In honor of Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the most important women in our lives — our mothers. My mother has been my biggest teacher and champion. She is a truly remarkable woman.
When I think about how to describe my mom, a series of dualistic thoughts come to mind. My mom is super compassionate and can also be critical. She’s stoic yet cynical. She is incredibly hard-working but says going to the grocery store is too hard. My mom is an artist. She keeps our family stocked in beautifully hand-knitted sweaters, however, among her knick-knacks you’ll find pictures with sayings like, “I made this cake from scratch. … I scratched the label right off.” I love all these qualities, and so much more, about my mom.
The lessons my mom instilled in me have had a profound impact on my life. Like many people, my mom has endured loss and hardship. Among the challenges, my mom was, for a time, a single-mother who received very little if any child support. She was doing the best should could but having a hard time making ends meet. My mom got married right out of high school, and after getting a divorce over a decade later, she knew she needed to further her education in order to get a job that could pay the bills.
This is what catapulted her into nursing. Because of this, one of the life lessons my mom passed down was that I always needed to be able to take care of myself and control my own money.
Interestingly, as I was recalling this, I had someone tell me that they also tried to instill in their daughters that they could be anything they wanted as long as they could support themselves financially without having to rely on anyone.
These life lessons continue to be passed on from mothers to daughters because financial instability is an all too common experience among women and mothers. Some research suggests that 44 percent of women fall into poverty after a divorce, and according to Thurston County Public Health data, female headed households with children have the lowest annual incomes of all groups in this county.
These stories and the data relate to an article I wrote a few weeks ago, which was about Equal Pay Day. The article noted that the wage gap between men and women in Thurston County is wider than the national average. A lot of conversation and questions were generated. One question was whether the number reflected an “apples-to-apples” comparison of men and women working in similar jobs. The wage gap is calculated by dividing the median earnings of working women by the median earnings of working men. Therefore, the figure produced doesn’t compare men’s and women’s salaries for doing the same work but is a reflection of the overall lower wages among women in the county.
In addition to salary differences among men and women in comparable jobs, the figure also reflects occupational segregation, with women being clustered in low paying jobs, differences between the number of hours worked and obstacles that impact career trajectories such as taking time off or bypassing advancement opportunities in order to care for children. In my own experience, as a mother of two, I can point to several instances when I would have declined advancement opportunities if I were not working in a family-friendly environment that encouraged flexible work options to support my family’s needs.
One of those instances was the opportunity to apply for and accept the CEO position at the YWCA. If I had declined that opportunity, my career advancement and my earning potential would have been stalled. This is one of the ways, among factors including the number of women living in poverty, that the wage gap between men and women persists.
Although Mother’s Day has passed, I hope that we, as a community, can reflect on the abiding love we have for the mothers in our lives, their compassion and forgiveness, their influence and their sacrifice. Perhaps we can take this appreciation and be more supportive of all the mothers in our community. After all, when mom’s happy, everyone’s happy.
Hillary Soens is a member of the 2016 Olympian Board of Contributors. She is the mother of two boys, ages 2 and 4. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.