Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

May 13, 2003

The Mothers’ Union

I read yesterday that nude models at an art school in Philadelphia have decided to unionize so that they can fight back against low pay and a work environment that is both cold and smelly.

Meanwhile, as I sit in my basement office, which is a brisk 55 degrees and pungent with cat litter, I wonder why the nude models thought of this before we did.

Mothers also put up with low pay, harsh work environments and public nudity. The nudity is the worst. It starts in the delivery room, continues with breast-feeding while we’re on the road, and finally overstays its welcome in the privacy of our own homes when our babies become curious two-year-olds who think it’s great fun to watch mama go pee. The day Lucy stops wanting to see me naked is the day she realizes stomachs aren’t supposed to have flaps like envelopes. I’m giving it two more years.

Why hasn’t it occurred to us mothers to unionize? It would be so much easier for us to form a union than the nude models, who wouldn’t even have any way of knowing whether to join the white- or blue-collar workers. When you work without a shirt, let alone a collar, these things don’t have easy answers.

I suppose no union, not even the ring-around-the-collar one, wants to represent us because mothers don’t make any money just raising kids.

And that’s really the issue. Newsweek just ran a cover story last week about the wacky new world we’re living in, where some women make more than their husbands, some of whom Stay at Home with the Kids. The headline? She works, he doesn’t.

There is no more clear way of saying that, according to Newsweek, people who take care of children don’t work.

This kills me. Not because I am a stay-at-home mom, though I am a mom who stays at home. Lucy goes to preschool three half-days a week while I write, build Web sites and do other things for which I receive dollars. I miss her terribly when she’s gone, but also enjoy the heck out of it. Compared to what I need to do when I’m with her, it’s easy. What’s more, it gives me something to talk about when I’m socializing with other adults.

Tell people you’re a mother, and the best they can say is, “How nice.” Meanwhile, they're looking at you as though you just said you like eating dog poop with just a pinch of Molly McButter on it. But tell them you’re a writer, or even better, a “consultant,” and they want to hear more. So, hence my first item on the Union of Mothers Manifesto:

Our worth as people does not depend on how many dollars we make.

Women who stay home with their children have not necessarily had lobotomies. Likewise, they are not gold-diggers riding the gravy train with the biscuit wheels (even though they may make a very fine biscuits ‘n’ gravy). They're working hard doing a huge variety of tasks that could break the backs, if not the spirits, of most people who took them on.

On the flip side, the Mothers Union also demands that the mothers who do have paying jobs in addition to their parenting ones not be subject to guilt that they are abandoning their children to strangers. Good daycares are good for kids. Kids learn to share. They learn to respect others. They learn to value differences. Meanwhile, daycare workers learn our kids’ names and personalities. These people aren’t strangers. In most cases, they’re paid far too little to do the work that I have learned for myself is far harder than a white-collar career.

Moreover, in giving us mothers the freedom to exercise the skills and talents we’ve developed over our lifetimes, we are able to teach our sons and daughters what it means to have a passion – and the equally important lesson that girls have the same rights to achieve as boys do.

So our union says this: Working mothers aren’t abandoning their children. They’re not selfish or shallow when they develop talents that fuel their hearts. They’re setting a good example.

The Mother’s Union also demands an end to the phony-baloney holiday known as Mothers Day, where we pretend to honor the same women we’re either looking down our noses at or turning into villains. In fact, if you have a holiday dedicated to you, you know you’re either dead, like George Washington, or working a thankless day job. That’s why there’s such thing as Secretaries Day, but not Highly Paid CEO day. For the CEOs and other power brokers of our society, every day is their day.

And this is why I don’t think we should stop until every day is Mother’s Day – and Father’s Day, for that matter.

Until the work of parenting gets its proper respect, and until we’re allowed to be imperfect human beings with real strengths and weaknesses, we’re really no better off than the nude models: shivering, exposed, and despite all the critical-eyed onlookers, feeling really quite alone.


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