(WOMENSENEWS)-- "A mother is a single mother whether she is married or not," I recall Betty Friedan saying in the late '90s at a local community gathering when my two children were still toddlers and I was simultaneously running a successful business.
So, it comes as no surprise that Michelle Obama recently called herself a "single mother" during a television interview, only to later correct herself and say she was a "busy working mom."
It is actually quite easy to confuse the two, as I, along with too many other working moms, know all too well.
The first lady justified her faux pas by describing how, before moving to the White House, she was "working, driving kids to practice, not having enough time to shop or cook, not having the energy . . . "
Her initial self-description raises a much larger societal problem . . . and question: Why is our country still not providing the necessary resources to help working mothers feel less alone in their child care responsibilities?
The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn't provide paid family leave for new parents, even though almost 61 percent of women with children under 3 years old, and almost 56 percent of women with children under 1 year, were in the labor force in 2011, according to a 2013 report by Catalyst, the business research group focused on women.
Further, the federal government has yet to put uniform standards or goals in place to provide much needed child care services for working parents, the weight of which falls upon the working mother as a primary caregiver immediately upon the baby's birth.
This reminds me of the wasteful treatment of the placenta, or biological "afterbirth," in many advanced industrialized societies.
Every baby needs a strong, healthy placenta to survive pregnancy and birth, but it still very much remains a mystery to the majority of the U.S. population. As a result, the placenta tends to be treated indifferently, which mirrors how the U.S. government often ignores the basic resources and support that a newborn and a new mother need.
A Different Vision
What if things were different?
While the placenta fosters life in the womb from the time it is formed, its role and influence does not cease at birth. Instead, it has been perfectly created to nourish the mother and help her recover more quickly from the birth and pregnancy itself. By allowing her system to gradually balance itself, placenta capsules, for example, ease the physical and emotional transition to motherhood for many women.
That is why, for example, acupuncturists and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use placenta to help balance a woman's hormones during menopause, so that she can benefit from access to her own natural hormones in levels that are already perfectly suited to her system.
Imagine if, in the same way, after birth, paid maternity leave and federally funded child care, for example, were provided to mothers. Just think of how much more supported that mother would feel and how much more quickly her emotional and physical health would recover.
Republicans have shown signs they are thinking about this issue. On the heels of losing women as a critical voting group during the 2012 presidential election, they are now attempting to support a mother's need for job flexibility, or so they say. The Working Families Flexibility Act is a bill that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., introduced in April. He says it would provide for flex-time so a "working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she'll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent."
A Closer Look
But before you celebrate, first read the fine print.
The bill would weaken the longstanding right to time-and-a-half overtime payment for these workers by allowing employers and workers to work out deals in which comp time is exchanged for overtime. Workers would not have any power to decide when to use their comp time; that would be set by employers.
And if employers fail to allow the workers to use the accrued comp time, the company still has 30 days to provide overtime payment for the hours already worked. If the employer does not provide that overtime compensation by the deadline, the workers are not allowed to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, as they can do now.
This kind of GOP double talk on working families is familiar. During his presidential campaign, George W. Bush made a theme out being "for the family." But during his first term, his Labor Department proposed complex regulations concerning the reporting, certification and medical requirements of families trying to make use of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.
He also vetoed an expansion of the FMLA that would have provided up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to workers who are caring for a wounded service member in active duty.
These are the kinds of policies that keep U.S. mothers--whether married or single-- feeling alone "after birth."