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Give moms what they really need: an economic recovery plan that works for mothers

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Illustration: Sandy Stowe/Oxfam

This Mother's Day, moms need more than a token of gratitude. We share this open letter to thank moms for all the work they've taken on since the pandemic began and call for the support they deserve.


Dear Fellow Moms:

I’m sorry this year has been so awful. We are all exhausted, spending more hours on unpaid care work or paid work (probably both) than ever before. And despite giving it all we’ve got, we are only further behind. Every. Single. Day.

I write to every self-identified woman engaged in “mothering,” which is “the process for caring for people in the way a mother does.” There are many of us. Biological moms, adoptive, surrogate, step and foster moms; also aunties, grandmas, cis- and transgender women and women of other genders and all sexual orientations. All of us are doing the hard and crucial work of caring for children.

Since last Mother’s Day, we have lost jobs, left jobs, reduced our hours at work, massively increased our work at home, and ensured that the children in our families and communities are fed, safe, emotionally coping and actually learning in the most disjointed school year ever. Around the world, Oxfam found that women working in formal employment lost $800 billion last year; that doesn’t even count the hundreds of millions of women in informal employment who were plunged into poverty under lockdown.

All of this has left us stressed and anxious, despondent and frustrated; and for many of us it has left us hungry and less economically secure. In the US, while we are all feeling it, systemic racism compounds the effects of the Covid-era motherhood penalty: Twice as many Black moms have left the workforce than white moms, and over twice as many Latina and Black women reported food insecurity than white men.

When it all falls apart—like it did this year–we tell ourselves it’s our fault. When our kids struggle in school or we can’t keep up at work, it’s because we weren’t hard working or conscientious enough. We struggle to manufacture silver linings during our kids’ lost year–and sometimes it even works–but when we can’t, it’s another reason to feel that we’ve failed. If we were better moms, this never would have happened. Or, we tell ourselves that if our partners helped more, listened more, cared more, then this never would have happened.

The truth is that moms have bailed out governments and businesses through their unpaid labor caring for children and other family members during this crisis at the expense of their own wealth, health and wellbeing. Those employers who don’t offer paid sick or family leave have left us in an impossible position of deciding whether to care for our children or keep our jobs.

The truth is that we’re being taken advantage of. Governments and employers see women’s work as dispensable and women’s unpaid labor as given. When the previous administration offered more emergency relief funds to Delta Airlines in the CARES Act than to the entire child care industry in 2020, we knew where we stood.

What could we possibly get this Mother’s Day that could make up for this? What token of appreciation would you accept as fair recognition for the work you’ve done over the last year? As Marshall Plan for Moms has so brilliantly put it in their Moms Deserve More virtual flower shop, flowers just won’t cut it.

This year for Mother’s Day, we are asking Congress for an economic recovery plan that works for moms. The $39 billion in the American Rescue Plan to keep the child care sector from collapsing was a good start. But the newly proposed American Jobs Plan followed by the American Families Plan could go a long way to invest in our nation’s care infrastructure so that mothers don’t have to continue to serve as society’s safety net.

The American Jobs Plan infuses billions into the care economy, expanding access to home- and community-based care services for people with disabilities and the elderly and provides caregiving workers—who are disproportionately women of color—an opportunity to unionize, increase their pay and strengthen their benefits. The plan also includes funding for upgrades to child care facilities across the country. The American Families Plan is expected to include historic levels of funding to make pre-k universal as well as make child care more affordable and accessible.

Let’s create an 22nd century infrastructure for all, not just for the men who defined infrastructure to mean roads and bridges. Let’s create a system that supports mothers so we can escape the toxic narrative that we are the ones who have failed when it’s the system that has failed us all along.

Care work makes all work possible. Support moms by calling on Congress to ensure affordable, quality child care is accessible to all.

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