Elyse Keaton: Working Mom Role Model.

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She made it seem effortless. Well, not effortless exactly, it's just that she didn't do a lot of complaining or apparent schedule juggling like other mothers who try to maintain a career while working from
home.

 

Elyse Keaton (played by Meredith Baxter-Birney), the mom of three in the 1980s sitcom "Family Ties," made blending her work as a self-employed architect and a mom seem easy, compared to my own chaotic life blending work- from-home employment with child rearing.

And it can be tempting to hate her for her grace.

But come on, this is "Family Ties." This is the program that introduced us to Michael J. Fox's signature character, Alex P. Keaton. It paired former hippie parents-turned-white-collar-professionals (an architect and a public television station manager) with a briefcase-toting, shirt-and-tie-wearing teenaged son who aspired to climb the heights of the corporate ladder. It had a smart alecky sister in Justine Bateman's Mallory and a precocious 9-year-old in Tina Yothers' Jennifer. What wasn't to love?


I recently viewed the show's first season to see how Steven and Elyse Keaton managed their two-career family in the days when there wasn't a lot of workplace support for dual-career families. (The later-in-life pregnancy that resulted in the fourth Keaton child, Andy, didn't occur until the third season, which is currently unavailable on DVD.) And, surprisingly, there was precious little in the first 22 episodes of "Family Ties"aboutthe multitude of work-family struggles that parents still face, some 25 years later. Maybe the "Family Ties" creators didn't want to address this topic in a sitcom, as the writers for "One Day at a Time" and "Alice" did by incorporating humor into the insanity of work and child rearing. Or perhaps they wanted to send a positive message about how simultaneously working and parenting is achievable.


It just seemed a bit odd that there was slight mention, at least in the first season, of how challenging Elyse's work-from-home set-up could be. Many parents who work from home say that while it's an ideal set-up on paper- they continue their careers AND are home with their kids - say it's not as simple as it may seem. Though Elyse was constantly shown working on plans in the family room, at the kitchen table and in the corner of the kitchen where she had her desk, it was done in a matter-of-fact way. Home rarely intruded on her work and vice versa. None of the kids, for example, accidentally spilled a Coke all over plans for a home expansion.


"Family Ties" (1982-1989) sent the message that it isn't too difficult for a married couple to maintain two careers while parenting three children. The family almost always had breakfast together at the kitchen table. Steven (Michael Gross) frequently drove the kids to school and was home for dinner. However when it came to all things domestic, it was Elyse who was shown cooking, bringing home grocery bags, straightening up the house and sewing, despite the fact that she too had a career and her husband was supposedly a sensitive, women's lib-lovin' kind of guy.