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So Help Me

There are many opportunities for expatriates to experience new ways of doing things in the Middle East. One of the most noticeable is the use of part-time or full-time help that is available to assist with childcare.

A privilege afforded to a select few in many parts of the world, ‘help’ is arguably the norm for both locals and expatriates alike in Bahrain. What can they provide? How can you choose your helpers and what can you do to ensure synergy in the household? This article explores issues around help to enable informed decision-making and safety for your children.

Many expatriates live away from their parents and siblings, which means that they do not have the same support they would experience back home. This includes babysitting, emotional support, collecting children from school, someone to teach the children (in the broader sense of the word), a drive for activities — the list is endless.

Some parents feel that they don’t need help aside from the odd babysitting on weekends, especially if one parent is not working. Others enjoy the privilege of having more time to themselves or a bigger family because support is affordable and available. The main message is, if you do or do not have help, that’s your choice. Don’t judge others!

Why seek help?
There are, of course, many reasons why you may need an extra pair of hands, such as when you have had a new baby, if you work, whilst working on a project, studying, travelling or looking after your family. You may be fortunate enough to spend more quality time with your children, friends and loved ones instead of ironing, running errands and completing chores.

In fact, do you need a reason at all? For many families it is the norm to have two, three, four or more helpers. If your helper is being treated appropriately and provided with a better standard of living than they could achieve in their own country, then they will probably be very happy to work for you. Help at home can be provided by men and women in the form of drivers, nannies, gardeners, doulas and cleaners from many different countries.

One helper, Nirmala Damyanthi from Sri Lanka, commented, “I do my work in the same way I would for my own home. I am happy to work because they are a very good family and I can send home money for my own family. I have been in Bahrain for 14 years.”

A second home
Sadly, not all helpers experience the same warmth. The news shows that some staff are treated like second class citizens, working extremely long hours without the appropriate remuneration, respect or working conditions. Support for such workers, although available, tends to be reactive as opposed to proactive.

Some people treat their home help with kindness and generosity, whilst other families treat them quite appallingly, parents and children alike! That being said, helpers may bring problems as well through unreliability, lack of skills and knowledge or the right attitude, or worse! The solution? Ensure you take up references from a reliable person or a friend, ideally, and coach your helpers in the way you want things done.

Many families have two working parents and so help is essential. It’s a necessity as opposed to a luxury. In the Middle East this is a feasible and financially viable option. You may rely upon your helper(s) as you juggle the demands of your family and career. Some people see them as part of their family, whereas other families choose to keep the relationship more streamlined.

It is important that your children are shown, by your example, how to treat your home helper. Teach them to understand how lucky they are to have someone to help you and them. Remind children that they don’t have a magic fairy dancing behind them picking up their mess. Your child can even learn to accept and enjoy different foods, cultures, songs as lifestyles.

What to look for in a helper
You have decided you need or want help. So what do you look for? You will need a person that cares, that treat your children and your home in the way you want them to. You need someone who is honest and reliable.

You may also want someone who speaks (and writes) good English or Arabic, has initiative and integrity. It’s a tall order. In fact, these are skills that are needed by many managing directors of large companies. So, in this sense, consider the going rate and also think about providing that little extra to ensure that when you have good help, you can keep them.
Over the years, professional training for helpers has been advertised and yet rarely used by families. Is this because parents want to train their staff themselves or is it because the investment is short lived or not valued? It’s an interesting topic and yet in many countries helpers need qualifications, usually followed with a higher salary scale and remuneration.

If this is not available in your budget or location, time invested initially is well worth it in the long run. There are also courses for your helper such as basic first aid provided by The First Aid Box, which is essential if you have a baby or young children. Call 36 732-223 or email firstaid@batelco.com.bh.

My rules!
One of the biggest issues when training a helper can be to successfully impress that you need them to exercise the same rules and expectations regarding your children’s behaviour and safety. They need to use seatbelts and car seats. They need to feed children the way you want them fed and give treats when you are happy for them to do so. They need to be honest with the children and not to accept a child speaking to them rudely.

This is a difficult concept as helpers may not feel comfortable correcting your children if they behave badly and they may also want to be liked. You want your children to move towards independence and yet many children enter their teenage years expecting things to be done for them.

A shared, transparent approach which is fair and consistent is the best way forward and it needs to be understood by your helper.

You may see helpers that spend their working days on their mobile phones, for example. Children are usually a great judge of a good helper as children are often honest about what they like and do not like, as well as what is different or not acceptable. Speak to your children appropriately about your helper to see how they feel and have open conversations for development.

Good help is available in Bahrain and for the sake of the helpers and you, the families, consider shared training sessions as a provision for training and ‘up-skilling’ your helpers! For parenting and helper coaching and courses, contact office@beckett-mcinroy.com.

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