This week, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about parents who hire out care for their college-aged children. Women who act as “mothers” for these adults (and college-aged people are adults), ironing their sheets and helping them pick out sports jackets.
A couple of things stuck out to me about the article.
The assumption was that these were the tasks of “mothers.” Where is the other parent?
$450 a year? Come on. It should be higher.
I wonder which gender of child parents are hiring the help for?
Ironing sheets? Picking out jackets? At what point do we cease optimizing our children and let them be humans who get to fail and learn the hard way that sheets don’t iron themselves and maybe pick out your own damn jacket.
This also made me think about The Farm. In the way that the hosts are fully optimized and tightly controlled for the “good of the baby.” And how mothers in America today, even though they are more likely to work outside the home, do more parenting than fathers. (Also, every time I point out these stats, someone always comes in and says “NOT ME!” listen, unless your partner is going to attest to that with a written affidavit attesting to those facts, deal with the issues at hand instead of insisting on your goodness.)
What other stories do you see in the news that remind you of The Farm? What’s the line between wanting the best for your child and tightly controlling every aspect of their life so they cannot fail?
My husband and I do share housework probably 50/50. There is a lot that doesn't get done and we can live with that. That said, I do all the mental work involved with kids' schedules, meal planning, kid dr appointments, travel planning and because I was always so involved with who was watching our kids or picking them up or dropping them off, he didn't have to worry about it. He did drop-off/pick-up, but he didn't manage it. He didn't keep track of parent-teacher meetings or sporting events. I just told him what was going on and where he had to be. I make more dinners than he does. I plan more dinners. Every once in a while I would get annoyed because I don't want to think about it and he would say "I'll make dinner. What should I make?" and then my head would explode. I didn't want to think about it at all. One day per week he would go sailing and he was incommunicado. I knew he could not be counted on that day and I was fine. So, I went on ski trips every year without my family. I talked to a couple of guys on the ski lift once and I mentioned that I had three kids and one was a baby. They said "what does your husband think of that?" And I pushed them off the lift. Just kidding.
I have failed enough times to know that tightly controlling my kids' lives is probably not their best shot at success.
... one thing that sort of stands out to me is the part about how supporting parents is sort of a myth in America -- the article mentions this https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/25/upshot/paid-leave-democrats.html ... at least it says that America is one among the few nations that does not truly support or embrace the challenges of being a parent. I sometimes tell my friends (on the verge of parenthood) three observations from my experience -- 1) things will start to get back into equilibrium in about 20 years -- . 2) Dealing with those 0 to 20 years requires teamwork, and 3) Women are clearly the stronger party and everyone should give more support mothers and parents. Observing adaptive, confident, developing kids -- and supporting parents are among the things that can help me find a little more hope and optimism about the future -- the Ironing sheets part does not.
I used to be a "cleaning lady" and one of the places I had a contract to clean was vacated apartments for students at CU Boulder. The parking lot was filled with BMWs, Mercedes, etc, that the kids got for high school graduation. It was painfully obvious that none of them had ever done a thing for themselves, absolutely filthy - the bathrooms were almost black they were so nasty.. One kitchen was filled with maggots and bugs.
I also waited tables, something none of these kids have ever done, and not only are the snooty little princesses and princes who treat wait staff as if we are beneath them, they don't tip.
All 6 of my children went to college and you'd better believe I taught all of them to clean up after themselves, to treat cleaning staff, wait staff, retail workers, etc., with respect and how to tip.
My parents were very hands-off (unless I asked for help) once they dropped me off at my dorm. This was in the "old days" (I'm 58) where I was given a phone card to use for calling home, which I did once a week to check in with them. Otherwise, they had no idea what was happening in my life (probably for the best). This was in part because I was always a very independent "I'll do it myself" kind of kid, but I didn't notice any of my peers' parents behaving differently. I've often wondered where and why this shift occured. My parents were very involved in my life growing up - they never missed a school event (even when I'd tell them the band concert was going to be so boring, even I didn't want to be there, and I was fine with them skipping it). It was unspoken, but clear, that I had their support when I needed it/asked for it, but otherwise they let me figure things out on my own. As an adult I can see that they were paying closer attention than I realized (for instance, I only recently learned my dad had stepped in to have a private discussion with a male adult who was showing 14-yr-old me a little too much attention. Nothing inappropriate had happened, but he made it understood he was aware, watching, and set boundaries. Also, ewwww, 14-yr-old me was grossed out by the very idea this male adult would view me in any way other than as a little sister figure. So naive...). Also - ironing sheets seems like a "wealthy person" thing. Even my great-grandmother didn't iron sheets and she kept a meticulously clean home.
Feeling like I solved a problem I didn’t know existed by simply never ironing my son’s sheets before he went to college.
He just started undergrad this semester, and on the parent Facebook page, I did see a mom posting to ask about housekeepers for her son’s apartment, AND other parents jumping in with recommendations. I was shocked, but I guess I shouldn’t have been!
The college kid coddling is 100% real. I've been a member of my daughter's university FB parents group for four years and some of the questions and comments from parents boggle the mind. Rage about professors giving their kid a bad grade, setting up tutoring sessions for them, asking who to contact to complain about their kid's dorm room, residence hall food, the sidewalks not being cleared, etc. They know their kid's classes, professors, schedules, and they log in to see their grades. It has gotten progressively worse every year and it makes me worried about their generation and the future for them (and all of us!).
These people are not teaching their offspring how to live in the world.
Apropos helicopter parenting (if we still use that term), I recently listened to an interview with journalist Jennifer Breheny Wallace about her book about "overachieving" kids. Like kids who run track all day and then drink a pot of coffee to study all night. And under a lot of it is the total absence of a social safety net and the anxiety that young people will just not be ok unless everything is perfect. Schools are super competitive now and there's a sense that if you don't get into and graduate with honors from the top schools you just won't make it in the world. I suspect parents feel this anxiety for their children also. And instead of turning their energies toward reknitting that social safety net they do what most Americans do which is to focus on personal choices.
The company that charges $10,000/year is the one that washes and irons sheets. (The link in this post goes to an NYT article. Here's the WSJ link: https://www.wsj.com/us-news/college-students-rent-moms-concierge-service-2d598026.)
I still think ironing sheets is way over the top. My grandmother taught me to iron shirts, handkerchiefs, and tea towels, and my mother had an old Ironrite I convinced my younger brother was a spaceship and got him stuck in there. (If anyone wonders what an Ironrite is, this video is a hoot: https://youtu.be/7Ll24iHp214?feature=shared.)
As an adult, I HAD an iron and ironing board until I escaped from Iowa six years ago (I left them behind), but it had probably been years -- decades maybe -- since I actually ironed anything. One of my kids recently asked for an iron and ironing board for his birthday. He wears a lot of button-up shirts that he wants to iron. (Keyword: he. He irons them. I don't.)
Interestingly, most of the students mentioned in the article are female. I think some of the things are useful -- the student who got sick when everything was closed and nobody else was available was taken to the ER by their "hired mom." I also think driving to and from the airport might be an even safer bet than Uber or Lyft these days.
Thinking about this outsourcing of "mothering," I mean, everything else is monetized, right? While I was thinking a company of men selling similar services might have the ew factor, I did google and find a couple of "rent-a-dad" services if you need help assembling furniture or changing the oil in your car.
To take a completely different turn, here's an article I read while reading the book: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2023/sep/09/at-home-dna-test-that-changed-two-families-for-ever. It makes me wonder what The Farm has in its contracts about something like that.
When I was a child, one of my chores was ironing pillow cases and my dad’s white handkerchiefs. Starch was involved. Never the sheets, though.
The written affidavit is in the mail. 🙂 The overscheduling of kids is another symptom of this. Parents schedule every aspect of their child's life from an early age. Some of these kids are so constantly busy that I'm surprised they don't suffer from anxiety. Let kids have time to just be kids. I used to see this a lot in the classroom with parents (er I mean kids) submitting these amazing projects and then not having a clue what the project was about. I had irate parents contact me about the project being downgraded because of this.
(confessions of a sheet ironer)
I had to iron sheets when I was a teenager, but it was in the 60s and wrinkle-resistant sheets didn't seem to be in the picture yet. Makes me wonder what they put in them nowadays.
When I left for college, my parents were happy not to know what I was doing. I was happy with that arrangement. They taught me to take care of myself. Shame this has changed.
This is not mothering. This is rich people seeking to hire “help” for kids in college. And I am conflicted much as I was conflicted throughout the book. “Should” we do certain things just because we can afford it? Is easier always better? Can we control everything?
Because you want to is a good reason!
I FINALLY got The Farm through inter library loan and I read it in a couple days! I have to go back and read all of the other discussions about the book now. I read the headline of that NYT article and just had to skip it. I work in higher-ed in a student facing position and I feel like I'm mothering these people everyday. I doubt they see it that way but the questions they ask and the assistance they need...its a lot! And the calls from the parents reminding me how much they pay for their kid to go here. I get that, I do! But I am one woman and you presumably visited before your child enrolled. Mostly (based on my professional life) I'm trying so hard to make my children self sufficient. It's not going great but I've got a few years to keep working on them.