Perhaps you loved her fabulously mismatched faux fur jackets and print pants, perhaps you loved her in-bed banter with her husband Rob, but the character of Sharon on Catastrophe, created by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney (whose characters bore their own names), became an underdog hero for parents everywhere. For me, one of the most hilarious and resonant pieces of the show was her tumultuous relationship with work and parenting. In one conversation between Rob and Sharon, they each interrogate her decision to return to her teaching position after the birth of their second child.
Rob: Do you really want to go back so soon? I mean, Muirenn is only 4 months old.
Sharon: *sigh* I love her so much. I need to get away from her though.
Rob: A full-time childminder will cost almost as much as your teaching salary pays.
Rob: So you want to go back to a job that takes you away from your kids to earn almost no money?
With that one word, Sharon sums up what so many of us mothers wrestle with. How can we love these tiny humans so much and also desire to be away from them? They drive us batty all day, yet as soon as they fall asleep we sit and scroll through pictures on our phones of their antics. It’s the eternal mood of mothers everywhere.
Given the high cost of childcare, working full-time often doesn’t make sense financially, though it can benefit us in other ways. Using our brains to do more than watch Dora, interacting with adults, and getting some time and space from our kiddos can make us better mothers in the hours that we are home. The moment on the show where Sharon does this calculus is so real and funny because so many mothers have been just in her barely-stylish mom shoes.
I love my kids. I want to be around them maybe eight hours a day, the rest of the day I want to be somewhere else.
Her feelings known, Sharon heads in to meet with her boss. We’ve had these moments too, where we want to be seen as professional, clear-headed and on our game, but honestly barely made it out the door in clean clothes for the meeting. (A baby wipe will mask some spit-up in a pinch, mamas.)
The Headmistress (such a gloriously official and whimsical sounding job title to us Yanks) drops the same questions that Rob did. So soon?? Why is she returning so soon?
“To be honest I didn’t realize how much I loved teaching until I had to be around my own kids 24 hours a day,” Sharon tells her. “I love my kids. I want to be around them maybe eight hours a day, the rest of the day I want to be somewhere else."
She isn't done rambling.
“It’s been wonderful, you know it’s been everything I hoped, and part of me will find it very tricky to leave them… And you know it took a while to bond with her, so now I feel like every day I am sort of making up for lost--”
Any working mother knows the physically overwhelming task it is to try to stave off tears, to not be seen as the weak weepy female in the workplace. Tears can stop our male coworkers in their tracks and forever brand us with a scarlet letter as The One Who Cried, as they carve a path around us at the water cooler. In Sharon’s case, the headmistress’s wide eyes and gently firm comment convey her belief that Sharon hasn’t really come to terms with this decision.
“I think a little more time… time with the children… It’s been lovely to see you…” she stammers as she practically wills Sharon and the bulky pram out the doorway.
Later, Sharon lets Rob in our her humiliation (not realizing he’s been put on leave from his job, further complicating the situation).
“I broke down in front of the headmistress, full snot cry, as we both realized I am not ready to go back to work.”
There is a societal push for women to feel that our children should completely fulfill us, but many mothers acknowledge that is not the case for them.
Sharon’s emotions swing from full-on escape mode to sobbing mess within hours. This ambiguity over her emotions is a perfect picture of what so many of us wrestle with. Do we ever feel fully ready? Do we ever feel fully confident in our choice to work full time, stay home, or choose anything on the spectrum in between? Full-time, work-at-home-mom, #momboss, direct sales, part-time, freelancing, contracting, so many mothers are trying to find that professional sweet spot. That place that gives us some income, allows us to contribute, and builds up our self-confidence beyond the tedium of mothering.
That is exactly what Sharon is seeking. She loves her children, but the daily task of mothering them weighs her down. She's up all night, in sweats all day, trying to navigate mommy-and-me groups while finding normal mom friends among the masses. Teaching, which she is passionate about in her own sarcastic way, fulfills her beyond what her kids can. Moms who are home all day are more likely to be depressed, according to a Gallup poll, but stay-at-home-mom depression is not often talked about. It can be a topic filled with shame for the women that choose to own up to the fact that being home with their kids all day is depressing.
That can be taboo to say in this culture: that our kids don’t completely fulfill us. But for many mothers, that is true. There is no shame in the fact that a woman wants to both raise her children and continue her career. There is a societal push for women to feel that our children should completely fulfill us, but many mothers acknowledge that is not the case for them.
In Catastrophe, Sharon does return to work. Finances and her mental health mandate that she does so, but it is not really clear that she ever comes to peace with the decision. Like all of us, there are days when she sprints out the door happily away from her two children, thankful for her work friends and breakroom talk, and there are days when the emotional toll of being away from them is ever so apparent. What the show does so brilliantly is show that alongside the shackles of house, baby, and spouse, your job is part of the glorious catastrophe of life.