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Outsourcing Parenthood

Potty training

what the pros do: Some, like Wendy Sweeney, R.N., a registered pediatric nurse and mom of six in West Chicago, IL, run one-day classes. In Sweeney's five-hour, $300 Booty Camp, kids eat, drink, play, and learn to use the potty together. Others, like clinical psychologist Maria Zimmitti, Ph.D., who practices in Washington, DC, will talk parents through the process for $250 a session. "Parents come to me when they're in full crisis mode—usually in the summer when they need to get their kid trained for preschool—and they just can't handle it on their own. I do a lot of hand-holding," she says.

is it worth it? After struggling for months, one Chicago mom sent her 3-year-old to Sweeney's class. "We did a class on Friday, and by Sunday my son was going in the potty and only had two accidents," she says. "Without her class and reassurance, I don't think I could have motivated my son to learn."

Potty training stirs up a lot of issues, not to mention accidents, tears, and whining (from you especially). "There's this notion that we'll somehow damage our kids if we do it wrong, which I don't agree with, but it's still the way many parents feel," says Zimmitti. But she stops short of doing the work herself. "You really miss out if you outsource the whole thing," she says. Other experts agree. "Going through developmental milestones and learning to set limits deepens the bonds with your child because you're learning to conquer something together," says Frances Walfish, Psy.D., a child psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA.

bottom line: Moms tend to turn to trainers when they're at the end of their rope, finding them through their childcare providers, preschools, or word of mouth. "I had too many things on my plate, and my patience had run out," says one mom. "Hiring a pro helped avoid a lot of strain on our relationship." Still, this is a milestone all kids master—when they're ready. If you're stressed-out, ease the tension by laying off for a week or two, then try again.

Parent coaching

what the pros do: It's like your very own Supernanny—someone observes your family in action and then goes over alternative ways of dealing with your child's tantrums or whatever drove you to seek help. The price for all this one-on-one attention? Over $100 an hour.

is it worth it? Coaching turned out to be the lifeline Missy White of Boston needed. A single mom of a 5-year-old, she turned to a specialist when her child's behavior became too much for her to handle. Her daughter, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, couldn't seem to sit still and wouldn't listen. The expert advice White got is helping her be a better mom, she says. "The specialist suggested I make a reward chart instead of taking away fun things from my daughter, which is what I was doing before."

"Parents don't want to spend the little time they have with their kids disciplining them," says Sally Wilkinson, founder of Urban Nurture, a company in New York City that provides families with nanny-style behavioral coaching. But others say that's the opposite of what should be going on. "Kids need to know that their parents can stick by them even when they're at their worst," says Walfish, "but I don't think they can learn that when parts of parenting are farmed out."

bottom line: Moms are afraid of asking friends for help because they don't want to look like failures, says Wilkinson. If your child has a serious problem, talk to your pediatrician. Otherwise, it's better to reach out to pals—online or off.