is america failing its mothers? are we really committed to motherhood in this nation that claims to put it on the same level as apple pie?

is america failing its mothers? are we really committed to motherhood in this nation that claims to put it on the same level as apple pie?


With Mother’s Day arriving in May, lots of us think about our own or the mothers in our life. Celebrating them seems like a really good thing. At the same time, it’s important to ask whether as a nation the US really cares about mothers. I asked some colleagues a sharply pointed question: Do you think America is failing mothers? Our culture seems to love the cliché that nothing is as American as motherhood and apple pie. Yet we see more evidence all the time that raises doubts. Here are their replies. And by the way, what’s your take?

“America has failed its mothers (and fathers) since 1971, the only time the US Congress passed universal day care legislation (“The Comprehensive Child Development Act”), but President Nixon vetoed this critically important bill. Since then, families – and especially working mothers – have struggled so much. Our country has also failed Black women in particular, as our shocking maternal health disparities continue to demonstrate. For this problem, we do have a proven solution: expanded access to midwifery services in all settings. Let’s all support the creative work of communities of color as described at the recent Black Maternal Health Conference at Tufts University. The speakers were terrific.” Judy Norsigian, Co-Founder and Board Member, Our Bodies Ourselves.

“When it comes to motherhood, the United States has a “thoughts and prayers” approach. This is evident when looking at U.S. policies through an intersectional lens. The most vulnerable of us do not have access to basic healthcare, childcare, or parental leave, and even fewer have access to supportive services such as doulas and lactation care. It is vital that we prioritize the health and bonding of mothers and children and establish a new infrastructure that promotes thriving, not just surviving.” Shannan Clarke, mother of 2, maternal health advocate,  Founder and CEO of Queen & Baby and Board member with the Boston Association for Childbirth Education & Nursing/Nursing Mothers’ Council.

“America is failing today’s mothers, certainly by overturning Roe v. Wade, resulting in mothers having fewer rights today than mothers 50 years ago. And when we look at mothers of color, we see the impact of health disparities, as evidenced by Black women dying at three times the rate of white women from pregnancy-related complications. Neither of these issues and more should occur in the wealthiest country in the world.” Carol Fulp, CEO, Fulp Diversity LLC and Author, Success Through Diversity: Why The Most Inclusive Companies Will Win and Former CEO of the Partnership and SVP of Corporate Responsibility and Branding, John Hancock Financial.

“Motherhood is an honor and a privilege and clear expectation from society. The guilt/stress a mother carries for everything they do yet the praise they constantly get for fitting into the “norm of motherhood” feels so contradictory. Where is the village that we were supposed to have? Where we support each other, we step up and do what needs to get done for each other other without judgement or question? I have found politics and religion often get things twisted. As a mother who works with children in the mental health field, the only way I see that America can live up to the great cliché of motherhood and apple pie is by practicing acceptance. Understand the true definition of privilege and the impact it has on a mother. Realize your way is not the only way. And most importantly, hold your values and morals up high without forcing them upon others. As America, we need to commit to each other and become that village without the politics and religious oversight.” Leigh Ivy Rollings, Child, Youth, and Family Site Supervisor, Department of Mental Health, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Yes! America is failing mothers because it is failing our children. America needs to really assess how we approach mental health resources and discussions so that our children can really heal from all that the world has heaped on them. Mental health resources and assistance need to be available for all and accessible.” Kyia Watkins, Mompreneur, Creative Superwoman and Owner/Founder of At Peace Arts.

“Mothers have faced challenges in every generation. The central role of motherhood has not changed much over time – selflessly loving, nurturing, and caring for children is a standard that is embraced by many cultures. What changes is the political and economic landscape. Indeed, in our current times, the sovereignty of women is at stake, and we are confronting obstacles we thought were behind us. I’m not sure that America is failing mothers…but some people want to turn back time. As a society, and in the name of our mothers and grandmothers, we can’t let that happen.” Dr. Melinda Macht-Greenberg, Psychologist, Macht-Greenberg Consulting Services, Faculty in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study & Human Development at Tufts University.

“If nothing is as American as motherhood and apple pie, it is time to change our choice of dessert. America has the highest rate of maternal mortality and illness among developed nations. Further, America has been failing Black women during their pregnancies and postpartum periods for decades. Even though there have been medical advances throughout the years in the field of maternal and child health, black women, when controlling for education and income, are still three times more likely to die when compared to similarly situated white women. Black women are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care or care for conditions such as high blood pressure (which can lead to preeclampsia), which if not properly diagnosed and treated, can lead to death. Black infants die at twice the rate of white infants (during the first year of life).  America may claim that it supports the concept of motherhood but the data in this field (maternal & child health) tells the story of how America continues to fail to care for Black women and their infants at a point in their lives when they are most vulnerable.” Karen Shaw, Health Policy Expert

“America is extremely unfavorable when it comes to moms. The discrimination is rampant and opportunities are not available – especially to “single” moms. Questions ranging from: “who is taking care of you children” to  “is your spouse ok relocating”, still enter conversations. Additionally, women do not treat mothers the same as women who do not have children…and older women forget what it was like to have school aged children with busy schedules. Surprisingly, the bias is as much from women, as men.” Jennifer Nassour, Co-Founder & President at Pocketbook Project and Former Chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

“Is the US really committed to motherhood?” Only in words, and definitely not in deeds – rights, policies, and respect. Motherhood is a rubric for qualities in individuals who nurture and take care of others for the benefit of the other. Institutional commitment to motherhood has quantitative and qualitative indicators of an inclusive workspace demonstrated by practices of equity, accountability, and respectful culture. If motherhood was truly a commitment for the US, then why are women still denied the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive freedom? It is my hope that decision makers in all sectors of our society move beyond motherhood as a message point to a caring economy.” René Redwood, CEO Redwood Enterprise, Former Executive Director of the Presidential Glass Ceiling Commission.

“Motherhood and parenthood is the most incredible journey, yet it is totally undervalued by American society. During the pandemic, I transitioned careers to become a therapist with a focus on serving women experiencing mental health challenges related to fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and identity transitions. While I’m excited that my state has engaged in Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML), it is not without its complications. Because I was a full-time student for the past two years, I was not making financial contributions to the PFMLA fund and learned from a judge two days before I delivered my daughter that my PFML had been denied. My birth was deemed a “short-term disability” and I returned to work six weeks postpartum. It’s a complicated story but we eventually got things to a better place. I am now on leave with my daughter and it is incredible! America- we can and must do better for mothers and parents.” Rachel Spekman, Therapist & Career Coach

About this piece: Mothers are both venerated and patronized in American culture. One thing they appear to have in common is that they have to find a way to access myriad work-arounds with little evidence of intentional, integrated, informed or structural (never mind equitable) support. The results show up in social and economic trends that are shameful and self-destructive for a nation that appears to be nearly shameless. I am grateful to the women in this piece for volunteering their voices. What is your take? Share it as a comment please and feel free to disagree respectfully too.

Andy Tarsy empowers leaders to achieve impact, distinction and advantage. He leads Emblem Strategic as a strategist, partnership builder and coach for leaders in business and the non-profit sector. Consider Andy and the diverse, multi-skilled and talented Emblem Network for coaching and consulting on DEI work, stakeholder engagement, partnership building and social impact strategy. Andy is also one-third of Conscious Customers which focuses entirely on helping leading companies adopt high impact supplier and vendor diversity programs. He is a Lecturer at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business and a Trustee of the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology.

If you like this piece you might also like our recent similar posts featuring more than 100 voices on climate change, racial justice, gender equity, and visions for the new year.

1 Comment
  • Bob Allard
    Posted at 17:38h, 10 May Reply

    This is awesome and, of course, timely as we near Mother’s Day. I might expand the question to ask “are we enabling fathers to be able to care about mothers?”

    Because who is this “America” of which you speak, if not the men who are responsible for the mothers being mothers?

    Thanks Andy!

Post A Comment