Mother’s Helper in the Metropolis. As an expatriate pregnant woman or parent to a young child who moves to Jakarta you might wonder if you will hire a nanny. It is after all the done thing! Maybe it is the ultimate privilege which you have dreamt of to meet your lifestyle. Maybe you are two working parents and it is such a relief not to have to worry about the exorbitant costs and waitlists of childcare in your home country. Or, maybe you were like me…thinking I want to stay at home so I don’t need a nanny, right?
You wait until your second child is born by which time you are wishing you could multiply yourself to meet everyone’s needs There are so many parenting struggles in those early years and as I aimed to truly be with my children at home through thick and thin to at least age three, I found myself asking; how can I improve the quality of my time with them in a way I could not back in Australia? I ignored the judgmental comments from family and friends back home who did not understand the deep sense I had of missing the “village” needed to raise children. I am not a martyr and I truly believe motherhood was never meant to be something you do alone. So, I realized, I didn’t want a nanny in the customary sense but I could surely use a mother’s helper in my life. I envisioned the right person to be like my third and fourth arms.
I am a project manager in my pre-mama life so I began by writing a job description. I wrote in things my friends back home would turn green with envy over:
– Assist in entertaining and calming children while travelling in a vehicle
– Unpack and tidy the pram and diaper bags at the end of each day
– Prepare sleeping spaces before each nap or bedtime (humidifier filled, air purifiers on, favourite lovey in the bed, sleep sack laid out) making it easy for parents to fulfil bedtime routines
– Prepare bathing area for parents before bathtime (towels, pajamas, nappies, etc. set out)
– Hold/comfort/help a child/baby understand when two children are demanding attention from Mama at the same time (ALWAYS asking the mother or father if they want a child taken off them).
Now, every woman, baby and family is different so one of the trials was to find someone who resonated with this job description – with our lives and my needs. This is the challenge for all good nannies and pembantus though – to know a family well enough to be able read and respond to them. I imagine one thousand ads will be posted in the expat classifieds this year that say their nanny or helper is the best thing to happen to their world, but that person won’t be right for everyone.
Nannies also have authority in your household – whether we acknowledge it or not. They like to do things the way they know how and they like to be in charge of a child without the parents’ eyes on them all day. In my 23 interviews over three months I was repeatedly asked where I go and what I do. “You like to go to malls?” “No.” “Ah, you belong to many groups and see the museums?” “No.” “So….you stay home…all day….with your children?” “Yes.” In these interviews most of the nannies would scowl at me as if I’d taken away their birthday.
Then I seemed to make it worse: I had a strict philosophical approach to parenting that did not match Indonesian sensibilities. “Yes, my son can wear a tutu proudly.” Scowl. “Yes, I want my daughter to come home dirty each day. That’s how I know she had fun and felt connected to the world around her.” Scowl. “No, I don’t mind them walking on that wall, I just make sure you tell them to focus their attention on what they are doing.” Scowl.
I began to doubt my ability to find my third and fourth arms. Was the dream too good to be true? Was I actually wasting time I could be spending with my family on classifieds and WhatsApp messaging?
I messaged someone I knew who had lived here and shared similar parenting ideas. She advised me who her nanny for her three children was but this magical woman was then working with another family. Despite this the nanny still met with me to see who and how I was over a cup of coffee. About one or two weeks later she messaged me and said she knew someone who had worked in my apartment complex before that might fit the role and suggested I interview her.
I brought my daughter to the interview. The interviewee didn’t squeeze her doll-like cheeks and did not comment about her blue eyes or golden curly hair. She was not shocked or appalled as I swung my daughter in circles in a shopping trolley. We discussed how difficult it would be for this woman to return to work after having more than two years away from work to raise her own toddler. My daughter extended her hand to the woman and said “come” leading her into play. However, before she left the interview I asked, “Can you say ‘no’ to other Indonesians when they try to touch, photograph or feed my children without my consent?”. She replied, “Yes, I can, I understand this.” I hired her on a part-time basis and agreed to have her work into more hours as her family situation adjusted to her return to work.
At the end of the day, it is the ultimate privilege to have her in my home helping me to the be the best mother I can be. In my situation, I don’t need a nanny. Maybe it is just the done thing here in Jakarta. But, I do know the quality of parenting I can offer my kids is much better because she is here with me four days a week. With the right parameters (job description), a committed search (yes, it took 23 interviews), and the will to share and maintain my parenting philosophy with another person; stay at home mums who want to be deeply involved in their children’s day-to-day activities can truly live that dream here in Jakarta.
As a contributor for What’s New Indonesia, Jaclyn Cruz Coleman has lived in Jakarta for over three years. Coleman is a mother of 2 beautiful children – a girl who is 3 years old and a boy who is 16 months. This super-mom gained Masters in Anthropology (2017) by research on “The Cultural Construction Risk in Pregnancy and Childbirth in Australia” – a cross cultural analysis based on narratives of experience. She is also a prenatal and birthing yoga teacher, womens yoga teacher and a birth educator.