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Jewish World Review April 5, 2005 / 25 Adar I 5765

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Some parental duties just shouldn't be outsourced | I have hired people to entertain my children at their birthday parties. I have had trusted baby sitters take them to the movies or out to lunch, sometimes even movies and lunch, so I could get things done at home. I have turned the training my girls desire in gardening and sewing skills entirely over to my sister, because where I kill and destroy, she creates and grows.

But when the time is right, I will not employ someone to teach my littlest one, now 3-1/2, how to ride a bike.

Apparently that's where I'm different from a whole raft of modern parents, according to the Wall Street Journal (March 31). It seems more and more moms and dads are outsourcing it all. "...You can now hire someone to assist with everything from potty-training your toddler to getting your teenage daughter to agree to a passably modest prom dress," the Journal writes. For $60 an hour, one growing business in the New York suburbs will teach your child to ride a bike.

Yes, how to ride a bike.

"Child work ... is one of our economy's growth industries, as affluent parents try to balance work and family, deal with their ever-intensifying anxieties and give their kids a leg up in the race for success," Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Houston who specializes in childhood, says.

As the Journal describes it, these are the people who want "expertise" in their family life. They put their toddlers in art classes and hire batting coaches for Little Leaguers. Scribbling at the kitchen table isn't good enough for their little one and they don't have time or the right "skills" to throw the ball around with their potential major-league players.

"During the past year, the Soho Parenting Center in New York has experienced a 50 percent increase in folks coming in for consultation on a range of classic parenting challenges," from potty-training to vegetable eating. Personal shoppers at Macy's are relied upon to "help diffuse tension between mom and daughter" when it comes to the appropriateness of an outfit, and one firm specializes in cleaning and organizing kids' rooms. (Apparently, my own approach of "Get up there and straighten up that room this instant!" isn't good enough for these folks.)

I'm all for delegating when it comes to areas of life we don't handle so well ourselves, though I confess I rather wonder why one bothers having kids at all if he's just going to outsource everything having to do with them. Anyway, I'm hardly suggesting it's a parent's job to hover around her kids all day, overseeing first one activity and then another, which is the extreme to which some other parents go.

What makes me cringe the most here is not even the desire for ever-greater "expertise" in giving our kids a leg up on "success." (Earth to parents: Not all our children are going to Harvard, and that's OK!) It's that so many parents lack the confidence to rightly engage with their kids and guide them in anything — apparently even potty training, bike riding or picking a prom dress. As the Journal put it, "one of the allures of parenting services is they help avert some of the exasperating confrontations of childrearing ... Because parent-child relationships can be loaded, an outsider may engender more obedience."

Ah, now we get to the crux of the matter. Parents who don't just delegate, but who abdicate their role as parents, or who are perhaps impotent in their roles as parents. Is this "imparentancy"?

I mean, if an outsider is called upon to engender obedience in kids because their own parents can't, forget the question about why such "delegators" have kids in the first place. The question then becomes: What's the point of kids having parents at all?

Well, children sure don't need parents who are scared of engaging with them on everything from vegetable consumption to prom-dress attire to teaching them to ride a bike.

Big deal if a parent hires a service to help organize a child's room (though I prefer my method). What kids do need are parents with the confidence to guide them rightly through the "exasperating confrontations of childrearing."

And you just can't hire out for that.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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