While household help has been pretty standard for several generations, things have changed significantly in recent years. Back in the day, housekeepers and housewives would work together cleaning, cooking, organizing, and caring for young children. But as more community women work, they have come to rely on housekeepers to care for much of the home’s needs independently.

As a busy photographer, I relied heavily on my dayworker for household chores and for caring for my preschool child. Unfortunately, my housekeeper wanted more money per hour and more hours than I needed, and we couldn’t come to an agreement. I’ve since been on the hunt for good help, and the journey has taught me a lot. I’ve become a member of a WhatsApp group chat aimed at connecting community women with local cleaning help. Many members lamented that it is very hard to find a good housekeeper, and to convince her to stay once you have found her. I felt discouraged, but then I remembered that Hashem runs the world, so things can turn around at any moment!

For this month’s column, I decided to interview several community women to hear their thoughts on the subject of housekeepers.

Florence Doueck – “We All Came Out Stronger and Better”

One thing that can help a household run smoothly is to train your kids from an early age to help out. Assigning small chores to each child can have a huge impact. Have one child collect the garbage from each room, another collect the towels for laundry, a third load the dishwasher, and so on. If you have a system in place and you’re all pitching in, then you have a head start on things if the worker doesn’t show up.

Don’t let things build knowing someone is coming to clean your house. Being too reliant on anyone is risky business. Since I taught my kids to pitch in from a young age, I’m never stuck with a mess.

Covid was a struggle, but we prevailed. We went from having help 2-3 times a week to having no outside help for about six months. My kids took turns doing the laundry every other day. One would wash towels, another would take delicates, whites, and so on. They’d shlep the clothing upstairs for me to fold, and then take turns putting the clothing away in everyone’s rooms. We all took turns loading the dishwasher every day. My daughter went to each bedroom and bathroom collecting the garbage bags and putting in clean ones. The boys took the garbage out twice a week, and brought back the cans when they were emptied. I did the vacuuming, windexing, cooking, and zoom monitoring. It was definitely stressful, but we all came out stronger and better for it. The kids were taught a lesson in responsibility, and learned to appreciate what it takes to have a clean home.

Sarah R. Cohen – “It’s Best They Learn Now”

I’ve had a full-time, live-in housekeeper since about the time my third child was born. I feel that once you have three or more, the help becomes necessary if you can afford it. My kids are a bit older now, so things are different, but nevertheless, it was a big adjustment when Covid hit and we went from having a housekeeper six days a week to zero. Chores suddenly became a thing. Everyone was responsible for cleaning their own rooms.

Assigning chores gave my children a new appreciation for all that the housekeeper does for us. It also taught them about responsibility, and showed them that when you work hard, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. And, they’ll all eventually need these skills in the future, so it’s best they learn now. Although it’s not realistic to have a large list of chores for children who are now in school fulltime, I still give them tasks here and there around the house to do.

When all your kids are old enough to attend school, like mine, the value of a fulltime housekeeper is that it frees up your schedule. I can visit my parents regularly and take them to doctor’s visits. I can get involved with SBH to focus on hesed projects, knowing that I’ll come home to a clean house and the laundry will be clean and put away.

Lisa Gindi – The Blessing of Live-In Help

Pre-Covid, I had a dayworker 2-3 times a week. Once Covid hit, she was too afraid to come to my home, so things got a little challenging. It wasn’t easy to go from that much help to none at all, but we did it and survived. My husband and I took turns cleaning the bathroom and doing other chores we’d typically leave to a hired helper. Now I am blessed to have a live-in housekeeper. It’s so important for me to have someone here I can rely on in case of an emergency. I live in Deal and my family lives in Brooklyn, so if I have an appointment or some pressing matter to tend to, it’s helpful to have someone at home who can look after my kids while I’m gone.

The financial aspect of cleaning help has gotten somewhat absurd these days. People are agreeing to pay astronomical prices for housekeeping, which is driving up the cost. Even inexperienced cleaners are asking for upwards of $600 a week. They’re also making demands unreasonable demands such as not bathing kids, feeding, changing diapers, or babysitting for more than a couple of hours. At the end of the day, if you’re a busy mom hiring help, you’ll often need an extra set of hands with the kids. Especially if the helper is there for over three days in the house, the cleaning work tends to run out and you need help with cooking and childcare.

Sari Greene – “Not for Everyone”

I’ve had a housekeeper consistently since I got married over 30 years ago. In my opinion, with small children it is a must, and the cost of a housekeeper should be factored into monthly expenses just like rent and tuition. As my children got older and moved out of the house, I gradually reduced the amount of help I hired. Last year, after my youngest got married and moved into her own apartment, I had a housekeeper 1-2 times a week for about six months.  Then, a few months ago, I decided that since I’m living alone, I don’t make a mess and I can do my own laundry, it was pretty silly to spend over $100 a day for someone to clean up after me. It was nice to come home to a clean house, but not nice enough to shell out that kind of money. So, after many years of domestic help, I gave up my housekeeper (who is very dear to me) to my daughter. I’ve been doing all the cleaning, laundry, and organizing on my own, and it’s been working out just fine. Everything is done exactly how I want, and I’m saving a bunch of money. So no, housekeepers are not for everyone, but if you’re a mother, and especially if you work, you need one.

Rachel G. Cattan – Training the Kids for the Future

I prefer to clean the house myself, but with children, it’s quite a challenge to keep it up on my own. My aunt’s housekeeper, whom I trust, comes a couple of days a week to help me. I still do the laundry myself and care for my baby when he’s awake, but it’s so helpful to have someone home while he naps so I can run errands.

I strongly believe in giving chores to children. I taught my daughter already from a young age to clean up after herself and to pitch in whenever I need her. She’s old enough now that when I ask her, she does dishes, folds laundry, and performs other household chores. I can tell that she finds it rewarding, and I know it’s teaching her valuable life skills. When I first got married, after living in a home with a live-in housekeeper, I really didn’t know how to properly run a home on my own. I had to teach myself. I know my daughter won’t have to go through that confusing phase, because she’s learned how to upkeep a home.

Speaking to these women gave me some perspective on the delicate balance between the value of household help, and training children to take responsibility. I remember how hard an adjustment it was when I got married, and I don’t want that for my girls. I taught my oldest, who is six, to organize, and she loves pulling everything out of the pantry and putting it back neatly. I hope to soon start teaching her to make her bed each morning. I’ve been telling my kids to put their clothes in the hamper since age two, but that seems to go in one ear and out the other. Mitzvah charts have worked well in the past, and perhaps I will try it again.

Even with hired help, having the kids pitch in is not only useful in maintaining the home, but a great way to train them for the future.

Frieda Schweky