The Labor Of Love : Throughline There's a powerful fantasy in American society: the fantasy of the ideal mother. This mother is devoted to her family above all else. She raises the kids, volunteers at the school, cleans the house, plans the birthday parties, cares for her own parents. She's a natural nurturer. And she's happy to do it all for free. Problem is? She's imaginary. And yet the idea of her permeates our culture, our economy, and our social policy – and it distorts them. The U.S. doesn't have universal health insurance or universal childcare. We don't have federally mandated paid family leave or a meaningful social safety net for when times get rough. Instead, we have this imaginary mother. We've structured our society as though she exists — but she doesn't. And we all pay the real-life price.

The Labor Of Love

The Labor Of Love

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A woman holds a sign reading &quot;Childcare Not Warfare&quot; during an anti-war protest in October 15, 2002 in Los Angeles, California. The Every Mother is a Working Mother network held the protest outside a welfare office urging the federal government to take money required for a war against Iraq and spend it instead on welfare and other social programs.
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There's a powerful fantasy in American society: the fantasy of the ideal mother. This mother is devoted to her family above all else. She raises the kids, volunteers at the school, cleans the house, plans the birthday parties, cares for her own parents. She's a natural nurturer. And she's happy to do it all for free.

Problem is? She's imaginary. And yet the idea of her permeates our culture, our economy, and our social policy – and it distorts them. The U.S. doesn't have universal health insurance or universal childcare. We don't have federally mandated paid family leave or a meaningful social safety net for when times get rough. Instead, we have this imaginary mother. We've structured our society as though she exists — but she doesn't. And we all pay the real-life price.

Today on the show, we look at three myths that sustain the fantasy: the maternal instinct, the doting housewife, and the welfare queen. And we tell the stories of real-life people – some mothers, some not – who have fought for a much more generous vision of family, labor, and care.