by Jennifer S. Page
Gwyneth Paltrow has recently taken some flak from working mothers about the comments she made in an interview with E! Online comparing herself to working moms with office jobs. "It's much harder for me," Paltrow said. "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."
Paltrow's comments have been called offensive and clueless, and Paltrow herself has been called tone-deaf, insensitive, and elitist. As for me, I can't muster up the energy to be offended by her or what she said. Being a working mom is hard, no matter what your situation is. Do I think movie stars and millionaires have it easier because they can hire help? Maybe. Sure, on some level, maybe. But no amount of money can allow a mother to be in two places at once. Certainly, money can allow you to hire a high-quality, experienced, live-in nanny, but when your kid is crying for you and you are two time zones away at a business conference or on a movie set, no amount of money is going to make that feel easy.
And besides, how many of us can say that we have never peered over the fence and found the grass to look greener on the other side? Stay-at-home moms look at working moms and think, boy it must be nice to talk to grown-ups/own a house/afford a vacation. Working moms look at stay-at-home moms and think, I wish I could drink lattes/wear sweatpants/do art projects all day. Gwyneth has looked over the fence, at grass she has never walked on, and thinks it's greener than her own. Whatevs. We all do it.
When my daughter was one and a half, I had to be away for five nights for a work conference. She was being lovingly cared for by her father, and by her grandparents. She could not have been in better hands. Was it hard for me? Absolutely. My breasts became engorged with milk, due to her not being there to drain them, and I missed her dreadfully. Even though I had a "staff" back at home caring for her, it was still hard. If I had to do that (be away from her for long stretches) on a regular basis, you bet your bottom dollar that I would look at moms with "regular" jobs and think they had it better.
Now, let's acknowledge that there are some situations that none of us would think are greener than our own--like single moms who work two jobs to be able to pay for child care, put food on their family's table, and a roof over their heads. Not even Gwynnie would say that she has it harder than that.
One of MotherWoman's principles is "Women and mothers need safe spaces where they can talk about the reality of their lives with the utmost respect and without judgment." Through my participation in MotherWoman, non-judgment has become something I practice on a regular basis, and my reaction (or rather, my non-reaction) to Gwyneth Paltrow's comments is rooted in that practice. I think the main reason I'm not upset about her comments is that I've sat in support groups with many other moms, all with different home situations, and all struggling on some level--struggling to figure out who they really are, how to juggle work and parenting, how to keep their marriage together, how to use a breast pump at work, how to put two kids down for a nap at the same time, how to stay sane when it feels like all you do all day is wipe up someone else's bodily fluids.
I have empathy for Ms. Paltrow. It can't be easy to manage a high-profile career AND be the kind of mom that you want to be, no matter how much money you have. I also have a deep and personal understanding of the struggles of non-celebrity moms. I've learned through MotherWoman that being a mother is both a blessing and a challenging experience, regardless of circumstances. It's easy to get sucked into greener-grass thinking, as Paltrow did, seeing only the challenges of one's own unique situation, but if she were to sit in circle with other moms, as I have, I suspect she would recognize that we have more in common with her than she thinks ... and vice versa.
Jennifer S. Page is a non-celebrity working mom with a "regular job" who gets absolutely nothing done in the mornings before work. She is an instructional designer with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Continuing & Professional Education, where she helps instructors to teach online. Jennifer is the co-author of Night Night Valley, a children's bedtime book set in the Pioneer Valley. She lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and daughter.
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