My friends and I have a running joke that it’s harder to find a good yaya (nanny) than a good husband.
The Good Old Days
I think that it’s becoming even more rare nowadays to find a household helper who wants to stay and grow old with one family.
When I was still a kid, our manang Mila was with us even after we graduated from college. She stayed with us for more than 20 years, and still visits us once in a while. My youngest sister’s yaya Elna stayed with us for more than 15 years, then worked at my dad’s office after all of us grew older.
But to be realistic, it’s not the 1990’s anymore. There are so many opportunities out there for helpers to explore – they can find other work, study, go abroad, or start their own businesses. Social media has made it possible to survey and compare all the options out there, and some helpers can leave without the slightest hesitation.
For our household, we are thankful for household helpers that join our home who:
- Can stay with us for more than a year,
- Work diligently and honestly,
- Have the courtesy to tell us if they plan to leave so we can prepare accordingly.
To date, yaya R has been with us for 1 year and 8 months, and yaya J has been with us for 8 months. Both of them treat our kids well, are responsible and respectful, and have proven themselves trustworthy. Will they stay for a long time? I don’t know. This post isn’t about strategies on how to make them stay with you forever. Our goal is also to help them in whatever way they can. (ex: saving enough money to start their own business in the province).
In the mean time, here are some of the things we do to make them feel comfortable and appreciated in our home:
My mom taught me the phrase “Living Wage” when I got married. As a homemaker, you don’t need to give a rocket high salary (Scarlet Snow’s yaya has a newer iphone model than me hehe) but make sure their wage is more than what they need. We have two yayas now, and their salaries range from 6-9k a month. This excludes the government benefits mandated by law (we pay both the employer and employee share). I actually implemented forced savings on one of our yayas, deducting 500 a month and keeping it in a kitty, since her relatives manage to ask for all of her salary every month.
Adequate Rest, Living Quarters and Provisions
I spend the mornings with the kids. When it’s nap time in the afternoon, I ask the yayas to look after the kids so they can also have a few hours of rest.
We don’t have wifi or aircon in the helpers’ room, but we try to make their personal space as comfortable as possible. There’s a TV installed for them, and steel blade fans so they are more comfortable. When it’s cleaning day, our stay-out cleaning lady also Rainbow vacuums their mattresses and keeps everything tidy.
We ask them if there’s anything that needs to be fixed or can be improved. I ask if they have grocery requests (Sprite Ma’am, ‘wag Coke) and try to throw in new things to keep the food list varied so they don’t get tired of the menu.
Transport Reimbursement & Yearly Leave + Bonus
I know it’s a risk but we shoulder the transport cost of our helpers coming from the province. Our agreement is that we deduct a fixed month from their salary, but return the full amount on their 6th month with us. Once they reach a year, we also pay their vacation airfare or boat fare (depends on which they prefer) to their home province and give them a bonus of P10,000 so they can have spending money during their holiday.
Know Their Personality
One of our yayas enjoys eating, so we bring her to buffets and lauriats with us. Our other yaya has 3 kids, so whenever she would send a care package home, we also join in filling her box with goodies for her children. Sometimes it’s chocolates, sometimes it’s milk powder, and other times toys or clothes. One of our helpers is the more joking/jovial type, while the other is more quiet and reserved, so I know what to expect when we have conversations together.
Provide Learning Opportunities
A lot of employers complain that their helpers are glued to their cellphones, and it’s really a convenient temptation to just FB their eyes out when the bosses are not home. Since our household helpers do routine work everyday, it’s important they get fresh learnings to feed their minds. I also learned this from my mom, as she even sponsored Elna to take a basic computer course at Informatics way back.
In our case, we give them books to encourage them to read more. My go-to source is OMF Literature. They have a lot of Tagalog books with a broad range of topics, like money management, relationship advice, devotionals, etc. We also invite them to join retreats at our expense for them to have outside fellowship and grow emotionally and spiritually.
Sometimes, it can also be as basic as taking the time to explain how things work. I’ve noticed that some helpers just say “yes yes yes” without really understanding, but it takes time to build a culture at home where it’s ok to ask. One of our yayas asked how can she tell if the time on her airplane ticket is morning or night, and we explained that 1-12:00 is morning, and 13-23:00 is night time.
We’ve also started a “quiz game” where I test Mati on Hokkien and Mandarin words, and the yayas are his fellow contestants and get prizes for answering correctly too.
Celebrate Milestones Together
Last Christmas, we had a photoshoot and our helpers joined for photos with the kids. On Mother’s Day, we gave our helpers a cake to commemorate the occasion. For birthdays, we buy cake, ice cream, and a pizza, or we eat out with them.We also give a birthday angpao and they have the rest of the day off to celebrate on their own. This year, we went to Payless and they chose shoes for themselves as birthday gifts.
Our yayas are good to our kids everyday that it’s the least we can do to make them feel extra special on their birthdays.
Joy of Travel
Last August, we were blessed to have our first family vacation abroad. We invited our long-time stay out cleaning lady Ate Wena (she cleans our house once a week and has been with us for 3 years) and Mati’s yaya.
On our last day in Hong Kong, Ate Wena lightly touched my shoulder and held back tears as she said in Tagalog: “Ma’am, thank you for bringing me with you in your trip. I never thought I could go abroad and experience all the nice places we went to. Even my neighbors were surprised that I was going abroad. Ako pa daw nauna sa kanila. (I got to go before them).” By the time she was done talking I was also almost crying too.
Clear, Healthy Boundaries
I’m unsure of the phrase “We treat her like family”. Is it a casual expression or should I take it literally? Because for me, we don’t treat my helpers “like family”. If I were to treat them like family, we would eat the exact same meals, take them to all our trips, and give up a kidney for them. In our case, I can definitely say we do our best to treat our helpers with respect and kindness.
There were a handful of times I reprimanded our helpers for defiance (outright disobeying clear instructions). But they know the rules. For accidents and general ignorance, we try to show grace as much as possible. Our helpers know that we will give them the benefit of the doubt, with the exception of them hurting our kids or stealing from us (police station agad!).
I think this is a key component, and this is the hardest for me because I can be too “play by the book” and rigid at times. One day, our yaya was moping around home, and I asked her what the problem was. She said she missed her kids… and honestly, my gut reaction was “You just had your 2-week vacation last month!!!”. But thank God I kept my mouth shut.
Instead, the Lord reminded me that she had three young kids she sorely missed. So we bought a ticket for her for Christmas, even if she had finished her vacation time already. It was our Christmas present with her, since she also wants to see her growing kids.
My dad always reminds me to “ham ham lo”. It’s a Hokkien expression to be more understanding and let it go. We can’t expect our helpers to have robotic lives, everyone has issues and problems and it depends on our tolerance and flexibility to deal with them. In effect, their problems are our problems.
Honestly, it’s easier for me to say sorry when it’s not character-related issue (like when I forget to give their salary), but way way harder to apologize when I am rude or snobbish to them. There have been times I was frustrated, and would be negative and ranty the whole day, not answering, when they asked me a question.
It’s humbling to ask for forgiveness. And our yayas are much more gracious when we make mistakes, they will say, “It’s ok ma’am, everyone has their bad days“, and not carry a grudge.
No Matter What You Do…
You can’t make them stay. And that’s true. They have their own lives, families and ambition. Albert always tells me to be ready in case they are ready to move on.
In the short or long while that our yayas and helpers are with us, we want to treat our helpers well and bless them. By God’s grace they will more likely stay with us and do their best in their work.