A Mother's Day Present

What’s the best Mother’s Day present that legislators could give millions of moms? Flexibility.

"Whether it’s the inflexibility of our nation’s labor laws or the hurdles for adequate child care, outdated laws make being a working mom more difficult than it should be," says Kimberley Strassel, co-author of a new book, "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws."

Her book explains that our tax, labor and employee benefits laws are rigid, often getting in the way of mothers who want to work but also want flexibility in working hours and childcare arrangements. For example, she wants working parents who use the informal childcare services of friends or relatives to be able to claim the current tax credit.

I’ve personally seen the importance of this in the past, when my children were young — but I’m now seeing another need for flexibility on the other side of the age spectrum: eldercare.

Last month, the legs of my 87-year-old mother suddenly buckled beneath her. She fractured her left hip and her left elbow. After surgery on Easter Sunday and several days in recovery, she’s been living in the sub-acute care wing of our local hospital, trying to learn to walk again.

The operations on her hip and arm went well, but recovery has been slow. "The pain is excruciating," she has said often, and I appreciate her guts in persevering. But hard as it is, it would be much worse if she lived a thousand miles away, as she did until recently, and if my wife were unable to spend every morning with her, and I sometime during other parts of the day.

My mom has become dependent on others for hygiene, for moving her from bed to chair, for amusement. Each day is a decision: Is life worth living with the pain and constant small indignities that infirmity brings? Sometimes my mother doesn’t think so, especially on a day when a nurse or aide having a tough morning starts treating her as an object, rather than a human being.

So it’s good that my wife has a flexible and part-time writing job that allows her to be at the hospital a lot. Many moms don’t have that liberty, and on some jobs they can’t have it, given their income needs and the needs of employers. But that should be for employees and employers to negotiate.

When government steps in, though, flexibility typically disappears. Our "rule of law" is terrific when it means that our lives and property, as well as our First Amendment rights, cannot be arbitrarily removed from us. But when an employer is willing to allow an employee to work 20 hours one week and 60 hours another, yet the government says no, the rule of one restrictive law is harmful.

The childcare issue is similar. I’m thankful that my wife has been able almost always to work in our home so that she’s been available for our four children — but we did use a home daycare setting at times, and if we had had relatives nearby, that also would have been an option. Liberal lobbies these days are pushing for more institutionalized daycare, with governmental "early learning centers" in every neighborhood, but tax policy should treat all childcare providers the same, with the choice left up to parents.

Flexibility. Most mothers know that personal commitment to a child — the love that moms, or grandmas, or aunts show — is more important than professionalism. Others may want to hire what they see as the very best. That should be an individual rather than a governmental choice. Just as environmental impact statements accompany some legislative proposals, so flexibility impact statements should accompany those that affect eldercare, childcare or any other kind of care.

Happy Mother’s Day.