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Is Uber for Kids Really a Good Idea?

Photograph by Getty Images

The other day, I was half an hour late to pick up my son from his martial arts class. I had a good excuse: My other son had to be dropped off at baseball practice—across town—at the exact same time. By the time I arrived at the studio, my normally stoic boy was holding back tears.

"Maybe I should call an Uber to pick you up next time," I joked (sort of), as we raced through traffic to get back to the baseball field to pick up the other son.

Well, it's like somebody read my mind, because recently I've heard about several ride apps that are aimed at frazzled parents like myself who are struggling to find ways to get their kids from point A to point B. Available in the LA area and San Francisco/Bay Area, these kid drop-off apps are advertising features such as background checks, drivers with experience caring for kids, and specialized insurance for underage passengers. One service even touts its all-female team of drivers.

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I have to admit, it sounds like a great idea. After all, part of the reason I work from home is so I can spend my afternoons chauffeuring my boys to and from school, baseball, band, martial arts, play dates, swim team, youth group … oh, and "Can we run to the store? I need a tri-fold poster board for the science fair—tomorrow." On the rare occasion that I go out of town a few days for a conference or business trip, one of the most complicated parts of the pre-planning is figuring out who can drive my kids to all these places.

But then, there's the mama bear part of me that wants to cross-examine anyone who's going to be taking my child places. I remember the first time my kids' preschool went on a field trip. The permission slip said to drop off their car seats in the lobby. I was nervous enough letting some other parent shuttle my precious cargo. There was no way I'd drop off my car seat and be on my way. I personally inspected that car seat to make sure it was installed correctly.

Taking kids to their activities is not so much about the mechanics of driving, but about everything else that's going on around it; it's about the conversations that happen.

My boys don't need car seats or boosters anymore, but I still worry about whether a person is a safe driver. Are they listening to music with inappropriate lyrics? Will they make sure my son remembers his jacket when he gets out of the car? And by middle school, the kids are all familiar with the concept of Uber. "I'm gonna sign up to be a driver," one of my 12-year-old's friends bragged from the backseat. "They can make $50 an hour!" (Never mind the fact that you need a driver's license.)

Which brings me to my next point. Taking kids to their activities is not so much about the mechanics of driving, but about everything else that's going on around it. It's finding the lost jersey or giving a pep talk to the kid who feels like quitting an activity. It's the small talk with the coach or music teacher or minister that gives you insight into your child's life without you. It's about the conversations that happen in the car when you're idling in traffic. That's usually when my kids bring up the Big Questions or volunteer the details of their day that I can't pry out of them by asking, "How was school?"

It's not that moms have to be hovering around, devoting a full 18 years to door-to-door delivery and on-demand services. I'm not against paying someone else to drive your children to activities, especially if it frees up moms to do other meaningful (and gainful) work. But kids—even big ones—need consistency in their lives. Maybe it's a babysitter, grandparent or family friend who drives them to these activities; the point is that it's someone they can build a relationship with. Of course, sometimes you'll need to call in someone else, and I can see how a paid driver might be convenient for the occasion when the parents or regular helpers can't be there, but having different drivers showing up in the driveway all the time has got to be confusing for kids.

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Finally, I told my 12-year-old about the apps and asked him what he thought about it. "Stranger danger!" he mock-yelled. "You've been teaching us since we were little kids not to get in a car with someone we don't know."

Can't argue with that.

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