The Dr. Phil Time Warp
Now I know that Marc just posted an blog entry on the great trend of including both mothers and fathers in media pieces about parenting. Well, I agree. But some people haven't quite gotten the news. Here's a perfectly awful example of what can happen when we leave fathers out of the discussion: The Dr. Phil Show. In a recent show, this supposedly enlightened advice guru somehow traveled back in time, and dupped a whole studio audience worth of people to do so with him. And he left me so dumbfounded by his choice of show topic and omissions that it has taken me a few weeks to write this blog post - mostly because I needed to find a way to address his behavior in a civil manner.
On Wednesday October 14th, the Dr. Phil Show featured a reprise of a trick he's done before - an audience of stay-at-home mothers on one side of the aisle facing off with an audience of working moms on the other. The first time he tried this ratings gimmick several years ago, he was loudly admonished by mothers everywhere for trying to pit us against each other and create the Mommy Wars that the media so desperately want to make real. And worse yet, whenever this kind of mom-against-mom battle is encouraged, all parents lose - the very real issues that all of us face about the lack of flexible, well-paid and interesting work that would allow everyone to make good family choices, the lack of high quality and affordable childcare, etc.
So here he goes again. "Gee whiz, golly," I can hear the good doctor saying. "I'm only trying to help the two sides see each other's point of view." No...he knows it makes for good ratings. Period.
The part that frosted me the most as I forced myself to watch the judgments fly from his guests was that not once did he (or any guest) mention the Other Parent. Not once in a full 60 minute show did he suggest that a child's father could take part in caring for his own children. Is this 1960 all over again????
We heard from stay at home moms who claimed that their choice, although many days very hard, was the most selfless - all for the good of the kids who should be nurtured and loved 24/7 by their mothers (fathers, apparently, are figureheads). We had working moms who provided stories and statistics about how children flourish when their moms are happy, when they are in good quality childcare, etc. (but the moms juggled it all, apparently). And we saw an emotionally tortured new mom about to return to work from her maternity leave - unable to fathom leaving her baby. The last woman's husband even came to the show (he didn't merit a chair on stage, however), but there wasn't one mention of how he might care for the baby.
All the angst and burden (and joy!) of juggling childraising and work was assumed to be a mothers only issue. All the choices - work, work part-time, work from home, don't work at all - all Mom's.
Gag me with a shovel.
Yes, there are plenty of families (I came from one) with only one parent - be that a mother or a father. These single parents have a hard road to support their children financially, mentally, emotionally, physically. But for families with two parents, well, there are two parents to shoulder the duties - of childraising, of breadwinning, of housework. Mathematically, dear Dr. Phil, the options go far beyond 'mom works and puts the kids in 60+ hours of outside care' or 'mom quits and stays home.'
Until we stop thinking of childraising as a woman's sole responsibility, we're stuck. Until we start to showcase alternatives that free both women and men from culturally imposed roles, we think things are black and white - all or none. And we saddle our husbands with second parent status (proportional to our level of control at home).
The new mom at the end of the show who was bereft at leaving her child to return to work all but admitted that the reason for her anxiety was because she wanted to remain the number one person in her son's life...and because she would just plain miss his little face when she was at work. Understandable. But it was sure ironic that, as she was telling her story, the background flashed to a picture of her son wearing a onsie that said 'It's All About Me.' Her desire to be the center of the child's world is about her - not what is best for her son. If her motives for avoiding outside childcare were child-based instead, she could resolve her anxieties by selecting a loving outside provider - or (gasp) sharing the childcare time with her husband as equals. What a gift to her son this could be!
I'm more than disgusted by Dr. Phil's mom-fight show. Has he not heard that fathers are waking up across the world to the joy of full-on parenting for themselves? Is he not interested in making the world a better, easier place for all parents to lovingly raise children? Whatever choice each family makes, it should be made for the good of everyone - moms, dads, kids. Let's fight for that, not against each other.
Get real, Dr. Phil.