ARTICLE: Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood

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.)



  1. My Perfect Breakdown · May 8, 2015

    The fact that 6 weeks partially paid maternity/paternity leave makes you fortunate is such almost a crime! In Canada working parents get about a year of EI. Asides from a few weeks which are specif for the mother to physically recover from the delivery, the leave can be taken by either parent to a maximum of 1 year. Honestly, I think this is one of the greatest things about being a young family in Canada and I wish this was something that the USA (and others in the world) would start to provide to families as a necessity.
    (P.S. I wont actually be eligible for the leave now that I am self-employed, so the Canadian system is not perfect for everyone).

    • thecommonostrich · May 12, 2015

      There is more packed in there– short term disability, and banked sick days. By patching it all together, I’ll end up with 3.5 months. I’m considered “lucky” which is a profoundly pathetic statement.

  2. Tracy · May 9, 2015

    My company pays you 40 days @100% pay IF you’ve worked there for 2 years. If your less than a two year employee you get nothing. It’s a great benefit, if it applies. If it doesn’t, well…..

    Makes me sad. 6 weeks is not enough time to bond with your baby or properly heal if you’ve had any major complications.

    • thecommonostrich · May 12, 2015

      There is more to my leave than 6 weeks– I get some short term disability, and a whole lotta banked sick days. It washes out to 3.5 months. Still, it’s stupid that I have to patch all this together. It’s stupid any new parent has to patch this together.

  3. lucy50 · May 10, 2015

    When I was about 26 or 27, I temped at a law firm for several weeks. I got to know many of the regulars who came and went for deliveries or who picked up papers or whatever. On my last day, one such older gentlemen and I were chatting and he asked what my plans were after the job was finished. I didn’t have another job lined up, so I sarcastically said I was going home. He replied “good for you”. He wasn’t in on the joke, I could tell, and I knew he meant “good for me” like being home was where I needed to be. Lovely.
    In terms of pay and leave, I didn’t qualify for FMLA because I haven’t been at my company for a year, so I didn’t get the full three months. Instead, I was allowed to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. My company has short term disability, but it’s only 60% of one month. So having a baby and recovering from birth is a disability. I will only have had seven weeks with her, and that is not enough time. She nurses every two to three hours, sometimes every hour. I’ll have to pump and be away from her 11 hours a day. I’m not the kind of person who could stand being at home 24/7, but I feel like I need more time to get her established, at least sleeping through the night. Motherhood is commercially revered but no one wants to put their money where the Hallmark card is.

    • thecommonostrich · May 12, 2015

      It is so ridiculous that you didn’t qualify FMLA. Especially since all that does is guarantee you don’t get fired– it still doesn’t get anyone paid.

      I liked this piece’s attempt at getting to why we don’t offer more to working parents. These policies aren’t based on research or logic, but on a gut reaction the US has on what parenting “should” look like.

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