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Use your maid to raise an expat brat (long)

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Use your maid to raise an expat brat (long)

Post by Pembantu » Fri, 09 Jan 2004 11:16 pm

This post was made by a Jakarta expat, but could just as well apply to Singapore.

Leaving aside bombs and bad air, there are many things to love about being an expat mother and homemaker -- "housewife" if you must -- in Jakarta. Topping some expats' list is the opportunity to understand a bit about Indonesia, from the inside. For others it's great shopping or the massage chain Bersih Sehat.

But the biggest practical improvement for most middle-class expat women must be the arrival in their lives of household staff, who free people like me of cleaning, washing, cooking and most shopping, for which for this I will be eternally grateful.

But after living here for 18 months, I've noticed many parents, expats and locals alike, hand over too much of the task of parenting to their staff, along with the mop and dishcloth. In fact I've come to think of many children in this town as victims of "pembantuism".

Take the 18-month-old girl who's just taking her first wobbly steps, her leg muscles underdeveloped from too long in the nanny's sling.

Or the overweight five-year-old being chased by a uniformed housemaid through an upmarket Jakarta shopping mall, as she shovels in one more spoonful of Haagen Dazs.

Or the hordes of middle and upper-class kids who've spent so many hours in front of Playstation they can barely climb into a Kijang, let alone up a tree.

I'm not blaming staff for the state of their "victims". They see their job as keeping their charges well-fed and unharmed.

The woman in the mall thought it her duty to supply more ice cream to the boy, whether or not he needed it.

The baby-sitter of the toddler-who-couldn't-toddle was keeping the little girl away from the normal bumps of learning to crawl and walk, perhaps fearing having to explain and a cut or a bruise.

Most staff have neither the authority nor a close relationship with the child to enforce limits on children's activities. If they resort to yelling or smacking they'll probably be sacked.

Don't worry, I wish it were not so. When I first arrived here I'd sometimes exploit my new-found freedom and get home after the kids returned from school.

But greeting me would be telltale empty boxes of chocolate biscuits and three faces glued to the television, homework not started and dinner uneaten.

"They're not allowed to do that!" I'd cry to my staff in Indonesian, thinking I'd already explained the children had to do their homework before TV, and eat good food before biscuits or dessert.

"I know, m'am, but they wanted to ..." came the imploring reply.

So I began planning my days to be home before school finished, but just occasionally I'd think it was safe to slip out to the gym when the homework was done and dinner was on the table.

Then would come an increasingly urgent set of phone calls from my oldest son, as his seven-year-old, hot-tempered brother took advantage of my absence, with my daughter as his victim.

"He's on the roof and he's going to push her off!" the oldest would dramatically report.

I'd got off the treadmill and changed. A couple of minutes later, "he's got a bamboo stick and he's broken the lamp."

I'd get in a taxi. Another minute or two, "now he's trying to hit the staff with it and they're running away!" Line goes dead, I hurry home as fast as the traffic jam will allow.

At first I thought, "there are four staff in my house, can't someone stop a cranky child fighting with his younger sister for an hour or two?"

Now I realise it's unfair to expect staff to be able to handle the delicate, challenging task of parenting, even for a short stretch of time.

Housemaid and other staff are really in an invidious position. The vast majority are ill-equipped to deal with all but the most compliant children. Mostly simple village women with little education, they can't be expected to keep abreast of the latest trends in parenting techniques, like "How to Balance Privileges and Responsibilities", "Making Veggies Fun" or "Discipline without pain".

So now, if the kids are home, so am I.

But of course, I still have to deal with other household that do leave their kids in the care of staff.

On one occasion, again early on in our stay, my 11-year-old was travelling in his friend's car for a play date, when his housemaid decided the friend should get a haircut at a mall on the way.

The friend didn't like the look of the salon, so ran away from the housemaid, and my son happily followed in the mischief. They came back, says my son, "a while later" but decided tormenting the poor woman was so much fun they took off again. This time they ran out of the mall, but were spotted by the driver.

He got them in the car, but they spun a story about how the housemaid was still shopping and the driver should take them home alone. Just then the frantic housemaid telephoned the driver, so they took off again.

My son said they went back to the car "when they got hungry", with both the driver and housemaid still waiting. The staff didn't tell, of course. I only found out when my son had a guilt attack. He was grounded for a week.

The next time, with a different friend, I checked with the parent first. They assured me they'd take care of the kids. But an acquaintance saw my son and his friend wandering through a mall alone. The parent had given the boys Rp 200,000 to entertain themselves for the day in the mall, accompanied by a housemaid. The boys doubted the housemaid would allow them the eight hours straight in Time Zone, so they lost her altogether. He was grounded for two weeks.

But you can't deny a child contact with their friends, especially when those friends are the main means for your children to feel at home in a foreign country. So I instituted a 12-question check-list for my son before he's allowed out. The crucial questions include: "what exactly will you be doing, how will you contact me if plans change, and WHO WILL BE THE RESPONSIBLE ADULT WITH YOU?"

But this has proved far from foolproof. The next time, my son came home after what had seemed an uneventful sleep-over just as I was on the net.

"Can I have a go?" he said. He called up Google and typed in "Freakc**k". Up popped everything you'd imagine and quite a bit more.

"Where was your friend's parent while you were on the computer?" I asked, pulling my jaw off the ground.

"Oh, they went out to dinner and the housemaid went to sleep."

Again, I don't think any of this is the fault of staff. Nor is it the fault of the children. Kids who've grown up with staff are often not taught much respect, something newly-arrived children are all too ready to copy. For many of them it's the first time in their life they've had any control over adults.

In a country like Indonesia, good parenting education is understandably a long way down the list of national priorities.

But for those parents, local or expat, with the money and education to know better, "pembantuism" should not be used as an excuse for poor parenting

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Post by Pal » Fri, 09 Jan 2004 11:20 pm

Hi Pembatu, welcome to the forum!

Interesting. It will be good if you supply more stories like this.



Don't need to look at maids...

Post by deepassion » Sat, 10 Jan 2004 4:50 pm

There are already parents and grandparents spoiling their kids. I know of a kid who jumped from left to right, and she was alighting from the stairs of a public bus. Her mum kept quiet about her behaviour. Would she have reacted differently if her daughter hurt someone (or gets hurt) in that moment of jumping?

How about this scenario? A boy in a public library counting to 10 for his father to leave the library. Now who sets the rule? I was a cusious bystander and wanted to know what this parent would do. Nada. But he left in embarrassment without even a warning to his son.

I say, adults! Speak to your kids as if they can understand more than A for ABC, set rules BEFORE you leave the house with your kids. It's a basic requirement of what I call FIRM AND CARING DISCIPLINE. No canings needed! Most children will listen if you explain why rules are set, etc

All these lack of disciplining arises from an understimation of our kids' intellects.

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Post by Global Citizen » Tue, 09 May 2006 12:03 am

This is a topic that's most discussed on any expat board in Singapore and I've resurrected it (yes I know Mary's done some too on Gen. Discussions :wink: ) and even as I type, there's one below here.

What I find interesting is this is looking through the eyes of an expat who was/is in Indonesia but the problems sound all too familiar. Deja vu?
One man's meat is another's poison.

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Mary Hatch Bailey
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Post by Mary Hatch Bailey » Tue, 09 May 2006 5:49 am

I just don't know how people can think there could be suitable short cuts for raising children?!?

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