For most of my adult life, Mother’s Day has been a mixed bag.
My relationship with my own mother was complicated and sometimes strained, and then, in 2007, she died. Since then, I have viewed the day as something to move away from as quickly as possible.
But when I became a mother in 2014, things changed. Suddenly, I wanted desperately to remember to send my mother-in-law and stepmother flowers. I wanted them to know that we planned in advance, even though I felt silly imagining someone planning in advance for me. What did I want for Mother’s Day? A few extra hours of sleep, maybe, or … nothing? I didn’t know! I was new to this, and didn’t feel entitled to a whole day to myself where I don’t also age up.
This is my third Mother’s Day, however, and I’m growing into the role. The same way I am comfortable being a woman, I now can own up to my motherness. I am a mom. I don’t have the same aversion I did even a year ago to being called “mama” by outsiders. It’s part of my identity, and it doesn’t feel awkward or uneasily grafted onto the rest of me anymore. But in my experience, radicalization comes with identification. Where before, I surely would have been intellectually interested in the rights of mothers had they come up, now, I feel them at a gut level. They are real to me, and I see that we must ask more of ourselves.
For Mother’s Day, my asks are really simple. I want every woman who wants to have a child to have guaranteed access to paid leave (only about 13 percent do), and for their partner — if they have one — to get some, too. I want that woman, now a mother, to be able to go back to work if she wants or needs to (most mothers already work in the U.S.), with access to affordable and safe child care for her baby.
I don’t want lip service or kudos for being a mother, or flowers or greeting cards. I want our nation to put its money where its mouth is, and to begin to provide what is, in other places, considered a bare minimum. I want us, as a nation, to begin to reckon ourselves to the reality of families and mothers, not to butt our heads against them as if having a child were a rare or special occurrence.
Give us the paid leave. Pay us as much as you pay non-mothers, then pay us as much as you pay men. Raise the minimum wage — most of the minimum-wage workers in this country are women with children, and they could really use it. Value teachers, and nannies, and babysitters, and day-care-center employees. Provide the fucking pumping rooms.
Let’s all pitch in and finally get this done. Start small, if you must, but don’t let another year go by where we, as a nation, continue to advertise loudly our hatred of babies and children and mothers. That’s just too depressing to contemplate.
Happy Mother’s Day!