Me-ternity, maternity, minimum wage, Mother’s Day and the politics of mom

To all the moms out there: Happy Mother’s Day. As a new parent, I have a newfound appreciation for everything it takes to hold the title “mom.” I’m also fortunate to have a wife who excels in that role, as she does in everything she sets her mind to.

But “motherhood” itself has become a major political issue this season. Abortion remains a divisive topic leading to passionate debate, especially when coupled with the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood released during primary season. That controversy has fallen by the wayside as many economic issues — framed around mothers — have taken the lead.

For example, in Maine, we will have a minimum wage proposal on the ballot. Advocates often hold up single working moms as major beneficiaries of their efforts. You would be hard pressed to find someone who does not want to see a working mother earn enough to provide for her child. Yet in the emotional appeal from proponents of a minimum wage hike, the fact that the law would equally impact 16-year-old boys in Falmouth and Hampden is often lost.

pregnant-775036_1920Or look at the rising calls for paid maternity leave. It is easy to simply demand business should offer this benefit for their employees. Yet there is a real cost to organizations when employees are absent, regardless of the reason, and doubly so when it effectively requires the payment of two salaries for a single job. Meanwhile, simply passing a law requiring employers to offer the benefit does nothing for those women in the “gig” economy — think Uber or creative industries — who are not employees for purposes of Obamacare, unemployment insurance, or other regulations.

Even worse, we are starting to see arguments from special snowflakes for maternity leave without all the pesky childbirth or child-rearing involved: “Me-ternity” is the phrase du jour. Effectively a sabbatical, its advocates have come to the deep realization that time away from work is nice. Brilliant. And if that time away does not include lack of sleep, dirty diapers, or 2 a.m. feedings, it’s probably extra nice.

The reality is “me-ternity” and “maternity” are polar opposites. The former is focused on yourself; the latter is selfless. Taking on the staggering challenge of raising another human requires incredible commitment and dedication. Of course, no woman becomes a mother purely on her own; in some way, there is a man involved.

This brings us back to the challenge of single mothers. In Bangor, a living wage for two adults living together — think “high school sweethearts” from the Class of 2014 — is $8.56 per hour. If they have a child, it climbs to $12.19. If Dad runs off and cannot be found to pay child support, the living wage for mom and baby becomes $22.07.

From a purely economic standpoint, having a child is a commitment…and it’s expensive. To do it responsibly requires forethought and planning, not to mention a strong relationship between two committed adults. That doesn’t always happen, which is why we see many well-intended proposals to help families in challenging situations.

Yet those proposals often do not encompass the entire picture. If we want maternity leave, let’s look at reforming the existing morass of insurance and social programs to benefit every woman, not simply those who work in traditional employment relationships. My wife and I paid for a disability insurance policy to ensure she would be able to take leave, but not everyone has that option.

If we want to raise the minimum wage, let’s consider its effects on youth employment as well as defining what we expect a “minimum wage” to provide. How many people should it be expected to provide for? And should they be able to live alone? And maybe it is time to have another social conversation on the importance of a committed relationship prior to bringing a child into the world.

But more important than all of that, we should all wish moms everywhere a Happy Mother’s Day. It might be the one day of the year where “maternity” and “me-ternity” can merge — mom has earned the right to be a little selfish.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.