April 29, 2004
I hate Mother's Day.
My husband and kids know it, although my mother and mother-in-law don't. I'm not sure about my dog.
Overall, I'm hard-pressed to remember any Mother's Day that has successfully stood up to the day's unspoken demands, conflicting tensions and impossible expectations. Does my husband take me out to eat? Or his mother? Or my mother? All of us? Do my children make me breakfast in bed or let me read my newspaper in peace, alone with my cup of coffee, which they know I would prefer?
Perhaps I'm just a curmudgeon. But I can't shake the feeling that the holiday is kept alive by restaurant, floral and greeting card industries eager to take advantage of the personal and collective guilt this nation has accumulated toward us moms.
Even the woman credited with starting Mother's Day in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, was upset by the holiday's commercialization. In 1923, she went so far as to file a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival selling white carnations -- her symbol for mothers -- to raise money. "This is not what I intended," Jarvis said. "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit."
While Mother's Day is an ever-booming business, mothers working outside the home are falling behind. Consider these facts from "Women in the Workforce," a 2004 study by the Milwaukee-based organization 9to5.
Over a lifetime, the average 25-year-old woman who works until age 65 will earn $523,000 less than the average working male. This is in part because in 2002, women earned 77 cents for every dollar that men earned (with numbers even worse for women of color: 68 cents for African-Americans and 56 cents for Latinas).
Sixty percent of working women earn less than $25,000 each year -- not enough to eat out on Mother's Day at anything more expensive than a fast-food restaurant or local diner.
Forty percent of single working mothers pay at least half their cash income for childcare.
France guarantees up to 15 weeks of family leave and pay at 100 percent of one's wages, Spain 16 weeks and Germany 14 weeks, both at full pay. The United States guarantees 12 weeks -- but at zero percent of paid wages.
But are things getting better?
Yes and no. Yes, it's no longer considered child neglect to work for pay and send your child to a babysitter or daycare center. But women working outside the home, either out of choice or necessity, find their wages decreasing in real terms.
In 1979, a single mother working fulltime at the minimum wage earned enough to lift herself and two children above the poverty line, according to 9to5. In 2003, the same family would be 27 percent below the poverty line.
I have been fortunate in life, I don't deny it. I love my husband and think my kids are the greatest creatures to ever walk the earth.
But please, spare me the Mother's Day pieties and sickly sweet greeting cards. If we really want to help women in this country, do something meaningful, like raise the minimum wage, provide quality daycare at minimal or no cost or make sure no mother is fired when she stays home with her sick kid.
As for Mother's Day itself, throw in a free meal for every mother at the restaurant of her choice. Better yet, pack the husband and kids off to the restaurant and let us moms eat Chinese takeout at home in blissful solitude and quiet. Then perhaps I'll change my tune.
Until then, if someone asks me what I think of Mother's Day, I'll give my long-standing response: I hate it.
Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee-based journalist and mother of two loving daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com.