By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
May 13, 2014
In the past few decades, the reliance of Saudi families on housemaids to complete domestic chores has steadily risen to unprecedented levels, so much so that as doors for domestic help recruitment close in some countries, the Ministry of Labour has to be imaginative in finding new countries from which to recruit such manpower.
But this reliance on domestic help has come with a price. Leila, a social scientist and a teacher recently shared her concerns after spending some years in a private kindergarten. She was increasingly alarmed by the breach of parenthood on the part of many mothers who have disposed of the task of bringing up their little ones by placing it on the shoulders of housemaids.
She related to me instances where the little children, many of whose unwashed faces reflected their sleepiness and lack of morning grooming, were literally dumped at school by their Asian or African housemaids. These children were usually woken up at the crack of dawn by their maids, hurried into dressing for school and with hardly a bite to eat were thrust into cars for the trip to school.
On the way, if they had time, the car would stop at a convenience store where a sugar-filled drink and a candy bar would be bought for the little ones before they were deposited at the school gates. While in the car on their way to school, the kids could be seen scampering over the seats or stretching out of the rear window of the automobile. If the driver and maid were of the same nationality, they would be much too busily engrossed in the topic of the day to be bothered by what the children were doing.
In a couple of instances, concerned by the manner of preparedness of her little pupils, Leila tried to contact the mother at home during her midday break, only to be told by the maid that "madam is asleep". Messages were never acknowledged, and phone calls were not returned by the end of the school day. Maybe Madam was still asleep!
Once the little ones got home after school, with Madam just waking up for breakfast, these little children would be shepherded by the maid to the dining table for lunch, after which they would be free to run around like little renegades. Their luncheon menu would consist of whatever the housemaid within the confines of her knowledge and experience could muster up. Rice or instant noodles would definitely be in order, as it remains a staple for most Asian countries. The balance between the various food groups and the importance of a proper diet may well be over her head.
Leila adds: “Take a close look at a playground or the seashore. Or visit one of those "fun time play lands" on any evening and you will be astounded by the number of housemaids in proportion to the number of little children. Children accompanied by a parent are relatively few and far between.”
One does not have to be an astute judge of child psychology to notice that quite often these children learn foreign words and speak in foreign dialects long before they even begin to utter a single word in their mother tongue. Or that during periods of insecurity, they gravitate toward their housemaids who have become their natural refuge and mothers by proxy.
The close and constant proximity of housemaids during the early and developmental years of childhood ensures that children see them as substitute mothers. There have been reported cases of toddlers suffering emotional trauma upon the final departure of their housemaid.
Housemaids are rarely authoritative figures who discipline children and that reflects on the current general behaviour of generations of Saudis reared by such women who have come to this country to earn a living. These women did not expect to be given the responsibility of raising someone else’s children.
Some mothers seemed to have forgotten their designated roles as a partner in parenthood. Simply carrying the foetus and giving birth is not motherhood. There is a price and a responsibility to shoulder after giving birth. The seeds of future generations are being germinated today without the active participation of these mothers. When will they wake up?