Permission To Have Help: Revealing the Secret and Taboo Life of Successful Women
I’m a self-made millionaire, and this is EXACTLY how much help I have at home
By Denise Duffield-Thomas, published by Medium on November 21, 2018
This should be a straightforward article to write, except that it’s not that simple and I’m not that naive.
A man would never need to write this article because it’s just assumed that they have a wife at home doing most of the housework and childcare.
But for some reason, a woman outsourcing home help is secretive and taboo. I’m afraid of being told I’m lazy, out of touch or a bad mother, despite the fact that my husband benefits too!
I feel like I have to defend and add disclaimers to almost every paragraph. Yes, I know I’m lucky. Yes, I know nobody is really “self-made” (white privilege hello!), yes I know there are single mothers and struggling families who can’t afford help.
Lots of people ask me how I balance it all (ah, the age-old question for successful women) and the honest answer is WITH SO MUCH PAID HELP.
SO MUCH you guys.
This is just me being honest for anyone who needs to hear it. Because nobody ever talks about it, even super famous people who obviously have help.
Most of my audience is entrepreneurs (or want to be), so I’m writing this for you.
I have 3 kids under 5. I’m so tired. My kids wake up at 5 am, and I nurse my baby a few times during the night.
I love my business. I love writing my books and helping my community in my online courses. I love talking about marketing and money.
My business is pretty lean. I got to a million dollars in revenue with just one part-time assistant. As a $3m+ business, I have two part-time assistants and a handful of expert contractors when I need them.
But as a mum, I’ve found that home help is SO MUCH MORE useful to me than adding more employees to my company. Business is the fun stuff, and I can automate a lot of that.
Ok — disclaimers out of the way, here’s what my home team looks like:
Cleaners: a team of two who come weekly to do floors, bathrooms, changing towels and bedding, and general cleaning. It takes around 4 hours between them (it’s a big house).
Nanny: our kids do a combo of daycare (3 days) and nanny who comes 8:30–4pm four days a week. She’s like a second mother who helps with drop-offs and pickups if we need her to and general kid wrangling, like “hold the baby, I have to go pee!”. She’s young, energetic and creative.
Housekeeper: Ok — here’s the game changer.
We hire a housekeeper from 7 am — 12 every weekday to basically be my wife.
She makes breakfast, light tidying, preps lunch and dinner, and then does the million and one things that run a house. Food shopping, laundry, calling the handyman, going to the post-office, replacing batteries and toilet paper, remembering to buy milk, etc.
Think of everything you mentally hold in your “to-do” list, and she does it.
I’m not a supermum. I’m a crap housewife. I don’t do laundry. I very rarely cook (I can, I just prefer to spend time on other stuff), I don’t clean bathrooms or toilets.
I’m not “too good” to clean, and I don’t judge stay-at-home-mothers. It’s just that I don’t enjoy it and I can pay to outsource it so I can spend time either on my business or with my family.
I find the expectation that I should do the home chores just because I’m a woman, weird, and frankly sexist.
I’m passionate about entrepreneurship as a vehicle for women’s financial empowerment, and I think you should get all the help you need.
It’s really straightforward, but I’ve already gotten a ton of questions on this, so let’s go.
Isn’t this kind of exploitative?
It’s weird — housework is practically the only job in the world that’s supposed to be fulfilling for women to do for free (how convenient) but somehow shameful and exploitative to pay another woman (and it’s mostly women) to do it.
If you’ve never hired someone in your house before, you might be thinking of a Downton Abbey type “upstairs/downstairs” situation where maids wear uniforms, call their employers “madam” and aren’t allowed to make eye contact.
I’m not a “rich kid.” I grew up with a single mother, and we struggled financially. My mum cleaned houses when money was tight, and I did while I was paying my way through university (it was one of my four odd jobs).
It was just a job.
Most of our home team are quite young and have side-hustles or study as well, but I’ve hired other mothers or empty nesters too. They are all official contractors or employees paid a living wage and all the proper insurances, etc.
They are just normal people, and I’m just a normal person. It’s not weird or awkward. We hire people who are nice, friendly and in my case not overly chatty (introvert alert).
I guess my advice here is — be a nice person and a good employer. Don’t exploit people.
How will your kids learn to do stuff?!
My kids are privileged for sure. But I don’t want to make them spoiled.
But does that mean I have to do all the housework, as a good example? Or do they not notice all the “invisible” work anyway?
That invisible labor is usually borne by women, and I decided to opt-out of that expectation.
Our kids still have to pack away their toys, help set up the table and scrape their plates (they sometimes complain about this like any kids).
But they wouldn’t know if the “laundry fairy” is me or someone else. They don’t notice who does the food shopping while they’re at school or who calls the plumber.
They are respectful to our nanny and housekeeper because they don’t see them as “staff” but as extra adults in their life, like their teachers at school.
Plus they are there to make my life easier, not necessarily theirs.
Lots of kids don’t appreciate the work that goes into a household until they move out of home. I’m sure they’ll figure out how to work a washing machine. They won’t be helpless.
Plus, I often find that the women who are most worried about their kids being spoiled are the ones who do everything for them anyway! Some kids already have a full-time housekeeper… YOU.
They’ll be fine.
How do you let go of control?
Hiring help at home is an excellent practice for delegating and asking for what you want. If you like things a certain way, ask for it! Put together a home manual (I’m serious).
I’m not super anal about household stuff because I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to do it (except, weirdly for stacking the dishwasher), but I’ve set expectations and systems in both my business and at home.
But I’ve learned to give up control because it frees up my time to be creative elsewhere and focus instead on income producing activities.
Done is better than perfect! If you insist on doing everything yourself at home and in business, you’re going to deal with burn out and will limit how much you can grow.
Keep doing the things you love doing and outsource the rest. If you enjoy cooking, great! If you think ironing is meditative, keep doing it (although, you know what’s fun, going to an actual yoga or meditation class!).
Your life, your rules.
I said to our housekeeper, “Imagine that you’re the mum of the house — just do what you think needs to be done.” I actually don’t mind what she cooks, so I let her choose the menu. If we don’t like something, we let her know (again, excellent training for boundaries).
Pick your battles!
How can you afford it?
You might think “well, it’s okay for you Denise, you’re literally a millionaire.” But I started outsourcing home help way before I could afford it.
I was sick of fighting with Mark every Saturday morning about who would clean the bathroom, so we got a casual cleaner twice a month. It was a pretty inexpensive solution for our weekly frustration. Start small.
As my business got bigger and we had kids, we slowly added hours and tasks. As I become the breadwinner, I noticed that I had massive resentment about typical “housewife” duties.
I wanted to live like a 1950s dad. I needed a wife. That’s when I hired our housekeeper.
But it’s really not that expensive to get a little bit of help with the tasks that cause you the most stress. Start small but start.
Two hours won’t break the bank but might give you some breathing room to work on your business, write your book or to create your course. Things that could pay you for years to come.
Go get another client who can pay for more help at home. Free up your energy to get more clients in your business.
How do you deal with the guilt?
My biggest worry was thinking about my friends I grew up with. What would they think if I had a nanny, let alone a house-keeper? What a snob!
Then I worried that people would think I was lazy (my mum says to her friends, “Denise does nothing”). I have an awesome work ethic in my business, but I can’t muster up enthusiasm for unpaid work at home.
Men have had this benefit for millennia. Do they feel guilty having a wife at home? Do they judge each other? Nope! And neither should we.
I honestly don’t feel guilty anymore. When you do the cost-benefit of spending my time on your biz v.s cleaning your house, it’s a no-brainer, even when you’re starting out.
I’m great at my business. I’m not great at housewife stuff. The house will get messy again, but my books and courses can earn money potentially forever.
Cleaning my own toilet didn’t make me a millionaire. Working on my business did. My company paid off our mortgage and bought new cars.
You don’t have to tell friends or family if you don’t want to. It’s nobodies business but yours.
I’ve opted out of “mummy-guilt.” I seriously can’t be bothered. I love my business, and I love my family. All the rest can be outsourced.
How do you find the right people?
I wrote out a really detailed job description with every task I could think of and advertised on Gumtree. I’ve also hired through agencies but they take too big a cut, and I’d prefer to pay someone more.
Again, this excellent practice for hiring (and firing) in your biz. Do a trial period, tell them what you need and adjust accordingly. You can figure this out.
I’m also an introvert, so I hire people who can work with me at home, but without too much hand-holding (otherwise, it’s another mental job for me).
If you’re worried about security, do your background checks or hire through an agency. Once we trust our people, we give them access to a credit card, keys, etc.
Your home team quickly move from being “strangers” to being an extra pair of hands. Again, just be a nice normal person, not a horrible employer.
If anything negative comes up, you can deal with it. Honestly — this is not a huge hurdle. You can figure this out.
“I’ll do it when my business makes more…”
I hear this a lot “my husband says that I can get more childcare when my business makes more.”
At the moment, you are starving your business of oxygen it needs to grow.
Yes, you can get up at 4:30 am to get everything done yourself, but this is an investment in your future. Your sleep is important. Your time, energy and sanity are all extremely finite.
It’s no longer necessary to get a loan to start your business. You can start with your phone and a good data plan. But it does need time and “sweat equity.”
Get your proper sleep and hire someone as an extra pair of hands.
It’s a chicken and egg scenario. If you don’t have time (and creative bandwidth) for your business, it won’t grow as quickly as you like. To be really blunt — your business might never grow.
I made my first $1,000 in business because I ignored the housework a little, and I made my first million because I had a lot of help.
How do you convince your partner?
Look, I’ll admit, I just stopped doing things around the house. If Mark complained, I invited him to do it. I also painted a picture of what my business could do for our family.
Start with the things that stress you both out, so it’s a win-win scenario.
We used to fight about me not unpacking for weeks after a business trip. It drove Mark crazy! Now my housekeeper does it! And because I know someone’s going to do it, I separate my clean and dirty laundry into neat bags.
I used to get pissed off that nobody else replaced the toilet paper. I never remembered to pick up my mail from my business P.O box. Now the housekeeper does both.
We both have a lot more energy for family and our work.
I didn’t ask for permission. I knew that not living my dreams would make me a terrible partner and mother in the long term. I knew it was a good investment for our family for me to focus on my business rather than housework.
Maybe in the short term, your house has to get a little dirty.
What’s your excuse?
I’m sure you have worries or excuses around this — that’s okay. But if you’re wanting permission to do this — here it is.
I’d hate for anyone to think I have my shit together and do everything in my life and business myself. That’s a lie.
If you could afford some help, get it and don’t feel guilty.
Allow yourself to be taken care of. Invest your time in your business, and it will pay off. Create a job for someone else. Be a nice employer.
Be honest and tell other women what help you have and give them permission too.