Talk Poverty: Want a Great Gift for Moms? Try Giving Them Better Hours.

Forget flowers. Forget fancy brunches. As a mom, nothing is as meaningful as my son’s smile when I get home from a long day of work.

When my husband was away in Afghanistan for a year, I experienced what being a single mom was really like. Working, taking care of a household, and spending quality time with my toddler tested my patience at times. Now that he’s home, I still work hard to provide for my family and, although I can’t spend as much time with them as I want, I’m lucky to work a job with a paycheck and hours I can count on week to week. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone—too many mothers face a daily struggle of balancing caring for their kids and ever-changing work hours.

According to a national study from the Center for Popular Democracy, moms either work too much or not enough. In both cases, most moms struggle in low-wage hourly jobs riddled with irregular work hours and unpredictable schedules. These moms are the women who serve your food at local restaurants, who are cashiers at the grocery store down the street, or are health care workers at a nursing facility. In fact, 61 percent of all women in the workforce nationwide hold hourly jobs. These jobs are often in low-wage yet fast-growing sectors such as health care, retail, and food service, and usually pay below $15.

What are the problems for moms working low-wage hourly jobs? As if facing inadequate and unaffordable childcare weren’t enough, these women also lack basic legal protections that would ensure they received adequate notice of their work schedules and the right to decline last-minute changes that throw carefully balanced routines into chaos. Unpredictable work hours are particularly challenging for the many moms who need to coordinate multiple part-time positions.

Too many mothers face a daily struggle of balancing caring for their kids and ever-changing work hours. 

Fortunately, more and more working moms are coming forward to demand policy solutions that can make their lives less hectic. In Maryland, legislation introduced this year would require employers to post schedules three weeks out so parents could plan child care and other obligations. Under the proposal, workers would also be compensated for last-minute changes that could disrupt family events.

The proposal would also address a critical and underreported problem: the fact that many work part-time not by choice, but because they are forced into it. In fact, 1 out of 4 part-time workers would prefer to work full-time. Workers are often available to work but aren’t scheduled for more hours, often because even more part-time workers are brought on. Working fewer hours every week, in turn, often equates to a lower hourly wage and fewer opportunities compared to what a full-time counterpart receives. To address the dilemma, the legislation would give part-time workers access to full-time positions opening up at their jobs before a company could bring on more employees.

Although we sacrifice and work hard as mothers, many of us struggle. But even so, I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything in the world—but a little help would be welcomed.

This Mother’s Day, a real gift would be a living wage with work hours we could count on. It’s time elected officials thought of moms across the state and enacted legislation that actually helps us in our day-to-day lives.

Now, that would be a gift worth giving.