On Mother's Day: An Update.
Sun May 09 2021
On Mother’s Day, An Update.
I’m homeschooling teens and a tween while wrangling a toddler. My career aspirations skidded to a full-stop with the arrival of Covid and, depending on the day (hour?), I am alternately fine with this (at least we aren’t sick, and I am SO TIRED), livid, resigned to my fate, or ready to burn everything to the ground.
When I scaled nearly insurmountable obstacles to earn an undergraduate degree as a low-income single mother of young children - a first generation student with a disability, no less - and then a graduate degree, I certainly didn't see this as the next step. On one hand, my situation is less dire than that of many women who pursued post-secondary education while mothering. Though I began as a sole-support parent, I now have a wonderful spouse who is well-enough employed. On the other hand, I am furious that it is the only the benevolence and presence of a male breadwinner that has kept us from financial free fall, despite my own hard work, abilities, and accomplishments - despite the years of foregoing sleep and losing precious moments with my children that I will never get back, all for the promise of the sacrifice being “worth it.” Was it worth it, though?
Decision-makers at every level of government have once again abandoned mothers. While they rely on our free labour, they have provided either no, or completely insufficient supports, while expecting us to navigate the impossible. Mothers are still, overwhelmingly, the primary caregivers to children. Because our government has chosen to ignore science and, instead, privilege corporate interests, mothers, in particular, have borne the brunt of the school and childcare closures that were inevitable without proper precautions. Mothers have been squeezed out of the workforce, now participating at the lowest rate seen in 20 years. Our ’leaders’ have offered platitudes and appeals to solidarity, but have shown no real urgency to mitigate the devastation that is occurring in real time. Hearing “We’re all in this together” makes me feel physically ill.
I often wonder how I would have provided for my children during the last year if I were still a single mother. My two degrees, scholarships, community work and years of sleepless nights would give absolutely no tangible benefit. To be honest, they aren’t doing me much good now, but at least I have a partner whose work can sustain our family for the time being. As a mature student in a feminized profession, NONE of the nearly 1,000 unpaid placement hours required for my degrees made me eligible for the CERB. I graduated one month too early to qualify for the student benefit. I know so many mothers that put their trust in our higher education system - believing they could create economic stability for their children by earning the credentials that are prerequisite to decent-waged employment. But, without pandemic financial support that values ALL work - unpaid care work included - safe schools, accessible childcare and/or a social support system that allows for informal childcare, many have been left in a worse position than that from which they started. Now there are student loans to be paid, children to house and feed, and only a question mark as to when these mothers will be able to use the degrees that have already cost them dearly.
How would a single mother in my position have survived this year? How could she survive what comes next when her experience is clearly invisible? To my knowledge, there is no plan that doesn’t simply assume there are two parents in each household - one parent with stable and well-waged employment and another that can stay at home and plug the holes our government has left gaping in their pandemic planning. The assumption seems to be that mothers will just find a way, as they always have, regardless of whether they are individually able
I am absolutely sickened that care work done primarily by women is made invisible, undervalued at every turn. As evidenced over and over this year, our work is essential to keeping all of our systems running. Yet women with children are consistently a lack of childcare away from being bumped into economic crisis, particularly those who are single parents. Continuing inattention and inaction on the real-time penalties enacted upon caregivers make me wonder what exactly has to happen to make this unacceptable? If not now, then when??
Mothers are not magical unicorns that can overcome structural and systemic failure by sheer force of will. There is no amount of grit that makes it possible to care for, school, and support our now ever-present children while we also work for pay, often in a different location, at the same time. Rather than address the issue, our government asks us to to dig deep - find another 'finger' to plug the bursting dam. I mean, we could address the surging river, but that would require action from those who have never gotten wet.
I don’t want flowers for Mother’s Day. I want mothers to stop being treated as an afterthought. I, and mothers across Canada, have been sidelined, not because of the pandemic, rather, by the choices made in creating our pandemic response. Our current realities are the result of policy choices, of ‘leaders’ betting on who will do the most while being provided the least. It is not inevitable. What is inevitable, though, is that our society will suffer for these choices. Mothers already are already suffering.
For Mother’s Day this year, please contact your MPP or MP. Ask them what they are doing to address any of the issues I’ve mentioned above. Moms will thank you. We are giving the best of ourselves. Please care about us, as we’ve paid a heavy price to care about you.