In 2020 many families were stretched to the brink. Parents scrambled to continue working their jobs under rapidly changing and often dangerous conditions, all while having to care for their children as schools and daycares shuttered practically overnight. As Anne L. Alstott wrote in our pages a year ago, the heaviest burden fell on mothers—especially the eight million single ones raising children alone. These mothers had to face a near-impossible choice between caring for their children and staying afloat financially.
But the conditions that led to such decisions were set long before the pandemic arrived in the United States. “The seeming impossibility of the situation is not an unfortunate byproduct of an unforeseen global health crisis,” wrote Julie Kohler in 2020. “It is the inevitable result of an economic worldview that has methodically shifted more and more costs onto families’ shoulders under a façade of ‘family values.’ Neoliberalism has caused the family structure to become, along with race and gender, one of the prime sources of inequality in the United States.”
Today’s Mother’s Day reading list thus doles out a dose of realism, outlining the ways families have been given short shrift this past year. But it’s not without hope and imagination too—especially our interview with Silvia Federici. “Every woman is a working women,” the famed feminist activist argues, making the case that even stay-at-home moms are part of capitalist production and thus should receive wages. Elsewhere, three short stories provide some escapism, while archival essays on a range of topics round off the list. From mail-order robot moms to trans moms to poet moms, the picks below put the varied lives of mothers front and center.
We also recognize those women who wish they could be mothers but who have reproductive health issues that prevent them from conceiving. In the lead essay from our Summer 2018 book Once and Future Feminist, Merve Emre traces the history of assisted reproduction from the first artificial womb to contemporary IVF treatments, asking whether everyone with a uterus could be emancipated by such technologies and critiquing our obsession with the “natural.”
Balancing work-life pressures is often considered the holy grail, but men can still opt out of these policies. To move the needle on gender inequality, the state needs to take more coercive action.