Living with your maid: 5 tips for maintaining personal space and privacy at home

Having a maid is a delicate arrangement. During the term of her employment contract, an adult woman is “adopted” into her home, sharing her private living space. Clearly, this constant and close contact affects the privacy of both the recruiting family and the foreign maid. It is therefore surprising that many employers did not think and plan enough for this unique situation to ensure personal space and privacy for everyone involved.

For a harmonious life with your domestic help, you must anticipate the privacy concerns of your family and your domestic worker, and actively address these issues. This can be a difficult task because most people are not comfortable talking about their privacy requirements. Ignoring this uncomfortable topic would be a shortsighted tactic and a surefire recipe for later conflicts.

Here are some tips to help you broach the issue of privacy with an inmate housekeeper. As employers, the husband and wife should discuss frankly and prepare before the “stranger” sets foot in their family home. Plan and implement the dos and don’ts to minimize any interference in your personal, partner and family life.

  1. Adjust your displays of affection

    While it’s probably okay to hold hands, give quick kisses on the cheek, and hug in front of the TV, it would be wise to keep overtly romantic gestures out of your maid’s sight. Of course, sensitivity and decency are the obvious reasons for limiting lovemaking between spouses to the bedroom. A less obvious but important reason is to notice any feelings of loneliness and envy from your maid, who is away from her own loved ones.

  2. Dress appropriately

    Some adult males are shirtless while lifting weights and exercising at home; some walk from the shower to the closet with only a towel wrapped around the waist. Some people undress and throw their clothes straight into the washing machine, wearing little or nothing next to the washing machine, in the privacy of their own homes. Breastfeeding mothers lose their inhibition when breastfeeding their babies within the four walls of their residence. While natural, these behaviors should be tempered by the presence of a stranger in the home. Different people have different comfort levels for such exhibitionistic behavior, and your maid may have a markedly more conservative upbringing.

  3. Avoid confidential discussions and heated arguments in front of the maid.

    Family members sometimes disagree, but always strive to resolve disputes in private, without enlisting the support of the maid for either party. Learn how to resolve domestic disputes quickly and amicably. Prolonged disputes between employers are embarrassing for both participants and witnesses! (A member shares his personal experience on our maids forum [http://www.maidaware.com/forum/index.php?topic=8.msg30#msg30].)

  4. Respect the personal space of each occupant of the house.

    Everyone should have their own time and space to devote to private thoughts and activities, such as grooming, leisure, and rest. Promote respect for privacy in your home and seek the cooperation and understanding of your domestic worker to participate in some activities without her participation. For example, you may want to plan a biweekly movie date with your spouse or an outing with the children at their grandparents’ house without the maid accompanying them. At the same time, respect your servant’s need for free time to meet her own friends and support her needs to communicate regularly with her family in her home country.

  5. Keep an open channel of communication with your housekeeper.

    Our cultural and social conditioning influence our thoughts and behavior. Despite your best intentions and efforts, your maid may feel uncomfortable with certain practices in your home. Instead of allowing frustration to creep inside, you should ask for their opinion from time to time. Sometimes it can be a small and simple matter that is easily resolved once it is disclosed. To cite one example, our maid was uncomfortable with a neighbor’s harmless interaction with our one-year-old. This old man leaned forward to caress our daughter’s head and to lull her. I thought it was a friendly and comforting gesture, and I held her in my arms while the neighbor talked and played with her. During a recent casual conversation, our maid finally revealed her fear and wary of such close contact with a stranger. She worries about chance encounters with this neighbor. As my employee, she felt compelled to emulate my friendly disposition towards men, which goes against her basic instincts. Aware of her “privacy violation” feeling, I had a courteous word with the neighbor and resolved this underlying problem quickly and successfully.

Sharing your home with a maid generally involves some sacrifice in personal space and privacy. This is especially true in the small and cramped living spaces of urban apartments for middle-income Asian families. With proper preparation and management, employers and domestic workers can work and live in harmony with each other.

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