The recent comments about “stay-at-home” mothers by Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney have put motherhood squarely in the headlines. Opinions about what was said aside, these comments present an opportunity to look past the usual rhetoric and start talking about the deeper issues of how motherhood is valued (or not!) in our society. So, as a group of moms gathered on a sunny Sunday in Portland to participate in a discussion course called The High Cost of Motherhood and How We can Lower It, we did just that.
After reading two short articles – It’s not a “Mommy War,” it’s a War on Moms by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.org, and For most moms, work is not a choice by Tara McGuinness of the Center for American Progress Action Fund – we settled in to talk about our experiences as mothers and what we want for the future. For the record, we agreed that dividing us moms into conveniently labeled groups (stay-at-home, working, etc.) is not only inaccurate but a sadly effective way of disempowering us as a group. And we plan on having more power, not less, thank you!
We reviewed the statistics: mothers earn less than women without children (73 cents and 90 cents to a man’s dollar respectively); mothers are offered significantly lower starting salaries that non-mothers ($11,000 less with equal resumes and job experience); and women make up 50 percent of the labor force (and a majority of moms now work). We talked about the move from an agrarian society to an industrialized one; how the feminist movement has made it hard to talk positively about the impulse to nurture; ways men and women use family benefits in the workplace (or could use them if they had them); how other countries support families though government and workplace policies (consider France, for example); and the importance of simply being aware of the language we use when discussing these issues with friends and family.
We also talked about our personal experiences as moms. What struck me was the variety of circumstances we bring to the table. We are students. We are sole income earners. We are looking for work. We are single. We are married. We are younger mothers and older mothers.
I know this group isn’t nearly representative of all the ways we exist as families in the US. (Check out this interactive NY Times tool to see how representative your family structure is). But what we all have in common is the desire to provide for our families in a society that values the work of caring for its many generations and affords us the humane time to do so.
Next Week’s Conversation:
Next week our group will be discussing two topics: The Economic Marginalization of Mothers and Does Work Work? We will be reading excerpts from several books including The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden, The Motherhood Manifesto by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, and The Widening Gap by Jody Heymann. We’ll be looking at motherhood as an economic and political issue and considering how workplace policies are intricately connected to the economic well being of mothers and families.
Share Your Insights and Experiences:
How has motherhood affected you economically?
What did you think work-family balance was going to be like before you had kids?
How has it been the same or different from what you expected?