x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Treat your nanny the way you want her to treat your child

Parents should treat the nanny looking after their baby just as they would want that person to treat the baby.

'I have surveillance cameras covering every inch of the apartment," she told me, whispering so she wouldn't be overheard by the quiet Filipino nanny standing just a few metres away, helping a tawny-haired 3-year-old boy navigate the playground slide.

"And I've made sure she knows about them, so she's aware we're watching her. Believe me, if you ever get a maid, you have to install cameras; you'll see, it's the only way to get any peace of mind. You just can't risk it if she turns out to be some kind of monster."

The other mothers sitting nearby on that mild, spring day nodded knowingly. I had taken my daughter down to the playground in our building, both for the fresh air and so I could meet other mothers with youngsters. The mothers were certainly there, huddled together, enveloped in gossip and laughter.

Their children were also there, a short walk away, swinging from bars and sliding down slides, supervised by nannies: Filipino, certainly, but also Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Bangladeshi and Ethiopian.

Later, we all stepped in from the rising heat and headed to a cafe in the building. The mothers placed their orders: cappuccinos and macchiatos and sweating glasses of ice coffee to soothe parched throats. The maids were instructed to fetch the cups and continue minding the children. No one thought to ask any of the nannies if they were thirsty.

I've watched this scenario unfold so many times that I've almost begun to turn a blind eye to it. How many times have I seen a nanny, sitting at the corner of the family table in a crowded restaurant, urging a child to take one more bite of a chicken nugget, perhaps as she contends with a wailing, squirming baby in her lap, while the impassive parents chow down. Eventually, she may get to eat too - most likely discarded nuggets and soggy fries.

Every time I read of a maid who has abused a child, maimed a child, killed a child - and there are many such cases - I can't help but wonder how the parents of the harmed baby were treating their maid.

Did that maid have fair and transparent terms of employment? Did she have reasonable working hours, enough sleep, enough food to give her the energy needed to handle a demanding child? Was she given incentives to do well? A reason to love and care for a baby in a manner a mother would deem appropriate? Were her cultural and religious differences tolerated and respected? Was she treated with kindness? Was she seen as a human being?

I do not need to be a mother to believe, vehemently, that a parent should treat the person looking after their baby just as they would want that person to treat said baby.

Each maid is a human being hired to take care of your precious child. You want her to have your baby's best interests at heart, and one sure way to do that is to have her best interests at heart. To treat her well.

And yet, for every story of a servant harming a child, there's a story of a sponsor harming a servant. How are nannies expected to treat the child of a person who may treat them like mindless, thoughtless, heartless slaves?

If you do not feed her, she will take that morsel of food out of your baby's mouth and place it in her own. If you do not care for her needs, she will be oblivious to your baby's needs. If you emotionally abuse her, she will use the power of words to tear your child's self esteem to shreds - without you ever knowing it. And if you beat her, she will take it out on your baby, physically.

Surveillance cameras are not the answer; they will only strip her of her dignity. Threats and mistreatment are not the answer; she will only want to lash out, and your child is the obvious target.

It's an ugly cycle. Children who witness their parents' mistreatment of maids and nannies may grow up to do the exact same thing, because they have learnt that that is how a nanny or a maid should be treated: as a mere belonging to be abused at will.

I do not need to be a mother to see the hopeless viciousness of this cycle, nor do I need to be a mother to deduce that a mistreated maid eventually takes out her frustrations on a helpless, vulnerable babe, and it is the parents who will be partly to blame.

But it is only now I am a mother that I feel strongly about vocalising these fears, if not for the poor maid living in horrible conditions, then at least for the defenceless baby who may end up paying for the sins of the parents.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae