Robots May Displace Workers. Never Mom
Maternal Eternal Job Security
If you want job security in today’s increasingly automated world, be a mom. A machine may assemble a car and one day drive it safely, but no machine will ever replace a mom’s main task – providing the “emotional labor” that runs a happy home.
“What is emotional labor?” you ask. It is not the stuff of earthshaking consequences. It is the grind of non-stop, unexciting, but essential decisions of day-to-day family life – even if you are a family of two. Decisions like: What to cook for dinner? and Where to find a reliable handyman to do all those fix-it chores your own Mr. Fix-it is too busy to do?
Emotional labor includes planning birthday parties, ordering (or baking) the cake, and selecting the gifts. It’s reminding your spouse to call his family on their birthdays and the holidays. And it’s reminding your kids to do the million and one things they ought to do without needing a push and a shove.
Emotional about Emotional Labor
Good Housekeeping had an interesting article on women, emotional labor, and gender equity, while humorist Gina Barreca hilariously addressed the topic in her book It’s Not that I’m Bitter. She really hit the humor sweet spot for me in a chapter called “Why Have I Never Heard a Man Say, ‘Oh, the next month is going to be really busy because I’m getting ready for the holidays?'” Now I love Handsome Hubby, but when it comes time to do the holiday gift shopping, wrapping, and shipping; writing, addressing, stamping, and mailing cards, and decorating the tree, he is generally MIA.
You can make the argument that this all harkens back to sexist divisions of labor between men as the breadwinners and women as domestic goddesses. But honestly, I think the explanation is more than that, and I think even the busiest of working women/mothers will agree. We really do have it in our bones – for better or worse – to care, worry, and “sweat” the small stuff.
Rosie the Robot, Wherefore Art Thou?
And truth be told, I really love my role as Guardian of the Home Fires, although I also admit I occasionally would like a little help. Robots run assembly lines everywhere, but none can be found putting their digital digits on domestic chores like dusting and loading the dishwasher.
Where is our Rosie the Robot, that whirling wonder of a cleaning machine that made the home of the cartoon Jetsons so shiny and spotless?
(And, please, do not remind me of the Roomba vacuum cleaner! My girlfriend had one and it managed to vacuum/spread the dog’s excrement throughout her once white-carpeted house!)
Now it is true that whiz-bang developers are working on robots to help around the home. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased the Aeolus Robot, a child-size machine that mops, picks up toys, and performs other household tasks.
Aeolus has a grabbing arm and, according to the company, will be linked to a computer network that shares information about thousands of objects and, using artificial intelligence to make the robot increasingly intelligent over time, adapts to your home and lifestyle.
The robot can “learn” which objects belong to specific people, ensuring the baby’s pacifier won’t appear on your husband’s night table and your unmentionables won’t wind up in your son’s dresser drawer!
But Aeolus is still under development, so, chore-wise we’re still on our own, ladies. And even when the able-Aeolus is available, it obviously won’t handle the emotional heavy lifting at the heart of the Mom job.
Robots May Displace Workers, but not Mom
No robot will be able to comfort an upset spouse at the end of a trying work day. No robot will be able to comfort a teen whose heart has been broken for the first time, and no machine will ever be able to cradle a sleepy baby in its metal arms and sing “Rock-a-bye Baby” the way its own loving mother can.
So, young moms, middle-aged moms, and even ready-to-run-from-the-workplace-retirement-age moms, job security is ours. Family emotional labor is our loving, lifetime commitment.
And Speaking of Mother’s Day
And with an eye to this coming Sunday – our special day – and in the interest of getting that well-deserved (if I do say so myself) break, I offer this gentle guidance to Handsome Hubby and The Kids regarding my Mother’s Day wishes:
First and foremost, do NOT ask me what I want! I want YOU to figure it out … the gift, the day, the dinner, the whole enchilada (but, sadly, please, no enchiladas this year. I’m having a problem with spicy foods). It is the reprieve from emotional labor – from decision-making – that I most desire.
Now, of course, I understand that my family is a literal kind of clan, one that requires specific gift guidance. So, here goes:
Gift Ideas for Handsome Hubby
- Clean the air conditioner filters.
Note: You promised to do this back in March.
- Find a workman to sand and refinish our dog-clawed scratched front door.
Note: Saying you are going to find a workman for the past four months is not the same thing as actually selecting and scheduling a workman to do the job.
Gift Ideas for Adult-ish Child 1
- Clean your room before the first or second coming (depending on one’s religious point of view) of the Messiah.
- Cook an edible family dinner and then immediately afterward hose down the entire kitchen to clean up the mess you created.
Gift Ideas for Adult-ish Child 2
- Finish installing my Christmas techno-gift, which (you claim) will enable me to more easily watch the family home movies, now on dozens of CDs, on the computer and TV.
- Wave your magic techno-hand and finally de-couple your dad’s photo files from mine.
Note 1: It’s not that I don’t love your father, but wading through his hundreds, of energy-efficient device photos to find family and travel pictures is not that entertaining.
Note 2: Not to belabor the point, but you’ve been promising to do this for at least three years!
That’s it. That’s all I want.
To Infinity and Beyond!
But I’m not optimistic. It’s not that my clan isn’t smart or clever. It’s just they worry so much about getting “it” right that they wilt under pressure. They simply cannot handle the emotional labor!
So, while experts predict that one-third of US workers will be replaced by automation by 2030, I’m confident that moms everywhere will forever hold down the proverbial fort, making the tough decisions, like whether to cook fish or chicken for dinner and whether to kiss or clobber Junior for his worrisome behavior at school.
Yes, Moms everywhere, our job is secure. Who else could and would shoulder all the familial emotional labor?