‘Maid’ in hell or guardian angel?

Published: June 8, 2014
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I mean no disservice to dedicated, loving and kind helpers who have raised generations in our region but parents must remember that the opposite kind of people exist too

I mean no disservice to dedicated, loving and kind helpers who have raised generations in our region but parents must remember that the opposite kind of people exist too I mean no disservice to dedicated, loving and kind helpers who have raised generations in our region but parents must remember that the opposite kind of people exist too I mean no disservice to dedicated, loving and kind helpers who have raised generations in our region but parents must remember that the opposite kind of people exist too

When my son was born, all the desi rules applied; the Azaan was given in his ear, the circumcision plans were in place, his head was shaved off at the tenth day, my mom made the panjeeri (which was apparently for my good health), I was told to drink lots and lots of hareera and I also got lots of advice on how to raise my kid.

I love this about desi culture. Everyone’s involved. Everyone has an opinion. So as the post partum stresses of sleepless nights and constant feedings and rockings and diaper changing sessions continued, someone advised,

“Just get a maid to take care of your kid! Life is so much easier.”

I had domestic help, during my pregnancy. A nice Ethiopian lady who would speak very little English and barely understandable Arabic (I miss that old lady. She loved us all to bits, even my son.), was with us for the better part of the day. But I just couldn’t picture leaving my infant newborn son with someone I didn’t know for my whole entire life just because I wanted to go watch a movie. To this date (and my son is four now), he has only been left without us if he was with his grandparents or if he was in school.

I’ve heard some great stories about maids and nannies doing wonderful jobs with kids. During my brief stint in Hong Kong, nannies came with references and sometimes even with a Bachelors degree in education (B Ed). A lot of my own close relatives have relied on raising their young ones with a phalanx of domestic help. And it is great that it worked out for them.

Somehow it didn’t feel right for me, for us. I didn’t want to leave my child on someone I wouldn’t leave my house on; someone whose passport copy is with me just in case they ran off with my stuff. How could I just leave my house and my child, an extension of who I am, someone who is a perfect amalgamation of me and my husband, someone who I took nine months to give birth to after going through nothing less than excruciating pain – on someone I barely knew?

In that vein, it meant giving up my career, my social life and the room for simple pleasures such as reading a book or having a cup of tea in peace. But I told myself that children are young only once – I have my entire life to do these things.

In a chilling video that was shared on Facebook, a housemaid/nanny manhandles a child, I feel more affirmed in my decision than ever. In this video a nanny is caught on camera almost physically abusing what seems like an infant human being. She rocks him like she’s wringing out wet clothes, she slams him on a bean bag like she’s throwing a Yorker and she’s holding him up like a dead animal, swinging him every which way.

For the first two years of a child’s life, the bones and muscles are still in development. Post birth, the brain is still under the process of development. Until the age of seven, brain muscles continue to grow. Not to mention the soft spot on the head that turns into hard skull only at around 19 months of age.

I lost my breath when I saw that small child being treated like a rag doll in the video. I mean no disservice to dedicated, loving and kind helpers who have raised generations in our region but parents must remember that the opposite kind of people exist too: underpaid, uneducated, untrained, sometimes even underage, frustrated, cheating-on-the job kind of helpers who will switch on the telly the moment you are out of the house and hook your kid to sweets or the nearest gadget, just so they can get out of a few hours’ work.

There are countless horror stories I’ve heard from friends and family about sexual and physical abuse at the hands of hired help. It’s not just nannies. Drivers who pick and drop kids from school are alone with the children for an indiscriminate amount of times. No child, boy or girl, should be allowed to make physical contact with strangers unsupervised and for a period of time that is simply out of anyone’s control. Somehow we tend to feel girls are more sensitive to this kind of abuse, but boys are just as vulnerable. It’s actually sad to see how many men are never even asked to open up about sexual abuse they faced as children.

If you really must hire a helper, get references. Prefer someone supervising your help, someone like a family member. There are some good institutions that provide reliable babysitting services, even for infants. Get the institutions checked out. It’s okay to be paranoid about these things. It’s important to be paranoid about these things – it’s your child, your flesh and blood. When did it stop being okay to worry about your child’s well-being?

Trust your gut. Be there for your kid. No one can love them, protect them and watch out for what’s best for them – more than you.

Mahwash.Badar.

Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.