We have three boys aged six and below, and people who first meet us usually inquire if we have a stay-in helper to help with the housework, especially when they hear that we are homeschooling the boys. They usually respond in two ways when we tell them we do not have a helper: some would say "wow, that must be tough!", while others would advise us to get a helper, to which I would shrug and smile and lead the conversation elsewhere :)
Both hubby and I have not had a live-in helper for all our lives. My mum chose to stay home to take care of me and my brother, so we didn't have a helper growing up. The hubby's parents both worked, but they too did not engage a helper. My mum has been constantly advising me to hire a helper, especially with the arrival of Baby J, since she saw how I was struggling to keep on top of housework and how the house was constantly messy. However thus far, we've only started getting a part-time helper to come in once a week, to help with the deep cleaning.
Yes, the home is usually in a state of chaos, and there's always bits of cut paper and piles of books everywhere. Yes, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed at how much housework there is to do. But no, we will not be getting a stay-in helper, at least not for now. Perhaps we might reconsider this if we have another baby, or shift to a bigger place that would be harder to clean, but for now, I think we're ok doing without.
I think the main reason we aren't getting a helper is that we think we are coping ok. I won't say we're thriving and have a lovely, organized and neat space, I won't say there is no stress when it comes to those piling towers of clean laundry waiting to be folded, and perhaps I might like a little more me time, or time with the kids, instead of having to sweat it out in the kitchen, or clean up and wash stuff. But we're more or less coping. Our home isn't a pig sty, we can find the stuff we need, we have clean dishes and clothes, our meals get to the table more or less on time. I still get to hang out with the kids all day. Our part-time cleaner is a gem, and does a really good job getting the home clean. She even rotates cleaning the fans and windows for us!
That aside, we've heard so many horror stories of helpers who've given all sorts of headaches to their employers: from not being teachable, to stealing, or bringing their boyfriends home when their employers are out. For now, I don't think I am up to training a new helper, and experienced and reliable helpers are few and far between. Most of these aren't available, because the families they work for aren't going to give them up! While I've seen how helpers can be such an asset to the family, we are pretty private people, and are not comfortable with the idea of having someone stay with us. We also don't have the room to house a helper: the house already feels very cramped with three boys bouncing off the walls, and the study that doubles as a guest room houses the in-laws who frequently visit us from Penang. Finally, I think we'll be pretty hard to work for, since I can be fussy (clothes must be folded a certain way so they sit right in the drawers, etc), and the boys can make such messes!
Anyway, yes, so we are maid-less. Now another frequently asked question we get is, how do we cope? With having three littles, homeschool, no helper, and a hubby who sometimes has to work long hours? Well, here are a few ways:
:: We lower our expectations: We won't have a house that is spick and span, and a floor that is spotless. We don't have a home that is magazine-spread worthy. We do have to spend an hour or two cleaning up before guests come because of the chaos of three toy tornadoes. But we don't need spotless, or magazine-spread worthy. We just need a relatively clean home, that is not dusty (the kids have allergic rhinitis, so dust is an issue), we need clean dishes to eat from, we need regular meals. Those lower expectations, we can meet.
:: We get the kids to help: The kids are expected to clean up their messes. If they cut a pile of paper on the floor, they have to sweep it up. If they spill their drink, they wipe it up. They need to return their used cups and dishes to the sink, and they help to set the table. The older two also help to fold some of the clothes. All three help to do clean-up time. While most of the time they don't do the job perfectly, them having to help out teaches them that housework is useful, and blesses the people around them. While we usually have to finish the job for them, and sometimes they can be more a hindrance than a help, I find that they get better with age and practice, and things eventually get easier, and neater. Finally, Junior J helps to take care of his younger brothers, and he's pretty good at reading to them and keeping them busy, which allows me a breather and gives me time for a toilet break!
:: I get all the help I can: Like I've mentioned, we have a part-time helper that comes once a week, and her hard work ensures that our home is in a relatively clean state. That aside, my parents help to babysit the kids if the hubs and I need to run various errands, and my dad brings the kids to the playground in the evenings so that I can cook dinner in peace. We also rely a lot on our appliances to help make things easier: we have a dishwasher, we use the dryer if necessary, I rely a lot on cooking extra portions and freezing them for quick prep lunches. The Thermomix also helps to make mealtime prep easier some days. (You can read more about how our gadgets make things easier here.) Finally, the hubs chips in with the housework too. He loads the dishwasher and helps with the washing up, and used to do the vacuuming before we hired part-time help.
:: We always try to make things as streamlined as possible: We're always thinking of ways to make things at home work better. For example, the kids now use trays (these are from Ikea) when they are painting, which reduces the amount of cleaning up that I need to do after each session. If we are in a rush, we just put aside the trays when we are done, since the trays technically don't need to be cleaned, and I don't need to spend 15 minutes wiping the table. If the kids are constantly asking us for a certain material, we think of how we can make it easily accessible to them. Right now, we are still decluttering our stuff, so that we can be better organized.
:: I take short-cuts if I can: Most mornings are a mad rush if we are headed out for co-op or outings, since the kids tend to take ages to eat their breakfast, and everyone is moving slowly. Again, I try to make everything as streamlined as I can: I try to pack our stuff before the kids wake, and we eat simple breakfasts that require minimal prep. I usually have to cook Baby J's lunch if we are headed out, so this is how I do it in the shortest time possible: I make his soups and sauces in bulk (usually these are just the same sauces and soups that the rest of the family eats, but I spoon out his portion before I add more salt/herbs), and freeze them in this food tray (this is better than using a ice-cube tray, as the compartments are much bigger). In the mornings, all I have to do is to pop these three stainless steel cups into the electric lunchbox for steaming, one containing the frozen soup/sauce, another containing hot water and his pasta/noodles (the boy isn't fond of porridge and likes textures), and a third containing some finger food (like frozen edamame, corn or peas). I end up with a cooked lunch for the kid after 15 minutes (I take out the pasta/noodles first), without having to stand at the stove!
:: We keep things simple: Meals are a simple affair, and we don't do the rice with a couple of dishes kind of meals. Usually it's noodles, or pasta, or a one-pot something. Our learning activities are kept simple so that I don't need to spend a lot of time preparing (so if you notice, we hardly do any of those lapbooks or flashcards since those require a fair bit of prep!), and we use curriculum that requires minimal preparation. Keeping things simple saves time, time that is crucial because we are so short of it!
So all in all, I think we're coping ok without a stay-in helper. I'm not saying that not having one makes you better or more capable (after all our house is much messier without one!), and many mums I know are doing really well with a helper to chip in for the chores. But for us now, not having a helper works for our family, and we're good to go without for our current season in life! We hope those tips might come in handy for those who are finding it tough going without help (you can also read our SAHM survival tips here), it's tough, but it does get easier!