Menu
labor-day

We celebrate Labor Day because hundreds of years ago workers demanded a day off from their jobs, but on this Labor Day, we should remember that there are many in our society who don't get paid for their work—and who don't get a day off from it.

You could call these people unpaid laborers, but most just call them mom.

Labor Day began in the 1800s because factory workers were tired of working 70 hours a week. Here we are 200 years later and surveys still show that mothers report working nearly 100 hours a week, and don't get days off.

FEATURED VIDEO

We are tired. We are burned out. And we need society to recognize the value of unpaid care work and redistribute it.

Why the work of parenting is still unequal

Today's mothers are spending more time doing paid labor than previous generations did, but we're also spending more time on childcare. Today's fathers, too, are spending more time on childcare than previous generations, but there is a big difference in how moms and dads in heterosexual partnerships spend time with their kids. Mothers are more likely to be doing care work while spending time with the children—the bathing, the cleaning, the feeding—while research finds that fathers' time with kids is more often spent on play and leisure activities.

This tracks with the results of our second annual State of Motherhood survey, which found the majority of partnered moms report handling most household chores and responsibilities themselves and 62% report having less than an hour to themselves.

If you're a dad, it might seem like having a spouse who does most of the household labor is a good deal, and research does prove that fathers are happier parents than mothers, but the research also shows that dads want to be more than the fun, weekend guy because while care work is incredibly undervalued and unequal it can also incredibly fulfilling (if the carer is also allowed to rest).

Today's fathers want to be equal parents and partners but a culture that devalues unpaid work holds them back and this is what allows unpaid work to keep holding women back.

Unequal labor for unequal pay

The wage gap is directly tied to the unequal distribution of unpaid labor. Time spent on unpaid labor impacts a mother's ability to do paid work and advance in her career. Our second annual State of Motherhood survey shows that when a heterosexual couple has children, mom is likely to scale back her paid work, and it's easy to see why many couples would make that choice.

For women, becoming a mother means doing unpaid work that is undervalued, but it also often means becoming undervalued in one's paid work. The motherhood penalty is real. According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analysis of U.S. Census data, mothers only make about 71 cents to a dad's dollar (that's even worse than the wage gap between women and men, by as much as 10 cents).

Mothers often feel like they are being forced out of the workplace against their will, while fathers report that they desperately want more time with their children but feel they can't take time off even when it is offered for fear of losing career momentum.

Mom doing all the work at home while dad is hardly home sounds like an outdated notion, and that's because it is. When researchers at Boston College surveyed professional fathers, they found less than 5% of the fathers saw themselves as just a financial provider. The survey found most fathers believed they should share their children's caregiving equally with their spouses (but only about 30% said they were actually doing that).

A survey of professional fathers by Boston College's Center for Work and Family reports that most fathers do not want to be traditional breadwinners, but value their role in caring for their children.

Equality at work will lead to equality in unpaid work

Labor experts believe flexible workplace policies for everyone are the key to keeping women in the workforce. Such politics allow mothers and fathers to more equally manage the demands of parenting and paid work.

Researchers at Perdue University found that today's workers are "desperately seeking sustainable careers" and employers can provide those sustainable opportunities by getting flexible, streamlining and reducing needless busywork.

The research proves that employees don't need to be at their desk for 40 or 60 hours a week to be great at their job.

"The reality is many reduced-load workers work more intently and often get as much done as a full-time worker. This is because they enjoy the opportunity to have an interesting job yet still be able to flexible in a way that enables time for other life interests -- from continuing education, to caregiving to community involvement," Ellen Ernst Kossek, Professor at Purdue's Krannert School of Management explains.

It is not a coincidence that Nordic countries where paternity leave and flexible work are the norm are also the countries with the lowest pay gap and most involved fathers.

The recent State of the World's Fathers' report found that if men did at least 50 minutes of unpaid care work per day, women's workloads would be reduced by half.

The authors of the report urge lawmakers, companies and individuals to support men to do more care work in the hopes that the unpaid workload of mothers could be reduced by half by 2030 and so that fathers can be the caregivers that they so desperately want to be.

Let's give dads that 50 minutes so that we can give mothers their freedom.

You might also like:

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

FEATURED VIDEO

The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

FEATURED VIDEO

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less
Life