Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Mother's Bill of Rights?

As mothers, it is our nature to take care of others.  That is nothing new. What is shocking is that society has taken advantage of this fact for centuries. And while they continue to take, mothers continue to give.

How? For starters, the United States has one of the worst maternity leave policies among all industrialized nations.1  USA Today cites a Harvard study which firmly places America at the bottom of the barrel for mother support. The study found:

"Out of 168 nations in a Harvard University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.1"  

Mothers receive very little support, not only from our own government but also from society.  And the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

Society gives lip service to the value of parenting, motherhood, and child rearing - after all, the children are the future of our country - yet, childcare workers typically earn at or minimum wage. Further, if you are a mother working from home to raise up the future of our country - you get nothing. Not even a social security credit. You must depend entirely on your partner's wages and retirement.

This poor show of support must change. Women have historically banded together to fight for their rights. Now mothers need to do the same.  Mothers need support urgently - or else the well being of our children and the future of the family unit in the US will be jeopardized. But wait - it already is.

Women and mothers suffer from depression at nearly twice the rate as men.2,3 The CDC reports women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) between 10-30% of the time, but that over 85% of mothers suffer from some type of depressive or mood instability in the postpartum period.  Further, studies support that PPD occurs, and may even be worse, during the toddler years, and is (PPD) now not only pulling fathers into its grip but also responsible for adversely affecting toddler and teenage academic performance and psycho-emotional well being.

Are you a mother who has felt depressed, alone, tired even exhausted, overwhelmed, and unable to cope with the mountain of responsibilities?  Mothers do have more responsibilities than ever - with more mothers working both outside and inside the home.  We live in a two income society now - where it has become almost impossible for a family to get by on one income.

In addition, 75% of household management and child rearing still falls to mothers who also work outside the home.5 Further, families members often no longer live in proximity to one another because of job availability, choices in education, personal, or professional decisions or requirements. This means mothers can't drop their children off with a relative - to run important errands, go to work, go to a doctor's appointment, or even to get a moment of silence to deal with existing problems or trauma. The FMLA may be in place in the US, but it is for a finite amount of unpaid leave and is reserved only for employees of large companies - where does that leave those who own or work for small businesses and corporations?

When will there be change in America - to support mothers, parents, and all childcare givers? Change usually starts at a grassroots level - with the persons who are being adversely affected by the situation. That would mean mothers organizing themselves to become active in policy by:

  1. Joining together and supporting one another, as I write in my Mommy Wars blog. 
  2. Entering the political arena to create change.  However, this is difficult to do if we cannot garner any support to re-enter (and remain) in the work force.  I often say that the best I can do, failing aspiration to a political office where mothers' rights was high on my agenda, is raise sensitive, intelligent sons who will fight for their mother and the rights of all mothers. (I currently have two sons who are already learning the ropes.) The bottom line is, we must find (and fight for) a way to be agents of change.
  3. Getting involved with existing organizations who are already working for mothers' rights.  See the Resource List below for more information on depression, postpartum depression, and the movement to create what could be called a "Mother's Bill of Rights."
What would be included in a so-called "Mothers' Bill of Rights?"

There is not enough space in a blog forum to discuss discrimination against parents (both mothers and fathers) in our workplace and social forums today.  However, a mothers' bill of rights might just as well be named the "Parental Bill of Rights" and would help to eliminate workplace and social discrimination by implementing a modern paternal leave policy, breastfeeding rights, inclusion of caregiving (for both the young and elderly) into the GDP (gross domestic product) as put forth by Ann Crittenden in her book, The Price of Motherhood, and setting up social security credits for those who have spent a life in caregiving.

As it stands now, women and their children are the poorest segment of society.They depend on the handouts of others (usually their spouse's retirement). In fact, just being a woman means you are most likely to be poor in your old age, based on the number of "zero income" years that women have on their social security statement compared to men.6

It is time for change. Value must be given to parenting - objectively - instead of forcing us (parents) to be deafened by the continual din of empty lip service that rises from the streets of our hometowns and inside the political beltway of Washington D.C.

Gayle Peterson, LCSW, PhD
  - More information on depression and treatment

National Association of Mothers' Centers
National Women's Law Center
The Glass Hammer
America's Parent Trap - Washington Post Column on the politics of parenting
Ann Crittenden  - Author and founder of NAMC, mother's rights activist
Your (Wo)man in Washington - The NAMC Blog

*I took this photo in June when I was invited to Philadelphia to speak on my methods in medical therapeutic yoga at the 61st Annual NATA Convention.  The Liberty Bell has is not a sign of liberty attained - but rather represents the ongoing attainment of freedom for all.  The Liberty Bell is not just a symbol for Americans - but for citizens everywhere who are oppressed.  Many groups have sought refuge in the symbol of freedom that the Liberty Bell represents.

1.  USA Today, July 26, 2005.

2.  Regier DA, Narrow WE, Rae DS, et al. The de facto mental and addictive disorders service system. Epidemiologic Catchment Area prospective 1-year prevalence rates of disorders and services. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1993; 50(2): 85-94.
3.  Narrow WE. One-year prevalence of mental disorders, excluding substance use disorders, in the U.S.: NIMH ECA prospective data. Population estimates based on U.S. Census estimated residential population age 18 and over on July 1, 1998. Unpublished.
4. Science Daily, 1999. 
5.  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT BOARD, Fifty-second session
Geneva, 3-14 October 2005. 

6. US Office of Social Security Administration: Office of Policy. 2000

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