Respect Your Domestic Help

In Colombia, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, if you were middle-class, you probably had live-in domestic help, and you probably called her La Muchacha. She might be an adult. She might be a kid. She definitely came from the countryside.

The topic came up at lunch a month or so ago. My mom remembered the Muchacha from her household, a young girl the same age as my mom was at the time. But unlike my mom, the Muchacha did not get to spend time with her mother and family and did not go to school. She was invisible to Bogotá society. She did not rate.

Today things are a bit different in Colombia. But everywhere, including the U.S., a similar problem persists, where disadvantaged people perform domestic work within an informal economy for less than minimum wage, and the like.

If you want to do right by the people who do paid work in your home, treat them with respect. Meaning, treat them the way any kind, fair boss would treat an employee. I suggest the following:

Provide expectations. Tell her how you want the floor cleaned. Tell him how you want the grass cut.

Provide clarity. Tell her that you plan to stay with her for at least six months at two visits per month, for example. Mean it.

Pay people reliably and on time. Duh. 

Pay people at least minimum wage. Come on. 

Talk about how to handle reschedulings and cancelations. They will happen.

Offer a “Thank You” gift at Christmas time. This is a nice thing to do.

Respect is not about going above and beyond. Respect is about treating people the way anyone deserves to be treated.

2 thoughts on “Respect Your Domestic Help

  1. It wasn’t just in the 60s and 70s. We had a muchacha in the 90s up until we move to the States. My mom ended up giving her a bunch of the stuff we couldn’t take with us along with a severance package.
    Fast forward to 2012 when Alex was born. We hired a housekeeper to do all the stuff I couldn’t do because I was taking care of the new baby (and myself). She was supposed to only work for us for 6 weeks. She ended up staying for a few months. We gave her $10 an hour and her schedule was pretty flexible, as long as what needed to be done was done she could come and go as she pleased. We had to let her go because Bastian was starting to leave messes around and when we would tell him to pick them up he would say “why? Marla will pick it up tomorrow”. So, of course we could not have him get the idea that he didn’t have to clean up after himself because we had help and Marla had to go.

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