In the fictional realm of Wisteria Lane, viewers of "Desperate Housewives" saw high-powered ad exec and mom of four, Lynette Scavo (played by Felicity Huffman) faced with two options: The first option was to answer the pleadings of her husband and become the manager of his soon-to-be opened pizzeria. The second choice was to return to her advertising job (she'd been out after an injury) where her boss said she'd be expected to work a massive number of hours and miss all her kids' activities. And she was admonished that she should accept the terms without complaint, mind you.
While Scavo's gut reaction was to agree to the dictates from the advertising firm, she later changed her mind and decided that, while hawking pizza slices may not be glory work that will land you on the cover of Forbes Magazine, the position had its perks. For instance, she could make her own hours, create her own job description and, while at work, she'd be able to spend time with her young family. The situation suited her needs, even if she would no longer be wearing nice-lookin' duds and toting a briefcase.
Two days later, Oprah Winfrey dedicated an entire program to mothers' work choices. The show prominently featured an interview with ABC newswoman Elizabeth Vargas who left her anchor post at "World News Tonight" after giving birth to her second child, and instead took a more flexible position as a "20/20" anchorwoman. Despite the fact that the program was promoted in one of those odious "mommy wars" ways -- with ads asking, "Can women really have it all?" -- the overall message sent by Vargas and others, including Oprah, was that women make choices about their careers that are appropriate for their individual situations, that people should stop proselytizing and simply respect one another's decisions.
Vargas, in particular, said that while she hopes that she'll have another chance to anchor the prestigious 6:30 evening newscast some time in the future, she felt that she couldn't be the kind of professional she wanted to be while simultaneously being the kind of parent she wanted to be if she kept the "World News Tonight" job. By opting for a job with a more pliable schedule, she said she felt as though she could do both. "We all have to make our personal decisions based on what's best for us," Vargas said. Acknowledging that there are some feminists who might take issue with her adjusting her career aspirations for her family, Vargas added that she believes one of feminism's key goals is the promotion of women's choices.
Yes, it was infuriating to see the boss at the ad agency on "Desperate Housewives" insist that Scavo sacrifice her family in order to keep her job; fathers don't seem to often be faced with such stark choices: Your job or your family. The phrase "Daddy Track" isn't nearly as well known in the vernacular as "Mommy Track" for a reason.
And it was similarly irritating that ABC seemed so inflexible about the "World News Tonight" position, insisting that Vargas be willing to travel extensively, etc. in order to retain the post. Many believe that if companies want to retain talented and dedicated workers and not suffer through high turnover rates, that it'd be wise to support employees through the various stages of their lives, like offering day care options for new parents, and flex-time for parents with small kids or employees with sick, elderly parents.
However, given those caveats, "Desperate Housewives" and "Oprah" did put a positive spin on the choices both the fictional Scavo and the real Vargas made. Scavo will have the chance to set her hours and do work that's (hopefully) fulfilling to her, while, at the same time, enabling her to spend the time she craves with her nutty family. Vargas can anchor a major news program and still be home for dinner with her children each night without having to travel to Iraq or to hot spots in the Middle East. Both women are still working and achieving, only they're not achieving in the same way they would have had they never had children. Nonetheless, they made their choices and are willing to live with them.
And it's not up to anyone else to judge them.
Meredith O'Brien is the author of A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum  and is the mother of three. She pens the Boston Mommy  blog about parenting for the Boston Herald's web site and teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.