Miriam hadn't seen her two kids in just over two years before her release in the spring of 2012. Incarcerated for drug possession, the non-violent offender sent her kids to Florida to live with extended family before being sentenced to Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, in 2010.
On this Mother's Day, the 33-year-old finds Strong Families’ Mama's Day cards intriguing and necessary. Miriam's real name is not used to protect her children's privacy.
"It would never dawn on me that there were cards that captured my family," she says. "But it’s a nice idea. I often thought about what my daughter thought of me and what she still thinks of me now that I’ve been in recovery."
Miriam's and the stories of other mothers open the door to broaden discussions about what motherhood looks like in a culture and policy making arena where inclusivity remains questionable. And while the Mama's Day annual e-card celebration launched last week, the initiative to mobilize communities to work toward ensuring the rights of mothers and their families is ongoing.
"There is a common saying that the work of mothers is invisible. Well in many cases the mamas we are talking about are not only invisible but they are often targeted or stigmatized"” says Eveline Shen, executive director of Forward Together, who leads the Strong Families Initiative.
The rights of incarcerated, transgender, immigrant, young moms, among others, are often overlooked.
Some things to consider on Mama's Day and beyond:
- Women are more likely to be in prison for drug and property offenses, while men are more likely to be in prison for violent offenses.
- In the majority of states, where marriage is restricted to different-sex couples, reliance on marriage to establish parental rights is risky for transgender parents.
- Women make up more than half of all immigrants (undocumented and documented) in this country, and many of them are mothers.
What if policy makers were forced to define motherhood beyond their own limited lenses?
Strong Families' organizers want to connect the changing attitudes in the U.S. with a political will to hold leaders accountable for creating policies that reflect who and what American families look like and need.
According to the 2010 Census, nearly 80% of households in the U.S. do not reflect the traditional nuclear family norm — with two heterosexual parents and their two biological kids.
On immigration, more Americans are in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The numbers in surveys are not always consistent, but most of the polls show more than 50% of Americans believe in creating a way toward citizenship. This inevitibly will strengthen immigrant families.
"In light of what is currently happening around immigration policy, this Mother's Day, I am thinking about immigrant mamas," Shen says. "As the daughter of an immigrant mama, I am joining others around the country to demand that the voices of undocumented immigrant mamas and their families need to be counted as our leaders take up comprehensive immigration reform."
Shen's own story reflects the interconnection of immigration and gender / sexual orientation.
"As a queer mama myself, I understand the importance of keeping our families together whether our partners are documented or not," Shen says.
In Miriam's case, there's an interconnectedness as well — how drug policies impact families led by women. And despite her best efforts, it took Miriam almost a year to find a job after she left a halfway house in Queens, N.Y.
While incarcerated, Miriam recalls how she worked hard to prepare for her release and was fully engaged in her children's education. She sent them letters once a week and they sent her the usual Carlton and Hallmark Mother's Day cards.
But Mama's Day cards actually depict a loving exchange of a child talking to her incarcerated mother. There's also another card that depicts the role of the grandmother in helping to raise children. In Miriam's case, the children's paternal grandmother played a role in supporting the children while Miriam was away.
Like most Mother's Day cards, Mama's Day cards simply depict love. But Strong Families' cards are tailor-made for the families they serve.
"Just about everyone we spoke with felt mixed at best about typical Mother's Day celebrations. Our family structures, stories and identities were missing, stereotyped or misunderstood, so we set out to change this," said Shen, says. "We tapped into something visceral in these moms — the desire to be visible, honored and appreciated rather than targeted by stigma and disdain."
Happy Mama's Day and beyond.