Maternal relationships with children are as important as a women’s economic contribution, writes Andrea Mrozek. OSV News photo, Nancy Wiechec

Feminists must see motherhood as a gift

  • April 11, 2024

On International Women’s Day, The Globe and Mail published a lengthy article about the difficulties millennial mothers face. An article released later in March also discusses “the motherhood penalty and its impact on Canadian women in the workplace.” Both are effectively summarized by this quote: “The world isn’t set up to support young mothers at work.”

It’s certainly not. These days the business world, the home world, the real estate world, the leisure world, women and men themselves — nothing feels like it supports young mothers. Or older mothers. Or any family at all. I digress.

These articles unfortunately will not budge the needle much in helping women as mothers doing waged work. Why? Any movement aiming to help mothers ought to recognize that women are not men and we have differing preferences and desires. It ought to put maternal relationships with children at least on the same level of importance as a woman’s economic contributions. Today’s dominant form of feminism disagrees, which is why it tends to fail in helping mothers in practical ways.

Take the way it divides women from men. The Globe article being published on International Women’s Day is, whether it realizes it or not, working out of a foundation of division.

I’ve used March 8 to cheer women on and explore the issues women face. But the socialist founders of the day took a different view. “International Women’s Day was about getting women out of the home, away from kids, into factories and farms, and celebrating the woman worker,” political scientist Paul Kengor said in an April 3 podcast.

When the dominant form of feminism celebrates the woman worker as an isolated person, not the worker mother whose connection to her family is meaningful, it is doing what the founders wanted. Our current dominant form of feminism is less choice-friendly than we like to believe. Insofar as feminism stems out of socialism, socialism is also less choice friendly than we like to believe.  That form has been hugely successful in its main purpose of getting women out of the home. It has been less successful in helping mothers combine waged work with mothering, and not very successful at all in valuing mothering in the first place.

Mothers doing waged work today, then, are supposed to cheer because we have many choices. Instead, we learn through experience that we have conflicting demands, one of which ranks higher for most mothers: our kids. But mothers must never express that they believe motherhood is a beautiful gift. Ninety-nine per cent of public dialogue on motherhood emphasizes the motherhood penalty.

These articles also aim their ire at “the world” — let’s take that as proxy for the political and economic systems of power. True enough, those systems do need improvement. I have my own list of system problems I’d love to solve. It is right and just to take a closer look at systems. But it works better when we understand who is best positioned to take action. Too often, feminism looks at political and business actors. We need to look inward, too.

The Globe article, if you read very carefully to the end, understands this. The author says she can make different choices from those she made “because peace won’t come from a week away, a subscription to a meditation app, a trip to the spa. It’s in the way we live.”

Truth: It is in the way we live. My main recommendation to young mothers who enjoy sanity is to not return to waged work full time, if at all financially possible. Children, big and small, are deceptive in their time demands and there isn’t a system in the world that can reconcile this for mothers. I can love on my child only for so short a time, and I can engage the world of work for so much longer. We can do them both, just not at the same time.

Feminist advocacy for systems change is not wrong, but it is also not rightly ordered because today’s version places economic contributions above the importance of maternal relationships with children. For today’s dominant feminists, economics and waged work always comes first. As long as this is true, we can continue to expect many more articles about motherhood as penalty and many more mothers who are demonstrably exhausted, burnt out and disillusioned, as the article in the Globe describes.

(Andrea Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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