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Do You Have a High Turnover of House Girls? Be Careful About That

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Edith Kanyingi of the Centre for Domestic Workers and Training

The issue of house girls is one that is very close to many mother’s hearts. Because most need help with their babies while they are out at work.

Some house girls, like Caroline Kinyanjui’s stay for years (they’ve been together thirteen years –read Caroline’s story here), but that is rare nowadays for there seems to be very few homes that retain one house girl for long. Many homes today experience a high turnover of house girls. But does this high turnover have any effect on the children?

I talked to a mom, a sociologist and a child psychologist about this issue, which I hope will enlighten you.

Lucy Kang’ethe has employed 15 house girls since she began hiring help to take care of her children four years ago. The mother of two – a four-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl – says that this number is exclusive of the girls who only work for one or two days then leave without warning. The reasons?

“Some couldn’t handle the workload, or take basic instructions; others got better job offers, while some returned to their husbands, disrespect … and so many more,” says the 34 year-old who runs her own real-estate business.
Lucy, who takes three weeks to train new house girls –irrespective of their prior working experience, never hesitates to dismiss workers who are not up to the task.
“If you don’t meet my expectations, I have no business keeping you. The shortest-serving house girl in my home lasted three months, while the longest-serving worked for me for nine months.”
While changing house girls frequently may appear to be common in many homes today, child development experts warn that a high turnover potentially has negative effects on children. The constant interruption and readjustment to new caregivers can be a challenge, especially for young children, says Sociologist Christopher Kiboro.
“Children spend a lot of time, during their formative years with their caregivers and even look up to them, picking up attitudes and habits from them. If you change caregivers frequently, each brings a different background that is foreign to the child, such as language, mannerisms, beliefs and values, so there is no consistency in what the child is learning.
Further, this constant cycle where a nanny leaves just when a child is developing attachment may lead the child to grow up with the notion that relationships are not long-lasting. Children who are exposed to such frequent changes may develop a habit of neglecting social relationships mid-way,” explains Mr. Kiboro, who lectures Sociology at Chuka University.
His views are echoed by Dr. Philomena Ndambuki, a child psychologist. According to Dr. Ndambuki, social stability is important for the healthy growth of a child and if this stability is disrupted it may affect the child’s social, intellectual and emotional development. She warns that frequent changes in nannies may lead to regression in some children.
Indeed, Lucy has noticed that changing nannies has an effect on her children.

“Whenever I have a new house girl, my children refuse to eat or sleep during the day if I’m not around. My son cries uncontrollably and becomes overly clingy when I’m around. It always takes time for them to adjust to the new one,” she says.

Nevertheless, sometimes changing nannies is unavoidable. In such cases Edith Kanyingi of the Centre for Domestic Workers and Training Institute says that women should handle the departure of a house help properly to minimize negative effects on the child.

“Children are attached to their nannies so it can be terribly upsetting when the caregiver leaves. It is a loss to the child and it can greatly affect their emotional health,” she says.

Edith Kanyingi of the Centre for Domestic Workers and Training

Edith Kanyingi of the Centre for Domestic Workers and Training Institute

“Parents need to be aware of this, and also learn how to help their child in such circumstances. Help the child understand why the caregiver left, and if possible, allow for a sufficient transition period. Do not be quick to replace the former house girl, as the child may need time to grieve the loss.”

How to mitigate the effects

– Don’t be too quick to dismiss a house help for misdemeanors. Have some core qualities you expect and let the rest slide; for instance, if she is excellent with the child, you can overlook other minor shortcomings.

– Parting ways may be inevitable, so when you release a house help, explain to your child why his nanny has to leave. Also let the nanny bid farewell to the child especially if they had a good bond.”

*As I originally published in the Nation.

What is your experience? Do you have a high turnover of house girls? Have you managed to retain one house girl for years? What do you think of the experts’ opinions?

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Maryanne W. Waweru is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have only ever employed one househelp and she was with us for only 6 months. I agree that children get affected adversly when the househelp leaves especially when they liked her. I find the problem lies in the fact that some househelps are only in it for the money. They don’t have the motivation to make the most out of their duties. I also find that some employers expect their help to perform miracles and fail to measure how much work an individual can accomplish in the time given. I don’t feel it is fair to expect a househelp to do all the housekeeping chores plus look after the children all on her own especially if the children are very young.

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