Today is not mother’s day, but it’s my mother’s day because tomorrow I will be working a long call. I will not see E awake at all unless I accidentally on purpose wake her up when I get home which, *blush*, I have done more than once. Before I had a baby, Mother’s Day seemed like a forced over-sentimental construct. Now it is more important to me than Christmas (ok, I’m Jewish), Hannukah (ok, that’s not really an important holiday for Jews), or my own birthday (as an adult, birthdays are kind of eh). It’s the holiday we mamas EARN! Cause being a mom is amazing but it is a shit-ton of work, and the most arduous work is done in the years that the child won’t even remember, so bring on the chocolates! Excuse the profanity, but this Mother’s Day I’m feeling a little feisty. Why am I am feeling feisty? Because everyone is buying their mothers flowers and making them breakfast in bed, but America is still the developed country in which it most sucks to be a mother.
Here are some of the countries that currently offer women paid maternity leave: Rwanda (12 weeks at 67%), Sudan (8 weeks at 100%), Haiti (100% for 6 weeks), Bangaldesh (8 weeks before delivery, 8 weeks after, how cool is that?), Somalia (14 weeks at 50%)…. the list goes on and on and on and on. Here are the only three countries that do not: the United States, Swaziland, and Papua-New Guinea. Our lack of support of mothers (and fathers!) is even more embarrassing when compared with countries that are more our economic equals. French women get 16 weeks at 100%, rising to 26 weeks at 100% for the third child. They are eligible for 104 weeks of unpaid leave which can be shared with the father. In Canada new mothers get 50 weeks at 55% and fathers get 35 weeks at 55%, some portion of which is shared with the mother’s 50 weeks. Why have all but three of the world’s countries decided that women should be paid to stay home and care for their new babies? Could it be that having and raising babies serves an important societal function?
Here is a more personal statistic. We pay $309/week for high quality but no bells-and-whistles day care. That’s $16,068 per year. We’re lucky, because we make enough money to also afford rent and food and gas and car insurance and health insurance, but just barely. If I were a single parent or had two children, I actually don’t know how I would afford to work. Then there is school to think about. It is hard to get into a high quality public school where we live, so I’ve priced out the private schools in the area. $28,000/year for first grade? Yes, that’s right. They are even offering parental loans for elementary school these days, so we can look forward to an era of stacked student debt, in which parents are paying their own loans and their children’s loans. This is not sustainable. Then I think of all the children who do not have a choice, who waste years of their lives in schools that do not offer a real path out of poverty, that perpetuate the cycle of violence, underachievement, and early childbearing.
As a parent in America, you get the explicit and implicit sense that having a kid is kind of your own fault. You break, you buy! Having a child is a lifestyle choice, like buying a European car that is expensive to service. No one is going to pay you to stay at home while your perineum heals — no one forced you push a baby through it! No one is going to let you go first in line when your toddler is screaming their head off in the supermarket line (um, why can’t that mother control her child?). No one is going to find creative ways to fund improvements in education (here’s a thought: make everyone and every company actually pay taxes on their income). But an economy cannot survive without people in it. I’m no economist, but it seems to me that it is in the best of interest of our economy for human beings to continue to exist. In other words: Dear America, You’re Welcome! Love, Mothers. Icing on the cake if these up-and-coming citizens are not drug addicts or criminals and if they can hold down a well-paying job such that they can buy stuff. Who will be paying into social security when you and I are shuffling to our retirement home mailboxes to pick up our social security check? And how can we continue to be successful in the global economy when 26% of high school graduates cannot read at their grade level? The decision not to invest in children will be the death of the American experiment. There are some things people just can’t do by themselves, and being born, surviving the first few years of life, and learning complex subjects like calculus are some of them.
So tomorrow — find a place of heartfelt gratitude and while you are there, call your mother. She did a lot for you that you can’t even remember. For example, you pooped on her more than once. Then, next time someone tries to tell you that there isn’t enough money to support mothers (or fathers) as they do the grunt work of keeping the next generation of Americans alive, don’t believe them. If Burkina Faso can do it, so can we.