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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Brothers & Sisters: Moms & Daughters Juggling Work and Family

An honors graduate from the Wharton School of Business, she was recently promoted to the post of president at her newly-deceased father's company. She's married and has two young children and a teenaged step-son. Her husband's an at-home dad. She lives in a nice house and has plenty of family around to babysit. For free.
So what's to complain about? Well, for the fictional Sarah Whedon (played by Rachel Griffiths) of ABC's freshman drama "Brothers & Sisters [1]," there's plenty of reasons to have angst. Angst when she can't help her daughter with her schoolwork or get to the store in time to buy supplies for a school project because work has kept her away too long. Angst because she and her husband Joe (played by John Pyper-Ferguson) are so overwhelmed with the complicated, everyday details of modern, suburban life that they didn't realize that their daughter was sick; the girl was diagnosed with diabetes only after a babysitting aunt noticed a problem. Angst that her formerly stable marriage isn't so stable any more.

While Sarah and Joe try to save their marriage and come to terms with the work-home arrangement they've established, Sarah's mother, Nora Walker's life seems to just be starting. In early episodes of this show, Nora (Sally Field), 60, said she never regretted being an at-home mom, giving up a paid career for her five children because she said it was the right choice for her and for her family. But with her husband William's unexpected death - taken by a heart attack in the very first episode - Nora is going through a personal awakening. In a recent episode she was looking through the vestiges of her hopeful college days, scanning old short stories she'd written and abandoned, paintings she'd created but packed away. Now, for the first time, Nora is trying to figure out who she is outside of the roles of wife and mother, now that her children have grown up . . . even if two of them are again living at home with her. Though "Brothers & Sisters" was originally promoted as a Calista Flockhart vehicle, it contains story lines that intensely examine the fall-out from the work-life choices mothers like Sarah and Nora make, and reveals the private struggles of trying to make those choices work.

Sarah is the embodiment of a high-powered mom's juggle, trying to be assertive and businesslike in the board room, while attempting to fend off feelings of guilt about working, even though she rationalizes that she shouldn't feel badly about it. "I won't pay for the fact that I am trying to have a career and be a wife and mom," Sarah recently shouted to her husband Joe in the middle of a marriage counseling session. "But I dream of being at home to watch those kids grow up." Even though Sarah has a set-up of which many working moms would envious - her husband at home with the kids while she works - her marriage is crumbling because the spouses don't seem to understand each other. The at-home spouse lives in a world that the at-work spouse doesn't get. And vice versa.

During that same counseling session, Joe -- who insists he's fine with being an at-home dad -- tried to explain why he became friends with another mom, who happens to be a work-from-home mom whose daughter plays with Joe's daughter. "I don't blame you for working. . . [but] you have no idea how small the day can be," Joe said, adding that hours filled with tending to lunches, snacks, cuts, bruises and kid-oriented stuff that leaves him craving adult conversation. And when Sarah's absent for many, many hours at a time because she's at work, he turns to other parents, like this mom of whom Sarah is jealous.

While viewers watch Nora figure out how to re-launch her way into the work world, and Sarah and Joe navigate the at-home/at-work dance, "Brothers & Sisters" offers a multi-generational portrait of the various choices women make when it comes to motherhood and work, portraying them as oftentimes messy, uncomfortable and complicated . . . which sounds a lot like the definition of motherhood.

Check out the recent episodes of  "Brothers & Sisters [2]" online.

Meredith O'Brien is the author of A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum [3] and is the mother of three. She pens the Boston Mommy [4]  blog about parenting for the Boston Herald's web site and teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


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