Thursday, July 17, 2008

Secret Life of a Soccer Mom

Did you see the reality show on TLC called The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom? The basic premise is that a stay at home mom gets a glimpse at ‘what her life could have been like…’ had she continued with her career.

In the two shows I watched, the wives left high pressure jobs to stay at home with their children. In one episode, a doctor’s wife gave up a promising career in high fashion nine years ago to care for her three daughters. In another, an up-and-coming chef decided to stay home with her two boys. To both these women, I say, good for you—great choice!

The show, though, can’t leave well enough alone. It upsets the balance these families have worked for and plops these women right where they would have been had they stayed on their career trajectory. The fashion designer has one week to design three new dresses and show them to professional buyers and a stylist. The chef has to create three recipes and serve them to a table of food critics. All the requisite ups and downs, tears and triumphs of reality-TV ensue. Ultimately, both women thrive on the adrenaline, succeed at their tasks and are offered full-time jobs. The hitch is that they need to accept the job within one day and start immediately. It’s all or nothing.

And this is crap.

First, I want to scream at these women that this won’t be their only opportunity. It’s not now or never. The world is changing, technology is evolving, demographics are shifting. There will be other opportunities. Maybe not with this particular designer or restaurant, but keep up the networking, keep your skills fresh and other opportunities will come. And all it takes is one right opportunity.

Worse, though, the show trivializes the sometimes heart-wrenching decisions that many families make when a mother chooses to work full-time. It negates the fact that others don’t have the luxury of a choice…look at the nurses, the teachers, the secretaries who run the world each and every day. The show takes the husband (or partner) completely out of the equation. This is wrong because in relationships, life-altering decisions are not made in a vacuum, they are not made based on what is good for just one person and they are certainly not made in one day.

(Oh, and who’s going to watch the kids on Monday when mom goes to work? I know it took me three months to find full-time daycare for my son when he was an infant, yet these people can make it happen over a weekend.)

SLSM deceives the stay-at-home moms out there who are fed this glossy image of what it means to go back to work. Sure, for one week, the dad is happy to stay home while his wife is “at a spa” and then of course he’s proud that she ultimately succeeds in a highly competitive environment. Oh, she’s complete, they say. Yay.

Show me the picture six months later. Show me these families getting up each day before dawn, making breakfast, coordinating showers, getting the kids dressed, doing drop-off, working 8+ hours, fighting traffic, barely making pickup, cooking dinner, bathing the kids, reading stories, giving hugs, cleaning the kitchen, crawling into bed. And then show them doing it day after day after day after day after day.

Show me these families haggling over who takes Junior to his dentist appointment. Fighting over who can cover pick-up so the other can do the late meeting. Juggling the business trips and covering the soccer practices. Show me how supportive these husbands are six months later when the adrenaline wears off and their wives are too tired to cook, to clean, to pick up the laundry, too tired even to watch reality-TV.

Let me expose the dirty little secret of a working mom: It’s a grind.

This show doesn’t do anybody any justice. Being a full-time working parent might be a lot of things—creative, fulfilling, necessary—but it isn’t glamorous and it sure isn’t easy. Maybe once we open up about this “secret”, we can stop pining for what could have been and just be happy with what is.

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