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Editorial | Parents Stretched Thin

Moms need more than a day

Peer pressure, busy schedules, influential media, and drugs and alcohol make parenting today harder than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, say 70 percent of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center.

Mothers, particularly, are seen as struggling with the challenge. A majority of the 2,020 Americans surveyed last winter judged today's moms as doing a worse job than their own parents.

So much for Mother's Day accolades.

A country that professes such deep belief in "family values" expends too much energy blaming parents and too little supporting them.

Pew's "Motherhood Today: Tougher Challenges, Less Success," released last week, is largely consistent with a similar 1997 poll, said senior researcher Kim Parker. Many women remain frustrated with their daily performance balancing parenting, work and adult relationships.

But suggesting that moms quit their jobs to take care of the kids, as the debate too often goes, ignores economic realities, says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. Of the 71 percent of mothers in the labor force in 2005, most were there because their families needed the money.

What mothers, and increasingly fathers, need is the ability to move in and out of a variety of work situations to accommodate their family's needs at different times of life. But existing governmental and employer policies rarely offer that kind of flexibility.

Rather than lamenting today's possible shortcomings, parents - whether single, married, working, or stay-at-home - should unite to lobby for better policies focused on their shared goals: raising healthy, happy, well-educated children.

The United States, for example, lags 139 industrialized countries by failing to require minimum sick leave for workers. Parents often have to choose between sending a sick child to school, or suffering employment penalties by staying home.

Of 168 countries, only four - Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, Liberia and the United States - do not offer any federal paid maternity or paternity leave.

In addition to caring for children, more than 44 million Americans, or 21 percent of all households, also struggle to provide elder care.

Fourteen years have elapsed since the passage of the last significant federal legislation to help families.

Rather than criticizing mom, it's time to help her out.