Parenthood Examines Working Moms.

by Meredith O’Brien


After spending several weeks focusing on the challenges of a working mom, a recent episode of the new and somewhat uneven NBC drama Parenthood delivered a complicated take on a mother who seems conflicted about having left her career to raise her children.


Two primary Parenthood characters made different choices when it came to work and motherhood: Julia Braverman-Graham chose the fast-paced life of a corporate attorney whose husband is at home full-time raising their grade school aged daughter Sydney. Meanwhile, Julia’s sister-in-law, Kristina Braverman, gave up her career as a legislative deputy in municipal government in order to raise her daughter Haddie – now 15 – and her son Max, 8, who was just diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.


Their two lifestyle choices clashed recently when Julia agreed to allow the teenaged Haddie to shadow her at work for Career Week. In preparation for her daughter’s day at the law firm, Kristina dug through boxes in her garage – stuff that was designated for Good Will – and found her old pair of black work pumps and tried to give them to her daughter. Eyeing the shoes, Haddie shook her head, “Aunt Julia works in a real office.”


Hurt, Kristina responded, “I wore these real places.”


When Julia arrived to pick up her niece, Haddie literally ran out the front door with her mother chasing close behind, awkwardly trying to slip on a pair of boots as she was calling out that she had Haddie’s egg salad sandwich. But Haddie didn’t want her mother’s egg salad sandwich, or her outdated black pumps. In fact, she didn’t want anything that her at-home mother was trying to give her.


After spending the day with her aunt, Haddie was wildly enthusiastic, telling her parents, “It’s so nice to have this female professional that I can look up to.” Kristina, standing in the kitchen in front of the makings of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, was stung as she listened to Haddie wax on about how Aunt Julia is greatly respected at work, had a male secretary and had lattes delivered to her whenever she wanted them. “It’s like she’s her own powerful woman, you know?” Haddie said.


This storyline reminded me of the argument you sometimes hear against moms giving up careers (or scaling them back): That being an at-home mom sends a negative message to girls and that the children, who are robbed of a strong “powerful” female role model, won’t respect their mothers. At least that’s how it was played on Parenthood with Kristina’s 15-year-old daughter clearly looking down on her mother.


And Kristina picked up on that as she almost defensively pulled out a box of her old work files and began overtly sighing and laughing over them in order to get Haddie to ask about it. “I saw how excited you got with Aunt Julia over Career Day and I got sort of nostalgic,” Kristina said, mentioning the days when she worked in local government.


“Right, weren’t you, like, a councilman’s assistant?” Haddie asked, unimpressed.



I love the show, and I think they're doing a pretty good and realistic job of showing how neither side is all so great when you throw kids into the mix. I just recently returned to work full-time (and now actually have two jobs, one of which I do from home when the kids are in bed) after staying at home for 4 years. I was amazed then at how thankless being a SAHM really is and how society really acts like you do nothing. I'm amazed now at how much it really makes my heart ache not to be with my 18 month old more. I was going nuts at home though, and most of the time I'm happy with my choice. I loved the ending last night with Kristina really feeling like she had to be home, but after getting a taste of being back at work -wanting it and loving it. It's a HUGE conflict for most of us personally and neither group does anything positive by thinking that SAHMs have it so easy and don't "work" or that working moms are just worshiping the $ and not being "good" moms.


What's unrealistic about the show is that Julia has such a great job (supposedly). Most of us have jobs that don't exactly have our daughters reeling from excitement. I worked for the post office for 16 years and believe me, the most impressed my daughters ever got was that I knew so many zip codes. That episode would have been entirely different if Julia had a job in a factory or a White Castle. Television just isn't that realistic, period.


Got to say I think the point is being missed that is being made on both sides of the Mom situation. If you are the mom once your kid outgrows the "YOU are my hero" stage no matter what choice you made, in your kids eyes it was the wrong choice. They don't even start to understand until they become parents themselves.

I was I admit it the same way as a kid. My mom did it all wrong. My aunt was my role model and goal as a teen. The first disillusionment was as in my twenties when she became a parent. Once I was finally a parent myself I understood some of my mom's choices even if they were not the same choices I would make and I have completely different feeling toward my aunt. I'll just say I'm so glad now she wasn't my parent.


I think that this show cuts both ways. In an earlier episode they showed the mother attorney being rejected by her child in favor of her caretaker father. I personally thought that was biased against the working mother because many sitcoms have a working dad and you do not see the child rejecting the father when he comes home from work. There are pros and cons to everyone's choice. And its not all black and white.


I am starting to love that show. At first it was just too real, could not handle the teenage problems :) What her teenager said that about a "powerful woman" I just wanted to jump in a say it's just one day, one momemt in a teenager and mom's life, there will be tons of days she appreciates having a mom at home. I loved that slip up about the parking space, but I saw it more as a remark about not needing a space if you don't work, vs that you can't afford it. Why on earth was she bidding, just to piss the working mom off? :)
To me the awesome SAHD and flirty mom are the stereotypes. I work, my husband is home now, and I would love it if I didn't have to take over when I got home :)


My big sister was a partner in a lawfirm, making a couple hundred thousand per year 20 years ago. She gave up that job to raise her two children. Her husband ended up criticizing her choice and making her life hell with his constant whining about how rich they'd be if she'd stayed working, she's lost her confidence over the years, lost millions of dollars of pay, and some of the respect she's given on Mother's Day is "lip service." Pretending like staying at home gives you safety and power would be a lie. I think Parenthood is exploring a real phenomenon. I watched the same thing happen in my house. My dad saying, "Maybe if YOU made the money in this house..." while my mother's tears fell into her morning cereal.

I'm staying at the office, thank you very much. The women's movement happened for a reason, and I well remember why.


I like happy endings and closure to storylines as much as the next person but I kind of hope they let the conflict stay unresolved. I think it will make the show seem more like the realities of mothers' lives.