The civilized world rests on the fragile foundation of mothers. We digress about the influence of media, the quality of our schools, and the importance of good government. All those are important, but none is as influential on a child as his or her mother. Because we've forgotten this fundamental fact, we've ignored what mothers are going through. We all know that mothers are, in record numbers, raising children alone. Additionally, mothers are more likely to raise a child hundreds of miles away from a family network of their parents or siblings, resources that have historically been available for tasks as simple as baby sitting while she runs an errand or as profound as offering advice about how to deal with bad behavior or a child who wakes the household many times a night. Finally, jobs demand more and both mothers and fathers are forced to juggle parenting with excessive hours and stress from jobs they're required to work in order to pay the rent or mortgage. The traditional social supports of partner, extended family, or tolerant (or even unnecessary) employer have eroded. What we need is recognition of this fact. One little thing that we can begin doing to help - and it is just one little thing that will need so many other supporting tissues to work - is to offer education and support sessions for mothers. I'm proposing a series of pilot programs to introduce free sessions for mothers. Once these pilots have been revised to the point that they have proven successful, I would fund the rollout of a nationwide program. These sessions will meet at least three needs. One, mothers will be in classes with peers who have children roughly the same age, creating social networks that are helpful in ways that can scarcely be calculated. Two, these sessions will share the latest and best research on nutrition, learning, behavior, and child development. These courses will continue for years.
And three, these courses will do more than offer advice. They will be agents for problem solving, forming a central reference place for dealing with issues as varied as spousal or child abuse to homelessness or finding and funding a dentist. The leaders of these sessions will effectively be advocates for mothers, working with agencies as varied as urban housing and local schools to help these mothers to more effectively care for the children they love. There are a variety of questions and further issues raised by this proposal. For instance, I would propose as part of the legislation tax breaks for employers who allow mothers time off to attend these sessions. These and other kinds of supporting initiatives could be worked out at the various pilot program sites.
This initiative will help with education; it is time to stop admonishing teachers to do the job that we won't help mothers to do. Teachers can't be expected to raise children but we do need to do more to help mothers to do just that. Just as it is not enough to praise troops and then leave them to fight unarmed and unprotected, we have to do more than praise mothers and do more to ensure that they have what they need to do their jobs.
[I'm going to begin an intermittent series of proposals that I'd like to hear from a candidate - any candidate - for president in 2008. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm looking for a candidate who aligns with my values but just as importantly, I am looking for a candidate who shows signs of being a social inventor like FDR. Too many candidates can (and have) polled people to learn how to speak to their values; at this point I am less interested in a candidate who tells me that he'll sell me a Van Morrison record than a candidate who has invented an iPod that lets me listen to Van Morrison in a new way. This is the first in a series of sketches of policy innovations that I would support.]