When we were growing up, there were a few people who were an integral part of our household. The wise old lady who told us stories about the lion and the rabbit, while cutting up vegetables for the household meals. Or the sun darkened gardener who could look at a leaf and tell you all about the plant from where it came. These were people who were obviously not part of the family, but were almost so. Even in our worst of moods, we couldn’t dream of being rude to them; for the codes of conduct were closely monitored by the adults.
As time moved on, we got busier and wealthier. Our families became smaller and smaller, with expenses towards luxury going higher every moment. Larger homes, in posher colonies, with larger cars in the porch, better schools, international travel, gourmet meals and what not.
Our dependencies on what we call ‘domestic help’ have increased, and we have surrounded ourselves with people from lesser privileged backgrounds to help make our lives easier. Nothing wrong in that, right? But let us, for a moment look at it through the eyes of impressionable young minds; minds of our young children.
- I was confronted by a scene one day, where my ten-year old, hands on hips, was looking at the painting she had put out to dry, and say in an accusatory tone, “Kantha Aunty, why did you touch my painting? Do you even know how difficult it is to paint this thing?” The culprit, however, was a five-year old, lurking in the background.
- Ofcourse, I intervened with necessary damage control, and sorted things out before the lady who has been a constant support to me, my career, my daily chores, felt offended. But then, upon introspection, I realised where she got the tone, the dialogues from. It was from us – the parents! Here, I must sheepishly admit, there have been times when I have reminded the very same Kantha Aunty how expensive a particular bowl was, that she so carelessly placed on the sink.
- Another incident was when a grouchy five-year old refused to pick up his backpack from school, and when Kantha asked him to pick it up, he ignored her, walked up to the TV, switched it on, and plopped himself on the sofa – typical adult behaviour. Yes, he must have learnt from us that requests can be ignored.
- A defiant eight-year old had once exclaimed, “Cheeeee!! Why should I mop the floor? That’s what Kantha Aunty is for!” when I asked her to clean up the mess she had created.
- The kids have seen me give away clothes and toys that they have outgrown, to the domestic help at home. One day, I got the jolt of my life when a too-smart-for-his-own-good five-year old tells me, “This toy is broken – give it to Kantha Aunty!” ……… This most certainly was not the message I wanted to teach them!
- Tutored under the eagle eye of a grandmother, my daughter has also picked up the habit of looking out for errors in the way Kantha Aunty mops the floor, or washes clothes – while lazing out on the sofa.
Many other incidents, over the last few years of the kids growing up, have reflected to me how my behavior has influenced their attitude towards dignity of labour. I have started a few measures to counter the attitudes they seem to have developed.
Some simple rules (for everyone – including me) have done the trick!
- I do not laze on the couch while my domestic help is sweeping it out. I do my bit of the chores – such as setting up the wardrobe, cleaning up the crystal ware, etc. This helps them realise that we all need to do our things.
- I have resorted to buying brand new gifts for Aunty’s kids’ birthdays – with my children. So they know that we don’t only give away stuff that are broken.
- We have tea together – the help and me. On the dining table. This was something that they had never seen in the Grandparent’s home.
- I never answer the question, “Who was on the phone?” with “The Maid”…… its always ‘Kantha Aunty’. Period.
- The average Indian household sees one chap for washing the car, one chap for tending to gardens, one chap who collects the garbage, one lady who comes in to wash and clean, one lady to collect clothes for ironing, etc. My kids know their names, and know that their work is no less important than mine, or theirs.
- There was a time I had made remarks such as, “If you don’t study well, I am going to tell Raghu bhaiyya (the car chap) to teach you how to wash cars, and you can do that for a living”. (Yes, I actually said that. I now realise how bad that sounds)
- Whoever dirties the floor, mops it up – whether it is me, or them. Ditto with picking up plates after meals.
The most important lesson I have learnt from my kids is that, practising what you preach is the only way to be a reasonable good parent.
Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.