Just after breakfast, a van pulls up at the Lopez home in Coral Springs. Thirteen-year-old Emily gets in and heads off to middle school, saving her mother, Diana Lopez, from delaying her 1 1/2-hour commute to her job in Miami. The same shuttle picks Emily up after school and takes her to ballet class. Some afternoons, it picks up her older sister at home and takes her to be tutored in math or takes her home from school if she stays late for a club meeting.
Lopez, an international private banker whose husband works in Miami too, says hiring a transportation service has been the only way she can keep a regular work schedule, be home for dinner and have her children participate in after-school activities. "I believe in the theory that it takes a village to raise a child," Lopez said. "But these days, we're hiring the village."
Working parents today are paying others to do things for our children that our parents did themselves — drive our kids to school, help them with homework, cook for our families and take them to baseball practice. The services are needed because things have changed dramatically for working mothers in the past few decades. For starters, there are simply many more mothers in the labor force. Today, more than 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 are working or looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Family economics have changed too. As the number of women in the workforce swelled, so too did their contribution to family income. A record 40 percent of all households with children include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. The share was just 11 percent in 1960. With mothers contributing more, managing a household becomes a simple equation of trading money for time.
It can be an expensive exchange — financially and emotionally — and not everyone can afford it.
Moms Helping Moms, the shuttle service used by the Lopez family, gets $60 to $80 per child per week for round-trip carpooling within 5 miles — more for greater distances. Founder Sharron Gay said she launched her business three years ago. As a mother who commuted an hour to work, she saw the need. "Life is too short to feel guilty or overwhelmed. We're here to make your life easier," the website boasts.
Gay's five vans, driven only by mothers, shuttle kids to school, activities, orthodontist appointments and sports practices. They even pick up sick children from school and bring them home. Gay said she offers the service moms want — assuring them that the bus won't leave until the child enters the home safely. "We do things the way moms would," she said. Gay says her service is profitable and has plans to add more vans and new geographic areas by 2014.
Others see opportunity too. Fueled by demand from working parents, a burgeoning cottage industry handling chores for working parents is flourishing. There are reading specialists who get $40 to $50 an hour to assist students individually at their homes on reading and writing. There are businesses that will bring dinner to hungry kids waiting for Mom and Dad to get home from work.
Ryan Sturgis, a partner in Delivery Dudes, said his business picks up meals from local restaurants and delivers them to Broward County homes. It has seven locations, with plans to add more, and charges a $5 delivery fee.
"We get a lot of moms who call on their way home from work. We tell them we can be there with dinner within 45 minutes."
Some parents turn their world upside down to manage responsibilities before finally accepting that they can't do it all. Eventually, they discover outsourcing a necessary expense to keep their jobs, reduce stress or get ahead in the workplace.
Miami mother Gabrielle D'Alemberte makes a priority of the things she thinks a mother should do, such as attending school functions and tucking her daughter into bed. But the single mom says she couldn't continue to work as a trial attorney if she didn't outsource some tasks at work and home. She has hired someone to pick her daughter up from the bus stop and take her to ballet lessons. In the past, she has hired a company to deliver meals to her home, and she has employed someone to go over her daughter's homework and review for tests.
D'Alemberte specializes in litigation against large international resorts and often travels for work.
"I could not have had the job and profession I've chosen without the help I have gotten in bringing up my wonderful 13-year-old," she said. "Knowing I can't do it all makes it easier to hire people to help."