Adoption after infertility. Single at-home parenthood after losing a job. Entering the work force after raising five children.
The women of ABC’s Brothers & Sisters represent vastly different points of a mother’s life and, the way in which they’re being depicted in the drama’s third season, demonstrate that many of those points contain oftentimes messy, chaotic transitions.
Emmy award winner Sally Field, as Nora Walker -- the Walker family matriarch who forwent a career in order to raise five children -- is still coming to terms with her widowhood and trying to make a life for herself. In a recent episode, she was having difficulty drumming up funding for a charity she wanted to start. As she was pitching a grant committee, Nora was essentially dismissed as “the housewife” with no experience. The chairman of the group only paid attention to what Nora was saying after she mentioned the name of her deceased husband, who ran a large food company.
Over drinks later with the board chairman, who simply wanted to re-live time he spent with Nora’s husband on the golf course, he told her there was little likelihood that Nora would be taken seriously as the head of a charity. Nora was indignant:
“I have run a household of seven. I know, it’s an unpaid and unappreciated position, but I defy you or any of your people I spoke with this morning to do what I did for the past 40 some odd years. I organized the schedules of five extremely well rounded children. I ran car pools and bake sales and Blue Bird groups. I negotiated and mandated and coddled all at the same time, not to mention what I had to do for my husband to keep him happy and productive. And I did all of this without ever taking a sick day. The problem is no one values the experience of a stay-at-home parent which is truly a shame because basically running this ‘big enterprise’ as you put it, would be a day at the beach for me.”
Her confident delivery succeeded in persuading the chairman to give her the start-up grant money.
If Nora’s story was supposed to provide a cautionary tale about what happens when a mother pours her life’s energies into her husband and family, her eldest daughter Sarah Whedon (Rachel Griffiths) isn’t sure what to do with this information. For the first two seasons of Brothers & Sisters, Sarah, the business school star, was at the helm of the Walker family’s fruit business until a disastrous decision thrust the company to the brink of financial ruin. To keep the business afloat, the company was merged with another, headed by Sarah’s father’s longtime mistress. So she quit.
Soon Sarah, who divorced her at-home husband, unexpectedly found herself in the role of an at-home mom while she fielded a job offer with a salary a fraction of that from her CEO post. “Hope you’ve got something for me,” she said to a prospective employer. “I’m not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. . . This being in a real office with an actual grown-up is like the highlight of my week.”