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MAMA LIKES

Do We Need a Mothers' Movement?
posted by Amy

If you'd asked me that question eight years ago, I would have looked at you blankly. Then I probably would have said something about people choosing to have kids and needing to deal with the consequences. These days, I'm a firm believer that we've got do to more to support mothers. And by more, I don't mean diamond necklaces on Mother's Day. No, I'm thinking paid parental leave and access to high-quality, affordable part-time or full-time childcare, among other things.

Wanna know what changed my mind, besides my own experiences raising kids? Here's an example: the mama I sat next to in the pediatrician's office who began crying when I asked her how old her baby was. "Six weeks," she sobbed. "So now I have to go back to work." She was barely making it financially on the six weeks of reduced pay she was eligible for through her job; going back to work was something she had to do. While the idea of paid maternity leave had been something I'd cared about in a distant way before, that day it became irrevocably entwined with the painful sounds of that mama's tears.

Then there's the mama I know who's engaged in a constant struggle to find safe, affordable childcare for her young son. She's a single mom, so if she's at work, she needs childcare. And since the father of her child doesn't provide support in the form of care or money, she's on her own. She got herself a job at Wal-Mart, but since Wal-Mart wouldn't give her a set schedule, finding flexible childcare was tough. One day she'd be scheduled to work from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the next she'd be there from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.

She went through a local childcare referral agency to find in-home daycare for her son, but when an older child at the daycare told her that the daycare provider never had the kids ride in carseats, she started feeling uneasy about the quality of care. The problem was that she didn't have any options left; that was the only daycare she'd found that was willing to have her child come at such odd hours and which she could afford. Quitting the job was only an option if she wanted to stop being able to feed her child.

I can already hear right-wing voices saying the dad should be forced to pay child support. Yeah, good idea. First find him. Then try to prove he's made any money--you won't find any proof on paper. Somehow, I think flexible, high-quality, affordable childcare would help her a whole lot more than rhetoric about fathers' responsibilities.

All this is a long-winded attempt to explain why I think we need a mothers' movement. Want to know more? In "Say You Want a Revolution? Why The Mothers' Movement Hasn't Happened...Yet,", Stephanie Wilkinson interviews writers and activists about what a mothers' movement might look like, what issues it would advocate for, and who might lead it.