I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day. I recall Jane Caro writing clearly on the matter in one particularly popular piece, where she noted the blatant hypocrisy of getting all sentimental and ‘celebrating’ the day — given the discrimination mothers face, the unpaid work they do, the domestic violence they experience and more.
I almost forgot Mother’s Day was happening. The usual load of press releases and marketing materials have been significantly slower this year. It seems like the “sickly-sweet, patronising tone” that comes around each May, as Jane has described it, has been a little less prominent in 2020. I could be wrong, I have been busy, like most mothers right now.
But I do want to take a moment to acknowledge all the mums out there and the extra work they’re putting in during this period.
This is no ordinary time. And the discrimination that mums already face and the considerable unpaid work so many take on, is on the increase during this pandemic. We’re yet to see just how problematic this is and will be, but we have seen some hints, even just this week. More women than men have lost paid work since mid-March in Australia. Research in the US had found that half of men are saying they are doing most of the home schooling, but just 3 per cent of women agree. The vast majority of healthcare workers are women, and they’re doing dangerous and difficult work right now. Teachers, supermarket employees, cleaners — they’re sectors significantly dominated by women who are still going to their places of work, and then coming home to take on the “double shift” with their kids.
That “double shift” is the unrecognised and underappreciated work that occurs outside of paid work, and has become a “double double shift” during this pandemic, as Sheryl Sandberg described it. It’s the unpaid domestic and caring work that mothers take on the bulk of at home. It’s the physical load and the mental load. It’s the remote learning and the added childcare occurring with kids staying home. It’s the entertaining and exercising kids when traditional options for doing so (like public playgrounds) are closed. It’s the negotiating with teenagers, motivating them to do their study and pleading with them to stay home for their safety and the safety of those around them. It’s trying to be all things to everyone — while also in many cases trying to retain your paid work and satisfy an employer or clients.
In Australia and all over the world, getting through this pandemic and even considering how and when we might be able to get the “economy back and running again” would simply not be possible without the unpaid, domestic overtime mothers are putting in, on top of the significant load of unpaid work mothers were already doing.
And yet we don’t talk about this enough at a national level. We don’t put dollar signs on just what this hidden work is worth to the economy — until it comes to Mother’s Day, when we’re urged to spend on cards, flowers and gifts to show our appreciation.
This year, we also know that Mother’s Day is going to be harder for some people than ever before. There are the mothers who won’t be able to see their children, especially those in nursing homes where visiting is severely restricted. There are the mothers who have never felt more concerned for their health and safety, and for their financial security.
Then there are those who have lost their mothers, and mothers who have lost their children, who on Sunday will have limited opportunities to be around loved ones.
And there are mothers who can’t access healthcare and reproductive services right now, and those who desperately want to be mothers who have had their ability to access services that may help, severely limited.
There are new mothers, facing this uncertain time in their lives alone and in isolation — unable to have visitors in hospital, in some cases unable to have their partner by their side as they give birth. Unable to physically access mothers groups, friends and other vital connections that make such a difference to those first weeks, months and years.
And there are mothers who are physically and emotionally exhausted. Who have done work that will never be recognised and appreciated for what it is — whether that be in a paid role on the essential frontline, or the unpaid work at home that’s keeping the essential frontline going on so lives can be saved, people can be fed, and the economy can have a chance at some kind of recovery.
This really is unlike any other Mother’s Day.
And no bunch of roses, new pajamas or sentimental message on a Mother’s Day card can articulate the appreciation we need for just what mothers are experiencing here in Australia and indeed all over the world.
But a bit of acknowledgment for the unpaid work that mothers do, often on top of the essential services they’re working in — and the exhausting overtime they’re putting in right now — would be a huge start.