Guest opinion: On this Mother’s Day, here’s what Idaho mothers want

·3 min read

On Mother’s Day, the best present for Idaho mothers would be to stop sentimentalizing about them and start giving them the respect and material recognition they deserve.

Sylvia Chariton, AAUW Idaho
Sylvia Chariton, AAUW Idaho

Idaho’s anachronistic approach to recognizing the worth of motherhood needs to end now and we need more realistic, real-world solutions. Seventy years ago, 40% of all women between the ages of 25-54 were the family breadwinners. In 2019, that number had jumped to 75% as referenced in “Think Like a Breadwinner” by women’s financial expert Jennifer Barrett.

One cold hard fact is that in Idaho, where family values are revered, the birth rate is precipitously declining.

In 2007, the March of Dimes reported that the Idaho birth rate was 83.4 per 1,000, and in 2021, the National Center for Health Statistics reported it was 64 per 1,000. It’s a significant drop in 14 years. In America today, having a baby is the worst financial decision a woman can make. Obviously, Idaho women are taking note.

Primarily, our legislators need to get a clue: Family values are more than sound bites.

In 2006, Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, mothers and public policy strategists wrote “The Motherhood Manifesto.” It’s a blueprint for Idaho’s working mothers and a roadmap for Idaho leaders who seem to have lost their way. The Idaho Motherhood Manifesto should include:

M = Maternity/paternity leave: In January 2020, Gov. Brad Little, a man with a heart and vision, granted paid parental leave to executive branch employees. This would help new dads as well as new moms. Extending the new paid parental leave policy to Idaho legislative and judicial branches would have taken legislation. Of course, that didn’t happen.

For most mothers lucky enough to get pregnant in the developed world, they don’t have to worry about job loss or income. Every one of the world’s richest industrial countries guarantees paid maternity leave — all except for one: the United States.

O = Open flexible work: A society needs to value care giving. Parents should be able to use flexible work arrangements without jeopardizing job advancement. Our work culture should not penalize any parent for taking kids to the dentist or on family vacations.

T = Top-notch public education in safe schools: Idaho is last in per-student spending. While our legislature was too busy talking about unnecessary tax cuts, private school vouchers and “indoctrination” issues, the full-day kindergarten bill, which would have benefited both children and parents, died a slow death.

H = Health care for all: Medicaid expansion has been a godsend during the pandemic. Future improvements should include better integration of mental and physical health care at all levels.

E = Early learning and excellent child care: Early learning and quality, affordable child care should be accessible to Idaho’s children. Recently, Idaho mothers, the child care community and business organizations have been in a tortuous and needless struggle with the Idaho Legislature over a $6 million federal grant. For unreasonable, picayune and byzantine reasons, the legislature has not given its approval.

R = Realistic and fair wages: A reality of modern life is that mothers have to reenter the workforce before their children are in elementary school. Working mothers must receive equal pay for equal work, and if day care facilities are to survive in Idaho, its workers deserve a living, competitive wage.

On this Mother’s Day, we need to commit to an Idaho where children, moms and families are supported by society and their government. It does take a village to raise a child and all of us, especially our legislators, need to do a better job.

Sylvia Chariton is co-president of American Association of University Women Idaho

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