A Mother’s Day Wish List

by Marilyn Watkins

The greeting card sentiments glorifying motherhood that typically surround Mother’s Day are particularly galling this year. The torrent of executive orders and legislative actions coming from D.C. threaten the health and safety of women and families, sons and daughters everywhere. They particularly target anyone who is poor, sick, brown or black, or born in another country.

I believe most mothers want what I’ve wanted most since my two sons were born – to keep their children safe, to surround them with love, to introduce them to wonder and joy, to provide all the nurture and tools they’ll need to live full and meaningful lives, to ensure them a future.

We don’t make any of that easy in this country. The United States stands alone among wealthy countries in not providing paid parental leave and universal access to health care. Consequently, we have scandalously high rates of infant death and rank 26th internationally in life expectancy, after Costa Rica and Slovenia. Quality child care is unaffordable even for middle income families, public schools are wildly uneven and generally underfunded, and our system of higher education saddles young adults with mountains of debt. We imprison black and brown men and boys at unconscionably high rates in a criminal “justice” system permeated with injustice, leaving women and children bereft of partners, fathers, and sons. Employers still pay women less than men in virtually every occupation and pass them over for promotion based on stereotypes, depriving women and their families of income, opportunity, and long term economic security.

I’ve been fortunate as both a daughter and a mother. I’ve had my share of struggles and tragedy, but I was born to a loving, strong, deeply principled woman. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they encouraged their children to pursue our own interests, were determined to provide us with a good education, and modeled their beliefs in equality and social justice in their daily lives.

My sons were both born healthy, and I was able to take several months off when each of them was born. I had worries and scares while they grew up, but I never worried about where we would sleep that night or whether we would have food, and we always had access to health care. My sons took art and music and accelerated courses in the Seattle public schools and received scholarships to an elite college. I never once feared my white sons would be gunned down in a chance traffic stop, or arrested for hanging out with their friends, or barred from reentering the country when they traveled.

When my mom began her final journey toward death, I was able to take paid time off work to nurse her at home.

I know I’ve been privileged, with white American Protestant middle class privilege.

But in the wealthiest country on Earth, none of these things should be a privilege. They should all be a right. Paid family leave, housing and food security, health care, a great education, freedom of travel and assembly, the ability to support my kids with a full time job, the assumption that my sons will be treated justly, the right to pursue happiness – every mother, daughter, and son in this country should have access to these.

My wish for Mother’s Day is that we would have a president more interested in promoting the general welfare than his personal business interests; in furthering world peace and a healthy environment than in posturing and enriching corporate profiteers; in uniting Americans to build a better future than encouraging open expressions of racism, sexism, and homophobia. I wish we had a Congress that didn’t celebrate the prospect of depriving millions of affordable health care; that worked harder at making childcare and college affordable and rebuilding our infrastructure than on cutting taxes for the wealthiest and most privileged.

I wish we had a state legislature that would revamp our state tax structure so that the wealthy paid their fair share and we could amply fund the education system our kids need, while providing adequate metal health services, protecting child welfare, and ending the school to prison pipeline; that would pass an equal pay law with teeth and a fully funded paid family and medical leave program so all our families and communities could thrive.

That’s a lot to ask for for Mother’s Day, but then, I think most mothers want the same things for their kids I want for mine.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center focused on building and economy that works for everyone. She contributes a regular economics based column to the Emerald.

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