Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Ranking motherhood

Hate to break it to you competitive types out there, but the U.S. is no longer among the Top 10 places to be a mother.

Now, considering the number of Hallmark stores per square mile, the frequency of florist commercials, and the constant flow of “I Love Mom” art projects that come home from my kids’ school on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day and any old day at all, you would think that this was a pretty darn fine country for mothers. But Save the Children would beg to differ. The foundation’s latest “Mother’s Index” ranks the U.S. as an also-ran 11, behind Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Austria, Australia and the United Kingdom but above 83 others, including bottom-dwellers Benin, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Burundi, Gambia, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and, last and least, Guinea Bissau.

Clearly, the foundation is not making these assessments on the prevalance of lovely floral arrangements and handprint art. Their interest is health, and their ratings, according to an Intelihealth report, are based on “a mother's access to health care, use of contraception and family planning, literacy rate, and participation in government.” Which makes me wonder: Wouldn’t use of contraception and family planning lead to fewer mothers? Maybe happier ones, too, but still, it seems like a technicality.

The U.S. loses rank because, although its health care abilities are state of the art, good health care is inequitably distributed. That, I can’t argue with. It’s inequitably distributed along racial lines, as the foundation notes, but also geographically and among different abilities. Parents who may have been pleased with the health care their normally developing children received may find themselves battling and struggling and drowning in paperwork when trying to get appropriate services and coverage and even respectful attention for a child with special needs.

America sinks even lower on the “Girl’s Index,” largely because of the large number of teen pregnancies. That number is less large than it used to be, but apparently large enough to sink us to 22 out of 140 nations, on a par with Greece and Hungary. I guess the rationale that motherhood is so wonderful here that even the very young want to try it doesn’t hold much water with the Save the Children folks.

My daughter would no doubt agree that being a girl in the U.S. is not such a great thing, but her criteria would be: 1) We won’t let her drive at age 11; 2) We won’t let her have a dog, but we make her have a younger brother; and 3) We won’t get her a wheeled backpack even though EVERYONE ELSE at her school has one. I believe in her “Girl’s Index,” our household would rank dead last, way behind all those households where the mothers let the daughters do whatever they want.

I don’t know what those moms are thinking of, but they’re sure dragging down my personal “Mother’s Index.” Maybe we should move to Sweden. Do they have wheeled backpacks there?

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