This is a very big decision to make, especially as many of us are expatriates far from our families. There are many reasons a family might decide not to go down the helper route, but let’s face the reality; Hong Kong wasn’t built for mums like us. From having to carry a toddler AND groceries up stroller unfriendly streets to “no siblings allowed” school events, to playgrounds where you are surrounded by helpers minding their charges, it often times can feel like we ARE alone. But it can be done! With the right support systems in place, your time in Hong Kong can be conquered without a helper. Here are some very practical tips from what I’ve learned in my 4 years living in HK with kids and no helper.
1. Proactively find your tight-knit community
Whether it’s a few mamas in your neighbourhood or a group you know from your kids’ school, you need a support group. Emotionally, physically, and in case of emergencies, your group will always have your back. One of the most frequently asked questions that mums without helpers have is who would take care of their kids if there’s a hospital emergency (like giving birth or one child gets hurt)and their significant other isn’t available. See if you can find a designated friend who your kids are comfortable with and ask if they could be the emergency contact. I’m sure they’d be happy to help out.
2. Playdates and Outings
I try to leave the house with my kids at least once a day for a playdate or an outing. If I don’t, we would all drive each other mad in our little 700 sq. ft. village house apartment. Whether it’s going to a playroom like Funzone on rainy days, or to the park or beach on nice days, we’ve got about eight go-to places that we’ll frequent in addition to making plans to meet up for playdates at friend’s houses. When everyone’s energy is being focused outward instead of directed at each other in a small space, the kids fight less, whine less, and we all just have a better time.
Read more: Our Events Calendar is packed with family-friendly things to do if you’re looking for inspiration!
3. Budget for Taxis
Think of the money you save per month by not having a full time helper and set aside some of it for your taxi (or Uber) costs. As convenient and awesome as the Hong Kong public transport system is, it’s not always easy to take the MTR, bus or tram. (I remember many a time when I found myself folding my stroller with one hand, tapping the Octopus with the other, trying to make sure my 3 year old was safely on the bus and my newborn was strapped to me in the carrier!). If you budget for taxis, you won’t feel bad when you take them, and it will decrease your stress levels exponentially.
4. Do one big grocery trip a week by yourself
I have two boys and a husband to feed and even though I fill the fridge to the brim after my Sunday night grocery runs, they usually manage to get through it all by Wednesday or Thursday. I found that if I do one big shopping trip alone, I’m able to buy a lot more because I’m not worrying about getting out as fast as possible. I’ll replenish with smaller grocery runs throughout the week with my kids.
5. Get Groceries Delivered
Tied to the previous point, many of the supermarket chains in Hong Kong will deliver your non-perishables if you spend a minimum. I ALWAYS spend the minimum on my one big grocery trip a week, so I will get my dry goods delivered the next day. Since I have to walk up about 80 steps to get to my house, this is an extra welcome perk.
6. Meal Plan
To be completely honest I can’t say that I’m disciplined enough to meal plan regularly, but I know that when I do write out what I want to make for the week before I go grocery shopping, I do a lot better. Along the same lines, as a mum without a helper, we need to understand that our meals aren’t always going to be three courses and served piping hot. In our home, we regularly rotate the same meals on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. For example, some version of fried rice (usually includes one meat, one veg and egg) is served once a week. Roast chicken with vegetables is served every two weeks. The great thing about this is that kids actually enjoy consistency when it comes to food. I realised this after reading this article from The Kitchn.
7. Find a Sitter
This sounds easy, but it can be more difficult than you think, because the families who have helpers don’t need babysitters so the supply is limited. There are a few resources for finding someone to come and watch your kids so you can actually get out on a date night with your husband or do an important errand alone every once in a while. You can try the HK Teen Sitters Facebook group, ask around your neighbourhood or network, or reach out to Rent-a-mum or In Safe Hands. One other thing I’ve tried which sort of worked was to post an ad on the online job board at Chinese University of Hong Kong (which is the closest university to us). I was looking for a student who, in her free time, could come and play with my son while I was working from home. As I said, it only sort of worked because I hired a nice girl but she found a full-time job shortly after.
8. Get your husband on board
Being a mom is difficult as it is, but being one without a helper in Hong Kong exponentially adds to the challenges. Your husband will be an essential part of making your family’s decision to not hire a helper a successful one. From the start, the two of you must see yourselves as a team, and everyone needs to share in the tasks at home. Even though he may be the breadwinner and working, you are doing an invaluable job at home in raising your children and running the house. My husband fully supports our decisions, does his share of chores, and gives me most of Sunday off each weekend to do my own work, meet up with some friends, and just spend time without the kids. This time for me to recharge is essential to my mental and emotional wellbeing.
9. Get a part time local LEGAL helper
There are local Hong Kong women who do part-time cleaning, normally at a rate of about $70-80 per hour. If you’re open to it, let them do the deep cleaning for you, it’s OK! I have one that comes twice a week, two hours at a time and does the kitchen, bathroom and floors. She is amazing, I’m so thankful for her, and that’s one less thing I need to worry about. A great resource for finding these types of part time local helpers is the Smart Living run by the ERB (Employment Retraining Bureau).
10. Drink Wine. Lots of it.
Joking aside, if wine isn’t your thing, find something you enjoy that’s easy to do regularly (perhaps even without leaving the house) and makes you feel like an adult human being. Being a mom can feel very isolating, and being one without a helper in this crazy (yet amazing) city can eat away at our sanity. We give every last best bit of ourselves all day in loving, teaching and playing with our kids, and also in cooking, cleaning, sorting, minding, wiping, re-wiping, and more. After all this, when our tank is at zero, we should allow ourselves to do something just for us, even if it’s a little thing. Recently, I find myself enjoying my cup of tea or glass of wine at night, just to feel like a real person and having some peace and quiet to relax, enjoy, and indulge. I also love watching Taylor Swift music videos but let’s just keep that between you and me. ?