My friend and fellow mom Yvonne and I have been trying to meet since last year, but somehow, even though we both live in Lagos, we haven’t found success. I was teasing her recently about how I don’t even mind making it official and booking an appointment, and she said:
‘Oh, I now have a help, so things are a bit lighter.’
And she added something about benefitting a lot from my articles on Domestic Queens, which inspired my goal to zoom in on this ‘domestic help’ or ‘house girl’ matter.
A game changer in any home, which is why I usually ask moms: ‘Do you have a help?’ Which may or may not be followed through with: ‘Why don’t you have a help?’
From my research, I have realized that one of the major reasons women don’t have or even like helps is because we have not learned how to manage them in a way that both parties actually enjoy each other.
At this point, you are probably thinking of your terrible experiences with them, and even wondering how I have the guts to say we can ‘enjoy’ them. But, please, hold your horses first. Let me land.
Yes, I have had my fair share of dramatic helps: one threatened to beat me up during my pregnancy, and another left me two weeks post c-section, alone with a baby and a toddler. Another left nicely, but spread lies about me, and I even had one who was rude to me in my own home. House help horror stories? Most of us have them. But the last two I have had have been blessings. This happened, first with the help of God, and next when I started to put some things in place from even before I employed anyone.
There is so much to share but, in this post, I will discuss the foundation, that is, the ‘recruitment process.’
You see, I was intentional about using a professional term, ‘recruitment,’ because I don’t want you to see this casually. Your home is your office, but even beyond your office, it is your holy ground. So you cannot be casual about who you are bringing in to work for you. It cannot be just anybody from the village your mother brought, anybody coming from Togo the agent is bringing, or a friend who is relocating and whose amazing help is now free. No, I have learned to be intentional.
Once I establish my need for a help, I list out my terms of engagement. Please note that this is based on my own home and season, so you do not have to copy or contest it. Principles are parallel, so take the principles and apply to your own recruitment process.
First, she has to be post-secondary school. I have young impressionable kids, so literacy is important to me, and speaking good English is non-negotiable. This also filters out the age bracket I am looking for, so anything from sixteen works, so long as she’s finished secondary school. I don’t want anyone to go to school in my home, instead I wanted to pay her. For the sake of respect, I also don’t want anyone older or even close to my age, so I put an age cap on 23/24 years.
Next, her faith. Not only does she have to be a Christian, she also has to go to church with us. I don’t want anyone going to a different church. This again is non-negotiable.
Then, her leave days, or in Nigerian parlance, ‘off-days.’ Normally, most people do off days one weekend a month, but I don’t want that. If I had an older lady say in her 40s, that may have been negotiable, but a young girl? No. That would be too risky for me, so I always let the agent know that whoever is coming has to be fine with staying put for six months at least without going ‘off.’ One year, even better, then she cumulates all her leave days and goes for a long one, best at Christmas, and when she returns, we repeat all the medical tests she did before she started working with me. This also means I don’t want anyone who resumes in the morning and leaves in the evening.
Finally, respect and attitude, and this I can pick from our first conversation over the phone, and then physically. I need anyone who comes to work for me to be clear who the boss is. I cannot deal with an entitled or rude person, at all.
Above all, I listen to my intuition and see how we vibe. If you tick all my boxes but I feel somewhat uneasy in my spirit, I let you go.
These are the most important qualities I look out for when I recruit, so no matter how hard any agent tries to coerce me into accepting some nice girl who wants to go off every month, or who says she only goes to her church, or is really great with kids but speaks vernacular, or didn’t finish secondary school, I stand my ground and said no.
When I interview anyone, I have specific questions I ask, and if I sense an attitude problem, then you are gone.
No compromise, no emotions, no desperation. Which is why I don’t recruit under pressure or in a hurry. I take my sweet time.
Now, you may be thinking about some other qualities and wonder why they don’t matter to me.
Maybe like tribe? No, it doesn’t matter. In fact, if I am stuck between two or more great prospects, tribe will be a deal breaker, as I will not go first for my own tribe. I am excited about new cultures.
How about competence? Hmm, as a stay-at-home mum, I am here to teach you what I need you to know in my home, and closely supervise it. I am going to need you to unlearn a lot of what you have learned about cooking and cleaning, and learn the culture of my own home. All I need is for you to be open to learning and not be an ‘okachamara,’ aka know-it-all.
Of course, tribe may be important to you, especially if you speak a certain language at home and would like to enforce it for your children’s sake. But we speak English at mine, so it isn’t. Competence may be important to you if you have no time to supervise like I do, so you must prioritize that.
I have seen some women look for physically unattractive ladies, or even males instead, because of their husbands, and that is also worth considering if you feel a need to. No wisdom in putting bananas in front of a monkey and asking it to not taste it. Controversial, I agree, but sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.
Your family may even need a woman in her 40s or 50s who already has grown kids, especially if you need help with a baby or two. An older person is a no-no for me because I can handle my kids.
The deal is, look closely at your family and determine what kind of help will be perfect for you, even before the recruitment process begins. When you hit the streets, make sure you are not easily swayed by agents, as sometimes, they know how to pressure or ‘sweet talk’ you into some person they have. I have even turned down a help my mom wanted to bring for me from the village when she went for Christmas because I wanted to own my recruitment process.
Most likely, if you get it right during the recruitment process, you will have laid the right foundation, and building from there, which also requires wisdom, should be easier. Not perfect, but should be less stormy and more enjoyable.