9 May 2019
The Ideas of Global Motherhood
Motherhood globally is viewed in many different ways surrounding multiple topics. All around the world mothers are viewed within expectations of maternity leave, family structure, and stereotypes. Along with motherhood, it is a very taboo topic around college campuses. Within this essay, motherhood will be analyzed globally on these topics and how these expectations can be changed or supported globally and specifically on campuses.
Maternity leave is a major issue in the United States, although the U.S. is one of the top highest paying countries. In 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was signed, which required employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. When you take that into account, it’s extremely unfair especially in instances of low income families or single mothers. When you have a child, not only do you have to take into account the expense of the medical bills, but also the time off for recovery for the mother and child and the bonding experience for both the parents. “Enacting public policies that provide parents with paid leave from work to care for their young children is critical to the healthy development of children and families” (The Child Development Case for a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program, 2018). Most women who have children while in the workforce don’t take the 12 weeks of unpaid leave because they simply can’t afford the time off from money. It’s unfortunate that the United States doesn't take into account how much this affects not only the futures of families financially and mentally, but it is even reducing the chances of families even starting. “Observers have suggested a number of reasons why Millennials are proving slow to have children. Some point to economics. Although the recession has been over for nearly a decade, there may be a lasting economic insecurity that is causing young would-be parents to think twice before procreating. Others assert that student debt has delayed parenthood” (Coughlin, 2018).
Although the United States has that law, few states have policies with different maternity benefits. In the state of California and New Jersey, they include maternity benefits as part of their state’s disability insurance plan. The policy in New Jersey says, “The laws provide partial paid leave up to 18 weeks though in fewer cases, job protection could continue for a maximum of 24 weeks. New Jersey also offers paid family and medical leave for six to eight weeks depending on if the baby is delivered naturally or by cesarean section” (NJ Maternity Leave: Everything You Need to Know, n.d.). This plan provides at least some support for income, which is beneficial in a way.
One country, however, has an extremely beneficial and moral maternity leave, that country being Canada. The Canadian system offers a partial ongoing income for up to a year and guarantees re-employment after a lengthy leave. Although the taxes may be higher in Canada, their support for maternity leaves for families comes at the right cost. “New mothers can take up to 63 weeks of maternity leave (depending on length of hours worked and employment history)” (Mohr, 2019). The government also offers paid leave for one or both parents through Canada’s employment insurance plan. If the United States employers considered at least some of these benefits for maternity leave, they would have a more supportive workforce and healthier family relationships.
Another country that has a beneficial maternity leave policy is Estonia. The surprising thing about this country is that it’s the eurozone’s poorest country, so it’s interesting to see the difference between this country and the United States, which is a higher paid country with no paid leave maternity policy. “Estonia offers more than a year and a half of paid leave to new parents” (Livingston, 2016). Mothers in this country are give 140 days of fully paid pregnancy and maternity leave. They can start that 30 to 70 days before the expected delivery date as well (Weller, 2016). Another benefit is that the fathers also get paid leave. They get two weeks, which promotes bonding with the child so it’s not just single bonding between the mother and child. As well as the maternity leave, after the parents get an additional 435 days off to create a relationship with their child, which promotes a healthy family and adjustment to sleep schedules. Overall, paid maternity leave is an extremely important topic to do with motherhood and should be taken into more account, especially in the United States.
It’s common knowledge that all people are going to be stereotypical, regardless if it’s for their gender, race, and even sexuality. In the case of females, their roles in today’s society are regularly assumed to be all about the tending of children, regardless if they are theirs, and taking care of home life. This brings in the topic in class of the “double day,” which is a stereotype regarding mothers who are always told not only to have a job, but to take care of families, one of which they are not getting paid for, the task of watching their children, due to the societal norm of them having to take care of their home life.
In America, many stereotypes consider that the perfect idea of motherhood is to be married to a loving rich man and the mother must dedicate her life to the nurturing of her and her husband’s many children. She should be very fertile because her main job as a wife is to have children. Another big stereotype of mothers is that mothers are emotional trainwrecks. The big constant of a stereotypical mother is one that is a “tiger parent”; these mothers are ones that watch their kids with a close eye; they go to every sports game, force them to do sports, and constantly make their lives about their children’s lives. Specifically, the culture of America defines the “best” moms to be straight, stay-at-home mothers in the first marriage and in a nuclear family. If a mother does not fit that stereotype they more often than not are looked at by society negatively: they are considered not reasonable and unethical. More often than not, mothers who are divorced, single parents, gay or lesbian, or transgender get labeled as not being appropriate mothers and will raise their children in an unsatisfactory manner. The final stereotype is about mothers that work jobs, in which they are often classified as bad moms because they don’t spend enough time with their kids.
It is expected that all women are going to eventually become mothers. Not only is it expected that she will be a mother but there is so much more that comes with pregnancy during and post. American women often face challenges and are often judged more so during pregnancy. During pregnancy an American woman must be glowing, not swollen, happy, and cutely dressed. A woman is supposed to enjoy spending hours trying to find what stroller will work best for her, or crib. She is supposed to enjoy picking out all the little things needed for the nursery. Pregnancy photos are now a necessity. Women must be prepared to have a flower crown on with their head and their hands over their belly, and the man is supposed to kiss the belly, all for one photo to post on social media. Post-pregnancy a woman is expected to be ready to care for this child. An American woman is expected to breastfeed her baby and lose all the baby weight immediately after giving birth. She is also expected to have her life all together. We are sure that most women know raising a child is not easy at all. There is no handbook that comes with motherhood. There is also no way that a woman could have her life all figured out while caring for a newborn child on only a few hours of sleep in a night.
These expectations are quite universal for women all around the world. In Norway, the expectations are a little more radical. If a pregnant woman is seen getting a bottle out of her bag, you will see the looks in other people's eyes: bad mother. If you do not breastfeed you need to have a very good excuse and feel an immense amount of guilt. In Norway, children need to be asleep by 7pm or earlier and they must eat by 5pm. How is this possible when women come home from work around 5? Also, in Norway the women will never see an obstetrician because almost everything is done by the midwives. Although Norway is said to be the greatest place to be pregnant because of the paid maternity leave, there are a lot of unsaid rules to follow.
Do you realize how the father of this child is not included in any of these expectations? Raising a child is almost all done by the mother, which is why we call it motherhood.
When looking at motherhood stereotypes from a transnational perspective, we need to realize that different cultures around the world have different expectations of what motherhood should be. In multiple places around the globe, mothers that are different from the culture’s stereotyped expectations are looked upon negatively. For example, a mother with a full-time nanny, or a mother who is the “breadwinner” with a husband who stays home, is considered to be not “fulfilling her duties” fully. In an article called “The Content of Mother Stereotypes,” by Lawrence H. Ganong and Marilyn Coleman, it states, “In general, adults and children in nuclear families are viewed more favorably than adults and children in other family structures (divorced, remarried, never married), and voluntarily childless people are viewed differently than parents.”
When looking at mothers from a feminist perspective, it’s hard to take one single stance. Motherhood can be seen positively in the sense that it’s the woman’s choice to have the child, and she is bringing people into the world to continue to be life changers. However, feminists could also see motherhood as restricting and conforming to society. Feminists could consider motherhood as confining to the traditional male set standards. Overall it’s not fair for feminists to take one singular stance on motherhood when it’s so common for them to have so many different opportunities and ideas.
Our personal stance on motherhood as a group is that mothers are amazing, hard workers, who deserve the world. It’s not fair to judge any woman on if she wants to be a mom or not, or if she can be a mother. Any woman can be a mother or cannot be a mother, regardless of personality, gender, etc. There is not a rulebook for moms and there are no standards they have to follow because each woman is different. We also believe that mothers can have their children in whatever way they see fit, whether it’s through adoption, foster care, surrogacy, or any other way. There is no real concrete definition of a mom. Every family dynamic is different. Therefore, every mother is unique and individual, and we should care for them all just a little bit more as a society.
As far as awareness goes, motherhood seems to be a topic that is not very popular on campus. Being a Catholic institution, one could assume that moms on campus do not have many resources since there is a negative stigma against it. If a student is pregnant or is a mother on campus, there are limited resources open for use. If a student was to seek information or help from the Saint Mary’s portal, they would find that the Health and Counseling Center is available for therapy and counseling sessions. The portal also offers a link that, once clicked, takes you directly to a national resource page for the Pregnant on Campus Initiative. Our school does not offer direct help when it comes to being pregnant on campus. There is no licensed professional located on campus that specifically helps mothers and expectant mothers. Since resources on campus have limited links, our first suggestion would be inviting organizations such as Hannah’s House and Planned Parenthood representatives to share stories and provide guidance to mothers and expectant mothers. Another suggestion is to just hire a nurse or therapist who specializes in the areas of expectant moms on a college campus with information to guide students to a balanced life. If we had the ability of adding to the Saint Mary’s portal, we would include a statement from Saint Mary’s that makes students aware that we are an accepting campus. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone in need is just letting them know you are there for them and they have someone to turn to. This validation from our school would help expecting mothers know that even though we attend a Catholic campus, they will always be supported with open arms. Any further resources than the ones we have available now would be an upgrade to the well-being of students.
Overall, the ideas of motherhood are different all over the globe. In the future, we hope that America will fix its maternity leave policy, shut down expectations of mothers, and bring more awareness to campuses around the country on pregnancy and tips for expecting mothers.
Coughlin, Joseph. “Millennials Aren't Having Kids. Here's Why That's A Problem For Baby Boomer Real Estate & Retirement.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 June 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/josephcoughlin/2018/06/11/millennials-arent-having-kids-heres-why-thats-a-problem-for-baby-boomer-real-estate-retirement/
Goddard, Joanna. “10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Norway.” A Cup of Jo, 15 July 2013, cupofjo.com/2013/07/10-surprising-things-about-parenting-in-norway/comment-page-1/.
Livingston, Gretchen. “Among 41 Nations, U.S. is The Outlier When It Comes To Paid Parental Leave.” Pew Research Center. 26 September 2016. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/26/u-s-lacks-mandated-paid-parental-leave/
Mohr, Angie. “The U.S. vs. Canada: Maternity Leave Differences.” Investopedia. 7 May 2019.
Weller, Chris, “These 10 Countries Have the Best Parental Leave Policies in the World.” Business Insider. 22 August 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8?international=true&r=US&IR=T
“The Child Development Case for a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program.” Zero to Three. 17 December 2018. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/204-the-child-development-case-for-a-national-paid-family-and-medical-leave-program
“NJ Maternity Leave: Everything You Need to Know.” Upcounsel. (n.d.). https://www.upcounsel.com/nj-maternity-leave