It’s a divisive issue that newcomers to the Middle East soon encounter: ‘Should we or shouldn’t we hire a helper?’ ‘Won’t it feel weird having someone living in our house?’ And, after a prolonged search for someone reliable, ‘Have I developed maid envy?’
For some cultures, whether to hire help at home is a no-brainer. They grew up with live-in staff and fully intend to carry on that tradition. In other families, both parents might be working and an extra pair of hands around the house is an essential cog in the wheel – the glue that keeps the family, with all its comings and goings, functioning.
For others, it’s a complicated decision that often starts with resistance (‘I didn’t have help at home, why should I need it here?’), becomes a grey area where you’ve warmed to the idea (husband’s travelling, baby has colic, school run takes two hours, family are 8,000 miles away), then ends with a full-on, wide-scale search for the right fit for your family.
And, personally, I don’t believe that those who choose to hire a live-in helper do so simply because it’s much cheaper out here and they’d rather be in the salon or handbag shopping.
The decision is usually based on the need for back-up and the realisation that society in the UAE is geared towards having domestic help. (Gyms with childcare facilities – forget it. The assumption is you’ll leave your child at home with the nanny. And a nursery that DOESN’T run on a school-term system with lengthy shut downs for holidays – unlikely. You’ll have to fork out for camp for your tot if you need holidays covered.)
Of course, every family is different, and many expats in the UAE survive perfectly well under their own steam, but if you did want to hire a live-in helper, what are the options? Here are three ways you can outsource some of the countless tasks that keep a family happy, healthy and smiling.
A live-in maid, who helps with the housework and children: Invariably from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia or India, a housemaid is a popular choice, despite the fact she’s unlikely to have any childcare qualifications. She’ll need to be sponsored by the head of your family (which means assuming responsibility for her), but if you hire someone whose personality you like, who knows when to take the initiative and when to step back, and is liked by your children, this arrangement can be wonderfully beneficial, for both you and her. Find out more about hiring a housemaid at ExpatWoman’s Maids in Dubai section.
A pampered housekeeper: She’s worked as a housemaid-come-nanny in Dubai for a while, in the Marina or somewhere in the Ranches, and expects perks, from flat-screen TVs to satellite packages, use of the pool, a blind-eye to her boyfriend, Wi-Fi and travel on a national carrier like Emirates rather than a budget airline. When you respond to her ad, she’ll interview you, bringing the conversation to an abrupt end if you reveal you have more than two children.
A granny au pair: An au pair with a similar background to you might sound like the ideal solution if you’re looking for someone to care for your children while you’re at work. Add the ingredients of age and experience to this female export and your family life could be transformed by a caring, grandmotherly figure.
I didn’t even realise this was a possibility out here, but there’s a German agency that’s providing families all over the world, including the UAE, with mature au pairs, aged between 50 and 70. Many are women who have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language.
It’s a win-win situation for both sides, as the idea of an au pair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.
Older women are usually better than younger au pairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Au Pair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”
CASE STUDY: “We had fun together in the Range Rover, even in traffic jams”
Granny au pair Evelyn Eis spent four months in Dubai earlier this year, living with a German family with two boys, aged two and four, in Nadd Al Hamer.
The emirate had long been a source of fascination to Evelyn, making an au pair placement in the UAE a dream come true. “I’ve always been interested in Dubai – a whole new world to me, with its great architectural buildings, warm air and sea, and Arab culture,” she told Circles in the Sand. “I wanted to get to know the emirate better – for myself, rather than hearing about it in the media.
“I had the good fortune to be placed with a kindly German family with two lovable boys. The area in which they live is predominantly local and when I did my buggy walks each morning, people would stop their car and offer me a lift. They weren’t used to seeing an older woman with a child walking the streets and it was so nice to meet such kind locals who wanted to drive me!
“I also met men and women from the community at the beautiful neighbourhood park. The women let me see their faces when speaking to me and sometimes we’d arrange to meet the next day. I was invited to visit them in their villas and was introduced to other members of their families, while my two boys played with their children in their house and garden.
“Every day, I’d drive the older boy to school in the morning and pick him up at 2pm. (The younger boy was, in the meantime, with the Indian housemaid.) In the afternoons, I’d take both boys to various activities, ie, football or swimming and, once a week, to meet other German children and their mothers at one of the city’s many parks. The different meeting places were not easy to find, even with a sat-nav. I’d drive between 20-40km just to get there in ‘my’ great-big Range Rover. But the boys were always happy with me in the car, because we had fun together, even in traffic jams. I miss them now!”