Outsourcing Your Children

More and more we’re hearing about parents who outsource when it comes to junior. From potty training to teaching their child to ride a bike, moms and dads are ever more frequently turning to the pros, according to a raft of recent news stories.

Now the hottest growing trend may be inviting the experts into your home to do your “baby-proofing” for you. I actually remember hearing that such experts existed when my oldest of four kids, now 11, was a baby. At the time, the notion was taken as sort of urban folklore, up there with the guy who got a fried rat _ instead of fried chicken _ in his take-out food.

But in recent years such businesses have really taken off.

The basics of baby-proofing, of course, include putting cleaning products on a high shelf, securing kitchen drawers, putting medicines in a locked cabinet and so on. Now, presumably the parents and parents-to-be who are finding, hiring and spending many hundreds of dollars and sometimes much more to have someone come in and tell them to install gates at the tops of stairs, are among the most affluent and educated of moms and dads.

Do they really not trust themselves to figure some of this stuff out? Do they not have trusted friends or know experienced parents who can walk through their house and say, “gee, better make sure that wobbly bookshelf is anchored into the wall”?


Not that my own parents couldn’t have used a few tips. My mother thought it was a fine thing to allow her five young kids to get into empty boxes at the top of the stairs and so ride down to the bottom. My father liked to pile us onto the toboggan on a snowy winter night _ then attach it to the back of the car and race around suburban streets with us until we fell off of it. (My parents were really fun, but I sometimes wonder if maybe they weren’t trying to get rid of a couple of us.)

I digress. Look, if a few incredibly high-strung parents are willing to spend loads of money to bring an “expert” in to tell them to cover electrical outlets, fine for them. (I do mind when these experts try to convince parents to do ridiculous things like measure the radiation coming from their microwave ovens, as a Wall Street Journal article on this trend reported.)

But when so many parents are convinced by the “experts” that they can’t effectively baby-proof their own home properly without an expert’s guidance, we have a problem. Because these are likely the same parents who increasingly seem to believe they can’t raise their baby without an expert’s guidance either. And so these moms and dads graduate from professional baby-proofing services to professional parenting services. Never mind just absorbing every latest “child-perfecting” technique in that month’s parenting magazines _ now, personalized “parent coaching” is a new and very high growth business too.

(How did we ever raise kids without the experts? And anyway, after a century of conflicting “expert” advice, can anyone really argue today’s kids, or parents, are better-off? Sigh.)

Steve Weinstein, head of the Royal Baby Safety Corp. in Summit, N.J., told the Journal that in 1991 when he started his company, the term “baby-proofing” was a new one to most people. Now, he presides over a trade association, “The International Association for Child Safety Inc.,” which has 130 member companies.

Look, these parents want to do whatever they can to protect and nurture their kids. That’s a fine instinct. If dropping a few _ or many a hundred _ bucks makes them feel they’ve gone the extra step for their baby, well okay, it’s their money. If they want to survey what the experts have to say for some insights, then apply their own common sense to such things, well good for them, too.

But I fear that too many parents today don’t believe that if they really want to be a blessing to their children over the long term, they have to see that, professional baby-proofing or not, what their child really needs over time is a parent’s handling _ not an expert’s.

(Betsy Hart is the author of “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It.” She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net.)