For Mother's Day: Steps Towards Political Action

When discussing the challenges of motherhood, parents often come to the conclusion that any changes that could truly make family life easier would require political action. "Right, but that would never happen in this country" is a common refrain. Work hours and commute times that would intrude less on family life, professional pay and treatment of teachers, an EPA with real support and authority that could relieve us of some of our worries about what is really in the water - why do these things seem beyond reach?

So, for Mother's Day, perhaps we could all skip the flowers and instead take some small steps towards the political action that currently seems so unimaginable. If the start of any political movement is awareness and personal action, then I have a couple of ideas of where we can begin:

1. In solidarity with parents, everyone stop answering work emails after 7:00 p.m.
Really, if we all stopped being available until late at night - and for no extra pay- then it would cease to be the expectation. It is a rare profession where answering that 9:00 p.m. email is really urgent. The confusion about who gets the conference room at 10:00 could wait until tomorrow morning to work out. So why do we all do it? Usually just to show that we are available. No one wants to be the only one who is 'hard to reach' at night. Yet, for working parents, evenings with kids are really, really important - more important than whatever was in that last email - and require attention that isn't shared with a screen. And wouldn't it be nicer for everyone, with or without young ones in the house, to have a few hours every evening to enjoy life beyond the in-box?

2. Take family leave when you need it and advocate for expanded family and medical leave.
When I first got pregnant, a friend of mine from the IT department asked me, "Just how many women do you think fake pregnancy every year to get the leave time?" He was genuinely surprised when I said zero. I mean, seriously, you'd have to find a corrupt doctor and pay her off to fake your paperwork, and then dedicate nine months to a complicated farce involving expensive maternity ware and a collection of beach balls- all for unpaid leave that is entitled to MEN AND WOMEN for a variety of family and medical reasons.

So, why is FMLA widely considered to be a 'perk' for mothers of newborns? Because more people should be taking family and medical leave. Dads of newborns, for one. I know, it is currently unpaid, so it is hard for anyone -mom or not- to take leave. It is tiresome to hear people complain, though, that hiring a woman of a certain age is a bad idea because she is eligible for FMLA if she has a baby. We all need to be advocating that family and medical leave be paid, cover all workers, and encourage each other to take it when we need.

3. Advocate for fair pay.
Advocate for fair pay for women. For hourly workers. For everyone.

4. Support public schools.
I mean with your dollars and with your willingness to tell politicians that schools need to be supported with dollars. Sure, you might not have a kid in the public school system right now. But you probably went to public schools yourself from kindergarten through graduation. Pay back into the system that educated you. Or, if you are in the 1%, pay back into the system that educated your employees.

5. If you do see a breast-feeding mom in public, here's what you do: look at her face, smile, give a little nod, keep going about your day.

6. Be an environmentalist.
Tell politicians of both parties that they need to be environmentalists too. Some of them already know it, but need to be emboldened to speak.

7. Advocate for science research.
It looks like we might have about ten years - or less- until antibiotics are essentially useless. This is bad news for people of all ages - but particularly for the young and the old. Write your representatives and let them know that we need to fund medical research. Write them at their state office rather than their D.C. one - they will get it more quickly.

8. Remember that everyone's circumstances are different.
There is no one universal "right" decision on child care, or bedtimes, or school choices, or even breastfeeding. (Sure, there is an ideal in some cases. There are medical benefits to breastfeeding, so it would be great if everyone had the opportunity and support to do it. But for a mom who had to return to work just days after labor, before breastfeeding was established, it truly might not have been an option.) There is no one 'right' answer on staying home or returning to work, and who should stay or return, that can work for every family. The best we can do is to try to give everyone circumstances that could help them reach the ideal, if there is one...

And that just might take political action.


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