I’ve long thought you could get an interesting movie out of the work of Erma Bombeck. Or a series. Or something. Certainly her work deserves to be better known. Starting in 1964, former journalist and at the time stay-at-home mom Bombeck wrote the At Wit’s End column about her adventures in housekeeping and child-rearing. I grew up reading her books, because my mother was a fan. Sure, bits of it haven’t aged well, but you could still do interesting things with Bombeck’s humorous take on things like parent-teacher meetings, trying to run errands while covered in children, and the expectations of her husband.
I am, as many of you know, myself a stay-at-home parent. In fact, for the moment, I’m still substantially burdened by it, as everything I do has to be balanced by whether it’s possible to take my daughter or can be done while her father is home; her brother’s in first grade, but she doesn’t start preschool until September. So before asking if I’ve seen a recent movie or TV show, first ask yourself, “Is it appropriate to watch around small children?” Because if the answer is “no,” I probably haven’t seen it. I am at most a couple of rooms away from my daughter pretty much twenty-four/seven, even having difficulty getting to doctors’ appointments without her.
For the most part, there are not a lot of real reflections of this in media. One of the reasons I consider Freaky Friday, the original with Jodie Foster, to be a secret feminist masterpiece is that it gets into the reality of what a housewife’s life, even a comfortable suburban one who can afford a maid, is like. Remember she has a husband who expects her to just “whip up” a meal for twenty-five people who have to be impressed on a moment’s notice. And even without that, there’s still a lot the maid doesn’t do, won’t do—like laundry, the personal bane of my existence.
Actually, Barbara Harris has twice played harassed stay-at-home mothers in Disney movies, the other example being in The North Avenue Irregulars, where she wants to help the Treasury Department fight organized crime, but do they provide babysitting? And I can totally sympathize. She was on my Celebrating the Living list before she died purely because of those two portrayals. Frankly, an Erma Bombeck series in the ’70s starring Barbara Harris would’ve been exactly my speed, and I’ll never fail to be sad that we didn’t get it.
And I get, yes, that there’s more to women’s choices than being a stay-at-home parent, but the thing is, I think more that the reason we don’t see our lives portrayed in the media for the most part is that the people responsible for these choices aren’t interested and have no experience with it. And if you’re unhappy with the implications of a stay-at-home mother as a lead, well, have one of her friends be a stay-at-home father. You could get a lot of comedy and a lot of drama out of this life, and I think it would definitely be one of those things that stay-at-home parents would arrange nights out to watch. I’ve got friends I’d definitely watch it with.
I haven’t watched a lot of the classic sitcoms of the ’60s in a very long time, but I seem to recall that, for the most part, those women’s lives kind of stopped when their family wasn’t around. Even when they were the title character of the show, like Donna Reed. And my imaginary stay-at-home parent show (for some reason, I see it as a TV show) would involve a lot of things like “I have four hours while the youngest is in preschool to get everything done.” That feeling of sitting in a waiting room, checking your watch (or phone, because yeah), knowing that you can’t leave until your car is fixed but knowing you have to be at the bus stop at a specific time to get your kid. You’re still, in a way, parenting, even when your kid’s in school.
I know that even having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury in a lot of families, and you could definitely get both comedy and drama out of how multi-level marketing companies exploit the need to supplement income by making stay-at-home mothers think they can actually earn money that way. And I know that the main reason I’m stay-at-home is that I’m on disability and would be staying at home even if we didn’t have kids. But we are still there, and our voices aren’t heard.
Seriously, though, if I get up to $50 a month on my Patreon, you’ll be letting me go out once a month for a patrons-only column. Or just help me make it to the end of the month by pledging to my Ko-fi.