The author discusses the implications of household help’s increased role in our children’s lives.
A husband and his wife walk in the shopping center, behind them walk their three toddlers, Salem, Saif, and Maryam, and two housemaids, Mary and Jane. Saif was playfully running behind them, often coming in the way of passersby. Salem was walking alone, preoccupied with his world. He walks with a runny nose and wet streams of tears on his cheeks. Mary was on the phone the entire time. With urbanization and modernization in the United Arab Emirates came a new family structure to cope with the demands of the modern parent, which somewhat correlates with the customs of the UAE.
A study by Rabaa Al Sumaiti, a bilingual inspector at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), suggests that young children in the UAE can spend between 30 and 70 hours per week in the care of domestic staff, which is longer than what most children spend in institutional childcare in the United States or Europe. Such exposure to people outside the family circle could lead to grave consequences for children’s maternal attachment, leading to emotional tensions when nannies finish their contracts and leave the home (Almazroui, 2014). The dependence of Emirati households on household help to raise children has occurred as a result of the conflict that exists between outdated social standards and current day norms.
The modern UAE society places significant emphasis on marriage, and it is often a rushed decision, stemming from the wife and husband’s desire to start a new chapter in life, and the pride many parents assume on the marriage of their children. As a result, there is an apparent lack of awareness about such responsibilities in married lives. While the chapter that follows marriage is childbearing, the preparation and knowledge don’t meet expectations. Children are brought into this world by parents who aren’t aware of the skills that will help them survive this world.
There are 70% more Emirati women who have higher education diplomas than men (Ridge, 2011). Women alone have contributed USD 3.4 billion to the UAE economy, according to Raja Al Gurg, president of the Dubai Businesswomen Council and the managing director of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (Glass, 2007). Women’s social advancement has contributed to shifting the family structure in the UAE, as traditionally, mothers play the bigger role in the raising of children. However, with current day ambitions, the responsibilities of women have multiplied tenfold, and as such, many parental responsibilities are outsourced, as now, both mothers and fathers are working.
The “outsourcing of parental responsibilities” has resulted in many negative outcomes. It contributed to the creation of two binaries; neglect and overindulgence, both of which exist as a result of insufficient parental involvement in the present child’s early years (Sultan, 2008). Additionally, it caused the development of awkward social norms among the children; a state of confusion between the behavior of the household help and the expected behavior or traits in this society. Parents are held at blame for the language deficiencies and behavioral changes of their kids, which can be a result of an overbearing reliance on household help for raising them, most of who come from different social and language backgrounds.
A survey was conducted by myself on 41 respondents, a majority of whom were Emirati mothers above the age of 30. They were asked about their reflections on any impacts, whether positive or negative, of their children’s interactions with the household help. A majority expressed their concern over their children’s deteriorating language skills, as Arabic is not the first language of many of the household help. The respondents noticed behavior in their children that the parents disapproved of, often because those actions contradicted the teachings this society was built upon. Some mothers feel concerned about the reliance on housemaids being passed down to the children, in which they misplace trust in people they have no formal connection with at such a young age, as well as overindulging by taking advantage of their position as the employer’s children.
The presence of housemaids in households, however, is not an entirely negative aspect. It has helped relieve working mothers of household chores and posed as a stress reliever from the busy lifestyle many of the country’s working mothers lead. Their presence allowed the mothers to rewind and attend to family-related duties more often.
While modernization is necessary, sustaining future generations with proper upbringing is equally important. There are more female Emiratis with higher education qualifications than male Emiratis. Additionally, Emirati women contribute to USD 3.4 billion to the UAE economy. Therefore, reassuming previous family structures in which the father is the sole breadwinner, and the mother is responsible for raising children hinders equality and sustainable economic growth in the country. Child-raising should be a shared responsibility between the mother and father. In such a setting, the child will receive the necessary care and attention from both parents, the parents will maintain a more even balance between their work lives and family lives, and minimal external sources of help will be required, whether from housemaids or grandparents and in-laws. Additionally, it is imperative to introduce more nurseries in workplaces. Even if the child is not with his parents for the duration of their working hours, they are in an immediate environment, which can be debated to be safer or at least more reassuring for the child than being left alone at home with the help. It is important to note that to meet social development, equal attention should be paid to sustain future generations to their full potential.
Almazroui, A. (2014). Parents must be more involved in children’s lives | The National. Thenational.ae. Retrieved 17 November 2015, from http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/parents-must-be-more-involved-in-childrens-lives
Glass, A. (2007). Working women contribute US$3.4bn to the UAE’s economy. Arabian Business. Retrieved 16 November 2015, from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/working-women-contribute-us-3-4bn-the-uae-s-economy-157854.html
Ridge, N. (2011). Why women graduates outnumber men in the UAE. Gulfnews.com. Retrieved 23 November 2015, from http://gulfnews.com/gn-focus/why-women-graduates-outnumber-men-in-the-uae-1.790849
Sultan, A. (2008). A maid is not a mother, even if the children turn to her first | The National. Thenational.ae. Retrieved 11 November 2015, from http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-maid-is-not-a-mother-even-if-the-children-turn-to-her-first
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