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The myth of doing it all: modern moms and hiring help

by Meagan Francis on May 4, 2011

Betcha SHE didn't feel bad about hiring help.

Last fall I read Little Women for the first time in at least ten years, and had quite a revelation. You may remember how the book opens: the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth, are in the middle of an epic complain-fest about poverty. Papa lost the family fortune when the oldest girls were small, he’s now far away from their “plain, but comfortable” New England home serving as a pastor for Union soldiers in the Civil War. The older girls work to help support the family, there is much talk of the drudgery of housework and chores, and worse, Christmas is coming and their mother “Marmee” has suggested they will be getting no gifts.

Just after you’ve really gotten picture that this family is not doing so hot financially and has a whole lotta work on their hands, another character enters the scene: Hannah, the family’s live-in servant.

Whaaaa?

The Marches weren’t unique. Going by the extensive reading of free and/or inexpensive classic novels I’ve on my Kindle over the past year, many–perhaps most–“ordinary” families had some kind of hired help back then, even those who weren’t very well off: whether it was a teen girl helping out in the kitchen, a boy to work on the farm or a local woman “taking in” the wash or even live-in cooks, nannies and other servants, having “help” was just an accepted fact of life among the middle classes.

Things have changed pretty dramatically in the American home over the last century or so–economically, socially and technologically. And while families in the highest income brackets may still matter-of-factly employ full-time household staff, for the rest of us hiring outside help has become more…complicated. We wonder if we seem snobby, entitled, spoiled? Are we exploiting the person we’re hiring? And…hey, with all these modern advances, shouldn’t we really be able to do it all, all by ourselves, if we maybe just tried a little harder?

But while our jobs are probably less physically demanding than our great-great-grandmothers’ were, that doesn’t necessarily mean our lives are simpler. With more choice comes complication and busy-ness, and I think, less of a feeling of knowing when we’ve done “enough.” Plus, we’ve got so many roles to grapple with, we fear shortchanging one area will compromise our identities: can I really call myself a ‘homemaker’ if I don’t do all the work myself?

Right now, I have part-time household help–3-4 hours at a time, twice a month. For the majority of my life as a mom and homemaker I did not have outside help, and it was pretty manageable when I lived in a small home with two preschool-aged kids. Another kid or three, a larger house, a book contract or two, pregnancies, infants, a traveling spouse…all of those things created a new brew of circumstances that led to there being more and more gaps between the things that were important to me and the things that actually got done. Something was always getting overlooked, whether getting dinner on the table, meeting my deadlines, remembering to check the kids’ homework, or cleaning the floors. Eventually that reality led me to the decision to hire help. Sometimes that’s meant child care and no cleaning service, sometimes it’s meant a cleaning service and no child care, and sometimes, when things have been really hectic, I’ve had both. (On the other hand, there have also been stretches of time in there where our budget has allowed for neither!)

In my post about putting off, delegating, or skipping household tasks, when I mentioned that I currently have a cleaning person, it led to an interesting discussion in the comments section. One reader felt that I had not been up-front enough in the past about the fact that I have household help (I have mentioned it once or twice, but she’s right; it hasn’t been front-and-center in my homemaking posts recently.) And while the reader says she doesn’t judge my decision to hire help, she admitted that she no longer felt able to identify with me as much as a homemaker, and that it materially changed the way she viewed my perspective and advice on cleaning, organizing, and managing a home.

I do see her point. While 7 or 8 hours of help each month doesn’t give me a “get out of housework free” card, it definitely does lighten my load, freeing up time I would be mopping the floor or scrubbing the tub for other things. And for a few minutes, I felt defensive. My life isn’t easy! I wanted to respond. I only have help because I really NEED it!

But what is “easy”, what is “need” and why would somebody hiring help make us think less–or even differently–about their skill or advice as a home manager? Whether we recognize it or not, I think my initial defensive reaction to my reader’s comment–and likely, her opinion as well–stem from our collective modern American uneasiness with the idea of hired household help. We think it sounds nice, but maybe a little…indulgent. Something that makes us a little soft and spoiled. On the other hand, I’m guessing housewives from the 1800’s just saw hiring help as a really efficient way of delegating the tasks that fell to them in the overall job of running a household. Sure, they could probably manage without it, but why just “manage” if they didn’t have to?

We all have factors that make our lives more or less difficult, relatively speaking, but they are a complicated and ever-changing set of factors. And they’re irrelevant, really:  no matter whether it’s just you and one baby and a regular cleaning service, or you have four kids, two puppies, three birds, a home-based business and no help, I’m going to give you the same advice: to figure out what’s really important to you and your family, prioritize, delegate, break large tasks down into smaller ones, tackle messes right away when you can, use small bits of time to your advantage, and try to keep a positive attitude about it all. Hiring help isn’t a magic bullet–but it’s definitely one tool of many that can help you manage it all.

This week I’m hoping we can talk frankly about the way we feel about hired help and the way we use it–both to demystify the process, and also to de-stigmatize the idea of paying for help. Let’s talk: do you use, are you considering using, or have you used paid help? What kind of help (child care, meal service, grocery delivery, cleaning service, errand-runner, lookalike to attend PTA meetings instead of you)? When and why did you decide to hire them? How did you go about it? Did you hit any bumps in the road? Encounter any resistance from your spouse or judgment from your neighbors? Feel free to get into any details you’d like about cost, how you justify it in your budget, how many hours of help you get and how big the difference really is in your life. I’ll follow up this week with more posts about modern homemaking and how hired help can fit into the equation. Can’t wait to see the discussion unfold!

Want more ideas
for creating a happier home life?

{ 248 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine @ Coffees & Commutes May 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Because I work full-time out of the home, and have a long commute of almost 2 hours a day, I definitely have help. Obviously I have child care for my children while I work, but I also have a cleaning lady come in once a month to do the deep cleaning. If we could afford it, I’d have her come twice. In the beginning I felt really guilty about having her, but now I realize it’s essential. If she didn’t come, the cleaning she does simply wouldn’t get done. It’s only a small piece of help, but it really does make a difference.

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Abby May 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Re: “Little Women” and hired help in that era — you are so right! It seems so crazy to us now. But this is actually one argument I’ve never understood. I see NO shame or guilt or anything negative about hiring someone to clean your house. Growing up, my family was by no means wealthy, but we always had a “cleaning lady” who came twice a month. My parents were both busy teachers and never explained or apologized for it at all. Nor should they. Until recently, I had a cleaning service every 2 weeks, too. There are so many things I’d rather be doing with my time, and so many other places I’m willing to cut back, to make that possible. And as soon as things are going a little bit better for us financially, I’m hiring the cleaners back. Cleaning is SO not my forte!

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Rachel @ Busy Mommy Media May 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I would actually love to have a cleaning person a few times a month if it was in the budget. My only issues is that I highly suspect I would frantically clean the entire house before the cleaning person came. . . which I guess kind of defeats the purpose of having someone come int.

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Jessica May 4, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I love this post! There are months where I *gasp* don’t mop my floor or scrub the tubs because I just cannot find the time or energy. My husband has suggested hiring someone to pick up the tasks that I can’t accomplish and I’ll admit, I bristle at that suggestion, as though admitting that I need help is worse than letting it my home get into that kind of a state :) I loved reading your perspective!

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Brittany {Mommy Words} May 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I have a cleaning lady 2x a month paid for with whatever money this blogging gig makes me. It helps so much to have that help. It’s the bathrooms and kitchen I hire her for. After 2 weeks they need a real all at once cleaning and I don’t have the energy. With 3 kids 4 and under the mess sometimes seems impossible to handle. I also have the pre-school break and fill those few hours with house cleaning, pickup, errands and that blogging stuff. I am still super tired and never feel like a have a break!

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Sue May 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I am all for hiring help/out-sourcing whenever I can do it (and afford it). I’m a single mom, I work full time. I spend my evenings and weekends with my daughter. We play, do activities, have fun – all weekend long. My only free time is at night when she goes to sleep – and cleaning is the last thing I’m thinking of at that point. Sure, we run errands; straighten the house; and do some mundane things – but the majority of our time is spent together. I’d much rather enjoy my family than clean house (but I also want a clean and healthy house for us to live in!). I cut corners financially where I can but the cleaning lady (and the lawn mowing teenage boy) will be the last to cut!

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Abby May 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Thanks for this discussion! We could easily afford household help, but it just feels SO indulgent. I’ve been telling myself I don’t care if I can’t remember the last time I washed the kitchen floor or if I’m dressing my kids straight from the dryer some mornings.

But you know, I *do* mind. It makes me feel like I’m failing, which is CRAZY because I work full-time, volunteer at the kids’ school, and my husband has an especially demanding assignment right now. And we *can* afford it.

I’m going to call the cleaning service my neighbors rave about and schedule an appointment. I think we would all be happier to come home to a cleaner home.

Thank you for raising this issue. I don’t think I’ll spend less time on “housework” but I think I’ll be able to spend more time on the fun stuff, like cooking from scratch and decorating for the holidays, two things I don’t really do now.

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Di May 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Once again, a wonderfully relevant post for my own journey as a mother. My husband and I, after nearly a decade of marriage, and nearly 15 years together in total, have only recently realized that we want a cleaner home than we are capable of providing. He works long hours at his job, both at the office and at home, and is trying to build a professional photography portfolio. I am the primary parent during the day, and take care of the house. (In other words a stay-at-home-mom.) But I’m not good at housework. I lack the skills to do it well, and a recent back injury make it difficult to complete simple tasks like thorough vacuuming and scrubbing the tub.

Coming to the understanding that getting help is necessary at this point in our lives was very hard for both of us. But we are currently pricing cleaning services in our area. I look forward to the comments on this topic.

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Erica May 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm

No, we don’t have any help. I think I am just to frugal to go for it. My husband is out of town 4-5 days a week for 4-6 months at a time, I have two little kids, am working on developing a small business, and have plenty on my plate, but I do my best to keep up. I am also very careful about how I spend my money and can’t justify a cleaning person or someone to shovel/do yard work/etc. My goal is to clean everything in my house once a month (with things like bathrooms and counter tops and sweeping obviously happening more often). Sometimes it doesn’t all get done, but I try. I mentioned my plan to my willingly childless sister and she said “some people clean even less frequently than that,” implying that my approach was barely tolerable. So I guess I don’t do it all, but I do enough to feel good.

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Meagan Francis May 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Erica–this was my biggest obstacle, too, the frugal thing. Especially having grown up in a house where we rarely spent money unnecessarily for ANYTHING.

If you’re happy with your situation, that’s all that matters. I think for ME, I found that investing money in some areas (like cleaning, for example) led to freeing up time to earn more than that. So it was more a business decision, really, than anything else. But I wouldn’t have seen it the same way when I was just getting my business off the ground…and I was in the same position as you then, with an always traveling husband and two little kids.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m just getting old and tired :)

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Angeline May 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I’m here to tell you that definitely clean less than that! You’re an ace in my book.

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MamaMeYeah May 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm

@Christine: Coffees & Commutes–not trying to be snarky/rude, just curious–how messy can a house get if you are at work all day and the kid(s) are at childcare? or do you have a live-in nanny so they mess the place up? I wonder if people just have really high standards of clean. It’s kind of my personal “thing” that if I can’t take care of my own home/own number of children, then I have too big a home or too many children. I get why others do it, since, having just one, child I am busier with housework than I’d rather be (I’d rather have ZERO housework, natch) but, I still wouldn’t pay someone else to clean my house. To me, it’s just kind of the dues you pay in life.

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Meagan Francis May 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

“paying dues” is an interesting way of looking at it. I guess I see managing a home as a necessary activity, but it’s not necessarily something that all has to or even should fall to one person. To me it’s not about being unable to care for my home, but choosing to spend some of that time (key words SOME OF–I still spend plenty of time cleaning!) doing other things, like working, for example.

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Angeline May 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Yes. Why not get help if you can? There’s no virtue in remaining over burdened if you don’t have to be. Its not winning you a place in heaven over somebody who is less frazzled.

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MamaMeYeah May 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm

For me, it only gets “overburdening” once in a while if I decide to do a big cleaning/organizing project or some home improvement thing. Then after I am done, I’d rather use the money I would have paid someone else to do something nice for myself to reward the labor. The day-to-day upkeep just flows naturally though. You see a mess, you wipe it. You pick up as you go. I do little bits of things in my spare time between other things like working, exercising, playing with my kid, messing around online or reading. That’s what I don’t get about it being so hard. Y’all must keep much cleaner homes than me. Of course, I have only one child and a smaller house, but I like that I am master of my domain (I also have a semi-helpful husband who cooks half the time and does his own laundry…he makes attempts at cleaning, but I really have to take the lead there.) By “paying dues” I don’t mean virtue or “winning a place in heaven” I just mean taking care of what’s mine. I would not feel comfortable having someone clean my house.

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Calee May 5, 2011 at 9:24 am

I think it comes down to personal preference and only having 1 kid. I remember having people over who said “just wait until there is 2″. I didn’t want to believe an extra body would exponentially up the mess, but boy, did he. I do little bits in between too, but went 2? 3? months without vaccuuming the bedrooms before we rehired the cleaning service. They come once a month and I’m hoping the budget will soon allow me to make it every 2 weeks, or even every week. A clean house makes me happy. Cleaning does not.

Cindee May 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I cleaned houses to put myself through massage school after my divorce. Eight years of marriage while being a stay at home mom left me with few skills I could market. Now that I work for myself, I trade massage services for cleaning with a friend from church who cleans professionally. Even though my husband is currently unemployed, we still retain the cleaning services because of the value I place on my time and energy. I DID take care to set up clear boundaries and expectations with my friend when we made our arrangement to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

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Chara May 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I cleaned houses as well and I find it funny all the people who say that they would clean like crazy just before the cleaning woman came. The house I remember the clearest was a house with two small children. The mother worked part-time and when we came we always cleaned the bathtub, toilet and bathroom counter, vacuumed everything, mopped, dusted, put dishes in the sink and rinsed them, took out the trash, and changed the bed sheets.
In my own home, this is something I try to do once a week in an hour-long block (this isn’t much of a feat for me since my home is pretty tiny) but for a mom who worked part-time and whose home was on the larger side, it was difficult, at best.
If I had the money, now, I would probably hire someone to come do these things at my house. Even once a month would ease up a significant amount of time for me.

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Liz May 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm

My husband and I started hiring a cleaning lady to come twice a month 6 or so years ago (before having children). I’m a very frugal person and hated the idea, but was working a very demanding full-time job while going back to school for my masters. Between work and school assignments I hardly had time to sleep, much less keep the house clean. The decision was really about survival at that point. Once I finished my degree we kept the cleaning service, but I always felt guilty about it.

We had decided once we had our first child that I would become a stay-at-home mom and, given the new financial constraints on our household and all of the “free time” I would have at home, we had planned on discontinuing the cleaning service. Once our son was born, though, taking care of a newborn and then a toddler was harder than I ever imagined. Then I went back to work part-time. End result is that we still have the cleaning lady, and I feel so much guilt about it it’s not even funny. I’m constantly asking myself what is wrong with me that I can’t keep up with only one child and maintain my house without help when I don’t even work full time?? I struggle with it constantly.

I think in the end, though, I feel that being able to have more time to be present with my son is more important than the jab to my pride or the time or two less we get to eat out each month that the cleaning lady costs me.

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SleeplessinSummerville May 5, 2011 at 8:18 am

Why should you feel guilty about hiring help? You are as busy as I am and if I could afford it, I would totally hire help. Sometimes I think we compare ourselves to our parents (or in my case spouse compares with his mom) and we who are currently parenting suffer by the comparison. My mother-in-law did 100% of the housework until the kids were old enough to do chores. My FIL is a foreigner who felt that it was his job only do earn money and take care of cars and the outside of the home (and repairs). She kept house to a higher standard than I ever will and sewed her kids clothes sometimes! But parenting was different in the olden days as well. I don’t think parents had angst about parking the little ones in front of the TV or ordering them to play outside while mom cleaned things. I didn’t have a SAHM mom myself, but I was kept by one. I actually don’t remember her interacting with me all that much when I was young. Now we would frown on that. I guess I’m just pointing out that you are in fact very busy and that if you are comparing yourself to someone older, you may be misremembering how it really was. Or not. My BFF recently posted on FB that she knew she was turning into her mother because she was mopping her floors at midnight. Is that a standard you should aspire to uphold?

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Erin May 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Ten years ago, my husband & I had a standoff over cleaning the bathrooms. We had no kids but we both worked demanding jobs – I didn’t see housekeeping as my domain. Basically it came down to priorities – we decided we’d rather spend time with each other (and now our 4 kids & 2 dogs) than thoroughly clean the house.

In the past 10 years we’ve had someone clean our house anywhere from once a month to 3 times a month depending on our $$ situation. I can always find a way to save more or earn more so I can keep this “luxury.” And, yes, I still frantically clean the house the night before she comes. :-)

Whatever works for you is what’s best for you! I have no guilt.

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Angeline May 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Since my oldest turned 1 year I’ve always hired some kind of “help”. I’ve always felt that my biggest need was to have some uninterrupted time without a child in tow. My husband works very long hours and travels often. I know that I need some breathing space away from the kids in order to be a good parent. When my oldest was a baby I hired a nanny 2 days a week and when each of my children turned 3 they started part-time preschool. People who take care of my children are my “help”. Our family is much better for that help.

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MelissaS May 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm

@Angeline, Thank you for admitting that you need breathing space! This is something I am struggling with right now. My oldest is in school all day, and my little one is at home with me (he’s 20 months). My husband just took a new position at work that means even more travel. He wants me to hire a part time nanny and I just can’t get over the mental hump that I should be taking care of my own kids. But the truth is I’m not taking the best care of them if I’m at my breaking point, am I? I wish more women would admit that it’s nearly impossible to “do it all” well, and not judge each other for the amount of help we ask for or not. This discussion is fantastic!

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Cindee May 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Isn’t it amazing how long it takes us to realize we are better parents if we also take care of ourselves! I was a stay a home mom for the 1st four years of my daughter’s life and I found it SO helpful to have a few hours of time to just be a woman. At the time I was living on a military base, so I found a volunteer position that paid for childcare. My girlfriend was delighted to watch my daughter (she had 3 school age boys) for four hours a week AND get a little extra money. It was a win-win for everyone! And if you think about it, isn’t it healthy for your child to learn to adapt to other people as caregivers from an early age? Go for it!

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Bonny Clark May 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I don’t have paid help – it’s cost prohibitive. I do, however, have 5 kids who all contribute far more than the amt of hours you pay for! I love that you’ve found a great solution that works well for your family. Not trying to do everything alone is probably the best tip ever for doing “it all!”

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Meagan Francis May 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Bonny, good point about kids being part of the workforce. Mine are still young enough to kind of equal each other out–the two biggest help a lot, the middle child helps a little, and the younger two cause a lot more mess than they clean up. But when people ask how I “do it” with five kids, I often want to say–honestly, when some of those kids are big, it’s amazing how much work they take OFF your plate!

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Myra May 4, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I have someone who cleans my house at least twice a month, sometimes every week depending on how busy my schedule is. I don’t feel guilty at all! I work part time, have 3 kids – who play soccer, guitar lessons, karate & cheering- a husband with a demanding job, a dog & an elderly mother. I am busy as is every mom. I may not “need” help but I want help. It makes me a much happier, less uptight wife & mother.

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chezmonchichi May 4, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Such a great topic to discuss which I can already see, generates a healthy debate along so many different lines. The invitation to de-mystify and de-stigmatize the notion of hired help seems right on. I find myself grappling with the guilt of indulgence on the one hand and on the other hand, feeling good at having the breathing room to be not be frazzled and impatient with my child, having the time to connect with my husband, and feeling balanced. Is the notion that hired help is indulgent, unique to women? Would men grapple with it too? My husband travels so much that he is the one who insists on keeping our hired help despite my attempts to scale back because it feels luxurious.

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Kristen Chase May 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I have four kids, a husband who travels about half the month, and a pretty much work-at-home job. When I had a couple less kids and less work, I was able to keep just fine, though I’d hire a sitter to come a couple of mornings a week just to give me some work time other than nap and bedtime.

But now with all the kids, my husband’s schedule, and my work, I have someone who comes 4 afternoons a week for 4 hours (so 16 hours a week).

We also have a cleaning person who comes twice a month. It’s insanely cheap (I’m not kidding – I tell people how much I pay and what they do – HI MY LAUNDRY AND ALL MY BEDS/SHEETS) and we’ve learned that my husband was spending all his time when he was coming home cleaning (a little OCD he is). And so, I was still with the kids, he was off cleaning, and we weren’t spending time together. For us, it definitely had to do with making our marriage work a little better.

I don’t feel bad or guilty about either – maybe more the child care than the housecleaning if I had to pick one, but I’m getting better with it. And most of all, I know that if we had any sort of financial issues, it would obviously be the first thing to go.

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PrissG. May 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I very much enjoy reading this blog, but this post was very interesting and I felt like sharing my own situation. I’m a mom of three boys five and under. I unschool them, so I have them 24/7 with me. I live in Mexico, so the situation here is a little different from the States. It is more common to hire someone to help once a week, three times a week or even every day. The service is very cheap, so many people can afford it and many people needs the job, so you can find many ladies to do it. When my boys were babies I had a girl who came over once a week. She was like an angel from heaven! I felt so released to give my babies my full attention and at the same time, not seeing my house falling apart! One year ago we weren’t able to afford the service anymore and it was shocking for me. However, the whole situation has been a great lesson of empowerment for me. I’ve realized that I’m capable of doing a lot more of what I thought I was. Sometimes the limitations I see are the only ones in my head. Now we are in a better economical situation, so, many times I struggle with the idea of hiring a new lady. But then, I think about the wonderful opportunity to involve my children in housekeeping and give them invaluable tools that will help them forever. I appreciate that I was taught many useful tools in housekeeping, so I’m pretty efficient in that. Once again, I brake the limits in my head and take the decision to empower myself and then my children, and I see how wonderful our lives can be when we work together as a team to maintain the neatness of our home. My children are learning a lot and I’m enjoying to do fun activities with them as we do house chores. And surprisingly I found out that we can do it faster and faster and it doesn’t take us more than one hour per day. Then, we have free time to do other fun activities. Greetings from Mexico!

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Kristine May 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Unlike the days of “servants,” people who clean homes for a living today are not destined to that path because of their birthright. They are making an honest living and working hard to do it. Many clever women (and some men) have started companies to fill the need that has arisen for professional home cleaning services. I feel like we are denigrating or devaluing them and their services by suggesting their work is something of which we should be ashamed.

My husband and I realized early on in our marriage that we were much happier and healthier if we spent our weekends enjoying one another and not cleaning house for two solid days. When we had kids and I left the paid workforce, money became tighter, but having help was still a priority.

Because, after all, what’s so wrong with help? We used to live in tightly-knit communities with family and close friends nearby to help us communally raise our kids. My husband and I live hundreds of miles from any family and if we want a support system, we have to pay for it. Never in human history have families operated in such isolation. If I don’t have a passel of grandmommas and aunties around to help me with my children, then I am going to have to have help with something. I don’t live under the illusion that I can do it all.

Enough with the guilt, mamas. It doesn’t do anyone a bit of good.

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Meagan Francis May 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

“Unlike the days of “servants,” people who clean homes for a living today are not destined to that path because of their birthright. They are making an honest living and working hard to do it.”

Very good point, Kristine! I wrote a post about a year ago about hiring a house cleaner: http://thehappiestmom.com/?p=1168 and said this: “The concern that I might appear entitled or elitist was just plain silly, as the cleaning people I knew were from the same socioeconomic group as myself. They were independent entrepreneurs, earning a fair hourly wage, setting their own hours and helping to support their families by running a flexible small business. Gee…kind of like myself.”

I like to look at it like this: my cleaning person is making a living doing what she’s good at, freeing up my time to allow me to do what I’M good at (and love.)

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Ana May 5, 2011 at 7:50 am

Kristine, I’m glad you mentioned this.

We actually first used a cleaner (who worked for a friend of ours) right before a party we had when I was 8 months pregnant. It was really a one-time thing. I felt way too guilty and inadequate admitting that I can’t manage my own home and the idea of hiring someone really did strike me as elitist and luxurious.

But the woman actually called me again a few weeks later, asking if I was happy with the job she did, and whether we needed her to come back. Or if not, could I please refer her to any friends of mine that were looking for someone. Turns out her husband had lost his job, and she had lost a part-time gig she had doing some other type of work and she was trying to build up her cleaning business.

She really didn’t see the work she did as demeaning, wasn’t it actually more insulting to her that I did see it that way?

Once the baby came, I did call her again, and we have her every 3 weeks now (yes we need more, but that’s all we can afford right now). I referred her to several acquaintenances and friends that ended up hiring her. She now has a website & business cards and has added her young-adult daughter & her sister to her workforce. Her husband has his own nascent handy-man business, with a lot of referrals coming from her clients. Its amazing for their family, and I’m really glad I could support a hard-working, entrepreneuring mom!

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Kristine May 6, 2011 at 11:47 am

“She really didn’t see the work she did as demeaning, wasn’t it actually more insulting to her that I did see it that way?”

I love it, Ana.

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Ana May 4, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Hi Meagan! It’s my first time commenting, but I’ve been reading you for a while…
I live in Argentina (South America), and I find it amazing how different things are here. Everyone has help at home, and I mean EVERYONE, middle class and upper. Many, many people have maids actually living at home with them, and they take great pride in it. Personally, I don’t like this. I mean, I’d find it weird to have a person sleeping at my home, keeping her apart from her family, just so she can make my dinner at night and my breakfast in the morning! But you know, people think differently here I guess…
I do have a lady coming once a week to do all the things I neve do, like ironing or mopping the floors. I’m lazy and clueless when it comes to housekeeping, and that’s something I’d like to change. But there you have it again: even when I didn’t have my baby, she already came, to clean a house where only 2 grown-ups lived! We were so spoiled, but we never even thought about it… Everybody else was doing it!
I guess we are living in Louisa May Alcott’s times here!

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Zarah May 4, 2011 at 6:54 pm

This post is very timely for me! I had a baby a year ago and I’ve been working 4 days a week since coming off maternity leave. In less than two weeks I’m going back full time… and mama’s hiring a housecleaner! Luckily my increase in hours comes with an increase in pay and I know that I will drive myself and my husband crazy if I don’t get some help – it is totally worth the money! I do feel conflicted about it as you describe (shouldn’t I be able to do this myself?!?) but I’m barely holding everything together with an extra day off during the week, so I’m going to swallow my pride and get some help.

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cece May 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I work full time, so we have childcare for 9 hours a day. I have cleaning ladies that come every two weeks, and I use Dream Dinner for meals (which you go and prepare there – so you still cook but they do most of the prep work) which covers 12 meals out of my month.

I don’t feel bad or guilty or anything. I need the help. I have 2 children under the age of 3, and both my husband and I work full time because we love our jobs. My kids are flourishing in daycare, and I have no guilt whatsoever about spending all day Saturday hanging out with them – if I have to pay $70 every two weeks to not have to spend naptime on Sautrday cleaning toliets? I’ll do it.

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Sarah (mrsgryphon) May 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Honestly? I wish I had more help. We do currently have a cleaning lady who comes in once a week, and there are many things I would cut out of the budget before I would let her slip away. I’m also hoping to find a one-day-a-week babysitter for my youngest so that I can actually get some errands and house-projects done without interruption.

I’ve realized in the past year that the blocks of time that I have to accomplish tasks are so fragmented (10 minutes here, 5 minutes there), and are always at the expense of a child that needs something, that there’s really no time for processing and organization. It’s just an attempt to get done what can be done in that small window. So, childcare help and housework help are becoming more and more integral to our happy household.

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Maman A Droit May 4, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I don’t have help. But I pretty much don’t spend money on myself ever. I would guess I have spent less than $50 on myself in the last year on clothes, makeup, and craft supplies (I sew for fun!) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hiring help, but I do think of it as a luxury!

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Kitter May 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I’m a SAHM to two young kids, with a small house, numerous hairy pets and a well-loved sandbox out back. I LOVE my cleaning ladies. They come every other week and do a deep clean of the whole house & change the sheets. It’s wonderful. The thing is… I’m still cleaning ALL THE TIME. The day to day upkeep of kids/house/pets continually astounds me, 4+ years into this gig.
I do consider having cleaning ladies a luxury – it’s the first thing on the chopping block when money’s tight. We’ve had to “fire” them before, and will likely have to again.
My issue is this: I’m embarrassed to tell some friends that we have a cleaning lady. These are people that are quite frugal or have very tight finances. Yet with other friends, those that are more well-off, I have no qualms talking about it. It bothers me that I feel this way.
This is such an interesting topic – thank you for delving into it!

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Eve May 4, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I have had a cleaning gal come twice a month since my third baby was a couple months old, and I live in Canada where we have maternity leave for a year, so yep, I’m home and still have her come. The choice to have her come was a matter of stress. Having survived a serious marriage crisis, we realized that anything we could do to reduce stress was well worth it, and keeping house and home – stress! Our gal does the floors and bathrooms. I can live with dust and pretty much everything else that I don’t manage to do. She recently broke her leg and has been unable to come, which was a nice enforced test to see if I really still need her. I DO! Sure enough, we are more stressed and realize the biggest benefit (potentially) is that having her come twice a month forces us to do a big tidy – put everything away, organize, de-clutter – so that she can do her job efficiently. Without that pressure, things have been going un-done and building up. She is well worth it! Saving stress, saving a marriage, keeping 3 kids in a 2-parent home – priceless.

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cagey May 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm

With my husband being from India, having help is no big deal to him. In fact, as part of our pre-marriage counseling, it was his idea to get a cleaning service when we discussed the “division of household duties”. A year later, when we moved into the bigger house with a matching yard, we added lawn service to the outside help category. At the time, I was working outside the home, no kids. Even after I quit the outside job while pregnant to stay home with our son, we still kept the cleaning service and lawn service. 2 years ago, we went through a budget overhaul and cut both services.

We talk about doing the household help again – I really appreciated the schedule and frankly, they do a better job than I do at it.

Believe me, I got really mixed reactions when folks found out we had a cleaning service. Some judgmental, some definitely jealous, some indifferent. But for my husband, he had never questioned it because that is how it was done when he was growing up – his SAHM mother ALWAYS had help in the house and they were very middle-class, not rich in the least.

Over the years, I’ve also hired babysitters to come in and give me an hour here and there as a break. I’ve gotten similarly weird reactions to that, as well.

It’s a shame that someone would say they can’t relate to you any longer just because you have some help. I have yet to find ANY mother who is in the exact same position as I am in, yet I still manage to find so many gals with whom I can relate as we all navigate the stormy waters of motherhood. :-)

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Monica @ In The Whisper May 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm

This is a great topic! I have 3 boys within 19 months of each other. My husband worked 80 hours a week until a recent car accident, and we still couldn’t make ends meet. I couldn’t afford help, but I was NOT the mother I would want to be. I was tired, stressed, sick, and my introverted soul had no space.

Since Hubby’s accident he’s been home more, able to give me that space. I started my blog, take naps, and even got to take a weekend retreat. I’m seriously like a new person. As he recovers, we’ve both realized that I can’t go back to to the way things were. We will be getting a mother’s helper/nanny to help me get some writing time. I hadn’t considered cleaning help, but I am now!

@MamaMeYeah: Not all of us have control over the number of children (and thus the amount of space we need) that God gives us. My twins were a surprise, but I don’t think they are “too many children.” I might need help at times, but that doesn’t mean I have too much; I have just the number God wanted for me.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 5:33 am

Beyond that first set of twins, you really *do* have control over your fertility/how many children you have, if you are a woman of means (apparently enough means to hire household help) currently living in the U.S. That, too, is your choice, of course, but please, no disingenuous “I have no control over the number of children I have” nonsense!

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Olivia May 5, 2011 at 5:50 am

Thank you for saying that. Some people are willing to cede control over when they get pregnant, but it is possible to choose how and when if you desire to.

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Laura May 5, 2011 at 9:33 am

No method of birth control is 100% other than total abstinence. Other more commonly used methods of birth control (the Pill, etc.) are not 100%. Even vasectomies and having your tubes tied occasionally can result in an unplanned pregnancy. Check out the percentages here: http://www.uhc.com/source4women/womens_health_topics/birth_control.htm

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah…people *always* say that. You don’t get 4 and 5 (or more) kid families by “mistake” unless you are really dumb.

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Marcia Wilwerding May 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Perhaps others would see your “hired help” differently if it was termed in another way. Babysitters and mothers’ helpers are definitely hired help, but there are no stigmas tied to these jobs. Perhaps we just need to re-think this area of our lives.

For instance, I had to wonder if the same person who balked at hiring help in the home has any problem being waited on, cooked for, and cleaned up after at a restaurant.

Our daughter was delighted to spend a day or two each month with the mothers of many children in our circle of friends. Her experiences working alongside these delightful women have made her the gracious and godly woman she is today. They always insisted on paying her, but she never set a fee and saw it as “on-the-job” training for her future role as the keeper of her own home.

Check out your local homeschool group for referrals.

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Meagan @ The Happiest Mom May 5, 2011 at 7:15 am

“For instance, I had to wonder if the same person who balked at hiring help in the home has any problem being waited on, cooked for, and cleaned up after at a restaurant.” I wondered that too, Marcia. The reality is, we live in a world where we are constantly exchanging money for assistance and/or convenience of some sort. The cleaning person definitely has a stigma attached that a babysitter or waitress does not.

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Ellen May 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm

OK, now I’m feeling a weensy bit defensive (Marcia – I’m the commenter that Meagan mentions in this post). I just wanted to reiterate something that I think Meagan eventually understood from my comments. I was in no way questioning at the fact of people hiring help. I have no problem with people paying other people to clean their homes.

The issue for me was that learning that Meagan has some hired cleaning help really changed how I perceived her posts on cleaning and organizing. In short, they became less relevant for me. Because in my eyes, having even a few hours of hired cleaning help removes a LOT of pressure–not just to get stuff done, but also to feel that I’m on top of things as a mom and homemaker. I won’t rehash the whole discussion…you can look back at the comments if you’re interested. Suffice it to say that I was not questioning the idea of hiring household help.

But to use the restaurant/food prep analogy to get at my point, consider this. Let’s say I became a fan of a blogger who wrote a lot about how to get healthy, wholesome family meals on the table every night. Let’s say I liked this blogger because her perspective and situation seemed similar to mine; she wasn’t one of those foodie types who tell you that your kids will eat calamari and brussels sprouts if you prepare them well and serve them often. So, as someone who wants to get a healthy family meal on the table every night but struggles with just how to do that, I start reading this blog, appreciating the blogger’s advice on how to use shortcuts in the kitchen to prepare healthy stuff and arrange family schedules and involve kids in cooking and prep stuff ahead of time and cook big batches so you have leftovers, etc. Then, I learn in one post that this blogger stops to pick up freshly prepared, healthy take-out food from a local restaurant at least once a week. Or maybe I learn that the college kid who watches her kids three afternoons a week loves to cook, and often does some of the dinner prep for her. Learning those facts would change my perception of how relevant and useful the blogger’s advice is TO ME. They would change the whole scenario, because I can’t afford good take-out once a week and don’t have a paid college kid in my house three afternoons a week who is willing to help me get dinner on the table. I wouldn’t criticize the blogger for turning to a restaurant or a college kid to help feed her family, because there’s nothing wrong with that. But I might find her advice less relevant and useful to me.

That’s essentially the dynamic with how my perspective on Meagan’s blog changed when I learned she has some paid help. It just made the advice a little less relevant. Though of course, I’m still here and plan to keep reading, so I guess in the end it’s not really that big a deal. And I’m finding this whole conversation really interesting so for that reason I’m glad I left my curmudgeonly comment a few days ago!

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erica @ expatirababy May 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I have a bit of a different experience with hired help. Until recently, I’ve been living in developing countries were everyone and their brother had hired help. Cooks, cleaners, divers, nannies, the works. It was even suggested that I hire a gardener to water the two plants I had on my balcony. (I did not do this, btw!)

Among my peers (many of them North Americans) there was never any hand wringing about the morality of paying people for domestic services. People were thrilled to farm out their domestic chores. But there was a whole lot of complaining about the fact that the maid didn’t scrub behind the toilets, folded the socks wrong, or perhaps left 15 minutes early.

I always felt that I was paying the domestic workers peanuts (and I paid well by the local standards) and I didn’t really care if things were not done perfectly. I was just happy not to have to scrub the toilet myself.

Now, back in a developed country, and a SAHM to an 11 month old, I still use help. Not cleaning anymore, because I strangely derive a sense of accomplishment from scrubbing my bathroom, but I pay for childcare for two hours, twice a week. It costs about fifty dollars a week. And I don’t feel bad about it one bit. My husband works all the time, I’m basically a single parent in a strange country with no support system, so paying for four hours a week of “me time” is not something I feel guilty about.

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Emma May 5, 2011 at 12:28 am

In my experience, the view of a house cleaner as a luxury is a cultural thing… in my (admittedly middle class) circles, most people I know in Switzerland (where I live) and Australia (where I come from) have a house cleaner, without any guilt attached. Personally, while we can clean our house we would rather not, and since we can afford to pay for a cleaner, we happily do so. We pay for everything else that makes our lives comfortable and easier (e.g., washing machine vs washing by hand), I don’t see a house cleaner as any different.

I also agree with a point made above – we pay our cleaner a fair rate, and she gets social security benefits because she is working, so I don’t feel we are exploiting her but rather providing stable employment with flexible conditions to someone who has limited other choices (I don’t mean this to sound like I think we are her saviors or anything, just that we are fair employers rather than exploiters).

Also, I don’t think having the house cleaner is “spoiling” us or making us lazy – we still do all the day to day cleaning after all! The kids (6 and 3) are required to tidy up their things, as well as clean up any other big mess they make. I’ve even started getting them to vacuum under the table after meals in the hope that this will make them eat more tidily, and I point out it’s not fair to leave such “extra” mess for the cleaning lady.

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Ellen May 5, 2011 at 2:29 am

I’m the obnoxious reader who started the comment thread last time around about hired help! That was actually a very helpful discussion for me. It made me realize that finding the funds to hire some cleaning help once or twice a month is a priority over the next year. As Meagan and I discussed in that thread, I think the greatest advantage of having cleaning help (based on my one time having it when I was undergoing cancer treatment, as well as talking to friends who have it) is not so much that I wouldn’t have to scrub showers and mop floors so often, though that would be nice. I think it’s the psychic space it would give me. When I fall into bed at the end of the day, having squeezed in dishes and laundry and maybe mopping the floor, I often feel defeated. I did all that, and my shower still has a scum of pink mildew and my floors are all covered with crumbs. If I knew that cleaning help was coming in a few days, I think I could let that stuff go and feel more satisfied with all of the work I do. It might not feel quite so endless. “Oh well,” I could say, “so the shower is nasty. At least so-and-so will be here on Thursday!” Instead of, “Argh. I’ve GOT to get to that shower. When am I going to do that?”

Yesterday I heard one of those news reports about how much mothers/housewives should be paid if they were paid for all they do. If you look at our work in that context–as valuable work that other people are paid to do–then hiring help makes sense as a way to run your “business” more efficiently.

Last point (promise): I don’t have any paid help right now. But I do work from home, finishing a book manuscript that is due next week. I have worked out a child care swap with a friend. She watches my preschooler two afternoons a week. In return, I babysit her three kids for about two weekend evenings a month. I have some friends who regularly swap housecleaning for other help that they need. So that’s another way to get some help without forking over money. It does have its drawbacks, but it has worked for me to get the child care I need.

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Meagan @ The Happiest Mom May 5, 2011 at 7:20 am

Ellen, you aren’t obnoxious at all. I’m so glad you brought this up because it really got me thinking and inspired this post, and wow–I can see this is a seriously loaded topic that needs to be brought to light! So thanks!

To add on to your comment about swapping with a friend–I have found that that cleaning with a friend (we’ll do my bathrooms this Thursday and your basement next Tuesday or whatever) makes the job seem so much more social, manageable, and fun that it can give you a little boost of energy even though you’re still, yannow, CLEANING.

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Heidi May 5, 2011 at 4:00 am

I really appreciate your perspective. Since I quit working to stay home with our son (now two sons!), I’ve struggled with feeling like I need some help with the housework but that I should be able to handle it on my own. For the first two years (with only one infant/toddler around), I managed reasonably well. After my second son was born, and we got posted to a new place with a significantly larger house, I just was not able to keep up. I found myself snapping at my older son because he was following me around begging me to read to him or play with him but I had to scrub the bathrooms or dust the furniture. My husband and I were both frustrated with the state of the house, and I felt like I was failing. Thank you for this post, it articulates what I’ve felt about hiring help but have been unable to express!

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Heidi May 5, 2011 at 4:10 am

Oops, I hit “post” before I was done typing! I meant to add that a few months ago we hired help to come in and clean once a week, and it’s made a huge difference for us. We don’t get to choose our housing, and while this place is great and gives us plenty of space it was totally overwhelming for me to try to clean and keep up with two little boys.

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Jackie May 5, 2011 at 4:18 am

Thanks for writing this post! I don’t feel like “hired help” in the home is indulgent at all, as long as you are working hard & don’t have time to fulfill the task on your own. I work from home FT and have had a college girl come in since my daughter was 9 weeks to care for her while I make calls/ focus on e-mails 5 hours a day. In the last 2 months now that my daughter is almost 9 months I have started going out for client lunches & attending more meetings. I chose this route instead of daycare & fortunately my employer has allowed me this work situation. My “nanny” costs for 5 hours a day possibly what most people pay for a full day with a daycare, but I love having the ability to peek in at my daughter at any given time during the day or just hear her laughter from my office while I’m trying to squeeze as much into those 5 hours as possible. I have cut out our cleaning service and get up an hour early or stay up an hour later to try to keep up with it, but bottom line, it’s hard. With out help I would not be able to fulfill my job responsibilities, so for me it is a necessity. As you mentioned, times have changed, many homes are 2 income households and having help is the only option to allow for both parents to stay employed. My husband owns a small construction company, he has the ability to call me during the day to send out documentation or follow up on invoices. On the day the nanny calls in sick or can’t make it, my husband rearranges his schedule so I can make it in for a meeting. We work with one another in order to allow us to be successful as a family when utilizing help when it is needed. I believe recognizing where you need help can make you more productive/ successful in what you & your family do. It would be hard for me to believe that you didn’t have help with everything you have on your plate & you do successfully : ) I believe its a step in the right direction if you can capitalize on time to do something constructive while utilizing help. I look at every minute of the day as an opportunity to get something done & further our growth as a family…sometimes I have to put that belief in the back of my head when 9pm hits and the baby is in bed and I indulge in my skinny girl margarita though : )

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 4:27 am

Someone said that when they were a cleaning lady they did these things and that’s what they’d pay someone to do now: “we always cleaned the bathtub, toilet and bathroom counter, vacuumed everything, mopped, dusted, put dishes in the sink and rinsed them, took out the trash, and changed the bed sheets.” What I don’t understand is how people would WAIT for someone to come and do these things for them, say, on a Wednesday or something, if the trash is full and needs to go out NOW, or there is grime on a counter or the tub NOW. I mean, just take care of little things NOW when they happen/don’t let them pile up and it’s not such a big problem. My strategy is “clean and you go” day to day, then once a month or every couple of months (if I’m having guests over for a meal or having a houseguest or something) I do more major cleaning up.

The argument about the Little Women and families of the 1800s makes me laugh a little since they didn’t have washing machines and all the other myriad appliances we had. They didn’t run to the grocery store quickly or have easy-to-make quick meals. Running a household was a whole other animal then. To me, running a household is really just small things one does in the background and I don’t attribute some great weight or importance to it, with the modern conveniences we have now.

That said, too, I don’t see how those meal assembly places really help people either. I mean, you have to GO to the place and pay extra for their ingredients. There’s no creativity, either. I don’t see what’s so hard about putting together simple meals, most things can be done in 30-45 minutes. I think people just make too much of it all, really. But, this is just my opinion. If you want to blow your money on these things, that’s y’all’s choice.

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Meagan @ The Happiest Mom May 5, 2011 at 7:27 am

Mama, “clean as you go” is absolutely my strategy. That said, when there are multiple household residents missing the toilet when they pee or getting toothpaste on the sink, it is easy for it to add up faster than you can “go” with it. I’m not complaining–like you point out, it was my choice to have a bunch of mess-making kids–but just saying, that’s my reality.

“To me, running a household is really just small things one does in the background and I don’t attribute some great weight or importance to it, with the modern conveniences we have now. ”

I would probably have agreed with you on this 13 years ago, but now that I have older children, I see things completely differently. Helping them learn to manage their lives–for which it is necessary to have a smoothly-running household–is a huge job and one that takes up a lot of my time.

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cece May 5, 2011 at 7:50 am

Don’t knock the meal assembly place until you try it. I thought it was lame at first too, but for me (I’ve been doing it for over 4 years now) they do all the prep work (including finding a receipe and shopping). I go there, take about 30 minutes to assemble 12 meals – and then, on days that I’m going to be suepr busy I pull them out the freezer and have an amazing dinner that I would have never had otherwise. I also find that I’m SAVING money, because when I go to the store (once a week because that is all I have time for) and buy food for the whole week, we end up wasting a lot because we were too busy to cook, or veggies go bad or whatever. When someone suggested it to me at first, I thought it was a waste, but seriously – it’s a great time saver.

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Emily May 5, 2011 at 11:36 am

I’m so glad you shared your perspective on this. I’ve thought about it in the past, but I’ve never gone as far as really looking into it. I may just have to now. THanks.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 5:05 am

I would also add that *everyone* seems to want to call themselves “middle class” (see link). My parents and grandparents never had help…I guess we all should just consider ourselves “poor” then (ha ha)? The notion of “hired household help” is just completely oddball to me and definitely something I perceive that “the rich” do, and so, because middle class emulation of “the rich” seems gauche and distastefully bourgeois to a post-punk, DIY person like me.

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/04/rich-man-poor-man

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Olivia May 5, 2011 at 5:57 am

Thanks for the link. I know one reason many people “feel” middle class (and why many poor are perceived as middle class) is that in the U.S. even poor people often still have many of the small luxuries/conveniences like tvs, cell phones and cars. Having access to credit has allowed the poorest in our country to have a higher standard of living.

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Meagan @ The Happiest Mom May 5, 2011 at 7:34 am

I also agree (and have read in multiple places before) that people tend to think of themselves as middle-class whether they are or not, either because they’re emulating people who earn more than them, or because they grew up middle class and are having a hard time adjusting to their new financial reality as adults.

I grew up poor with an extremely frugal, DIY mom who managed really well on a very small income, and as an adult I take a lot of pride in and put a lot of importance on being able to do things myself, so I understand the mindset you’re coming from. But it seems unfair to suggest that people hire cleaning help to emulate the rich. If you saw the 10-year-old beater minivan in my driveway you’d know that’s about my last priority.

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Sharon May 5, 2011 at 5:19 am

Great topic. I recently hired someone to clean every other week. I used to think of it as a luxury that I could do without, but I realized that having my house in order is important to me. I still vacuum and wipe things down constantly, I just know that the deep cleaning is done. It gives me a little more time to focus on making better meals, or spending time at my kids’ various activities and sports without worrying that I should be home cleaning the bathrooms. It also frees up time for me to tend to clutter control. Like you mentioned, there are times when this is possible, and times when it is not. Since I work full time outside of the home, there was a time when my children were small and were in daycare and outside cleaning help wasn’t feasible.

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Olivia May 5, 2011 at 5:34 am

My husband and I both work full-time out of the home so we have help in the form of childcare. However, since that help is only while we are at work I don’t feel like it’s an indulgence, it’s a necessity for us to keep a roof over our head and food on the table.

Speaking only for myself this “she admitted that she no longer felt able to identify with me as much as a homemaker, and that it materially changed the way she viewed my perspective and advice on cleaning, organizing, and managing a home.” I agree with. It’s not that I think you are anyone who hires help (and for me cleaning help in particular) are spoiled or don’t know anything about managing household chores, it just that your advice, doesn’t apply to me.

I can’t and probably never will be able to afford a cleaning service so kind of like when Gwyneth Paltrow dishes out advice without acknowledging all her privileges and help, it rings hollow. Paltrow is an extreme example, and I know your situation is different. But, when I think about how hard it is for me to do all the organizing and cleaning I want to do and then I read about your (or anybody who hires some help) latest organizing success, I can’t help but think, “Yeah, I could tackle the pantry if I had someone to mop and dust, but I don’t and those things take priority.”

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

“and then I read about your (or anybody who hires some help) latest organizing success, I can’t help but think, “Yeah, I could tackle the pantry if I had someone to mop and dust, but I don’t and those things take priority.””

See, I think this is a great example of how different we all are when it comes to what matters to us. My pantry would always take priority over mopping and dusting, because I could not function in the pantry the way it was before. Clean floors are nice but they don’t mean the difference between being able to get a healthy meal on the table or not. I’ve been a full-time working mom with no help, I’ve been a full-time SAHM with no help, and everything in between–and knowing myself, I know I’d still have made time for that pantry. It was a disaster!

Plus, we all have so many different factors that go into whether or not we can tackle a task. My cleaning person didn’t take the kids out of the house for an afternoon so I could organize the pantry. My husband did. His help is much more instrumental to my getting those kinds of things done than any paid outside help, though of course all those things work together. There’s never just one answer or one factor you can pinpoint that says “ah-ha, this is what allows this person to be able to do X!” That’s why I think we can’t compare ourselves to other people, we can only live the lives we actually have. That said, I always find looking at photos of other people’s projects inspiring, even if they aren’t necessarily something I would or could tackle myself right now.

This is the hard part about blogging: you can’t possibly share every detail of your life at once. My “help” status has always been transient, changing with the circumstances of my life. And like I said, for most of my life as a mom I’ve had none at all–not even child care. So I’d like to think I’m not quite as clueless as Gwyneth (LOL) I know you were using that as an extreme example, so here’s another extreme example. Look at somebody like Martha Stewart (again, EXTREME example since I’m nothing like her!). Now, we all know that Martha probably has a full-time staff of 100+ people helping her do all of “her” projects. But when she started out learning these homemaking skills, I’m guessing she had far less help, or maybe no help. So I still respect her knowledge and instruction, even though I know she now lives in a world about as far removed from mine as humanly possible.

Again, it’s probably a bad analogy because I’m not and don’t want to be anything like Martha. But I think past experience counts as much as current experience–I might not have a newborn right this moment, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to have a newborn, or that I am not sensitive to the needs and challenges of a person with a newborn, yk? So, you don’t have to think my advice applies to you, but please do know that I’m coming at every topic from the perspective of having lived about as many different kinds of lives as a mom as there are, from single working mom to full-time SAHM, so I have a lot of empathy, respect and undestanding for women in all different situations…and I apply it every time I post.

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Olivia May 5, 2011 at 8:53 am

Megan, I want to add that I will still be reading your blog because I do find a lot of what you say about being a mother and about marriage very helpful and inspiring. Just depending on the topic, I may add a grain of salt to it. ;)

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Tsh @ Simple Mom May 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Love what you’ve said here, Meagan! Hear hear!

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CMC May 5, 2011 at 7:48 am

This is a very useful topic for me. I cleaned houses as a teen to make extra money, and all my clients were elderly. Where I come from, it is extremely unusual for anyone under the age of 80 to have household help. When my extended family wanted to hire a cleaning service for my grandparents, it took a couple of years to wear down their resistence (“We’re not THAT old!). I have this idea that doing everything yourself = being an independent adult. But then, my mom didn’t work 40 hours a week, and I do. And my extended family are all near each other, and I live thousands of miles away.

So I’m uncomfortable with help, but I sure need it. Right now, I can’t afford it (no raises in 3 years for me & DH). Once a month would be enough, and focus on the big projects that are hard to do piecemeal. I can do the as-you-go stuff, but if you want the place CLEAN, sometimes you need to pull out all the stops! (I assure you, my place is not all-caps clean, and probably won’t be unless I get some help!)

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Connie May 5, 2011 at 8:10 am

I have 2 hours a week of cleaning. I couldn’t keep up and I run two businesses from home while caring for my 3 children (one of which is in school fulltime). She does floors and bathrooms which I believe are essential basics for our family that I simply couldn’t keep up with. It’s a luxury for us, for sure. Such a huge weight lifted for me though! Completely and totally worth every penny!!! I feel zero guilt about it.

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Christine May 5, 2011 at 8:13 am

We’ve never had hired help outside the occasional evening babysitter for date night. My mom lives an hour and a half away and visits once a week which has made things much easier. I love the idea of help but it doesn’t square with our finances and priorities…would rather take a nice family vacation…and I will get much anticipated time to myself next year when both kids are in school full time.
That said, I think, “Get help if you can get it” is absolutely valid homemaking advice and, while I may be slightly jealous, wouldn’t discredit you for saying it.

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Ana May 5, 2011 at 8:23 am

Wow, some of these comments were making me feel defensive about my choices…I’m trying hard to remember that everyone’s family & life is different and as wrong as it is for me to judge others, its equally wrong to allow myself to be made insecure by a stranger’s criticisms (hope that made sense!)

For us, the decision to hire cleaning help was more to spare the mental energy worrying about the chores (and the strain on our relationships when every spare weekend moment was devoted to the to-do list instead of enjoying each other) than to actually eliminate the physical need to do them. We have a lady come every 3 weeks; there is PLENTY of need for clean-as-you-go in between those visits. But some of the bigger chores are off the plate (dusting, mopping the top floors, scrubbing the tub) and the little things can be put off if needed because I know they will be taken care of when she comes. We still spend plenty of time daily and on the weekends in home-maintenace (and I wouldn’t say our house is truly “clean” or even “company ready” most times), but its good-enough and we are much less stressed about it.

Someone above questioned how a house could get “that dirty” if both parents work all day & there is one child in daycare. Well, add a very shed-y dog to the mix and you’ve got our situation. Let me tell you, there is plenty of mess to be made between 6-9 in the AM and 5-8 in the PM when we’re home with a toddler that likes playing in the dirt (and running from inside to outside with dirt-covering hands & feet), grazing & throwing food, rubbing sticky hands on every surface, 90% of our meals are cooked at home, and the aforementioned dog (who also likes throwing her “kong” toy around so that bits of biscuit fall out here & there).

I find completely ridiculous the assumption that the fact that we have chosen to hire a professional business to handle some of this means we have more house, kids & pets than we should have.

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Emily May 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

Thank you for saying that (about how a house gets “dirty” when both parents are working full-time and have one child in daycare). We have 2 kids in daycare and don’t have a dog, but I can competely relate to you. Between the time we are home in the morning before work/daycare and the time in the evening after work/daycare, the house can get pretty messy pretty quickly. Heck, 5 minutes after I have just finished straightening the family room, it can get messy pretty quickly. Why? Because I have kids. Kids make messes. Whether you have 1 or 5, kids will be kids (and we should let them be), and things will get messy with them around, especially when they are young.

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Sleeplessinsummerville May 5, 2011 at 8:34 am

When I was six months pregnant, my doc put me on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy. This was in June, mind you. I asked my hubby if he wanted me to hire us some help and he said no, he’d like to try to manage. So for a couple of months, he worked full-time, cleaned the house by himself and mowed the grass. One day I realized he was burned out. I asked him again about hiring help and this time he agreed. We kept the service until little man was four months old. Two things happened. First of all I realized just how much little man cost (or how little I made after I paid my working expenses) and had a money shock. Then an expensive, new video game went missing from our home. We hired a service because we did not want to be in the position of trying to pay taxes ourselves, or worry that we were breaking the law by not paying them. One day, one of our regular cleaning ladies was out and there was a new lady with them. After that we noticed the game missing. You hate to think this way. Cleaning is an honorable way to earn money and I always felt it was so, I dunno, just wrong to worry that someone you pay to clean your home might steal something from it. I honestly hadn’t considered the possibility because we aren’t that well-off and so don’t have much of value that a person could walk off with. That being said, I never felt guilty one minute for having had hired help and if I could afford it again I would. Perhaps that’s just because my mother hired help whenever she could.

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Val May 5, 2011 at 8:47 am

Whew, Mamas! My blood pressure spiked as I read through those comments. . . Envy and pride are my tendencies as a mother — this touched on both nerves. What a provocative topic, Meagan! :-)

Several years ago, as my husband/Army dude went through a 15-month Afghanistan deployment (his third), I had a college student come over twice a week. She blessed my three children with her presence. She blessed me with her energy and encouragement. She was like family. While our family was stationed overseas, we connected with a beautiful woman who came and helped me with our house twice a month. We cooked together and we literally cleaned together. She was thousands of miles from home herself and had no family nearby. Her story captured my heart and my imagination. She is still is a dear friend. I do not currently have help with our home. I have missed the “psychic space” (thanks, Ellen!) that those helping hands provided. I miss the relationships even more.

This summer, as DH returns to Afghanistan and our family moves to a new military assignment, I do wonder if there will be a person who will become like a member of our family, providing help and being blessed by our family in turn. For me, it comes down to priorities, as some have said. I do not feel comfortable having help that is separated from a relationship with my helpers.

The idea of “disclosure” is an interesting one, Meagan. It’s something I weigh in my own writing. . . and that’s a personal call. I think “the Happiest Mom” is the mom who lives out her calling as an individual. . . leans into the story her life is meant to tell. . . and checks her motives on a regular basis. As I’m doing now. :-)

Press on, Mamas.

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

“I think “the Happiest Mom” is the mom who lives out her calling as an individual. . . leans into the story her life is meant to tell. . . and checks her motives on a regular basis. As I’m doing now. :-)”

Amen to that, wise mama!

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Jan M May 5, 2011 at 8:58 am

Interesting article, thanks. I liked the comment about going out to eat. Do people feel indulgent when they hire help to make their food? Or clean up their mess? How many of us justify going out to eat because we’re too tired or too busy or just don’t feel like cleaning up after our family for a meal? I know I HAVE! That’s USUALLY the reason we go out to eat, that or to celebrate.

I am a young mom of 1, and we are a student family and therefore poor, though we live comfortably for what we have. I do not have “hired” help at this time, but I am lucky to live in a religious college community with many other young families. We trade babysitting with each other when possible as most of us don’t have family SUPER close by. I am also a part of a dinner group to help ease the burden that making dinner 7 days a week can be. I think you can be creative when it comes to outsourcing household chores, but cleaning is one of those things that you can’t just trade for usually. It’s a dirty job. So hiring help seems logical if you can’t manage it yourself. I don’t think the excuse of not knowing how to do it or how to do it well is valid tho, because anyone can do it. There are so many great tools and books available to make it so anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of will-power, and time.

I also was thinking about other things we do in our households to help us manage our lives. What about finances? Have people outsourced their financial management to someone else? Do they feel guilt for that? Do you have someone else prepare your taxes, or manage your 401k? Do you send your kids to summer day camps when they’re not in school because having them home all summer and trying to find activities for them to do would be overwhelming? (I’ve worked as a counselor and have seen many parents use this as an inexpensive baby-sitting option). Well, in my opinion you’re hiring out help for that. Does someone else give your family their haircuts? Does someone else groom your pet? Unless you’re really amazing, everyone needs help at one time or another in their life. Most of us don’t feel guilty outsourcing some of these things, so why should you about hiring out someone to help watch your kids for a while so you can do the cleaning, or have someone else do the cleaning so you can watch your kids?

Right now my child is under 2 years old, and I work part time and my husband works and goes to school. I can’t fathom having more children at this time. But even now things feel overwhelming. And let’s face it — if you have young children, they can’t help that much with the household stuff. The people who mentioned having their kids help with the work must have school-aged kids. While it’s good to teach them and help them learn so they can be responsible adults, it will take a lot of time and a lot of effort when they’re young. I don’t see why having occassional help would be bad in any way for even a full-time SAHM. I am not an advocate of live-in help unless you have a medical need for it, or you are working so much that you’re hardly at home anyway. If you’ve hired yourself out elsewhere, you can’t put yourself to work at home too. You just can’t be 2 places at once, no matter how amazing you are.

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 9:32 am

I would like to give your post many gold stars! Yes, we ALL outsource parts of our lives, so it’s curious to me that cleaning is so much more a touchy topic than other kinds of outsourcing, like haircuts.

I like making my own play-doh but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone buying the store-made kind :)

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

I don’t “begrudge” anyone hiring household help, I just honestly think it’s silly. The difference between haircuts and such is that, for example, most people don’t have the skill to cut their own hair and it would also be physically difficult. I don’t know how to fix cars, either. I do, as does anyone else, know how to clean. It’s not rocket science! I also do my own taxes, invest by myself and maintain my own lawn. Oh, and I cut my kid’s hair (I don’t get why people take children to salons…what a huge waste of money!) These things may not all be “perfect” but I like that I do them. I think it’s important for people to try and do things they can do on their own and that too many people are just like “oh I can’t…waahhhh!” We hear that money is so tight for people and we’re in some kind of recession, but it doesn’t sound like it from these posts. Also, like others, I bill higher for my work than a cleaning person would be paid, but I don’t work 24 hours a day and it doesn’t take THAT much time to keep my house the level I accept to go through the hassle of having someone come here, be here while I am here (how awkward!) cleaning and all that. I am surprised that more people don’t find the idea uncomfortable.

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Laura May 5, 2011 at 9:42 am

To the people who were grousing about taking responsibility for how many children you have, remember that unless you are completely abstinent, there is no other 100% perfect method of birth control. Some come close (99%), but others are much less reliable than you might think:

http://www.uhc.com/source4women/womens_health_topics/birth_control.htm

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Rachelle Mee-Chapman May 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

How much is your time worth? I work at home and my goal as a small business owner is to make $40 an hour. The cleaning company is $20 bucks and hour and they clean my house FAST! So I can spend 3 hours making $120 and building my business, or I can pay some one $60 and have a spotless house! (This is a finanically based decision.)

I’ve pretty much always had help. When I was a pastor for a low-income parish my childcare fees were MORE THAN my salary. We subsidized my work with the poor with my husband’s salary to cover childcare. That was worth it to me because I was passionate about the work. (This was a values based decision.)

Now I’m a life coach and even though my business is making very little profit right now (it’s new) I still hire help. A local college student does my data entry and other adminstration tasks for $20/hr because I suck at them. It takes me a lot longer to do them because I am not detailed oriented or technically skilled. Plus I waste a lot of valuable work time resisting and delaying the task at hand. (This is a skills based decision.)

Objectively using financial math, values based decision making and skills based decision making really helped me ditch the guilt about hiring help. If we can get out of the myth of that we should be able to “do it all” we can make wiser decisions for ourselves and our families.

Of course, I realize that making decisions about help is totally what my girlfriend calls “a white person’s problem.” Only those of us in a certain financial bracket can even afford to be angsty about this issue!

Thanks for bringing up this touchy subject. Getting real about help and “doing it all” can really free a lot of women to share their skills and talents with the world.

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Brie May 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

We take the approach that it’s my job to keep my 2 year old daughter active, educated, and having as many enriching experiences her little sponge-like brain can handle. We are out of the house almost every day until noon and then down for a dual nap (5 months pregnant over here!) and out again for errands, playground, whatever until about 4 or 5pm. We live in a small apartment, so household items are manageable, and my husband it VERY involved in this aspect, too. We joke that between the the two of us, we make an amazing housewife. It’s true, I couldn’t do it alone. I couldn’t do it and feel fulfilled and like I am doing the best thing for my daughter.

She’s a very bright little girl and we are the kind of parents who are always in “teaching” mode whether cooking, driving, or watching TV together (yes! we do that because we all love movies!), so we decided to put her into a 2-day a week preschool program earlier than most–at 2 years.

We do this for a few reasons. First of all, like I said, she is bright–I do not have the resources or innate ability to plan lessons in a home-school setting. I learn by living, exploring, and doing, and that is what I do best. I will stick with it and let the professional plan a theme for every month and a lesson for every day. This is important as it’s getting her used to the structure that comes with every academic environment, for which I have no aptitude. Some of my mom friends with children my daughter’s age dismiss it as mere daycare, but it most certainly isn’t–with my daughter being the youngest there, and only 4 people in her class, she is far more socially enriched playing with her favorite 4 year old than the other 2 year olds who only have a 20 word vocabulary to her freakishly complex language skills. There is no television (ala the day care she went to as an infant when I went back to work full time) and no 19 year olds with a few educational credits from a junior college. So, to us as a family it lets me do what I do best with my daughter, and then the preschool supplements her in other social and academic areas for those 3 hours a day, two days a week.

Secondly, I freelance work, and those 3 hours a day two days a week gives me time where my daughter is being paid attention to and not being baby-sat by a TV or bored out of her gourd so I can get work done. This is priceless to my conscious, sanity, and wallet. If there is no guarantee of a 2 hour nap or that I’ll be awake enough after I put her to bed to work, I know I have that time she is in preschool to get things done. And I don’t work just for the money–I love what I do as an interior designer and working with architects, so it keeps a part of ME alive–not drowning in an endless trap of play dates and dirty laundry.

Lastly, we knew we would have her enroll in preschool by 2-1/2, which would be September, but that is when baby #2 is due. Not such a good idea to throw a new activity that is away from home without mommy when the new sibling arrives. So, knowing she was socially and mentally ready for it, we decided to push for it sooner and give her a good 6 months head start on being the big girl of the family.

And she never wants to leave when I come to pick her up. Ever.

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slmnontec May 5, 2011 at 9:59 am

I think the main thing is being honest. An acquaintance of mine seemed to be so on top of everything all the time. It was intimitaing to me because I coudn’t “do it all with such ease”. Later I learned she had outside help which she didn’t readily share. To me that’s not very honest. She even tried to hide the fact when questioned. Our current culture of woman seeking justification for working outside the home or for staying at home still tries to tell us we can do it all. But we can’t. There’s just too much to do….

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Dee May 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

When I was growing up, my (single) mom had my grandmother’s help and sometimes a nanny/maid in St. Lucia. It was common for people to have help. My grandmother still does. Once we moved to New York, Mom had a babysitter and a monthly cleaning lady. I don’t have help, but I want it. Desperately. I’m going to seriously start looking for a babysitter and a cleaning service this week.

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Sharon May 5, 2011 at 10:04 am

I rarely leave comments on the blogs I read, but I must say that I felt compelled to speak up on this one. There is a definitive stigmatism attached to hiring help nowadays. One can almost feel “embarrassed” to admit it, but I must say that I hired a housekeeper about 6 months ago to come in to my home twice a month, for a period of 3 hours each time, and I have never looked back or had a moment of regret! I do work full time outside the home, so my oldest child is in school & my youngest child is in daycare, but during the week, I literally come home & DON’T STOP until the kids go to bed, so the last thing I want to be spending my weekends doing is scrubbing the floors or cleaning the showers. I want to spend it with my kids, with my husband, and cherishing those weekends that we have to be together. I really had to prioritize in my mind & in my heart that the precious time with my family was more important than the small savings of just doing it myself. I then just had to come to terms with the fact that though it may not be a decision that works for everyone, it IS the decision that works for me!

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Jessica Davenport May 5, 2011 at 10:09 am

I would love to have a cleaning service come in a couple times a month to do the deep cleaning that I typically have time for and for the things I detest doing. Right now we are saving for a house so we aren’t willing to put the money into a cleaning service right now. However, I think that it is definitely worth the money and will probably eventually hire one when our budget allows. I received a gift certificate for a one time house cleaning service after my 3rd daughter was born and it was one of the best gifts anyone could have gotten me, especially since she was born during my husband’s busy season and my other daughters were 21 months and 4. I used to think that a “good” homemaker shouldn’t need to hire help and that she wasn’t working to her potential if she hired someone. Boy was I wrong! :) I started to view myself as an actual manager and managers in the workforce don’t do all the work themselves – they hire people and delegate responsibility while overseeing the end result! I now view hiring help as one way that I can manage our home and I hope to eventually be able to afford a cleaning service (and a weekly masseuse! haha). Plus, we are a homeschooling family so the messes are constant b/c we do a lot of learning, crafts, cooking, etc at home.

There have been times that I have gotten free help: let your family/friends know that you could use help. There may be college students, teenagers, or just nice people who will come and help out from time to time with cleaning, child care, yard work, etc. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a blessing to serve so letting people know how they can help you will bless both parties!

The biggest help that I could have is to involve the kids in the daily housework. It is so beneficial to them, me and our family. They are learning life skills (laundry, general cleaning, cooking), how a household runs and how to manage one, serving others, and working together as part of a family. Mine are still little but kids love to help and a job well done boosts their self esteem. It takes a little time to train them to do jobs correctly but it is a great bonding experience and well worth it in the end, especially when finishing a job together and faster means a longer story time!

Thanks for the post, I’m looking forward to the next ones.

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Cara May 5, 2011 at 10:24 am

I am the household manager… that’s perfect. I’ll be using that one.

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Cara May 5, 2011 at 10:21 am

My husband (before he was my husband) made the decision to hire a cleaning service, twice a month, shortly after we both embarked on our legal careers. His explanation was that he didn’t want us spending what little free time we had mopping the floor or scrubbing the toilet. Our house was 1600 sq. feet and we had no kids. We did not *need* help; we wanted it. I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me, but I didn’t feel guilt about the decision.

Many years later, now married, we have our first child and I have four months maternity leave. I suggest that perhaps it doesn’t make sense to have the housekeepers come while I’m home. He looks at me like I’ve taken leave of my senses (and likely I had, given I was home with our newborn while he still worked long hours), and tells me the housekeepers will be staying.

When I went back to work part-time, it didn’t even occur to me that we’d get rid of them. We also, changing our minds about our initial decision to take her to someone who cares for a group of kids in her home, hired someone to come in to our home and care for our child while I’m at work. No guilt there; it was the only way we were comfortable with having two working parents, even with me being part-time. It did give me pause that, after we paid the nanny, my take home was next to nothing. But, I was working because I loved my work and wanted to maintain my role in it. It also rarely occurs to me, without prompting from my husband, that I can leave our daughter with the nanny while I do something other than work (i.e. go to the dentist or the gym). I’m not quite sure what that is about. Somehow it feels different to leave her with someone to work than to take care of other things.

This month, with our daughter ten months old, I’ve decided to leave my job. The split loyalties aren’t working out and our daughter comes first. The housekeepers stay. There is room in our budget to cut other luxuries, and in fact we already did that because my part-time work brought home so little due to our childcare choice. The nanny, obviously, will no longer be working routinely for us. However, we will be hiring her as needed to allow me to continue some of my work in a volunteer capacity and to do things like go to doctor appointments. We are acutely conscious of the fact that my decision drastically impacts her family’s income and we want to continue to give her the work as we can.

I do not feel guilty about any of these choices. A little self-conscious sometimes, but not guilty. I could afford to have a childcare situation that made my husband and I much more comfortable (and as it turned out gave me the scheduling flexibility I needed), and so we did. It also meant that her nanny had a job to help pay her own bills. I don’t expect her nanny to be able to scrub my house or do much of anything while taking care of her, and in fact would be pretty upset if she was doing so much other stuff that she didn’t spend the time interacting with my daughter. As her mother, the standard is a little different, but the principle applies. If I didn’t have any help, either I’d be missing out on the time with my kid (the whole point of leaving work) or I would never, ever have any downtime. My husband would not be picking it up. He is already away from her for most of her waking hours during the week, and he guards his time with her. (One of the huge advantages of my not working will be the ability to bring her downtown to have lunch with him, giving him an extra hour with her.)

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. But I do feel incredibly lucky. I grew up in a socioeconomic class that would not have allowed for these decisions. My mother did an amazing job, and if I needed to I could make the same decisions she made. (She worked full-time, made time with us her priority and just didn’t care if the house was cluttered and a little dirty.) But, I don’t have to. I appreciate that, and I feel incredibly fortunate.

But, I also remember that my husband and I both worked very hard to be in the position to make these choices. And we’ve been very responsible with the money that we make, so that we can make these and other choices. We didn’t do it on our own – our parents worked hard to put us in the position that our hard work could pay off this way. Again, I feel lucky because I know other people work just as hard, make responsible decisions and still don’t have these options. But, I don’t feel *guilty* that I do.

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Sarah May 5, 2011 at 10:25 am

We have a lawn service that comes once a week. My husband and I still consider it the best money we spend regularly. We were spending every Saturday out in the yard for hours, and we both hate hate hate yardwork. We both work full time, and would rather spend our weekends together doing something fun. Also, the yard looks awesome, and I am no longer afraid the HOA will send us nasty letters.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 10:54 am

I would encourage everyone to read this:
http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/maidtoorder.htm

I came across it while looking for data on the number of households who use hired help throughout the 20th century til now and who this help usually was/is (haven’t found it yet).

A great excerpt that sums up why I won’t hire household help:
“[YOUR HOME] is the place where your children are raised, and what they learn pretty quickly is that some people are less worthy than others. Even better wages and working conditions won’t erase the hierarchy between an employer and his or her domestic help, because the help is usually there only because the employer has “something better” to do with her time, as one report on the growth of cleaning services puts it, not noticing the obvious implication that the cleaning person herself has nothing better to do with her time.”

and

“There is another lesson the servant economy teaches its beneficiaries and, most troublingly, the children among them. To be cleaned up after is to achieve a certain magical weightlessness and immateriality…A servant economy breeds callousness and solipsism in the served, and it does so all the more effectively when the service is performed close up and routinely in the place where they live and reproduce.”

There is so much great material in this Ehrenreich article that I won’t excerpt…seriously y’all should really read it.

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

I have read Ehrenreich’s writings on hiring help, both in articles and in her book Nickel and Dimed. And while I know her experiences are the truth for many low-paid cleaners working for large corporations, the relationship she describes between cleaner and homeowner and employee and employer could not be more different than the relationship I have with my (self-employed) house cleaner. Often we are cleaning right alongside each other and spend much of the time she’s in my house chatting–we have a lot in common. She is in every way my peer and equal…in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a higher household income than we do. While she’s in my house, if I’m working, we more or less split the hourly wage I would have been making.

I do agree with Ehrenreich’s point about raising kids to believe that they can just be ‘cleaned up after’–which is why my kids have to pick up all their toys and miscellaneous items before Lynda comes, why she doesn’t do “their” jobs (like unload the dishwasher), or go anywhere near their bedrooms. I’ve had many frank discussions with my kids, especially the older ones, about the fact that I expect them to learn to be self-sufficient and that the cleaning person isn’t there to make their lives easier.

I also think that this mentality can apply to many things beyond cleaning a house. What about eating at a fast food restaurant, where the person serving you is making minimum wage…especially if you’re doing it to “save time”? What about shopping in big-box stores?

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tracey May 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

There’s an interesting topic, but I wonder how the masses of people who depend upon the service industries to survive and support their children would feel about it? Would they truly appreciate the moral lessons we’re trying to instill, even though they can no longer feed their families or pay their bills? I don’t employ anyone as a household helper, but I sure do wish that I could. I look at it as not only making MY life easier, but making the life of someone who depends upon that income easier, too. Hiring outside help creates more jobs for people who may not be able to find jobs that their education or literacy levels allow. Also, those who are employed in service but ARE highly educated, may find that the jobs they are qualified for no longer need to be filled or are no longer fulfilling. Sometimes pushing paper sucks. What do you have to show for it? When I cleaned houses, many years ago, I was physically active all day and could look at the home and feel an immediate sense of accomplishment. AND I could listen to music while working. Perfect combo.

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Trish May 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

I so agree Tracey. I have worked as a well paid, and well treated housekeeper. I’d be really REALLY angry, if I was let go, because they “felt sorry” for me having to do demeaning work. Because then….I’d be unemployed. And how exactly would I be better off?

I have a housekeeper come about twice a year, because that is all we can afford. I’d have her come twice a month if I could afford it. I pay her $20 per hour, no middleman. My youngest loves her, and is always trying to show off his Spanish to her. All of us, feels nothing but in *awe* of her skills (seriously….she rearranges, and leaves *flowers*). My kids, husband and I all think she’s amazing. I know what kind of art she likes, and am always on the look-out for it to buy for her, etc.

I just don’t get how this is any different from eating in a restaurant, or buying packaged food (i.e…..I’m too good to make my own bread, and must have those lowly bakers make it for me), or having my hair cut, etc. etc.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I can’t control the world’s economic system, but I can control what goes on in my home. I don’t eat at fast food restaurants, coincidentally, anyway, because they are disgusting and unhealthy, and I don’t eat out to “save time” or because I am “too busy” or “don’t feel like” cooking, but rather to celebrate, because we’re on an outing and away from home, or to get an experience or food that we ourselves don’t make as well or don’t have the supplies to make (certain ethnic specialties, wood fired pizza, etc.) Also, to the big-box stores, I would say, I don’t control the world’s economies, again, but I don’t shop at Costco, for one. I do shop at Whole Foods and Target (of which I own stock) and I do shop at farmers markets. I am not saying I am more righteous than people who use help, just saying why I don’t and the feelings I get about it.

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Gypsy Chaos May 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

RE: MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm

You shop at Whole Foods and farmers markets.
From these two simple facts, I know that you are not counting your pennies.
You have the disposable income to pay extra for the products at Whole Foods. You don’t search the ads for sales; you have a Whole Foods store within reasonable proximity to your home.
You have a vehicle and the ability to drive where you want, when you want. You also have the luxury of time. You can driving to/from farmers markets at the times the markets are open and purchase whatever you wish.

Your ability to refrain from fast food restaurants is also a product of your household income. Those with lower incomes live in different circumstances. Often they depend on public transportation, which is rarely convenient or adequate outside major cities. Without a vehicle at hand, they can’t go to a large grocery store or farmers markets. Food is purchased from the local convenience store, with its limited selection and very few fresh items. Or food is purchased from the available restaurants – fast food chains.

Just some observations.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 3:57 am

What’s your point? That I have money? I do. That doesn’t mean I have to support master/servant relationships in my own house because I am too lazy or inept to keep it up myself. Au contraire!

Cloud May 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I’ve read Ehrenreich, too. I’m a fairly left-leaning type person who is certainly not trying to raise kids who think they are “above” things like housework, but I have a housecleaning service that comes every other month and I don’t feel a scrap of guilt about that- either personally or politically.

I think working moms get flak from the right and left of the political spectrum these days. The folks on the right think that I’m destroying the moral fabric of the country by working outside the home and the folks on the left think that I’m exploiting the people whom I pay to provide services that make it possible for me to work in the job I love and also parent in the way I want. (They also think I’m destroying the environment by not using cloth diapers, but that is another controversy for another day.)

Frankly, I’m done with both types of guilt-peddlers.

Here is how I make it possible to hire a cleaning service without experiencing political guilt (I already experience no personal guilt- since when is scrubbing a toilet an expression of love for my children?)
– I use a local, independent service
– They pay a decent wage- better than a fast food restaurant pays
– They provide benefits to their staff (at least they say they do- I didn’t audit their books)
– They use environmentally friendly cleaning products

All of this means that I pay more than I have to for my cleaning service- about double what some of my friends who hire someone under the table pay.

Also, there is an entire body of scholarship and thought around the negative impacts of NOT paying for things like cleaning and child care. The point isn’t that we all should pay someone else to do these things, but that the fact that for so long this work (and it IS work) was unpaid and unrecognized has real economic consequences. Here are a couple of links that might get you started thinking about that:
http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/david-willets-yeah-kinda-but-not-really/
http://www.phdinparenting.com/2011/03/30/what-revolution-why-havent-women-pushed-harder-for-caring-work-to-be-valued/

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Gypsy Chaos May 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I agree, Cloud!

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Gypsy Chaos May 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm

“Even better wages and working conditions won’t erase the hierarchy between an employer and his or her domestic help, because the help is usually there only because the employer has “something better” to do with her time,”

Is there a problem with hierarchies? Any employment situation has an employer and an employee; a manager and a worker.

If I manage programs – money, schedule, requirements – I don’t have time to also do the design, manufacturing and testing work. I, as manager, employ someone, as worker, who does that work. Some say my role is insignificant, that I don’t “do” anything. Yet, without my efforts, the worker(s) would not have the required parts, would not know when the parts had to be finished, and the money wouldn’t come in from the customer and turn into pay for the worker(s).

Everyone reports to someone – CEOs have a board of directors and, if publicly traded, shareholders. IMO the goal is to teach our children that each individual is that of God, deserves respect based solely on their humanity, and that having jobs with differing skills and pay doesn’t make anyone better than others.

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Cloud May 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

“IMO the goal is to teach our children that each individual is that of God, deserves respect based solely on their humanity, and that having jobs with differing skills and pay doesn’t make anyone better than others.”

Yes. This. Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to do.

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faith May 16, 2011 at 12:43 am

I think what this comes down to is: if you hire help, do you treat them as an employee offering a valued service, or as a servant doing work that is beneath you?

I’ve traveled a few times to Poland and Mexico, and have been shocked to find that MANY of my friends — who are in the same shape I’m in financially, if not worse — have someone who comes in every week to help with the cleaning. It feels really different from the way it plays out in the US (though it’s possible I’m not picking up on the subtle indications of class in a foreign culture), because the people who were paying for the cleaning person usually treated her as a special auntie, almost a part of the family. They were never the hired help: they were the senora who came in every week to help them out, and they were always careful to tell me to use the honorable title when addressing her.

I think that’s a big difference. And right now I can’t afford cleaning help myself, but if I could, I would hire someone who does a good job, and treat them just as well as I treat any professional offering a service that I value.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think you should feel guilty for hiring someone to help out. You should feel guilty if you TREAT THEM LIKE SHIT.

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Jennifer Kistler May 5, 2011 at 10:58 am

Interesting post! (got here via someone shared on FB, will have to check out more of your blog!) I had NO IDEA it was accepted or common “back then” for less than well-off families to still have hired help. No wonder ladies had time for quilting or playing cards with friends! I always wondered! Now I don’t feel so bad for feeling overwhelmed and frustrated sometimes, doing it all myself. I’ve read that to properly keep a home, it takes about 39 hours a week (Emilie Barnes). But add in working at home, as I do, and I often can’t figure out, do the chores get done first, or do I “work”? I can’t seem to do both very well. Priorities get very messy, and yes, I never quite know when I have done “enough”, because it’s never “finished”. Frankly, I don’t know how a mom who works outside the home full time can keep up the home as well, without hiring someone.

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Samantha May 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

I currently do not have any household help. But, if my budget allowed for it I would definitely!! As a single mom of two (8months and 2 years) I work full time while the babies are in daycare. I have absolutely NO downtime and barely have time with my babies. SO not only do I have a need but a want!! My desire to have help, however, would not change if my circumstances were different. Even if I were a Stay-at-Home Mom, as I desire to be, I would still have household help. In having that help I would be free to manage my household and my family the way that I would want.

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E May 5, 2011 at 11:23 am

I have someone come every couple of weeks also. At times I think I should just do it myself, but really, it’s not like i am doing nothing in between. If anything, at least I have the feeling for one or two days that the whole house is “done” (before it starts becoming chaos again!) We are a middle-class family, and I feel we can well afford to contribute to the economy and employment by having a cleaning lady. On the other hand, my husband would never hire someone to mow the lawn, like our neighbours do, he loves the time outside and the actual work. I have heard that some people love the process of cleaning their houses, but that is not me and never will be!

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Susan May 5, 2011 at 11:38 am

Love this post! Many years ago when I worked nights every other weekend and 2 days a week, had a husband, 2 small children and a mother dying from cancer (who I took care of) I decided that my plate was full and I could no longer do it all-I hired a housekeeper. I loved her and I learned MANY things from her. After several years (for financial reasons) I had to stop having her. I decided that I would just have to “buckle down” and do it myself. I have to say, what took her 3-4 hrs to complete, took me days! I never felt like I was finished-I would get the downstairs done, only to face the upstairs the next day, or I would have all the bathrooms partially cleaned, etc. Furthermore, I didn’t want to spend the time I would have with my kids or family doing housework-it’s really a thankless job and something else can always be done! Since then, I have had several housekeepers on and off-presently I do not have one-but the day I can afford one again, I’ll be on it like white on rice! I’m giving myself PERMISSION! Thanks again for such a great post!

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RookieMom Whitney May 5, 2011 at 11:50 am

I don’t feel guilty at all about having a housecleaner come twice per month. And I don’t relate to the commenters that are suggesting that we should do 100% of the cleaning of our homes and caring for our children. Having a career is also a worthy pursuit and makes many women happy, not to mention enables them to send their children to college. I am pretty middle of the road in terms of the “help” I have among my friends. I have my daughter in preschool 5 days per week until 3.30 so that I can work from home and do minimal everyday family chores. We have twice per month house cleaning and twice per month mowing/weeding. No guilt, no shame here. The only concern I have is that my children are so used to the housecleaner making her twice monthly mark on the house, if I do a serious clean up on any room while they are at school, they might ask “Was Leyla here today?” My husband has even asked!

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RookieMom Heather May 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

When I was at the Mom2.0 summit, my husband and kids did a thorough cleaning before I cam home — bless them! — and my kids were hoping I’d say, “Was Maria here?” so I did.

Whitney, you should accept that one as high praise.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Because you have soooo much more pressing things to do with your time (making your own notepads–good grief–and going to mommy “summits”) it’s great you have “Maria” (gee, I wonder, could she be latin/hispanic?) to clean your house. Does nobody else find this nauseating?

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

MamaMeYeah–I can tell you’ve got strongly-held opinions, and I think that’s great. You actually remind me a bit of myself in my earlier years of parenting, but time, experience, and life all softened my views and opened me to perspectives I might not initially have considered.

I would gently encourage you to consider that you are talking to women who are thoughtful, hard-working mothers (and more) and that maybe you don’t really know the full story of their lives, motives, or priorities. Coming into these discussions thoughtfully and trying to see the topic from other viewpoints will certainly increase the chances that your words will be heard, instead of dismissed.

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Gypsy Chaos May 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Thank you Meagan.

Trish May 6, 2011 at 9:06 am

I worked as a housekeeper to a family with 5 kids. I worked for them for 3 years. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I was well paid, and respected for my work. Mom was a writer, and all the kids were homeschooled. I never felt degraded, or demeaned. The kids still did chores. It was….in no way….”nauseating”.

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JenP May 5, 2011 at 11:50 am

I think this is an important thing to think about. I’ve realized my “perfect” homemaker hangups lately in another way.
We have had a tight budget our entire married life and I have learned to do many things myself especially in the cooking department. The most prepared things I buy are store bought noodles or tortillas and I know I could make those too!
However, I find myself running down with trying to keep up with six kids, who I homeschool and the housework, yardwork, schoolwork, and lots of food needed to keep this family running. My husband is helpful but very busy and the kids are helpful but still young enough that their contribution does not equal their destruction!:)
This month I decided to do some shifting in the budget to put more on food so I wouldn’t feel like I had to make EVERYTHING from scratch. Maybe I could get out of the kitchen? Honestly, i haven’t thought of it before because I technically can cook everything and it’s not in my frugal nature to spend more then I need too BUT does it matter if I am hating life because I can’t keep up?
It’s like making the decision to spend more money to eat healthier. You could eat really cheaply on crud but what is the most important thing to you? Health and Happiness is not always frugal.
I think it’s important to recognize when we need help, whatever form we feel is necessary. I would love to have someone come in and help deep clean once a month but it’s currently not in the budget. However, I don’t judge others who use that resource when they can. We all have our own balancing act and as long as we are using integrity in balancing, I hope we all figure out our own ways to be Happy and Healthy. In fact, that is one of the awesome things about women, their creativity, ingenuity, adaptability, and ability to seek ways to better their families lives.

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Tina May 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I am a stay at home mother doing a daycare in my home. If I could afford it I would have someone every week to come and the work no one ever knows you did it. Mopping, bathrooms, dusting and windows.
My father pasted away and I was feeling very over whelmed. I could not even think. After visiting with my husband we hired merry maids. After the first visit my heart felt 100 pounds lighter. The WHOLE house was done at ONE TIME. Enjoyed my kids coming home and made a wonderful supper for my family. Then had them do all my windows the next week. ( I hate windows) I used them for 3 months. This was a great blessing to me and my family. The money was not wasteful at all. If I did not hire them I could have been in the hospital or having to take time off of work which would have cost more. No one should ever look down on someone for asking for help. Like you stated it gave you more time with the family which after all is the most important thing. After all do we remember how many times our mothers washed the tub or dusted. NOPE it is the camping, walks, sleep overs. Those are what I remember about my childhood. SO LADIES ASK FOR HELP. With a dear friend in the hospital alot due to an illness. Knowing what I went through. My husband and I go 3 times a week to help do the dirty work. My husband helps on the farm or does the farm work. I do all the work hubbies, kids or anyone would never notice. Feel very good and blessed everytime I can help her and her family. That way when she is home she can spend it with the kids and just pick up. Instead of working like a dog and back in the hosptial sooner. Lets look around and help others or ask for help so someone can be a blessing to you. Sisters from church get together every two weeks they take turns helping the other clean, paint or sort. The sister that is getting the help makes a meal. What a great way to bond and yet help someone.

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Felicia May 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm

The first time we hired a cleaning service was when our first child was born and I looked at it as a gift to ourselves for the first 6 months so we could concentrate on our new baby. We had a regular service (twice a month) come for 6 months and then stopped but about 6 months later I started it back up again because I felt overwhelmed by the cleaning and working full-time, full-time Mom, etc. I see it as a luxury to be able to afford it but it does come at a sacrifice, we have decided it is a priority for us so we budget accordingly. The other thing that has helped tremendously is dry cleaning. For the longest time I felt guilty about sending my husbands work shirts to the cleaners so I ironed but after awhile I just didn’t have the time so now we dry clean them and the money I thought I would miss is worth every penny of having someone else do that task!

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Mary Ann Hounsell May 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I am considering having someone to come in and help with the housework but am feeling terribly guilty. I feel like I am letting my family down by not being able to do it “all”. Truth is, I’m a working Mom and I can’t do it all. I need the help. My husband is good – but neither of us really enjoy the work or have it as a priority. Yes the bathrooms get cleaned on a regular basis and the dishes are done – but the “extras” never get done. My mother hated housework – and we knew it – and house cleaning time was the most miserable time of the week. I pledge that that will not happen with my daughter. So when I do housework I do it with a smile and remember that it is blessing my family! But there are so many other things that I would rather do with my time! Looking forward to reading more about this.

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Missy May 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I love this! I love what you’ve hit on – that we have the belief today that hiring people to assist our lives makes us somehow less capable of accomplishing our lives, when in reality people have been doing it for years. So to answer your question – I hire help. I hire babysitters (a couple of times a week), cleaning people (twice a month), lawn service people (once a week and they do the leaves in the fall), and it frees me up to focus on my children more. I would have more help if I could and not feel apologetic about it. Maybe I should have lived 100 years ago when it was a totally accepted part of life, even when you were “experiencing hard times!” Thanks for making me think about it though.

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Roberta May 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

It all comes down to time or money. Are you going to spend the time on it or the money? When my husband and I moved in together, one non-negotiable item was hiring a cleaning service to clean our entire house once a month. We both work full-time, and we wanted to spend our Saturdays doing something other than scrub toilets. Now, I *have* scrubbed toilets for pay, so I do know how to do it. With a young child and two full-time jobs, now our house gets cleaned twice a month, and we have a nanny that we share with another family who watches the two children at our house. I am lucky, so lucky, to be able to afford these services. They make my life (and the lives of my husband and daughter) better and easier, in part because we all have time together that we’ve bought. I make every effort that I can to treat the people who do work for me with respect, kindness and fairness. If you can afford it, why not outsource? Why do women (and men, to be fair) think they “should” do all of this without help? Being a mother and homemaker and full-time worker, whatever you do… it’s hard. All of it in its own way.

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Laura May 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I would love to hire help with but my small house and the fact that I have dogs I figure it doesn’t pay. I think it’s great for anyone that can do it though.

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Heather Novak May 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm

What a great post! Meagan your writing makes me happy…you have great skill. I have hired a housekeeper several times, always with embarrassment. The first time we moved from out of town into a DIRTY house…I am so not a clean freak, the place was gross. I knew driving 90 minutes and having a toddler…oh and being pregnant I was not going to be able (or interested) in cleaning it before we moved in. She was FABULOUS. I used her again when I was on bedrest later, and most recently when my toddler plus 4 monther were stressing me out enough to hit the medicine shelf for some Wellbutrin! I’m a stay at home mom and have an idyllic set up but nevertheless was stressed enough to want and need some help. It’s embarrassing though…I can make time for a playdate but not for a few hours of cleaning? I just figure I could enjoy my girls more with the extra work covered, and I was right. It was AMAZING to come home to a clean house. PLUS it was ALL clean…I usually do one floor one day and one floor the other….and we have a smaller house,1,400sf! We live debt free (THANKS Dave Ramsey!)other than the house and are careful with how we spend money, so deciding to use a housecleaning occasionally isn’t something we take for granted…but your post is helping me to shake the embarrassment. THANK YOU Dear Girl. See you Saturday!!!!

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Elisabeth May 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

This conversation has been tremendously interesting and I feel so much better about being open about my recent decision to hire a babysitter eight hours a week and a house cleaner.
I am a SAHM and part-time writer and entrepreneur. I have twin two-year-olds, one of whom has several physical disabilities (and many, many appointments), a six year old and a fuzzy dog. I did it all myself for almost three years and always, ALWAYS felt behind. The stress of being the only one to do every last thing around the house really started getting to me. I found a way to afford the help because it was so important to me, and in spite of still having some trouble finding the right house cleaner, I hope I don’t have to go without my helpers for years to come! I may even add a yard work helper to my payroll if I can get really creative with the budget. I’d rather eat beans than be out-of-control frazzled and live in a sty!
Thank you Meagan and Ellen for starting this conversation!!

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Holly May 5, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I’ve never been in a financial position where I could afford to hire help. I suppose maybe I could if I cut out other things, like basic cable and cell phones, but frankly I’d rather just clean my house myself. I am fortunate that I have a husband who will share the load with me, though – his career is not at a level that requires him to travel (or us to afford a maid!) but he truly believes that the housework should be a shared burden. I know that’s rare among men.

The hard part of this issue for me is that I’ve heard people justify their housekeepers by saying they get so little free time and they’d rather spend it with their husbands/kids than cleaning. But don’t the maids have husbands and kids too? Who cleans the maids’ houses? Don’t most maids have to go home and clean their own houses? It’s ultimately a class issue – I’m willing to bet you won’t find very many poor or working-class moms who hire help. Being able to hire help so that you can spend your free time doing other things you enjoy requires a certain degree of middle-class privilege (and income.)

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

This is part of what I am not comfortable with. I suppose we *could* afford a cleaning lady…lord knows we blow money on other things (nice vacations, craft beers, good food, books)…but it just highlights a class issue that makes me feel awkward. I don’t like the growing disparity among “classes” in the U.S. and having a cleaning lady (notice…always a “lady”!!!) just shines a bold and ugly light on that. Really, if you have more house than you can care for, you have too much house–many Americans do.

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Elisabeth May 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Again, you are assuming people who clean houses for money are somehow less-than. That might be an opinion formed from your own bias or your own experience, I don’t know. But almost everyone I have interviewed for cleaning or hired to clean runs their own small business and actually has cleaning help at their own homes. It’s a free-market decision, not always “the only thing someone can do”.

Most people don’t love to come home and do what they’ve been doing all day, no matter what their field. Chefs often don’t some home to cook a meal for their family, for instance. Often carpenters or mechanics (both skilled trades) don’t want to come home and work on their house or their car. That doesn’t automatically qualify them as lower class, though, does it? It also doesn’t stop us from hiring them when we want to fix something and don’t have the skill or time.

I know many people in this country have waaaay too much house and our materialism bugs me no end. But I certainly don’t have too much space, just too many responsibilities. It sounds like that’s the case with many of the women responding here.

And in response to Holly, above, I cut out cable TV and cell phones (and I haven’t taken a vacation in almost 10 years) long before I figured out how we could afford hiring household help. It’s simply a sanity-preserving necessity at this stage of our lives.

There is no reason that hiring people to perform their chosen occupation should in and of itself automatically be a class issue or feel awkward to anyone. And if it does, please don’t let that cause you to judge those who have clearly experienced it very differently.

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Elisabeth May 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hear-hear; I said virtually the same thing below, but a bit more long-winded, ha! Great name, by the way :)

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Subversive May 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

We pay our cleaning *lady* (fwiw, we’d hire a man if there were any on the market with good references) $25 an hour. Lower class? I think not.

I think maybe you need to revise your own preconceptions.

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I shared elsewhere that my cleaning person (notice I have not once used the term “LADY”) and I earn the same net hourly income.

Your point is well taken, subversive.

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Holly May 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I actually thought of cleaning houses and found that it wasn’t a viable proposition. $25 an hour is far better than what it pays where I live – here it’s $15 an hour, and the people I know who do this kind of work typically only have a couple clients a week. Their hourly wage may be okay, but it certainly isn’t a full-time income.

Historically and presently, housekeepers are hired by the middle class, not members of the middle class themselves.

Fair disclosure: I also worked for two independently-owned cleaning services in the 90s (not Merry Maids type places, but smaller similar companies) and earned minimum wage.

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Subversive May 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Even at $15 an hour it’s far better than minimum wage, but I don’t think you and I are really disagreeing. Regardless, I think the point (almost) everyone is making is that it’s a paid position, and anyone who does home cleaning does so of their own free will as a part of a free market economy, not as an indentured servant. There are lots of minimum wage positions at stores around the world, does it make me elitist to shop at those stores too?

Cloud May 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm

You say you’re not judging those of us who use cleaning services, but when I read your comments, I feel judged. I’m going to assume that I am just being over-sensitive. I have some questions for you, and I hope you will also try to take these as non-judgmental.

I live in a house that has less than 1400 square feet. Is that too much house? Who gets to decide?

Of course there is a class issue, and only people with sufficient money can afford to hire help. I’m sure that my housecleaner also has to clean her own house, and I doubt she enjoys it. There is no question that my life is easier than hers. So what should I do? Make my life more and more difficult until it is as difficult as that of the lowest paid working mother there is? How does that help anyone?

Or should I quit my job and stay at home and do all the cleaning? What if I tell you that I work in a male-dominated field that I trained for years to enter? If that changes the answer (and believe it or not, for some people it does), why? And who gets to decide which careers warrant the right to hire help without feeling guilty? What if I tell you that I make more money than my husband? Should he quit his job and stay at home?

I doubt that the people who work at Whole Foods can afford to do the bulk of their shopping there, either. Does that bother you? If not, why not?

What do you think my housecleaner would be doing for a living if she weren’t cleaning houses? Do you really think it would pay better or give her more time with her family? At least the cleaning job is a 9-5 job.

These are not simple issues. Our society has deep, structural problems with class, race, and privilege. But my refusal to use my resources to make my own life better won’t fix those. I’ll support efforts to improve the working conditions for people in lower wage jobs. I’m already supporting efforts to improve educational access so that people don’t get tracked to low wage jobs just due to the circumstances of their birth. To me, this is more meaningful than any decision I make about how the toilets in my house will get cleaned.

I’m sorry if I sound angry. I’m not. I’m just frustrated, and tired of this issue. We all solve the problems of our lives in different ways, and make compromises in different places. If you don’t want to hire a cleaner- hey, that’s your call and none of my business. But please don’t think that all of us who do hire cleaners are ignorant of the class issues involved. A lot of us have thought about them, and thought hard. My husband and I thought about it, and discussed this decision. In the end, I don’t see how refusing to pay for help that I can afford will do anything at all to fix the class problems in our country.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Did you read the Ehrenreich article?
As I said, I can control my own home, not the world economy.
You can do what you wish…and I can roll my eyes and find you distasteful.

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Mama-Cloud’s response to you was very respectful, and yours is bordering on nasty. Let’s keep clear of personal insults, attacks, or assumptions. It’s not how my comments section rolls and we are all smart enough to keep the discourse civil.

Cloud May 5, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Yes, I’ve read Ehrenreich. Let’s just say that I agree with many of her goals but not always with her methods for getting there. Also, I don’t find the job of cleaning as demeaning as she does- and yes, I’ve done that job, too.

Go ahead and roll your eyes and find me distasteful. I’ve thought about my opinions and how they fit with how I run my life, and I feel pretty good about the decisions I’ve made. That’s what matters to me.

Holly May 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I don’t know what the answer is, and I understand the issues you’re raising. I am uncomfortable with the class issues, but more than that I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of someone else coming into my home and cleaning up after me – it just feels so private as to almost be an invasion. I have also very significantly under-utilized child care options and it has often made my life a lot harder.

Although my knee-jerk reaction to hiring housekeeping help is negative, when I examine that more closely I also know that working women have so many demands on them already and I can understand the desire to just get some help. I am so, so fortunate that my husband helps me with virtually everything, from child care to cleaning and cooking to taking the kids to some of their appointments. If I were in a different type of relationship where I didn’t have that type of help available from my spouse, I can very easily see myself reaching a breaking point and needing to hire somebody for one of those tasks.

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Cloud May 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Holly, your reaction, knee-jerk or otherwise, is a fine thing by which to run your own life. I certainly don’t think everyone should hire a housecleaner!

Actually, my husband and I split our chores evenly, too, and always have.

MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 2:26 am

Holly said it all in a less confrontational way than me…with the first part of her reply here…thank you.

Gypsy Chaos May 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Cloud, I fit your description – many years of training, male dominated field, higher pay than my husband.

Once again I agree with your thoughts.
I’ve noticed that the people who are adamantly against household help resort to using the class structures as their foundation for their objections. OTOH those who have help either do feel guilty, or feel aggravated because others try to make them feel guilty.

Another factor IMO is a feeling of unworthiness. Someone raised in a family with limited income may be uncomfortable truly acknowledging the fact that they have a much better income than their parents and possibly siblings.

I haven’t cleaned my house, other than the bathrooms and a lick and a promise because company is coming, in more than five years. Occasionally we’d have someone come in and clean. But not regularly.
…I was promoted, and determined that my raise would cover weekly house cleaning. We did not have excessive debt or any other pressing need for the raise. I traveled frequently, sometimes for a week or more at a time.
… My husband was absolutely completely don’t-even-discuss-it against a regular cleaning service. He stated that we own the house, we should take care of the house, and that included cleaning it. I told him that if he refused to allow regularly scheduled outside cleaners, he could clean the house, because I was not going to do it. So he cleans.
… (I’ve been laid off, so things are different. But I still do no more than the minimum.)

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Meagan Francis May 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

A lot of things are available to middle and upper classes that aren’t available to working and lower classes, so I’m not sure that’s an argument against cleaning services any more than it is against nice cars or meals in fancy restaurants or vacations or whatever. Funny enough, I don’t have a nice car, rarely eat in fancy restaurants, and excepting weekend road trips and in our area, took our first “real” family vacation EVER, in 13 years, this last fall! We also cut out the cable package!

I think a lot of people perform tasks for pay that leave them less time for performing those same tasks to themselves. Teachers have to come home at the end of a long day and care for their own children. Writers produce content, but have to make time to read. My cleaning person sets her own hours, all while her kids are in school, and has shared with me that she shares her housecleaning duties with a friend.

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Holly May 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I’ve been thinking about this more – obviously, it’s a great topic!

My own objection to hiring a house cleaner is that it feels very intimate and personal. It’s allowing someone to come in and observe many of the most private details about how my family lives and paying them to do it. In light of that, rather than judging the cleaner or the people who hire cleaners, I feel like the cleaner would be judging ME.

I have mentioned in other responses that I typically significantly under-utilize paid help, even though I know it might make my life easier. I’ve thought about that more and it carries over to many categories. My husband fixes our appliances and we never hire people to do it. If it’s something we can possibly do for ourselves, we do, including growing some of our own food, making all our own bread and soap – but we also have the time and specific skills to be able to do so, and I know not everyone does or wants to be able to do so.

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Mel May 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I second that objection, Holly. I view my home as a very private and personal space and would feel almost violated if someone came through cleaning it, especially if I were not there. I wonder how much of that is our personalities? We, too, are DIYers and that independent spirit carries through to all home maintenance and projects. I joke that if someone were to hire a cleaner for me, I would have to pick up first anyway, so what’s the point? I make the job easier and more cost-effective by using the basic homemade cleansers and detergents. It’s like second nature at this point, even as a full-time work-outside-the-home mom.

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Elizabeth May 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm

We have cleaners (four women, about an hour, $65) come and clean our two-bedroom, two-bath 1100-suqare-foot house every other week. I look at it as an investment that reduces marital conflict (it’s my husband who is tidy to the extreme; I’m just not as tidy) and frees up time that we can spend with our our 6-year-old son. We both work full time, and I have a very long commute, as well as some health issues, including chronic back pain. I want to spend the weekend doing things with my son and husband, not cleaning the bathroom and risking aggravating my back. I recommend that anyone, including stay-at-home moms (talk about exhausting work!), who can afford to have cleaning help do it—and never feel one iota of guilt about it.

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Elisabeth May 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Obviously you’ve hit on a HOT topic, Meagan! Nicely written, too.

I’d like to share a few thoughts. One, while I disagree with some of MamaMeYeah’s comments, you definitely make a valid point–that ties in well with Meagan’s original post–about the size of American homes. I just found a university website (http://www.hws.edu/dailyupdate/NewsDetails.aspx?aid=13804) that said the average American home size in 2009 was around 2,300 square feet–more than double the 1950 average. I’m willing to bet that homes in Louisa May Alcott’s time were even dinkier!

Add to that the fact that, despite lacking our modern technological conveniences, most homes of Alcott’s time didn’t have bathrooms to clean or carpets to vacuum (although they’d have had rugs to beat). Larger homes may have had a fancy clawfoot tub to clean, but I’m sure most homes had far fewer spaces to worry about cleaning than most of us do today. And they STILL hired help when they could!

After living in New Zealand for the past three years and coming back to California, it’s hit me again just how BIG everything in America is–do we REALLY need so much big everything?? Not begrudging anyone who has a big home–just saying that for me, it’s becoming clear that sometimes, less IS more. Kind of like the discovery I made early on in teaching–the more assignments I give, the more I have to grade!! It’s wise to be judicious in our space choices too–the more rooms we have, the more we have to clean!

On the subject of hiring help, however, some other thoughts: one, again–this is a pretty uniquely American dilemma, from my moderate experience of other cultures. And possibly one directly caused by the rise of modern feminism–one of the downsides of a movement that started with equality in mind, but has left so many American women feeling stressed at best, or suicidal at worst because of the pressure to do and be it all. We really do need to step back, take a deep breath, and accept that we just aren’t cut out to do EVERYTHING well, ALL the time! The up side of all this, however, is that we DO have the liberty of choosing so many aspects of our lives as American women. I realize everyone has constraints–physical, social, economic, geographic, etc–but in some places on the planet, a woman can work hard her entire life and NEVER have the option to choose much of anything she does. We are supremely blessed in this regard.

Also, to those worried about the class issues of hiring housecleaners, I see your point, but let me share another side of the story to consider. When I was born, my father shared a janitorial business with my grandfather, which he’d founded a number of years earlier. My grandfather mostly maintained the commercial accounts around the South San Francisco Bay Area (schools, churches, office buildings, banks), and my father covered the domestic accounts. Growing up, we kids (my parents had four of us within six years) would tag along with both my dad and my grandpa, and were carefully trained in the business of cleaning–as well as how to run a business! This was INVALUABLE training for us, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To this day, every time I clean the bathroom–or virtually anything for that matter!–I picture my dad walking through each task step by step, making sure I did it carefully and up to his exacting standard. We all took pride in a job well done, and were even paid a bit as kids for our work–pretty cool for a ten-year-old!

Later, when I was a teenager (by that time my dad had moved on from the janitorial business, but my grandfather kept a few of his smaller accounts), I took on babysitting/nannying jobs, and did some housecleaning as well for those families. I always got rave reviews, strong referrals, and by the time I was eighteen, had saved up a nice little sum for myself, which I used to travel overseas.

I could share more stories of other family members and friends who have held similar jobs at various times, and all of us would consider ourselves lower-middle class living here in Silicon Valley (realizing I don’t know the true economic definitions of class in today’s world, but knowing I live a heck of a lot better than most of my urban students’ families did when I was teaching not long ago). At some point, a job is a job, and you decide what’s best for you and your family, and do it. I think most people in virtually any country on Earth would agree that working for a living is honorable, regardless of the relative pay scale between types of jobs. I will never make what a surgeon does, but I also don’t want to do his/her job!

We can’t afford help at the moment, but I sure would love to hire a fun college student type to come play with my toddler son a couple times per week so I could get more actual work done (I’m a part-time English teacher so there’s ALWAYS grading to do, and my son doesn’t understand that yet and just wants to play!). As soon as we can, though, I’m doing it–no guilt whatsoever! Thanks for the post, Meagan!

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I don’t clean. Not because I’ve hired a cleaning service, but because my partner is the one who does the cleaning. I grocery shop, cook, and manage our finances. He cleans and does laundry.

I wonder if those people who judge others for hiring outside help are living off the grid and growing all of their own food as well? We have decided to dedicate a significant amount of time this spring/summer to our garden so that we can provide a sustainable food source for our families and be less dependent on food that is coming from companies that exploit their workers and the environment. If the time we spend in the garden means that we have to hire help with cleaning, I wouldn’t hesitate at all. I know that I could hire and pay someone a decent wage for cleaning our home. I don’t know that the food companies that most people buy from are paying people decent wages and giving them decent working conditions.

I think that we all depend on a lot of outside help and if it isn’t for cleaning, we are using other types of outside help. Other than those people living completely off the grid and doing everything themselves or in a communal fashion with others, then I don’t think there is much room to judge.

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Jenny May 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Exactly right!

First-world societies are built upon the labor of human beings – some of which is properly compensated and some of which is horrifically exploited. Farm workers are an excellent example of the latter (yes, even for all those fancy organic foods sold at Whole Foods).

I pay my housekeeper $20/hr to do the deep cleaning in my very small house (1100 sq ft, built in 1929), not because I think I’m better than the task or her, but because I’m not good at it and don’t enjoy living in a dirty or unkempt home. But I fear I’m justifying myself, and I don’t have to. My housekeeper makes a living wage cleaning houses, and she takes pride in her work (I often notice that she arranges my daughter’s toys in creative ways on her shelves, even though we just generally store the toys in buckets). I asked her to set her price for her work, and I don’t supervise her while she does it. She makes good money, she does good work, I appreciate it immensely, and I like to think we’re both better off.

There really is no room to judge, so I’m totally uninterested in the judgments of anyone whose hands cannot possibly be clean of the crimes they protest.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 2:19 am

To all who say “there’s no room to judge”…I am really just stating how I feel about household help, I may be saying it in judgmental tones, and that may reflect my feelings on the matter, but what’s the point of discussion if you’re not going to ASSERT an opinion. It seems to be the thing on these mommy blogs to EITHER be part of the club that all agrees and goes on about how hard one’s life is and how we have to, as such hardworking moms do A, B or C just to get along…or, have a different view and meekly add “but I won’t judge anyone who does…” Well, I don’t feel the need to overstate and overwork the “not judging” thing, because, I do kinda judge. Not in a “I think I am better than you, you deserve to die you moron” way, but in a “I think my way on this is more enlightened, I am more in touch with something I think is better” way.

Now I am trying to do a new thing where I let my ego fall away and I don’t go around being “more enlightened” on topics than others…however, it’s going to be a long process and I don’t expect to be “over it” any time soon…and I would say I am not alone in this bad habit.

Anyway, to those who keep acting like if you buy from stores or get haircuts or do any other modern conveniences type thing you have “no room to judge” the household help bit, I would disagree. I would reiterate…for the gazillionth time…that we CAN control what goes on in our homes more than what we can control out in the world, in the factories in the fields, etc. and I would say I *do* try to be conscious of problems in these areas, too, but at least MY HOME is not a place of stratification and domination. And YOU HAVE GOT TO START SOMEWHERE, don’t you? (also, I *am* trying to grow some of our own food, but that is an aside…)

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 6, 2011 at 6:16 am

“I’ll start in my home” is one philosophy.

Another philosophy is to tackle the greatest evils first. I think that the working conditions on farms, plantations and factories in many developing countries are significantly worse than the working conditions of any North American cleaning personnel.

So, yes, we have to start “somewhere” and we may all have different definitions of where that “somewhere” is.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 6:23 am

“Another philosophy is to tackle the greatest evils first.”

Meh. Cop out. If your own home is not in order that falls flat, IMO. I agree that the working conditions in those places are worse, but I can do far less to immediate stop that than I can do right now in my own life in my own home. I don’t think that those issues should NOT be bothered with. They should, but it’s an easy out for those who want to pretend they have more important things to do than care for their own homes (or kids!).

Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 6:19 am

I like what you said about starting in your home–because that’s what I do, too, even if the end result doesn’t look the same. To me, that means working with people in a way I feel good about, fairly, with respect and integrity.

“It seems to be the thing on these mommy blogs to EITHER be part of the club that all agrees and goes on about how hard one’s life is and how we have to, as such hardworking moms do A, B or C just to get along”

Actually, that really couldn’t be further from the tone I’ve worked very hard to set on this particular blog. I write a lot about managing households with a positive attitude and more important, motherhood with a positive attitude. Listen, I don’t think housecleaning is that HARD. There’s not one job my cleaning person does that I can’t do. I also don’t look at it as drudgery or menial labor–if I did, I’d feel much more conflicted about hiring it out. To me, it’s a matter of managing my time–I’ve been building a career for years, I have multiple kids of different ages, and I’ve gotten to the point where outsourcing SOMETHING makes sense. Frankly it’s easier to trust somebody with my home than with my kids and though hiring a business assistant sounds nice, I’m still working out exactly what I’d have them do that I can’t do better and more quickly myself. On the other hand, my cleaning person is better and more efficient at cleaning my house than I am. So, while you might think hiring a housecleaner is silly, for me, it’s freed up time for other things. Notice I never said BETTER things, just OTHER things.

Other people may have other motivations for hiring help, and maybe for some it’s pure luxury. But we all have our luxuries big and small, and it feels disingenuous to single household help out. The social/class issues raised are worth discussing but I feel like we’re conflating the two and they really need to be separated out.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 6:24 am

Sorry, Meagan. I am new to your blog in particular, so I’m not familiar with the ongoing and general theme and tenor. Just speaking to my own experiences on this thread and other discussions.

jessica May 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm

gosh, i would LOVE some help with a cleaning service, but have felt too guilty about the cost. your thoughts really helped! maybe someday…

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Beth May 5, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Someone to help with cleaning is next on my list, actually. There are certain household tasks I simply can’t do because of my asthma and my husband refuses to do them. Right now, I muddle along, but we both know I’d breathe a lot better if we took care of it. We do currently have lawn care for our front yard. We use a woman-owned service who over the last year has become the primary lawn care provider for our entire neighborhood.

She loves what she does. I can’t do what she does. Do I feel guilty? Not in the slightest. Will I feel guilty when I find a housecleaner and a sitter that I can be happy with? Uh, no.

I’ve read a lot of new historicist theory (that which Ehrenreich bases most of her work on, more commonly referred to in the US as Marxist theory, by the way), and I think she misses a key point in most of her work regarding means versus modes of production and ISAs (ideological state apparatuses). If the housecleaner is self-employed, then s/he controls the means and mode of production in so far as s/he can set the rate and limits of the work produced for the pay received. Where this runs afoul of ISAs is within that precise structure. That is, the ideology we, as a society, have bought into (as displayed by Ehrenreich, and others) is that cleaning a house is “less than” doing something else, that assumption plays on deep cultural biases against what is stereotypically seen as “women’s work.” the truly subversive thing to do, that upsets the ISA is to hire the independent contractor, the self-employed and collapse the capitalist/elitist structure of a Merry Maids or the like.

I think I’ll stop now before I put everyone to sleep :)

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Elisabeth May 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Ooo, I like the economics lesson–thanks! And I think my dad’s business (mentioned in my earlier comment) was a great example of what you’ve explained–it also set me and my siblings on a path to being industrious and entrepreneurial as well.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 2:23 am

Those are all good points, and I suppose the more “conscious” hirers of independents can make sure they are doing it all in good spirit and not exploiting…still, on a personal level, it doesn’t feel right to me to hire, on a regular basis, someone to do something for me that I see as basic life maintenance. And, I think on the other hand this view could also be easily used as rationalization/copping out in order to just do what you want anyway (but we all do that, too….)

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 6:36 am

Maybe the idea of what counts as basic life maintenance, though, is changing. Or perhaps there are just more things that are now seen as basic maintenance–after all, we all have more things to take care of than people used to, more women work outside the home or run businesses, and even caring for children has become professionalized to the point where many look at raising their kids (outside of the housework) as a full-time job in and of itself.

I don’t think any of us are completely innocent, and I think we all have different areas where we draw a line in the sand that we will not cross. For instance, I will not set foot in a certain big-box store. My husband was just telling me this morning about the barred windows on the foreign factories where iPhones are made–apparently the suicide rate among workers is so high, they have to lock them in. We all have areas where we feel most compelled to take a stand–for some of us that’s in the home, for some of us it’s local and for some global. I totally respect anyone’s decision to make choices out of principle, but I think we have to allow for other people to make other kinds of choices out of principle. In fact, maybe it’s better for all of us if we spread the outrage around a little.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 8:01 am

“we all have more things to take care of than people used to…”
really? maybe yes, maybe no…I’d just say *different* things and I question the value in all the scrabbling/pseudo “businesses” people do…what are they really accomplishing, especially if they are not even caring for their own small children (an aside, I’m not a fan of daycare)

“and even caring for children has become professionalized to the point where many look at raising their kids (outside of the housework) as a full-time job in and of itself”

Meh. Yeah, it’s become this, but another smokescreen/BS thing. Caring for children is not a job, it’s a relationship. Now, EDUCATING them in subjects, as in what teachers do in schools, is different. Just being a parent is being a parent…it’s not a “full time job” than being a wife or a sister/daughter/ etc. is (unless you are caring for a sickly or incapacitated relative).

What big-box store won’t you go into? Or can’t you say because shows like Fox & Friends, etc. with their sponsorships, or maybe your publisher, would frown on that????

Jennifer May 6, 2011 at 1:43 am

I say whatever works for “your” family is all that matters. If you have the means to hire help, great. If you don’t, great. To each their own. Yes, it is a bit intimidating when I read blogs that the writers sounds as if life is perfect, house is perfect all the time, they cook from scratch, they make home made gifts, grow their own food, organized closets, etc…I know however they are only giving us a small glimpse of their life…nobody is perfect and as the title my blog points out: I Am Not Superwoman. We are not superwoman, we can’t always do it all, be it all and that is quite alright. We will fall down at something and probably often. We do however need to be the best on what counts the most: good wives to our husband (if married) and awesome parents to our children and last but not least without getting on a soap box, good servent of God. I would much rather build memories with my family than scrub the floors. I would much rather build memories with my family than clean the windows. Is my house a mess often, heck yeah! Can you eat a meal off my floor (from the droppings) many times, yes! Our house is full of love and truly lived in.

If you need someone to come in once a week to clean, if you need someone to come in to watch your children while you take a breather, go ahead. I say GO FOR IT. Who are we to judge?

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expatriababy May 6, 2011 at 5:02 am

Wow, what an interesting discussion; you’ve really touched on a hot button, Meagan. As I said in a previous comment, I have no issue with hiring help; I’ve paid for housecleaning in the past, and I currently pay for childcare, even though I’m a SAHM. I also have no issue with people who, for political, economic, religious, or whatever reasons, don’t.

However, I am fascinated by the deep feelings that this debate has stirred. Its obvious that this issue runs deeper than simply whether or not one chooses to pay someone to clean one’s house. It seems as though this is a values discussion about class and socio-economic status. One can never hope to win a values-based argument, so instead I’ll pose a few questions:

Why does class make us so uncomfortable? Isn’t it the nature of a free market driven society that some will be rich and some less so? It is clear that we live in a service based economy; each and every day all of us pay for services, directly or indirectly. We don’t have the same qualms about paying someone to change our oil, or paint our houses, or deliver our newspaper, for example. Why is that? Each of the above mentioned tasks be performed by even the most non-dyi person, yet many of us choose to pay for these types of services. What makes housecleaning any different?

Anyway, fascinating discussion. I’m enjoying it!

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expatriababy May 6, 2011 at 5:07 am

Oh dear…It seems as though I “comment” reply without reading through my post carefully. I noticed that I’ve included some half-formed ideas that I ment to delete. Please disregard the fact that I am clearly and idiot at the interwebz. I’m still interested as to why we are so bothered by evidence of different socio-economic status though.

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Holly May 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Class issues are my favorite topic, to the point that it led me to major in sociology and cement my financial position in the lower class :P

I think the reason we are so bothered by evidence of different socio-economic status is because it goes against what America is supposed to be. We’re not a country like India, with its caste system that makes it difficult to impossible to break out of one’s socioeconomic class. Theoretically we all have equal opportunities to succeed in America – except that in reality, we actually don’t. Most people stay in the same economic class in which they were born or can move one quintile higher and it takes a lot of effort to change. The story of the person who was born into poverty and became a CEO or the U.S. President is remarkable simply because it’s so uncommon.

Hiring household help forces us to confront that we are better off than the people serving us, which goes against the idea that we’re all equal, at least economically.

I will say that I’ve come to a conclusion that hiring private housekeepers is probably much less exploitative than hiring from a service like Merry Maids, to the point that we could even be having separate discussions. Since I know from first-hand experience that Merry Maids-type places pay their workers minimum wage and take away the employees’ autonomy in every step of the work, it’s very hard for me to justify the use of such services. Private cleaners may be more likely to be doing so entrepreneurially and have a lot more control over their wages and work.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 5:51 am

The idea of a “free market society” is false. The “markets” have been manipulated by powers to serve their own purposes. I am “so bothered” by differences in different socio-economic status because they are evidence of millenia of wrong-doing. And, again, while I can’t control the whole world, I can control my home.

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Sommer @greenmom May 6, 2011 at 5:58 am

I have help once per week for three hours and let me tell you it is a life saver! My daughter is four and when she was born I hired help. I knew I wanted to work, have children and I could not do it all.

I just screamed it out loud to the world: I CANNOT DO IT ALL!

For my sanity and the well being of my family it made sense for us. It wasn’t as much about the money but the idea that I can hire help for a few hours a week so that I can make double the money it costs to hire that person or service. Essentially I had to spend money to make money.

Does this mean my kids don’t clean? No. We still have to clean in between the help but having someone assist me freezes up my time to keep making money and it keeps me on track and not buried in laundry!

Wednesday night is the best night of the week for me because I come home to a clean house, my work is done and I can focus on the kids and our family not cleaning the toilet! I love it! Again, it works for my family and I’m comfortable with hiring someone to assist me. To me it is no different than hiring a virtual assistant for my site. Admitting you need help and want it is the key!

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Kari May 6, 2011 at 8:29 am

Why must we (meaning women) always be made to feel guilty, no matter what our choices? Do men feel they have help? No, they have a wife. Don’t get me wrong, my husband does as much (sometimes even more) than I do at home. But here’s my take: 1) The definition of immediate family has changed in our society. I believe someone else brought this up, but our mothers, grandmothers, and their mothers..they all had each other to help with the children. I, myself, was raised mostly by my grandmother (with whom we lived), while my mom was in charge of the cleaning and shopping and worked part time. So they did have help, they just didn’t pay them with money. 2) More women now work outside the home…but even if they don’t…they’re on the PTA, they’re class moms, they’re going on field trips, attending their kids’ plays, attending their kids’ sports events, coaching said sports…all in addition to the usual chores. Who has time for all this AND to make sure the windows are spotless? Not to mention, we are also expected to do our hair, makeup, and not ‘let ourselves go.’ Stop trying to do it all! And stop feeling guilty if you can’t! If you can afford it, get help and revel in it. I had a full time nanny for three years. Now that the kids are in school full time, I have a weekly cleaning lady. The rest gets done by my husband and me when we get home from work; and we do not stop until the kids are in bed. I see my neighbor trying to do it all, and she looks miserable and a wreck! For what? So you can say you do it all? Bully for you. I still feel I do it all – including making sure my windows are spotless. I’m just not the one wiping them.

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Katie May 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

Great discussion. Can you imagine men having a heated argument about who is making the most ethical choices regarding management of housework? How nice for them that they don’t have to choose between doing it all themselves or feeling guilty for hiring a household worker. The very existence of this women-only thread tells me feminism still has a ways to go!

Ehrenreich’s Maid to Order is insightful and worth reading if you plan to hire household workers. But I don’t buy her argument that household work is so dirty that it’s unethical to hire other people to do it. I like Megan’s approach – housework is work that’s worth doing and therefore worth paying somebody to do it. Ehrenreich’s book was most insightful about the need for employers to feel like they’re friends and equals with household workers, whereas workers are all too aware that they’re not. There is a power difference there. If you’re hiring household workers, you’re the boss, not a friend. You wouldn’t dream of hiring a close friend to clean your house. This person isn’t cleaning your house because s/he likes you. S/he’s cleaning it because you’re paying her. It’s business.

Megan – maybe you could invite a lawyer with expertise on the legal requirements for hiring household workers to write a guest post so we could all be a bit more informed about the right way to go about this. Cheryl Mendelson has a great chapter in Home Comforts on this topic.

And what about another guest post from a labor organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance?

To me, feminism means stating clearly that the traditional women’s work of maintaining a home has real value. That for some families, the right choice is to hire an employee to perform this important work. And part of valuing that work means standing up for the rights of those workers.

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

“There is a power difference there. If you’re hiring household workers, you’re the boss, not a friend. You wouldn’t dream of hiring a close friend to clean your house. This person isn’t cleaning your house because s/he likes you. S/he’s cleaning it because you’re paying her. It’s business.”

True, though I do look at it in a slightly different way, more like the relationship I have with my editors. They are paying me, so they are my “bosses,” but we both have power in the relationship. They have the power to hire me but I have the power to negotiate my own rates or walk away if I don’t like how I’m treated. We may not be “friends” (though I have done editing work for friends!) but we are friendly, we respect one another’s talents and contributions.

Of course, in a lot of homeowner/house cleaner arrangements, the power is much less balanced. Just like when, as a writer, I REALLY need the work I’m in much less of a position to negotiate or be choosy about who I work with–and when my editor has a last-minute assignment she really needs to hire out ASAP, *I* have more power in the relationship. Why shouldn’t the relationship between any employer and employee, or worker and client, be the same? As you point out, Katie, if caring for a home were more valued it would raise the status of all home workers and create more equality and less of a power imbalance. I can’t change the world, but I can control the way I relate to the people who work within my home.

And–great idea on the guest posts.

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Katie May 6, 2011 at 9:57 am

Meagan – we DO have the power to change the world. You changed the world for the better by admitting courageously and publicly that you’ve hired a cleaning person, and moderating a thoughtful discussion. We have the power to change the world for the worse if we hire someone illegally and pay them cash off the books. We have the power to change the world for the better if we pay a living wage, and hire people on the books so their hard work counts toward Social Security and unemployment benefits. Of course, this costs a lot more, but if we really believe that caring for a home and children takes hard work, skill and dedication, why would we be surprised that market rates are expensive? Shouldn’t they be? I would argue that the way we treat people who work in our homes, and especially how we pay them, DOES change the world. Love your blog – and especially this post. Bravo.

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lily May 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

I have just hired a full time nanny that will start in July. There is definitely a stigma with it, even my friends are questioning my finances as well as my sanity.
Here’s the truth – we pay $2000/mth for daycare for our 2 small children…what am i getting for that money? not much. Im still working full time, rushing to get them out the door in the morning, at times dragging them out of bed half asleep. Rushing to pick them up, make dinner while they are crying and clinging to my legs. Trying to spend time with them while really just ignoring them so I can clean and get the laundry done. And guess what? I get to wake up the next morning and do it all over again!
So, Im taking the plunge. Im doing whats right for my family, both financially (the nanny will cost me about $500/month less), and mentally. I want to be present for my children and enjoy this time while they are young.

So call me what you will…priveledged, lazy…whatever….I will just call myself happy

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 10:13 am

so you throw more money at the “problem”, hiring someone to clean…why not just stay home yourself?

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Emily May 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think she hired someone to clean. She hired a nanny to take care of her kids at her home rather than continue to take them to a daycare setting while she works. Big difference. As to “why not just stay home yourself”…..aren’t you kind of assuming here that many of us full-time working moms are only working for money? So we can afford “hiring someone to clean”? I happen to love what I do and I’m willing to bet that many of the other working moms reading these comments also love their work. The world would be a sad place if all of us talented women just stayed home to take care of our houses ourselves rather than contribute what we have to give to the workforce, whatever that may be.

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Ana May 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Thank you for writing that last part…there are a LOT of women in careers they love and that are extremely important to society that CANNOT be done from home part-time (teaching, health-care, science, social work come to mind, I’m sure there are many many more). Should women wanting to go into these fields resign themselves to childlessness, or just give up their jobs during their peak (childbearing & career-building) years? The world would be a sad place in either case.

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Emily May 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Is it seriously cheaper to get a full time nanny to come to your house than daycare? I mean, I know how expensive daycare is. I pay $1500/mo for my 2 kids, and one of them is in half-day kindergarten and only at the daycare for half the day. I just always assumed it would be even higher to have someone come to my house to watch them.

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I think this is somewhat regional. Where I live (small town midwest) a nanny is generally a little more expensive, unless you have more than two children needing care. But I know people on the East coast who pay nannies about what they earn here (despite being in a much higher COL area) while quality daycare there is exorbitantly expensive. Some of it, I suppose, is also what you’re willing to pay for child care as well as how many potential nannies there are in your area looking for work.

In our small Midwestern town, nannies are very often American born, often young women in college or in between college and career. I’m not so sure that’s the case in larger cities on the coasts.

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lily May 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Yes, It is cheaper…at least for us. And the benefit is I will have someone to help with dinner and cleaning. Our nanny will be a live-in so she will pay room and board which helps lower the cost as well

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Lisa @Tripped Up Life May 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Emily, it can be much cheaper to have a live-in nanny than do a daycare situation – at least if you have multiples. With triplet toddlers a nanny is the only way I could go to work, daycare centers run much higher and also are limited in openings (which is another huge issue for us).

Meagan, I’m late to this party… way late… sorry, but I just have to say I’m admiring the way you’ve been handling all around. I know I’m off-topic, but you’re teaching this new blogger a lot…

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 11:49 am

Just one more thing and I’ll shut up and leave y’all to your mutual self validation…some say (I can *see* your Twitter feeds) that *I* has “iss-yoos” (and I can see you, figuratively looking down your nose like some hack psychologist at me–ha!)…but I think many here have issues. I mean, someone cited, with NO irony, that they read it takes 39 hours a week to “properly keep a home”…others talk of how they’re gone all day, but they spend their evenings up til bed cleaning and this is when they are still hiring cleaning people…and I am like, what the heck kind of ridiculously high standards do you have…or…how insanely sloppy are you that your house is that dirty?!?! It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think that many just like to feel that they are special because they have a cleaning person. Like the mommy’s Jim Crow or something. “At least I don’t clean!” Blech.

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Olivia May 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Without agreeing that many hear have issues, I do agree that many must have either very high standards for cleaning or a really messy household. My house, 1200 sq ft, has 2 adults, one toddler, 2 cats and one dog. I do not spend my entire evenings cleaning, nor my entire weekend. I do maybe one hour everyday, spread out in a few min here and there. Laundry is realistically only 2 hrs of work with folding and sorting a week, and another couple of hrs on the weekends for other tasks. Granted, my house is not spotless, but it’s livable. I spend the bulk of my time outside of work with my family and I go to bed to relax/read after my daughter goes to sleep by 9 pm.

So, I guess if you’d like to save money, consider lowering your standards. We don’t have to be a slave to a spotless home.

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Olivia May 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I forgot to add that my husband helps with dishes, cooking and child wrangling. Single mothers, you have my total understanding if you choose to hire help.

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Candy May 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Wow, some Moms don’t sound very warm and cuddly on here… I didn’t even finish reading the comments. No one should care or even have an opinion on what other families do. What works for one family might not work for another. If you want to do it all yourself, raise 10 kids, no help, home school etc. GREAT. If you have 1 kid and a full time Nanny and Maid, GREAT. It’s each family’s decision. I don’t think the question was asked to have Moms bash on each other… right before our holiday to recognize, support and honor all Moms. At the end of the day, if the kids are happy and well taken care of, the job is done.

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Readinginfo May 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Okay, I keep reading this statement. “so I can spend more time with my kids”. HUH!!! Hired help or none-please cut the bull****! When I wash the dishes, I spending time with my kids, when I mop (which gets done daily) I’m spending time with my kids, when I fold laundry and put it away-I’m spending time with my kids!!! My kids have access to me in any cleaning station I find myself in… and in fact all of my home-running chores are that way(except paying bills-I need my math skills), cooking, driving in the car(running errands). I know what children’s wants and needs are and I run my house accordingly. We have family game nights, and do other things together like eating breakfast and dinner. But also, my kids do not require (or even want) me to sit knee to knee with them staring deep into their eyes (not always-maybe sometimes). So my question-what-are you doing with your free time with your kids? Women have always done chores and taken care of their kids-it’s the rhythm of life; the rhythm that creates family bonds. Go ahead and hire the help. But stop saying that women who don’t hire help have dirtier houses or spend less quality time with their kids-it’s not true. I do simple things to make cleaning easier like no shoes in the house and not having in house animals.

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MamaMeYeah May 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

YES! YES! YES! This, too, is part of my point. Simple things, too, like teaching them to pick things up and not piss all over the toilet…and insisting they don’t! Whenever I am cleaning up or doing chores, my preschooler thinks I am actually playing and engages in it all. Now, when I am on my computer actually DOING WORK is when she whines for me to play with her…I wish I’d seen this comment earlier. I have to say, the way the comment section is structured, it’s really hard to find new ones…unless there is something I’m missing that allows them to be sorted some other way?

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Meagan Francis May 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Good question about the comments–I’ve never had even close to this number so it’s never been an issue before. They are threaded but I don’t like that they load in two pages. Trying to see if there are options.

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Lisa @Tripped Up Life May 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Okay, I know I’m way late for this party, but I just have to defend those who are saying they need help in order to spend more time with the kids. As a mother of triplets, I would love to have cleaning help (and sometimes I do, my MIL sometimes helps for free – oops, would that be exploitation? and sometimes my sitter will do a few things for me during the kids’ nap time).

My triplets all have some measure of milestone delays – partially due to an inability to do one-on-one time. Guess what? Having to care for 3 two-and-a-half year olds at once makes it really difficult to even sweep the floor with any measure of completion. Yes we’re teaching them to clean up to the best of our ability, but seriously, playing with my kids is incredibly vital for their development right now.

Cleaning help, nanny help, sometimes asking friends to take one triplet away for a singleton outing is the only way to get through these tough, early multiples years. I just wish I could afford to pay for someone to do it regularly right now, instead I’m more in the “Mom, can you help me?” stage and that’s a little tough to do.

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Evie May 6, 2011 at 10:09 pm

I am currently living in Sri Lanka, where wages are low and domestic help is common. Having “help” is a status thing, as are so many things here, and many of these workers are exploited – young children, desperate mothers. Many women go abroad to work as domestics in the middle east (and god knows how they are treated there) and send money home to families, and never see their children grow. I don’t think this is the case in the west and if it is, these are the exceptions. I knew a few people who had their own businesses as cleaners and they enjoyed it and were happy to be self employed. I see it as any other legitimate home-based business.
I don’t have hired help,primarily because we are volunteers and consequently have to watch where our money goes – we’d rather have regular beach holidays than a cleaning/cooking person (who wouldn’t!). I have people regularly come and ask if we would hire them as a domestic – and I feel guilty that we can’t/won’t because these people have little money, and few options, but at the same time, I am also uncomfortable with having an employee, mainly because of the culture of “doing it all yourself” in the west, and the guilt associated with that.
Anyway, that being said, my thoughts are that if you don’t want to hire help, you can do it yourself! Adjust your life – get a smaller house, get rid of stuff, start a babysitting co-op and be your own maid once a month or twice a month. And if you don’t want to/ can’t do everything yourself, hire someone to help with no guilt! Employ someone local :)

I can’t believe the disdain that some people harbor for something so silly. A person who works for a living has dignity and my respect.

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S May 7, 2011 at 3:31 am

Ai Ai Ai Ai, Meagan, you opened a can of worms, it seems, this time! I wondered a little uneasily about hiring help or not and if it makes one a snob (household help is something MOST upper middle to lower middle classes have where I am from), but I think the biggest difference between “hierarchy” and “help” is baked right into the words. I began having someone over to help with the cleaning when I was 7 months pregnant and could no longer fit into tight spaces in my apartment. I think she helps me do my job as a mother. I don’t think of her as someone that I can boss over. Even now, if I had someone to watch my kid who clings to mommy otherwise, I would do it myself. Except, I don’t. They either work or have small kids themselves or are pregnant!

Is it better to let my kid be watched by a stranger so that I can get work done or is it better to have someone do a job that she is more efficient at and definitely needs the money for? I always pay her more than she asks for, because I think she asks for too less at $20/hour. She doesn’t charge by the hour but by the size of the cleaning space but it works out to that much. And yes, she pays taxes on it too. And guess what! She even brought a gift to my kid when she came home for the first time. And btw, for me to work alongside her, she won’t let me, because she thinks that C-section mamas should stay away from lifting and pulling and pushing heavy things.

Motherhood is not exactly a bed of roses; more like a bed of poky toys. Why do we have to make it harder by judging others? I would like the naysayers to try and clean with severe tendonitis in one hand, a baby in the other, and a still hurting incision in the tummy. Or make it both hands for some of my friends, and a baby in a carrier.

Yes, my husband does do chores but he isn’t superhuman either.

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Christina May 7, 2011 at 5:37 am

This is my first time on your site and I’m enjoying reading your posts as far back as these 15 minutes to myself allow.

I have two children ages 3 and 10 months. I started a masters degree just over three years ago when I was teaching fulltime and 7 months pregnant with my daughter. Seemed like a good idea at the time! lol. My son was born last summer and I just completed my program two weeks ago. It’s been a wild ride! Hubby is a wonderful man but boy was I delusional to think that we would be 50-50 partners in childrearing!! Currently I am on maternity leave (we get an entire year here in Canada) but during the winter semester I completed my internship which meant working fulltime while getting two kiddies out to daycare in the mornings and working on assignments after they went to bed at night. This coincided with my son’s teething and new inability to sleep more than two hours in a row. Also, both children were sick the entire winter with pink eye, bronchitis, stomach virus, influenza and ear infections. Gotta love daycare. While I adore their care providers I made the difficult decision to take them out of the best home daycare in the world (no joke!) to have a lady come in and care for them and do light housework in our home when I return to work in September. Hubby was not totally onside mainly due to the cost. Daycare for both children would have cost us $1000 a month whereas having someone come in requires paying minimum wage (currently $10 where we live) and contributing to vacation pay and employment insurance premiums. This amounts to about $2000 a month.

While my coworkers with young children completely understand my decision I’m sure other supermoms will not. I really don’t care what others think. It will be the best thing for me as I found this winter more stressful than I would have ever imagined. Not only was I stressed and exhausted all the time, I was super resentful of my husband and worried for the security of our relationship. I felt like a bomb about to go off at any time.

Despite the forcasted financial constraints associated with my decision, I feel the bomb has been diffused and I might actually be able to come home from work and enjoy my family. The very thought of my children healthy and well-cared for, my house tidy and an occasional supper prepared for me lifts the spirit. I realize that I CAN do it all myself but I can’t do it all well and still be a great mother and wife to the most important people in my life. The financial crunch will be temporary as in a few short years my children will be in school and we will not have to pay for fulltime care. I don’t want those years to be consumed with me either cleaning or complaining because I can’t do it all on my own. No apologies here!

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Elizabeth May 9, 2011 at 1:02 am

MamaMeYeah: You’re entertaining. As my husband likes to say about crazy people on reality tv shows: “She’s good television!” You’re good television!

Just to fan the flame, I have a housekeeper who cleans two days a week (yep that’s a total of 6 hours), I order groceries online instead of going to the supermarket, I have a guy who comes to clean our garden (we live in a huge city so we have a small patch of grass, some shrubs, and no mower, clippers, or desire to use them even if we did), once a month I order very nice frozen foods that my au pair can heat up for the kids’ dinners. Yes, I have an au pair and my littlest (nearly 3) is in daycare full time; my oldest (nearly 6) is in school most of the day. I work full time as does my husband.

And I’m a great mom. With amazing, happy, smart, loving, maddening, and glorious kids. Who know that we love them more than anything in the world.

I’m guessing you’ve never studied economics. Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m better than you because of that. Although I maybe judge you just a little bit…

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MamaMeYeah May 9, 2011 at 4:11 am

I’ve been thinking about this thread alot, and I want to change my tune, just a little bit. One thing I don’t think a woman–a mother–should be is a martyr. So, if cleaning your own home and taking care of your own children is an act of martyrdom, and you are going to act or feel so very put upon by it, then, by all means have someone else do it. What’s the point? My personal sense of what’s just, though, dictates that my and my family’s shit and mess needs to be cleaned up and handled by ourselves—that means ALL of us, not just me). And, I believe that it does a little something to a person to be cleaned up after by someone else that I don’t necessarily think is great for their character.

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Meagan Francis May 9, 2011 at 5:17 am

MamaMeYeah, I think it’s always right to follow your personal sense of what’s just.

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nicoleandmaggie May 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

ROFL. I will also not judge you, MamaMeYeah for obviously devaluing what is traditionally women’s labor and for implying that women who work are not actually raising their children. And possibly I believe that not contributing to society by not doing paid market labor isn’t great for one’s character. (Or maybe I don’t… but it is definitely another way to build character that doesn’t involve cleaning.)
;)

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MamaMeYeah May 9, 2011 at 8:20 am
Angela Johnson May 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

He-larious… I have seen Little Women like 50 times it is one of my favorites and I wondered how they had a servant. Funny I thought the same thing about the movie/book Sense and Sensibility…they had a servant. Heck, I went to school with a fellow from Africa and he said he had a servant. I think America has become so mordernized that we American Woman have been brainwashed into thinking that if get help to handle the house we might be less than a wife or mom. Which is not true. As soon as I can afford one I will have personal assist.

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A Simple Mother May 10, 2011 at 7:13 am

What a great post! We do hire outside help. In fact we hired a cleaning service and lawn mowing service before we even had children! While both of us were working and I was in grad school, we decided we could afford the help…which would leave us some together time when we did have 5 minutes.

Now that we have a daughter and I work part-time, we still have both the cleaning service and lawn mowing service. And for the same reasons. We do get the “snobby” look and sometimes feel like we need to justify our decisions. I whole-heartedly recommend seeking outside help. And, when I do get questioned, I usually respond in one of two ways, “Our cleaning service will be the last to go before the house.” Or, “I can do without a lot when my house is clean. Coming home from work to a clean house is like Christmas.”

Look around…services can be very reasonable. I gave up set cleaning days/times for a lower price. Still does a great job, just that it may be Tuesday or Wednesday or 9 am or 3 pm. And she interacts with my daughter and our nanny while cleaning (an added bonus).

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Lisa G May 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm

“We wonder if we seem snobby, entitled, spoiled? Are we exploiting the person we’re hiring? And…hey, with all these modern advances, shouldn’t we really be able to do it all, all by ourselves, if we maybe just tried a little harder?”

We do?

I only recently came across this blog and I thought you were supposed to be the anti-dote to all of this fretting and worrying and indulgent self-analysis. I realize my tone is rather sharp, but I am feeling probably as misled as that other reader who found out you had a cleaning service.

I don’t care that you have a cleaning service. I care that you are making some big mountain out of a mole hill. Who has the time and energy to make up things to worry about? I guess all this inner turmoil you have – embarrassment? – is why “hire a cleaning service if you can afford it” isn’t one of your biggest tips. I think it’s a great one, by the way. No need to hide it.

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Meagan Francis May 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Gosh Lisa, I may be upbeat, but I’m only human, too. While I’ve grown to be confident with my decision to hire cleaning help, yes, I went through some self-doubt at the time and that self-doubt was inflamed a bit when I was questioned. It’s pretty obvious from the comments that a lot of people feel conflicted, as well. I didn’t go out seeking almost 200 comments–they came pouring in from people who felt strongly about this. So I don’t think it was me personally making a mountain out of a molehill. Obviously, this is a big old molehill for a lot of us. It’s been eye-opening for sure…and, by the way, one of the tips in my book IS to hire a cleaning service, if you can afford it. But I certainly wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that if you CAN’T or choose not to, you can’t be a happy mom.

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Lisa G May 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm

And to answer your question:

I pay a grocery delivery service about $10 a pop.

My parents pay for part-time pre-school for my toddler, for which I am eminently grateful. We wouldn’t be able to pay for it, ourselves, and the break I get has made a huge difference for me. As it turns out, school has been great for my daughter as well. She’s blossomed these past few months.

I was initially against the idea – didn’t like the idea of being a grown-up and taking money from mommy & daddy, you know? But what can I say? It’s worked out for everyone, even my parents. They’ve both had major health crises this year and having two days a week – and an option for more in a crisis – when I can take them to the doctor or do their errands or visit them in the hospital, has made all the difference.

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RubyW May 11, 2011 at 10:06 am

Hi Meagan,

I came across your blog through Lisa Belkin’s column. I find this topic something worth discussing about. For me personally, I do find there is a lot of stigma around hired help. I think the most I would do is pay for child care, but for things like running errands, I’d do that myself even if that means sacrificing time from other areas. And hiring a lookalike for PTA meetings? Do people do that?! But I guess for things like order groceries and having them delivered would be okay too.

Keep up the great work on your blog!

http://www.kinzin.com

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Tanya S May 11, 2011 at 11:08 am

I would/have hired a cleaning person, but not because I want to spend more time with my husband or kids. I really don’t like doing all the deep cleaning! Why do something you don’t like to do? I have always felt that if you don’t like doing something and you can get away without doing it, then don’t do it! Having a clean house makes me a happier person, which makes my house, kids and husband happier! Does that mean I have to be the one to do all the deep cleaning? I enjoy doing the laundry, some people enjoy mopping floors. I will leave my floor to them. :)

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Punditdad May 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I’m a stay at home dad with an infant and a toddler so I think cleaning is “picking up”. Apparently my wife thinks differently and has insisted that we have a house cleaner twice a month. I feel deep shame and I’m definitely beside myself. I think i feel like it means I’m not a good enough house keeper for our family. I’m not going to fight it but since my wife is the serious “earner” and producer in the family, I want her to be happy and if this is what make her happy I’m going to oblige her.

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Amber May 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I’m late to the party, but I have a twice-monthly cleaning lady (about the same amount of time that you do) and I have a nanny who takes care of my kids two mornings a week.

The nanny is quite interesting to me, actually. Saying that I have a nanny sounds kind of indulgent and pretentious. But if I sent my kids to daycare a couple of days a week, I don’t think it would be looked on in the same way, even if they actually spent more time in someone else’s care.

There is something sort of complicated and awkward about having someone come into your home to work for you. But in our modern society, where we live very isolated lives without family nearby, it’s often the only option for many people.

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Jill with Go Au Pair May 11, 2011 at 3:21 pm

It is a little un-American to have in-home help. We often think of only the rich, famous, and unwilling to do it yourself -ers when we hear in-home help or nanny. That’s why I like au pairs. It’s a cultural exchange program. An au pair, or international nanny, agrees to do childcare and light housekeeping for 45 hours per week and you, the host family, agree to provide her a family to live with who can teach her our culture and language. It’s a win-win situation.

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Gretchen May 11, 2011 at 7:15 pm

When my second daughter was born, I told my husband that something had to give. Not only was I trying to balance work with parenting, but I had terrible sciatica that left me screaming in pain whenever I cleaned the house. The solution was either spend a lot of money on a chiropractor and a lot of time cleaning my own house, or to hire out the housecleaning. I did the latter, and four years later am still thankful for it.

Our cleaners are a husband-and-wife team who own their own cleaning business. We trust them and like them, and they do a good job. They come every other week and we pay $95, and they spend about 1 1/2 hours cleaning our home. I usually spend that time running errands I otherwise would never get around to, and it’s lovely to come home to a sparkling house (even if, with three kids, it won’t stay that way for long!)

The only snag I’ve had is trying to keep the situation from my husband’s congregation (he’s a pastor). There’s definitely a feeling that he shouldn’t be able to afford a luxury like housecleaning, but it’s really a decision we made based on my income and health issues. I just try not to bring it up except to a few people who know us well, because it’s easy for them to be judgmental without knowing all the facts, or frankly even caring about the facts.

I’ve never liked cleaning. When my sisters and I were younger, they would do my cleaning chores if I would do their cooking. Nothing has changed. I still love to cook, and hate to clean. This blog is about happiness; I can definitely say that our housecleaners are a big bright happy spot in my life. As to exploitation, I’m pretty sure they value me as a long-time client who helps anchor their business.

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Jui May 12, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Dear Meagan, First of all, I just want to say that I love you. I discovered your blog just today and I have just been breathing in all the great posts and comments. I think you should change your blog title to ‘The Happiest and Wisest Mom’.
I have one son and he turned one last week and it’s been a long journey of learning, doing and thinking. I feel like your posts articulate much of what’s been going on in my mind for the last year. After pretty much single-handedly taking care of my baby for 6 months (my husband has one of those high-demand jobs), we finally got a nanny to help for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. And I feel like the clouds have parted. Since getting the help, I have been able to launch a website that I’ve been working on with a friend for almost 2 years, I have been able to squeeze in a couple of hours of yoga a week, I get the time to cook healthy meals for all of us, and I feel infinitely happier.
And oh ya, if one can afford it, hiring help to clean the house is a no-brainer to me :)
Thank you for a wonderful blog.

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Melissa May 13, 2011 at 5:19 am

When I worked 50+ hours outside of the home, I had outside help for housework and childcare and that was perfectly acceptable. Now that I work from home and have a cleaning lady 2-3 three times a month, people assume that the hubby and I are rolling in dough. Good thing, I could care less what they think. I need help so we budget it in.

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Jen May 13, 2011 at 5:49 am

I work full time. My husband works full time. We have one child. We don’t have any outside help. At all. For the house, for the garden, nothing.

I don’t care if people pay someone to do their work. Why should I? It is nice to come home to a clean home, particularly if you didn’t have to clean it. Same with eating a meal someone else made.

The only time it bothers me is when someone presents themselves as being a really on top of everything person, who manages to have everything under control, and doesn’t admit to having help. Only because, yeah, it does change my opinion a bit. Only in a “oh, that explains how they had time to do that” way. Make sense?

The only time I’ve had a negative reaction to someone hiring outside help has been when a neighbor, who doesn’t work and has no physical ailment, whose child was in school all day, would talk about having 2 people come to her house once a week to clean for her, complaining about how she has no time to handle anything herself. Now that’s just lazy. If she had just told me she liked to have someone clean for her, that’s one thing – but don’t tell me you have no time when you are home all day with nothing else to do (no job, no hobbies, no classes,etc) Because that’s just funny :)

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Inder May 13, 2011 at 9:18 am

Weighing in on this issue late. I’ve hired help in the past, but right now, my husband and I are working hard to shave every possible extra expense and pay down our debt, so we make do on our own. Anyway, I really don’t have strong feelings about hiring help either way.

But the reference to Little Women is interesting to me, because well, things were very different in 19th century America (and England) than now. The economy was very different. Labor was extremely cheap, and workers had very few rights. There was no minimum wage. There were no child labor laws. Servants were usually paid very badly for very hard work. Poverty meant you might actually starve to death. But it’s true that most middle-class families had some kind of hired help, if only occasional.

But, it’s hardly an ideal to strive towards, you know? I would not say that because the entitled middle-classes of the 19th century had servants and didn’t have any qualms about it, that that should mean we should proudly hire help too. Eek. That was a time when there was a great divide between the rich and poor. In the 50s, when that gap started to close and the middle class exploded, people stopped using hired help.

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Portia May 13, 2011 at 9:43 am

A very interesting and timely discussion. Meagan, I found your website through another blogger (Blessing over at WorkingMomJournal). I am a marketing executive with a toddler. My husband (a clinical neuro-psychologist) and I work very long hours and travel for business. The last thing we want to do is spend time mopping and cleaning on the weekend. The fact is, having a housekeeper saved our marriage because I could stop nagging my husband about doing housework and we could focus on more value added activities – like doing things as a family. I worked as an expatriate PR executive in China for several years and I can tell you it’s very common for people people to have helpers in China and throughout Asia. I firmly believe in “outsourcing” because as a working mother, I simply don’t have time to do everything that needs to be done in the house with my job. Our housekeeper comes twice a month to deep cleaning. If I could afford it, I’d have her come every week but for now it’s enough. When my son is old enough, he will still have to pick up after himself and will learn that the housekeeper is for my convenience – not his.

Additionally, I do employ a live out nanny (gasp!). She is fabulous. My son loves her and we love her. She is part of our family. Do I feel guilty about someone taking care of my child during the day? Absolutely not. Do I begrudge women who stay home to take care of their children? Absolutely not. Staying at home is not an option for me (nor do I want to) and I didn’t want my son in daycare at such a young age. As one other commenter mentioned earlier, my husband and I worked very hard to have the things we have and we’ve made choices that allow us to have the life we have. We are by no means wealthy but we have decided to make strategic investments to improve our lives. But we cut corners in other areas such as not eating out or traveling as much as we did as DINKs.

I think what is important here is that as women, more than our mothers perhaps, have a choice to create the lives we want to live and no one should be judged for it. If I could venture a guess over why this topic still touches a never is our culture’s deep-seated discomfort with the issue of class. We are a (pseudo IMO) egalitarian society and we don’t like the idea of work that somehow puts one person above another. Being able to work one’s way up “from the bottom” is very much a part of the American narrative. When we talk about household help I think it touches a raw nerve for many.

I applaud you for raising this sensitive issue and for the discussion you have sparked.

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Nina May 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

With two insane girls and a new baby boy, I can clean all day and my husband still comes home to a mess. It’s hard for me to keep up and there are days I honestly think my daughter is stuck somewhere between a constant sugar high and having ADHD. My husband does a deep clean once a week just so I can stay sane. We try to keep the surface looking decent, but if it weren’t for him, we’d be living in a constant hurricane zone. Some day, when we’re rich and possibly even famous (what for, I don’t know) I’m hiring help.

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Tiny Blue Lines May 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I love this so much. Where did the whole “do it all yourself” mentality even come from in the first place? That really backfired on us, didn’t it?

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Leone Fabre May 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Well, living in Singapore I think most people have a maid. If not a ‘live-in’ maid, certainly a maid that comes in daily / weekly or monthly.

I am not so sure about the way some of them are treated, but that is another issue!

I had a ‘helper’ that came in once a week to do most of the ironing, washing the floors, bathrooms etc…. probably because that with the weather here it takes more ‘effort’ to do anything. One major thing per day wears you out for the rest of the day….. in the past I worked full time and did all the home cleaning…. here I do not ‘go to work’ but it still takes effort to do anything. So I used to do what I could and leave the less desirable chores for the helper.

But have since worked with another idea ….. a young woman that needed a place to live so she could work and save…. she stays ‘rent free’ and in return she does a bit of the cooking and cleaning. She lives with us and has her own room and is a gem to have around. I feel ‘free’ to be able to go out more often as she also takes care of the dogs for us.

I also have my groceries ‘home delivered’. It is far too hot to go out every couple of days and drag home bags of shopping …. I find on-line shopping for groceries or dog food the best help of all. :-)

I think the younger mothers with 2 or 3 children certainly need live in help here …. when I first came here I wandered why everyone felt the ‘need’ for a live in helper, but have come to appreciate the ‘need’ when I see the younger mums shopping, running the children to dental appoints etc in this hot and humid weather!

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Emily May 16, 2011 at 8:12 am

Interesting discussion! I have three little boys (6, 4, and 2) so our house can run to chaos pretty quickly. And I’m an introvert with a need for visual and auditory peace, which is hard to come by! For us what is working is two-fold:

1) a babysitter comes once a week for 1.5 hours – she handles dinner and getting the children out the door to Awana. Meanwhile I’m at rehearsal with a vocal group which I LOVE and definitely “re-charges” me.

2) about once a month or so I have a single friend come clean with me. She gets some extra spending money, we have a chance to talk/catch up, and we get at ton of cleaning done.

To be honest, there are lots of times when I think it would be nice to have more hours of babysitting and a housecleaner who would do it by herself. It is hard to fit my pursuits in music and doula work in around the edges of being a mom! But for now, this is what works for our family.

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Mari Passananti May 17, 2011 at 8:35 am

I love that you’ve generated such a robust and surprising discussion. I just posted a link to your piece on my blog.
What I find amusing is this: imagine for a second if a dad of five posted that he employs an eight-hour-a-month housekeeper. Would the comments be different? I bet nobody would ask him to justify the “indulgence and extravagance.”
Why is it acceptable for bachelors to hire someone to fold their underpants and mop their floors, yet not so much for mommies?

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Z May 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I live alone and work a lot. I have a man who comes twice a month to cut the lawn. I do the rest of the yard work. I don’t have a cleaning lady right now but I often do, four or five hours every three weeks or so, and I look forward to having one again. I also hire as many painters, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and so on as I can afford (and I wish I could afford more repairs more often). My rate for cleaning and simple yard work is 2x minimum wage plus what’s needed for taxes etc. I take home $3250 each month for 250 hours of work, which means my hourly rate is pretty comparable to what I pay these workers. I don’t feel bad about having them at all.

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Mom Natural May 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

That is great! Thanks for sharing this. I plan on returning to your site to learn more.

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Holly May 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I felt guilty for hiring a sitter one day a week to help me with my daughter. I felt as if I were failing at being a SAH because I couldn’t do it all -by myself. My husband insisted I get help and having a few hours to sleep with a LO or a few hours to do something for yourself is a miracle. Come to think of it – my parents had both sets of grandparents, aunts, cousins and the rest of my extended family to help them with us as small children. My mom went to my grandmothers daily. I was living 3,000 miles away from my parents, had no family closer than 3 states away and needed help. I admit curiosity/jealousy when I saw other SAH moms using a nanny, couldn’t understand their need. But really, I have no idea what they are struggling with behind closed doors. And why do I feel bad about asking for help. What’s that about?!

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Beth May 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm

It’s interesting how woman I know (my “demographic” – middle class to upper middle, many employed at least part-time, professionals who had kids when they were a bit older) seem to make a point of bragging about how LITTLE help they have, or how hard they have it and how bravely they are trudging through… even to the extent of lying about, or hiding, the amount of help they have.
I have to say in initially reading this article, I thought it was the same thing, in a way: bragging about how much was on her plate and how little help she had (because, really, 6-8 hours a month doesn’t really count as “having household help” for a working mom.)
But I’m glad Meagan used that to open up a discussion about it.
I work part-time, but have weird shame/guilt even using the word “nanny,” even though everyone in our area does. I make a point of saying we don’t have a nanny, we just drop our son off with a friend’s nanny down the street as needed. Or I’ll say “babysitter.”
But I’m tired of this idea of earning “martyr points” for suffering through and I’m tired of the judging/being judged. We’re all doing the best we can. And I know if we’re on this site, we’re all invested in being good and happy(!) moms. So let’s all cut ourselves and every mom around us some slack.

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anny cook June 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

*Snort* Pre-1940s most families consisted of three or even four generations. There were usually a couple maiden aunts and even an uncle who never married. Everyone pitched in. Period. Then in the post-war boom, the extended family somehow disintegrated. TV commercials sang the joy of housework. New technologies came along. Women burned their bras. Silly women.

I married in the sixties, had four kids, worked, went to school full time, and lived in continuous chaos. Believe me, if I could have afforded a maid, I would have had one. Totally, guilt free.

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Laurel June 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Megan, you are rich and spoiled. Own it. Your husband must have a very good job, right? Average Americans CANNOT EVEN DREAM of having hired help. If lucky a grandmother or mother in law helps out during difficult times ( new baby, sickness). Otherwise you are on your own. Most of us are not married to affluent men with six figure salaries as you clearly are! You are not a HOMEMAKER. A mom, a wife, yes. A HOMEMAKER — never. You are a spoiled rich lady with servants.

You remind me of Catlin Flannagan. Had the nerve so call herself a “stay at home mom” when she had two nannies, cleaning help and stated she never “made a bed or sewed on a button in her entire life”. Her parents were rich, too, so she has no concept what a real homemaker does — EVERYTHING.

And this is normal. Just keep working for illegal aliens to have “rights” and flood our country, so you can have cheap cleaning help and a minimum wage nanny.

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Sharon June 16, 2011 at 6:11 am

Wow Laurel, so bitter. From your comment, it’s difficult to tell what exactly makes you so angry. That someone places value on a clean home and needs help to make that happen or that domestic help is consists of only illegal aliens. Seems to me that Megan also earns a living regardless of her husband’s salary. From experience I know that you can have a full-time job and be a homemaker even if you have some help to make it happen.

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Erica June 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I’m way late to this party…but I have to admit I’m a little flabbergasted by this whole discussion. I work 4 days a week, have an almost two-year-old and a baby on the way. I also have an amazingly helpful husband who also works 4 days a week and takes on the lion’s share of the “household duties.” My mother-in-law watches our son the other three days of the week and I have a cleaning lady who comes for 3 hours every week.

We’ve had cleaning help once a week since long before we had kids. Pretty much once we came to the realization that our marriage is better if we pay someone else to take care of this. That way I don’t have to do something I hate and he doesn’t have to resent me for not pulling my weight.

I feel absolutely no guilt about any of this and honestly can’t understand why anyone would feel guilty or like they’d need to justify whatever decision they made. I’m a happier person, it removes a gigantic stress-factor from my marriage and gives me more time to spend with my family doing things that we all enjoy. What is there to feel guilty about exactly? As long as I can afford it, why would I not??? After all, that’s what I’m working FOR…so that I can afford to give my family the lifestyle that we enjoy – vacations, toys and gadgets “just because,” dinner out when we feel like it and a clean house without arguments or stress to get it that way.

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Nichole July 15, 2011 at 8:27 am

I couldn’t agree more with you Erica. I didn’t spend 40+ hours a week working to make money so I can spend my weekends doing something I hate (house work). I hired a daycare for childcare during the week and a cleaner for the home then and didn’t fell one bit guilty. Now I am a SAHM (for at least another month), I still have a nanny for my 2 year old 20 hours a week and a house cleaner every other week. I have 2 kids and am lucky enough to be able to afford help so I am going to take it. It makes me a happier and less stressed mother and wife and we get to spend our spare time enjoying things as a family. My husband and I work to live not live to work.

Women are way too judgmental towards each other and I think therein lies the problem. I would never judge someone else for hiring help if they want or need it. If “you” don’t like my decision to hire household help, then don’t hire any. That is my view.

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True Mama June 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I just discovered your wonderful blog, Meagan, & wasn’t going to leave a comment here since this is an older post, but then I read what Laurel had to say. Damn, girl. That bitterness will eat you alive! I hardly think hiring someone to clean your house or watch your kids a few times a month means you are rich and spoiled. And even if it were four hours a DAY…so what?

I’ve been a SAHM since 2005 and have struggled with housework since then. Finally last summer, hugely and uncomfortably pregnant, I hired someone to clean for me. It was wonderful! It forced me and my husband to clean up our clutter and best of all our whole house was clean all at once!

I still have her come every three weeks or so. It costs $60 a pop and it’s worth every penny. I wish I could have her come once a week. Oh, and she’s a U.S. citizen who runs her own cleaning business, Laurel. No exploitation here!

I figure that even with some cleaning help I STILL do a lot around here. I’m hardly sitting around watching stories and eating bon-bons. ;)

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Lindsay August 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Love this post. The USA is severly lacking post partum care. It’s as is we believe we should just do it all and alone.No wonder there are so many isolated moms. Many other countries provide excellent support. Women rally so the new mom can bond and recover. When the kids are older it’s great to nurture yourself so you can nilurture your family. Anyway, love this post.

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EdH September 17, 2011 at 12:03 am

As they say, when you try to everything, you end up do nothing well. Your life priorities should dictate where you spend your time. Those I know that try to do it all, don’t really enjoy it – they just enjoy saying they are doing it (of course, exceptions may abound!).

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Kathryn October 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm

One of the first things I couldn’t help wondering when I read this and the lengthy discussion resulting is “would we even be discussing this if we were men?” If men were largely the ones in this position would they be debating as to whether or not it’s ok for one of them to hire help if they can afford it? Is a business person with an assistant less of a business person? Is a mother and chief executive household runner less so because someone else wipes down her counters twice a month? If every moment and responsibility with your child is farmed out, yes, we have a problem, but a housekeeper twice a month?
The world desperately needs women to help turn things around. If a woman has the means to afford to hire help with cleaning then it’s very likely she has the means to make a difference in the world. That’s what we need.

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Christian November 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I am amazed at all you moms out there who don’t hire help. When I got married I was working full time and the only time I had to clean our 1 bedroom 1 bath apartment was Saturday’s. After 1 month of being married I hired a cleaning lady to come every other week. It was the best investment ever because I got my sanity back. Oh, I forgot to mention, I didn’t even get pregnant til 14 mo after I got married. Once I had my son, I could only work part time and couldn’t afford my cleaning lady anymore. Before getting pregnant a second time, I re-hired her and started looking for a nanny. I now work from home and have my nanny/cook/cleaning lady come 3-4 days a week and the other cleaning lady come every other week. I am a happy mother. Btw, between my husband and I we run a business that is just starting and last year we brought in only 35K, so we are not wealthy but we prioritize. We don’t have cable tv, we have only one car, we rarely spend on any kind of entertainment, etc. I just know that having hired help is the best way to continue being a happy mom and wife for me.

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Alexandria November 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I just found this blog, but what a great post on the topic. My own experiences in this area have made me think much on cultural norms.

I am an extremely frugal working mom – my spouse hasn’t worked in 9 years – since pregnant with first child.

We decided to hire help for yard work when I was pregnant with my second child. My husband simply was not doing it, and it is a chore we both DESPISE. I believe I got another nasty letter from our HOA, and a friend had just highly recommended her gardener. What it came down to for me was I rather work overtime every week/month to pay this gardener than do the work myself. The yardwork was causing so much stress in my life. Best luxury item I have EVER purchased. We have been paying $80/month, for 6 years. I can literally work overtime to cover it. Stress disappeared and time *magically* appeared – time for more important things. (I think ideally we were going to drop this when kids were old enough to help – versus neglecting kids for chores when they were babies – BUT we’ve gotten kind of spoiled?)

We also put our kids in part-time daycare, though my spouse stayed home. It was both for his sanity, and for the kids’ sanity. My husband is GREAT with the kids, but doesn’t do messes well, nor is he very social. I am the same way. I looked at it as a way to provide a more well-rounded experience for our kids than we could easily/happily provide on our own. We just couldn’t stand all the play dates, personally. Anyway, I found the most awesome daycare, fell in love with the woman who ran it in her home, and she became our second family. I think it was extra important to us because we do not have family in our city. We have a very supportive family, that lives 100 miles away. I don’t think we realized how much we *needed* that support until we found it. {For reference, I probably thought I would never use daycare, and then I had an extreme extrovert child. Who was probably better off at daycare. Karma?}.

So, this was an amazing positive experience for us, and all I got was a lot of attitude about it. Probably attitude from types like me pre-kids. ;) BUT, I realized over the years some of it was mommy war stuff (real moms don’t need HELP!!! Daycare is for people who don’t want to raise their own kids! Stuff like that?). Some of it was really jealousy or insecurity. As far the yard work thing, I have had more frugal friends say to me, “I wonder what my neighbors think about the fact I do my own yard work.” I have often thought, “Do they even notice? What does my decision to hire someone have anything to do with anyone else?” It has to do with our own personal priorities!! I personally couldn’t tell you which of my neighbors do their own yard work. I don’t care, and the fact that I hire help doesn’t mean I am looking down on those who don’t!

With the daycare thing, it was a bit of a financial stretch, but SO important for our family. We have always been debt free outside of our mortgage. I started to notice that people getting really judgemental about the cost of this luxury (with daddy at home) all tended to have new cars and endless car payments. I would wonder why it was socially acceptable to spend $300/month into eternity on a car payment, but why investing in our children and happiness for 2-3 years at the same monthly payment was so looked down upon. It really helped me to put it into that perspective. People were reacting without really thinking. Without car payments, it was a luxury we could enjoy.

We have probably never hired any other help, but I am sure we will at some point. If it makes sense.

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sm February 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thank you so much for writing about this topic. As a first time Mom with a baby under 1 year, I’ve been struggling with my inability to do it all. I cannot believe how little time I have to cook, clean, do laundry, return phone calls, complete tasks for a little work from home job I have and find quiet time just for myself. In fact, I’ve been stunned because… I thought I was supposed to be able to manage it all without any stress or complaints. After all, isn’t that what other average mothers do, or else how do they manage? Reading this article and all the comments from other mom’s like me who admit they need and do hire help has been so helpful. We’ve been thinking of hiring someone once a month and even that seems so indulgent to us. I feel guilty and almost like I would avoid telling people I know that I have help for 4 hrs a month. Yet even with that 4 hrs help a month, I still would be working from sunrise to sunset and never be able to do it all…

It is interesting too that my family grew up in Africa, my mother had 5 children and there were always a few people living and working in our home. There was someone helping with the cooking, someone doing the laundry, someone helping to clean the house, and yet my Mom worked all day in the house too and eventually collapsed with illness from all the stress and overwork! In ancient cultures all over the world, families used to live together and share the workload of managing a home and raising families. But here in the west, we live on our own yet expect to be able to manage it all.

We need more discussions like this!

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Jennifer March 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

I know my comment is pretty late…but I recently found out I am pregnant with our second child, and there is a good likelihood that we will be moving away from grandparents shortly too. I will be having a scheduled c-section (for health reasons) and will be unable to drive or pick up anything heavier than my newborn for 6-8 weeks. I am hoping that my husband will agree to have twice monthly assistance during that time. I think he would agree with the cost, if I can find someone affordable, but he’s cautious about strangers being in our home and around our kids. OR maybe I could talk him into a service to clean the house REALLY well right before I go in to have the baby so the house would be easier to keep up with afterwards??

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M June 11, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I am always tired and for obvious reasons hate cleaning. I am am engineer. I also HATE doing my hair. Back in the ‘good old days’ men worked full time and the women supposedly did all the house work. Of that’s the case, then now that I work full time and make just as much money as my husband, why should I do any house work? I personally don’t see why I should have to do my long hair too. I plan to cut it.

I don’t really know what it is to be a woman, anymore. I am definitely not gay, and I’m not boyish, but I have a demanding job. Working long hours and competing in corporate environments (yes, even engineers have office politics to worry about) zaps the feminine dew out of my vagina. I want to come home to a hot meal, and a nice person who smells good. I don’t have the energy to be that person.

I was unemployed for a while. We had plenty of money saved for the occasion. You’d think this would awaken my home making abilities. I spent most of the time worrying about getting a job and marketing myself, just as most men would. I got depressed about it. If we have to work and compete like men, why is it unattractive to indulge ourselves like men?

I say hire the help. And if you’re single, hire a cute guy and enjoy the eye candy. Trust me ladies, our male counterparts aren’t going to wait for us to catch up in our heels (after being up late mopping the floors) while they hustle for the next promotion.

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Karin Katherine July 24, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I know I’m chiming in late…but I just wanted to say that Martha Stewart is the go to gal for all things domestic. She has created an empire out of it and I dare say Ms. Stewart does not clean her many homes entirely by herself. You can know how to do things and still have someone else do them sometimes.

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wouldlovehelp July 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm

The only paid help I currently employ is a cat sitter. There is just me and my husband. We both work outside of the home full time and it would be fantastic to have help. If only to spend my weekends doing something other than chores. I’ve always wanted a housekeeper and I think it makes sense for working professionals who want to enjoy life. Nothing to feel ashamed about. Even if it was three times a week, help would be awesome for me. All he housework falls on me and the cooking. At least he does his own laundry.

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MamaMeYeah May 5, 2011 at 11:56 am

“I think it comes down to personal preference and only having 1 kid.”

Tru dat! Part of the reason I am only having one : )

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Holly May 5, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I don’t think we’re really disagreeing, either.

I think it’s undisputable that most women have a lot of responsibilities to manage and often cannot manage it all without some help, despite popular images to the contrary. Many of the tasks we now have to contract out – such as child care and housekeeping – were once covered by other family members. Older adults didn’t expect to live their retirement years in independence and leisure and helped with the grandkids in exchange for having a place to stay. It used to be acceptable to expect your kids to do a substantial amount of housework and even child care, but that has fallen out of fashion.

Our workloads as women haven’t decreased over the years at all and have increased, in many cases. But now we have fewer community and family options willing to help us and we have to pay for it instead. I think it’s kind of sad that it has to be this way because I think those extended relationships were mutually beneficial for all. (But am I signing up to let my mom move in with me in her old age? No.)

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

You are making an awful lot of assumptions about me, particularly as somebody who’s never read my blog before.

I didn’t mention the name of the store I won’t go into because it’s not on-topic and I think there are already so many issues going on in this thread that I fear splintering even more. But, obviously (need I even say it?) it’s Wal-Mart. Also: Fox & Friends does not sponsor this site, to be clear.

I’ve also written on the exact topic of treating motherhood as a relationship, not a job, before. Here’s one notable example: http://www.babble.com/mom/relationships/motherhood-hard-work-raising-kids-being-a-mom/ It seems that you and I agree on that point. However, just because you and I look at it that way doesn’t mean that the rest of the world does or that even you and I are completely unaffected by that worldview. (I fight against it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes, unconsciously, get caught up in it.)

As for the remark about pseudo-businesses….again I’d just say you’re making an awful lot of assumptions about an awful lot of people you don’t even know.

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Cloud May 6, 2011 at 10:27 am

I personally work in biotech. The companies I work for are trying to create new drugs to treat illnesses. My most recent companies have targeted cancer, diabetes, and stroke.

But I don’t think the specifics of my job should determine whether or not I am “allowed” to hire help in cleaning my house.

I think from your other posts that you wouldn’t find much to approve of in my life. I use day care and don’t feel bad about that at all (I’ve written about this before on my blog, particularly with reference the anthropological research that indicates that humans have always been “cooperative breeders”). I am fairly comfortable with the fact that I live in a capitalist society, and I spend my reforming efforts on things that I think will make that society better, within the constraints of a fundamentally capitalist system.

You have said you disapprove of day care and your comments lead me to think that you’d rather see us reform to a socialist system.

That is fine- I don’t mind disagreeing with people. In fact, I find I can often learn a lot from someone I disagree with.

But I’m not learning anything from you, because for that to happen, it needs to be a two way conversation. I engage in a discussion like this is to listen to alternative points of view and possibly learn something new, or think a little differently about how I approach things. Your comments don’t really indicate that you are listening to what those of us with a different point of view are saying, so I’m just hearing the same arguments over and over from you.

The real problem I have with your comments here, though, is that you say you are only telling us why you choose not to hire a cleaner but then quickly devolve into very judgmental comments about people who have chosen differently, and broad, unfounded assumptions about our lives. THAT is the difference between your comments and comments like those Holly has made.

And FWIW, I’m not in any mommyblogging in group or anything like that. I followed a link to this discussion, and decided to add my voice.

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Trish May 6, 2011 at 9:01 am

But you are still, in a way. What do you think dishwashers wages and working conditions are like in those restaurants? I can guarantee you, that they are worse working conditions, and they are paid likely 1/4th what my housekeeper is paid. And what about the factory workers that make those fancy foods from Whole foods? I think it’s just a matter of transparency. You can’t see those people who are making your food, or who work in the factory making your car, etc. While my housekeeper, is right there….in my face. In a way, I feel like this is more honest.

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MamaMeYeah May 6, 2011 at 10:06 am

I *worked* in restaurants for 10 years as a waitress. I know what restaurants are like. The difference is, I am capable of cleaning MY OWN HOUSE as are you. I am not capable of making processed foods (which I don’t really eat much of anyway), making cars, etc. Duh. Duh. Duh.

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 10:11 am

Mama–why are you being so nasty? You make a lot of great points, but then cap them off with “duh” and “meh” and “cop-out”. Do you really think insulting people makes them more open to your views? Isn’t it possible that there is more than one way of looking at this topic? I’ve been trying to engage you because I think you’ve way outnumbered and I want you to be able to make your voice heard…but really, it’s obvious you are more interested in being “right” here than in really listening to what anyone else is saying. So why even bother? I’m out.

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Meagan Francis May 6, 2011 at 10:13 am

One more comment, Mama-so you aren’t capable of making processed foods, eh? Meh. Cop-out. You’re capable of flipping a burger at home. Or making french fries at home. Or baking your own bread or making your own crackers even. It’s not ROCKET SCIENCE. So what’s stopping you?

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Elisabeth May 7, 2011 at 11:24 am

“Your comments don’t really indicate that you are listening to what those of us with a different point of view are saying, so I’m just hearing the same arguments over and over from you.”

Cloud, well-put. “Listening” is key here. Communication is a two-way street, and the best communication involves genuine give and take.

“I may be saying it in judgmental tones, and that may reflect my feelings on the matter, but what’s the point of discussion if you’re not going to ASSERT an opinion.”

MamaMeYeah, I think what you might be running into here is a difference in discussion style and purpose. You see this as a debate to be won, therefore you clearly put forth your argument and back it up with facts and statistics and evidence… but while you may win a debate, have you really persuaded anyone of your point? I propose that there is a HUGE difference.

Being a writing teacher, I’m constantly working to explain the nuances of each of these types of communication to my students–and it’s hard to understand given that we come from such a debate-driven society (there are whole books written on this topic, by the way).

MamaMeYeah, if you “think [your] way on this is more enlightened, [you are] more in touch with something [you] think is better”–and at the same time profess that you don’t “think I am better than you, you deserve to die you moron,” I would suggest that maybe you’re not being totally honest with yourself. If you truly want to persuade others, because you genuinely believe your understanding of a topic is more in line with truth, then you would approach that task of persuasion in a completely different manner.

By nature, humans don’t typically respond well to criticism and harsh tones; thus we have such proverbs as “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If you really want to convince someone who disagrees with you, and actually cause them to reconsider and possibly CHANGE their opinion, you are FAR more likely to do so if you start off by appealing to them, rather than offending them. This is a well-known basic tenet of communication psychology. Shoot, even Hitler knew it–and he was obviously dead wrong on a number of topics!

I’m not saying that you’re wrong about what you obviously believe so strongly. I’m simply pointing out that if you DO feel so strongly, and think it’s important enough to share with others (as you’re doing here), you might want to try altering your tactics of persuasion, and leave the debating techniques in the debate room–or on another blog where there are more like-minded debaters who come for that type of discussion. No doubt, the majority of people commenting here are open to persuasion, but not particularly interested in winning or losing debates.

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