Having a live-in maid is a delicate arrangement. For the duration of her work contract, an adult woman is “adopted” into your household, sharing your private living space. Clearly, such constant and close-proximity contact affects the privacy of both the recruiting family and the foreign maid. It is therefore surprising that many employers fail to give sufficient thought and planning to this unique situation, to ensure the personal space and privacy of everyone involved.
For harmonious living with your domestic help, you need to anticipate the privacy concerns of your family and maid, and actively address these issues. This may be difficult task because most people don’t feel comfortable talking about their privacy requirements. Ignoring this awkward topic would be a short-sighted tactic, and a sure-fire recipe for conflicts later on.
We include below a few pointers to help you tackle the subject of privacy with a live-in domestic maid. As employers, the husband and wife should discuss frankly and prepare themselves before the “stranger” steps foot into their family home. Plan and implement specific dos and don’t s to minimize any intrusion into their personal, couple and family lives.
- Adjust your displays of affection
While hand-holding, quick pecks on the cheek, and cuddling in front of the TV are probably fine, you would be wise to keep the overtly romantic gestures out of the plain view of your maid. Of course, sensibility and decency are the obvious reasons to confine amorous exploits between spouses to the bedroom. A less obvious, but important, reason is to avert any feelings of loneliness and envy from your maid, who is far away from her own loved ones.
- Dress suitably
Some adult males go shirtless while lifting weights and exercising at home; some walk from the shower to the wardrobe with only a towel wrapped around their waists. Some folks unclothe and dump the laundry directly into the wash, wearing little or nothing beside the washing machine, in the privacy of their own homes. Breastfeeding mothers lose their inhibition when nursing their babies within the four walls of their residence. While natural, such behaviours need to be toned down with the presence of a stranger in the house. Different people have varying levels of comfort for such exhibitionist conduct, and your maid may have a markedly more conservative upbringing.
- Avoid confidential discussions and heated quarrels in front of the maid
Family members disagree sometimes, but always strive to resolve the disputes in private, without rallying the maid’s support for either party. Learn to settle domestic quarrels quickly and amicably. Prolonged quarrels between the employers is embarrassing, for both for participants and witnesses! (A member shares his personal experience in our maid forum [http://www.maidaware.com/forum/index.php?topic=8.msg30#msg30].)
- Respect the personal space of every home occupant
Everyone should have his own time and space to indulge in private thoughts and activities, such as personal grooming, leisure and rest. Promote a respect for privacy in your household, and seek your maid’s cooperation and understanding, to engage in some activities without her involvement. For example, you may wish to plan a fortnightly movie date with your spouse, or an outing with the kids to their grandparents’ house without the maid tagging along. At the same time, respect your maid’s need for time off to meet her own friends, and support her needs to communicate periodically with her family back in her home country.
- Maintain an open communication channel with your maid
Our cultural and social conditioning influence our thoughts and behaviour. Despite your best intentions and efforts, your maid may feel uncomfortable with certain practices in your household. Instead of allowing the frustration to fester inside, you should solicit her feedback from time to time. Sometimes, it may be a small and simple matter that is easily resolved once it is made known. To quote an example, our maid felt awkward with a neighbour’s harmless interaction with our year-old toddler. This elderly gentleman would bend forward to stroke our daughter’s head and coo at her. I thought it is a friendly and heart-warming gesture, and would hold her in my arms while the neighbour talked and played with her. During a recent casual conversation, our maid finally revealed her fear and wariness about such close contact with a stranger. She fret over chance encounters with this neighbour. As my employee, she felt obliged to emulate my friendly disposition towards the man, which goes against her basic instincts. Made aware of her feeling of “privacy infringement”, I had a polite word with the neighbour, and resolved this underlying problem quickly and successfully.
Sharing your house with a live-in maid usually implies some sacrifice in personal space and privacy. This is especially so in the small and tight living spaces of urban apartments for Asian middle-income families. With preparation and proper management, employers and maids can work and live harmoniously side-by-side.
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