Domestic helper distress 

Labour is cheap in South Africa. In Durban the average cost for a domestic worker is R120 ($9) per day. When we moved to Jhb I found out that the average here is R200 ($15) and I felt very sorry for myself because now we could only afford to have someone come in twice a week instead of three times. Those two days are amazing though. Our apartment is tidy, the sink is empty and there’s someone else to entertain the kiddies while I cook or sort out the clothes they’ve outgrown or shower or do some other fun mum stuff. *sarcasm*

I adore our Helper. (I can’t call her a Domestic Worker because she also plays with the kids and helps with the baby. I can’t call her a Nanny because she cleans for most of the time that she’s here. Helper is the perfect description for what she does) Yet I feel so uncomfortable whenever she is here. It’s not anything that she does, it is the social dynamic that is so awkward. 

I’m a stay at home mum. We live a comfortable life on a single income so that I can be the primary caregiver for our kids. I spend the whole day, every day with our girls except for a few hours on the weekend that I get to myself. Then on the other hand we have this lovely lady who is the same age as my younger sister working for what is essentially peanuts so that she can support her own two children. Children who live with their granny in another COUNTRY because its too expensive for them to live here. She sees them once a year. ONCE a year. For a week. I feel sick to my stomach just typing that. 

I can’t even imagine how heart wrenching that decision must have been to send them away. How hurtful it must be when your own child is shy around you because of the lack of familiarity. How difficult it must be to say goodbye to them. I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s almost a cruel joke to then have to look after someone else’s child. The emotional strain must be intense. The saddest part is that this is such a common story. Children are raised by their grandparents while their parents work away from home to support them. It’s an emotionally draining cycle for everyone involved. 

I don’t have any answers as to how to solve this. As much as I want to pay her more we are restricted by our tight budget. As much as I want her to upskill and find a better job I also don’t want to lose someone that I trust my kids with. I almost feel as if I am taking advantage of the terrible situation that she is in but if I don’t hire her then she’s in an even worse situation. 

And so the cycle continues.


9 thoughts on “Domestic helper distress 

  1. Great post. I think you echo the sentiments of ever single person who employs a helper in Africa. We feel guilty because we can & should do it ourselves, but we don’t want to. Then assuage our guilt by knowing that if we didn’t employ them they would be without a job so effectively it’s job creation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. This is eye-opening. At first I was so jealous of you, but reading further, I totally see your struggle. I don’t have any answers. This is common is SA? Are the domestic helpers also South African? Where are their children living? Are they mostly in other specific countries or just all spread out?
    I think this happens more than we know. I am sure there are plenty of people living in the States with families elsewhere, working to send money to their families.
    I don’t know what to do about it. How do you fix the world?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is very common.

      My helper is Zimbabwean and her kids are South African but stay in Zim.

      My parents helper worked for them for over 20 years. Her kids stayed ‘on the farm’ which is the term for living away from the city. They stayed in Transkei with extended family while she and her husband worked in Dbn.

      On Girls Weekend my massage therapist was from the Eastern Cape. She and her husband worked in Cape Town while their child was raised by his granny. She had been raised by her granny while her mum worked. It’s a cycle.


  3. I know this dilemma all too well! It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place *sigh*
    If we stop, minimize, cut hours, are we really helping or are we adding stress for our helper to seek employment elsewhere that might include more travel time, worse working conditions, instability?
    I’ve learned to accept that it’s the cycle that will never stop turning!
    I am fair, I am honest and I am respectful to her, irrespective of age. I pray those conditions help her in some way.
    My children are watching. And I am able to sleep well at night.
    (OK, that last statement was total BS regarding sleep as I have 2 kids under 4 and pregnant with the 3rd, but whatever, you get the drift!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know, it is soooooo sad. My bro and fam live in Singapore and they have a live in helper which is just how everyone has to do it over there. She is from the Philippines and has left her children to be raised by her family. It near breaks my heart. She is great with the kids but at the same time my sis-in-law finds she wants to get to them first in the mornings etc which she finds difficult as she wants that special mum time but the helper prob wants it as she kisses her kids so. It is such a bitter pill to swallow. Makes my heart so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vicious cycle. If they don’t find work, or if people like you don’t employ them, then they are at a loss. But at least you can be kind towards her, appreciate her and make her feel some ounce of happiness in her life. Something that she probably longs for, while being away from her own kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I work full-time and have always had a stay at home nannies/helpers since I had to return to work after having my first born.
    It’s a big sacrifice on both sides. I loose out on on having my personal space. I don’t live in a big house with a room in the back of the house so they essentially share our space with us. They loose out on there own family life hardly seeing there own kids who often live in either a different town and sometimes a different country. It’s difficult.
    The paying part it’s also difficult. I can hardly afford what I pay my current helper but it has to be decent since she is here most of the time so I have to make it up in the salary.


  7. Thanks Nadia. I can see the desperation yet sympathy in your words. I echo the same sentiments. I recently broke my left hand n am feeling helpless. I had my sis over for a few days n shes gone Cant even cook. Bt its my helper who has come to my rescue. Really appreciate her.


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