Suzanne Fields

Mother's Day approaches, and children are decorating cards with ribbons and lace and wrapping boxes of chocolates. Just how we celebrate depends on the length of our memories. Those closest to adolescence recall the anger of rebellion, when we were sure we knew more than our mothers. The older we get the wiser our mothers become. When we become mothers ourselves, we suddenly hear her voice in our own, in the familiar things we say to our own children: "I'll count to three," or, "You're wearing that?" or, "No, you don't look fat."

Mothers of sons who died on both sides in the Civil War organized a first day to honor mothers as a way to inspire the reuniting of North and South, but it was not celebrated as an official holiday until it was recognized in West Virginia in 1908. Other states quickly followed, and President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed the holiday in 1914, six years before women got the vote.

We've marched a long way since then. We mock the second Sunday in May for its sentimentality and commercialization, but when a mother's voice is stilled, her sons and daughters grieve that the full understanding of a mother's wisdom arrived too late to thank her for it.

So it's a good day for sentiment, and it's a good day for hardheaded realism, too. The way parents share responsibility has changed over the last five decades. The Pew Research Center confirms what most of us know: Dad is doing more housework, but not nearly as much as Mom. Both share the care of children, but Mom does more.

More dads than moms work full-time. This research supports the findings of economists June and Dave O'Neill, who write in their new book, The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market, that the gender gap in wages is related to different choices women make, not discrimination. Mothers are "more likely to work part-time, to take more career breaks than men, to accumulate fewer years of continuous work experience," and childless women "who never marry earn more than married women and as much as similarly situated men."

Fathers place more importance on a high-paying job; women want a flexible schedule. In the Pew survey, only 23 percent of married mothers say they would like to work full-time -- an attitude unchanged since 2007.

In the life-is-not-fair department, feminist fury was unleashed against Marissa Mayer, when the CEO of Yahoo built a nursery in her office for her newborn but required mothers who work for her to come into the office to share the collaborative team dynamic.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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