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Outside view: Mothers’ Day musings

UPI / Washington Times
By Judith Barnett
Outside View Commentator

Washington, DC, May. 7 (UPI) — I was feeling on top of the world this week when I opened the wonderful Mother’s Day gift that my daughter and new son-in-law had sent by express mail. Three books and accompanying cards all sent with such thought and sensitivity. I realized that somehow, maybe by default, but nonetheless, I did something right. Twenty-nine years as a single mom and now all of the hard work, high temperatures at midnight, and trips to Bruce’s Variety for projects that were due the next day — all of this was truly worth every moment.

In the midst of all of this self-adulation, I started to think about whether much had changed in U.S. society for parents, and particularly for single moms over the past 30 years. I realized that since the mid-70s, an entire body of law has developed to ensure that women have equal rights to education, careers and jobs. But day-to-day, what have laws and programs meant to single moms?

Today, single mothers make up 18 percent of the workforce, and as a group they earn about 20 percent less than single women without kids or married moms. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the employment rate has fallen more among single mothers than among other parents, among college-educated adults, or among all adults. Although the proportion of single mothers who were employed increased substantially in the mid- and late-1990s, during the last few years of labor-market weakness, the proportion of single mothers who are employed has fallen.

When I became a single mom at age 30, I realized that my education was wholly inadequate to bring up a daughter in a large and competitive city. So in the early 1980s, I decided to go back to evening law school. I armed myself with loans and books, but could not afford childcare. So I decided that I should be able to take my daughter to law school, easing the childcare issue while exposing her to numerous role models as lawyers, professors and deans.

Working with my remarkable law school and its deans at Georgetown University Law Center, we decided that I would be able to take one class during the day, lessening the night load, and that I could bring my daughter, Miriam, to class at night.

During classes, for survival purposes, I was cutting a deal a minute so that Miriam could be part of the class – “Please, Miriam, do not raise your hand with questions for the professor and you can play video games at recess.” “Please, just sit through this Friday night class and we will buy that pair of Guess jeans on Saturday as soon as the stores open.”

When Miriam announced on the last day of law class that she had decided to become a radiologist like Julie’s dad (so she could have a beta projector at the time), I was crushed.
Not for long.

My daughter, with her very early start, completed her own law degree years later at Georgetown, and would become an entertainment lawyer in California.

I have the greatest understanding and respect for the single moms of today who all have a full day’s work before even coming into the office. And for many single mothers, it remains a bigger challenge to find stable employment, be paid on equal terms (women in general continue to earn 75 percent of their male colleagues in any event), and charge through the glass ceilings.
“There’s a lot of prejudice in the workplace” directed toward single mothers, says Gina Delmastro of the Gottman Institute, a Seattle-based marriage and family therapy clinic. “They still face the stigma of being divorced.”

That stigma may mean even greater challenges in finding jobs, scoring highly on evaluations, getting promotions, and other aspects of workplace discrimination. Such obstacles include single fathers, although only one-in-six single working parents is a father with sole custody.
American University Law School has published a study that demonstrates that businesswomen are rated as similar in competence to businessmen, until they have children. These issues have spawned several discrimination lawsuits.

I remember the day that I was having an evaluation for a job that I badly needed to keep, and my boss’s assistant came running into the office yelling, “there is one angry mother from your carpool on the phone.”

The mother suspected that I would be late for carpool because it was raining and threatened that if I was five minutes late, she would not pick my daughter up again from nursery school. I could not leave the evaluation and was late. The mother refused to include my daughter in the car pool thereafter.

There is one additional intangible part of the workplace that may harm single parents, in fact all parents, in advancement — the time limitations on participating in after-hours activities. More decision-making may happen during those drinks-after-work or on the tennis court than in the office. I remember all of the Fridays that my colleagues would go out for happy hours, while Miriam and I enjoyed teatime on our porch with Constant Comment and Pepperidge Farm cookies.
How does the United States compare to other countries in supporting parents who want to spend more time with their children?

Many experts believe that despite the United States role as the world’s greatest superpower, we are not even running a close second to European work-family programs. With guaranteed vacations, paid family leave, high-quality child care, as Janet Gornick, co-author of a report comparing U.S. and European work-family policies and an associate professor at City University of New York states, “(European) programs are economically feasible, politically popular, acceptable to employers, and they produce good outcomes for parents and their children.”
Our government must take a hard look at guaranteed vacations, paid family leave, high-quality as well as urgent child care, and time release programs to allow parents to spend time in their children’s’ schools. Perhaps we need a Department of Families.

Democratization in foreign lands is important, as is Social Security, a strong military, and Medicare. But if we are a country that has family values, and if we are to have a great future, we urgently need to invest some proportion of our $2.4 trillion budget into our greatest natural and national assets — our children.

I am so proud to think back on our wonderful and very challenging years, and heed other single moms to enjoy every moment possible. I know that this may be difficult, perhaps impossible, on a day-to-day basis. But these days will pass in a blink. Soon you will be receiving wonderful Mothers’ Day gifts, by express mail, but wishing that for just one last time, you were receiving a hand-carried breakfast-in-bed from an adorable young daughter in her best pink lace dress.

(Judith Barnett is based in Washington D.C. and works as a business consultant for US companies that specializes in helping private sector companies and government agencies resolve trade issues within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

(United Press International’s “Outside View” commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© Copyright 2013 The Barnett Group