Help is not a dirty word

Chrissie Swan has hired help and won't be embarrassed to admit it any more.
Chrissie Swan has hired help and won't be embarrassed to admit it any more. 

Last week my friend called me out on something I’ve been doing for about three years. I thought no-one had noticed my hoodwinking habit, but I was wrong, apparently. I’m blushing now as I write this, as I undoubtedly did then, when she said, “Why do you call your nanny your babysitter?”

“Do I? Really? I don’t. Do I? Really? Do I?”

“Yeah, you do. You always have. It’s fine … but I was just wondering … why?”

Again I said I wasn’t even aware I did it. But I was aware. Am aware. I’ve been doing it on purpose so people don’t get the wrong idea about the way I live and start to assume I’m clapping my hands twice to clear the table when I’ve finished my caviar and complaining to Raoul about the leaves in the pool.

The fact is, I work in breakfast radio, which means I have to skulk out of the house like a one-night stand before dawn every day. I’ve exited this way for more than five years. My partner also works and has to be on-site with his little blue Esky of Yoplait and ham sangas by 7am.

It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to pay for it, too. The fact that you have a nanny or a cleaner doesn’t mean you’re living high on the hog

Like clockwork, at 6.20am three mornings a week, Kirsty arrives at our house in a cloud of Clinique, happy to love my children while we’re out earning enough money to keep a roof over all our heads. She’s been coming for nearly three years. In our absence, she cuddles our children and calls them gorgeous and doesn’t seem to mind the world’s biggest three-year-old crashing into her like a cheesy AWF wrestler.

Kirsty is, and has been for a while, a nanny. But I’ve always referred to her as a babysitter because everyone knows that nannies are for rich people who are too busy playing tennis and having long and late liquid lunches to be bothered raising their own children. To have a babysitter is far more egalitarian. And a lot less up yourself.

My life, as a working mother of two small boys, is busy. I simply can’t pull it all off without help. To assume that anyone can is completely bonkers. So why are we lying about getting help? I lie because I get the distinct vibe that I’m perceived as being selfish for working; that work is somehow a luxury I’ve chosen over raising my children and I’m fist-pumping the air every time I pull out of the driveway, screaming, “See ya later, suckers!” over my shoulder. Which, on occasion, I have done. But usually I’m quietly frowning and trying to distract myself from the memory of my warm, curly-headed babies all chubby in their beds as I swoosh through green lights listening to the 4.30am news.

There’s also the perception that if I’m going to be bold enough to work, I should bloody well do all the housework myself, at the very least. Well, I don’t. I’m outing myself. I have a cleaner, Rita. She comes for two hours on a Monday and it’s the highlight of my week. For about an hour, before Leo gets home from kindergarten, my house is shining. As opposed to The Shining, which is more like it is when Leo gets home. I can’t mop my floors with two kids running, riding or crawling all over it! Why do I feel bad about getting someone to do it in the only two hours in a week when there’s no-one in the house? Why am I even justifying it now to you?

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I’m justifying it because we’re supposed to be doing it all – and doing it easily. If we’ve put our careers on hold to raise our kids at home, we’d better have a great sex life, nutritious meals on the table every night, and a house so clean and stylish it could have been torn from the pages of Vogue Living. If we’re working, we’d better not let that affect our ability to rival Samantha from ’60s sitcom Bewitched in the wife/mother/housekeeper stakes.

What a load of tosh. I’m here to tell you it’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to pay for it, too – whether you’re working or not. The fact that you have a nanny or a cleaner doesn’t mean you’re living high on the hog. It doesn’t mean your life is easy. And it doesn’t mean you’re up yourself, either. It simply means you like clean floors and would prefer your kids weren’t left at home alone to turn your place into something from Lord of the Flies.

Today I’ve outed myself as having a nanny and a cleaner. I think I’m on a roll! You know what else? I have my milk delivered (free!) every Friday. I use Coles Online so I can do the weekly shopping in front of The Voice AND I don’t have to carry it up the front steps. And what about this? Clem at my fruit shop has generously offered free delivery of our weekly fresh bits. I’ve accepted. And here’s the big one. The biggest shortcut. The greatest up-yourself extravagance in my entire life. Instead of dishwashing powder, I. Buy. Finish. Powerballs. Gee, that feels good!

Do you have a cleaner or nanny - and, if you do, are you ever embarrassed to admit it? Or do you think help like that isn't for people like you? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum

Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also on Twitter.

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