Bernardo M. Villegas
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Mothers and Gross National Happiness (Part 1)

           Last May 8, Mother’s Day, in the nationwide tumult that surrounded pre-election Day, I tried to get some peace of mind by reflecting on the role that my late mother, Dra. Isabel Malvar Villegas, played in the lives of her immediate family.  I am sure I can speak for my late father, Dr. Jose A. Villegas and my six siblings that the self-sacrificing love that my mother lavished on all of us explained a great part of the success and happiness that each of us reaped in this world.  I thought of how she was able to combine her professional work as a dentist, first for the government then for the Assumption Convent, with household work (she was constantly in the kitchen preparing the most delicious dishes for her family).  I don’t have to do a lot of research to conclude that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reported by most countries would more than double if we include all the work done by mothers in the home, which work is not given any value in GDP.  Even more, once social scientists can perfect the elusive measure called “Gross National Happiness”, I am very sure that mothers would make the biggest contribution to GNH.

          For those who are fond of playing golf, the name Jason Day will ring a bell.  He is the No. 1 golfer in the world today, having taken the crown from Tiger Woods.  Recently (April 8, 2016), The International New York Times carried an article which was entitled “A champion’s rise to the top began with a mother’s save.”  Jason’s mother is a Filipina nicknamed Dening.  Typical of millions of mothers in the Philippines, Dening spared no sacrifice to help her son survive the abuses of an alcoholic father and to save him from the streets.  When she realized that her Australian husband was inflicting physical punishment on Jason for not performing well on the golf course, she started going to the golf course herself.  She would drag Jason’s pull cart.  As the article reported:  “In those difficult years, Dening worked as an administrative assistant in the same meatpacking plant that employed her husband.  Her nights were spent bent over a sewing machine, making her children clothes and completing upholstery projects to sell for extra cash.  She would work until 4 a.m. and then wake up at 5 a.m. to watch the kids.”  She thought nothing of these heroic sacrifices.  As you would hear from countless mothers:  “I had to be tough for the sake of the children.”

          Pope Francis paid tribute to mothers in his recent Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love.”   In par. 173 of the document, he wrote “Nowadays we acknowledge as legitimate and indeed desirable that women wish to study, work, develop their skills and personal goals.  At the same time, we cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life.  Indeed, ‘the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born to the world.’  The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world.  I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood.  For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society.  Their specifically feminine abilities—motherhood in particular—also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in the work, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all.”

          For practical reasons, developed countries suffering from what is known as demographic winter (very low fertility rates) are providing numerous economic incentives for women to be willing to bear the burden of motherhood.  Maternity leaves with pay that can last for as long as a year; work arrangements that are more flexible, including being allowed to work at home; generous tax incentives for every child born, without any limit to the number of children; availability of homes with three or more bedrooms, etc.  We need not reach the stage of demographic decline to start introducing these policies, both through legislation and through corporate policies.  Making it easier for women to be mothers will redound to larger Gross Domestic Product and even more to an expanding Gross National Happiness.  In the rural areas, where 75% to the Philippine poor reside, the greatest service to mothers is the availability of maternity clinics that can significantly reduce both maternal and infant mortality.  (To be continued).