Taking parenting to a hire level

By Celia Walden

From potty training to table manners, wealthy women are outsourcing every part of childcare, finds Celia Walden

Calling in experts to take care of the hard stuff isn’t cheap.
Calling in experts to take care of the hard stuff isn’t cheap.

We're in the changing rooms of a West Hollywood gym when I see the book poking out of my friend Kirsten's bag: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

This makes me smile. Kirsten likes her mothering manuals, "mom blogs" and Facebook listicles - 31 Things No One Told You About Being a Parent and 10 Summertime Responses to 'I'm bored' - just as she enjoys more than the occasional Parental Pity Party ("I'm constantly exhausted, my hair's got 5cm of regrowth and I haven't had a date with my husband in three months").

All of which is strange, because I'm pretty sure that Kirsten stopped having any direct involvement in parenting on the day her daughter was born.

She - and a growing number of parents in Los Angeles, New York and other cities around the world - prefers to do her mothering through a third party: an expert who has the time, experience and inclination to deal with the hard parts, so she doesn't have to.

A straightforward nanny is no longer enough for the parent with a chequebook big enough to palm off everything from potty training to table manners. In the United States, they call it "outsourced parenting", and it enables affluent mothers to avoid all unpleasantness until little Chelsea's 18 and ready to be dropped off outside her Ivy League college dorm.

Among A-listers, outsourcing your parental duties is all the rage. Model Lara Stone, wife of British comedian David Walliams, last week raised eyebrows when she revealed that, due to busy work schedules, she often leaves her son Alfred with the nanny "for days".

Golfer Ian Poulter also came under fire at the weekend when he tweeted his despair after his nanny was downgraded during their flight home, meaning that his "wife had no help for 10 hours with four kids".

Rumours rumble on that Roger Federer and his wife have four nannies for their two sets of twins. Nobody in celeb land, it seems, would dream of actually raising their own children solely by themselves.

Replacing yourself for near-on two decades doesn't come cheap, however. It kicks off moments after the birth with a 24-hour baby nurse - which, at 200 ($395) a day, will set you back more than 70,000 for the first year - and the professional baby-proofers - 750, including having an expert train the nanny in CPR and how to use the carseat.

When the time comes to unplug that thumb from your child's mouth, you'll consult a "thumb-sucking guru", who for 2500 will banish that habit forever more. Then comes the live-in potty-training instructor (2200), personal stylist (at 200 a day, two days a season for 18 years, this will set you back about 26,000), and behavioural expert, who will remind said child to say "thank you, Mummy" - on the rare occasions you're around to hear it - for a mere 300.

It's advisable, too, once your child hits 6, to engage the services of Manhattan's "Etiquette Outreach", who can de-brat even the most troublesome child, teach them how to behave in public, shake hands and talk on the phone, all for 50 a class.

Anything less than these basic outsourcings would be madness: self-sacrificial drudgery for which you will never be thanked - and may ultimately be blamed for messing up, by either your child or their therapist for decades to come.

This way of thinking may sound crazy to normal hands-on mothers, but it's not only American moms who are outsourcing even the most humble of parenting tasks. This was made clear to me when I gave birth to my daughter in LA - and informed her Beverly Hills paediatrician that I wouldn't be needing a baby nurse. "There's that fighting British spirit!" he exclaimed admiringly, slamming his palm down on the desk.

As it turned out, my spirit wasn't fighting enough to deal with an 18-month-old without sleep, and eventually I took the number of Kirsten's sleep-trainer, who, for the price of a small pick-up truck, had my child sleeping through the night within a week. Alongside the services of Boo Boo Busters - who baby-proofed our home and garden before my daughter could crawl - my expert parenting advice stopped there.

Being a Brit, I felt ashamed and embarrassed by my need to seek help and failure to master these basic parenting issues myself. Something most of the LA and NY mothers I encountered - who would openly wax lyrical about the armies of parenting professionals they have called in over the years to deal with each and every problem - failed to relate to.

"I can honestly say that with most of the people I deal with, embarrassment doesn't enter into it," says Katie Facey, of the Katie Facey Agency - which operates in New York and California and will recruit parenting experts from across the country for a 30 per cent fee.

"A lot of the time you're talking about people who live in 6 million houses, are often on their second or third marriages, and are not working mums - maybe one in 10 of our mums will be working.

"Without wishing to cause offence in any way, these parents just don't want to do it all themselves. They don't want to be up all night with the baby or rushing a child to the potty, which is entirely understandable - and their decision."

It can be hard working to the whimsies of CEOs and billionaires, Facey concedes, because these people are not used to having people make decisions for them.

"Our aim is to get someone who will be a perfect fit in someone's home and family. Recently we worked with a very nice heiress who - for 90,000 a year for a 40-hour week - ended up getting the British nanny she absolutely wanted. And everybody's happy. So it's a good situation for both of them."

According to another parenting agency director in New York, who didn't want to be named, outsourced parenting is not without its hazards.

"For one thing, there's your relationship with the child to think about. But also, when you're outsourcing everything from burping your baby and teaching your child to read to dressing it, when you don't have something to get up to do every day, your house is being cleaned by someone else and you have an assistant answering your calls from the personal shopper at Saks, what kind of self-worth are you really going to have? What is there in your life to feel gratified by?

"I see a lot of depression in these very wealthy families. Because the number one thing that these mothers want is attention from their husbands. And often the husband is too busy making the millions to give them that. So ultimately these women can realise too late that having all the help that's now available to them hasn't made them happy. We have had women who have fired nannies because their child has started running over to the nanny, and not the mother."

Stella Reid, a British super-nanny to the stars who is based in Los Angeles, admits to being surprised by some of the demands that she has encountered (Reid moved into a house for a weekend a few years ago, simply to potty train a 5-year-old) but puts the rise of outsourced parenting down to sociological changes, rather than laziness.

"The phenomenon is more common in LA and NY for a couple of reasons," she says, "the first being that these places are full to the brim with non-natives who don't have their village or extended family around to help them navigate the roller-coaster we call parenting. The second is that these cities ooze wealth. If you're tired and frustrated and can afford it, then why not get some assistance?"

Especially when you consider the level of immediate success these experts have. New York potty-training guru Samantha Allen - who charges 550 - can achieve in a day what many parents spend years striving towards.

"I would only expect there to be one accident in that day," she tells me. "And while some parents will baulk when they hear how much it costs, every single parent has found it worth it."

Similarly, orofacial myologist Shari Green will fly in from Chicago for a cost of 360 to eliminate thumb-sucking over a period of 60 days and five visits - including daily phonecalls with the child, "so that I can check in and they can let me know how their day has gone".

Lisa Spiegel, co-founder of Soho Parenting, works with parents from all over the country, over the phone and in person, tackling every developmental issue, right down to sibling rivalry.

"We'll give kids language for feelings such as jealousy and anger, and help to develop a family dialogue," she explains. "Parenting really is the hardest job in the world, and today there is more pressure than ever to do it perfectly. LA and New York may be particularly high-pressure environments, but ultimately the pressures of being a parent are the same everywhere."

Which is why, chuckles super-nanny Reid, although outsourced parenting will be branded "outrageous" by many, "those who can afford to, do it".

"I'll bet you anything that they're already enjoying the benefits."

- NZ Herald

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