This essay originally appeared in Palo Alto Patch.
Now that we are past the Hallmark part of the holiday, it’s time for some real talk about motherhood in America. Sure, I love that my three kids still make me breakfast in bed and give me cards that express their undying devotion (until, of course, I tell them they can’t take the car or stay out past their curfew). But let me tell you a few things I don’t love:
- I don’t love that the United States is one of only four countries in the industrialized world that doesn’t offer paid family leave. The others? Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
- I don’t love that the United States does not offer quality, national child care program for working parents. Then again, we can’t even figure out how to fund Head Start programs, which have been proven to be highly effective for long-term scholastic success.
- I don’t love that maternal bias exists, but it does. A study at Cornell University revealed that even with equal resumes and job experiences, mothers were offered $11,000 lower starting salaries than non-mothers (Fathers, on the other hand, were offered $6,000 more in starting salaries than non-fathers).
- I don’t love that mothers make 73 cents to a man’s dollar, single moms make only about 60 cents to a man’s dollar, and, in case you were wondering, women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar.
- I don’t love that the work world is still structured on the concept of what Hasting Law Professor, Joan Williams, calls the “ideal worker.” That’s someone who works for forty years straight and doesn’t take time off for child-rearing. As she so eloquently showed in her seminal work, Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About It workplace ideals are still shaped around homes that include one breadwinner and one homemaker. This fantasy is no longer a reality given the current economics of our society.
- I don’t love that our choice to stay home or stay in the work world pits us against each other and distracts us from the real suffering of those who don’t even have a choice. A 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 work outside the home. Of the 21.7 million mothers who were employed in 2009, one third were the sole job holders in their family. And, the largest stay-at-home group of mothers comes from the lowest income bracket. They can’t work because they can’t afford child care and basic needs like diapers. Why are we fighting?
- I don’t love that the work of stay-at-home mothers is devalued. Consider a recentreport by the online financial company Mint. They’ve determined that it would cost $96,262 to replace the work of a stay-at-home mother. A U.N. Human Development report, stated, “If these unpaid activities were treated as market transactions at the prevailing wages, they would yield a staggering $16 trillion (to the world economy).”
- I don’t love that caregiving is denigrated no matter who does it. Sadly, men who want more time with their families face workplace bias too.
What I do love is the work of an organization called Moms Rising. Started in 2006 by Joan Blades, the organization now boasts over a million members working together to ensure the next generation of mothers do not face the deep level of maternal discrimination the current generation is forced to deal with every day, even on mother’s day.
I am also deeply impressed by the efforts of Lisa Truong. She started a non-profit called Help A Mother Out providing basic needs such as diapers to low income mothers. Her goal? To remove the barriers from getting mothers back into the work force.
These women, and others like them, are fed up. They want real change for mothers, and fathers, in this country; change that will mean economic security at the least and better parenting at best. Because despite the fact that many seem to have forgotten it, parenting the next generation is good for all of our futures. Now, wouldn’t that be something to celebrate on a collective Mothers’ Day?