Mary Bissell is an attorney, New America Fellow and proud mother of two children. Shelley Waters Boots, the acting director of the Work and Family Program at the New America Foundation, celebrates her first mother’s day this year.
Being a mom is stressful. Who knew? And if this morning’s toddler tantrum and missed conference call isn’t proof enough, we have a chorus of writers, self-help gurus and well-intentioned neighbors to help remind us that we are not alone. From Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness to a host of New Age strategies designed to help us find our “authentic” selves, there is finally universal acceptance that stress and motherhood are a bad combination. So while we would never say “no” to a facial or a yoga class, we have a much more practical solution to help American mothers relax. And this year, instead of respite from our busy lives, we’re asking the government for the ultimate Mother’s Day gift: policies that truly support our children and families.
Quality, affordable child care: It’s hard for mothers (and fathers) to make a living without child care they can trust. But even if you can find a quality program or provider, child care can cost as much as college tuition. High- quality, affordable child care solutions would help families navigate work and family responsibilities and ensure quality settings to help all children get a solid academic and developmental start on the skills they need to succeed as adults.
Marriage support for the real world: Who doesn’t want a healthy marriage? The real question is the role the government should play in making that happen. The administration is proposing a series of marriage education efforts designed to change attitudes on divorce and marriage. But if we are really serious about supporting healthy marriages and improving children’s lives, we should also include policies that reduce the economic stress on parents so they can nurture each other as well as their children.
Paid sick leave: All parents need a break when their children are sick, and working moms are no exception. Yet nearly 47 percent of all workers don’t have any paid sick leave to look after their own health or the health of their children. The recently introduced Healthy Families Act would guarantee moms (and dads) at least seven days of paid sick leave each year and offer a promising prescription for healthier families and saner mothers.
Paid parental leave: A study just released by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better , reports that pregnant women are working longer hours with fewer benefits, working later into their pregnancies and returning to work faster after the birth of their children. With only 12 percent of American companies offering paid maternity leave, federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act should be expanded to give all American working mothers and fathers the economic supports they need to spend time with their children.
Good schools and after-school programs: Getting a quality education too often depends on the size of a parent’s pocketbook. The federal government needs to go beyond a myopic focus on test results to fix school financing and address the inequalities in the nation’s public schools. Moms also need access to comprehensive after-school programs that meet the demands and schedules of today’s working parents and provide quality, safe environments for their children long after the last bell rings.
Equal pay: Let’s face it: Moms need a pay raise. Today, working mothers earn only 73 percent of men’s salaries, all else being equal. Passing pay equity laws would help to address the pay differential and ensure that moms have the resources they need to care for their families and themselves.
Support for second-time-around mothers: More than 2.4 million grandparents—the majority of them women —have stepped up to raise six million children whose parents are struggling struggle with substance abuse, incarceration, abuse and neglect, domestic violence and unemployment. Because many of these grandmothers lack legal authority over the children they are raising, tasks as simple as enrolling children in school, authorizing basic medical care and staying in public housing can become insurmountable barriers. Government policies are needed to provide financial, legal and other supports to these grandparents and the other relatives who provide a vital safety net for children—and save the government billions of dollars in the process.
Flexibility at work: Working moms are run ragged by work and family demands—so much so that they lose the equivalent of one night’s sleep every week. Helping mothers gain flexibility at work would go a long way toward providing them with what they really want: time with their families without paying a huge penalty on the job. Government should support prorated pay and benefits for part-time work, flexible start and end times, compressed work weeks and telecommuting for working parents.
Health insurance coverage: Right now, there are more than 45 million uninsured Americans. To guarantee the well-being of mothers and families, we need to focus on universal access to appropriate health care and prescription drug coverage. Without quality health insurance coverage for themselves or for their children, mothers not only risk their family’s physical well-being, but their economic security, too, as missed work days bring missed paychecks and, in some cases, lost jobs.
A better budget: When it comes to children and families, Congress just passed one of the most irresponsible budget resolutions in modern memory. With a narrow passage in both the House and the Senate, the budget slashes $35 billion from a range of children and family programs, including $10 billion from the Medicaid program, a health insurance program for lower-income children and families. Because the budget caps domestic discretionary spending, an additional $24 million will have to be cut from the already restricted budgets for nutrition programs, Head Start, education and housing programs. Tight fiscal times require tough decisions, but mothers and children shouldn’t be the ones to pay the price.
If the cult of motherhood has taken an angry turn these days, it’s easy to understand why. Mothers (and fathers) across the country are struggling to balance the needs of their families and the demands of their jobs. And despite our collective rhetoric on valuing families, parents are largely forced to shoulder these burdens alone. If we really want mothers to relax, marriages to prosper and children to thrive, it’s time for the government to implement an everyday Mother’s Day strategy that will make a difference for years to come.