Illustration by Hope McConnell.
Mothers have the ability to change the world, so why do we undervalue them so much?
Here in New Zealand, new mums are entitled to just 18 weeks 1 of paid maternity leave, though employers are not legally bound to pay this. After 18 weeks, unless the mother can afford to take unpaid leave or qualitfies for a Sole Parent Support benefit, she must return to work and find childcare for her baby, which can be expensive and traumatic for both mother and child.
The legislation is based on the view that mothers are economic units. It is seen as better for the economy to have parents back in the workforce, rather than at home raising their children. But, the way I see it, this theory of economics doesn’t account for the potential future costs to society of children spending prolonged periods of time in childcare from as young as six-weeks-old.
In stark contrast, mothers and fathers in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave per child – the longest period of paid parental leave in the world (New Zealand ranks pretty low in comparison). Sweden also has a wide range of other policies that benefit mothers. These range from free schooling (right up to and including tertiary education), to parents being entitled to 80% of their pay when they need to take a day of leave because their child is sick. Concurrently, Sweden rates high in many studies of societal wellbeing, as well as having low rates of violence and suicide. Could this have something to do with Sweden’s children being raised by their own parents?
Sigmund Freud began the trend of blaming mothers, and parents in general, for abnormalities in a person's mind based on childhood trauma and general ‘bad parenting’. But how might Freud's studies have turned out if his patients had lived in a society such as modern Sweden? My conjecture is that Freud would have seen far less 'dysfunction'. Happy, healthy parents equal happy, healthy children. If parents are getting the financial and emotional support they need from their society, there is little to stop them from raising a generation of mentally and physically well children.
“It seems mothers are being punished for just being mothers.”
Our current political environment sees a great deal of conversation around the devastating impacts of child poverty and ways to rectify it, which rarely suggest rewarding mothers. It seems mothers are being punished for just being mothers. They are not being valued, nor trusted to raise their own children and to just mother (which is, in fact, a highly-skilled, exhausting and complex role).
We need to start taking better care of our mums in New Zealand. Motherhood is an integral part of our society. It has the ability to create revolutionaries, nurture amazing minds and change the world as we know it.
Mothering has the potential to be a radical act. So, let’s treat it that way.