Nannies/househelps are hired help.
They are not family members. They are not aunties. Having a relationship or a tight bond happens rarely and accidentally and is not even a product of treating them like family.
Treat your helps like your employees.
We always make a mistake of romanticizing things. The very first help I had was an interesting period for me. I sat her down and told her all the wonderful things I was going to do to her. I told her she would be like a baby sister to me and I was going to make sure she left my house eventually with a trade learnt or completed schooling if she so chose. I asked her to do a list of things she wanted and I went to Balogun Market with an eight month pregnancy buying the things she wanted.
She began to show me pepper.
I became a shouter.
She could be sitting down enthralled with a TV programme (never mind that she could barely speak a word of English) and meat would be burning in a pot in the kitchen. My house is tiny and I would smell from the bedroom and come out.
She was dirty and absent minded. There was no light one evening. My husband and I went out. When we came back, the girl was locked up in her room sleeping but it was obvious she was using a candle. We do not use candles. We almost broke down the door. The candle was on its last leg on the wooden table she generously supplied to the fire.
I would tell her do one thing, she would do the other.
It was so blatant.
She would flirt with our septuagenarian gateman and she was only 19.
Her presence was more stress than it was worth so after two months I sent her off. I stayed without a nanny for almost two years.
When I was pregnant with my second son, I got another nanny. She seemed perfect (was fond of wearing tight trousers without any panties inside sha and I stupidly did aunty woke and refused to address it because she is an adult and should dress how she fits. Kikikikikiki… never again.). We travelled to the north for my maternity leave and I did not know she snuck back to Lagos and was posting me when I kept trying to find when she would meet me up in Jos so we could travel together. I found out she was already in Lagos with a man. That ended.
My third nanny was close to perfection but was also a flirt and ended up pregnant for her village bobo after one sweet Christmas. She stayed for over two years.
My fourth nanny stayed for three years and did not come back after Christmas. She was cold and anti-social but hardworking. She seemed like she hated me but kept returning after every Christmas.
The week she was leaving, my son was on admission in the hospital and I was struggling with my baby who was not supposed to sleep in the hospital. She knew the strain we were all under. I begged her to remain till Easter, she refused.
This was a girl that I treated with a lot of regard. I bought good clothes for her… as a rule, no second hand clothing. I sent money to her family to assist them and bought wrappers and sent bags of rice to her mother. She was learning hair dressing but was very bad at it. I made a way for her to learn beading and braided wigs that are in.
When push came to shove, she looked me in my tired eyes from no sleep at the hospital shuffling with baby attached to my hip and left me in the lurch.
Some people said that I should have been harsher. I should have stopped her from travelling home. Some say the girls only understand wickedness.
It isn’t slavery. I can NEVER coerce somebody to work for me. I will not stop them from being with their families at Christmas. I will treat them well as a reflection of the decent human being I choose to be.
But I had to wonder.
Even when they see opportunities to grow, nothing beats going back to the village and getting pregnant and regretting later on.
I have begged each help I have had to make my place the last place they are nannies. I speak to them about dreaming bigger and breaking the nanny cycle in their families. Most of the time, their mothers were nannies as well and their children will not be educated enough to be anything better.
Having been raised in a house where nannies were given schooling or opportunities to learn a trade , I can say confidently that they rarely ever stay and learn. They always abandon school or trade and go back to the village to get pregnant.
A former nanny came to our house years later with 4 children that they could barely feed. Another one was unrecognizable. Hardship etched in her eyes.
The novelty of village marriage wears off almost instantly. In Jos where I lived in and where I am partly from , the women struggle in farms or quarries to eke out a living. A forty year old woman looks at least a decade older.
But when you encourage them to learn something, they are rarely interested. A woman that my parents were able to train successfully to the polytechnic married an educated man and worked a good job. Her kids are sending their own kids to private schools decades later. The cycle is broken.
One of my helps learnt tailoring for a few months before getting pregnant.
My last nanny did not learn enough to run a shop. I was willing to set her up.
I am tired of attempting to mentor and encourage nannies.
Henceforth they are hired helps to me. It won’t hurt me when they leave abruptly. Because I am no longer investing my emotions and resources towards building them.
I am tired.
And they are focused about how they see you. You are their madam. Not aunty or sister. You are dispensable. You are just an end to a means. They will not consider your convenience or even try to be loyal. They will leave you high and dry without as much as a bye.
For us educated middle class people, we were trained memorizing each step we were expected to take.
For most of the nannies, their paths are also very clear
- Mature… be barely one foot in child bearing age
- Get pregnant (also known as marriage)
Being a good and kind madam cannot change that.
But be good and kind to every help you stay with.
Be good and kind because it is good to be good and kind.
It is not true that anyone prefers wicked bosses.
But keep in mind, they are hired help and not your relatives.