My latest TV addiction is “Desperate Housewives.” I loved it from the first campy moment. The show breaks two standard television conventions.
1. Even though the main characters are in their 40s and have children, they are attractive/sexy.
2. The show focuses on the women as human beings in their own right, rather than as props for the men and children to interact with.
At this point in history, women who leave the workplace to stay home with their children have two contradictory images.
1. They are saints who sacrificed their own careers, their own wants and needs, their own very selves to be the all encompassing earth mothers for their offspring. (They also homeschool and keep a perfectly clean house.)
2. They are fat, lazy bon bon popping slobs who watch soaps all day while their slovenly children play xbox in the filthy family room.
Not very attractive images, are they?
Whenever I meet somebody new and tell them that I’m a SAHM, I get “good for you! Best thing for the kids!” from their mouths and “How pathetic. Must find somebody else to talk to” from their eyes. They can’t imagine that I might be speeding on my kid’s Ritalin, screwing the teenaged yard boy, or hiding a deep dark secret. (No, I’m not doing any of those things, not that I’m admitting to, anyway, but I COULD be!)
The Desperate Housewives each embody a piece of a real person. Put them all together and you might get a whole woman. By teasing her apart into components- the one who’s tearing her hair out over the kids, the one who is outwardly perfect in order to mask the chaos inside, the one who seems to have everything she ever wanted and can’t understand why she still isn’t happy/fulfilled, the one who bumbles through every ordinary event because nothing is as easy as it looks- the writers show us the real SAHM, who is all of those people and more.
It’s a tricky balancing act, this SAHM gig. You can easily lose yourself. You can get mired in guilt and depression because your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, because you didn’t win the Nobel prize, because you’re not “important” anymore. You can become over-involved in your kids’ lives, micromanaging their existence to make up for your lack of corporate managerial duties. You can become isolated because everyone else on the planet seems to have a 9-5 job. You can resent your husband because he gets to leave the noisy, messy house behind and spend the day being Important.
Me, I view it as a phase. I gave my whole self to my kids for a number of years. As they grow and become more independent, I get some of it back. And I get to reinvent my self, so that I come out the other side the person I want to be. A person who raised two beautiful children. A writer. Important.