There, I said it. I’m not a fan. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love mothers, I AM a mother (of three) but I do not like Mother’s Day. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way, and I’m going to try to articulate it for you here, hopefully I can make some sense of my feelings about it for you, and for myself.
First, a little history on Mother’s Day in the United States. According to Wikipedia, the holiday as we know it today was created by Anna Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia, in 1908 as a day to honor one’s mother. Sounds good, right? Of course. Jarvis wanted to accomplish her mother’s dream of making a celebration for all mothers, although the idea did not take off until she enlisted the services of wealthy Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker. She kept promoting the holiday until President Woodrow Wilson made it an official national holiday in 1914. Unfortunately, it kind of backfired and the holiday eventually became so highly commercialized that many, including its founder Anna, considered it a “Hallmark holiday,” (i.e. one with an overwhelming commercial purpose). Sadly, Jarvis eventually ended up opposing the holiday she had helped to create, and died in 1948, regretting what had become of her holiday. In the United States, Mother’s Day remains one of the biggest days for sales of flowers, greeting cards, and the like; it is also the biggest holiday for long-distance telephone calls.
That was what I first read the other day when I was doing some research into the history of Mother’s Day, and it got me thinking more and more about the holiday. I’m not against honoring mothers, I guess I’m more into the idea of making mothers more of a priority, every day. Instead of buying gifts for moms one day each year, let’s all work together to support all moms in areas like prenatal support, maternity leave, breastfeeding and postpartum support, and so much more.
In it’s annual pre-Mother’s Day index of the best and worst places across the globe to be a mother, the international children’s advocacy group Save the Children puts Norway in the number 1 spot, while the US sits at number 25 – in between Belarus and the Czech Republic.
Maternal death rate, low preschool attendance and low political representation push the US behind many of its developed country peers, the organization says. To come up with its rankings list, the group also evaluated factors such as maternity leave policies, mortality among children younger than five and the ratio of estimated female to male earned income.
Mothers in the US face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death – the highest in any industrialized nation – and children face an under-five mortality rate of 8 per 1,000 births. That’s around the same level as rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Qatar. Are you surprised? I was, but I shouldn’t have been. In the US a woman is more than seven times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime than a woman in Italy or Ireland. When it comes to the number of children enrolled in preschools or the political status of women, the United States also places in the bottom ten countries of the developed world. The BOTTOM ten. Yet we have a holiday where we “celebrate” our mothers. Starting to sound a little iffy? As a mother in this country we should all be aware of exactly how we are treated and supported.
First, let’s discuss maternity leave. Our policy on maternity leave is among the worst in the world. The United States is one of only five countries that does not provide or require employers to provide some form of paid maternity leave, placing it behind a majority of the world when it comes to instituting family-oriented job policies, according to a new study.
In a study from McGill University’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, the United States, Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea were the only countries out of 173 studied that didn’t guarantee any paid leave for mothers. Among the 168 countries that do, 98 offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave. And guess what? Fathers often get paid leave in other countries as well — 45 countries give fathers a right to paid parental leave. So FORTY FIVE other countries will give paid leave to the mother AND the father while we won’t give mandatory paid leave to just the mother.
Just as an example, let’s look at Canada. Canada gives the birth mother 15 weeks of partial paid leave for physical recovery, and then also gives another 35 weeks of partial paid parental leave that has to be taken before the child turns 1. These 35 weeks of parental leave can be taken by the mother or the father, or can be shared between the two. The pay during the 50 weeks total of leave related to a new child is 55 percent of the average gross salary over the past 26 calendar weeks. All in all, there are 50 weeks of partly paid leave available for new Canadian parents to spend with their child. And Sweden, with about a year of paid family leave and some time specifically reserved for fathers, is often used as the example of a model policy. A YEAR of paid leave readers. A year.
Save the Children’s “breastfeeding policy scorecard” also lists the US as “poor,” behind almost all other developed nations. This is also in large part because the of the country’s short and unpaid maternity leave policy, the group reports. The US also has among the lowest percentage of moms exclusively breastfeeding at three months. I give ANY mom who can work even part time and exclusively breastfeeds incredible props for doing so, especially if she’s working in a workplace that doesn’t have a nursing room. The idea of having to go into a bathroom and pump every few hours-no outlet in the stall for an electric pump, and who wants to pump right out there in the open? No one. I work from home and I still find it difficult at times to exclusively breastfeed let alone work outside of the home and attempt it. But women are often left with little choice but to return to work before they are ready or they are faced with losing job security.
I’m not saying take away Mother’s Day. What I am saying is that we should also demand to have better maternal care, better postpartum support and maternity leave, and better political representation. This year, when we all celebrate mothers, let’s also take a stand for mothers, and make our voices heard. I don’t want a card this year, I don’t want a gift, I don’t want anything to be honest with you. I have the love of my children all year long, and while I will cherish the little handmade cards they make and the macaroni necklaces will bring tears to my eyes, I want to make sure that other women have the chance to become mothers, to be healthy mothers, to be happy mothers.
The issues I talked about here are just in THIS country, but did you know that 360,000 women die each year around the world due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth? Their deaths create a ripple effect that devastates children, families, and communities. What’s worse? Almost all of those deaths are preventable. But this issue is only solvable if we, as mothers, come together and make it a priority. Check out this campaign launched to raise awareness about the global tragedy, “No Mothers Day”. This Mother’s Day, when people are thinking about their moms the most, they are asking moms around the country to ‘disappear’ in order to underscore just how missed a mother is when she is gone. The cornerstone of the campaign is a short social issue film that features moms encouraging other moms to join in solidarity by disappearing May 13th, Mother’s Day, because “our silence can speak the loudest for all mothers.” I urge you all to watch the video on the bottom of this post and consider taking part in this important campaign.
I’m sure we will celebrate here at Chez Mamatoga with a little brunch or something, and I OF COURSE don’t begrudge anyone their special day, but like I said, while you are having your special day, remember that as mothers we ALL deserve better. The only way to truly honor mothers is by making sure we are all protected, and represented, and taken care of. Let’s make a point to honor our mothers, ourselves, every day by standing up for each other.