I do not know Gwyneth Paltrow. I've never met her, don't have friends who hang with her, and have no personal insight into what makes her tick. I should treat her with the same indifference I feel for most celebrities, and I would, if only she would stop giving me reasons to dislike her. I've forgiven her for dating my crushes in the '90s, and I've made my peace with the fact that she rocks a pixie cut in a way I never will. I don't entirely loathe goop, because although it is on some level a vapid, irritating ode to inanity, I am easily swayed by good recipes involving kale. And, despite the infamous open letter describing her "conscious uncoupling" from her husband (which I have mocked privately, and now, I guess, publicly), I honestly don't take any joy in someone's separation. But her recent comments on what it means to be a working parent have pushed me over the edge.
Gwyneth recently gave an interview to E! in which she discussed the challenges she faces as a working mom. I understand that. I have friends who work in television and film and they work long hours and have erratic schedules. Sometimes they don't get to see their kids as much as they'd like. That's not ideal for anyone, so I don't begrudge Gwyneth a bit of whining. It's what she said next that made me think she's either woefully out of touch or just plain callous. Possibly both. After acknowledging that she doesn't have to work every day and limits herself to making one film a year, she then suggests that she has it harder than parents with more regular schedules.
I think it's different when you have an office job, because it's routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you're shooting a movie, they're like, "We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks," and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set.
No, it isn't, but probably not in the way Gwyneth thinks. I don't know a single parent who read that interview and thought, "Wow. I never realized how easy I have it, what with the getting up at 5:30 to get ready for work, making sure the kids are fed and off safely to school, spending a 8-18 hour day at my job, then rushing home to make dinner/put the kids to bed, and doing it all again tomorrow." Mackenzie Dawson's open letter to Gwyneth in the New York Post probably sums up our universal incredulity best. Read it. You can thank me later.
Last year when I wrote "What Not To Say To A Working Mom," it never occurred to me that I should have included special instructions for those highly privileged people with vast wealth and significant flexibility and autonomy over their working lives. I didn't think it was necessary to caution the very fortunate not to compare themselves to parents who may not have those resources. I was wrong.
I don't want to reject out of hand whatever parenting challenges Gwyneth may face, because I believe that all parents struggle in one way or another. Whether you are a stay-at-home dad, a breadwinner mom, a dual-earner family or a bajillionaire, every job has downsides, and every opportunity presents obstacles. I'm sure there are times when Gwyneth wonders what it would be like to have a more "regular" job. That's fine. I often wonder what it would be like to have several multi-million dollar homes and an Oscar. But complaining about how hard she has it while romanticizing the lives of working parents with more traditional careers means Gwyneth is either remarkably self-absorbed or deliberately obtuse. There's something dismissive and condescending about her comments. Let me be very clear -- and frankly I can't believe I have to say this -- there is nothing "easy" about working a 9-5 job and raising a family.
If you have the luxury of working only when you want to, if you can travel the world, have a staff, pay for private school, afford health care and ensure that your children want for nothing, please do not wonder aloud if it wouldn't be easier if you had a more ordinary life. Your life is privileged. There are parents, like Katrina Gilbert, for example, whose lives are truly trying. Who work at jobs that barely pay their bills, who struggle to feed their children and who come home exhausted not just during one or two months of the year, but every single day. The rest of us should just count our blessings.
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