Raising the Modern Family: Indonesia’s Nanny Debate
More and more parents in Jakarta today are expressing concerns about having their young children cared for by nannies. And it’s understandable.
Nannies are strangers, at least in the beginning, and there’s no guarantee that their values match those of the child’s parents.
Most nannies barely have middle-school level educations, yet they are often in charge of a young human being’s well-being and future.
And then there’s the question of whether it’s wise to have a child accustomed to have a personal servant from such a early age.
Yet many affluent Indonesians claim that having a nanny is now a necessity.
With both parents pursuing full time careers, it’s hard to imagine how they also have enough time to take care of a child, and ignorant new parents often find taking care of baby to be exhausting and hope that a well-trained nanny can help them adjust to parenthood.
A Service Culture
In many countries, nannies are reserved for the very wealthy, with the average family raising their own children with minimal help. Why is Indonesia different?
Toto Suwanto from the Association for Domestic Workers’ Training and Placement Throughout Indonesia (APPSI) says that Asian culture favors personal service. Other than for the convenience, employing servants is a status symbol, particularly in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the China. Some Asians employ domestic workers just to make the point that they are wealthy and powerful.
The great demand for nannies inside of Indonesia and internationally, combined with the overwhelming number of secondary school dropouts in the country means an abundance of opportunities for Indonesian nannies.
Toto, who also owns and operates a domestic workers’ agency, admits to recruiting underaged nannies but claims a good reason.
“Sixteen-year-olds are still subject to mandatory education, but if their families are economically-challenged, 16- and 17-year-old girls from the kampung [village] are vulnerable,” Toto explained.
Girls that age, he said, are at risk of becoming involved in the sex trade, or human trafficking.
Toto added that keeping an unemployed teenage girl at home poses financial and social burdens for many rural families.
“[Employment as a nanny] solves these problems. We even provide teenage nannies with opportunities to enroll in Paket Kejar B and C [an alternative self-study program to earn secondary school certificates].”
Additionally, nanny training provides girls who drop out of school with valuable skills for the job market. Dwi, one of Toto’s young apprentices, said she is grateful for the nanny training. In class, she carefully demonstrated her skills in sanitizing baby equipment, bathing and clothing a baby, and tucking a sleeping baby into the crib.
“Before this class, I did not know what to do with a sick child. But thanks to this class, I now know how to treat fevers and nurse the child back to health,” Dwi said.
The Fight for Rights
Despite a glimmer of hope, no laws have been passed to regulating domestic work as a legally recognized profession.
“Labor laws in Indonesia only recognize those 18 and above as part of the workforce, and yet most of the nannies who come to Jakarta are underaged,” Toto said.
Rights, which include set work hours, days off, fair pay and protection against abuse, remain easily ignored by employers as there are no enforceable government regulations.
Toto said that APPSI has been advocating for legal recognition of the domestic profession by lobbying Parliament, government ministries, and related NGOs to push for the passing of domestic worker laws.
Toto added that through his domestic workers’ agency he aims to raise a generation of nannies who will demonstrate an excellent work ethic, a well-rounded knowledge of early childhood care, including basic child psychology, health-care, nutrition, and hygiene, and unconditional love for their employers’ children.
By training high-quality nannies, Toto says he hopes his nannies, including those underage, will earn the kind of respect that makes them worthy of legal recognition.
In the Market
With the advent of career-oriented mothers, will the next generation be even more nanny-dependent?
Or are parents looking for alternatives that may drive “nannydom” to obsolescence?
Astrid and Andreati, both in their mid-30s, are on opposite sides of the fence.
As a dentist with her own practice, Astrid is able to limit her workdays to five hours. She admits she is not the busiest mother but maintains that a live-in nanny is still essential for the times when she is working, entertaining company or just taking care of personal business.
“A nanny is just help. It doesn’t mean that she takes over completely,” said Astrid, who has a 4-year-old and a 3-month-old. “Outside of office hours, I have plenty of time to spend with my children. I drive them when they need to go places and I take care of their needs. It’s all about getting yourself organized to make room for them. That’s how you let your children know who their mother is.”
When away from home, Astrid monitors her nanny’s activities using CCTV cameras installed throughout the house with the footage streamed to her tablet device.
“I never worry because I see everything my nanny does. When I hire a new nanny, just within a week of observing, I’ll know whether she’s a keeper or not,” Astrid said.
In contrast, Andreati is a corporate auditor who works 10- to 12-hour days and raises her 8-month-old without a nanny.
When I visited her at home at 7 a.m. on a weekday, I found Andreati juggling her morning routines with changing diapers, bathing and clothing her daughter.
“Our parents don’t live in town, so leaving our little one at home alone with a stranger doesn’t sound like an idea we can trust, especially in a neighborhood where we don’t have the luxury of advanced security systems,” Andreati said. “I’ve heard horror stories of irresponsible nannies from my friends. Sure, it’s a small percentage, and I don’t mean to judge all nannies but that small percentage is enough to deter us from taking the chance.”
Asked why she doesn’t envy the convenience of having a nanny, Andreati replied with a smile: “This is my first child and I want to have the privilege of taking care of her. Sure, a nanny would be convenient, but taking care of my daughter actually makes me happy. Inconvenience is a small price to pay for it.”
When she’s working, Andreati drops off her daughter at a certified day care center next to her office. Not only does this allow her to breast feed; it also surrounds her daughter with early childhood experts, as opposed to servants.
Andreati adds that other alternatives for working moms are asking grandparents or relatives to help, or training a trusted live-in cleaning lady to take up childcare duties.
And then there’s the conservatives who still think that a woman’s place is at home with the children. They argue that the working mother would perpetually have to choose between her career and her offspring, which is never fair to the child.
However, others argue that throwing away a career to exclusively care for a child is not fair either. Lost of income rarely does anyone a favor.
The nanny debate is a never-ending one. While parents want what’s best for their children, the definition of “best” varies in every situation.
In the end, it is every parent’s responsibility to be very honest with themselves in deciding how to care for their little one in a not-so-perfect world.
Upwardly mobile parents are increasingly relying on nannies to care for their children. But does this do more harm than good?