What do mothers want on Mothers” Day? Breakfast in bed, possibly; some peace and quiet, certainly. This year, however, fathers and children would be wise to serve mom a stack of books on globalization along with the pancakes and eggs. Globalization? Better add some coffee to that bedside tray, because the books won’t rivet like saucy mom lit. But here’s why she needs to digest them.
Forty years after the modern women’s movement hoped to deliver on the promise that mothers could participate equally with men in economic, social, and political life outside the home, most mothers find it almost impossible to do so in meaningful ways. At this point there are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies that document the trouble women have finding solutions to work and family problems. Statistics abound, but the general picture that emerges from research on work and motherhood is this.
Most mothers do work for pay outside the home and the majority must do so to provide for their families, either alone or along with a spouse. Many who don’t work would like to but are unable to juggle the demands of a full time job as well as full time parenting. This is because most jobs and all careers demand ”masculine” work habits; that is, they require full time hours, and often overtime, travel, relocation, and-critically-the unspoken resource of a person at home caring for children and household tasks. In the twentieth century, pre-global American economy, this was a norm adhered to by men mostly, though some women tried to mimic them by employing help from their husbands or by outsourcing some of the housekeeping and child care responsibilities.
The picture emerging of the twenty-first century American mom, circa 2007, is one where: If she works full-time, she doesn’t get to raise her own kids (day care workers, nannies, teachers, even grandparents do). If she works part-time in order to be more available to her children, she is ghettoized into lower paying, mostly dead-end jobs with little upward mobility and economic security. (Many highly educated women find that flexible part-time jobs seriously underemploy them.) If a mother opts out of the workforce to care for her kids, she’s gambling with her life: rolling the dice that her marriage won’t end in divorce and that her family won’t need the economic security that employment ensures: up-to-date skills, work experience, and networks; and retirement, social security, and health care benefits.
Why aren’t American mothers angry enough about this to agitate for change? After all, the U.S. lags well behind its industrial nation peers in the benefits it provides to citizens who become parents. One reason–as one mother I interviewed said–is that if you’re working full-time, you don’t have time to get mad. Another reason is that baby boomer, women’s rights activists are aging, ready to pass the torch; and just as some post-boomer politicians inch away from boomer issues, young mothers today are not necessarily moved by their feminist foremothers” passions.
But they do have a passion to see their offspring do well, and it is their offspring who will suffer if American mothers-and those who represent them-don’t begin to demand remedies to work/family problems: affordable high-quality child care and preschool programs, after-school enrichment and support, parental leave policies, and non-traditional options for women and men, including job sharing, flexible full time and part-time-without-penalty jobs.
Our daughters and future daughters-in-law will suffer if we are apathetic now. Because globalization is leveling the playing field for workers around the world. It will not forgive nations in which mothers have little choice but to suboptimize their job lives, via scattered employment, underemployment, and/or no employment. Whether they want to or not, American mothers (and fathers) will be staving off downward mobility by working more hours, more weeks, more years than they are today-because American workers will be competing for productivity gains with every other serious, hard-working, hard-headed, offspring-loving parent in the world. Serious competition globally means serious workers locally.
Global moms will be busier than ever investing in the human capital of the next generation by virtue of their parenting work as well as their paycheck jobs. But they can’t do it alone. They need help from their representatives and those campaigning to be their state and national leaders. Mothers, make your voices heard by phoning, writing, or emailing them. Volunteer for a sympathetic candidate’s campaign or join an activist group like MomsRising.org. Write a check to the political campaign of a candidate who supports polices to make America truly family friendly. Do it now, on Mother’s Day. Because the rising tide of prosperity in the U.S. today needs to lift the boats of mothers now, so that the riptide of globalization doesn’t drown our grandchildrens’ mommies.