in writing with an educated individual, you cannot mistreat them because they are educated I.e know their rights. I speak from my mum’s experience, growing up we had the usual domestic hands, uneducated, underage, yet despite my mum sending both girls to school they both ran away. Although they stayed for years, minimum was 2 years. You know the line the author spoke to : “you tell them they are part of the family but you still frown at them trying on your clothes and shoes” yup that right there was where things got blurry. My mum’s problem ended when she got a grown woman, while she is uneducated, she is matured enough that she cannot be pushed around, my mum had to come up with an agreement on what was/is expected of her . She comes does what is expected and leaves. She is married with kids and while herself and her husband are uneducated they just needed enough money to put their kids through school. Her first child recently completed his Phd at a University in the U.K. and his currently a lecturer at a tertiary institution in Nigeria. The woman still works for my mum to date.

    You keep hiring underage (teenagers at best) people and are surprised when they act their ages??? You will be hard pressed to find any teenager who is not unruly and I am talking about lying, rude, talk back, staying out late and yes without informing their parents at times, stealing, some “in the abroad” even steal cars, just want to sit around all day doing nothing and still come to you (parents) for pocket money, only with the domestic help, it is salary. Yes, these are things teenagers go through, it is only different when it is your child ba??? Yet, you forget you gave this child everything too, so is this “help” really a part of the family?

    It is time for us to begin defining boundaries, the truth your expectations are so contradictory, you want employer-employee relationship, yet you want to switch things up to parent-child relationship depending on when it suits your selfish purpose and needs. Yet, we really think the domestic staff is the problem??? Or would you stop your child from having a healthy relationship with their father. But, your hubby is the only male figure in this help’s life, you claim you treat her like a daughter but bar her from even sparing the man a glance for fear “she will take him from you”.

    Uhmmm, my fellow Nigerian women it is high time you make up your minds. Do you want an employee? then state that clearly, if schooling is a added then just spell that under benefits, like health insurance and co, if you want daughter then stick to that too, don’t waver when the employee-employer arrangement does not work for you. But understand that will mean cut of time for work(you know like your 8-5), days off I.e they are not working 7 days a week (at least 2 days off, like you have your weekends), vacation days too. If you want a daughter stick to it too (a daughter is a daughter 24/7 but don’t forget underage means underage behavior) and know you are all in for the course for better or worse. Until then let us stop complaining about “wicked maids”. We can’t eat our cakes and have them too.

    • Hmm

      June 3, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      Hmmm… some good points especially underage maids equalling underage behaviour. I for one am totally against having maids that are not adults. However, that your mum had a good experience with an older maid doesnt mean having an older maid is a panacea for all maid issues. I think you are being a bit judgemental here. Have you yourself employed a maid before? I doubt it. Just pray you are one in a million that has only good experiences with hired help.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      June 4, 2017 at 3:54 am

      @ Hmm. Why is it that when people cannot come up with an argument with any leg to stand on, you fall back on “judgemental” or at best making assumptions ” you have not had maids”. Pray tell who did I judge, if you feel judged then you may want to take a look at what I wrote and examine yourself. That I spell things out based on common sense and simple logic does not make me judgemental or that I may or may not have had domestic staff does not eliminate what anyone can see is an argument built on logic. I used my mum as an example as my personal experiences with domestic staff is not one many Nigerians living in Nigeria can relate to and yes I have had an agreement with a company to come help with cleaning as I hate cleaning. Nevertheless, the point I made with my mum was to point out that the help’s age forced my mum to do something she had not done prior to that I.e come up with a contract, that was what made for a smooth relationship NOT her age, but again I thought that was clear by my argument. I agree that being older is not the “panacea of all maid issues”, nevertheless, like I said it eliminates certain issues, it ensures that he/she is fully aware of what they signing up or being signed up for. Putting things in contract with an older individual I.e someone is fully capable of understanding what they are doing, makes things clear and can make termination of employment an easy process should the need arise. Like with job offers gives you agreement/ contract, does not mean people don’t still mess up and end up with their roles being terminated.

      If you have an argument to make then please make it but please with all due respect do not come at me with the judgemental card or you have never done this or that. I try my best to treat people with respect and little or no judgement, that I have an opposing view or that I spell things out does not equal judgement.

  10. Ajala & Foodie

    June 3, 2017 at 3:42 am

    BN Abeg, I take time to type my essay. Na beg I beg let moderator post am.

  11. Hmm

    June 5, 2017 at 12:28 am

    “Let me spell it out : STOP HIRING UNDERAGE, UNEDUCATED INDIVIDUALS. THEN ALL YOUR ISSUES WILL BE A THING OF THE PAST!!!!”

    @Ajala&foodie I believe you wrote that?
    So yes hiring adults is not a panacea for all maid issues.
    Also if you cant see how you sounded judgemental, I cant help you. Nobody is coming at you for anything, no need to be so defensive. Toodles…

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