Recently, two very different shows about families – Modern Family and Parenthood – addressed the difficult choices many mothers make when it comes to work and family.
In Modern Family, Claire (Julie Bowen) makes a catch-up date with her old friend, co-worker and business rival Valerie (Minnie Driver). Claire left her fast track to executive-dom behind after she met Phil and became a homemaker, keeping together a loving yet typically insane household of three kids. Valerie is single, maintains lovers on different continents and gets news that she’s been promoted and will be moving to Paris while at lunch with Claire.
At first, Claire thinks Valerie must envy her stability but then realizes that she actually pities her. In her effort to one-up Valerie’s promotion, she invites her over to see her awesome family-life in action. Instead, Valerie witnesses a house in disarray – kids barely dressed holding liquor bottles, a husband stuck in a porta-potty and bragging about having “taken care of business,” and a rat on the loose. Valerie high tails it out of suburbia, and Claire gets over her initial embarrassment and anger in a sweet, “Gotta love ‘em” dinner time moment.
Parenthood addresses possibly opting back in. Kristina’s (Monica Potter) former boss is about to announce her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor and wants her to come to Sacramento to help with her speeches, just like “old times.” The stay-at-home mom’s initial reaction is to say no – life lately has been intense with her son’s Asperger’s diagnosis and her teenage daughter buying sexy Victoria’s Secret bras. Her husband Adam (Peter Krause) encourages her and the clearly excited Kristina says yes to a three day stint.
Once there, she feels out of place amongst the 20 something campaign staffers sitting in front of laptops, calling each other “dude” and talking about tweets. But, her moment of triumph occurs at about 25 minutes into the 43 minute episode during a pitch for an important endorsement. She uses – gasp – a personal connection, a sense of history and a carefully placed “dude” to lock it in.
With that success comes the offer of a full time job and one of the better pieces of writing the show has seen. Kristina explains to Adam: “Honestly, while I was there, I felt so alive…It was like I was being seen for the first time in so long.” And, Adam, perfect husband that he is, soaks it all in and starts making plans about how they can adjust to become a dual working parent household. But the plans are too much, and the pull toward family even more, and Kristina decides against taking the job.
I’m not a wife or a mother, but I’m surrounded by women everyday making similar choices and being torn in similar ways. And I can’t say that I haven’t thought about what being a mom would mean for my personal identity and level of fulfillment, and what working full time would mean for my time (or lack of time) with my child.
I was recently at a More magazine lunch about happiness in a post women’s lib world and when one older high-powered executive asked the younger feminists what they are fighting for, temperatures rose. Of course, there is still a lot to fight for. Women make significantly less than men, are severely underrepresented in positions of power and our reproductive rights are constantly at jeopardy – not to mention the horrible abuses that women are subjected to worldwide, from being forced to become child brides to being the victims of the sex trade (see Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky”).
But one issue that the different generations agreed should be a major one to rally around is making life easier for working moms. There’s a new book by Brooklyn-based mom Sharon Lerner called “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation,” in which she argues that the U.S. federal government needs to have better systems in place to support moms, including mandated paid maternity leave (it’s alarming to hear that only 42% of moms take off 12 weeks off after giving birth), a public daycare system and solid flex work options.
I’m going to keep tabs on the White House Council on Women and Girls as they tackle these and other policies that’ll help create that “21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce.” They recently hosted a Forum on Workplace Flexibility that seemed to kick things off.
In the meantime, let’s thanks mom this Mother’s Day for her hard work, whether it’s in or out of the home.
Posted by: Mariela