Philip Cohen asks, “Why are mothers becoming moms?” These aren’t just two words for the same thing: in political terms “mother” is merely descriptive while “mom” is more positive. Indeed, we speak of “mom and apple pie” as unquestionable American icons.
Cohen points out that motherhood is sometimes but not always respected in political discourse:
On the one hand, both President Obama and pundit Hilary Rosen have now called motherhood the world’s hardest job. And with the Romneys flopping onto the all-mothers-work bandwagon, it appears we’re reaching a rare rhetorical consensus.
On the other hand, the majority in both major political parties agrees that poor single mothers and their children need one thing above all – a (real) job, one that provides the “dignity of an honest day’s work.” For welfare purposes, taking care of children is not only not the toughest job in the world, it is more akin to nothing at all. When Bill Clinton’s endorsed welfare-to-work he famously declared: “The days of something for nothing are over.” President Obama and Mitt Romney both support that welfare reform.
Interesting point: it’s ok to be a “working mother” or a “stay-at-home mom,” but you’re not supposed to say “working mom” (as that implies that those stay-at-home moms aren’t working), and it’s not so good to be a “stay-at-home mother” (then you don’t have the “dignity of an honest day’s work”).
P.S. Cohen writes:
Parenthood won’t get the respect it deserves – including men embracing it in more equal numbers – until the monetary reward it draws matches the rhetoric of its symbolic value.
Maybe so, but it’s not obvious to me. Consider soldiers: they get a lot of respect even though they don’t get paid well. [I was sloppy on that one; see Joseph's comment.] Maybe my confusion about this quote is that I don’t understand the distinction between “respect” and “symbolic value.”
Domestic work is extremely challenging to fit into our framework of how we define productive activity. It is clear that domestic work is essential to the creation of the next generation of people and that it is not easy labor. The idea that dignity can only come from paid employment rather than worthwhile work is perverse.
I [Delaney] would consider a Buddhist monk, for example, to have plenty of dignity even if their vocation never (ever) results in paid employment.
Another example would be those old-time rabbis who would sit around arguing about the Bible while their wives were busy chasing the kids, scrubbing the laundry, etc. The modern equivalent would be sitting on the couch and watching sports of tv, I suppose. It’s not paid employment but it’s essential to society.