Nowadays, many households have maids who spend more time with the children than the parents. Some parents are in formal or informal employment and have no choice, but to leave their children under the care of the housemaids. In this case, the children get more used to their maids than their parents.
What is the impact of this child/maid relationship?
Blantyre-based Blessings Ngwira believes maids have a number of effects on the children under their care.
“If the children are toddlers, they might be mistreated when the parents are not around. Since they cannot speak, it is hard for the parents to have an idea of what happens at home in their absence. Some maids even go as far as eating the baby’s food. Of course, the older children can tell the parents about it,” said Ngwira.
He added that older children might end up being spoilt as some of them leave every chore to the maid to do, even little things they can do.
“For instance, the housemaid is cooking and someone is at the gate, they wait for the maid to stop whatever she is doing to go and open the gate, which the children can easily do. In the end, the children end up being dependent on other people,” he said.
Chisomo Mhango, also from Blantyre, says it all depends on the personality of the maid.
“The impact could be positive as in teaching the child good behaviour and negative if the maid mistreats the child as was the case with a certain Ugandan maid recently. That is why parents need to fully know the person who is going to be looking after their children.”
But what do psychologists make of this matter?
Associate professor in mental health at College of Medicine, Chiwoza Bandawe, agrees with Mhango and says the maids’ conduct has a bearing on the children’s future.
“The effects could be negative as well as positive depending on the treatment. Children are at a stage where they just absorb everything that is done and said to them. In the end, they internalise it and reproduce what is being said depending on level of development.
“So, the housemaid will certainly influence the language the children develop as well as the sense of self-esteem as the children grow up. That is why parents should be vigilant in listening and watching their children’s behaviour as well as the reaction of the child when given to a maid and ask why,” said Bandawe.