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July 29, 2009 posted by Linda Basch
Last Sunday marked the 15th annual observance of National Parents’ Day, a holiday established to “uplift ideal parental role models.” Originally introduced into Congress by Senator Trent Lott, in 1994, then-President Bill Clinton formally established the fourth Sunday of July as National Parents’ Day. Generally, this holiday is used to promote the image of two-parent, “traditional” families.
We at the Council, however, find this model to be limited and out-of-touch with reality and we want to reclaim National Parents’ Day by celebrating the diversity of families we have today in the United States and recognizing the urgency of building stronger safety nets for all families.
Household composition has an undeniable impact on the economic security of families. Research consistently demonstrates that two-income households fare much better than households relying on a single income. And with women representing the majority of single parents, this is most definitely a feminist issue. Our Big Five research reveals that women-headed households have about one-half the income and less than one-third the wealth of other U.S. households. Other non-traditional family compositions frequently suffer economically. For instance, households raising grandchildren are far more likely to live in poverty than households that are not raising grandchildren.
As a father-daughter feminist power duo, Julie and Scott Zeilinger remind us that “nobody is going to fight your battles for you.” So, while the National Parents’ Day Council recognizes Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, parents of 18 biological children and stars of their own TLC reality series, as their 2009 Parents of the Year, we invited experts to blog about family diversity.
The Alternatives to Marriage Project reminded us that:
Almost 40% of children today are born to unmarried mothers;
nearly 40% of different-sex unmarried households include children;
fewer than half of all households in the US are headed by a married couple.
Families come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t always based around marriage—or even biology. As queer-femme-feminist activist Amanda Harris writes: “Family is self-defined. Family can be self-chosen, past lovers, aunties and uncles, your estranged stepmother, your current multiple-partner relationships, and more. The possibilities are endless.”
As Amy Sueyoshi of San Francisco State University points out, “queers of color in fact live in more households supporting children not necessarily their own as well as elder relatives.” These extended families and informal “networks of care” (to steal a phrase from Amy) are also found among low-income and immigrant households.
Deborah Siegel, who discovered she was pregnant with twins right in the middle of a recession, points out that the shaky economy is an opportunity in disguise. With the economy in a recession, this is the perfect time to demonstrate the importance of safety nets not only for individual families, but for society.
Instead of promoting a narrow image of family that ignores the diversity of U.S. households, let’s use this national holiday to encourage policies that recognize and fully support families across the nation. Because let’s face it: the state of policy protections for family is abysmal. The United States is NOT among the 168 countries worldwide that provide paid maternity leave. The cost of child care is prohibitive for many families, especially low-income households. Which is unfortunate as studies consistently demonstrate that childcare enables women to stay employed longer and find greater work:life balance. For instance, single mothers with children and former welfare recipients with children were respectively 40% and 60% more likely to remain employed if they received child care assistance. And we seriously need to fix our broken healthcare system for the sake of women AND their families. Half of uninsured women have dependent children and over half are employed.
Let’s follow non-custodial mom Rebekah Spicuglia’s advice and honor not just parents but parenting itself by passing supportive legislation. There is no shortage of pending policies that merit backing. A quick visit to MomsRising’s website reveals multiple initiatives. How about paid sick days in North Carolina? Or healthcare for kids in California? One of my favorites has to be Georgia’s Parent Protection Act, a bi-partisan bill providing up to 24 hours of paid, job-protected leave to attend parent-teacher conferences or medical appointments (for the parent OR the child). With all this important legislation just waiting to pass, let’s expend less energy promoting the image of an “ideal” family and more on protecting the diverse families we have.