Policy Reform to Make Every Day a Happy Mothers’ Day

Who makes me a mom–my big kid at age 3 and the twins at 3 months

Yesterday was Mothers’** Day (okay, so I’m really writing this the week before, since I usually spend Mothers’ Day sleeping late and then just playing with my kids, but give me a break–it’s Mothers’ Day!).

This post isn’t about any inspirational lessons my kids have taught me, though, or the history of the holiday, or anything heartwarming like those email forwards about sick kids that people always send around this time of year (that I curse under my breath but still cry at?).

It’s about public policy reforms that would make every mother’s life better, and make our country a better place in the process, and about building the kind of political movement that would make that happen.

It’s about really believing that it could, that it can, that it will, because moms manage to make some pretty amazing things happen every day, there are a lot of us, and, well, even the most jaded politicians are afraid to be “anti-Mom”.

This spring, I read The Motherhood Manifesto. It’s terrific–stories about ordinary moms and how public policy changes would make a difference in their lives, and in ours. For several months, I’ve been an active member of MomsRising, a truly fantastic blog/advocacy group/support for progressive parents that takes on the policy priorities (maternity leave, open/flexible work, after-school programs, health care for all, excellent childcare, realistic & fair wages, and paid sick days) that stem from The Motherhood Manifesto, but, in today’s digital age, it’s a site that uses video and social networking and the highlighted voices of real parents to inspire action. If you are a mom, or you want to honor one, check it out.

Reading the book and communicating with other moms on the site, I think that there’s a real missed opportunity not to just press for these policy priorities, but also to activate families more and include a ‘motherhood (and apple pie is always good)’ appeal in other policy advocacy, too. For example, there’s a real claim to make that providing greater access to health care outside of the employer-employee relationship would open up job options for mothers and fathers who want flexibility but often sacrifice it for full-time positions that come with benefits (which can mean, then, that one parent settles for less employment than he/she (usually she) would like, because the other is in an overwhelming job that comes with health insurance). I don’t hear the pro-mother, pro-family, pro-labor market flexibility argument much in the health care debate these days, and it seems to be a missing element.

Similarly, the discussion around universal preschool and greater supports for early childhood education highlights the high cost, scarce availability, and spotty quality of childcare options, but gives short shrift to the struggles of childcare providers, many of whom are themselves mothers, who, despite the unaffordability of childcare for many parents, often earn poverty wages for their families. Uniting mothers who are childcare providers and those who are childcare consumers seems key to building a coalition that will shift the public understanding of childcare to something that more parallels higher education, where considerable public subsidy is considered an essential component of a thriving economy and society.

I am very, very aware of the many privileges that make motherhood a (usually) pleasant journey for me: a partner who shares a lot of the family work load; life insurance that would keep our family from being devastated if something happened to either one of us; a part-time job that allows me a lot of flexibility; a higher education that makes that job a possibility; extended family nearby; a safe neighborhood full of people who view our children as partly their responsibility; access to health care for my kids…I can’t imagine being a mom without these supports, and yet the reality is that most mothers are denied many of them.

Still, my reality is that I won’t make what I did once I go back to work full-time (the motherhood wage hit is about 30%, and it lasts for years, ON TOP OF the $700,000 lifetime hit women take in earnings due to the wage gap); I’m not saving anything for my retirement; I do more than half of the housework and the vast majority of the hands-on childcare; I panic whenever our childcare falls through; I work and parent even when I’m sick; including caring for my kids, I ‘work’ about 80 hours/week, but I’ll only get Social Security credits for a fraction of that. I see around me mothers who wish they were working but couldn’t make enough to pay for childcare, mothers who wish they could see their kids more but don’t want to sacrifice their careers, mothers who only have 2-3 weeks at home after having a baby, mothers who rationalize sending their kids to poor-quality childcare because they can’t afford anything else, mothers who themselves aren’t earning what they’re really worth.

It’s wrong, our nation can’t afford it, and our families deserve better. Nearly every other developed nation does a better job of surrounding mothers with investments for success than ours–we know what would help, and we know that the we will reap the rewards for decades to come. Please, go make it a Happy Mothers’ Day, today and tomorrow and the next day…

**I’m intentional about the placement of the possessive here; “mother’s day” would be about honoring one’s own mother, which, you know, is fine, but certainly not revolutionary. I consider it “mothers’ day”, which, if we took it seriously enough, could change our world.

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