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Felicia Burnett's picture

Mothers are considered to be among the most revered members of our society. Celebrities publicly thank their moms for helping them to achieve their dreams. Politicians wax poetic about valuable childhood lessons bestowed upon them by their mothers. Even female politicians talk about how their motherly instincts give them some sort of special insight into public policy.

"... Moms kinda just know when something's wrong ... I always think of the mamma grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody's coming to attack their cubs, to do something adverse toward their cubs ... You don't wanna mess with the momma grizzlies." - Sarah Palin

And everyone knows, you never make a joke about someone else’s mom, unless you want to stir up some trouble.

But is all of this talk and rhetoric just lip service? Does our society truly value mothers – all mothers – and the challenges that come with motherhood?

A couple of years ago I went to a gathering that was set to be along the driving path of President Obama who was coming to Raleigh to speak. Of course, there were groups of all different political persuasions – men, women and children – that had gathered for the event. I joined up with a group from Planned Parenthood and we stood together holding our signs, eagerly waiting for him to drive by. A strong wonderful woman had also come out to join us, and brought her two young children along in a stroller with her to see the president’s motorcade drive by.

The verbal assaults quickly began on us from people across the street while we stood there silent. They yelled out terrible things such as “Baby killers!” and “Whores!” at us, but the worst attack that came from them was on this amazing woman who had brought her children with her to see the president. A woman from across the street (who stood with her own children) yelled, “You should be ashamed of yourself, bringing your kids to stand with that group. You’re disgusting!”

The group fell silent for a moment, shocked by the terribly personal attack from one mother on another in front of their kids. Yet this incredible woman, without missing a beat, hollered back, “Yes. They are here with me, and they were both my choice.”

And that really is what it comes down to. From the start, all mothers have to make extremely difficult decisions. We decide whether we can afford – or would want – to stay home with our children. We decide where to send them for school, what foods to provide for them, and as they grow older, we help them begin to make choices for themselves. The first decision that we ever make about motherhood is whether or not we are prepared for it, which is a very personal and private decision. A decision that a woman must make for herself and, if she chooses, with consultation from her significant other and doctor.

Yet lately some politicians have been making it clear, that they don’t trust us to make our own decisions. They only consider a certain type of mother to be worthy of the love and respect that we all have for our own. Only moms with their views should be valued and appreciated. If you have a difference of opinion, or a “non-traditional” lifestyle, then all bets are off.

Recently Wisconsin state Senator Glenn Grothman introduced a bill that requires the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. Yes, you read that right: this bill requires that anyone with a ‘non-traditional’ (who’s to say what that really is, anyway?) family should be considered as child abusers. This includes single moms, same sex couples, and non-married couples alike. The Wisconsin state senator said "unwanted or mistimed" pregnancies are the “choice of the women” who should learn "that this is a mistake.” As a mother, I can tell you, I have made plenty of mistakes in my parenting, but having one of these “mistimed” pregnancies – and choosing to have my son – was no mistake for me.

Closer to home, here in North Carolina, legislators have also been taking shots at women and even their children. Childcare subsidies were cut, teachers and teachers assistants lost their jobs (the vast majority of which are women), Medicaid took a drastic hit (more Medicaid recipients are women and children), and even the redistricting maps were specifically drawn to eliminate the number of women in the state legislature. North Carolina is likely to lose nearly half of the number of women in the general assembly, putting women and mothers at even bigger risk of not having their voices heard.

There has been a disturbing trend going on at our legislature that I first noticed last year when I joined a group of moms and children who went to speak with the staff of Speaker Tillis about our concerns about the drastic budget cuts. When we arrived, a police officer in plain-clothes appeared as we tried to speak with the staff - us moms with our strollers apparently looked quite threatening. He stood uncomfortably close, followed us out into the hallway afterward, and kept a watchful eye on us until we left the building. All of us felt as if they were trying to intimidate us for speaking our mind.

As I quoted from Ms. Palin at the beginning, “… Moms kinda just know when something's wrong … “ I may disagree with Ms. Palin on most policy issues, but I strongly agree with this assertion. As moms we can feel it: there is something extremely wrong going on right now in our society. Our rights are under attack. Our ability to make our own personal choices is being taken away. It’s time we rise up and show those who have come to take away our rights, that they don’t want to mess with a momma grizzly. This November, we need to vote for women and allies of women. We need to make sure that our voices are heard in the halls of our general assemblies and in Congress.

And for today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, let’s agree to stop the attacks on other people’s moms, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. Just because a woman has different values than you, doesn’t make her a bad mother. Let’s decide that women are capable of making their own decisions for their families. It is time we start putting our words into action. Most importantly, it doesn’t make her children love her any less. Which means, these attacks on mothers, are attacks on their children as well.

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