Reflections for Mother’s Day
I am the lucky mother of two amazing kids. Yesterday reminded me of how lucky I truly am.
Motherhood brings so much joy to my life, but it is also the hardest and most humbling job I have ever had. At times, the responsibility of creating tender, sweet and conscientious members of society is daunting.
As someone who was educated to be a social worker to care for families and steeped in early education literature and research, I thought being a mom would be a breeze. In fact, I asked my “infant expert” friends NOT to send me books or give me advice! The joke was on me. I regret not asking for help! The fact of the matter is that children don’t come with instruction manuals. Mothers (and fathers) of ALL ages and income levels need to learn the importance of touch, early literacy and books on brain development and their effects on future educational attainment. The research clearly provides the evidence that babies develop a set of social, emotional and cognitive proficiencies that lay the foundation for the skills they will need to be successful in school, in the workplace and in life.
In my role as executive director of DC Action for Children, I see myself responsible for raising awareness and for educating lawmakers about the long-lasting implications of failing our children. It’s not too different from being a mother. Both roles involve giving a much-needed voice to children. Both roles involve working with pediatricians and teachers to ensure that children get what they need to grow and learn.
I want all mothers (and all advocates) to start feeling responsible for the well-being of all of the District’s children — but especially the one in three who are feeling the painful effects of poverty. The children who are too hungry to focus, too cold to read, too wounded to trust — they are the ones I keep thinking about. Why are they dealt this humble beginning?
In the District, half of families with related children are headed by single women. Imagine that some of these mothers are just out of childhood themselves. At times I feel barely capable of caring for two children with the resources I have - I can’t begin to imagine what the struggles must be like for a young single mother without access to the resources she would need like quality infant care.
In the District, the city offers universal Pre-kindergarten and provides low-income parents with subsidies to help pay for child care. According to a study commissioned by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), nearly 50,000 children under the age of 14 are eligible for subsidies. We simply aren’t providing enough subsidies for the family who need them.
Even with subsidies, child care for one infant and one preschooler costs 47 percent of median family income in the District. Infant care is the most costly of all child care option and incredibly challenging to find. With average costs of infant care exceeding public college tuition in many states, even middle class paychecks are no match for the child care bill.
In the District, much of the available infant care is low quality. Quality care that is nurturing and responsive to a baby's needs matters, giving kids from families with the least resources a solid foundation for skill development and learning. Care that fails to meet quality standards can have the opposite effect.
Motherhood is always a struggle, for every mother, from every economic level. In D.C., the struggle is amplified for far too many women. But they persevere. That’s why we work to help these mothers and their children persevere — and prosper.
As we spent this past Mother’s Day celebrating all our mothers, it is a wonderful reminder how difficult and challenging motherhood is and how many more resources mothers from low-income communities need.