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By Linda Boyd Coates, Published May 13 2012

Honor mom by honoring her choices

I always enjoy the email exchanges among Scott, Jack Zaleski and me as we brainstorm topics for these Forum FaceOff columns. Last week, Scott wrote: “I’m suggesting a tribute to Moms … My featured examples would be average, everyday tea party moms locally, many of whom who would support the efforts of (Sarah) Palin and (Michelle) Bachmann as role models. I am guessing that those moms Linda and I would choose to feature and salute would be significantly different and might make for a lively but topical debate.” Right you are, Scott.

But as I considered the many brilliant women in public life whom I hold up as my personal role models, my thoughts kept returning to Charlotte, my own amazing mom who passed away 17 years ago.

Amidst the recent rehashing of the so-called “mommy wars” over the various choices of women in the workplace and stay-at-home moms, I can recall her saying with bemusement in the 1970s, “I really don’t know what all this Women’s Lib fuss is about. I’ve always been a liberated woman.”

Was she ever. She had a rough childhood from the very beginning. She was the youngest of six children; her own mother died in childbirth when she was born. Charlotte had the job of cooking and cleaning for her household of brothers and her German immigrant father throughout her school years. She went to work immediately upon graduating from high school, and continued to work throughout her life.

She and my dad created a successful business together – she was actually the shrewdest mind in the family. In fact, she also started several small side businesses which were so successful that she occasionally would make loans – with interest – to my father after he was able to achieve his lifelong dream of purchasing a farm (while continuing to operate his interstate truck stop business). I can recall the merry twinkle in my mom’s eye as she would say, on many Sunday afternoons, “Let’s go for a ride. I’d like to have a look at ‘my’ cows.”

She absolutely loved to work, but she never disparaged other women who chose to stay home with their children, or those who struggled in poverty. Today, I can’t help but wonder what Charlotte, a lifelong Republican, would think of her party’s efforts to restrict access to contraception, cut funding for food stamps and Head Start for poor families, and vote down the Violence Against Women Act.

Equal pay for equal work, affordable child care, quality education, and reliable health insurance are vitally important in helping lift working women and their families out of poverty. While staying at home to raise children is a precious and wonderful experience, not many women have the luxury of that choice in today’s economy.

While the phrase “war on women” is hyperbolic and a bit silly, there certainly does seem to be a war on women’s choices. My mother chose to work, and loved it. I cannot believe, though, that Charlotte would be happy to see the choices that might be taken away from her granddaughter 40 years later.

Boyd Coates is executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, a Fargo School Board member, and a former Fargo city commissioner.