The start of the school year is hectic in my home. Judging by the conversations in the school supply aisle of Target this week, I'm not alone. But I know lots of working moms (and dads) who are making their work life balance easier this year by outsourcing responsiblities.
Just after breakfast, a van pulls up at the Lopez home in Coral Springs. Thirteen-year-old Emily gets in and heads off to middle school, saving mom, Diana, from delaying her 1 ½-hour commute to her job in Miami. The same shuttle picks Emily up after school and takes her to ballet class. Some afternoons, it picks up her older sister at home and takes her to be tutored in math or takes her home from school if she stays late for a club meeting.
Lopez, an international private banker whose husband works in Miami too, says hiring a transportation service has been the only way she can keep a regular work schedule, be home for dinner and have her children participate in after-school activities. “I believe in the theory that it takes a village to raise a child,” Lopez says. “But these days, we’re hiring the village.”
Working parents today are paying others to do things for our children that our parents did themselves — drive our kids to school, help them with homework, cook for our families and take them to baseball practice. The services are needed because things have changed dramatically for working mothers in the last few decades. For starters, there are simply many more moms in the labor force. The participation rate has skyrocketed to more than 70 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Family economics have change dramatically, too. As the number of women in the workforce swelled, so, too, did their contribution to family income. A record 40 percent of all households with children include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11 percent in 1960. With mothers contributing more, managing a household becomes a simple equation of trading money for time.
It can be an expensive exchange — financially and emotionally — and not everyone can afford it.
“It’s a struggle working moms go through,” Lopez says. “We ask ourselves, ‘Am I passing off something I should be doing myself?’ But then, we have to be realistic.”
Moms Helping Moms, the northwest Broward County shuttle service used by the Lopez family, gets $60 to $80 per child per week for roundtrip carpooling within five miles — more for greater distances. Founder Sharron Gay says she launched her business three years ago. As a mom who commuted an hour to work, she saw the need. “Life is too short to feel guilty or overwhelmed. We’re here to make your life easier,” the website boasts.
Gay’s five vans, driven only by moms, shuttle kids to school, activities, orthodontist appointments and sports practices. They even pick up sick children from school and bring them home. Gay says she offers the service moms want — assuring them that the bus won’t leave until the child enters the home safely. “We do things the way moms would,” she says. Gay says her service is profitable and she has plans to add more vans and new geographic areas by 2014.
Others see opportunity, too. Fueled by demand from working parents, a burgeoning cottage industry handling chores for working parents is flourishing. There are reading specialists who get $40 to $50 an hour to assist students individually at their homes on reading and writing. There are businesses that will bring dinner to hungry kids waiting for mom and dad to get home from work.
Ryan Sturgis, a partner in Delivery Dudes, says his business picks up meals from local restaurants and delivers them to Broward County homes. It has seven geographic locations (plans to add more) and charges a $5 delivery fee.
“We get a lot of moms who call on their way home from work. We tell them we can be there with dinner within 45 minutes.”
Some parents turn their world upside down to manage responsibilities before finally accepting that they can’t do it all. Eventually, they discover outsourcing a necessary expense to keep their jobs, reduce stress or get ahead in the workplace.
Miami mother Gabrielle D’Alemberte, makes a priority of the things she feels a mother should do, such as attending school functions and tucking her daughter into bed. But the single mom says she couldn’t continue to work as a trial attorney if she didn’t outsource some tasks at work and home. She has hired someone to pick her daughter up from the bus stop and take her to ballet lessons. In the past, she has hired a company to deliver meals to her home and she’s employed someone to go over her daughter’s homework and review for tests.
D’Alemberte specializes in litigation against large international resorts and often travels for work.
“I could not have had the job and profession I’ve chosen without the help I have gotten in bringing up my wonderful 13 year old,” she says. “Knowing I can’t do it all makes it easier to hire people to help.”
In a twist on outsourcing, working parents also are automating. Whitney Zimet, who ran a community coupon site for five years, hired math and Spanish tutors for her two kids. She even searched for a service to pack healthy lunch box meals. But Zimet turns to technology for relief from some tasks — using Amazon to get home delivery of required reading materials, ongoing school supplies and birthday gifts. She uses auto-delivery for kids’ vitamins and household products. .
It used to be a real point of pride for women who stayed home to take care of every aspect of their families’ lives, she says. Now women are in the workforce, used to thinking practically and doling out tasks to solve problems, and scrutinizing the value of an expense, she says. “Most of us are aware of what needs Mom’s attention, but we’re also looking at what can make our life easier."