by Patrice Onwuka
What do you want for Mother’s Day? Perhaps you’ve asked your mother, spouse, or co-parent this question within the past couple of weeks. You might expect her to say flowers, shoes, a purse, or jewelry — tangible gifts you can order with a few clicks and have delivered to her doorstep in two business days. Yet, the gift that most mothers want is both free and expensive. It’s time, time to herself. The question is how can we give mothers more of their time?
A recent poll reported by Scary Mommy finds that most moms (58%) just want free time for Mother’s Day. Time to read a book, watch TV, engage in a hobby, take a walk, or take a nap. Quality time with their families is also very popular.
Mothers are tired. Over the past five decades, the share of women whose earnings have matched or exceeded their husband’s earnings tripled. Nonetheless, women shoulder more household management and caregiving responsibilities than their partners and spend more time on these activities. Men work more hours each week than women (44.2 hours compared to 41.1 hours) and enjoy more leisure time than women (25.2 hours v. 21.6 hours). Women outspend men on time spent caregiving and doing chores. In households with children, mothers spend even fewer hours working and in leisure and nearly double the number of hours on caregiving.
Before we jump to the conclusion that mothers are bound up by outdated gender roles, consider an alternative view. Many women like to see their households run a certain way and are hands-on to bring that vision to life. Juggling packing lunches, overseeing homework, and conducting STEM projects with laundry, cleaning, and cooking while clocking an 8-hour work day is a circus act that can weigh on partners. According to a survey by Yelp, bickering over chores places a strain on most relationships. Couples most commonly disagree over when to do housework, how to get it done, and who should do it. Women typically voice frustrations over how the chores are managed.
My husband and I have had to figure out our system for balancing caregiving and chores with work. As working parents of three kids — including two under five — my husband’s occupation and current remote status offer a traditional 9-to-5 job that makes my non-traditional schedule possible.
Workplace flexibility in hours and location allows us to tag team getting everything done — and done to both of our satisfaction. It also gives me the time back in my day to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities or to just rest — an invaluable benefit during both of my pregnancies.
Many women wish their jobs provided flexibility to better juggle life’s responsibilities and opportunities.
The importance of flexibility is high among workers, according to YouGov’s Workforce Insights. However, job flexibility is more important to women than men. Positively, the recent pandemic expanded opportunities for increased workplace flexibility and flexible work through freelancing. The share of freelancers rose from 33.8% in 2020 to 39% in 2022 as an all-time-high 60 million Americans performed freelance work. In an Indeed survey of over 1,000 women who transitioned from a full-time job to gig, contract, and part-time work or who left the workforce entirely after the onset of the pandemic, they said they made this decision because they wanted opportunities that guarantee flexibility over stability.
Policymakers in Washington need to hear from us about how the legislative and regulatory changes they are advancing would undercut workplace flexibility. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would lead to the reclassification of millions of independent contractors and freelancers as employees. This would raise labor costs by $18-61 billion each week, risk $2.2 trillion in GDP, and guarantee the loss of contracts, small businesses, and livelihoods. Also, the Department of Labor is set to finalize a rule that would also lead to the reclassification of millions of independent contractors and harshly restrict flexible work, which women value and depend on.
Additionally, President Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Labor, Julie Su, would be charged with enacting these restrictive policies. As the architect of California’s disastrous Assembly Bill 5, which targeted gig workers and hamstrung freelancers, she would nationalize California’s hardship.
There’s a better way for policymakers to give mothers time back: protect independent contracting. Efforts such as Senator Tim Scott’s Employee Right Act would ensure that freelancing does not disappear. The DOL can also choose to abandon its rule, and no senator should support a labor nominee who is an adversary to independent contractors.
At home, spouses, family members, and friends can give the mothers in their life some time alone to themselves. Greater flexibility serves women well because flexibility is not just a preference, but a necessity.
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