While reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, it quickly becomes apparent that in 1960’s Southern Mississippi, the maids, or “the help”, played an important role in the family—not only as the maid, but often also as the childcare. The maids formed a special bond with the children, especially the children who were very young or were born during the maid’s time at the household, and in a lot of cases, the children seemed to be the only reason the help stayed with the family they were working for.
The relationship between Aibileen and Mae Mobley was the one of the relationships that Stockett touched on the most, since a lot of the book was written about Aibilieen and from her point of view. It is clear from the beginning of the book that Aibileen cares for Mae Mobley a great deal more than Mae Mobley’s own mother. While Elizabeth Leefolt was often rough, abrupt, or completely neglectful of her child, Aibileen made sure to tell Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Her style of child rearing was definitely a much softer approach than the one Elizabeth used. In Baumrind’s scheme of parenting styles, there are three styles: Authoritative, permissive and authoritarian. I think that the style of parenting Elizabeth uses in the book would be authoritarian parenting, whereas Aibileen uses the softer, authoritative approach.
Authoritative parenting is a child-centered approach that holds the child accountable for his or her own actions, but also encourages the child to be independent. It is a warmer approach to parenting, characterized by positive words and actions, and fair punishments with explanations as to why the child is being punished. Authoritative parents also expect the children to be more mature and to act their age.
The biggest example of Aibileen using this form of parenting is one I already listed: encouragement. She made sure to hold Mae Mobley every day, and tell her positive things that she wasn’t hearing from her own mother. This encouraged Mae Mobley, and also raised her self-esteem.
A second example of authoritative parenting is how Aibileen reacts when Mae Mobley hit her in the ear. Instead of yelling at her and hitting her back, Aibileen took Mae Mobley into the other room and let herself cool off before reacting. She didn’t act out of anger, and she didn’t punish Mae Mobley for something that she didn’t mean to do.
Another time Aibileen uses this form of parenting is by telling her stories. The stories Aibileen told might not have been anything more than stories to Mae Mobley at the time, but they stuck with the child, who eventually passed the stories onto her younger brother. This is an authoritative example of parenting because it’s giving the child a positive message to teach them a life lesson, instead of being harsh and outright about it.
A final example of Aibileen using authoritative parenting is just the way she pays attention to Mae Mobley in general. Even when she is busy, she makes sure that Mae Mobley is happy, or Mae Mobley is getting some attention, or Mae Mobley is safe. The fact that she is always putting Mae Mobley first, when her duties allow it, give reinforcement to the nice things that Aibileen tells Mae Mobley every day, and let’s the child know that she’s important, and that there is someone who cares about her.
I think that the relationships that “the help” have with the children in the families they work for is great. In that era and setting, mothers were often “too busy” for their children, so having the maid there as extra help and a positive example was good for the child. However, it might not necessarily be the best thing for the parents themselves. The children were growing and being raised properly, but often at the expense of their parents missing out on things or just completely not knowing a lot about their child.
For the maid, I think that this sort of relationship helps them feel better. In Aibileen’s case, she was suffering from the loss of her son, and MaeMobley helped her cope with that. Other maids only stayed in their positions because they didn’t want to leave the children they’d practically raised. It gave them something to look forward to in a job that was less than ideal.
Skeeter’s maid, Constantine, raised Skeeter in much the same way that Aibileen raised Mae Mobley. Skeeter’s mother was a lot softer in her parenting style than Elizabeth Leefolt’s style, but Skeeter described Constantine as her best friend and her mother. She taught Skeeter many life lessons that stuck with her into adulthood, and she always made sure that Skeeter had what she needed when her mother wasn’t around.
The effectiveness of this method of parenting is apparent only slightly with Skeeter, however. She has decent self-esteem, but probably not the high self-esteem Constantine was hoping she would. She was, however independent and knew what she wanted out of life, an didn’t let anyone try to stop her from getting what she knew was hers.