Celebrity mums make no secret of the fact that when it come to parenting, hiring experts to help with childcare can ease the dreaded work-life juggling act. Kate Middleton reportedly relies on the talents of her live-in 'supernanny' Sadie Rice, while pre-split Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were rumoured to have up to 12 nannies on the payroll. More recently, chef Jamie Oliver hit the headlines in September when he admitted that he and wife Jools had hired a night nurse for their fifth child, River Rocket, explaining that they were both too exhausted to get up for night feeds. But these days it's not just the A-list who are reaching out to experts when it comes to the trickier side of parenting - ordinary mums and dads are not ashamed to admit they need help, and are calling on the expertise of trained outsiders.
The trend for third-person parenting - dubbed outsourced parenting in the States - is already commonplace among elite parents in LA and New York. And one traditional nanny is no longer enough: you can now avail of the services of baby nurses, sleep trainers, live-in potty trainers, behavioural experts and even 'thumb sucking gurus' who will help your tot break their thumb-sucking habit.
NYC Potty Training is one of the many emerging parenting companies in New York. Their experts promise to toilet-train toddlers within two days for around Dh6,000. Founder Samantha Allen says many of her clients are motivated by competitiveness. "The pressure to parent children perfectly and competition between parents about the level of development of their child definitely motivates people," she says. Whereas keeping up with the Joneses at the school gates used to mean buying a parenting book, it now means hiring an expert to fast-track the process, adds Allen.
And the outsourced parenting trend has already permeated UAE shores. It's no secret that the city already has a thriving nanny trade: a 2011 report released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) found that 94 per cent of Emirati families have nannies, while a survey in 999 Magazine found that expat parents in the UAE are spending as little as 50 minutes a day with their children.
But while having a nanny is often the only option for working parents, there are now a host of other experts popping up around the region who can help you tackle the messier part of parenting.
Surrogate extended family
Lily Kandalaft from Dubai-based nurse and babysitting agency Malaak Mama & Baby Care says elite services like hers are increasing in demand. "It is quite common for families to employ a childcare expert to support with parenting due to the very nature of Dubai's fast-paced environment. Most families in Dubai have working parents so our childcare experts provide that peace of mind while the parents are at work.
"It is also quite common for first-time parents to use our services to get the right education and support when adjusting to their journey into parenthood. Our maternity nurses are there to provide all the support required for their babies as soon as families have left the hospital after delivery, all the way until the baby has reached the age of three. Most commonly, parents hire our service for an average of four-six months, for either 12 or 24 hours. So whether parents require maternity nursing support, sleep training or sleep consultations, or babysitting for a night off, it has become more and more common for families to turn to childcare agencies for support."
Lily adds that outsourcing help is often the only option for expat families in Dubai, who are living thousands of miles away from their extended family network. "We all know that parenting is really a 24-hour, seven-day job and a lot of families do not have their extended families living in Dubai. Our qualified staff are a trusted resource for mums to turn to when they just need some time off!"
Parenting expert Aoife Lee says the wealth of conflicting information and advice available online can send new parents into a tailspin. Lee, who runs a parent support company, says getting a third-party involved in parenting is all about helping stressed-out parents see the light. "Parents can be overwhelmed with all the information that is out there. Often, when a parent is stressed or upset by something like potty training, they can't see the wood for the trees. A lot of parents are reassured by having an expert there."
Lily points out that for UAE parents it's often a lack of information - such as the poor postnatal support available - that leads stressed mums to look for outside help. "Due to the lack of postnatal support in the UAE, a lot of mums struggle with basics such as breastfeeding, feeding challenges, sleep routines or postnatal depression... Families choose our service because they are assured of the expert advice they need to adjust to their new lifestyle as parents."
Parenting services are not there to replace parents, insists Lily, but rather to work in tandem with them. "Parenting is the hardest job in the world," she says. "As a first-time mum, you have a lot of questions on your mind and a lot of anxiety on whether you are doing it right, and we are there to provide that peace of mind and foster confidence for our new mums so that they are more confident in their parenting styles and learn to enjoy those precious moments. We are not there to replace parents, but are there to provide support, confidence, education and some much-needed time-off for families."
A modern necessity
Childcare expert Teresa Boardman, who runs an elite nanny service in Europe, says the idea that modern mums and dads are trying to palm off parenting duties is a fallacy, and that the majority of her clients who employ maternity nurses are families in which both parents are working. "For them, it's a necessity," she says. "Particularly for working parents who are self-employed or run their own business. I have one family who employs a maternity nurse 24 hours a day, six days a week because mum is self-employed and had to go back to work quickly."
Teresa adds, "Having somebody that is going to look after the nursery duties takes the pressure off the parents so they are not bogged down with ironing, cooking and washing... the nanny can do it all." Services like Teresa's, which include maternity nurses to take care of night feeds, sterilise bottles and wash the baby's clothes, are particularly appealing in the UAE where the maternity leave allowance is among the lowest in the world.
When it comes to a restless baby, a sleep consultant like Niamh O'Reilly, author of No Fuss Baby and Toddler Sleep, can swoop to the rescue. A sleep trainer promises to bring harried parents back from the brink of sleep deprivation by training your tot to sleep through the night. Niamh insists that the clients she meets are concerned parents who are simply at the end of their tether; parents who are often ashamed to admit they need help. "For modern parents, there is an embarrassment factor there," she says, adding that this generation of parents are not used to failing. "I'm 40 now and my generation - who are now in their 30s and 40s - were told we could be anything and whatever it was we were going to be amazing at it," says Niamh. "The parents I see usually both have successful careers, then suddenly they are confronted by this teeny tiny person they can't deal with. For the first time in their lives, they are struggling."
However, psychotherapist Stella O'Malley, author of Cotton Wool Kids, believes the rise in parental outsourcing services is symptomatic of a wider problem. "In the previous generations, there was always one or two pushy parents; nowadays, pushy parents are the norm. Parents have become more competitive because they are constantly being told by society that they are not good enough. It is often parents who work long hours who tend to spend more money on their children - as a compensation for not spending enough time with them."
This pressure on parents has serious ramifications, warns Stella. "In my work as a psychotherapist, I see clients every day who are anxious, depressed and stressed. There is a problem with our entire culture of parenting - each parent feels ashamed that they are finding parenting so difficult."
So if UAE services like Lily's Malaak can alleviate some of that stress, isn't that a positive thing? Samantha from NYC Potty Training certainly seems to think so. "The majority of parents that contact me about my services feel ashamed that they need to ask for outside help, so it breaks my heart to see families attacked as 'outsourced parents'. The reality is that they have tried. And in truth, I imagine all parents could use some extra help."