Hollywood's Oscar-Winning Maid: Hattie McDaniel

I get a lot grief from some people for paying someone to clean my house once a week.  They think there’s something immoral and exploitive about paying someone to do what I SHOULD do myself.

Today, I can’t do it myself because of a bad back, but even when I was able, household help was the first thing I bought with whatever I earned above my food, clothing, and shelter.

I don’t believe in “SHOULDing” on myself.  Household help, for me, is a purely economic decision that has nothing to do with someone else’s idea of what I should do or be.  I choose to pay someone to do what she knows how to do, while I earn money doing what I know how to do.

My mother, the economics professor, taught me that principle of home economics.  She always had household help. She was happiest when she worked full-time, which she did long before it was fashionable for women with  children.

Sometimes, her girlfriends, mother, or her mother-in-law convinced her to stop working because she was ruining her children.  Staying home with us soon made her isolated and depressed.  We were happiest when she went out to work and came home tired, but proud, happy, and connected to the world.

But to work full-time with three children, she needed someone at home when we got home from school, and to cook dinner and clean up after.  She came at noon and stayed till about 8.

People who say I had “servants” growing up don’t get it.  They were employees, not servants.  Servant comes from the same Latin root as servile. Our employees were not subservient or servile.  We did not treat them as a lower race or class.

They had a job to do, and were paid the going rate.  If a woman did not get health insurance through her husband’s job, my dad put her on his business’s group plan.  Unlike many employers with household employees, my parents paid 100% of their employees’ Social Security taxes, so they’d have some income in their old age.

My mother got paid more than she paid the helper in the house, and she needed that help to earn that income.

I hate cleaning my house, and do a lousy job.  So the house keeps getting dirtier until I get depressed, and need two full days to clean it.  Even then, it’s not as clean as a professional housecleaner makes it.  I never learned the technique.  Blame my mother.

My housecleaner owns her own housecleaning business.  I’m helping her and her husband support her children. Paying a skilled, independent businessperson to clean my house once a week better than I could do it myself is pure economics.  She gets a good wage for a service I need and can afford.

I don’t think it makes me lazy, or a bad person.

1 Comment for this entry

  • David Braiterman says:

    Having grown up in Ken’s household (I am his younger brother) I also learned our mother’s economics lesson. I have help who helps clean my house now too, not because I am physically unable, but because I hate doing it and earn more doing other stuff I do well (practicing law).

    But would I hire someone to weed my garden or put in my landscaping? No. Sure someone could do that “cheaper” than I can if I were paid attorney rate for pulling weeds. But I do the weeding and the landscaping myself because I truly love it. It restores and regenerates me. It feels productive and hands on, not all cerebral and interpersonal. It’s me and the plants. A break from all that other.

    Do what you love and do it well, and if you can, hire the rest out. Like housekeeping for Ken and me.

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