When I spoke with my benefits coordinator a few weeks ago about maternity leave, it was a bit of an eye opener. Not in terms of my benefits– I had those practically memorized. What struck me as nuts was the tone.
You see, I am one of the few employed Americans who works for someone who does offer some kind of paid parental leave. (And by paid, I mean 60% of my pay for 6 weeks.) During my conversation, I was reminded repeatedly how “fortunate” I was, and how “generous” this policy was. It was mentioned more than once that my employer isn’t required to extend this benefit– it is a choice the company makes to better support its employees.
Sadly, I am aware how fortunate I am. The vast majority of Americans do not receive any paid paternity leave because as a country we do not prioritize the needs of working parents. I don’t believe this has to be an issue of gender– dads are parents too. I’ve always believed this is more an issue of economic policy than anything else. As I recently learned, paying for childcare can cost as much as college tuition. Without paid family leave, working parents have to make hard choices that have real impact on their financial health and their family structures.
Which was why I was so happy to read this op-ed in the Boston Globe by Katherine McCartney, “Time to Rethink Our Social Construct of Motherhood.” She argues that our country’s stunted policies stem from deep seeded cultural beliefs about what role women should play within the family. Some of my favorite bits are:
When correspondent Meredith Vieira left her job at “60 Minutes” after the birth of her second child, commentators lauded her decision to put her children first. Employed mothers like me felt too guilty to publicly proclaim that we, too, put our children first.
For some, employment isn’t a choice but a necessity that allows them to financially support their children. Jobs are not always “optional.”
Our romanticized views about motherhood continue to sow division and guilt, undermining our energies to organize for the policies that employed mothers and fathers deserve.
As long as we hold on to an antiquated idea that all childcare must happen in the home and must be done exclusively by women, we will never be able to get policies we need.
Mother’s Day is a good day to double down on the work required to reconstruct our conception of motherhood. An essential step is to make the invisible visible, helping young mothers and their partners realize that social constructions of motherhood are just that — constructions.
This Sunday, as you celebrate all the awesome moms you know (yourself include, if applicable), take time to re-evaluate what motherhood means. It isn’t about fitting into one model of parenting. It is about making the best possible choices for your children, and advocating for policies that give all parents the freedom to do so.
(Aaaand I step down off my soap box.)