Why My Neighbors Think I Need a Maid

Two quick notes - first, I have been so blessed and encouraged by your prayers and notes about our friends' loss of their daughter. Thank you for your support through a challenging time! 

And second - I'm sending out my first monthly newsletter this week! It is a way to connect more personally with YOU, sharing stories, photos, and encouragement. Sign up here so you don't miss out! - whitney

Ok, bad photo, but you "get the picture" - our son is a rock star and paparazzi magnet. Everyone wants their photo with the white baby.

A few weeks ago, my neighbors asked me a question I get a lot: "Why don't you have a helper?!"

To back up, when I say "helper", I mean someone who cooks, cleans, shops at the market, and does whatever other household chores I need doing. When we first moved here, we hired a helper right away, because it became obvious that without her, we'd starve to death surrounded by dusty furniture.

Every-day household tasks just take a lot longer here. There are no quick runs to the grocery store. Our windows are open most of the time and the screens don't seal well, which means dust and little critters find their way inside easily. Today when I was mopping, a dried up dead gecko fell out of my mop. Seriously.

So we hired a helper, and for two years, it went pretty well. When she quit to get married, I kept delaying hiring another one. At the time, the clinic hadn't reopened, and I didn't have full time work. I felt I might as well do it myself. And we never got around to finding another one before the baby came, so I just keep on cleaning.

But trust me, some days I wish I had some help. For whatever reason, I dread sweeping and mopping the floors. Cleaning isn't the most mentally stimulating activity, but I've committed to doing it.

Back to our neighbors' question. I've been asked this before, and always felt a small sense of irritation. Why do they say that? Do they think I can't do it myself? Of course I can do it all! (insert American DIY attitude here)

But that day, my entire perspective shifted. I looked at the woman who asked the question. Her mother sat in a corner on the hammock, holding the baby, who is two weeks older than Declan. My neighbor's daughter bent over the cookstove, stirring dinner. Her ten-year-old came swinging in on her bicycle from the market with a bag of herbs.

And I saw why my neighbor asked that question. She actually felt sorry for me. It wasn't a question of thinking the foreigner doesn't know how to work hard. But in all the homes surrounding mine, multiple generations pitch in to raise children and care for a home. The solitary woman, at home all day by herself with the baby, doing all the housework and childcare herself, is an anomaly in traditional Cambodian society. She felt sorry that I had to do it all by myself.

Most households have three or more generations living together. It's an issue of convenience, money, and stability. Elders expect their children and grandchildren to care for them in their old age. Newly married couples often move in with one set of parents, so that when babies come along, there are multiple hands around to split the load of raising the child. Cambodian women aren't expected to Do It All, in the same sense as American women.

One objection many Westerners may post against multi-generational households is privacy. Who wants their parents or in-laws around all the time? But that doesn't seem to be a factor here. Privacy and personal boundaries are not big cultural values. Caring for the family and raising children are.

A few days ago, Declan was crying while I hurried to put away groceries in the kitchen. Our landlord's daughter heard him crying, came into the house and picked him up, then asked if she could take him downstairs. No knocking, no "Hello?" before coming in. And it didn't bother me at all - I was grateful she helped me out and kept the baby happy. Helping each other out trumps privacy.

I think this is just one more lesson I've learned from having a baby in Cambodia - to cherish the contribution our extended family can make towards helping us in the home and to raise our child. It is difficult being far from home, and every day, I wish we were closer to family. But I also know God has given us a a family here in Cambodia that loves our son and cares about us.

It's worth sacrificing a bit of privacy and personal space to know that kind of love.
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