Would you give a stranger the keys to your own home, let her prepare meals for your family, and leave your toddler to her unattended? Your instinct is probably not, but many HongKongers would answer “yes” to that question. There are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. 1 in 3 households with children employs foreign domestic helpers, who account for 4-5% of Hong Kong’s population.
Domestic helpers allow mothers enter the work force
Since the 1980’s, women entering the work force have contributed to Hong Kong’s economic growth. The lack of childcare facilities in Hong Kong have left many parents little choice but to employ domestic helpers so mothers could go to work. The minimum allowable wage of a domestic helper is currently at HK$4,310 per month. The statutory minimum wage does not apply to foreign domestic helpers.
Many HongKongers are taking domestic help for granted
Perhaps, many HongKongers have become so accustomed to having domestic helpers that they are often taken for granted. Full and frank disclosure – for a few years of my life, my family did employ a domestic helper as both my parents worked. But since I was about 8 years old, my family no longer hired a domestic helper. After my family moved to Canada, we had to do our own chores.
Completing household chores lead to sense of accomplishment
There was a bathroom across from my bedroom that I always used. Although my mom never mentioned it, there was an unspoken rule that it was my responsibility to clean it. (But this was probably because I was the only one using that bathroom.) Granted, it wasn’t always in the best shape, but I did scrub the toilet, clean the tub and wipe the basin from time to time. There was a sense of accomplishment afterwards.
Household chores as a sense of responsibility and ownership
My room wasn’t always clean, but I would clean it probably once a month (or two). I also helped wash my parents’ cars from time to time, not because I was asked to do so, but I enjoyed keeping them in pristine condition. After I wash them, I’d sit on the driver’s seat and pretend I was driving them (which was fun). These days, when I see a domestic helper wiping a car in the “wrong” way, my heart aches. She’s scratching the paint!
Children are shaped by their parents’ values during childhood
The time I spent with my mother during my childhood had definitely shaped my early years. From reading me children’s stories to taking me out with her, her values had shaped much of mine whilst growing up. I’d never trade the time with my mom in my childhood for anything. I couldn’t imagine what I’d be like today if I were raised by a domestic helper. I would not have the same relationship I have now with my parents.
Shrugging off parental responsibility under pretext of work
The “need” for a double income from both parents may be a driving force for hiring a domestic helper. But leaving parental duties, such as raising a child, to a total stranger would have their social costs. Children are increasingly becoming distant to their parents. I also feel that many parents are shrugging off their parental responsibilities under the pretext that they are working hard to “provide for the family.”
If the reason for hiring a domestic helper is to allow parents to provide their children a “better life,” then they might want to reevaluate what constitutes a “better life” for a child. Does it mean a life full of parental love and guidance? Or does it simply mean that parents could now afford to put the child into a “famous” pre-school? These are things we all need to think about. The bottom line is that I’m very glad that I’ve spent much of my childhood with my mother.