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These are the parental rights moms should really be fighting for

OP/ED: We need to reframe the conversation around the rights moms actually want, like equal pay, childcare and paid family leave.
Balancing a new business and a new baby
A shocking 63 percent of full-time working parents still can’t afford childcare for their kids. pixdeluxe / Getty Images

The Florida Senate Education Committee recently passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Championed by self-proclaimed “school-board moms,” the bill—also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—seeks to isolate LGBTQ+ kids and punish educators who dare to reaffirm their humanity; of course, if you ask any the bill’s supporters, they’ll say it’s simply about empowering parents to make decisions about their children’s education.

Strangely enough, I—and likely, many of you—began the pandemic on same page (and with the same rage) as lots of these school-board moms: What about our kids? On both sides of the aisle, moms were rightfully indignant that our government prioritized reopening bars and bowling alleys before getting kids back to school—and, in turn, their mothers back to work. But somehow, a sliver of radical voices co-opted our righteous mom anger, deciding to channel it towards thinly veiled bigotry instead.

As we know, they’re not just in Florida: We’ve seen Kansas City parents harassing their local library for offering a book that, among other things, de-stigmatizes HIV/AIDS. And of course, there’s Moms for Liberty, which claims to speak for the mothers in America by arguing second graders are too young to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., objecting to a book featuring an interracial couple, and my personal favorite, shielding a story about seahorses from young students because it was too “sexy.”

Given the legislative victories they’ve racked up, one thing is clear: angry moms have political capital.

So why are we wasting it?

As you can probably tell, teaching kids to marginalize their trans classmates and banning books about owls because they’re too “sad” isn’t at the top of my to-do list. Rather, at a time when moms are being sidelined, we ought to use what power we do have and channel our mom rage into advocacy for ourselves, too.

It’s why I’m less concerned with my kids’ reading list and far more infuriated that there are 1.1 million fewer of us in the workforce today than there were two years ago; that 63 percent of full-time working parents still can’t afford childcare for their kids; and that all the while the American economy would be measurably—think tens of billions of dollars—better off if women could participate in it at the same rate as men.

The reasoning of these culture warriors hinges entirely on the premise that they, as Moms for Liberty founders write, “understand what moms really want”—and implicitly, that those of us who disagree must not. But while their argument is based on the anecdotes of women more worried about cartoon nudity than reproductive rights, we have the numbers to back ours up.

Last fall, Marshall Plan for Moms conducted a bipartisan poll, asking a racially, politically, and socioeconomically diverse collection of moms how the government can help them through the pandemic and what issues are most important to them. Turns out, more than three out of four liberals—and more than three out of four conservatives—believe moms share the same priorities on both sides of the aisle.

And they’re right: eighty-three percent of all moms—including 73 percent of conservatives—support Marshall Plan for Moms’ policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare, and pay equity. When it comes to the issues women voters care about most, economic support for working moms and their families is tied for third, behind only the economy and healthcare.

It’s clear, therefore, that the goal of extremist “parental rights” groups isn’t actually to advocate for what mothers need. Instead, they aim to distract moms from pursuing real, systemic change—the kinds of policies that would upend the status quo, on behalf of working women. Some conservatives have admitted as much, acknowledging that the painfully disingenuous critical race theory debate is more of a “strategy” than an earnest reflection of right-wing beliefs.

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All to say, while even conservatives doubt that American moms are staying up at night because they’re haunted by Toni Morrison novels in their kids’ curricula, I know for a fact that we’re losing sleep because we don’t know who’s going to watch our kid if they come down with a cold, because we’re still bleeding four weeks after giving birth and are forced to go into work anyway, because we’re increasingly powerless over our own reproduction organs.

So, let’s channel our justified rage and build a movement of our own. Clearly, the debate around “parental rights” isn’t going away any time soon. Rather than run from it, or dismiss it out of hand, let’s reframe the conversation around the rights moms actually want.

Let’s talk about the right to equal pay, the right to government support for childcare, and the right to take paid time off to recover from giving birth. Let’s discuss the right to choose our work schedules, the right to choose whether or not we work at all, and the right to choose whether we become parents in the first place. Most importantly, let’s codify these rights by passing reforms that truly lift up moms and their families. And let’s do it before the midterm elections.

It’s the only way to ensure that, come next year, those decisions will still be ours to make.

Reshma Saujani is the CEO of the Marshall Plan for Moms and the Founder of Girls Who Code. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (And Why It's Different Than You Think)."