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Time to Give Mothers the Respect—and Financial Compensation—They Deserve

It truly is disheartening to hear a supposedly progressive woman proclaim that a fulltime mother “never worked a day in her life.” Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen deserves all the flack she’s been getting since she made that statement yesterday on national media.

On the other hand, it’s also disheartening to see how the male-dominated Democratic and Republican campaigns have wasted no time in turning Motherhood into a political football.

The truth is that American motherhood has never been more demanding, or more complicated.

Romney married a rich man and settled in to raise five sons. She’s had the enormous privilege of not having also had the pressure of having to make a living to put food on the table.

Today there are fewer and fewer women who can afford to stay at home as fulltime moms, especially if they have big families.

More kids mean more housework—but also mean more mouths to feed, shoes to buy, college tuitions to pay for. 

As part of the 1%, Ann Romney got to choose to stay home with her children.  For the rest of us, this is just not an option.

Especially the many of us who are single moms, or whose husbands have been out of work for months and years. 

But the firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s miscalculated remark speaks to an even deeper issue that remains unaddressed in our society.

Mothers still do more housework and child care than fathers.  Housework and childcare still remains not only unpaid labor, but labor that is not recognized as having any monetary value in our very commercially oriented society.

"At minimum, all mothers should have the right to subsidized maternal health care. At minimum, in a rich country like ours, no mother should have to worry about whether her children are going to have enough to eat."

A recent NY Times article interviewed some nannies who work for the 1%, whose labor is valued in the high six figures.


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But the labor of a mother who stays home is not even deemed worthy of accruing social security.

At minimum, all mothers, whether they stay at home fulltime or struggle doing the second shift at home after the day job, should be entitled to accrue social security and expect some retirement compensation from the nation in their old age.

At minimum, all mothers should have the right to subsidized maternal health care.

At minimum, in a rich country like ours, no mother should have to worry about whether her children are going to have enough to eat.

Instead, our country is going in the opposite direction.

We are making it harder and harder for mothers to qualify for welfare assistance.  We are cutting back on public education, and failing to create incentives for doctors to work in public health clinics.

And many, many states are actively working to curb women’s access to contraception, while at the same time demonizing abortion.

So what’s a poor woman to do?

The media controversy over the non-issue of whether Ann Romney’s “work” as a fulltime mother qualifies as such is entirely misplaced.

What we need to get worked up about are the circumstances of the millions of American mothers who work hard, both in and out of the home, without the household help that the Romneys undoubtedly enjoyed, and who are not fairly compensated or recognized for their efforts.

It may sound corny, but it’s true: without the hard work of mothers to bear and care for children, our great nation would simply cease to be.

We need to cut the political chicanery and not only give Motherhood the respect it deserves, but put our money where our mouths are, too.

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, MA and blogs at Transition Times.

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