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By Riane Eisler and Shireen Mitchell


Should Mother’s Day just be about nice cards and pretty flowers? Or should it be about giving the people who care for us, and the essential work they do, real worth? How did we do this Mother’s Day?

Image of Mother's Day TeaMother’s Day Tea in the East Room of the White House, May 10, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

In our wealthy nation, millions of mothers – largely women who devoted all or part of their lives to taking care of others – face an old age of poverty. U.S. Census data show that they are twice as likely to be poor than older men. We would all agree that they deserve better, that mothers should be rewarded rather than punished for caring for others. Yet despite all the rhetoric about motherhood and apple pie, our present economic system does not reward this essential work in any way that helps us put food on the table or a roof over our heads. We need a more caring economy

The work of caregiving in families, whether it’s done by women or men, is not even included in measures of economic productivity such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which instead count work that destroys rather than nurtures life such as making and selling cigarettes, the medical costs and the funeral costs as “productive.”

This makes no sense. We need new economic measurements that take into account that caregiving is essential for children’s welfare and development, that there would be no labor force without this work, and that both our short and long-term economic health depend on the work of care. We need Social Wealtheconomic indicators.

Women are still the main caregivers both at home and in the labor force. And why would men want to do this work when it is given so little value? Professions that entail caregiving such as child care and elementary school teaching, where women predominate, are lower paid than jobs that do not involve caregiving, such as construction work or plumbing, that are predominantly male.

Even though over half of mothers are now in the labor force, in the U.S. there is no government supported paid parental or sick leave and only a small number of businesses have policies that support caregiving. By contrast, in all other industrialized democracies, there is paid family leave. Not only that, there are also government subsidies for childcare and home elder care, not just tax credits. It is sometimes claimed that such policies will encourage people to stay home and not take outside jobs and will lead to a high birth rate. But nothing of the sort has happened in nations with such mothering-friendly policies. For example, Scandinavian nations have a low birthrate, a high rate of women in elected positions, no huge gaps between haves and have nots, and prosperous economies.

The lesson from this is that when caregiving is valued, everyone benefits. And only when caregiving is valued can we realistically expect more caring social policies.

That is why Congress recently introduced the WORK Act, for Women’s Option to Raise Kids, to allow low-income mothers on public assistance to provide the essential work of full-time caregiving for children during their first three years.

Investment in caregiving will pay for itself in less than a generation -- and make a huge profit in the bargain. Consider the enormous community expense of not investing in good childcare — from crime, mental illness, drug abuse,and lost human potential to the economic consequences of lower quality “human capital.”

What is, or isn’t, economically valued and rewarded is a matter of values and policies, not of any fixed economic laws. Let’s take a good look at our values and policies this Mother’s Day, and see to it that our policy-makers do the same by valuing the work of caregiving and our true social wealth. We need to join together in a Caring Economy Campaign. This is the real gift we should give mothers – and fathers and children – this Mother’s Day.

Riane Eisler is president of the Center for Partnership Studies , and author of the international bestsellers The Chalice and the Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. Shireen Mitchell is founder of Digital Sisters and Vice Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

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