I've never celebrated Mother's Day. My British mum wanted no part of the U.K.'s version, citing something about a conspiracy dreamed up by the greeting card industry. But it wasn't until I moved to the U.S. and became a mom myself that this sentimental, pastel-colored Sunday in early May began to make me angry.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with telling the various mothers in your life that they're doing a great job, and even buying gifts to reinforce the fact that they're appreciated. But providing a nationally recognized slot for us to express our appreciation assumes that most people don't know how and when to say thank you, which is silly and patronizing.
But there's a much bigger problem: Allotting 24 hours to shout "yay for moms" is eye-buggingly hypocritical of a society that spends every other moment dismissing, criticizing, and undervaluing parents and parenting. Moms — who, it's estimated, spend 30 percent more time caring for children than fathers — have it the hardest.
Mother's Day is merely a re-imagined Saturnalia, the Roman festival where slaves became masters for the day. It's a tiny, insignificant nod towards treating people well, but actually does nothing to help a section of society in quiet emotional and financial crisis.
Most American mothers are obligated to go back to work mere weeks after giving birth or risk losing their job. In the U.S., there's no acknowledgement that raising children is itself a full-time occupation, at least not in terms of reimbursement. When money is brought into the discussion, motherhood is re-defined as a choice — more of a hobby than a job.
Nothing in America demonstrates how financially undervalued motherhood is than parental leave, which is largely decided at an employer's discretion. The federal government says new parents are entitled to 12 weeks unpaid leave (as set out in the Family and Medical Leave Act), but only if they've worked at a company for at least a year. This is a gigantic betrayal of poor parents — particularly single mothers — who can't afford to lose their income for any amount of time, let alone an entire quarter. But even if a woman can afford to take off three unpaid months, it's still woefully insufficient. Asking any mother to go back to work so soon after having a baby is plain cruel.
Let me be blunt: Twelve weeks is barely enough time for a torn up vagina to mend. Postpartum depression, a side effect of childbearing thought to afflict up to 15 percent of women, may not have even kicked in by the time a child is 3 months old. And tiny babies need their parents. I have no scientific evidence for this, but I defy you to look a 12-week-old in the eye and tell it mom and dad will now be absent for most of the rest of its infancy, and that's just fine.
It's clear that American policy makers and corporations have no real interest going forward in adequately providing for the nation's child bearers: the walking wombs who carry then raise the people who will care for us in old age — and pay the taxes that will fund our Social Security benefits. No one in the U.S., save for a few forward-thinking tech companies, is making a stand for more parental leave. Not really.
The best proposal on the table — 12 weeks guaranteed paid leave for new parents — is supported by Hillary Clinton and also Bernie Sanders, the presidential contender with the most bleeding heart liberal stripes on his lapel. Although it's a better deal, it's still not even close to adequate.
And let's talk for a minute about breastfeeding. Mothers are encouraged — bullied even — into doing this for at least six months because the majority of the medical community insists that it's the healthiest choice. Yet most new mothers working outside the home are not breastfeeding; at best they're awkwardly pumping breast milk in their office "lactation rooms" and having it fed to their children by a paid third party. All this because it's been decided that women are more valuable returning — wounded, depressed, and exhausted — to the rat race than staying at home with their babies.
But hey! What you do get, moms, is this one day — a whole day! — set aside for strangers to yell "Go mommy!" in the street and your family to bring you breakfast in bed and a bunch of parched carnations. It's a check-box that gives us permission to pretend that parenting isn't a serious, honest, and compensation-worthy business for the other 364 days.
I for one will not be paid off with mimosas and bodega blooms.