The Rise of Farm-Out Families

From babyproofing to potty training, an increasing number of us are turning to specialist experts for help with parenting and raising our kids. Fiona Cowood reports

Having the inevitable sex talk with your child is probably not a conversation any parent relishes, but recently, a couple from Bath were so put off by the prospect, they advertised for someone to take it off their hands completely. Posting on a popular childcare website, the mother wrote: “My husband and I are looking to hire someone to give our eight-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son the ‘talk’… all sessions will be at our home at a time when one or both of us can be in the house.” According to the advert, the willing candidate had to be OFSTED -registered, DBS-checked and willing to navigate biology, STIs, consent, pregnancy and non-binary gender types – all for a fee of £2,500.

In response, social media went predictably nutty, with many chiming in to debate the rights and wrongs of outsourcing such a potentially pivotal moment in a child’s development. Many also indicated that they would be more than happy to do the honours for the money on offer. However, the advert (which promptly disappeared) shone a light on the diverse range of services that are increasingly on offer to help parents as they come up against roadblocks in their childrearing.

In America, where so-called ‘outsourced parenting’ is already well-established, it’s possible to bring in experts to do pretty much everything for you – from selecting a name for your baby (yes, really – mynameforlife.com) to delivering freshly puréed baby food to your door and coaching your toddler to give up their thumb-sucking habit. And here in the UK, it’s catching on fast, with services springing up to babyproof your home and even toilet train your kids.

Alison Perry, podcaster and Founder of notanothermummyblog.com, recently sent her seven-year-old daughter, Grace, to Pedal Power – a South London outfit that will teach your child to ride a bike – after a year of failed attempts.

“I think most kids definitely listen to a non-parent more than they listen to their parent,” says Alison. “Often parents can feel frustrated (or have a sore back from holding the bike!) so perhaps aren’t teaching in the best way. And also, why do we think we can teach someone to ride a bike?! I can do it but I can’t teach someone to do it! So paying someone who really knows what they are doing and has a proven track record seemed to make sense.”

Alison believes that with life more hectic than ever, parents shouldn’t beat themselves up about drafting in experts if that means they get to spend better quality time with their kids. “Let’s get real experts in to help us with the hard stuff,” she says. “If it allows us to relax a bit, and gives us more time to read or play with our kids and enjoy their company rather than being a ball of stress, then do it!”

The appetite for leaving the tough stuff to the experts was recognised by Amanda Jenner two years ago, when she founded the Potty Training Academy (pottytrainingacademy.co.uk). Amanda offers skype consultations for £80, but for £550 (plus travel and accommodation), she will visit a family’s home for two days and instil routines that promise to get your child dry. She says the parents who book her service vary – some are at their wits’ end having tried everything, whilst others are often professionals who haven’t got much time and don’t know where to begin.

“A lot of it is about giving the parents confidence,” says Amanda. “The toilet training age has increased dramatically, and that’s largely down to both parents working and there being a lack of consistency between methods used at home and at nursery. We turn up and give the parents confidence and a strategy that suits them.”

Giving parents confidence is also at the heart of what Annie Simpson does, in her work as a sleep practitioner (infantsleepconsultant.co.uk). Annie stays over with families who are suffering from chronic lack of sleep, and helps parents get into better habits with their children. “When you’re in the midst of an emotional storm, it can be helpful to have an outsider come in who is able to stay calm and say: ‘Right, let’s fix this,”’ explains Annie.

Dee Wright sees a similar look of relief wash over the faces of the parents she visits as Founder of The Hairforce Lice Assassins (thehairforce.co.uk). For £150, one of her team will do two home visits seven days apart and clear an infestation of nits using forensic techniques and specialist equipment.

“Parents need support and life is busy. Many mums work and children’s lives are increasingly full,” says Dee. “Finding the time to clear an infestation can be a big issue, and it is this lack of time that can be behind an infestation getting out of control. Many see us in the same category as their GP, dentist, paediatrician or osteopath. It’s a problem and there is a professional who can sort it out for them.”

But parenting expert Sue Atkins (sueatkinsparentingcoach.com) isn’t convinced that calling on experts every time you come up against a parenting problem is the right move to make. “I completely understand that you can get stuck and need some help or a new approach – and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, but I’m not a fan of outsourcing basic parenting. Why would you delegate important moments to a stranger – especially something so joyous as learning to ride a bike? It’s important to ask yourself what memories you’re making for your child and for you as a parent.

“It’s also about learning to parent with patience – a lot of the difficult things take time and practice, but that can bring you together. If you outsource and delegate when everything becomes difficult, what memories are you left with?”

While many will agree with Sue’s sentiments, there can be no doubt that a significant gap exists between what many parents would ideally do and what their limited time and circumstances enable them to do. In the past, when many of us lived surrounded by extended family, a patient grandma may have been on hand to help with the tedium of wet pants and repeated accidents. An uncle may have stepped in to help with learning to swim or ride a bike. Without that ready-built support network, is it any wonder many of us are now turning to a village of experts to plug the gaps? And if money allows it, and the result is more free time to spend doing fun things, can it really be so bad?

“In life, it’s about your family’s journey,” says sleep expert Annie. “And if something isn’t working, I think it’s good to have the confidence to acknowledge that and do what you need to do to change it.”

Photographs: Getty

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