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Is American motherhood impossible?
There's an app for that.
Welcome to a slew of new subscribers! Maybe you found me via Cup of Jo? Maybe via Not Safe for Mom Group? In any case, I’m happy to have you as a member of the In Pursuit of Clean Countertops community, where we interrogate momfluencer culture, the cult of the ideal mom, and the scam of mothering in a country which systematically devalues the labor (and lives) of mothers.
Amanda Montei (of the excellent Mad Moms newsletter) sent me this week’s WTF via Instagram DM and my response, without even reading the article, was “hell yes.” And by that I mean, “hell yes to WTFing this article” NOT “hell yes” to the article in question.
The article in question is entitled “I Tried a Parenting Personal Assistant App - and Here’s Why I Loved It.”
The thesis of my WTF is fairly straightforward: we should not need personal assistant parenting apps.
The author opens the article acknowledging that, “as pandemic parents, we've done the impossible. We have balanced full-time jobs, child care, school, and relationships.” This intro is meant to indicate that of course we need an app to help us achieve the “impossible,” but the problem facing most American caregivers is not a lack of apps, the problem is that American parents (and especially mothers) have been tasked with doing the “impossible” for far too long than is humane. We don’t need an app. We need a revolution.
In the article, the author describes her overwhelm (again, as a way to demonstrate her need for an app, not expansive legislative action to support caregivers).
When the Parents team asked me if I'd like to try a new personal assistant service for parents called Yohana, I thought it was a gift from the heavens. Had someone seen me unbathed, up to my ears in laundry, eating crumbs off my robe, and balancing a child on my lap while giving a work presentation and thought, "This woman needs help?" Let's just say I was open (desperate) to try the service.
Like many of us, the author sounds burned out. She doesn’t have time to attend to basic hygienic needs or properly feed herself; she is drowning in domestic work; and her carework is bleeding into her professional work. Like many of us, she does indeed seem to “need help.”
But in order to avoid parental burnout, we should not, as individuals, be tasked with adopting yet another technology (or paying for that technology) to get the help we so desperately need. To avoid parental burnout, we need collective structural change so that all parents can move through life without feeling as though they’re in a state of nearly constant mental, physical, emotional, and financial precariousness.
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The author explains how Yohana connected her with a personal assistant who helped with a “wide breadth of tasks including helping to find a cake and cookies for my daughter's second birthday and getting kids recipes and fun craft ideas.” The author’s personal assistant also helped research part-time nannies and childcare resources.
The author says that, “knowing tasks were being worked on freed up more time for me to spend with family.” Yohana also allowed her more time for exercising, cooking, and “let’s be honest, watching 30 minutes of reality TV.” (Because what’s a good “mommy article” if it doesn’t tacitly mock mommy’s “me-time.”) Conspicuously absent from this article was how Yohana helped the author’s partner (who I assume is a straight dude and who I assume exists because she references “we” at one point), but maybe this absence only serves to further highlight the fact that apps designed for parents who “are so busy they want to clone themselves” are apps designed for moms. Not dads. Because according to the logic of the nuclear American family, not only should moms “naturally” assume ownership of domestic work, carework, and the mental load of birthday-party planning, but moms should also be the ones to research and download the apps.
To be fair, finding (and affording) childcare in this country is pure hell. So I can certainly empathize with the author’s sense of relief when her Yohana personal assistant helped make the process less hellish. But the answer to childcare being hell in this country is not an app. It’s ensuring that affordable, accessible, quality childcare is available to all parents, regardless of whether or not they have $249.00 a month of disposable income to spend on (another) fucking app.
And while I’m not denigrating the fun (if it’s fun for you!) of planning a kid’s birthday party or picking out cake designs or whatever, I hardly think American parents’ most pressing issue these days is a dearth of “fun craft ideas.” We already have plenty of apps (Instagram! Pinterest!) to encourage the commodification of children’s celebrations.
I also think one’s access (or not) to “kids recipes” is highly unlikely to be keeping most American moms up at night. Most American moms already have pretty lengthy lists of intrusive thoughts keeping them rigid with worry at 3AM.
This list currently includes (but is not limited to!) a continued formula shortage, a fucking tampon shortage, ZERO federal paid family and medical leave, a maternal healthcare system that’s failing many of us, no legally protected bodily autonomy, an ongoing war on abortion and reproductive rights, lack of access to contraception, workplace inequality, gendered inequality in the home, no renumeration for carework, gaslighty recommendations to breastfeed for two years without reckoning with the significant financial and time cost of breastfeeding, the list goes on! And on!
No app is going to erase the fact that American mothers and caregivers live in a country which consistently goes to dystopian lengths to make life shittier and more difficult for us, while simultaneously using our “free” labor to uphold capitalism. Apps instead of laws. $249 a month for a personal assistant to find a bakery that will make a Cocomelon cake but no social safety nets for the most vulnerable caregivers among us.
America loves mothers. When they spend money.
The author concludes the Yohana article (ad) by evoking the highly gendered concept of parental guilt.
As parents, we tend to hold on to a false narrative that we should feel guilty to ask for help, to delegate, and to create more time for ourselves. Somehow, we've been convinced these are selfish actions that make us a lesser-than parent. But the truth is, to support our families and to be there for everyone around us, we need to start with ourselves. My only personal challenge with utilizing Yohana was my own struggle to let go of control and let someone else take the reins. This exercise taught me how to ask for help and that it's OK to accept it—and that's a glorious thing!
I agree that moms are deliberately socially conditioned to “feel guilty to ask for help,” but spending money on an app is not the same thing as asking for help. Spending money on a parenting personal assistant app is akin to sticking a Paw Patrol bandaid onto someone’s chest wound after open-heart surgery.
Mothers are bleeding out. We need life support. Not an app.
So yeah, let’s
ask for demand help! Here are a few resources for how to do that, all of which are free, and none of which will clutter up your phone’s screen with another icon.