A year before I had my baby, I was wandering through the Dubai Mall with an out-of-town friend who pointed out a petite, uniform-clad woman holding the hands of two small children and strolling behind a man and a woman that we assumed were their parents. “Why do so many people have nannies in Dubai?” she asked, genuinely surprised.
“I have no idea,” came my ignorant and, I’ll admit, rather smug reply. “What I do know is that if I ever have kids I’ll never get a nanny. It’s just too Dubai for me.” Famous last words; as I write this piece my live-in nanny-meets-cook-meets-cleaning superhero, Natasha, is minding my five-month-old baby. And I don’t know what I’d do without her.
So why do so many of us employ nannies? I chatted to a few friends around the city and three main reasons kept cropping up. Number one seemed to be that because Dubai is such a transient place, not many of us have close family living here, so a nanny or housemaid can be an invaluable form of support, essentially taking the role of an extended family member. Secondly, many mums and dads work full time and may prefer to hire a nanny to look after their kids at home, rather than sending them to day care – which brings me to the third point; full-time day care in Dubai can be very expensive and, for some people, hiring a housemaid is a much more cost-effective childcare option.
While the obvious benefit of having help around the house is more free time for us parents, it also means that we’re spending less time with our kids; as little as 50 minutes a day, according to Abu Dhabi Civil Defence’s 999 Magazine. That’s less time than we spend on the internet. But before you start beating yourself up, consider this: if you choose the right nanny, you might be doing your child a favour. Psychological studies now prove that, aside from everyday feelings of safety and security, the bond between a child and his or her caregiver can transform the way that child views the world.
A safety net
“The relationship children form with their nannies provides them with a sense of security and safety when their primary attachment figures – meaning their parents – are not available, so it’s really important for the nannies to adopt a calm, positive, and relaxed manner with the child they’re looking after,” Mona Moussa, personal development trainer at LifeWorks in Dubai explains. “The relationship they have teaches the child to be open to the world and to trust, accept, and count on another adult apart from their parent. This helps the child to form a sense of basic trust as well as the belief that the world is predictable and reliable.”
Rawan Radwan, a freelance journalist from Saudi Arabia, is the perfect example of how strong a nanny’s influence can be. Three years ago, Rawan set out to locate her childhood nanny after discovering a touching personal letter that the Filipina had written to her mother 22 years ago.
In an interview, Rawan – whose heartwarming story went viral – said, “Many of our happy childhood memories are associated with her. She was very caring; it was she who instilled a sense of discipline in us; she was the one who read bedtime stories to us; she was the one who taught us English.” Rawan said that both her parents had hectic work schedules and “so we were left in our nanny’s care most of the time at that formative, impressionable age, and so everything good that she did for us remained deep within.”
Armed with her ex-nanny’s name and the letter, Rawan searched the internet and – after three years of on-and-off hunting – found Ning in Quezon Province in Philippines.
On a TV show that broadcast the reunion, Radwan told Ning, “Dada, we missed you. We love you, and I hope you are good and happy. I hope you finally found the love of your life and the life that you always wanted. I wish you more blessings. And I hope to see you soon.”
While some parents may find this kind of connection between their children and their nanny intimidating, or feel concerned that their little one might learn to love their nanny more than they do them, Mona says that there’s nothing to worry about.
“Research based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory shows that children’s primary attachment to their parents is an unshakeable bond that can last a lifetime. It’s based on this primary attachment that children feel safe enough to explore the world around them and to form emotional bonds with other caregivers. This is just one reason why it’s especially important to treat your domestic help well,” she explains.
But, unfortunately, treating domestic help well isn’t always the case. “There have been horrific reports in the media of employers being abusive to their nannies,” Mona says. “Some of the reasons adults are abusive can be attributed to past history of abuse, inability to deal with compounded stress, lack of social support, and cultural issues. “One of the risks of this is that children may also become abusive because they have seen this behaviour being carried out by significant others, and have learned to believe that this is the only possible response, even when it isn’t.”
Dr Thoraiya Kanafani, clinical psychologist and director of clinical services at the Human Relations Institute and Clinics explains how bad treatment can affect your children. “Being treated badly can affect nannies and – just like you or I – they suffer from anxiety and depression, and can develop low self-esteem. Some may also become aggressive and take their frustration out on the children of the employer. It’s important to remember that the psychological well-being of your nanny will eventually affect your children – either emotionally, or physically, or both.”
Of course, having an abusive nanny is every parent’s worst nightmare. You may have read the story of a father in Uganda, Eric Kamanzi, who installed a hidden camera in his home to watch the family nanny after noticing that his 18-month-old daughter was bruised and limping late last year. The footage he recorded was shocking; the video, which went viral, showed the 22-year-old nanny beating, kicking and stomping on the toddler. Dr Thoraiya says if you suspect your nanny is in any way abusive it’s important to inform the police immediately.
Most importantly, say the experts, keeping an open line of communication between you and your nanny is vital for a healthy relationship and for your children, as it will teach them to treat domestic helpers with respect, laying the groundwork for all of their relationships in the future.
Dr Thoraiya advises, “Parents can nurture the relationship they have with their child’s nanny by checking in regularly with her to see what needs to be improved on both sides of the relationship. By providing an open, non-judgemental, and non-punitive environment at home, both nanny and parents will feel comfortable addressing topics with each other.”
LifeWorks’ Moussa agrees and adds that treating your nanny with respect is not just for the benefit of a happy home environment, but also for the benefit of your child’s ability to communicate and get on with people later in life. “Because children learn by observing and modelling, the behaviour they see around them – particularly from their parents – plays a huge role in their development,” says LifeWorks’ Moussa. “When parents model respectful behaviour with their domestic helper – such as being courteous to her, praising her for a job well done, respecting her privacy and resting hours and empathising with the challenges she faces – children learn to respect and appreciate her work. It’s so important to establish the right foundation at home so that children can use it as a model for future relationships.”
If you’ve been trying to hire a maid – particularly a Filipino maid – in the UAE lately, you might have had some difficulty. While word on the street is that this shortage of Filipino maids is due to a ban, it’s actually due to the introduction of a unified contract for domestic workers put in place last year that conflicts with the policies of Philippines. The UAE’s Ministry of Interior introduced the new standard contract for housemaids to protect both housemaids and their employers. The Ministry of Labour then issued a circular stopping embassies of labour-sending countries from verifying or endorsing contracts of domestic workers, which led to a shortage of maids from Philippines, a country that imposes strict measures in maid deployment. Exploitation in the domestic worker industry is rife, too; in 2013, a ban on Ethiopian domestic staff was taken advantage of by recruiters who headhunted those already in the UAE, offering their services at four times the normal recruitment charges. Addis Ababa banned its domestic workers from looking for work in the UAE in July 2012 until an agreement was reached to protect them from abusive recruiters and employers. Last year there were also several reports in the media about Indonesian maids being brought to the UAE despite a ban put in place by the country after several maids complained of abuse.
A survey of dubai maids
Cathleen McCaffrey is a US-based university student who recently travelled to the UAE to research the situation faced by Dubai’s domestic workers. While she was here, McCaffrey interviewed 75 workers and 35 employers. Here’s what she found out:
“Counter to negative stereotypes, nanny-employer relationships seem to depend a lot more on the individual than the ethnicity of the employer. It varied greatly from person to person. Some employers don’t give their maid a day off because they are worried about them finding a boyfriend and getting pregnant, while others are comfortable with their maid going out in the evening and on the weekend.
“Some employers treat their nanny as part of the family while others express the importance of boundaries. One employer bought a house with a bedroom for her maid next to the other bedrooms, while another said her maid sleeps on a mat in the hallway.
“I interviewed a Muslim woman who planned a Christmas party for her Christian maid with cakes, a tree and presents. She described her nanny as truly part of the family. Another threw a birthday party barbecue for her nanny in the backyard and invited the nanny’s friends.
“From the interviews with maids, the most common complaint is overwork. Some said they are taken to other family members’ houses to work extra hours, or do not have a day off. Another complaint is not being fed. Some maids are kept on restricted diets, or are not allowed to eat without permission. Others I spoke to are happy in their jobs and able to support their families at home. A major concern is homesickness, especially for women with young children in their countries of origin.”
Kate Janev, PR consultant at Savoir Vivre – a Dubai-based company that supplies domestic helpers – agrees that cultural differences play a role in how nannies and families treat each other, but says it’s up to the heads of the home to set the tone of the relationship. “Communication is vital, and it’s up to you to teach your nanny – and to keep yourself informed – about which behaviours and tasks are appropriate and which aren’t,” she says. “At the same time, listening to what your domestic helper has to say so that you can both find a happy zone of compromise is really important. We provide our nannies with a free mannerism and etiquette guide that teaches them what they need to do to make their working experience positive for both themselves and the family they’re working with. It covers a host of things, from day-to-day etiquette to how to formally set a dinner table, how to organise parties, shop for groceries, handle candles, deal with pest control, and more. If you don’t have a guide at home, you’ll find plenty of resources about how to train domestic helpers online.”
One controversial way of keeping an eye on your home if you work full time or travel a lot is by installing a nanny cam. While there are several companies offering nanny cams around Dubai, SnapSights, a Dubai-based business that installs CCTV cameras in homes and then has their all-female staff watch them continuously while parents work, caused a stir when news of their business hit the UAE media late last year.
The company, which has received certification from the Dubai Police, will keep tabs on your home from 8am to 6.30pm for Dh2,000 per month. But if that’s too expensive, Dubai-based Maxcomcan install a camera for a once-off fee starting from Dhs1,500 – including installation and support – and you can watch a live stream from your computer, phone or tablet from anywhere in the world. The camera also includes a two-way microphone to stay in touch with your nanny and child throughout the day.