Why I won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day

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Until mothers are given the rights and respect they deserve, freelance opinion writer, Claudia Hooper, won’t be celebrating a ‘day of distraction'.

Most people understand when I tell them that I’m uncomfortable with the commercial aspects of Mother’s Day. It is, after all, a holiday designed to make us spend unnecessary amounts of money on scented baths salts, candles, or, worst of all – the twee, pink oven mittens that reinforce a woman’s domestic role. 

And most people get it when I tell them that I prefer to thank my mother on the regular, not on one day of the year to make up for being a bit shit every other day.

But, the truth is, my disdain of Mother’s Day is deeper than that. To me, Mother’s Day is totally disingenuous – we don’t actually respect mothers. Hear me out.

Let’s not forget that early childhood education is a profession staffed almost entirely by underpaid women.

Let’s start with maternity leave. Women in Australia who don't receive additional paid parental benefits from their employers are comparatively 11 times worse off than their counterparts in Estonia. Yes, we have it better than many other countries – in 2013, four times as many women died giving birth around the world than there were casualties in the Syrian conflict – but that is not a reason to stop campaigning for a gold-standard system.

Now, when Australian mothers go back to work – for most, sooner than they would like – there’s the issue of those who are forced to stay home because they cannot find affordable childcare. And let’s not forget that early childhood education is a profession staffed almost entirely by underpaid women – women whose skills and expertise are passed off as merely an extension of female nature, not something deserving of a living wage. As United Voice Assistant National Secretary, Helen Gibbs, reminded us in March when those underpaid women went on strike: "Twenty-one dollars an hour does not reflect the value of educators' work, their professional qualifications or the value of the children they educate.”

Women who retired in 2016 had an average super balance of $157,000 while men had $271,000. The discrepancy here is owning in large part to the time women spend out of the workforce at home 'mothering'. If, later in life, women separate from the father of their children, it's not as if they can dip into his superannuation. What's more, women are often also the carer for elderly parents. That's right, mothers mothering their mothers. 

What's more, women are often also the carer for elderly parents. That's right, mothers mothering their mothers.

Mother’s Day reinforces the idea that women do household chores without questioning whether they should – thank Christ women haven’t decided to strike, despite the fact that women working full-time are twice as likely as their male partner to do 15 hours of unpaid domestic chores each week! The fact that the Time Use Survey (a survey that measures how domestic labour is divided up between people in a household) was dumped by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows the Government isn’t that interested in household equality, either.

My mother has often described herself as ‘the anti-mother’ – she’s a friend. She jokes and swears and we share most things. I grew up calling my mum by her first name – something I wasn’t instructed to do, rather, it naturally grew out of the relationship we had feeling pretty equal. So when I thank her, I thank her as an individual – not as a mother. This is why Mother’s Day sits so uneasily with me – it’s so prescriptive in the way you should see your mother: not as a person with a life outside of child-rearing.

Everyone is very understanding of why you might choose not to celebrate a particular day – Christmas because that isn’t your religion, or Australia Day because it marks the beginning of genocide; but Mother’s Day doesn’t get this treatment. Perhaps if it were a day where mothers could speak up about the things that hold them down, then it would be a day worth celebrating. Perhaps if it were a day that focussed on a different mothers' rights issue each year, then it would be a day worth celebrating. But it its current form, it seems to be little more than a day of distraction.