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My girls gave me "sports Mom" pins for Mother's Day.

My girls gave me “sports Mom” pins for Mother’s Day.

My family did it up right yesterday. Homemade cards and art projects from my girls. Husband took over housework duties. (He shares in these regularly.) Excellent weather treated us to an outstanding day at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival — the perfect Mother’s Day gift/family activity for fascinated-with-16th-century-England me. Mutual Mother’s Day gifts and greetings exchanged with my Mom and mother types in my life.

My cup runneth over with the love that my family poured into me. And yet, I am dissatisfied.

American culture seems to do well at revering Mom on the second Sunday in May each year. The day has been commercialized to the hilt. Weeks before Mother’s Day advertisements send a not-so-subtle message to consumers: Mom has done so much for you; the least that you should do for her in return is buy her a gift and take her out to brunch. Also, Mother’s Day has hijacked worship services, despite the fact that it is a Hallmark holiday. Songs, prayers, and even pastors’ sermons typically bestow the virtues of Mom and thank God for her. (Never mind the fact that for many people this day is painful.)

And when Mother’s Day is over, we all move on and go back to life as we know it — a patriarchal life that gives lip service to Moms, motherhood, and women as a whole.

As it currently stands, mothers are held up on a pedestal with little support beneath them,” writes psychotherapist Jasmin Lee Cori. (The Emotionally Absent Mother, p. 1) “On both a cultural and a psychological level, our feelings about mothers are often inconsistent and tangled. Mom and apple pie are potent symbols, venerated in our national psyche but neglected in national policy.

If Americans really cared about women and mothers, then we would give them more than one day a year. Here are a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Photo by o0o0xmods0o0o on morgueFile

We could start with the most obvious: equal pay for equal work. Despite the fact that President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act in January 2009, Congress has yet to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would, in addition to requiring companies to close the salary gap, allow employees to exchange information about pay. Recent statistics regarding the salary gap reveal that white women earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by a white man, while the corresponding ratios were 61 cents for African-American women and 52 cents for Hispanic women as compared to wages of white males (ACLU.org, accessed May 12, 2013). This is not just a mother issue, nor a woman issue. It is a humanitarian issue. How our politicians can vote against equal pay for equal work and look at any female in the eye perplexes me.

And then there is maternity leave. The United States is the only first-world country in the world without a mandatory paid maternity leave. Pathetic. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a woman may take up to 12 weeks maternity leave post partum without fear of losing her job upon return. However, she likely does so on her own dime. Only about 16 percent of U.S. companies offer fully-paid maternity leave. Most families either take on serious personal debt or depend upon public assistance surrounding the birth of a child. We say that motherhood is the foundation of American society; and yet, this is how we treat mothers after giving birth.

Diana MacNamara reads to children at Fort Bragg. Photo by familymwr on Flickr.

Diana MacNamara reads to children at Fort Bragg. Photo by familymwr on Flickr.

We could also do better with our child care situation. Child care is the number one reason for employee leave, tardiness, absence, and low job production. The average cost of preschool and daycare in the U.S. is $11,666 per year. On average after school care costs working parents $67 per week ($268 monthly) per child. These numbers don’t really affect families on the extreme ends of the wealth spectrum — the rich and the poor. But, they do hit middle class and working class families hard. The childcare bill often claims the entire monthly earnings of one worker in a dual-income household. Worse, many families leave their children home alone because they must work and cannot afford after school care. A 2009 study found that an estimated 15.1 American children are left on their own in the afternoons.

And finally, for this post, anyway, a suggestion for all of my sisters out there. The Mommy wars must end. How long have we been debating about who is the better Mom between the working mother or the stay-at-home mother? Some women must work outside the home, while others choose to. Some women are unable to work outside the home, while others choose to stay at home with their children. From what I can tell, beyond those who are addicted and abusive, every woman does her best to mother her child(ren) with the abilities she possesses. How can we, in all seriousness, ask (patriarchal) society to respect mothers and motherhood more when we do, and not give this gift to one another as women? Ladies, give your counterpart mother a break, and extend to her empathy and compassion rather than sour grapes and the stink eye. Whether Mom works outside the home full or part-time, works from home, or is 100 percent a domestic diva matters not. Motherhood is HARD. Amazing, but hard. We have more things in common than we do differences.

I pray sincerely today that ladies’ cups are filled whether y’all are mothers or not. I also pray that anyone who reads this is equally dissatisfied with the plight of American mothers and women.

We’ve got a long way yet to go, Baby.

Questions for y’all:

  • What ways do you feel the U.S. does well to care for mothers and women?
  • In what areas to you believe that we need to improve?
  • Do you think that U.S. culture really values mothers and motherhood?
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