People who berate women for trying to “have it all” (as if they’re selfish and greedy) are ignoring the fact that women don’t really have as many choices as it would appear. If they put off their careers while they bear and raise children they may never get ahead. If they put off having children until they’ve established their careers, they may find that they can’t get pregnant. The obvious solution is also the most difficult: doing both at the same time.
So while it would appear that women have at least three choices, in reality society makes it hard for them to choose any of them. A childless career woman is criticized for not being maternal. A stay-at-home mom is seen as out-of-touch and unambitious. And the woman who combines care and career finds little societal support. Working mothers face the most discrimination, even more than single and childless working women. Just by virtue of being a mother, a woman is more discriminated against than any other segment of society. And if you’re a minority and a mother, forget it.
If our society truly honored mothers it would make it easier for them to do their jobs, not harder. Some would argue that no one is stopping her from staying home with her kids, but if she wants or needs to work, what good does that do her? She needs support in all areas of life: flexible working conditions, quality and affordable child care, comprehensive health coverage (for her and her children), opportunities and pay commensurate to that of men and childless women, being able to take off work to care for others without being penalized and equal leave provisions (with pay) for either parent when a child is added to the family.
And if a woman is a single mother, she has a much harder road to walk. She may not even get health insurance because she works in a low-paying, no-benefit job. She may find it difficult to find housing that is safe and clean. She has no one with which to share child-rearing and housekeeping duties. (Although even married mothers complain that they do most of the child-rearing and housekeeping anyway.) And she has no one to care about her.
According to an article (“Cyberhood is Powerful”) in the Summer 2009 issue of Ms. Magazine, mothers are beginning to band together, through blogs and political action, to seek mutual and societal support for motherhood issues. And it isn’t only working mothers who feel the need to make their voices heard. Married stay-at-home-moms are equally concerned about getting their husbands to help with the children and home, with educational and social opportunities for their children (like early childhood education), with health care coverage and with training for jobs they can do out of the home.
A society that doesn’t support mothers is a society that doesn’t care about children, because they are the ones who suffer when mothers can’t do their jobs properly, whatever those jobs might be. We need to make sure that our children are protected and encouraged so that they can grow up to be healthy, productive, caring adults. And the best way to do that is to protect and encourage their mothers.