How you cope without extra help over the holidays

Do you wish Santa would also do your ironing?
Do you wish Santa would also do your ironing?

Every year we spend 3 weeks without our beloved nanny (or, as like to refer to her, my home assistant). During the holidays I love doing the washing up and laundry... it makes me feel useful and hands on in my own house. But it's always so lovely to have her back in January. She has a beautiful soul and my girls adore her.

We asked our readers what you do over the holidays and had a great response. Here are some comments:

"I arrange for a temp"

Salaminah Bogatsu:

This is what I do: I arrange for a temp who comes in only on the normal working days (no holidays/weekends). This is done by October/November and my domestic gives her an orientation. The laundry is done by me, the temp only comes in to clean the house.

I find this arrangement very stress free. My house is clean, my domestic gets to spend three weeks with her family and the temp is local so she can make extra cash during holidays and still spends holidays with her family.

"Give back to your country and its people"

Sandy Madaree:

Where is your Xmas spirit if you do not "allow" your domestic leave? Are we in the slave business, where we treat other human beings as property? Where is our humanity? It completely negates everything that Christmas is about. Do we not love our fellow men?

I'm naive and shocked as I never knew this even happened, till I read your article. Thank you for highlighting this inhumane occurrence.

Our domestics sacrifice time with their families, throughout the year, to enhance our family time. Annual leave is a right, not a privilege. We have the most forward-thinking constitution in the world and behave as nothing more than slave-traders that we abhor.

Having an untidy or less-than-spotless house is nothing to pay, compared to having a black mark in your soul, over your selfishness.

Live outdoors, go to the beach, braai & enjoy Nature! Visit game parks. Support conservation. Think beyond your nose. Enjoy the natural beauty of your country and its diverse people.

Give back to your country & its people. This is the essence of Xmas, not whether your home is in a pristine state.

Live and let Live. Find the light within you and let it shine on all those you love and those that toil for your loved ones, throughout the year, asking little in return. God will bless you for it! A very merry Xmas and a happy New Year!

"Let the humane qualities be the guiding factor"


The labour law says domestic workers are entitled to their sick, special and annual leave. I have a casual worker 3 days a week. She is off from work until the 9th of January. The humane qualities in us should be the guiding factor!

"We have become lazy in the extreme"

Helen Steenkamp: 

I personally believe it is a crime to force your domestic worker to work over Christmas. This is a time for family and just like me, my domestic worker has a family. She works so hard all year round that one of the few ways I can show her my appreciation for all the work she does for me, is to give her this special time to rest and spend with her own family.

We privileged South Africans, who can afford help around the house, have become lazy in the extreme. Have a heart and give you domestic worker Christmas off!

"We help each other out"


Our helper asked to work overtime on Boxing Day and the public holiday. We agreed and will be paying her R400 per day as she has a child at university.

"Everywhere around the world people cope just fine"


Can Claudia Pather really be as oblivious as she appears to be with the preposterousness of her article about coping without your domestic during the holidays? It reads like something from the paternalistic days of the British Raj in the 19th century.

Ms Pather assures us that SA families really don’t have to be completely helpless without their domestic servants, and she offers advice on how to muddle through while minimising the apparently shocking trauma of having to clean up after yourself. “Don’t aim for perfection”; “It is not possible to keep your house in the same condition like (sic) your domestic”; "It is completely normal to feel exhausted and tired as you are not used to doing household chores”; and similar nonsense.

I am a SA resident, but I’m from Australia and New Zealand (having lived in about half each). I don’t know anyone in either country who has a domestic servant. Amazingly, all my friends and relatives in those countries have raised families, run households, coped with conflicting school and work demands, run businesses, managed a social life, and even made it through the Christmas & New Year holidays, without having to face the awful dilemma of not having domestic servants available.  

That’s because domestics are almost unheard of in those countries, and in several hundred other successful and prosperous countries, too. And yet, when I visit those Antipodean friends and relatives, their homes are always somewhere between presentable and immaculate. How in the world do they do it? My Aussie sister has no husband, two jobs, and has raised (quite brilliantly) twin daughters with cerebral palsy. But she has no domestic, and never has had. She must be a miracle worker!

My SA wife and I operate two self-catering family holiday houses in one of South Africa's more popular holiday destinations. Two-thirds of our guests are international (predominantly from Europe & UK, Australia, USA, Asia, & South America), while one-third are local SA guests.  

100% of international guests leave our holiday houses immaculate: every pot, glass and plate washed (and intact), every surface clean. But more than half of our local SA guests leave a spectacularly inconsiderate mess.  

Complete and meticulous servicing after international guests depart takes us an average of about two hours, including braai, pool, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, and substantial indoor and outdoor living areas. The same standard of servicing after SA guests depart averages closer to 4 hours. I prefer to draw a discreet veil over the details, but the absolute reliance on domestic servants when at home in SA is pretty well apparent.

I suppose it’s nearly irresistible, when domestic help is available at such a low cost, but Ms Pather seems to be starting from the viewpoint that maintaining an ordered and efficient household is simply impossible (unless you’re really poor and have no choice … shame). And she’s quite wrong about that. It all happens very well and goes quite unremarked everywhere else.

"Pay those who want to work and pay them properly"

Sovashni Hefele:

The reality is that our country is in an economic crisis. Jobs are scarce and so is cash. One cannot assume it is unfair to expect your helper to work during Christmas holidays. If the helper is willing to work through the holidays and the employer is being fair about working hours and double-time pay, then we should leave market forces to dictate the outcome.

My helper must go home during the Xmas holidays. I understand and respect her need. I hate housework so I find a stand-in helper. People need work and I am willing to pay for the temp help.

Market forces under fair pay rules is an essential part of a growing economy.  

"This is so patronising"

Vumi Hlongwa:

I found many aspects of this article dehumanising and patronising.

First: The referral of people as simply "domestics" throughout the article reduces them to a household item. They aren't blackberries. They are people.

The law as well as the volition of the domestic worker dictates the hours a domestic worker works, as well as the conditions of overtime – NOT a survey or the whims of employers.

"I cannot afford help"

Verna Lambert:

Cannot afford a help... wash 2 times a week my washing, get up at 5 in the morning even if it's 1 load, each child cleans his own room, all get a turn to wash dishes, 2 boys no girls.

"I learned to cope"

Sisana Machi:

I have a wonderful helper Maria. She is like my big sister, and has been with my family for 14 years.

Maria is a granny to 5 children, and 2 are still very young. Both her daughters passed away and she has to care for the young ones. I also lost a son, whom she loved as her own, and we shared the loss together. My other son is a grown man now, 2 degrees and working, but Maria still treats him like her little boy that she met when he was 14 years of age.

Now with all the above, I must say that I miss Maria during holidays. I am not that good as she is in taking care of this house. I can do washing, but please do not ask me to iron. On busy days, Maria cooks for my son and I before she goes home. But you know what, Maria is at my home by 7h30 Mon-Fri and leaves at 15h00. This means that she is at the bus stop at the crack of dawn by 05h00 am. She does not work weekends.

Maria needs to have time with her family. She takes her grandchildren to the rural areas during the festive season. Maria takes a full month away, and comes back to work once the grandchildren have gone back to school.

This is what I do in her absence:

  • I psyche myself and manage the 2 weeks of December without any help.
  • I wash what is necessary, as we are hardly in the house during that whole period (either on holiday or spending quality time in different places).
  • Now I don't like clutter, and with grandchildren around, it is bound to happen. We manage the best way we can till beginning of January when I call in extra help.
  • I make arrangements with another lady I know, to come in twice a week. She cleans the house, I do the washing and she irons. This works perfectly and I pay her (no deductions from Maria's January salary).

This helps so that when Maria comes back, she is not faced with piles of washing and ironing as well as an unkept house. It will take her maybe a week or so to get things the way they are supposed to be (according to her) and we are all fine with it.

So, all in all, my helper, just like me, needs to have time off to spend with her family during holidays. We miss her a lot, but I leant to cope without her during that period.

I always consider that her duties at her home are just as important as mine. My advice: Do the best that you can to keep your house tidy. Don't mull over things you cannot fix and spend time scrubbing floors. If needed, please get extra help.

"Let the kids help"

Rosemary Mocke: 

Why not use a cleaning service, there is an excellent online service in some of our major cities. These ladies choose whether or not to work on given days and you pay by hour according to house size and extra chores.

Also allocate chores to family members, even children as young as 3 can help by tidying up toys etc. Keep meals simple, in this heat salads and cold food is great. The odd takeaway or ready made meal is perfectly fine.

Unfortunately there is a strange relationship here towards domestic workers. Draw up a contract which specifies leave and when it can be taken. Remember that employees in retail and service industries very rarely get leave at holiday time.

Also remember, all over the world, households manage very well without any domestic help.

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