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Governing motherhood: Who pays and who profits?

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In Focus, January 2012
Rippeyoung, Phyllis L. F.
Publication Date: 
22 Jan 2013


If policy makers are truly interested in improving child health and welfare, more needs to be done to address the problems faced by families comprehensively and structurally; not only in terms of training individual mothers to behave in particular, culturally defined ways. All children will do better when they are in families where the members are employed in jobs that pay a living wage and offer fully paid leaves to care for new babies or ill family members. They do better when their families can find  safe and affordable housing, which is decreasingly possible in an age of housing flips and bubbles. All children need access to clean drinking water and to have greater food security, both in terms of their individual abilities to afford food and in terms of food safety. For parents to work in these jobs and house and feed their children, they need accessible and affordable childcare. Parents also need high-quality and affordable education from pre-school through university, both for their children and for themselves. Children do better in communities with a strong sense of engagement, through recreation and through open governance structures where all members' voices can be heard. Most obviously, improving the health of children also requires improved access to high quality preventative medical care including prescriptions, vision, dental, and mental health care, both for the children and for their parents, friends, and neighbors. Individuals thrive when everyone in their communities are thriving.

In writing for the CCPA, sociologist Pat Armstrong argued that "attending to women's health goes far beyond boobs and babies to understanding that the lives of women and men, boys and girls are shaped and experienced in different and usually unequal ways" (2008). Relatedly, focusing disproportionately on breastfeeding or parenting skills alone within a middle-class framework will not solve all of our social problems in health care or otherwise. Addressing solutions to these problems will require far more complex, overarching policies than what can be expected of individual women. Thus, the question that we should be asking is not whether women are "mom enough" to make well-adjusted and healthy children, but rather, is the state governing enough to secure a bright future for us all.