05/09/2013 05:24 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

Let's Stop Punishing Mothers

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Every year, card and flower sales spike on Mother's Day. But what has not changed is the dismal and worsening situation of mothers and women in the U.S. today. Millions of elderly American women, mostly mothers and caregivers who spent much of their lives taking care of others, are almost twice as likely live in poverty than elderly men. Also unchanged is the shameful fact that our rich country has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation, that this rate has doubled in the last 25 years, or that African-American women are more than three times as likely to die in childbirth than white women.

This year, rather than just cards and flowers, let's act to change this unconscionable treatment of those we supposedly honor on Mother's Day.

Here are three steps:

1. Learn the fact and share them with others.

You can read books like MomRising, The Price of Motherhood, The Real Wealth of Nations and Mocha Moms; you can go to blogs of mothers or you can take the online Caring Economy Leadership Program.

2. Tell our national and state lawmakers that we want them to change how we treat mothers and other caregivers: that we want policies like those of other developed nations.

Our wealthy nation does not provide universal health care for pregnant women or government-supported paid parental or sick leave. By contrast, in all other industrialized democracies, there is government funded healthcare and paid parental and family leave.

Other nations also have government subsidies for high quality early childcare and early childhood education at affordable prices. For example, in Montreal childcare by a highly-trained, well-paid childcare professional costs only $7 per day -- a huge boon to mothers who also have jobs as well as offering all children a better chance to develop their potentials.

Some will say we cannot afford these policies. But investment in healthcare, caregiving and good early education of children will pay for itself in less than a generation -- and make a huge profit in the bargain.

For instance, studies show that children benefit from high quality early education programs by earning more (and paying more taxes) over their lifetimes and they are far less likely to end up in prison or even to smoke. There are also big local, state and national tax savings from avoiding the huge community expenses of not investing in good childcare -- from crime, mental illness, drug abuse and lost human potential.

On top of this are the benefits to our national economy. Neuroscience shows that whether we have the "high quality human capital" economists tell us is critical for our knowledge-service global era largely hinges on the quality of care and education children receive. And all this of course helps businesses and contributes to a higher quality of life for us all.

3. Let's support new ways of measuring economic success that show the enormous financial return from investing in caring for people, starting in early childhood.

Today, policy makers rely on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the measure of our economic productivity. But GDP does not count the work of caregiving in families -- at the same time that work that destroys rather than nurtures life, such as making and selling cigarettes and unhealthy illness-producing foods along with the resulting medical costs and funeral costs, is counted by GDP as "productivity."

This makes no sense! Because we have to change this limited and misleading way of measuring productivity, economists have been developing Social Wealth indicators. These new economic measurements take into account that caregiving is essential for children's welfare and development, that there would be no labor force without this work and that both our short and long-term economic health depend on the work of care.

Developing these Social Wealth economic measures, as well as bringing together a coalition to support more caring policies, is the mission of the Caring Economy Campaign, which also offers online leadership and learning programs for those who want to take an active role in moving us to a more sensible, sensitive and effective economy.

This Mother's Day, let's see to it that our policy-makers move from nice rhetoric to concrete actions. Let's see to it that the work of caregiving is recognized as essential for our nation's real wealth: our social wealth. This is the gift we can give mothers -- and fathers and children - this Mother's Day.

Riane Eisler is co-founder of the Caring Economy Campaign (CEC) and author of the international bestsellers The Chalice and the Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. Shireen Mitchell is founder of Digital Sisters, Advisor to the CEC and Vice Chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations.