by Meredith O'Brien
I recently wrote in this space about how much I admire  the freshman ABC comedy Modern Family , called it “off-kilter,” but in a good and witty way. Now I’ve found yet another reason to extol its virtues: Its writers were somehow able to address a woman’s insecurities about being an at-home mom without getting all preachy and super-serious. Instead, they used a light, humorous touch, one that I found refreshing.
The at-home mom in question was Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), who has two teenage girls and an 11-year-old boy with her husband Phil (Ty Burrell). Claire feared she was being pitied by her former co-worker whom she hasn’t seen in 15 years. But even before Claire met up with her old friend Valerie for lunch, she had to explain to her children why she left her job at a hotel when she got married, giving birth to her first child five months later.
“I can’t imagine you working,” her son Luke said.
Claire’s well meaning husband Phil replied, “Luke, that is very offensive to women. Your mom works very hard, it’s just now she works for us.”
Not loving the “works for us” comment, Claire forged ahead and tried to impress her kids: “I will have you know that I had quite the little career going. I was an account manager at Starcrest Hotels. I had a little cubicle and I wore my tennis shoes to work and changed into my work pumps. It was very Working Girl . . . And I don’t mind saying I was making quite a splash.”
“Well then why’d you quit?” her 15-year-old daughter Haley asked.
“Well, Haley, call me old fashioned, but I wanted to focus on raising a family so I married your dad.”
Once at the restaurant, Claire made the grave error of smugly assuming that her single, child-free former colleague was jealous of her, because after seeing a Dunphy family photo, Valerie grasped Claire’s hand tightly and said, “You chose the mother. You’re the mommy, the yummy mommy, mama person.”
Things started to get dicey though when Claire expressed surprise that Valerie had been promoted to upper management. “If you hadn’t left, it probably would’ve been you,” Valerie said, to which Claire responded by downing the first of a few glasses of wine.
Claire’s apparent insecurities about leaving behind her career to be a full-time mom increased when she learned that Valerie was named to a prestigious post as the head of the international division and had lovers in Paris, New York, Miami and San Francisco. “Last night I vacuumed the radiator thingie, under the fridge, you know that collects the dust, because you should, and, I don’t,” Claire babbled. That’s how, I’d venture to guess, many mothers who’ve opted to be at home or to pare down their work schedules to raise kids might feel when faced with a former peer who’s working full-time, is leading a jet-setting life and has it all goin’ on career-wise.
However because Modern Family is a kooky comedy, Claire -- who was feeling as though she had to prove that her life choices were superior -- couldn’t simply leave her insecurity behind with the empty wine glasses at the restaurant. She insisted that Valerie come back to her house so she could show off her affluent digs and cute kids. That’s what Claire had in mind, wowing Valerie. But where Claire expected Norman Rockwell in warm, earth tones, she got embarrassing mayhem instead: Her daughter Haley was heaving her boyfriend’s belongings out of a second story window one minute, passionately making out with him on the stairs the next. Her two other kids, who were collecting used bottles as part of a public service project, had dragged home bags and boxes of mostly-empty bottles of alcohol from the neighbor’s house, spilling the dregs of the liquid on the floor and inadvertently bringing a rodent into the house in the process. And then there was Phil – whom Valerie remembered by the nickname “Phil the Thrill” – who made quite the impression with his fake mustache and by the fact that he’d gotten himself pinned inside an outhouse that was perched on the front lawn. Domestic life never looked so good.
It was a delightfully satirical way of addressing the mixed feelings at-home moms sometimes experience without getting all judgmental, particularly when Claire’s family life isn’t idyllic. Why can’t more TV shows deal with this issue in such a wry fashion?
You can watch this episode, “Moon Landing ,” at the ABC web site.