Just after breakfast, a van pulls up at the Lopez home in Coral Springs, Fla. 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.
Ms. 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," she 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. There are simply many more mothers in the labor force. The participation rate has skyrocketed to more than 70 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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.
"We ask ourselves, 'Am I passing off something I should be doing myself?' But then, we have to be realistic," Ms. Lopez said.
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.
Miami mother Gabrielle D'Alemberte makes a priority of the things she feels 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.
"Knowing I can't do it all makes it easier to hire people to help," she said.
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.