Rent a mum: students in a tizzy have ‘surrogate’ at beck and call

Read the full article as published in the The Times UK by Will Pavia September 22, 2023

According to a famous political advert, any president of the United States must expect to be woken by a 3am phone call that causes them to leap into action.

Tammy Kumin has this in her job. Kumin, 74, looks after students attending American universities. She talks to them on the phone each week, makes sure they do their laundry, pays their bills and every so often takes a call in the middle of the night and gets to work.

Kumin is a professional mum. Her company, Concierge Services for Students, oKers surrogate parenting services for families whose children have left home for college. If one has a problem, she leaps into action. For issues that might be easily resolved, she said, “one of the ladies that works for me goes out”. “It depends on how important or how severe the problem is. But the parents know — any kind of medical situation, I’m always there, at 3am, 2am, whatever.”

Kumin started her service 30 years ago in Boston, looking after foreign students sent there to attend a boarding school. She is now part of an industry that grew during the pandemic, oKering on-the-ground parental services to college students.

In Missouri, Mindy Horwitz has a network of “local moms who are here to help”. Her company, Mindy
Knows, oKers guidance and support for students at a starting rate of $49 a month. A year-long mothering
package is available for $450. “We are not Mom or Dad but we’re the next best thing,” she says on her website.

Horwitz, 53, is a mother of three. When her oldest son went to university locally, in St Louis, she joined a
Facebook group for parents of students and soon found herself fielding questions. “I would know all the things the parents needed,” she said. She founded a company in 2019, helping students in St Louis. Now she has expanded to cover universities in Chicago, New York state’s Saratoga Springs and Hartford, Connecticut.

“It’s about having the peace of mind to know there is a team of mums in town who will help if need be,” she said. Occasionally, her husband springs into action too, she says. “It’s like having a really nice great-aunt in town who cares about you.”

Students and families can ask for help and “they don’t have to feel guilty because they are paying us”. She said: “We will take care of stuK. I care and I treat these students like I would treat my own children — sometimes better, actually. We are here when the parents need us to be here — for a birthday, when the kid is sick or if they need to get a passport. Today, for one of my students who had a big test, I’m bringing him soup and dumplings because they are delicious and he loves them.”

Similar services have sprung up across the country for a generation of parents able to track their children on social media. Kumin’s company now looks after students in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago as well as Boston. She disputes the idea that surrogate parenting might curb the independence of her charges. “Maybe I have to do their laundry the first two or three times,” she said. “Then I have them do it and I check on them.”

Originally from Iran, she got into this line of work after the 1979 revolution when many of her friends moved to Europe or the United States. “They were scattered all over, not knowing what to do with their children,” she said. Her father, in London, would call asking her to look out for someone’s child who was at boarding school in the US.

Now, most of her charges are university students, in some cases the children of former students she once
looked after. She limits her roster to 30 and charges $10,000 a year.

This week she hosted 18 of them at her house for dinner — a monthly event including Persian rice and chicken. “The menu has not changed in 30 years,” she said.