Outsourcing is Still a Source of Shame—But It Doesn’t Have to Be
How often do you see a mom, maybe at the park, at school pick-up, on Instagram, and think, Wow, she really does it all, doesn’t she? It seems like her life is so put-together, and she makes it all look so easy. She never seems overwhelmed.
What many of us don’t think is, Wow, she must have help. We assume that moms who "do it all" do it all by themselves. But they don't. They likely have help. Maybe lots of it. In our society, there’s a level of secrecy and shame around outsourcing. Many of us don’t talk about it. We worry we’ll be judged and criticized. People will think we’re trying to shirk our responsibilities. They’ll think we’re lazy or weak.
Maybe they’ll even see us as we sometimes see ourselves: as failures.
“I think a lot of the secrecy about outsourcing stems from the fact that women have been guilted into thinking they need to manage every detail of their personal and professional worlds—and that if they don't, they are failing both as workers and as wives and mothers,” said Candace Alnaji, an attorney, freelance writer, and blogger at The Mom at Law, who has a four-year-old son and one-year-old boy/girl twins.
We internalize the myth that “as mothers we should be able to ‘do it all,’ and that to have anyone support us—paid or unpaid, partner or friend—is to admit that we can't do it all,” said Kate Rope, a journalist, author of Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood, and mom to 11-year-old and 7-year-old daughters.
It’s to admit that we’re somehow deeply flawed and deficient. Of course, we are neither. As career coach, writer, and mom of two, Becca Carnahan said, outsourcing is just smart.
Jasmine Johnson, M.D., is a maternal-fetal medicine fellow, mom to a 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, and creator of The Mrs. The Mommy. The MD blog. She noted that many of the seasoned moms in her field have been the first to tell her to outsource, so she can spend the extra time on her kids and on herself. “This has been some of the best advice I have received,” Johnson said.
What Working Moms Actually Outsource
So what do moms actually outsource? Last year Alnaji and her husband hired a housekeeper to deep clean every two weeks. From time to time, they also rely on family for childcare, and use meal delivery services. In her professional life, Alnaji has help from a paralegal at her firm. “He assists with daily tasks that make it possible for me to work remotely,” she said.
Rope also has housecleaning services twice a month—along with outsourcing yardwork and home repairs. “I have, at times, felt guilt about this, mostly around the concern that I am not showing my kids how to take care of the more basic responsibilities of life, like fixing broken things,” Rope said. “But I came to peace with that by realizing that my husband and I both work hard and full-time using our skills in our jobs and we can pay someone else—an expert in their field—a good wage to help us have a balanced life that enables us to have concentrated time with our kids,” Rope said.
Carnahan’s 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter go to daycare. “While I’m at the office I rely on amazing preschool and daycare teachers to help teach my kids their letters, give them hugs when they are sad, and learn how to be good friends…. I hesitate to call this outsourcing because I never want to think I’m outsourcing raising my children, but I am absolutely getting help and I am forever grateful.” Carnahan also uses a grocery delivery service—something she previously thought was reserved for “fancy people,” and “I wasn’t fancy so I’d better get myself to the grocery store every weekend!” However, with a full-time job and a 90-minute commute each way, grocery shopping wasn’t going to get done during the week—leaving it for the weekend. It’s been about 9 months since Carnahan signed up for Instacart, which, according to the app, has saved her 50 hours so far. “Now weekends are fully for doing fun activities with my family, and if we somehow manage to get a two-kid nap time, I don’t need to spend it running to the store. I can write, read, or spend time talking to my husband about things other than dentist appointments!” Carnahan said.
Last year Johnson started outsourcing her house cleaning. “I had been very hesitant because of the financial aspect, but it has been one of the best investments I have made while in my medical training.” Having housecleaning services has helped Johnson feel more relaxed at home. She, too, has found that she has more time to spend with her family because she’s not catching up on chores that’ve accumulated from the previous weeks.
Tips for Outsourcing
To get started with outsourcing and make it work for you, here are a few tips to try.
Outsource away some stress. Both Rope and Carnahan suggested thinking about the parts of your life that spark stress, and hiring someone to help you with those tasks. This might be anything from scrubbing the bathroom to doing your taxes to mowing the lawn to replying to email. As Carnahan added, “The amount of time you spend putting off doing that thing, thinking about that thing, or actually slogging your way through that thing can likely be much better spent.”
Relinquish control. Of course, many people don’t outsource (or outsource as much as they’d like) because of money. But there’s also another—maybe even bigger—obstacle: giving up control. Alnaji said, “If you struggle with handing over control of some aspects of your life, get to the root of why and learn how to let go of that need to control everything.” Similarly, Johnson encouraged moms to reflect on the tasks that actually require you. “Although I am particular about organizing my house, I do not have to be the one to clean my house,” Johnson said. “I do not have to be the one to wash the laundry. I do not have to be the one to go grocery shopping. A lot of these things we can't current fit in the budget on a fellows' salary, but when I am done training, my time will be even more stretched and we will continue to outsource what we can.”
Get creative about payment. According to Rope, you might trade your skills with another person, or use special occasions (such as your birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas) to ask others to contribute to the “house cleaning” or “babysitting” fund (or whatever it is you’d like to outsource). Another affordable option is to outsource less frequently—get your house cleaned once a month instead of every week, Rope added.
A year ago, Johnson said she read one of the best perspectives on outsourcing in Shonda Rhimes’s book Year of Yes. Rhimes wrote: “Powerful famous women don’t say out loud that they have help at home, that they have nannies, housekeepers, chefs, assistants, stylists―whatever it is they have to keep their worlds spinning because they are ashamed. Or maybe a more precise way to say it is that these women have been shamed.”
“We have to stop shaming each other,” Johnson said. “We cannot do this alone and no mother should be made to feel less than because she is doing something to make her crazy busy life a little bit easier.”
In other words, you are not less than because you outsource. You’re not less than because you buy a bag of cookies for that school party instead of baking them from scratch. You’re not less than because you hire someone to clean your house or watch your children or do your laundry. You’re not less than because you don’t want to scour Pinterest for dinner ideas and visit the farmer’s market for locally sourced, sustainable kale (which it turns out you don’t even like in the first place).
As Carnahan pointed out, “You’re simply evaluating where your time is best spent and making a choice. Your time, your happiness, your health—they all matter. So much. If you really want to be Super Mom, absolutely go for it. But remember that even super heroes have trusty sidekicks. So maybe Robin can pick up the groceries while you’re out there saving the world.”