Sunday, May 11, 2008

Have You Called Mom Today?

The corporate media, blogs and our individual attention spans are understandably consumed by the celebrity hype of presidential politics these days. Mothers Day however offers an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our society and individual families.

Women have made remarkable gains the past forty years. Indeed when Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in their famous 1973 tennis match, women were typically denied credit cards simply for being women. Today women are CEOs, television news anchors and Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House.

As my readers know, I’m not fond of Hillary Clinton but a woman coming this close to the Democratic Party’s nomination for president is a cultural milestone. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in the United States Congress ran for president in 1972 and observed that, “I've always met more discrimination being a woman than being black.”

Our culture has certainly evolved since Chisholm ran for president. As economist Jared Bernstein pointed out to me during a podcast interview last month, women’s wages have increased dramatically in recent years while men with high school diplomas have watched their earning power disintegrate due to globalization. Yet this reality has only added to the struggles and stress of professional moms as well as working class “waitress moms.” Too many moms must lift the household in today’s treadmill economy while their husbands struggle to earn a living wage as manufacturing jobs disappear.

Working is not simply a choice for women today or a legitimate pursuit of career ambition. It’s an absolute necessity. Most families can’t survive without two incomes and the precipitous decline of male incomes have made our treadmill economy steeper. Yet moms still absorb much of the household burdens and parenting responsibilities.

Frequently, it’s mom who carries the weight in today’s treadmill economy while their husbands struggle to earn a living wage. Meanwhile, mom has to simultaneously assuage the ego and pride of those dads who earn less after the plant closed or they were laid off. Also, too many fathers abandon their responsibilities and leave mom to raise their kids without any support.

In many households mom is the CEO within the home and sets the tone for the family as a whole. If mom isn’t happy nobody in the house is happy. Mom is often the one who wakes up the kids who would rather sleep and get them to school. Through it all it’s often up to mom to smile through the adversity, manage the conflicts and controversies between siblings, help the kids with their homework and be a wife to dad. Mom has to be a disciplinarian without losing her temper due to stress. That’s tough. And sometimes mom isn’t perfect and loses her temper when she’s expected to pick up after everyone as dad watches ESPN and kids behave like kids.

And let’s not forget the repercussions for moms from our foreign policy. While most sacrifice little in our military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan we have moms widowed and struggling, or carrying on while dads are compelled to serve multiple tours of duty due to America’s back-door draft. There are also those moms raising their kids and supporting the family while simultaneously struggling to transition their traumatized husbands back into society.

We also have mom warriors serving abroad and risking their lives while the government callously does little to help their families at home. And those mom warriors also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and are expected to seamlessly become mom again when they return home. While were at it, for damn sure we shouldn’t forget the moms in Iraq and Afghanistan living in misogynist cultures who have needlessly lost their children and husbands due to “collateral damage” as the Pentagon likes to call it.

To their enormous credit, moms have great challenges partly because they’ve embraced them and succeeded in rising above them. And of course one person those moms can often call upon when they need a helping hand, advice or a shoulder to lean on are their own moms. Kids often know that in a pinch mom will call grandma in a time of need.

Twenty-five years ago, the most memorable moment of my Bar Mitzvah was when my mother, grandmother and great grandmother stood with me on the podium while Rabbi Katz presented the Torah. Rabbi Katz told the congregation, “We are privileged to have four generations represented up here today. Three generations of mothers who made today possible.” I sensed it was a poignant moment at the time but it wasn’t until years later I realized how much it mattered to have three generations of mothers standing with me.

Bottom line, call your mom today.

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