In a previous entry, Sha, “a Misplaced Filipina in Greece”, mentioned that her European boss has triplets and the nannies are teachers. I was about to respond — had actually started to compose my response — when I realized that the response was already as long as an entry. I’m posting it as a new entry instead.
Okay. In the previous entry that I mentioned, the comment thread shows just how clueless yayas (nannies) can be when it comes to the welfare of the children they have been hired to look after. Some are downright abusive. After Sha posted her comment, I paused and wondered, “Are we being fair in expecting yayas to be more?” I look back and realize that was my mistake. I hired a house helper and I shouldn’t have expected her to be more than that. It goes without saying, of course, that I still expected honesty.
If we look at the backgrounds of many of these girls who get hired as yayas, very few have have had prior training to take care of babies and young children. In most cases, their only qualification is that they need the job for serious financial reasons. It’s the same with many house helpers in Filipino homes. It is easier to train house helpers with routine house work, but how does one teach a yaya to acquire “malasakit” for her charge? How does one teach her to acquire an interest in learning — an attitude that can serve as a good example to the kids — and ditch the obsession over crappy TV shows? That’s really tantamount to reshaping her personality and character — not a simple feat considering that she is, after all, a creature shaped by her childhood and life prior to her becoming a hired help. The thing is, a girl does not automatically become a yaya because she was hired to take care of children. She does not automatically acquire the skills just because the label yaya has been dumped on her.
These girls — most of whom have been plucked from remote rural areas — do not have the same background and educational training as nannies and governesses of old who were often educated but impoverished women. Let’s not even go back to hundreds of years ago. I’m sure you’re aware of the story of Maria Von Trapp. In countries where the standard of living is much higher than ours, they can still afford to hire nannies and governesses genuinely qualified for the job. Nannies who are trained or practical nurses and governesses who are real teachers. These are nannies who have a good understanding of what is good and bad — physically, emotionally and mentally — for a child; and these are governesses who are capable of helping teach young children their ABCs and 123s, of initiating meaningful games, of holding productive conversations…
But we, in this Third World country, can hardly afford nannies of that caliber. In fact, even if we could, I doubt if we will given our prejudices and predispositions. Most mothers don’t like hiring middle-aged yayas. This is especially true among young mothers. The middle-aged yaya, often with the qualification of having raised her own children, is perceived to already possess an “attitude”. More than that, an experienced yaya means a higher starting salary.
Then, there’s the predisposition to regard a yaya simply as someone to do the dirty menial jobs that mothers prefer not to do — clean up the puke, carry the child so Mommy can enjoy shopping, wash the feeding bottles, mop the pool of pee… They are hired to do routine manual work so why should we expect them to be capable of more? Unless they have had a long experience with the nanny job, it’s really unrealistic to expect them to acquire the personality and skills of an honest-to-goodness yaya in a few weeks or even months.
The truth is, most families don’t have real yayas. They have house helpers and those assigned to the kids are automatically referred to by the parents as yayas. It has nothing to do with skills whatsoever. I know someone who uses the label because of an affectation. She is well aware that she has two house helpers yet, in public, she refers to them as her kids’ yayas because yaya sounds more sosyal and it somehow conjures an image of a higher economic status. Then, she complains when the so-called yayas fail to live up to the role. Crazy.