The Nation

Mothers Press for Care-Giving Work Credit, Respect

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

In the United States, mothers are calling for more attention to the employment constraints they face and the work they do as caregivers. Web sites, organizations and books are springing up around the country to demand more benefits and recognition.

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Kristin Maschka and her daughter Kate

(WOMENSENEWS)--Mothers, increasingly concerned about their economic future and workplace constraints on their ability to care for their children, are rallying together to demand more recognition and benefits for the work they do as caregivers.

One nerve center of the push is Mothers and More, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Elmhurst, Ill., that began with a handful ofmothers in 1987 and now has 180 chapters and 7,500 members nationwide.

Last year, the group launched a campaign to get mothers, policy makers, employers and society at large to view unpaid care-giving as comparable to paid work. Other organizations, Web sites and books are springing up around the county with similar agendas addressing the lack of retirement security for mothers and a host of other economic concerns.

Though Mothers and More has been around for 17 years, it has been only in the last few years that it has set a clear agenda and has the membership to back it up. The group's agenda includes pushing for benefits, such as social security, usually associated with paid work.

"We're not pushing for the work itself to become paid," says Kristin Maschka, president of Mothers and More. "But in terms of the way in which our culture values work and in terms of the way public policy treats work and the definition of work, we think it ought to be seen as equally valuable kind of work."

Maschka and others involved in promoting the well-being of mothers will have new information to bolster their arguments about the contribution of mothers: a first time survey of how Americans spend their time. Conducted January through December of last year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the survey will include the amount of time Americans spend doing unpaid work including caring for children.

Kristina Shelley, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, says respondents were asked to recount how they spent every hour of one day. She says a report on the survey is expected to be released this summer.


No Net for Disabled Caregivers

Authors and moms--Naomi Wolf, Ann Crittenden and Barbara Seaman--have started a grassroots organization called MOTHER, or Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, in 2002. This Mother's Day, the group is set to roll out its workshop called The Economic ABCs for Mothers. Based on Crittenden's book, "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued," the workshop is designed for church groups, book clubs and other women's gatherings to spell out to women what can happen to them financially when they have a baby.

"What's need is a clear view of what our situation is and what can be done to improve it," says Crittenden.

Crittenden adds she sees signs of more mothers coming together to talk about their situations. "There's something amiss," she says.

Susan Douglas, the author of "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women," has also observed that mothers have started to coalesce around these issues but says they have a hard time organizing politically. "Mothers are busy," she says.

Nevertheless, Douglas believes mothers are becoming increasingly fed up with all the demands expected of them as primary caregivers with little assistance from the government or private employers. "People who say they love housewives and think stay-at-home moms are the most righteous people in the world and then don't give them a dime, not even for Social Security, how hypocritical can you get?" Douglas says.

She believes that mothers will have to get mad before their voices will be heard. "I think mothers really have to get a lot pushier," she says. "One of the things about mothers, we're supposed to be really nice and nurturing and caring. We're not supposed to be angry. But no anger, no social change."


Paying Housewives Still Seems Radical

There was a time when women were angry and demanded social change. Douglas says during the women's movement, feminists such as Gloria Steinem lobbied for housewives to get paid and receive Social Security benefits. "That was deemed way too radical," she says.

Douglas believes that paying mothers for caregiving is still a lofty ambition. "But I think if you don't shoot for the moon, you don't get there," she says.

In fact, Maschka says that her group is still working on raising awareness among its members about the issues mothers face. "We strongly believe that there is a lot of consciousness-raising that needs to be done because mothers have never really seen themselves as a group with a reason to yell and shout about their situations," she says.

Crittenden aggress that this burgeoning mother's movement is still at the "grassroots, consciousness-raising" stage and that not much is happening politically.

Instead, mother's organizations are clarifying their agendas while awareness among mothers and policy makers continues to grow. Many support legislation that insures pay, benefits and advancement for part-time workers so that women can feel comfortable choosing to cut back their hours of paid work. The idea is to offer protections for part-time workers, such as proportional pay, health benefits and advancement, so that mothers can make the choice to cut back their hours of paid work and not be penalized. Some groups also advocate paid family leave.

While Maschka can foresee a day when caregiving might be included on a resume or in a job interview, she believes a more important goal would be for it not to be seen as a negative or detracting from a woman's ability to do paid work.

In some European countries, such as France, Denmark and Finland, mothers not only receive most of their salary for up to a year during maternity leave, but they also get a stipend for every child they have. Critics often point out that those countries have higher taxes, and author Douglas believes that, given the anti-tax ideology of the United States, the likelihood of such benefits here is slim. Still, she says, "I think we can do much better than we are now."

Maschka agrees but thinks that the solutions will have to come from the United States and not other countries. And, she adds, a change in thinking and policy about unpaid caregiving will benefit not just the people who have children.

"Hopefully if the culture is such that there is more to life than paid work," she says, "that gives everybody a lot more room to do what's right for them."

Luchina Fisher is a freelance writer and producer in New York.

For more information:

Mothers and More: The Network for Sequencing Women:
http://www.mothersandmore.org

MOTHERS: Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights:
http://www.mothersoughttohaveequalrights.org/

The Mothers Movement Online:
http://www.mothersmovement.org/index.htm

From Women's eNews:

A Mother's Place Is in the Women's Movement:
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1744/

Three High-Power Moms Unite to Push Pro-"Mom Agenda":
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/907/


 
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