If you asked mothers what would really make their lives better this Mother’s Day, many of their answers would likely be similar. As much as they enjoy flowers, chocolates and other gifts, many moms wish, more than anything, that they had more time with their kids and loved ones, and to focus on their health and well-being. Giving mothers this time might seem like a pipe dream, but there are real steps we can take as a country that would help.
It’s painful to see so many mothers assuming that their struggles to meet the dual demands of work and family result from poor time management or flawed choices. In fact, most of their struggles are, in large part, the product of workplace policies that have not kept pace with the realities of motherhood and 21st century work and family dynamics in this country.
Seventy percent of mothers in the United States today are in the workforce. More than 40 percent of them are primary or sole breadwinners for their families. Even with that responsibility, they remain primary caregivers for their families. They still pick up the majority of housework. And they do it all without assurances of fair pay, without guaranteed access to paid sick days or paid family and medical leave, without predictable schedules and, too often, while suffering from discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities.
The data are striking: Nearly 85 percent of U.S. women will become mothers at some point in their working lives. Yet mothers who work full time, year round are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. Four in 10 mothers must stay home from work when a child is sick, and 60 percent of them lose pay when they do so. Only about one-fifth of private sector workers’ employers offer paid maternity leave to all female employees. And studies show that stereotypes about mothers and caregivers can mean they are less likely to be hired, perceived as competent, or paid as much as equally qualified men.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Employers are increasingly updating their policies to meet their employees’ needs, following the lead of companies that have long understood the benefits of fair and family friendly policies. States and cities across the country are adopting their own laws that raise wages, guarantee paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, and combat pay and pregnancy discrimination. And public opinion polling and election results clearly show that people need and want these policies.
What mothers and all workers need now is for members of Congress to take action. Proposals like the Raise the Wage Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Healthy Families Act, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, the Schedules That Work Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would be tremendously helpful in updating our nation’s workplace policies, addressing punishing inequalities, and just making life better for America’s moms – and dads.
By passing these common sense measures, Congress can help give all workers the time they need to be the caregivers, family members, partners and employees they want to be. So in honor of Mother’s Day, let’s all commit – or recommit – to ending the days when time is elusive for so many and workers too often have to choose between job and family. Fair and family friendly workplaces are what mothers need and deserve.