Upon reading about “rent-a-mom” Nina Keneally, the New York City woman who recently launched a company through which she charges hourly for mothering services, I wondered if technology and the internet had brought about new lows for humanity.
While I am certainly among Keneally’s target market—a dislocated millennial trying to make it all work in a big city—I’d still like to think that there are certain things for which there can never be an app or a by-the-hour service.
Mothering ought to be in that category. And yet it’s only a matter of time before there is an app for renting a mom.
Even so, as a young working mom to two young children, living in the city with a husband who works grueling hours, I am amazed (as is my mom) by the way that technology is a parent-enabler. For all the scary articles about the pitfalls of “screen time” and the dooms of iPhones and iPads in the domestic sphere, the reality is that they have the power to transform actual motherhood (as distinguished from rental motherhood) for the better.
The following are a few examples.
Instacart: “Instacart was at my house with seven bags of groceries at 11 p.m. last night.” Thus said a friend of mine who, though she works from home with live-in help, still struggles to find time for basic errands. The grocery delivery service comes at all hours from all major local chains in many areas; you can even mix and match. Want fresh fish from Whole Foods but cheap milk from Safeway? Don’t want to crisscross town to get it? Husband have the car, and it’s pouring and your baby is sick? Or just want to plan ahead for the week and reduce the odds you will forget something when your toddler starts screaming? Instacart will bring your groceries to your door for a small surcharge—possibly less than what you’d pay in gas, parking, and frustration trying to shop with children. It’s a revolutionary service, the type of thing women no doubt fantasized about for generations. For centuries, only the rich had personal shoppers. Instacart has made that a reality for us plebes.
Blue Apron (and other meal delivery services): If grocery shopping is a challenge, so is meal planning. In the past few years, a number of food delivery services have cropped up. Companies like Blue Apron, Plated, and HelloFresh will send you everything you need, perfectly portioned, to cook a certain number of dinners per week, adjusted for the number of diners. Just Blue Apron’s explosion is telling: Its first shipment was 20 boxes of meals. Now they send a million meals a month to customers all over the country. In outsourcing the meal planning and the grocery gathering, parents can know at the end of an unexpectedly crazy day that there is still a dinner they can get on the table in 30 minutes.
Amazon: You can actually have anything delivered to your home with a push of the button, and Amazon has a number of services like Amazon Mom, Subscribe and Save, and Amazon Pantry that make managing a home easier. While taking the subway to work, a mom can order diapers, wipes, and formula, all at a discount and in bulk, and have them sent right to her doorstep. She can actually set up the shipments to recur automatically. Amazon will even help you figure out when you are most likely to need more toilet paper or laundry detergent based on your ordering history. Just wait until they get drone service.
Mobile Banking: Growing up, the weekly trip to the bank with mom was an ordeal that involved waiting in lines and scary tubes that sucked up paychecks and returned with lollipops. Banking was something that often fell into moms’ laps until the recent proliferation of mobile banking apps. Now you can deposit a check, manage bill payments, and even budget through your smartphone, abilities that save parents (and non-parents) countless hours in a year.
Facebook: Sure, Facebook is a place where some women antagonize each other with mommy war material about whether to let your kid have an iPad or whether cry-it-out is criminal. But it’s also a place where some moms exchange cold, hard parenting information. On one private moms’ group I belong to, women swap tips about everything from nap schedules to potty training to surviving the four-month sleep regression. It’s the kind of place to go with a question you wouldn’t bother your pediatrician over. Another private group I belong to enables women to buy and sell designer diaper bags. Yet another is organizing a book swap.
Uber: In Anne Marie Slaughter’s now-infamous Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” she mentioned one high-powered working mom who “organized her time so ruthlessly that she always keyed in 1:11 or 2:22 or 3:33 on the microwave rather than 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, because hitting the same number three times took less time.” It’s an extreme example, yet it highlights just how precious time is to working moms. Not only does Uber save a mom like me precious minutes that would otherwise be spent trying to hail a cab, but its trip-planning feature also makes it much easier to time a work meeting such that childcare time is minimized. When it launched Uber family—the trip with car seat options—Uber solidified itself as the ideal taxi service for a parent on the go.
Skype: It’s hard to overstate this one. Skype brings major personal and professional advantages to women. It enables kids to share face time with distant grandparents, the benefits of which were among the factors that recently prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to change their guidelines about screen time for children. But it has also radically transformed the ability of parents to achieve a flexible work schedule that maximizes time at home. I have Skyped into meetings, radio programs, and even television shows, all while a baby was napping in the next room.
Pinterest: During my first Christmas with my in-laws, my mother-in-law caught me in the kitchen cooking from a recipe on my phone. She’s an old-fashioned Italian whose cooking is known around town, so I was embarrassed to be found using my phone for recipes. But she marveled at the efficacy of it. Every woman who likes to cook has her favorite online recipes bookmarked, and Pinterest brings electronic recipe cataloguing to a new level. The website and app allow cooks to pin a recipe to their board and file it under a limitless number of options. It’s like a giant, portable cookbook of just your go-to’s and favorites, all stored with zero clutter and maximum accessibility in your phone.
The list of apps and Internet services that streamline modern parenting is endless, ranging from grocery list organizers to nearest-bathroom-finders for potty-training kids. The litany of options is driven largely by one demographic: millennial moms. Nearly half of millennial mothers report using their smartphones to make purchases, three-fifths of whom use their phones to compare costs. Of the 90 percent of us that have smartphones, eight in ten report using them while shopping to, say, clip a coupon or check a recipe.
Millennial moms are the pioneers of smartphone parenting. To be sure, the Internet can be a major distraction for parents and presents its own challenges in the home. But when harnessed properly, a smartphone’s many tools can help women to streamline their domestic lives and free up valuable hours for quality time with their children. The time a woman once spent waiting at the bank, struggling through the grocery store, or flipping through a cookbook is the time she can devote to pursuing her career or taking her kids to a museum.
Rent-a-mom might have something to learn from her clients after all.