Mother’s Day in America

May 10, 2017

Mother’s Day is coming. Yay.

I hate Mother’s Day. I have always hated Mother’s Day. Well, maybe not when I was a kid – then, I probably didn’t give it much thought. But now I’m all grown up, and a mother myself, and I hate Mother’s Day.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve explained that my feelings about this “holiday” have nothing to do with my Mom, who is a terrific mother, or my kids, who are terrific kids. I hate Mother’s Day because it’s a greeting-card, floral industry hyped holiday in which advertisers try to guilt us into buying chocolate-covered strawberries, large stuffed animals, or $99 necklaces in order to give evidence of our undying love and devotion. I also hate it because mothers who have lost their children, or women who wish they had children but don’t, or women who don’t have children because they don’t want them, end up feeling like crap. I’ve said all this before.

Why I am particularly hating Mother’s Day today, in 2017 America, is because I am so fed up with the hypocrisy of a society that pays lip service to the hard work of mothering while offering zero support to those who are in the trenches wiping butts, cajoling recalcitrant toddlers to eat dinner, making sure homework gets done, and teaching their kids what “misogyny” and “xenophobia” mean.

Ask anyone in this country – let’s be specific: Ask any white man in Congress about his mother, and he’s likely to wax rhapsodic about how she is/was the most nurturing, caring, loving person ever to have graced humanity, so much so that Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic comments were really, really offensive to him –as the son of his mother, you know – to such an extent that he just couldn’t overlook those comments…until, of course, it looked like most of Trump’s supporters could, and then, well, you know the rest.

Ask that same white congressman whether mothers are important or deserve our respect, and watch as he tees up to slam that softball deep into left field with his pandering stump speech written for the exclusive purpose of getting affluent soccer moms wet.

Ask enough people this question, and you’d really have to believe that in the United States of America, in 2017, where the idea of motherhood is exalted to such a level that a woman’s choice whether or not to have a child is fast becoming one that is not even hers to make, and you’d likely believe – if you knew nothing else about this country – that when one actually becomes a mother, she will find an endless array of resources to help her in her task.

You’d be wrong.

In this country, here are just a few of the things we don’t do for mothers, starting from the moment they get pregnant:

• We don’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave.
• We don’t offer subsidies for daycare, except to the very poor, and daycare is often the most expensive item on a family’s budget, after housing.
• We do not incentivize employers to provide more flexible work options for working mothers, such as telecommuting, job sharing, or extended career breaks.
• Unlike nearly every other industrialized country in the world, we do not provide universal public preschool, despite a growing body of research demonstrating the role that access to quality preschool education plays in child development and future success at school.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget that a majority of House members (some of them women with children of their own) just told us that mothers shouldn’t be entitled to mandatory health insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth, childhood vaccinations, or preventive care.

So much for supporting motherhood. And don’t get me started on those wacky Republican men in the New Hampshire state legislature who introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to breastfeed in public, or their colleague of dubious intellect, State Representative Josh Moore, who posted on his Facebook account that men should be permitted to grab the nipples of women who breastfeed in public. Though 49 states have enacted legislation to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, “family values” conservatives continue to rail against this most motherly of acts. You know. Because when women breastfeed in public, what they’re really trying to say is, “Hey, stud. I am feeling so sexy right now. Wanna fuck?”

Mothers in the workforce don’t fare much better. One study found that working mothers typically earn less than women without children, even when other factors such as education and work commitment are taken into account. Another study determined that mothers were often more likely than non-mothers to be regarded as less competent and poorly motivated to succeed. A third concluded that women take a “motherhood penalty” when they have children to the tune of a 4% drop in salary for each child they have.

These facts demonstrate unequivocally what Americans really think of motherhood, flowery platitudes notwithstanding, because they are reflective of governmental policy that has no interest whatsoever in helping families, and mothers in particular, be successful. If Americans truly wanted universal paid maternity leave, and quality, affordable child care subsidized by the government, they would elect leaders who advocate for such legislation, but they don’t. Those policies may sound great, but no one wants to pay for them, and for all those gooey, high-minded expressions about motherhood being the most difficult and important profession in the world, we do nothing – nothing – as a nation that would prove that we mean it.

Twenty years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote the book, “It Takes a Village,” advocating that the role of raising children is one in which we should all be deeply invested. She got a lot of criticism from the “in my day, we took care of our kids by letting them stick screwdrivers in electrical outlets while we smoked and drank martinis, and they turned out just fine” crowd, most of whom thought she was suggesting that mothers should abdicate their responsibilities to the State because they didn’t feel like taking care of their kids. Which wasn’t what she was saying at all. What she meant was, “let’s help make it easier to raise kids well, because when you do that, they’re less likely to end up in a clock tower with an automatic weapon.” Or maybe just that society as a whole benefits. Anyway, what she was trying to say was, let’s help moms as much as we can. And the country said, “No way.” So we didn’t.

Things haven’t changed much in twenty years (and they weren’t great before then, either). We say being a mother is important, but we won’t open up our wallets to make sure that said mother is supported, has access to quality, affordable healthcare, or can make a living wage at an unskilled profession in order to feed her kids. There are those who would say, “if you can’t afford to take care of a child, then you shouldn’t have one,” and to those who would say such a thing, I would say, “then perhaps we shouldn’t be talking about defunding Planned Parenthood or refusing to teach contraception in high school.” But I digress.

The bottom line is, our country is hostile to mothers. We won’t say it, but our actions speak volumes. We really don’t like mothers in this country, unless they’re holding a clean, freshly-bathed baby who isn’t crying, and so to try to pretend that we value them by setting aside one day a year in their honor is a farce. If, however, you think about how we are encouraged to recognize dear old mom on her special day – with an empty gesture that tries to make up for the fact that we pretty much ignore her the rest of the year – perhaps Mother’s Day is a perfect analogy for how our country really views motherhood.

This year on Mother’s Day, I’ll be waking up and going for a hike, weather permitting, and then I’ll have dinner with my family, including my own Mom, 83 years old and still doing yoga. I’m not buying her flowers (well, maybe I will pick up some tulips, because she likes tulips), and I’m not buying her chocolates (because I already do that and she has a really big stash right now). I’m not actually giving her anything, but I am making a donation to the Global Fund for Women, because that would make her happy. If you care about mothers – your own, or someone else’s – perhaps consider a similar gesture.

And Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you so much.

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