Every Mother’s Right to Economic Independence


Another Mother’s Day has passed.  We heard that same ole paeans to motherhood from right wingers and the same ole reflections about mothers’ frustrations from progressives.

In articles that haven’t changed much since Anne Crittenden penned her classic, The Price of Motherhood fourteen years ago, we saw appalling statistics about mothers, children and poverty. 

We read depressing tomes about affluent American mothers who had been pushed out of the workforce, and reassuring pieces about Scandinavian and French mothers who were still employed thanks to progressive work and family policies. 

But one statement in all these articles was missing, just as it was missing in every progressive book on mothering that has ever been written:

Every mother has a right to economic independence. 

Yes, EVERY mother, regardless of her class, race, marital status or sexual orientation, and regardless of how much money her husband makes.

In a culture where many people blame the decline of marriage on women’s financial independence, it’s hardly surprising that so many feminists back off from saying the obvious.

When momsrising.org started, they issued bold statements about systemic discrimination against wage-earning mothers.  But I haven’t heard that kind of language from them in a long time.

This timidity about mothers’ economic rights becomes painfully obvious after doing a Google search on fathers’ rights.  Many people have no qualms about fathers claiming their rights, including the supposed right to be THE breadwinner.  They know that as long as mothers stay home and let their husbands make all the money, men will rule the world. 

This reticent discourse about mothers’ economic rights makes me wish that feminists would turn back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s classic Solitude of Self, where she eloquently argues that women’s rights are a necessity because of . . .

 “the fierce storms of life…for they beat on her from every point of the
compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he
has been trained to protect himself.”

In a culture where, as Anne Crittenden said, “women are liberated, mothers are not”, every single one of Cady Stanton’s statements about women could easily be paraphrased to mothers, especially this one:

“No matter how much [mothers]  prefer to lean, to be protected and
nor how much [their husbands] desire to have them do so,
they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency,
they must know something of the laws of navigation.”

Like Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the 19th century, activists in the 21st century need to boldly remind the world of the solitude of self.  They need to declare that every mother has a right to economic independence, a right that is rooted in a mother and her child’s natural rights to survival, a right endowed by their Creator

This lofty statement won’t win converts among conservatives and yes, it will reignite the culture wars.  As we negotiate with politicians, corporations and husbands on work and family issues, we will still have to play realpolitik about “how much it will benefit them.”  But I believe a statement about a mother’s natural rights will put activists on firmer philosophical – and psychological – ground.

Building a culture that respects a mother’s right to economic independence and enables a father to become an equal parenting partner is a tall order.  We may never completely achieve it.  But we can do much better than we’re doing now. 

At the very least, mothers will know that there is nothing selfish about believing they have a right to continue their careers.  And they may even feel more empowered to tell the William Sears of the world to “Shove it” when they try to make them stay home.





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Kathleen Trigiani

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