| Words Unspoken |

Cleaning Women

Some things I feel like many frum cleaning ladies would want their employers to know

As Told To Leora Klinberg

There are those out there who view their cleaning help as background noise — the same way the dishwasher whirrs in the kitchen and the dryer hums in the laundry room, the cleaning lady comes, does her thing, and leaves.

The reality is your cleaning lady sees things no one else does; she has a vast window into your world. I thought it might be nice to turn the tables and give people a glimpse of what it feels like to be on the other side of the broomstick.

I was one of the first of my friends to get married, and baruch Hashem the kids followed soon after. It was clear from the beginning of my marriage that I’d be the main breadwinner in the family, but when my kids were young I tried to do work that would allow me to be home as much as possible, like babysitting, sewing, and ironing.

After my divorce, I suddenly became a single mother raising eight children. Despite my circumstances, I never wanted to be solely a “taker,” and always tried to give back to those who helped me during those years.

Even though my life was very busy, I also tried to be there for people who were going through a hard time (like those after birth or post-surgery).Because of the friends I’d helped over the years, word began to spread that I was a good person to have in the house and could be relied upon.

Women who did light housework for people began to call me asking if I was looking for work when their own schedules were full. With the kids still young and a mortgage and other bills piling up every month, I realized that cleaning could actually bring in a nice parnassah, and that’s how my job began.

Here are some things I feel like many frum cleaning ladies would want their employers to know:

I generally don’t feel judged by my occupation, probably because I view it as a unique chesed. Just as the Kohanim cleaned the Beis Hamikdash, I view every Jewish home as a mikdash me’at and I feel it’s a huge zechus to be invited into people’s homes and clean l’kavod Shabbos.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of the job that are less enjoyable. For example, sometimes my employers seem to think I’m a mind reader. I’ll be given instructions on how to clean a certain area, then find they’ve changed their minds without telling me. Just like in any other job, clear communication is the key to a happy and productive working relationship.

I love working with families who have young children. I know that may seem counterintuitive, more little kids equals more mess, but I feel so fulfilled when I’m able to help a family who has their hands full. I enjoy when the children show me their projects and hang out with me while I work. They all love waiting for their couch rides when I move the furniture to mop. It’s far less gratifying cleaning an immaculate home; I don’t walk away with the same sense that I made a difference in someone’s life.

During the corona lockdown the hardest part for me was not seeing the kids of the families I work for — they always brighten my day. Obviously the lack of parnassah during that time was also difficult, I lost a tremendous amount of money, but I finally came to realize that Hashem didn’t want me to have it in the first place. Once I came to terms with that, I felt better.

Working in other people’s homes has helped me realize no one ever really knows what’s going on in other people’s lives. Everyone has her own private struggles on so many fronts, we never know what people are dealing with and, therefore, we should never judge.

I’ve worked on not judging others a lot, but it’s a two way street. If I’m not working at optimal performance levels, please don’t judge me either. Just like anyone else, my energy levels go up and down and some days I’m able to do more than other days.

Please remember we aren’t machines. Something you only have the energy to do once or twice a year shouldn’t be something you ask a cleaning lady to do every single week. Also, please don’t ask me to clean up vomit. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have super powers.

I value honesty tremendously. When you tell me you have to cut my hours and then I find out you hired someone else for a different day, that hurts. I’d rather be told up front than find out another way.

I charge lower rates for light housekeeping — straightening up the house, washing dishes, food prep, folding, ironing, changing beds, or wiping down counters. If you hired me to do light housework, please don’t ask me to do heavy jobs like cleaning the floors, scrubbing, cleaning the fridge and bathrooms, and organizing that requires lifting and schlepping. It makes things uncomfortable for everyone.

Please stick to the payment plan that we discussed at the outset. I have different arrangements with different homes but if you’d like to change the schedule, please give me two weeks’ notice.

I understand that sometimes people are short on cash, but when that happens in every home each day, then by the end of the week I’m in a very tight place. I’ve had people say to me, “I decided instead of paying at the end of each week, I’ll pay you at the end of the month, and I spoke to my rav and he said it’s ok.” Please don’t put me on the spot. I respect daas Torah tremendously, but it’s common courtesy to ask me my feelings on the matter first.

Starting with a new family is very hard — there’s an adjustment period for the employer and the employee. Unfortunately, I’ve had situations where people aren’t up front; they hire me in Elul and then let me go right after Succos. If you only need me for short-term, please let me know at the outset so I don’t make the mistake of turning other long-term job offers away.

Overall, I’m so grateful I do what I do. I can recall so many beautiful moments within people’s homes, some really special times when kids and parents connect, and it’s uplifting to be privy to that.

You may not know

Stealing: People are worried about cleaning ladies stealing from them. Well, I’ve had kids from wonderful homes steal from my own purse while I was cleaning.

If you cancel on me: I don’t mind giving one or two times grace. But after that, you need to compensate me. My time is important and I have a very intricate schedule to keep to.

I’ll only quit on someone when: 1) I walk in and it’s a complete and utter tornado. I don’t mind mess, but it needs to be somewhat manageable. 2) I feel abused. 3) I feel like I’m enabling a dysfunctional family.

It’s hard for me when

An employer follows me around from room to room. It makes me feel like she doesn’t trust me. I also find it annoying when people say thank you throughout my entire time in their home. Thank you for washing the dishes, thank you so much for mopping the floor, etc. One or two thank-you’s at the end is plenty!

Don’t say

“The cleaning lady is here.” We have actual names, and when a child opens the door and says, “Mommy, the cleaning lady is here,” it hurts.

Most jaw-dropping moment

After I stopped working for someone and she had to do her own cleaning work, the woman came up to me and said, “I never realized cleaning ladies needed brains.” Spoiler alert: she’s right, cleaning and organizing takes mental work as well.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 708)

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