business news in context, analysis with attitude

Time had an interesting story about how some parents, looking for so-called “work-life balance,” are actually outsourcing some basic tasks – like making their kids’ lunches.

For example, in Virginia, a company called Health e-Lunch Kids charges parents $4.99 to deliver homemade, nutritious meals to local schools and camps being attended by children. This firm, Time writes, “is one of a growing number of niche companies swooping in to take care of the mundane tasks of parenting, all in the name of helping moms and dads attain a better work-life balance. Other lunchmakers include Brown Bag Naturals in Los Angeles and Kid Chow in San Francisco. Shuttle services like Mother Hen's Helpers in suburban New York and Kids in Motion in Pennsylvania will ferry your child to soccer practice or a doctor's appointment. And there are companies that will even come to your house and comb the lice out of your children's hair.”

There are two schools of thought about these new companies. One is that when parents hire out such tasks, they are disconnecting from their children to an extent by not doing traditional tasks ordinarily done out of love. But the other is that parents are under pressure to be so-called “perfect parents,” even if they also are working out of the home, and that these services allow them to meet rising expectations … and to spend time with their kids in more meaningful ways.
KC's View:
First of all, thanks to the MNB users who brought this story to my attention. I hadn’t seen it when it ran in Time, and I love it when the MNB community makes suggestions about stories and trends to which I should pay attention.

I have to admit to being a little conflicted about this trend. But first, let’s deal with the business opportunity…

I think there is absolutely no difference between a parent using this service and giving a kid money to buy lunch at school. And if a local service – even, I daresay, a local supermarket – decided to create a service that would make nutritious, high-quality lunches and deliver them to the local schools, I’d certainly consider the option. It’d be better than much of the slop they serve now.

As for the other offerings, well, why not? I’m not sure there is anything particularly loving about combing lice out of a child’s hair. (Can I call someone to clean up the mess after a child gets sick in the middle of the night? Alas, I suspect that particular need will go unmet.) As for ferrying kids to practices, it sounds sort of like paid carpooling….and also sounds a little weird, but again, why not? (Will parents then be able to pay people to go root for their kids during games, and even pay an extra fee for the surrogate to jump ugly with coaches and umpires? Just asking…there are a lot of possibilities here.)

Now, let’s turn to the cultural issues…

I’m curious who or what is putting all this pressure on parents to be “perfect”? And why, exactly, are parents taking such pressure seriously?

I’m not sure exactly when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a perfect parent. I think it was just slightly less than 21 years ago, when I screwed up something the first week my first-born came home. I am proud to say that despite constant screw-ups on my part over the years, he has survived – and he turns 21 this Friday. (He is an acting and writing student at Columbia College in Chicago and is wonderfully talented – so if anyone is looking for an actor of writer, let me know. I have his email address.)

I apologize to my kids all the time. I make a mistake, I do something wrong, I lose my cool, whatever. I’m human. They’re human. They make mistakes, too … some big, some small … but the important thing is to learn from them. I hope they don’t feel pressure to be perfect. Just pressure to try to do the right thing, and when they make a mistake, do better next time.

Now, that said, I also think that there is no moral or ethical reason a parent shouldn’t take advantage of such services. I think that some parents find fulfillment in making a peanut butter sandwich, and believe it is a demonstration of love; others think it is just making a peanut butter sandwich, and think their time and emotion would be better spent coaching a Little League game, or attending a child’s concert, or just going with one’s child for a bike ride or a walk or helping with homework. Different parents and children have different needs, and the so-called traditionalists who think that such services reflect the downfall of western civilization should just relax and spend more time with their own kids and less time complaining.

Besides, people are good at different things. I recently had a chance to meet a British couple living in France, and these folks were the ultimate in DIY – they were rebuilding their house, rerouting their own plumbing, making some of their own clothes and shoes, and even were slaughtering their own livestock for food. The woman was particularly proud of herself, and told me that when she didn’t know how to do something, she’d simply go get a book.

I told her that when I didn’t know how to do something, I also got a book – the Yellow Pages.

She was not amused.