Mother’s Day. We must stop and appreciate our mothers. If we pause to think, “mothering” is basically committed, loving caretaking of a child. Anyone of any sex can mother – it’s not only the biological functions of gestation, birth and lactation that give us this ability. Given how daunting it is to bring a child into the world and take responsibility for doing one’s best to raise that child, mothering and parenting is an act of courage. That love – the love of a mother – has no sex, and someone of any sex can mother a child. We thank our mothers for loving us.
The best thanks for mothers this year comes not in the form of flowers or chocolate but as legislation. The American Families Plan will radically improve the lives of mothers and parents around the country. With it, the US will provide guaranteed paid parental leave, joining the 193 countries that have long provided this benefit for parents. The statute will also not only provide paid parental leave, but add on substantial tax credits, especially for the poor, to make parenting much more affordable. It provides funds to feed poor families and to educate children. The net result is an expected reduction by half of the child poverty rate. The American Families Plan is Social Security for families with children.
For decades, advocates have advanced how necessary this kind of legislation will prove for families and for gender equality. Its realization is finally in our sights. This matters enormously to mothers. Sometimes our society spends time thanking those who are simply undercompensated. If you make people feel special, they may object less to expecting more work from them. Teacher’s Day. Assistant’s Day. And especially Mother’s Day. But we should not only thank mothers, we should also give them what they need to thrive. That’s not just a pile of cards and flowers, but actual financial support for their hardest job.
Society makes women into “mothers” and men into “fathers,” burdening women with intense parenting responsibilities without compensation, while men are presumed incapable or uninterested in performing these caretaking duties. Exhibit number one: this past year has been the hardest year in contemporary history for mothers. Mothers have carried the principal burden of overseeing their children as they engage in their ostensible online schooling. What mothers know, though, is that online school, especially for younger kids, is home schooling with sometimes engaging content provided by overworked teachers in the form of an exceedingly distracting screen.
Mothers have faced the brunt of the pandemic more than most. They’ve left the workforce more than any other group, and precisely because of how untenable their family responsibilities have become. Some social scientists have concerns that the pandemic sets women back decades in terms of their participation in the workforce and advancement up the promotion ladder.
While some may decry that “mother’s day is a rebuke to big government,” in reality what the American Families plan does is provide common sense necessities for families.
As recent reports revealed, this past decade has had the lowest fertility rate in the United States since the Great Depression. The reason, social scientists explain, is not just the drop in teenage births due to greater use of birth control, but rather the economic precarity in which families live. Having and raising a child has become so expensive that many more couples are choosing to forego parenting entirely. The result is that the US is for the first time at risk of joining other aging countries like Japan and Italy with a declining population.
It is in that sense that the American Families Plan the biggest gift to mothers, parents, and families – in U.S. history. For the first time, it sets out a basic set of guarantees that will ensure prospective parents need not fear that they won’t be able to take care of their infants because of work demands, or that they will not be able to feed or educate their children. This is not “big government” – it’s simply government – providing basic necessary services. And it comes at a cheap cost – a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s budget.
The American Families Plan is especially important for parents who are single parents. It is difficult to imagine how anyone handles the burdens of parenting alone without the social and economic support provided by the American Families Plan.
The American Families Plan will make family life more accessible for parents of all sexes, by guaranteeing that parents can count on mandated parental leave and childcare. “Mothering” and “fathering” link up, for many people, to biological sex. But we need to think of parents as people first, not of their sex. All committed parents carry enormous responsibility. Women too often “opt out” of the workforce to join the mommy track. And men face a social stigma if they take parental leave. Coworkers may suspect they prioritize their work over their families. The American Families Plan puts parents of all sexes on a fairer playing field so that men, women, and people of all sexes can parent and work as they see fit.
Speaking of leveling the playing field, make no mistake, the Plan is about “families,” but it is also crucially, about businesses. Many of our business face a constant scarcity of labor at every level. The American Families Plan will free up thousands if not millions of parents for fuller participation in the workforce. Notably, it will allow women to be able to count on childcare so they can take on more demanding work at higher levels in the corporate world.
One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is the fluidity of the relationship between work and family. For families, this has been a long fourteen months of togetherness. This togetherness, which has been too much for many, has forced all of us to reconsider our ideal work-life balance. The relationship between the home and the office is far more flexible than we ever imagined. People, and especially parents, of all sexes can benefit from the security that basic food and education are not constant worry. For parents and children, the American Family Plan will finally allow the United States to join the 21st Century. The best way to celebrate Mother’s Day is to make it easier to be one.