Speaking of Women's Rights: Of Mothers, Hallmark Holidays, and Fairness

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Of Mothers, Hallmark Holidays, and Fairness

MOTHER’S DAY. Did reading that make you wince, or beam? Both? You are not alone. Most people bounce back and forth between despising the “Hallmark Holiday”, feeling obliged to buy into the hype, and acknowledging that they don’t really honor their mother all year round, so a special day does serve some purpose.

And let’s face it, the holiday is not going away. The market for cards, brunches and orchids is just too big for businesses to permit its disappearance. So we might as well take the opportunity for reflection.

That reflection doesn’t have to be morbid, even for those of us who have lost our mothers. (May I pause for a moment and point out that my mother isn’t actually “lost”? It sounds like she went astray on the highway and refused to ask for directions.) We can take the opportunity to laugh, to think about happy times, or to thank our lucky stars we didn’t have the really scary one, like those Amy Wilson identifies as psycho moms in literature’.

Or we can look outward, as suggested by Nicholas Kristof in this article about mothers in Somaliland and the woman striving heroically to better their lives. Indeed, if you care to turn philanthropic about Mother’s Day, you will find a plethora of charities beseeching you to give in honor of your mother. Which is a fine idea, but is starting to feel a little Hallmark-ish, at least to me.

Personally, I couldn’t help being most struck by the recent finding that the United States has the highest rate of households headed by single parents in the developed world. Twenty-five percent of all households have only one parent in the home, and most (but by no means all) of those parents are women. They are poorer than other households, even though they have a higher rate of employment than the country as a whole. It’s simply not well-paid employment, and it rarely includes benefits like health care coverage or paid leave. That’s one of the reasons Legal Voice is working in coalition to get the Seattle City Council to pass a Paid Sick and Safe Days ordinance. We believe all employees within the city are entitled to a modest number of days off to care for sick family members, to get well themselves, and to take steps to escape from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. It’s a fundamental public health issue, as well as one about economic justice.

But that wasn’t my first response to the article. Instead, I immediately thought of my own mother (that's her in the sign I'm leaning on, which I carried at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives). She was a single mother who worked full-time and raised three kids. She taught me many things, and one of them was to stand up for what’s right. I mean left. What is just and fair.

She also taught me, though by example rather than explicitly, that we need to fight the stigma about single-parent families, We do not come from ‘broken homes’: our homes usually have four walls and a roof. Our families are not ‘less than’, we should not be scorned or pitied or ‘fixed’, and we certainly shouldn't be scapegoated for all the ills of society. I do not minimize the challenges single-parents and their children face every day; indeed I understand them better than most. Nonetheless, we are families deserving of as much respect and appreciation as any other. Our families may struggle more economically, daily logistics may be a challenge, we may face obstacles two-parent families escape, but don’t you DARE look down on us. Or else my mother is likely to come back and haunt you, and you really don’t want that. I guarantee you, wherever she is, she can kick your a**.