Who’s Caring for Kids While Malaysian Parents are out Earning RM400,000

Human Babies are not like Baby Giraffes

Human babies are like baby kangaroos.

The joey (baby kangaroo) attaches itself to its mother’s nipple and stays there for about 9 months before emerging from the pouch for the first time. The joey stays with the mother for a total of 12 to 18 months before abandoning the pouch permanently.

They attach themselves to their mums and they don’t let go till they’re done sucking the life out of them, quite like human babies.

Baby giraffes, on the other hand, are independent as shit.

When a baby giraffe is born, it drops up to 6 feet to the ground and lands on its head. The fall does not hurt the baby giraffe at all, but makes it take a deep, first breath. After an hour or so, the baby can walk on her own. – source: Facts About Baby Giraffes

Of course, unlike baby giraffes, human babies need to develop additional life skills like potty training, dressing themselves, learning how to eat without leaving bits of rice all over your floor, and much else. Yes, they would probably learn this eventually, if you left it all up to nature to take its course, but for your sanity (and everybody else’s), someone has to be there to guide your baby through all their milestones.

Human Babies Cost Money

How big of a headache was it for you when you realised how much money your kid was going to cost you? According to AIA (which might be completely biased, by the way, because they’re trying to scare you into setting aside as much money as possible for your child’s benefit – and theirs too), raising a kid will cost between RM400,000 – RM1.1 million depending on how much of a tiger parent you are.

Due to the unfortunate fact that money doesn’t grow on trees, and we haven’t been saving since we were kids unlike someone we know, we’ll have to work for it.

Rosmah and her ring
A bit a bit, long long, become ring.

So this is what we’ve established thus far: We need to find at the very least, RM400,000 per child that we so easily had without throwing caution to the wind. And that is not all. They also need care, because unlike baby giraffes, they don’t walk until they’re one, and they can be extremely clingy little grubs.

This post highlights how we Malaysian parents care for our kids. After all, it takes a whole kampung to raise a child.

How do you Decide Who Cares for Your Child

Here are some questions to ask yourself that’ll hopefully ease your decision making process.

  1. How much do you love and need your job?
  2. How flexible is your employer with remote work?
  3. How good are you with staying home for the whole day with a nagging kid?
  4. How much does it piss you off to wipe snot off your kid for days on end?
  5. Do you have friends who wouldn’t mind babysitting every now and then in exchange for pineapple tarts?
  6. Do you have access to said pineapple tarts?
  7. How easily do you trust in people other than family?
  8. How demanding are you of daycare services?
  9. How much can you afford to spend on childcare?
  10. Do you have room in your house for an extra person if you want to hire live-in help?
  11. Can you handle your child spending most of its time with someone other than you?
  12. Do you have a relative you can trust to do a good job (and wants the job)?
  13. Does said relative live close by or across the sea?

Having the answers for these won’t make things easier for you, but at least you might be able to cross out some options.

According to my trusty Facebook peers, this is how Malaysians handle care for their kids while they’re out getting boring adult stuff done. A big portion of parents go for nurseries/daycares, followed by hiring a nanny/helper, and well, for the rest, I’m sure you know how to read a chart.

How Malaysians care for their kids

Nursery/Daycare

Most parents opt to send their kids off to some form of daycare. It explains why it’s such a booming business in Malaysia.

Everything is marketed to be Montessori or Waldorf oriented these days, which I’m sure is really important for a lot of parents. But to be honest, my husband and I weren’t really fussy about that. We just wanted a safe place for our kid to go to, to make friends with other kids, and to learn how to play with them.

We didn’t expect to be so impressed at the skills she developed within a few months of starting. She became less of a picky eater, she started communicating verbally more, AND she was potty trained really easily soon after! The school encouraged independence, and soon she was putting her shoes on by herself, attempting to dress herself, etc – mainly due to the fact that she saw other children do the same.

First day at daycare
First Day at Daycare [Source: Aaron Neathery]
When it comes to getting another party to take care of your kid, you naturally have trust issues. There is nothing wrong with that. You are handing someone your child – which is the most precious person in your life. You are entitled to your trust issues, or to have a long list of requirements. However, it wouldn’t hurt to be slightly flexible – otherwise you’ll have no other choice but to care for your kids by yourself.

If you are in the midst of looking for a childcare centre, here are some things to ask and look out for when you’re paying them a visit:

  • Do children look happy?
  • Cleanliness
  • Ratio of care giver to children
  • Teaching methods
  • Any outdoor activity area?
  • No use of corporal punishments
  • Passionate teachers/care givers with proper qualifications
  • Do teachers speak proper English (if that’s what you’re after)?
  • First aid and CPR skills of teachers/care givers
  • Whether nursery has an employee with medical training (an ex nurse for example)
  • Gentle sleep training methods
  • Healthy meal plan
  • Proper sick kid SOP
  • Proper emergency SOP
  • Near a clinic or hospital
  • Security
  • Location
  • Price (duh!)

Pro tip: Try to find parent reviews online in addition to visiting these childcare centres. If they are good, parents are sure to rave about them.

One thing you have to accept once your child starts daycare is how often he/she will fall sick. You and your whole family will probably follow suit too. Get ready for a lot of nose wiping and coughing while they build up their immune systems – and that will happen eventually – according to my daughter’s teachers, although we have yet to see things improve.

Child with snot
Happy wiping!

Pros of daycare:

  • They’re professionals
  • Structured learning
  • Friends for your kid

Cons of daycare:

  • Could be expensive
  • Never-ending snot

Care by a Relative

Finding someone you trust to take care of your child is really difficult. Having a relative to depend on really makes things a lot easier in the trust department. We all hear horrid stories of abuse and neglect by people who are supposed to be caring for children. My hate and anger for those know no bounds, but this is not what we are going to talk about today.

Having a relative care for your child is a wonderful option if you have access to it, because it’s the most personal care that your kid will get, barring you. Chances are higher that it’d be one-on-one care, which is what you will never get if your child is sent to a daycare, for example. The low ratio of carer to child means that learning activities can be focused more on your child.

Another great benefit is the relationship that will be fostered between relative and child. I’ve seen among my friends the close bonds they have with their grandparents, and it’s priceless. If your child has a chance for this, then by all means, consider this option.

How to babysit a grandma by Jean Reagan
How to babysit a grandma

It’ll also be familiar for you and child, hence settling in won’t be that big of an issue, making things easier. Tears and not wanting to let go when you leave your kid in the mornings will only set your day up for all sorts of negative energy.

There will be less sick days, less runny noses to blow, less HFMD to worry about – and isn’t that a huge point? I never worried about ulcers as much as I do now that I have 2 young kids.

But there are some not so great points too.

It might be harder to voice differences of opinions when it comes to discipline techniques, nap times, meals, and whether your kid should be watching so much TV. With relatives, there will always be a barrier when it comes to communicating discontent, and relationships can sour over this.

My Mom Raising Me vs. As Grandma [Source: Hedger Humor @ Babble]
My Mom Raising Me vs. As Grandma [Source: Hedger Humor @ babble]
Then, there is also the issue of how much to pay. If your relative refuses any form of payment, you may feel like you’re taking advantage, and it might be more difficult to enforce your own ‘rules’.

Another thing to consider is: what if you want more for your child in terms of education, and the relative isn’t trained in providing mental stimuli for your children? In this case, there are a lot of resources online for fun and learning activities that you can refer to. There are also free printables that you can prepare and pass on to your caregiver.

If you end up having a relative care for your child and he or she doesn’t get the chance to be around other kids much, try enrolling your child in playgroups/playdates. Socialising with other children is a very valuable skill and cannot be learnt from hanging out with an older person. Plus, playing tag with other children is always more fun. Playdates will also make it easier for your child to understand how to share and how to play with others their age. Even heading to the playground daily would make a huge difference in your child’s social skills.

To summarise, or tl;dr :

Pros of relative care:

  • Trust
  • Foster invaluable relationship between relative and child
  • Could be cheaper
  • One-on-one care
  • Less runny noses
  • Familiar environment

Cons:

  • Less socialising with other kids
  • Harder to voice difference of methods
  • Chance of relationship souring
  • Feeling indebted
  • Lack of mental stimuli if relative doesn’t focus on education
  • Development of social skills
  • Always more fun to play with other small people

Hiring a Nanny/Helper

If you decide to go this route, figure out how things will work so that your children will grow up to be independent little people and not live to be spoon-fed till they’re 5 years of age. Your helper is there to help bring your kids up, and not merely pander to their every whim. This is not meant to be a judgmental statement. I’m kidding. It’s heavily tinged with judgement. This is for the good of your kid.

Judgy wudgy also thinks that if you hire live-in help, please let them have at least a day off a week. Don’t be like 40% of Singaporeans.

Maid carrying bag for national service man Singapore
Job description: Carry Ah Boy’s bags till he’s 20. Majulah Singapura!

If you include educating your child in your helper’s job description, consider her education background. How well will she be able do that in your preferred language? You can’t expect someone who’s been speaking solely Bahasa Indonesia her whole life to teach your child how to read and spell in English.

Trust is an issue here too. There are great helpers out there, as well as bad ones. Here’s a story from a thankful parent:

Being able to depend and trust on someone to care for your child is gold.
Being able to depend and trust on someone to care for your child is gold.

When I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life post-baby, I thought about continuing with work and getting a live-in helper and I have to say, the main reason why I shut down the idea was that I didn’t want my baby to spend most of its early years with someone other than me, her mother. I am very thankful our family’s financial situation has given me the freedom to choose not to work.

stay at home mom shopping
What people think I do [Image Source: Dream Wallpaper]
I am also not comfortable with sharing my personal space with someone else other than family – so I am really thankful that the concept of cleaners that come as often as you require exist. Without my lady that comes once a week, I dread to think how messy of a home I would have to live in.

If you’d like to hire a helper in Malaysia, here’s a cost estimate for your reference.

cost hiring helper maid malaysia
[Source: iMoney]
Note: The image above is outdated. The minimum wage (if you’re sticking with that, of course) has recently been changed to RM1000 in West Malaysia (and 900 in East Malaysia), but all other figures would probably be similar.

Considering how I sound “all over the place” in this section of the article, you can probably tell by now that I don’t have much experience with hiring helpers, and I am not the best resource if you actually need serious information related to this. Here’s where you can find out more:

  1. Babycenter – Finding and Hiring Live in Helper in Malaysia
  2. NST – Malaysians: Here’s how to hire a maid yourself 

Note: Expats in Malaysia who wish to hire a foreign domestic maid will need to go through an agent

Self Care (Stay-at-home or Work-from-home parent)

Work at home moms WAHM comic
“Can you keep quiet please?” “WHAT?” “Not you.” [Source: Cathy Thorne]
I’m going to get personal here, because this happens to be my option. I had a really good job pre-baby in Singapore, but it was just too inflexible with hours. Plus, I also quit because I decided to focus on my child full-time. It required moving out of Singapore (because seriously, that place is crazy expensive), but my days are filled with watching my children grow up, and I’m able to watch every single little change they go through. There are good days, and there are also days that make me feel useless, because I’m no longer contributing to the household income.

I’ve often thought to myself whether I’d ever return to work. Now that I have 2 kids, my answer is that I will only return to work if I will be in control of my hours, and be able to work remotely. I’ve tasted the nectar, and there’s no turning back.

What options are there out there for mothers who want and need to make some income, though? I know some that have started home businesses (jeruk and sambal making businesses are awesome), and also some that freelance (writing, for example, is a great skillset to have and hone). A lot sell things online (everything from hijabs to kitchen tools). These are really flexible options, and great for giving you that boost of positivity a stay-at-home mom parent needs. After all, I don’t know about you, but I crave some form of socialising with adults – not that talking to 2 young children for the whole day isn’t fun. Having some pocket money to spend on yourself doesn’t hurt, either.

The same rules apply here in terms of play dates. Schedule trips to the playground or gather with other moms with young kids in your area so your child (and you) can get the social stimulation needed. If you feel the need for some structured learning, there are many free resources online and the best part about this is the freedom to pick and choose according to what your child’s interest and abilities. Have themed weeks if that excites you and your child. Or have endless Frozen days, it’s up to you, or rather, your child’s.

Are you a father who’s wife is a stay-at-home mom? Take a moment to think about how much she should be compensated.

What is a stay-at-home parent worth?
What is a stay-at-home parent worth? [Source: Salary.com]
Pros of self care:

  • Witness everything first hand
  • Freedom to teach and do what you want

Cons of self care:

  • Realising that you have a little being depending on you for every single thing
  • Pooping with company
  • Zero salary

Summary – Or My Version of Utopia

Some people will say that parents are too demanding, wanting the best of both worlds. Having a child doesn’t mean your career has to end, does it? And yes, I do know a lot of successful mothers out there holding 9-5 jobs, but the percentage of mothers leaving their careers are higher still.

The problem is that women are expected to work like they don’t have children, and raise children like they don’t have a job. [Source: Talented Women Are Leaving The Workforce – Here’s How to Keep Them from The Huffington Post]

According to an annual study conducted by recruitment portal Monster, up to three-quarters (75%) of new mothers in Malaysia have cited a lack of work flexibility as their top reason for leaving their jobs.

Obstacles faced by Working Mums
Obstacles faced by Working Mums [Source: Monster]
I hate to sound like a feminist, but this does concern gender equality. Particularly when it comes to providing support for mothers to stick with their careers when they reach the point in their lives when they start having children. A change of mindset and culture, even:

This means implementing robust parental-leave policies and ensuring that male workers and adoptive parents across the gender spectrum feel empowered to take their full leave too. Paid family leave gives parents vital support. It also increases employee retention, attracts better talent and improves productivity and engagement, according to a 2017 report from Boston Consulting Group. And a company’s responsibilities to new mothers don’t end when they return to work. These women need nursing rooms that are more than glorified storage spaces—clean, welcoming facilities that are understood to be as essential to the organization as the people who use them.

It means not sidelining mothers with an inflexible culture built around face time—or basing all office social activities around happy hour and then deciding a woman’s heart isn’t in the job if she has to leave at 5 p.m. to have dinner with her children and put them to bed. [Source: The Business Case (and Plan) for Gender Equality on The Wall Street Journal]

What’s the case in Malaysia? Will it get better now that we have a female Deputy Prime Minister? If we want more female leaders in companies, and in the nation, this is where we have to start. How far can the government go with implementing guidelines and tax breaks for companies that provide proper support for family life balance? How do we start shifting our mentality, our culture? We can start with (longer) maternity leave, but that is far from enough. More support is needed during those years after having babies. Make it easier for women to decide to stick to their jobs.

Here are a some perks that I wish companies would provide to support families:

  • Pro-breastfeeding facilities (nursing rooms, refrigerator) and mindset (no snide remarks, no passing over for promotions)
  • Maternity medical coverage
  • 90 days paid maternity leave (with an option to extend)
  • Longer paternity leave
  • Childcare facilities
  • Flexible working hours
  • Part-time work options
  • Remote work options
  • Sabbatical leave options

Does that seem ridiculous to you? It might, I suppose, if you’re a boss of a company. “HOW WILL ANYONE GET ANY WORK DONE??”

What additional benefits would you like to see implemented? What benefits does your company provide for parents? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think.

 

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