What a mom wants, what a mom needs
or, A Cup of Ambition's nontraditional Mother's Day gift guide
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Sunday is Mother’s Day and your inbox in inevitably filled with marketing emails with cringe-y titles like “Give Mom her Glow Back”. But the reality is that mama ain’t gonna glow until she has systemic structures that support her success. At the end of the day, a really great massage isn’t going to close the wage gap and a box of chocolates can’t lighten mom’s mental load.
So, this week I’m going to channel my inner Christina Aguilera and give it to you straight. This is what a mom really wants and needs:
I can’t tell you how devastated—and enraged—I feel having to put this item on my Mother’s Day wishlist. Every woman should have the right to choose whether and when she becomes a mother. If (when) Roe is overturned, abortions will continue, but they will become significantly less safe—it’s estimated that we may see as much as a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths. This is especially horrifying, given that the US already leads the industrialized world in maternal mortality rates.
If we say we value mothers then let’s actually value mothers by giving them autonomy over their bodies and lives.
Paid parental leave
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without federally funded parental leave, which is especially mind-blowing considering 84% of American voters support it. Paid parental leave increases women’s participation in the workforce and decreases gender-based pay discrepancies. Additionally, longer parental leaves are associated with better health outcomes for both mom and baby (i.e., lower rates of postpartum depression, higher rates of pediatric vaccination, and decreased rates of intimate partner violence).
Equitable division of labor
The to-do list is never-ending: Schedule doctor’s appointments, call the plumber, plan birthday parties, meal prep, book summer camps. All of this invisible labor—typically performed by moms—required to manage a family/household is called the “mental load”… and it needs to be redistributed in a more equitable way. (See Fair Play by Eve Rodsky for some tangible solutions to this issue).
It’s also important to note that women tend to carry a disproportionate share of the mental load at work too—from planning celebratory lunches to running ERGs to the informal mentorship of junior employees. This important work, which has a tangible impact on organizational culture, needs to be recognized and compensated.
Quality, affordable childcare
As COVID made clear, reliable childcare is the bedrock of a healthy economy. Yet, for many families, quality childcare remains unaffordable. On average, married couples spend 10% of their income on childcare, while single parents spend a staggering 34%. At the same time, since childcare centers rely on tuition from already cash-strapped parents for their operating expenses, they can’t increase wages to meet market demands so qualified workers are leaving in droves for jobs that offer more competitive pay.
Decades of research has demonstrated the value of high-quality early childhood education: for every $1 spent, society gain $7.30 in economic returns. I dare you to find another Mother’s Day gift with that kind of return on investment.
Equal representation in leadership roles
My kids’ library is filled with books promising that girls can be anything they want to be when they grow up (Zoologist! Mechanic! UN ambassador!), yet women remain stubbornly under-represented in senior leadership. The lack of gender diversity in leadership roles is a disservice to all of us. As the Rockefeller Foundation points out: “Women bring different perspectives and approaches to business, resulting in a more inclusive workplace and often better performance for the company.” It turns out this one’s a Mother’s Day gift the whole family can enjoy.
We’ve all heard the statistic: women earn 83 cents for every dollar a man makes (Black women make a disgraceful 63 cents for every white man’s dollar). Though factors like overrepresentation in lower paying jobs and the impact of family responsibilities are often blamed (and certainly do play a role), data shows that the wage gap persists regardless of industry and occupation.
In fact, the pay gap widens as women make more money and have more education (it sends me into a blind fury when I think about how women with master’s degrees are paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees). And here’s the real kicker—gender disparity widens when workers hit their early 30s… right around the time when many professional women start having babies. This phenomenon, my friends, is the motherhood penalty and it’s complete bullshit.
Five minutes (hours?) of peace
Now, Christina might have been onto something, because her song was about the benefits of having time apart from her boyfriend. And nobody can use some “me time” more than a mom.
When I was a kid, my parents loved reading the children’s book Five Minutes Peace. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Mrs. Large (a mother elephant) attempts to take a relaxing bubble bath to escape her children. As you might imagine, it’s not long before her children barge in to demand her attention. After being joined in the bath by her three rambunctious baby elephants, she trudges downstairs to enjoy a hot tea before being interrupted again. She ended up with precisely three minutes and forty-five seconds of time to herself.
(Below is a live-action, interpretive re-enactment of the book from 2019 when, after a particularly intense day of parenting, I asked for 5 minutes of alone time. 😒)
Asking for time away from your family does not make you selfish. Pursing independent hobbies makes you more interesting, fulfilled, and happy. As the saying goes: “To be more of a mom, you have to be more than a mom”. Plus, when you take care of yourself, you’re modeling appropriate boundary-setting and self-respect for your kids.
This last one’s really important. I posed the question: “what do you want for Mother’s Day?” on my Instagram and Twitter and offered people the option to reply directly to me or reply anonymously. Every single anonymous responder stated that she wanted to be acknowledged for doing a good job.
Being a mom is hard, and though it’s incredibly rewarding, it also entails considerable sacrifice. Mother’s Day shouldn’t be the only day we acknowledge and celebrate all of the effort, patience, and selflessness it takes to be a mom. Please tell the important mothers in your life what an amazing job they’re doing. And then tell them again tomorrow and the next day, too.
And, finally, what mom does not want or need
I asked and you answered. Here is a reader-generated list of all the things you DON’T want. Not on Mother’s Day, nor any other day.
“The return of low-rise jeans.”
“Unsolicited parenting advice.”
“Mansplaining, man spreading, or manterrupting.”
“To deal with anyone’s feigned incompetence. We don’t want to hear that you can’t change a diaper/take meeting notes/etc. Just figure it out.”
“Unsolicited touching of my hair at professional events.”
“To get pregnant again 😂💀”
“Colleagues taking credit for my ideas.”
“Small humans climbing on me while I pee.”
“To hear the song ‘Baby Shark’ ever again.”
To all of you mamas out there, I hope you have a happy and (dare I say?) relaxing Mother’s Day ❤️
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