We've all seen the headlines about how much money people spend on Mother's Day -- the National Retail Federation ranks it just behind the winter holidays (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza) in terms of gift spending. The idea of Mother's Day is that we reward the selflessness of our mothers once a year, acknowledging how they often dedicate themselves to their family and household.
Although I wholeheartedly endorse the appreciation of moms (and dads), the "give a card and gift to honor Mom once a year" mentality seems like a bit of a raw deal to me. More importantly, the traditional notion of Mother's Day does not capture the reality of today's mothers in many ways.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two-thirds of mothers with young children work outside the home, and once their youngest is in grade school, fully three-quarters of women are in the workforce. Recent education trends suggest this movement will increase. The number of females with four-year college degrees rose to 39 percent in 2013, surpassing that of males (34.7 percent). Yet, even in 2015, our perceptions of gender roles are sometimes more "Mad Men" than we'd like to acknowledge.
We need our attitudes about gender roles to catch up to today's realities. In 2012, only 12 percent of participants in one poll thought that mothers should work part time, 40 percent thought they could work part time, and 42 percent said they should not work at all. Setting aside the fact that for many families having two breadwinners is not a choice but a necessity, we still seem to assume that the woman's career is secondary (or optional). Despite the fact that in a third of U.S. households the wife is the primary or only breadwinner, my research shows that on average most men and women believe that the husband should be the primary breadwinner. The division of labor should be based on skills, interests, passions (or sometimes what you dislike doing the least), not based on some preconceived notions of family roles based on gender.
Don't get me wrong -- I hope my children say "Happy Mother's Day" to me on May 10. At the same time, I question how long it is going to take for us as a society to expand our view of working mothers. Our antiquated gender attitudes constrain all of us -- men and women, mothers and fathers -- in our division of labor. The best Mother's Day gift of all would be for our attitudes to catch up to our realities.