My cleaning lady has an attitude!

What if I said, "I'm not happy with my cleaning lady's attitude?" I'd be a jerk, right? Zomg, what a spoiled human being up on her high horse criticizing the help like some kind of ice queen. She's so lazy and mean. Tar her! Feather her!


Think about why criticizing domestic help comes across so abrasive. Is it really an issue of expressing a problem with a paid service, or is it that we value domestic work (i.e. work traditionally by women) so minimally that it is seen as servitude? Hired domestic work, although paid and valued by an employer, is perceived as free, as if the woman cleaning my house is my mom and I should be thankful for her effort even when she leaves whole crackers on the floor. Maybe next I can get her to criticize my posture.


The truth is I have three kids, preschool and under and while I try to stay on top of the chores in the house, my husband has a higher standard of cleanliness than I do. I guess the raw truth is I could clean the floors myself, but I just don't have to. There. Bring your tar and feathers. I trade the money I make writing for the service of cleaning ladies swooping in twice a month. That's how our economy works. I do what I'm good at and I trade the fruit of my labor for what someone else is good at, which is why it irks me when my floors are still dirty after I've paid to have them cleaned.

I used to trade that money for a nanny twice a week. I've addressed this before, but talking about domestic help is taboo because it touches on delicate class issues. Let's get them out in the open and tell the truth: most of America runs on family and domestic help. Nannies, daycare workers, housekeeping, wait staff, cooks (yes, even fast food cooks), cab drivers, dry cleaners etc. The people who work to get other people fed, clean and where they need to be shouldn't be invisible. They are not free labor. Issues surrounding them shouldn't be whispered about to the point that the only solution to dealing with them is to get a replacement. These positions should be respected as professionals and expected to be professionals - and treated as such. They are vital to the functioning of every day life.

While I'm yelling into the wind here, allow me to sneak stay-at-home-parenting into the mix. The pay is zero and ass-wiping is high. But back to the paid professionals . . .

If you run a business and hire someone to make coffee and answer the phone, that is an employee. It is understood you may instruct that employee and give expectations. If those expectations are not met, that person is corrected. In the case of domestic work - nannies, housekeepers - not only can we not talk about them to begin with (which renders them invisible) but we can't criticize them either. Tina Fey once mentioned her nanny cut her daughter's fingernails so short they bled and she never brought it up because she didn't want to make waves. This is insane. I get it, but it's crazy. It seems the passive-aggressive route of silently steaming until you decide to make a replacement is de rigor of managing domestic help. They deserve better. They deserve to be dealt with like other employees and instructed and kindly managed.

I used to work as a nursing assistant for $5.15 an hour and you know what is refreshing about old people? They'll tell you when they're not happy. One lady yelled at me once, "GOD DAMMIT I DON'T LIKE ICE CREAM" so I stopped feeding it to her. Good information.


1. Be direct. My telling people things directly doesn't fly so well in every day life, but it's how I choose to communicate because I hate bullshit. With people I hire, however, it's an asset. There is no need to leave a passive-aggressive note or talk about the weather for ten minutes. Just say it. "Hi! I've noticed the corners aren't getting as clean as they should be. Would you mind making that a priority? Thanks!"

2. Put them in charge. You hired them because they are "experts" at cleaning, so empower them. "I noticed the corners of the floors has crumbs last time you left. You do a great job - can you work your magic in that area too?"

3. Be kind, but don't go so far as to not be firm. I know the urge is there to yammer and fall all over yourself and then not even say what you want to say, but you can do it.

4. Be firm, but not so firm you're cold. In an effort to overcome our fears, it's easy to put on an icy front just to get through the confrontation. Just remember it's your kids and your house and you're paying, so you're already the boss. The wall isn't necessary.

Okay, now I've pep-talked myself. My cleaning lady isn't going anywhere besides right out in the open. I need that service and I appreciate her - enough to get to the bottom of this thing about the floors.

Wish us luck.


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