Happy Mother’s Day.
Everyday should be Mother’s Day. Our future depends on it. Until we give motherhood the high place, honor and prestige it deserves all year long, the problems of our nation will continue.
We know there is a problem when a woman says: “I don’t work.” “I’m just a stay-at-home mother.” Or even worse, “I’m just a housewife.” These words are said humbly and apologetically in answer to the question, “What do you do?”
“Just a mother” is the highest calling one can have. The problem is that no one believes this: not the mother, not the workplace and not the government.
We know the mother does not believe it because even before the baby is born, plans have been made for somebody else to take care of him. This, in spite of the fact that all of the studies unequivocally find that what is best for the baby is for his mother to nurture and if possible breast feed him for at least the first six months. We know the workplaces does not believe this because a law had to be passed before employers would give mothers the right to stay home in order to nurture their new babies. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows mothers to take up to twelve unpaid weeks off, without risking their jobs, to care for the newborn baby. Many employers do not inform their employees of their rights under this law nor do they post the notice as required by law.
Even when informed, many women do not take advantage of the law because they fear it will affect their careers and future earnings if they take off six months, let alone three years to raise their child. This, in spite of the fact that women live longer and will be in the work force longer. Three years seems a short time to take out of a career that can span over thirty or forty years.
These same companies which make if difficult for career women to take time off to raise a child will pay for them to take time off to improve their skills. Extended leaves are often given for women to pursue individual interests or to seek advanced degrees.
We know that the government does not believe this because it is willing to subsidize day-care but not mother-care. In the case of the welfare mother, it is making it impossible for her to stay home with her new baby. The government, in compiling its statistics, does not acknowledge the productive work of the mother and her contribution to the economy since what she contributes is unremunerated. Only paid work is recognized and recorded. In case the men who originate these rules and develop these statistics have not noticed, motherhood is work.
Day-care, no matter how well done, is no substitute for the parent. The mother is critical for the first six months and essential for the first three years. A mother knows her baby best. The baby thrives with the mother who smothers him with love and who is always there for him. A baby needs one-to-one attention and has difficulty relating to the many, often strange adults, he encounters in day-care. Dr. Penelope Leach in her book, “Children First”, says: “The more the mother is with the baby the better, and the younger the baby, the more it matters.”
In order to thrive, babies need permanence, continuity, passion and commitment. A mother has these qualities in abundance. Let us all strive to help her to do her job and to be what the world needs most–“just a mother”.