Life

You can now hire a parent-by-proxy for your far-away college kid

"Mom concierge" services assist students with everything from dirty laundry to a ride to the airport.

Parents watch as their child packs for college.
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SMS

I can attest to how hard it is to drop your kid off at college for the first time. I did it six weeks ago, and it was brutal. The scary thoughts just keep coming: Will she be able to navigate the cutthroat class registration process by herself? Will she learn how to deal with all the social pressures (finding friends, joining clubs, living with a roommate, etc.), while maintaining the grades she needs to keep her scholarship? Will she help those around her who aren’t adjusting well?

I reminded myself that this is where the rubber meets the road — that moment when you have to let go (she is 18, after all) and let her figure things out for herself. That’s how she grows up! 

"Mom concierge"

In this modern world of super-involved parenting, there are other options. Enter: “Mom concierge” services like mindyKNOWS.

That company — whose tagline is “local mom support for college families” — serves four universities: Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, Skidmore College, and the University of Hartford. If your son or daughter attends one of these schools, mindyKNOWS will enable you to parent them from afar, by proxy.

“For better or for worse, things come up when your student is in school,” writes founder Mindy Horwitz on the mindyKNOWS site. “If you are looking for local help, you’ve come to the right place. We have been in your shoes. We are not Mom or Dad, but we’re the next best thing.”

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Of course, it’s true: Things will come up for your college-age kid. They may need to figure out a ride to the airport. They may need someone to go with them to a doctor’s appointment or help them get dressed appropriately for a job interview. Someone to help them assemble that new futon for their dorm room or hook up the Wi-Fi. And so on.

This company will send a local “mom” to take care of all these things for an annual price of about $450 plus fees.

Horwitz is also there in case of emergency. One of her clients, a freshman, came down with a serious infection three weeks into the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals were overflowing with patients, but Horwitz was able to find a local doctor who would admit her. “I can do locally what a mom in Michigan can’t,” Horwitz told The Wall Street Journal. “Some things are possible from afar, some aren’t.”

Horwitz launched mindyKNOWS about two years ago, when her son was a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.

“When Josh’s roommate hurt his ankle and was hobbling around campus, I realized his mom didn’t know who to turn to for help,” Horwitz told Ladue News. “I knew that I could not only handle the situation from afar but could also serve as a great resource and service for all out-of-town parents with my local connections.”

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Similar services are popping up all over the country. According to The Wall Street Journal, parents who live out of state (or abroad) can hire a Boston company called Concierge Services for Students (CSS) for $10,000 for the academic year. While it was originally founded to help foreign students at local boarding schools, this year about 75% of its clients are college students (at schools including Northeastern, Harvard and Suffolk universities).

The price tag is steep, but the list of services is deep: One of five local moms will help with laundry, grocery shopping, dinner reservations, beauty appointments, car services, party planning, banking, transportation, class registration, medication management, tutoring, move-in and move-out services, dorm setup, apartment hunting and internet installation.

Learning how to "adult"

Traditionally, these are the adult activities that young people learn how to tackle when they’re on their own for the first time. And that’s when they go away to college — at age 18. But the existence of companies like mindyKNOWS and CSS reveals that for many people, the age of adulthood isn’t actually 18. Sure, legally speaking, you can get married, vote in elections, be drafted to fight in a war, work a full-time job, pay taxes, open a bank account, file a lawsuit and buy a car. But many parents don’t feel their 18-year-old children are ready to handle a hurt ankle or find a ride to the airport.

Common sense tells us (and studies also show) that parents who are overly involved in their grown kids’ affairs are inhibiting them (at least a little) from growing into self-confident and autonomous adults. How can you learn “to adult” when difficult challenges are handled for you?

That said, it’s also true that right now, scores of teens and young adults are battling anxiety and depression — conditions that can severely inhibit your ability to carry out adult responsibilities. A March 2023 study of more than 90,000 students across 133 U.S. campuses found that “44% of students reported symptoms of depression; 37% said they experienced anxiety; and 15% said they were considering suicide.”

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And the steady uptick in college students seeking therapy has led to long wait times and students getting turned away from the mental health services they need. If you’re a parent of one of those suffering students, you might be all too happy to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a proxy mom to show up and help.

It’s not surprising that some local moms have seen this as a business opportunity and stepped in to make money off of helpless, far-away parents. But this actually could be a chance for nearby adults to pitch in as volunteers. In fact, it’s a perfect volunteer opportunity for people living in a college-adjacent community. Older, wiser people might reach out to college students as local “life mentors” — people who could act as guides in this rocky season of life.

In the meantime, I suppose, expensive “college moms for hire” are the next best thing. Can you hear my audible sigh?

This story was originally published by Jennifer Graham Kizer at Simplemost.com.