Last week, I settled in to watch one of my favorite shows, "Private Practice." One of the main conflicts was that Violet, the psychiatrist, was adjusting to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Lonely and frustrated, she begs her pediatrician friend to get her invited to a "mommy group," even though he asks her, "Are you sure this is what you want?" (As if he knows she would never get along in this situation...already an annoying stereotyped dialogue.)
And, just as her friend predicted, it was a horrible experience for Violet. At the end of the episode, she goes back to her working friends for support.
The episode left me frustrated and disappointed. The mommy group scene was so predictable and annoying. It exacerbated the obnoxious, over indulgent and flaky stay-at-home mom stereotype, while it perpetuated the working mother as one who is too smart to stay at home:
The scene began by panning across a nicely furnished, clean home. One woman was standing by her kitchen island, flirting with a glass of wine. A couple of others were on the floor. The clothes and banter were light and airy. "Would you like a glass of wine?" one woman asked Violet. So far, this scene seemed harmless. And wine in the middle of the day? Hilarious. But then… (the following is summarized, not verbatim)
"Do you want some wine Violet? She just stopped breastfeeding and now she's living it up!"
"Yeah, my son just turned three and completely lost interest in breast feeding," she says sadly. But we still co-sleep, so we get that closeness." The mom smiles happily, looking at her child with pride and love.
Violet says, "But doesn't that make your marriage difficult?" alluding to the fact that this couple must have trouble with a sex life.
"Oh," the woman said. "That's not even a priority anymore."
The conversation then moved to biting. One woman said that her five-year-old son was biting his cousin. The other moms laughed it off, and Violet again stepped in to say that a five year old who is biting is probably dealing with a stressful or traumatic issue in his life. The women all glare at her and then leave her on the floor while they go into the kitchen to "fix snacks for the kids."
Ugh. This scene was like watching a highway car crash. It just got worse the longer it went on.
First of all, I get the glass of wine at a play date to "celebrate" the end of nursing. Fine. But then, the show ruined the joke by having the mom breast feed a three-year-old, immediately putting her into that category of "over indulgent moms" who breastfeed into toddlerhood. (Even though research has shown that breastfeeding into toddlerhood is healthy for the child, it has a negative connotation perpetuated by characters who are overtly overindulgent.)
The mom then discusses how she's lost a connection with her son by ending breastfeeding, but keeps it going by co-sleeping. Now with that comment, not only has she alienated any mother who chooses not to breastfeed, but she has also verbalized the importance of putting everything in her life on the back burner in order to have a seamless bond with her son. This character is the epitome of the stereotyped, self-righteous stay-at-home mom. Woman who choose to stay at home are already branded as women who take parenting so seriously that they have time for nothing else in their lives, including their husbands, hobbies or the career they put so much careful thought into before having children. It's a greatly misunderstood lifestyle choice.
Next, the scene moves to the biting discussion. By brushing off the discussion and looking at Violet with disgust as soon as she tries to seriously tackle the issue, the mothers are now shown as superficial, flaky women who don't use their brains to determine the cause of their children's issues, but merely brush them off as 'just a phase.' This conversation is paradoxical to the previous one about breast feeding and co-sleeping. The first mother is uber-concerned about her child's development and keeps him as close to her as possible so she can deepen their bond. The second brushes off her son's behavior as a phase because she doesn't want to take the time to address it as a serious issue. Both moms illustrate the cliché stay-at-home mom. One is the overprotective, well-researched, obnoxious attachment parent, while the other is a laissez faire, flaky primary caregiver.
The mothers physically leave Violet in the living room while they retreat to the kitchen. Later, we find out that they won't call her back or return her emails. Now, we learn more about these minor characters. They are so clique-y that they won't give a struggling mother a second chance.
At the end of the show, Violet goes back to her work peers to search out friendship. She says she can't fit in with these women since the only thing they have in common is their child. The conclusion to draw here is that because she was a working mom, she's bored and lonely and these mom groups did nothing but exacerbate her already exaggerated pre-conceived notions about stay-at-home moms.
We wonder why the mommy wars are so rampant. All we have to do is look on television. In just one five minute scene in this week's "Private Practice," the stay-at-home mom has been insulted in intelligence and social graces, while the working mom is again painted as too good for a position such as full time mommy-hood. Why can't a smart and capable professional turn into a happy and fulfilled full time mother? And why can't a professional have a good time at a playgroup? Is this episode pure fiction? Or is it really a satirical exaggeration of a sad truth?
Sarahlynne is a Parenting Guru and a work-from-home mom.