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Why we should put moms in charge

Why we should put moms in charge
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I am exhausted from pandemic living. Tired of waking every morning to feed my kids and get them to virtual school in the dining room, only to walk 12 more steps to my home office to start a constantly interrupted workday. These days, I work side by side with continual distractions. And, once again, I am overly sad seeing gun violence in this country resulting in mass, senseless deaths.

This new chaotic, distracted, exhausted life has stirred enough emotions that I am left asking: Why is this so hard? And I don’t mean why is this so hard for me? I mean, why is this so hard for policymakers and corporate leaders? Why is this so hard for society to do right by moms, women, children, victims of gun violence?

Hear me out. If moms were in charge, we would have implemented stronger gun control legislation two decades ago after Columbine. Anne Marie Slaughter would never have had to write her piece in The Atlantic about why women still can’t have it all. Sheryl Sandberg would never have had to tell us that all we need to do is lean in. Heather Boushey would never have felt the burning urge to write “Finding Time.” Reshma Saujani would never have had to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times advocating a Marshall Plan for moms. Journalists would never have needed to delve into the primal screams of stressed out pandemic mothers that may take years, if not generations, from which to recover.

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If moms were in charge, I would never have had to write a piece about the gut-wrenching knee-jerk reaction of mothers to disproportionately forgo work, take leave, and stay home with the kids when chaos hit back last March. I would never have had to hear leaders say last spring that opening the economy and businesses was enough. Enough for whom?

If mothers were in charge, I wouldn’t need to stare into an abyss wondering how mothers get back to work while schools are still closed, and socially distanced daycares are not readily available. I would never have had to worry about how the current rhetoric for opening schools lacks a foundation in reality for working parents; that opening hybrid versions of schools where kids flounder around physically in and out of school on various days or weeks is no solution for the working mother.

I am sure that if moms were actually in charge, it would look something like this. Birth control and tampons would be readily, even freely, available. Childcare would be affordable and accessible. Daycare workers, health aides, nursing home workers, home cleaners, moms, and others engaged in care work would get paid their worth. Paid leave and flexible work schedules would be a given. Dads would put a lot more effort in at home to equal the playing field. Mental health services for all would be the slogan. Strong gun control policies would be the norm. Girls and boys would never be told they couldn’t or shouldn’t let their passions and preferences drive their interests, hobbies, and activities.

All these changes, by the way, would mean our economy would grow and GDP would flourish. Wasted or foregone talent would not be swept under the rug. Struggling parents would not be stressed and forced to put children in compromising situations while they figure out how to work and provide care — without getting arrested for making a “wrong” choice. Research shows a strong return on investment when we invest wisely in our society’s children and most vulnerable. Our lack of support for our neighbors and the care economy is, if nothing else, due to political rhetoric and (conscious and unconscious) gendered priorities that run deep in our nation’s history. This has led to a society that seems to lack care, empathy, or compassion. I ask: Who have we become?

As an economist, I am sometimes asked my policy stance. At my job at a nonpartisan statistical agency, my expertise does not translate into policymaking. I can’t (and won’t) tell you how to develop the most appropriate policies to provide fair and affordable daycare, but I do generate the rigorous research and methods with data that help inform the debate. As a mother, however, if policymakers, corporate leaders, or our society were to ask me what policies would have the most impact on improving the lives and safety of parents and families today and post-pandemic, I would say, without a doubt, put mothers in charge.

Misty Heggeness is a principal economist and senior adviser at the United States Census Bureau where she studies gender and poverty. These views above are hers alone and do not represent the views of any one institution.