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This Mother’s Day, let’s honor caregiving moms by seeking change

Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride (second from right), with her family. (Family photo)
By Elissa McBride ·

This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about moms as caregivers. Of course, that starts with thinking about my own mother. She once cared for me while working part time from home – typing handwritten manuscripts on an IBM typewriter in her bedroom for pennies per page – and working full time outside the home as my sisters and I got older.

As a recent widow, she now depends on her three daughters and a group of wonderful professional caregivers to care for her as she nears 90. She is lucky enough to be in a supportive assisted living environment, in part because of the pension benefits she earned as a state of Virginia employee, and because we girls live nearby.

Even with those advantages, there are a lot of challenges to navigate, for her and for us. Caregiving requires an incredible amount of time and energy from professional providers and family caregivers. Depending on our situations, caregiving can take the form of full-time, at-home care for a parent who lives with us. Or help managing medications and medical appointments for a parent. Or taking on financial responsibilities for elders who no longer can or want to manage those details. More and more of us are in the caregiver role – for our children, parents, or another loved one who is ill, aging, or both.

When the pandemic struck, many mothers were overwhelmed pulling double duty – juggling full-time jobs, household tasks, raising children, and the added responsibilities of around-the-clock caregiving. The National Women’s Law Center reports that the pandemic gave 72% of mothers more household and caregiving responsibilities. For women with children under 5 years of age, that number rises to 84%.

Working mothers are superheroes but they are not superhuman. Caregiving responsibilities are cited as the second greatest contributor to increased stress levels in women. Caregiving has also made it harder for women to return to the workforce, especially those in lower-paying positions. As of March 2022, 6.6 million Americans cited their caregiving obligations as the reason they were not working outside of the home.

We ask so much of mothers. Time and again, they go the distance for their families and communities. They are in desperate need of backup.

Working mothers know what support they need. A National Women’s Law Center survey identified three big policy solutions: paid family and medical leave; financial assistance to cover the costs of long-term care for ill or aging family members; and increased funding for affordable child care to lower the cost for families.

Combined with increased wages for child care providers and an extension of the child tax credit to lift children out of poverty, these policies would transform the lives of working mothers.

These are important demands for all working families, and AFSCME has been on the front lines, advocating for them for years.

This April, the Houston City Council unanimously voted to grant all 21,000 city employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. This victory was possible because HOPE/AFSCME Local 123 members called, emailed, and lobbied their city council. And this month, in Travis County, Texas, AFSCME Local 1624 worked closely with elected officials to win eight weeks of paid leave for county employees.

This year, AFSCME members in Maryland joined a coalition of unions and progressive groups in support of Time to Care Act of 2022. This legislation granted nearly all working people in Maryland 12 weeks of paid family leave each year, and up to 24 weeks of paid leave for new parents. AFSCME’s demands for change were so powerful that the bill passed despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, which was overridden by the legislature.

Now, more than ever, the need for these policy changes is clear and urgent. AFSCME members are a driving force for change – whether on the municipal level as in Houston, county level in Travis County, state level in Maryland, or federally. 

So, this Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate mothers and motherhood, and let’s also flex our political muscles as mothers and activists. Join me in using our AFSCME action page to urge our U.S. senators to pass legislation investing in child and home care providers.

And don’t stop there. Support elected officials who are committed to supporting caregivers. One of the best ways to uplift working mothers is to get involved in the upcoming elections by registering and turning out union voters. With everything mothers do, let’s ease their burdens by delivering on the policies that improve their lives and ours.

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