The “cure” for mom’s guilt? Affordable childcare, paid family leave and equal pay
With humor and courage, the “Mom Guilt Is Not Your Fault” campaign draws attention to the burnout and exhaustion mothers face after two years of pandemic parenting.
It’s Mother’s Day, which means it’s time for the annual performative ritual to show appreciation to moms. What’s even more infuriating is that mothers who are already feeling drained have to do even more emotional work showing their appreciation for the appreciation inflicted on them for just one day. Rather than giving flowers that wither or a treat that is quickly consumed, what most mothers really want is an underlying systemic change that benefits not just them, but their entire system. family.
Reshma Saujani’s initiative, Marshall Plan for Moms, a campaign by her nonprofit Girls Who Code, aims to do just that, not just for one day but for the whole year, and even more ideally, for years to come by influencing corporate policies and culture so that the “motherhood penalty” is erased and support is provided for issues surrounding motherhood such as childcare, invisible work and the resumption of employment due to the pandemic.
A campaign video released this weekend called “Mom Guilt Is Not Your Fault” highlights the benefits of implementing systemic change, which can include “time to breathe, pee in peace” and ” remember who you even are”.
I spoke to Saujani about the chronic disease plaguing women in the United States – mother’s guilt – and how we can find a cure.
Elline Lipkins: Things are different halfway through 2022 than they were at the end of 2020 when you wrote your op-ed urging President Biden to implement a Marshall Plan for moms— schools are open (even though summer is approaching) and children (except those under 5) can be vaccinated.
Have you seen a change in women returning to work? And, if so, does this change your call for payment to mothers?
Reshma Saujani: While pandemic stimulus checks were just part of the Marshall Plan for Moms, we remain committed to pushing the country to value the unpaid care and domestic work that women do. Women’s unpaid work remains excessive and unpaid. Data shows that two years after the pandemic, women’s economic recovery is still lagging behind, and a major driver of this is that women are still being asked to replace their paid work with unpaid work.
While we are still waiting for the government to grow its heart and bail out moms by extending the Child Tax Credit, providing paid time off and affordable child care, I am not holding my breath. Congress is broken and we need to find other ways to relieve moms.
Lipkin: Concretely, what are the persistent (and ongoing) crises that the pandemic has brought to light for mothers who work outside (or inside) the home? Why did we need a pandemic to draw attention to these inequalities? What issues are you worried about becoming complacent to the public again (childcare costs, racial inequity, etc.)?
Saujani: The pandemic has mostly revealed that our child care system is broken and has brought home something that should have been obvious, which is that moms can’t work without it. It’s a problem we’re not only more aware of, but it’s also gotten worse. Until we improve affordability, accessibility, quality, start paying our caregivers fairly, even outside of a pandemic context, women’s careers will continue to suffer.
We’ve also seen on a broader cultural level that in heterosexual two-parent households, we’re a long way from gender equality at home — we know it was mothers who connected kids to Zoom School, took conference calls from the bathroom or were forced to quit their jobs.
I think it took a pandemic to draw attention to these issues because for so long women have taken it. Now that the bottom has fallen, we must fight to keep these issues at the forefront of the conversation and demand change.
It was the mothers who connected children to school Zoom, took conference calls from the toilet or were forced out of their jobs. it took a pandemic to draw attention to these issues because for so long women just took it.
Lipkin: You are busy fundraising for your organization. Where do you think is the best leverage for the dollars spent? Put pressure on the government? Or in the corporate world?
Saujani: The opportunity that I see, and that we are investing in, is to organize the private sector around expanding childcare benefits, providing gender-neutral paid leave (and making sure men take it). ) and removing the maternity penalty. We are at a unique moment where the incentives are truly aligned. Women, especially mothers, are leading the Great Resignation, and employers who want to win the war for talent, who want to attract, retain and advance women in their organizations must act. We’re not appealing to the goodness of their hearts here, it’s about the outcome.
At the same time, we’re going to continue to join our allies who are fighting in Washington, because these things shouldn’t be an “either/or” – it’s an “either/and”.
Lipkin: As I’m sure you’ve seen with Girls Who Code, there is still a reactionary pushback towards programming that serves girls and women. How do you respond to criticism that this program doesn’t accommodate single dads or same-sex couples? Or women who sacrificed themselves to care for the elderly but who are not mothers?
Saujani: We need to look at who is disproportionately affected by some of these things – and in this case, it’s moms. Recent employment figures show that men have recouped all of their labor losses since the pandemic, while women are still down.
Women are disproportionately affected by childcare issues – they make up 75% of primary caregivers. And it is the mothers who face a pay gap. We have a maternity penalty, men have a paternity bonus. Therefore, the issue we need to address is not just one of gender or even caregiving status, because when men do caring work, they are praised, respected and compensated. The problem we solve is discrimination against mothers.
Lipkin: Is the Marshall Plan for Moms only for moms whose work has been affected by the pandemic or meant to serve women who have chosen to be stay-at-home parents?
Saujani: The organization is dedicated to fighting for the policies that mothers need to thrive, which means all mothers. Our vision is to create a world where women have choices, where they can enter and exit the labor market over their lifetime without penalty and without judgment.
We have a maternity penalty, men have a paternity bonus – men do caring work, they are praised, respected and paid. The problem we solve is discrimination against mothers.
Lipkin: Your new book Pay pushes back against the (old saw) women can (or should even try to) ‘do it all’ blaming the exhortations of corporate feminism we lean into or push harder for critique and reform structural. What steps is the Marshall Plan for Moms taking to pressure the corporate world to embrace change and hold businesses accountable?
Saujani: Our approach to transforming workplaces is both top-down, bringing CEOs and business leaders together, and bottom-up, organizing moms to advocate in their organizations.
Lipkin: Your Mother’s Day campaign is wonderfully ironic and realistic! Yet, “mom guilt” can be interpreted in so many ways. I suppose most mothers, if they work for the economic survival of their family, don’t feel guilty about working, although they probably do whatever they need to do for their family, but there is no not have enough hours of the day to accomplish.
Do you think “mom guilt” is a social construct that serves capitalism? How can it be cropped?
Saujani:guilt” is the natural result of the clash of two completely inaccessible societal ideals: the perfect mother and the ideal worker. To get rid of mother’s guilt, we must not only change expectations about what these two things mean, but also provide the structural supports to facilitate motherhood, such as child care. Not just so we can go to work, but so we can go everywhere or do anything for ourselves.
Lipkin: How do you plan to involve partners, probably men, in this movement? The key, for me, seems to be getting their true buy-in rather than letting the women do the emotional work of teaching them why it’s important, managing their contributions, reminding them of their obligations to their families and this cause.
Saujani: I think role models are going to play a big part in that. Men aren’t going to start doing their part all of a sudden because they feel sorry for us and we asked nicely. They need to see that it is a success – even desirable! – man in our culture means doing school dropouts. There is also data. Men who take paternity leave are happier, have fewer health problems and better relationships with their children. They also have wives who earn more money. There is a win-win here.
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