This is in the nature of a belated acknowledgement of Mother’s Day (which has, of course, come and gone.) I’m not partial to the holiday as I think it a commercial construct. But of course, the idea of motherhood is endlessly fascinating to me.
As a nation it seems to me the US runs hot and cold about mothers, as it does about parents and children generally. Remember, as I’ve noted recently a number of times, that the primacy of children and their well-being is the one universally agreed upon point in all the litigation about same sex marriage? Everyone agrees we must do what is best for children. The disagreement comes when we get to what exactly is best for them.
Further, for the more conservative forces that the child needs a mother must seem virtually self-evident. (The two father or the single father family is probably worse than the two mother or single mother family, from that point of view, but who can be sure.) Indeed, I think from the more conservative perspective women are uniquely suited to be mothers–just as men are uniquely suited to be fathers. (What I mean to say here is that for some people gender matters–which is why a two mother or a two father family can be distinguished from a one mother/one father family. From my point of view, all of them are two-parent families. But this is a digression from my point.)
So how can it be, if we care about children and if we understand that children need parents, which certainly includes mothers we are one of only three countries in the world that do not mandate or provide support for new mothers? (Our compatriots on this rather short list are Oman and Papua New Guinea if you are wondering.)
Some countries offer outright grants to new mothers. Some require employers to provide paid maternity leave. But all around the world countries–many of them far less wealthy than we are–ensure that some support is available to women in those crucial first weeks of adapting to this new and crucial role. Indeed, 70 countries–not a small number–mandate paid leave for new fathers as well as new mothers.
Not only does the US fall to the bottom on the provision of support, we don’t even look particular good in mandating unpaid leave. Perhaps this is less significant, since not that many people can afford 12 weeks of unpaid leave (which is what the US mandates), much less the 18 weeks you’d get in Australia or Switzerland.
Now to be fair five states (out of fifty, right?) do mandate paid leave, and they include some big population states: California, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii and Rhode Island. But sad to say this is not a movement that is sweeping the country. It’s been the focus of extensive struggle in Washington State for a few years now. It seem pretty clear that there will be access to marriage for same-sex couples in most states long before there is paid parental or maternity leave.
And so there you are–we think parents are super-important, critical in their child’s life. The state must act to ensure that children have good parents–which for some justifies barring same-sex couples to marry. But the very same state seems to have no obligation to support those parents when they set out on that journey. What exactly is the message: We love you, mothers. We need you and we wish you well. But really–you’re on your own?