Growing up, my favorite television working moms seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. There was Clair Huxtable, a high-powered attorney and no-nonsense mother of five (who also seemed to be able to cook family dinners without any help), and Roseanne Conner, struggling factory-worker/waitress (before she won the lottery), and no-nonsense mother of three. It seemed that having it all, or having nothing were the only options. So it’s no surprise there continues to be so many media depictions of working moms that every mom hates.
There are so few ads or shows or films where working moms like me can recognize ourselves. We’re either being celebrated for doing so much (while getting paid less), or pilloried for having children and jobs. It seems like most mainstream media is in denial at the complexity of a working mother’s life. Like, how can we portray her as a working mother if we don’t have her simultaneously typing at a keyboard while feeding a baby?
Working motherhood, for me, is never about being both a worker and a mom simultaneously. That is just perpetuating this false myth about what it means to have a career and a family. Occasionally, I incorporate my children into my work, like when I need kids’ voices in a commercial I’m producing or if my childcare falls through and they need to join me in the office occasionally. Working moms aren’t always living their best lives, but neither is anybody else. Instead of showing us the struggle, show us how people can support working moms. Instead of showing us some unattainable ideal of high-earning women who have children (and a ton of domestic help), show us how society needs to evolve to level the playing field for any person — man or woman — who seeks fulfillment with a family and with a career.
Until the world comes around to the idea that working mothers are a diverse group, we’ll continue to see the following tired depictions of them in the media. Join me in eye-rolling, won’t you?
Briefcase In One Hand, Baby In The Other
Seriously, the only time a woman looks like this is when she is posing for this nonsensical photo. What working mom, with a baby, would use such an impractical item as a briefcase? Also, I would tend not to pick my naked-except-for-a-diaper baby up and press her against me when I was dressed for work. You never know what substance will be squirting out of a kid, and dry cleaning is not cheap. Getting dressed for work was the absolute last thing I did in the mornings when my kids were babies.
Trying To Take A Call While Taking Care Of Her Child
This has happened to me, for sure. There have been days when I had to be on a work call at home while my kid was around. However, I quickly learned how ineffective I was, at being an employee and and a mother. I couldn’t do both at the same exact instant.
Better to reschedule the call and be able to give work my entire attention. Better for the kid, who isn’t led to believe that they have to share mom with work all the time. My kids understand I work but I also make efforts not to work while I’m with them. That’s just not fair to them. I’m not always successful at this, but the more I practice it the better it is for everyone.
Working At The Computer With A Baby In Her Lap
Sure, while you’re checking email or watching a kid-friendly video, holding a baby is manageable (for a few minutes, anyway). While you’re actually working? Yeah, that takes focus. I would not be able to get a thing done with a baby at my keyboard with me. Images that depict otherwise are insulting to working mothers, disrespecting the effort and attention it takes for us to do our jobs (no matter what jobs we have). Maybe some see this kind of image as a celebration of multitasking, but multitasking only allows you to get a bunch of stuff done poorly, instead of one thing done well at a time (or at least that’s been my experience).
Multitasking In General
I don’t generally see working dads (which isn’t even a thing, apparently) depicted as having to multitask. Work culture was established decades ago, when men left the home to focus solely on earning an income, and women oversaw all domestic duties. Men with jobs never seemed to have to multitask, yet when women started entering the workforce in greater numbers over the last 50 years, they still were expected to take on most of the housework and childcare.
We need to smash the belief that a working mom’s success lies in her ability to “wear a lot of hats.” I don’t want to wear a lot of hats; I want to excel at work when I’m at work, and share household responsibilities with my partner when I'm at home. We both have careers and we both have kids and I shouldn’t have to be the only one needing to “juggle.” Kill the multitasking myth.
So many images of working moms depict them alone. No wonder they are multitasking: there is no one else around to delegate to.
… Or Alone Among Men
I was happily surprised to see a depiction of a working mom needing to pump in The Big Short. Still, I am dismayed by the dearth of other working mom characters in Hollywood movies, where they're not automatically the token female in an otherwise bro-centric workplace.
She Always Works In A Bright, Corporate Environment…
Another myth of working moms is that we are all clocking in at 9-to-5 jobs in climate-controlled environments, sitting comfortably at a desk with company-supplied computer, phone, printer and coffee. So much of the conversations around working mothers revolve around this archetype, but so many working mothers don’t fall into this category.
There are moms who work in retail, and are on their feet all day. Moms who work taking care of other people’s kids. Moms who work late shifts so they can take their kids to school in the morning, and pick them up before heading to work. Moms who are artists or performers or in school and whose schedules vary, so they are constantly knitting together a patchwork of childcare to make it happen. We need to see more of these working mothers represented in the media, if we are to make the lives of all working moms better.
… Or An "Apartment Therapy" Inspired Home Office
When I work from home, I don’t have a dedicated "spot." I’m at the dining room table. I’m on my bed. I’m in my son’s room because the light is really nice in there in the morning. I don’t work from home much, and maybe that’s why I haven’t set up a real “home office.” But unless you can get your own room, with a door that closes so you can work from home and not be distracted by your house (I’m always thinking I can get laundry done while I work, like that will ever actually happen ), moms who work from home are often making it happen anywhere they can and their environment probably doesn’t look like an “after” photo on a home decorating site.
Hailed As Holier Than Thou…
For doing it all. As if “all” is some kind of prized achievement. I don’t think “all” is satisfying. It’s exhausting.
… Or Criticized For Falling Short
Like Mila Kunis’s character in Bad Moms, judged by other mothers for shoving bake sale duties to the bottom of her priorities list. Parenting is not a contest, though, as a working mom, I often feel that way when I “fail” to chaperone more than one school trip a year for each of my two kid’s classes. We need to change the way we talk about parenting, and “fail” should not be a staple of our vocabulary.
High Powered And Highly Efficient…
Tailored outfit. Non-diaper designer bag. Enviable hair. A kitchen full of kids who are maybe robots because they never seem to drop even a crumb on the counter.
… Or Maxed Out And Barely Scraping By
Are there working mothers "maxed out" and barely scraping by? Definitely. In fact, thanks to an unforgiving working environment (like women making less money than men, and no mandatory paid family leave) mothers are often working longer hours, for less wages, in order to get by.
However, media likes to depict working mothers as either one of two extremes, when the majority of working mothers live the majority of their lives somewhere in the middle. We're not all "winning," but we're not all spectacularly "failing," either.