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This Mother’s Day let’s bring attention to the lack of support for the caregiving role mothers play | COMMENTARY

As we celebrate mothers on Mother's Day, some are bringing attention to the lack of support for their role as caregivers, including weak paid leave policies.
As we celebrate mothers on Mother's Day, some are bringing attention to the lack of support for their role as caregivers, including weak paid leave policies. (Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision via Getty Images)

My sons keep me on my toes. They are ever-moving, ever-eating balls of energy. They keep me humble, and are the source of great pride. I’ve tried hard to never miss a moment — the good or the bad — and, thankfully, I haven’t had to miss many. I’ve been there for scraped knees and runny noses, fevers and flus. And I’ve never had to choose between being present for them or keeping food on the table.

This Mother’s Day, when moms across the country are holding their little ones tighter as COVID-19 continues to ravage the nation, I am acutely aware that my access to paid leave puts me among the fortunate few. Many parents in America don’t have any paid time to care for themselves or their loved ones.

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More than 25 million women provide care to family members or friends. In fact, the average family caregiver is a woman who works full time while also providing caregiving support. And many of us are part of the sandwich generation, tending to both aging parents and kids living at home.

With women taking on so much care, one would think our society would do as much as we could to make caregiving easier. But policymakers have done just the opposite, tying access to paid sick days and paid family leave to women’s luck in the “boss lottery.” As a result, before this pandemic, only 19% of private sector workers had paid family leave through their employer. Who can support her family on those odds?

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In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress finally passed federal legislation guaranteeing paid sick days and emergency paid leave. I’m proud that the network I work for helped lay the groundwork for that to happen. Even so, pandemic legislation fell far short.

The new law provides paid sick time to some workers for COVID-19-related reasons, but it exempts companies with more than 500 employees and has giant loopholes that leave out millions of health care and other essential employees. Those suffering from the virus often need weeks to recover, yet the emergency paid leave applies only to school or child care closings, not to healing from or caring for someone with the virus. The new laws also sunset in December.

This Mother’s Day, I hope moms will join me in asking for a collective Mother’s Day gift: Fix the emergency legislation and make paid time to care permanent, as the start to a new economy. No more business as usual. No more catering to lobbyists, big corporations or the ultrawealthy. We need a way of operating that values all we do to keep this nation running. We’re asking our leaders to meet this moment of crisis for our families with a new economy founded on an infrastructure of caring, equity and respect.

All moms — and all workers — should have the right to heal and care for loved ones, no matter where they live, where they work or whom they love. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear the interdependent nature of our lives. We need an economy that honors the invisible caregiving work done by moms, especially by moms of color, that undergirds every industry and every workplace. And we need an economy that acknowledges our nation’s historic and ongoing dependence on coerced or underpaid labor and the marginalization of women — particularly black and brown women — immigrants, indigenous and enslaved people and their descendants.

It’s ironic really. We observe Mother’s Day in honor and celebration of all that our mothers are, most notably their role as caregivers, but we have yet to enact national policies that equip and support mothers in those caregiving duties. We tell working mothers to achieve work-life balance, but we don’t pass the laws that make this possible.

This Mother’s Day, join in calling on Congress to show how much they value caregiving, not just with praise and slogans but with systemic policy change.

Wendy Chun-Hoon (wendy@familyvaluesatwork.org) is the executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of 27 state coalitions working for paid sick and safe days, family and medical leave insurance and other policies that value families at work.

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