It is difficult being a mother. Mothers bear the brunt of burdens, plainly seen if you take a look at the measly ratings the United States received from the recently published Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers. Not only does the country rank 25th on the list of Best Places to be a Mother, it also ranks ‘Poor’ in the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard and judging by the current war on women being waged throughout each State, none of this is going to get any better any time soon.
On a smaller scale, in our everyday interactions there are bizarre balances that affect mothers and would-be-mothers. In certain circles, these women are praised and held in high esteem, but those circles are small and seemingly growing smaller. We live in an age where our determination to succeed in higher education and bigger and better jobs is greatly interfering in our personal lives. If you’ve read any of the Forbes articles on female CEO’s, you’ll know that women who have it all usually don’t, at least not at home. And those who want to have it all, have many a sacrifice to make.
The stigma is harsh: so you have the job, but you don’t have kids? You’re pushing 35 but you’re not married? How do you define yourself as a woman to your colleagues, friends, family (and to yourself) in the later stages of your life if you don’t have children? How do you balance the will to push yourself further in a career with the demands of a spouse or partner? How do you battle the ageing of your uterus, which, despite weight training, eating well and plastic surgery, does not respond to your efforts to combat the visible ageing of your body? How do you begin a relationship at 30 without thinking of the possibility of children yet without wanting to sound desperate? Hello biological tick tock.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. Once pregnant (if you want to keep your fetus, that is – if not, try not to be here), you may be unlucky enough to end up in one of these states where you’ll undoubtedly pay ridiculous insurance costs, get fired for being pregnant, have no representative in congress and where child care costs are exorbitantly high (even when they’re low, because poverty is so high: Hello Mississippi). T
hen the social problems emerge: are you still having sex with your partner? Do you still go out to eat with your partner? You may think none of this matters, but study after study has shown that relationships deteriorate extensively after couples have children – and their social circle closes even more. If this isn’t enough – then you have the workplace issues that emerge like looming concrete walls: mothers stall in their careers after children, are rehired at temp positions and often never push up the ladder as quickly as before. There’s the workplace backlash against mothers who take time off, cut meetings short, can’t attend business functions and are, generally, mothers.
A study out of the University of Chicago showed how in the few years after graduation, business students of both sexes had similar incomes and similar hours worked. This stability ended, however, when women, who were predominantly more likely to take time off (because of children), paid a high price for such a choice. 15 years after graduation, men were making about 75% more than the women of their class. The subgroup of women whose careers most resembled those of their male counterparts, was the group of women who chose not to have children.
In truth, developed societies encourage this: we promote education for girls, we brandish statistics of educated women with well-deserved pride, we enact legislation to allow for equal pay and equal access to jobs… and we make it increasingly difficult for pregnant women and women with children to re-enter the workplace without taking a massive salary cut and progressively earning less than their male counterparts. In short, we want educated driven women without wombs. We want women to forget their biological clock and forget marriage, all the while sending out strong signals that they should definitely get married if they want to be any kind of contributing member of society. Talk about a double burden.
So thank your mother. Or your friend who’s a mother. Or a mother you might know. Mothers do not have it easy, and never really had. And it doesn’t look like it’s getting that much better. As women we have the ability to bring forth life – and yet it comes at such a price that it is really no surprise that more and more women are either choosing not to have children or ‘falling’ into that category due to the enormity of other social pressures. I don’t blame them. Neither should you.
Happy Mother’s Day.