I recently came across a 2013 Oxford University study of jobs most likely to be computerised in the future, and let me tell you, it makes for interesting reading. Among the least likely jobs to be handed over to robots are teaching and social work, and one of the most likely is telemarketing (a fact I hope I can refrain from mentioning the next time someone phones me during dinner to discuss life insurance).
Mothering doesn’t appear on the list at all, unsurprisingly. Crafted by hand and forged in fire, we can’t be replaced by anything manmade. Although quite a few mothers are sort of manmade, I suppose, if you know what I mean, wink wink.
Anyway, it got me thinking. What if we could hand over some parenting to robots? You know … the nasty bits. Did I say that aloud? Of course there are no nasty bits to parenting. It’s all a joy. But still.
Washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers have all helped to free people from the drudgery of cleaning and allowed them to do fun things, like go shopping for more clothes to wash. 60 years on and I doubt anyone feels pangs of guilt because they don’t wring out the laundry by hand like Granny used to. So why can’t the same thing happen with parenting?
Let’s take nappy changing. I have a friend who treasured nappy changing time, saying that it bonded her with her babies: they made eye contact, she sang to them, and they babbled back to her. Either she has an unusually strong stomach or her babies pooped rosebuds, because that was certainly not my experience of nappy changing. I was too busy gagging to do any singing, and I couldn’t see my babies’ faces through my streaming eyes, let alone exchange loving looks with them. I certainly didn’t feel closer to them because of the experience. Most of the time I wished I were further away, like on the other side of the house, with a magazine and a box of biscuits. It was very empowering for the children, though, convincing them that they were the proud owners of some sort of adult-annihilating nappy-Kryptonite. And when toilet training began, that Kryptonite was unleashed all over the house. I kept finding ghastly little surprises next to the toybox, behind the couch, in the laundry basket. I would have loved a WALL-E type unit to zoom in, secure the area and dispose of the nappy bombs and poo landmines.
Do you enjoy playing trains and dollies with your little ones, for hours on end? No? Me neither. Which is why FunBotMom would be so useful: she would never get bored and drift off to hide in the boiler room with a novel; she’d just love drinking pretend tea out of tiny plastic cups and making small talk with the teddy bears.
Bath time would be good for robotification too. I adored it when the children were little, and it was all lavender-scented bubbles and gurgling babies. But bath time these days involves wrestling a protesting seven-year-old out of a tree and into the tub, and keeping her in there long enough to get the mud/twigs/horsehair/dog lick off her. I am so ready to hand this over to a robot. Something, perhaps, like the BunVac 6000, with added washer/dryer functionality.
Another part of parenting that I really do not enjoy is disciplining the children. I’m not talking about the life-skills, character-building, meaningful stuff. I’m talking about the asking them to pick up their damn socks off the damn floor ten times every damn day sort of disciplining. This, surely, is a job for RoboMom.
Just like me, she would stomp into the house after a long, difficult day of Doing Stuff, to be met with the pleasing sight of toys and clothes all over the floor, and children lying around all over the furniture. But, unlike me, she would not shriek. She would not windmill her arms and loudly ask the Fates why this is happening to her. No. She would say, very calmly, “Pick these up off the floor. The toys go in the toy box. The clothes go in your cupboard. The socks go in the laundry-basket-not-on-the-floor-next-to-the-basket-but-in-the-actual-basket. You have five seconds to comply.”
Exactly five seconds later – because RoboMom does not count in fractions – she’d call in her partner, Giant Roomba with Flamethrower Attachment, and let me tell you, that would be the last time anything was left on the floor in this house.
And with these tasks outsourced, I could be the mother I want to be: the smiling one who bakes and cooks delicious dinners (or not – ThermoMom would totally have my back). I could be the patient parent, who knows that children need to make messes while they learn; that busy brains don’t always remember to pick up after themselves; and that a muddy little girl up a tree is doing childhood right. That’s who I used to be, before all the laundry and homework supervision and a thousand pairs of lost gym shoes warped me.
The MomBots of the future might just help me be the mother that I once was.
By Robyn Goss
Robyn is a part-time writer and full-time slave to her two young daughters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she now lives in a little cow-rich village in Switzerland. She spends her free time making To Do lists of things she’ll probably never get around to doing (have the car cleaned; vacuum under the bed; run a half-marathon) and putting the finishing touches to her third novel. To read more of Robyn’s writing, click here and here.
Illustration by Masha Ellis
Masha works as a product manager in the finance industry during the day and dedicates her spare time to art, cooking and her traditional nutrition blog. She is Australian with Ukranian roots and now lives near Lake Zurich with her little girl. To find out more, follow her on Facebook or visit her blog.