The Day After Mother’s Day

It’s hard to reconcile an annual celebrations of motherhood with its reality in the U.S.

May 8, 2016

It’s mother’s day as I write this, and I’m thinking about the week ahead in the library. At this time of year the reference desk is where you ask “how do I cite this comment on a YouTube video in Chicago Style?” Earlier we began to think the students thought we were a nerdy form of hotel concierge, there to help them locate books in the stacks. (“Let me write down that address for you. Just go up the stairs and around the corner until you get to HQ 769 .A18. Have a lovely time!”) So we’re reexamining how we support students in their learning. Patiently waiting for them to come into the library to ask us for help isn’t working, but we’re struggling to find a practice that will embody our core values of service. Part of the issue is that our identity is influenced by being a majority female profession, and women are nurturers and caregivers, not the entrepreneurs and innovators that our brethren in IT are, even though much of our work is similar. Nurturing and caring are good things! But the values that matter are hard to tease out from the stereotypes that actually inhibit us from doing so effectively.  

I’m thinking about this gendered dilemma while seeing ads for all kinds of things on sale that Mom might like, remembering a lifetime of sitcoms and cartoons featuring small children and their inept fathers trying to make breakfast. Poor dears got so little practice at, having only one day of the year when they’re allowed. I don’t know if this idea of motherhood was ever reality. It certainly isn’t today. While it’s true that women in the labor force (which includes 70 percent of women with children under 16) earn less than men and do more unpaid domestic work than their male partners, fathers are involved in the lives of their children, including making breakfast more than once a year. They probably wince as I do when the old stereotypes are trotted out.

But the dedicated, nurturing mom who sacrifices for others persists as a cultural ideal, especially among those small-government conservatives who want to increase the regulation of motherhood. Rape victims, pregnant children, and women who want to be able to provide for children but whose birth control fails at a time when they know they can’t – they should have no say in the matter.

Nor should they benefit from public policies that actually help mothers, because . . . well, I don’t know. It might require caring enough about the public good to have family-oriented labor laws or a stronger safety net? The American Family Association wants you to boycott Target, which has gone on record as not being hostile to transfolks. Funny – I can’t seem to find the Association’s position on the problem that a fifth of our children live in poverty, and that in households headed by women, nearly a third live do. I guess those families don't match the ideal, so don't count.

And then there's this . . . 

The United States tops the list of countries that have no paid maternity leave. It’s a short list. We share that distinction with only two other countries: Suriname and Papua New Guinea. They’re not weathy countries. What’s our excuse?

I hope all the moms reading this had a good mother's day. Wouldn't it be great if the other 364 days of the year were good for mothers, too? 


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