In one of the last “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes that aired before the writer’s strike, the character of Dr. Miranda Bailey had a personal crisis. Under fire from her Seattle Grace colleagues for being off her game since having a baby, Bailey had worked hard to prove to everyone that becoming a mom hadn’t changed her tough-as-nails approach to surgery and medicine. Despite her efforts, she was initially denied the position of chief resident after her boss explained that he was simply trying to spare her personal life from the same kind of havoc he’d experienced when he chose work over his wife, and she left him.
In this particular episode, Bailey’s husband Tucker -- who’d given up his job to be a full-time, at-home parent – demanded that she start paying attention to her own family and that she meet with him for lunch to discuss their relationship. However Bailey blew off the lunch in order to do an operation. “I’m tired,” Tucker told Bailey’s intern George O’Malley, “I’m tired of her choosing everything over me and our marriage.”
When O’Malley relayed Tucker’s frustration to Bailey who was in the OR, an indignant Bailey fumed: “I want to be there with him, right now, but if I were to leave, this man would die. Did you tell him that? . . . I took a vow to save lives and he might want to remember that he took a vow, for better or for worse. You tell him that as a husband, it’s his job to understand that I’m standing by my vow, for better or for worse. You tell him that I’m holding him to his vow.”
To Tucker, this line of argument, relayed through an intern nonetheless, was a non-starter: “She’s always saving a person’s life. She’ll always be here [with me] ‘soon.’ You go ask her when exactly is ‘soon’ gonna come?”
In a subsequent episode, after Bailey finally secured the chief resident post, their toddler son had a life threatening accident, for which Bailey blamed Tucker, who turned right around and blamed her. Though their son survived, Tucker’s patience ran out and he left Bailey, just as the chief of surgery’s wife had left him.
Flash-forward to the most recent episode of “Grey’s:” The toddler is now spending half of his time at home with his dad and half of his time in the Seattle Grace Hospital daycare center , where he has been acting out. In fact, the toddler was booted from daycare for punching another kid during a dispute over a graham cracker, something for which – surprise, surprise -- Tucker blamed Bailey, in a classic case of the you-don’t-know-what-it’s-like-to-be-me syndrome.
Tucker told Bailey that their boy had hit other children previously, to which she replied by saying that Tucker wasn’t handling the child-rearing responsibly.
“Of course he’s punching people,” Tucker angrily responded, “he used to be with me all day. Now he’s in daycare so he can spend 10 minutes with you every three hours.”
Bailey, who clearly has had enough of being told she spends too much time at work, lashed back: “I spend my time here because I’m building a life for us. I spend my time here because I don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off and spend it with our child and knowing that my career’s going to be there waiting for me when I’m ready to go back.”
“Luxury?” Tucker shouted. “So you think spending all day, every day, wiping noses and changing diapers is a luxury?”
“I think it’s a beautiful thing you get to do,” Bailey said. “And you take it for granted.”
Typically, you see this kind of scenario play out in TV shows, films and books the other way around, with an at-home wife feeling abandoned by her work-a-holic husband who thinks that his many hours with his nose to the grindstone are for the benefit of his family. Regardless of the role reversal here, the issue remain the same: If one spouse is in a high-pressure, high-profile career, the modern American workplace demands that that person log an insane amount of hours working, regardless of whether the person has a young family. But someone in the family has to pick up the slack, and oftentimes that person becomes resentful of feeling like an afterthought while being left to deal with the messy, unglamorous domestic details of life.
How is the spouse of a surgeon supposed to argue that his wife should pay attention to him when she’s literally saving lives? There’s no way diapers and nose-wiping can compete with that. The only alternative for the at-home spouse is to claim that the working spouse is ignoring that which is supposedly most important in life: One’s family. Unless some kind of compromise is struck, both sides become entrenched.
So what do you say “Grey’s” fans, do you sympathize with one or both of the characters? Do you wish that the workplace were more flexible, especially for professionals who hold demanding positions? Or do you just think that this is the way it is when your children are young and you just have to muddle through?