Outsourcing The Family
Not that long ago, I read an inspiring article written by Steve Olsen and posted over at The Utah Amicus. While I think he failed to support his thesis statement, the piece itself was a wake-up call to families to start taking charge of their affairs and stop depending on strangers to do it all for them. In short, we’re at a point where too many of us outsource core functions of the family and I doubt we even realize it.
To a degree, advanced economies require specialization. I know that for my kids it was hard when we moved, but I tried to talk to a property rental agency that would help me to get a house fast so they wouldn’t stress over the fact that we didn’t have a place to live. I’m content paying someone else to butcher my meat, grow my vegetables and bake my bread. I’m fine with taxes that pay for roads, garbage collection and fire protection. If I had to take care of all of these things myself, I’d be spending all of my time subsisting, a feature of third world countries.
We have to be careful how much we delegate to others, however. It seems that these days, we expect others to take care of far too many things that were once the domain of the family. We send our children to schools expecting them to learn without our help. We send them to church to learn positive morals and good social behavior without reinforcing those values at home. Some families even unnecessarily delegate the basic task of spending time with our children to daycare centers and caretakers.
Where conventional wisdom and best guesses used to be the basis of good parenting, we now buy book after book on how to best raise children. Many of them offer conflicting opinions and leave more questions than answers. By effectively placing the formative years of our children into the hands of self-appointed experts with publishing deals, we’re participating in a mass experiment to see if a particular person’s opinion on child-rearing is the real deal or cleverly marketed quackery. We’re even depending on technical measures to substitute for our own checking. We install Internet filtering software, turn on the parental controls on the cable box and go so far as to plant tracking devices in the cars they drive to make sure they were where they said they were when they said they were. These things can be helpful as supplements, but they are no substitute for checking in on our children. Once they are using an unfiltered PC, an unlocked cable box or a friend’s car, we can’t depend on those tools to do the job for us.
What it all boils down to is personal responsibility. Having a child is far more than a delivery at the hospital; it’s a life-long process of teaching and nurturing. Schools and churches are great educational tools. Daycare and preschool are wonderful ways for children to learn social interaction. Filtering software is almost a requirement to keep a small typo from bombarding us with pornography and other lewd materials. None of these tools, though, mean anything without a parent at the helm directing their usage.
So where are the parents? All too often, they are doing too much with too little time. Some get caught up in the pursuit of material wealth and work too much. Others engage in pursuits of personal fulfillment that consume too much of their time. The vast majority, while engaged in worthwhile pursuits, have lost the ability to prioritize between volunteering for the PTA, church responsibilities and other volunteer efforts.
Those of you who are LDS probably remember the talk given last conference by Elder Oaks about making time for the “best things”. We could easily fill 40 of the 24 hours in a day with “good things”. The problem is that if we don’t make time for the “best things”, those “good things”, while meaningful on their own, crowd out the most important things we should be doing. This may mean having to give up some of your hobbies or passions in order to get these core functions done.
Is that frustrating? Sure. Is it necessary? Absolutely. You may recall the famous quote by President McKay who said that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Let’s remember that the time we dedicate to our families is one of the “best things”; we would do well not to neglect it.
I recall a friend telling me about her sister who had an infant daughter. She didn’t feel like her husband’s salary would be enough if she stopped working so as soon as possible she plopped her daughter in daycare.
Being a responsible adult and parent, after a few months, she calculated the income versus expenses of her chosen arrangement.
She gleefully reported to my friend that working and having her daughter in daycare was “sooo worth it, because at the end of the month, I have an extra $50!”
Not a very smart woman, I guess, if she thinks making $50 a month for full-time work is a good deal.
I agree with you mostly. Almost completely. Just this part – “Where conventional wisdom and best guesses used to be the basis of good parenting, we now buy book after book on how to best raise children”. That part I’m thinking is actually good. I wish more parents would read some books on human development and child psychology, and even just basics like the What To Expect books. Studying how to parent children is more important than studying for a career, yet many people don’t even do it. There is so much to know, and the stuff we screw up hurts our kids. I strongly believe that if more parents studied up before raising their kids, we would have WAY less kids with ODD, ADHD symptoms, conduct disorders, etc.
That’s a good point. You’ll have to give me a reading list if I ever get pregnant. I’ll read anything if my kids would turn out even HALF as awesome as yours!
Also, speaking of outsourcing the family, it reminds me of a line from Grey’s Anatomy. A couple is talking about getting married and the female says to the male, “We’ll be making plenty of money… we can HIRE a wife!”
I’ve felt like that plenty. Work is pretty much taking over my life. I could handle some outside help. I wouldn’t mind outsourcing the laundry, dishes, etc so I would have time for the fun stuff.
I agree with Shauna that there are plenty of things we can outsource for the fun stuff. When I am in a position to do so, I will absolutely hire a cleaning service. Does that make me a bad mom for not cleaning my own house? No! It means that instead of doing chores all day Saturday with the kids (when they’re old enough) we can do fun things as a family, like visiting so many of the sites there are to see in the area that locals never see because they’re too busy living every day life. My kids will still pick up their own toys and clean their rooms, but we won’t spend our lives worrying about the dust on the baseboards.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that the maintenance or cleaning of your house can’t be delegated to another party (controversial General Conference talks notwithstanding), nor do I intend to suggest that all parenting books are of no value. The problem is a matter of signal-to-noise: there’s a lot of distraction out there crowding out the things of worth. Hiring someone else to take care of chores around the house frees up your time to spend with family as opposed to taking from it.
On the topic of parenting books, there’s a lot of self-appointed “experts” in the field that make it hard to know who knows what they’re talking about and who’s simply blowing smoke. The odds are against you; a random book on parenting is quite likely to be considered “obsolete” in a decade. Of course, this is also coming from someone who thinks that getting a puppy is the best way to prepare yourself for kids, so take that for what it’s worth.
Interesting. In our family, the regular mundane chores are part of the way we help teach our children sacrifice and responsibility. My sons know how to clean a toilet; something that will likely come in handy during their young adult years when they won’t be able to afford to pay someone else to do it. Sometimes the chores are drudgery. Other times they end up being fun, especially when we put off things we’d rather be doing so that we can do the chores cooperatively. It’s nice to do fun things together as a family, but I think you’ll be disappointed in the long run if you do it at the expense of some of the less glamorous work.
Thank you for the reminder. You just helped to clarify some things for me with a decision I am needing to make.
I would like to add both an amen, AND a hallelujah to what Jesse said.
I have just one question. where were all those auto monitoring devices when my kids were teenagers? They can not only tell you were they are but also (if they are driving) how fast they are going.