By Laurie Trieger
For The Register-Guard
Another Mother’s Day has come and gone — a day that reminds us how good we are at saying we value mothers in this country, while leaving an incredible array of institutional barriers in their way. Barriers such as depressed wages, wildly unaffordable child care, far too little paid time off (of every kind), and impossibly family-unfriendly job schedules. Mother’s Day is a sugar coating if ever we saw one. Icing, but no cake.
What mothers would be really grateful for — and desperately need in Oregon and across the nation — are the public policies that actually make it possible to be a parent in today’s economy without sacrificing essential income and important career goals for the time it takes to do the job of parenting.
The truth is, raising kids is not something that can be done well if work always comes first. It can’t be done well when parents lose pay or get fired every time a child is sick or needs to go to the doctor for a well-child visit or to get a booster shot. And it can’t be done well when moms are returning to work mere weeks after giving birth because they can’t afford to stay home a day longer.
The situation is dramatic — and among developed nations, we stand alone. In shame. The way things stand in the United States today, mothers are staggering under the weight of an economy that fails to factor caregiving into its model. The modern American workplace is still designed around what author (and Oregon native) Brigid Schulte calls “the ideal worker,” someone who essentially has no life outside of work as a distraction from working whenever and wherever he or she is told.
News flash: Most people have lives outside of work (thankfully!), and parents, in particular, have a unique set of time-intensive responsibilities when their children are growing up. While equal parenting is an important goal that we are inching toward (thanks, guys, you know who you are!), mothers still bear the brunt of the child-rearing burden in the United States, from birth to breast feeding to caring for sick kids, arranging child care and working fewer hours — with the accompanying lower pay and fewer benefits — to make it all work.
Despite this depressing but realistic portrait of modern motherhood, there is a positive side — and that is the growing movement for change. I am proud to be a part of that movement in a city that stood up for a better way when our Eugene City Council passed a paid sick days ordinance in 2014. In addition to the positive effects this policy will have on Eugene and the people who live and work here, the fact is that local jurisdictions are paving the road to broader, national change.
Many cities and states are working toward more family-friendly public policies that will — eventually — make it possible to both provide for and care for a family, without sacrificing one or the other. The policies we are working for are hardly newfangled or rocket science. In fact, we’re so far behind as a country there is evidence aplenty of what we need to do and how we need to do it, starting with universal paid sick days, paid family leave, affordable child care, fair job schedules, a higher minimum wage and a path to retirement security.
These family-friendly policies will help to ensure that Oregon mothers and the families who depend on us — for both financial support and an immense amount of care — have a fair shot at getting ahead and staying ahead. So next Mother’s Day, let’s give mom what she really needs: a big bouquet of family-friendly public policies. They’ll bring a real smile to her face!
Laurie Trieger of Eugene, regional outreach director for Family Forward Oregon, is a mother, grandmother and former foster parent.