“Where’s your yaya?” my daughter asked our host as she prepared lunch in the kitchen, while I burned in embarrassment over the blunt question.
We were on vacation in the US and staying with family. Like many American families, my relatives in the US either had no helpers in their home, or at most, had one “all-around” yaya to help them with their daily chores.
While it would have been easy to dismiss a toddler’s question as nothing, I was interested to look into where it was coming from. Was she growing up in an environment that was too dependent on household help, that she couldn’t understand why a home would have none? More importantly, what did this say about me as a mom? Was I delegating too much to her yaya? Does having a nanny make one any less of a mother?
Admittedly, I had brought along Adriana’s yaya Janet with me to help me take care of her and my one-year-old son, Juanmi. Migs had stayed behind, and I didn’t want to be outnumbered by the lovebugs.
At first, it seemed like I was still in the Philippines—I carried on with the regular things I would do with the kids when we were at home.
And then, I noticed a few things. The kids’ food would go untouched in their bowls while I ate. Apparently, the food doesn’t magically enter their little mouths on its own—who knew? Also, they would remain in their jammies despite the fact that it was time to leave. Nobody gave my kids the memo that when Mama changes, it’s time for them to change, as well.
And privacy while in the shower? They definitely never heard of it. During those moments, Janet would swoop in to do her magic, and poof! Empty plates, dressed children, showered momma. Yes!
But, why, oh why, were there over a dozen dirty milk bottles lined up by the sink at past midnight when all I wanted to do was collapse in bed after a long 12-hour day of alternately carrying a 35-lb little Cinderella and pushing her Prince Charming’s stroller?
Taken for granted
As I glanced around, I saw our dear yaya busily folding up the kids’ laundry, so as I busied myself washing bottle after bottle and preparing to sterilize, I began to take account of all the things I had taken for granted living with yayas in Manila: car seats that automatically appeared in the family van together with strollers; clean, sterilized bottles that were always stacked in place when needed; children dressed up in clothes I need only lay out while I go and get dressed myself; being able to eat in restaurants without having my appetite ruined by diaper duty, or running after a child until my food would go cold; I could go on and on.
In LA, I learned the value of light umbrella strollers over the heavy travel systems—not to mention how to expertly maneuver car and booster seats! But more importantly, I discovered a whole new appreciation for these women who make it their job to love and care for our children, and make it so much easier for us to be mothers, while they themselves sacrifice being away from their own children.
So, I guess if I were to answer my own questions, based on my personal experiences, I would have to be honest and face the facts that, yes, she is growing up in a society very much dependent on household help and nannies.
But that doesn’t mean she has to grow up taking them for granted, much less abusing them. I find the term “household helper” most apt in defining what a “yaya” really is, and what they are there for: helper, not sole doer or slave.
Now on to the harder part. I took a long hard look at the role of my children’s yayas in our lives. I realized that unconsciously, we had created a very efficient delegation and balance of duties. As ironic as it may sound, I am deeply grateful to our yayas for having enabled me to be as hands-on and involved as I am today.
Guilty as I may be about not getting involved in the “back room” operations such as tidying up their rooms and preparing their food, I have also found my non-involvement in things such as these to be the reason why I have all the time in the world to sit and read Elmo to them over and over again, or concentrate on what the pediatrician is instructing while they wreak havoc in his clinic. The same goes with taking them to work with me.
Even each child’s year of nursing has to be credited in part to them. I had two Caesarean sections, and both times, my movements were heavily limited in the beginning. How fortunate I was to have someone helping me care for my kids, apart from my husband and the more-than-willing grandmothers, as I recovered or took one child so I could be alone with the other.
A ‘yaya’-less life
So, does one need a yaya? Countless mothers all over the world function perfectly well without one, while others can’t imagine a yaya-less life. I guess this is a question that can only be answered by each individual mother, as well as the question on whether having a nanny makes one any less of a mother. It’s all up to the mom. You can make it work for you and your child, or horribly against you—depending on how you treat the situation.
In our case, our yayas have become part of our family. I personally feel they have been wonderful aids to us. Plus, I am more than happy to have another person show my kids extra love and affection. You can never have too much of that.
As an epilogue to this story, we were all quite sad to see Adriana’s beloved yaya Nenet leave shortly after we returned from the States. She had come to work with us two weeks before Adriana was born. However, a few months ago, Janet discussed with us her and her husband’s wish to return to work in the hospital in her hometown in order to be closer to her young and growing family, which, of course, nobody could argue with. We all agreed that she would leave shortly after our little girl’s third birthday in June.
However, when I applied for a visa for my son Juanmi and his yaya Vivian, who has been excellent with our son since his birth, the officer approved only my son’s visa application, and not that of his yaya. Fortunately, Janet gamely agreed to extend her stay and accompany us to the States, as she already had the necessary visa.
Upon her departure, instead of hiring a new nanny to replace her, we decided to do some reshuffling at home so that an equally beloved face to Adriana could take over—our dear yaya Josie, or as Adriana calls her, yaya “Hi-C,” who has been with Migs since our boyfriend-girlfriend days.
Everything is working well, though now that Adriana is 3, we take her out on her own more often. If there’s another thing that our trip to the States taught us, it is a little bit more yaya-independence for our little big girl. But, hopefully, not from her parents—not for a long, long time!