Strike 3!

Dealing with househelp issues. Sigh. Not my favorite.

Here I am trying to deal…

I really appreciate the ladies who work for us. They are an amazing blessing, one of the reasons why I don’t EVER want to live in the U.S. or any other country where I have to do everything. I admit it. I’m spoiled in this way. Having household help has allowed me liberties that would be difficult to enjoy if I wasn’t in the Philippines. And we have a great bunch of gals who love our children and ourifamily. We love them, too.

However, I don’t like the “Okay-lang-yan-mentality.” When they are careless and wasteful because we can afford to replace broken things, or they assume that money comes easy for us, it bothers me. Thankfully, I don’t have expensive jewelry, watches, bags or anything that is really worth stealing. Plus, Edric and I don’t keep wads of cash at home. So I don’t worry that people who work for us will be tempted to take our stuff.

But recently, they’ve demonstrated bad stewardship and questionable behavior in terms of trustworthiness…

Strike 1. Two days ago, one of them cooked nearly 40 pieces of boneless chicken thighs for Adobo. Forty pieces of chicken to feed five young children and two adults! I was incredulous. Sure, they made it for themselves, too, but we ended up having Adobo for dinner, Adobo flakes for breakfast, and then Adobo for lunch the next day. Thankfully, Edric didn’t complain. He was a good sport about it.

I, on other hand, was a bad example to my children because I slammed the freezer door in irritation (which is really the worst thing to slam because it hardly makes a sound. So that probably makes it a good thing to slam? Okay, I shouldn’t be promoting slamming…of anything).

“I can’t believe it!” I mumbled to myself after I saw the empty space where two large packs of chicken should have been. Half of each pack would have been sufficient for a meal. Forty for one meal?! I was really annoyed.

Elijah confronted me later on in the afternoon and said, “Mom I need to talk to you about your attitude. You were angry earlier.” I had to apologize to him, the other kids, and Edric. But admittedly, I had a difficult time getting over the 40 pieces of chicken. Skinless, chicken thighs, too. Expensive stuff. Plus, we live so far away from civilization now that getting out of the house to go to the grocery is something I don’t want to do every five days.

Strike 2. I went outside to check on the herbs I bought two weeks ago, and my Rosemary plant was dead. My favorite one…the most aromatic of them all. I gave a simple instruction, please water these herbs and take care of them so I can use them for cooking. My Rosemary plant had turned into dried Rosemary, the kind that ends up in a McCormick bottle! When I brought this to their attention, I didn’t get the penitent disposition I expected. Grrr…

Strike 3. Several items went missing in our house – Elijah’s P 1,500, an Ipod shuffle, a kid’s watch, and Ikea handtowels and washcloths that matched the bath towels in the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. I didn’t want to suspect my househelp. But they were the most likely suspects.

They know where everything is kept in this home. At the very least, they are responsible for putting our belongings away and keeping track of things like washcloths and hand towels since they do the laundry. It’s not complicated. We use a washing machine and dryer. For a few months they were using a clothes’ line to air dry everything. But it’s a simple process – take the laundry down to the laundry room, do the laundry, hang it out to dry or use the dryer then bring it all back upstairs. Unless the washing machine has an evil stomach I don’t know about, there’s no reason why things should disappear.

And why take hand towels and washcloths?! It matters to me that washcloths and hand towels match their counterpart bath towels. I want hand towels, washcloths and bath towels to be together, folded on the same shelf like a family. Don’t break up the towel family! You just don’t do that. You don’t kidnap members of the towel family! This probably angered me the most.

After giving the ladies a chance to return these items by asking them to look for them, they remained unfound. I plopped myself on the couch in the playroom and expressed that I was deeply upset. I’ve never yelled at my househelp and I don’t plan to, but this was one of those occasions when I wanted to fire all of them.

Once I lose confidence in someone — their ability to carry out a task or to be trusted – my default response (internally, at least) is to take over or get rid of them. Was this a case of irresponsibility or thievery? Was I too nice of a boss? I was confused. So I cried on my bed by myself. I didn’t know if I could trust our househelp but I wanted to be able to. I was wrestling with all kinds of judgmental thoughts but I also wanted to be gracious and understanding.

I prayed about how I was feeling, but I also called the one person I knew would give me perspective…Edric.

He had just come from a speaking engagement with Elijah when I started sobbing over the phone, telling him about the missing items, that I didn’t want to accuse the girls but who else would have taken them?

Edric assured me that he would help me settle this. Even though he was really tired, he came home and set up four chairs in the guest room for our househelp to sit on. And he brought in a chair for himself. Rounding them all up, he requested that they gather in the guest room where he was going to talk with them. I wasn’t allowed to enter.

Twenty or so minutes later, he called out to me, “You can come in now,” and I entered into a room of tearful faces. What did my husband do? Was my first thought. Edric encouraged me to share what I was feeling. This was like an AA meeting.

Very honestly and openly I expressed to the girls that I was disappointed and concerned. I didn’t want to be the kind of boss that was suspicious of them. Operating from a point of distrust wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted to have with them. They were important to me and I appreciated their hard work. However, if we were to move forward and get past this, I needed to know that they were going to be better stewards and help me manage the home well. I needed to know that I could trust them to take care of our home and everything (and everyone) in it. In closing, I told them that Edric and I wanted them to love Jesus and have a personal relationship with him above all else. It is this relationship that defines us and our family culture, and we desire the same for them.

Although we shared the gospel with three of the four of our househelp before, Edric took the opportunity to do so again. One of the ladies had not heard it and we wanted to make sure that she understood what it meant to give her life to Christ. He prayed for them, our home, what happened, and the future.

I found out later on that Edric talked to them about four things when I wasn’t in the room. Here is a summary of his “Four-point Lecture”:

  1. We trust you. We will continue to trust you.
  1. Take care of my wife. I love her and I don’t want her to be stressed. When she called me crying, I decided to step in and talk with all of you, to remind you to take care of her and help her manage this home well. Don’t make it difficult for her. 
  1. If you take care of our home, we will take care of you. For as long as it is in our capacity to do so, we will help you. (They know Edric meant this because there have been occasions when their family members had problems and we gave money, or they needed to pay for something and we helped them out. We don’t advance money because we don’t want them to develop the habit of borrowing. We tell them, if the need is valid, we will help you.)
  1. You are accountable to God for the choices you make. We cannot watch you all the time, but God is watching you. If you decide to ever take anything from us or if you have malice, that’s between you and God. Just remember that you are the sum of your choices.

Edric was firm but he made sure that our household help knew that we value them.

When Edric and I were alone, I hugged him and thanked him. He didn’t have to talk to our household help. This problem fell under my scope of responsibility. But he repeated what he often tells me. “I like to rescue you.” Plus he knows that my Filipino is horrible when I’m in a state of panic or stress. It’s pretty useless. I would’ve blundered through my attempts at articulating what needed to be said.

I don’t think we will ever recover the items we lost. While this remains an unfortunate reality, I believe that God had a purpose for the incidences that preceded the conference with our household help. The meeting turned out to be an opportunity to minister to them on a spiritual level. We all left that time together healed in some way. I let go of the anger I was harboring and the girls knew that we weren’t going to hold what transpired against them. We were going to move forward and past the circumstances in a positive manner. And best of all, we brought the issue before the Lord together so he could be the one to convict their hearts and cause them to mature and grow spiritually.

As for me…well…I decided to do a massive cleaning of our house, room by room, to make sure I know where everything is. I’ve only finished three rooms so far, but going through each drawer, shelf, and cabinet has made me feel like a better home manager already! This domestic crisis inspired me to be more organized and more aware, to do what I can to be a better steward of God’s blessings. After all, I need to model stewardship to our househelp if I want them to internalize this.

9 thoughts on “Strike 3!

  1. Hi Joy, I can so relate with your article as I grew up watching my mom and sisters share problems with household help. I grew up wondering how can they consume so much of my mom’s and sisters’ time when they can be replaced. Now, I’ve been married for 1 yr and when my husband requested that we dont hire help til we have kids, my world shuttered. How can I do the chores when Im attending to a 9am-6pm corporate job?? It’s an adjustment and instead of complaining, Im consciously learning from doing the chores. It helped me mature and budget our time. We get to know each other more and best of all, we can focus on ourselves. Truly, there is blessing when we submit to our husbands.

    Thank you for sharing. What Edric did to your helpers are great. With respect and at the same time with clear expectations. God bless you and your family more.

  2. Hi Joy,
    I will let my sister read this as she is currently in a situation with her househelp.
    Thank you for sharing. I would like to commend your husband for taking your back. I love how he said “I love my wife and I don’t want her stressed”. Some husbands, when there is a problem with house helps, they panic and gets pressured as well. Sometimes they fight with the wife instead of helping solve the situation.
    I really love your family dynamics. I wish I will be blessed with the same in the future.


  3. HI Joy, this is very inspiring. I thought I was the only one (of course, this isn’t true) with helper issues! It still hurts me actually that these people that we entrust our homes with can easily betray us – no matter how good we are to them. It was very traumatic for me so much so that I asked my whole family to move back to my parent’s house. Your post is an encouragement to me. And I particularly am inspired with your teamwork with your husband. I keep praying that I will be able to re-build my household soon 🙂

  4. Hi Joy, thank you for sharing. I’ve had housekeepers that lasted 6 years & some, just 6 days. Just like you – i tried everything to make things work for them & for my family.

    I’d like to think that we pay them well, give fair amenities, etc. But most of the time – i feel the same frustration that you are going through. Missing clothes. Downy Jugs consumed so quickly (because i caught one decanting it and bringing it out during day off). Broken appliances that they never say anything about.

    Today, i attended my first Kasambay Law Orientation. It was organized by our village association with speakers from DOLE, SSS, Pag Ibig and Phil Health. There were about 150 attendees. Sadly, only 5 were employers. I attended it out of curiosity. To see if there was anything i can rally against or petition against…

    But you know what – this Kasambahay Law is actually GREAT (now that I know what it really is). Its a black and white protection for employers and employees. I’m very thankful that we now have it and hope that everyone takes time to read/learn more about it. Ambiguity eradicated.

    1) I used to pay whatever was the “going rate” as dictated by the employment agencies (8K above for an all around; 10K for a cook+laundry) – when the Law says: NCR Region rate is P2,500
    2) I used to pay for their SSS/Pag Ibig and Phil Health fully. Law says, if the salary is above Php 5,000 and up, the housemaid needs to contribute too!
    3) I used to feel obliged/pressured to give loans/cash advances – Law says it is not part of the mandatory benefits.
    4) Terminating a maid over valid reasons usually costed me big money; they hassle us with all sorts of sad stories and emotional blackmail (the most recent payoff i had to do was 20K) – Law says we must pay the days worked only plus 15 days for indemnity. If you want to give more, it is at employer’s discretion.
    5) Employment Contracts were frowned at by housemaids whenever i showed it to them; Law says it is mandatory and even gives a template downloadable from the DOLE website. Non compliance means penalties of P10,000 for both parties
    6) I used to suck up the costs of burnt clothes, broken items, damaged belongings- Law states employer can deduct costs from the kasambahay (but deductions must be upto 20% of their monthly salary until it is paid off)
    7) I used to be “forced” to give vacation days per year specially around Mahal Na Araw/ All Soul’s Day even to newbies. Law states its only applicable for employees who have worked for 1 year & more.

    There’s really more…. It was the best 3 hours i’ve ever spent in our Barangay Hall. The best part of all, i had my two helpers with me to listen. They squirmed and turned red when they saw
    “Salary for NCR Region: P2,500”

  5. Hi Joy,
    I hope I don’t offend with what I write. Knowing how much we pay our househelp, for the service they give, I also get frustrated/angry when things don’t go the way I expect but like most of us, they make mistakes, except they make mistakes more and more often. This isn’t bec they’re (at least not for the ones who stay with us long, there are those who are criminals/thieves/bullies) purposefully doing it, I think sometimes it comes from their nature/ lack of upbringing. I remind myself this constantly so I’ll have the patience to keep teaching them. We really do enjoy so much for very little cost to us.

    A lot of times, we can take for granted the help that is available to us bec it is so readily available. We expect things from them that we ourselves, if we needed to do them on our own, wouldn’t. I know some people who keep 8-10 pets and have 1 maid take care of all of them. Since we pay them, we expect them to get the job done, clueless to what the job entails. Perhaps regarding the plant it wasn’t bec they were being bad stewards but because it’s easy to forget especially if it’s not yours. That’s why keeping plants is not for everyone, it requires a kind of steadfastness most helpers don’t have.

    Also, unless one of them is relatively new, and if you haven’t lost many things in the past, your towels are most likely misplaced. It’s natural for us to blame the househelp for things we think we’ve lost but quite a few times they’re really just misplaced. I’ve learned this the hard way (i’ve also naturally blamed them and when things were found realized they’re not lost after all). I’ve told myself since then, I will try not to blame, but each time the same thing happens to me as well. But realize what a hard situation it is for them, they’re living with complete strangers out of sheer poverty (definitely not of their own accord if we had a better government that provided assistance and good education to the poor) and they’re the likely suspects when things are lost. If they really took something, that’s ok. But imagine if theyw ere innocent. to be serving a family, for years, for not a lot of money and to have to suffer the indignity of being thought of as a thief. =(

    I don’t mean to be offensive but I see the house help situation in the Philippines and even if I myself am a recipient of such a privilege, I see their plight.

  6. Unlike you Joy, I haven’t been as angelic to my helpers however. I’ve lost my temper with them. Even if I cared about them the way you do and been grateful, I’ve treated them worse/ gotten angry and raised my voice.

  7. Hi! Former homeschooling mom here. You have so much laudable efforts listed on here, congrats!
    I also grew up in a home where my mom believed house helpers took on the job as a stepping stone for better paying jobs, or as a means of acquiring skills, to open their own businesses later on. She empowered our house help by encouraging them to sign up for skills training or going back to school that she would sponsor. There was a nonprofit near our home that offered TESDA certified classes for cooking, baking and hosting…skills to allow house help to transition to hotel work or resto work if they wanted to later on. I just checked the website now, and TESDA now has free online courses, even computer skills training! Meron pang free training! How amazing is that! 🙂

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