The Hypocrisy of Mother's Day, via John Oliver

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

He gives a little history of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is the best we have right now. The FMLA guarantees that jobs will be held for 12 weeks for new moms, providing they’ve already been on staff for at least a year, and that their companies employ a minimum of 50 people. “What that means,” says Oliver, “is that 40 percent of workers are not covered under the federal law. So if a worker with no paid leave goes into labor at work, she better hope it’s on her lunch hour and that her coworkers don’t mind if the break room gets a bit messy.”

FMLA passed in 1993, despite vehement opposition from a lot of legislators, who probably bought their moms flowers on Mother’s Day but believed that allowing moms to keep their jobs while they spent time with their newborns would cause the downfall of American business.

It didn’t.

But we’re not done yet. Family leave is not an issue anymore for those of us who are finished making babies, but how about our children? Don’t they deserve better than we had? That means better than this:

1. Freelance or contract workers get nothing, not even a guarantee that they can return to their job after having a baby.

2. Workers entitled to the 12 weeks of leave are not entitled to pay (unless their company has a specific paid-leave policy). For paid leave, they have to use vacation and sick time.

3. Workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees are S.O.L.

When I had my son, I was still working in TV production. After he was born, I secured permission from my direct boss, her boss and the president of the network where I was working to extend my maternity leave for another month, unpaid. I wanted some more time with my 3-month-old baby and wasn’t ready to plunge back into the unpredictable hours that working in television necessitates.

When I called my HR rep to explain that everything had been approved and that I wouldn’t be back for another month, she told me that was a no-go. It was against company policy, and it wouldn’t be fair to the other mothers, and no matter what I said, it wasn’t going to happen. Then she gratuitously added, “I think you’ll find once you go back to work that it’s a lot easier than you think.”

That’s the perfect thing to say to a woman with a 2-month-old baby who’s just been told her plans to spend more time with him have been quashed, isn’t it? If we hadn’t been on the phone at the time I would have punched her.

“Mothers shouldn’t have to stitch together time to recover from childbirth the same way that we plan four-day weekends in Atlantic City,” Oliver said.

And fathers, too. He points out the hypocrisy of Major League Baseball, which grants players three days of paternity leave. The wife of Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets second baseman, went into labor on opening day last year, so he missed the first two games of the season. Everybody who thought it was their business—sports commentators, radio hosts, former players of other sports—criticized him for doing so. One even suggested that a pre-emptive C-section might be in order if the pregnancy was looming as opening day approached. Oliver loved that one.

“Listen, babe, I know I play 162 games in a season, but I can’t miss a single one, so let’s cut that thing out of your belly so I can wear my baggy pajamas and swing a cone of wood to make a ball go far.”

Where are we, that we think moms and dads don’t need time with their kids? Is this what we want our children to think? It’s not like paid family leave is a radical new idea: 189 other countries provide it. Aren’t families good for society? We live in a country that laments the lack of parental involvement in our children’s lives and education but forces women to choose between a job and family, or worse: If you can’t afford to go without pay, the choice is made for you.

It may be too late for us, but it’s time to focus on that next generation and stop all the lip service the country pays to moms on Mother’s Day.

“You deserve the very best, moms, you’re just not going to get it,” said Oliver.

Here’s the full video:

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