The Motherhood Competition

motherhood-musings-may14I was sitting at my laptop the other day, just champing at the bit to write a scathing piece condemning Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow for her latest foot-in-mouth comments about how difficult it is to be a parent working as a film actress in comparison with regular parents, who, she claimed, have the advantages of a more structured daily routine.

She referred to office jobs as different from working on movie sets because, “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.”

People, mostly rightfully, howled at her seemingly clueless comments, and they certainly annoyed me, as she often does in general. But there’s more to it.

While I wanted to write a biting piece on how out-of-touch Gwyneth is with the daily struggles of parents who do not make millions of dollars in a year, and don’t have to deal with the stresses of paying for child care, household chores, cooking family meals and – oh, I could go on and on and on, I happened to find myself swaying to Gwyneth’s energetic rendition of Eddie Murphy’s Party All The Time, and enthusiastically singing along. And I softened a bit.

I stopped to think about what she actually does. In her world, there is no doubt she works extremely hard and is accomplished and super disciplined – as an actress, sometime singer, and occasional writer (with two cookbooks that instantly make me feel guilty about my family’s eating habits and too-frequent restaurant visits) – and it pays off. She is one of Hollywood’s biggest, if also most disliked and resented, stars.

But I would never assume that just because she is rich and famous, her life is a cakewalk – in fact, we certainly now know that it is not, with the recent news of her split from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Gwyneth has come down a peg or two – like so many of us, she has had to admit that she couldn’t make her union work. That can’t be easy for her.

As we have seen documented so often in the chaotic and troubled lives of many celebrities, fame and riches obviously aren’t the key to happiness and a stable, fulfilling family life.

While Gwyneth has many advantages and luxuries I do not, she also has trials and tribulations I do not and can’t begin to understand, as she obviously can’t understand mine – though she may be surprised to learn that it isn’t only actress moms who work 14-hour days (welcome to my world, Gwyn).

It was certainly odd and awkward for her to compare her lifestyle to that of the average working parent – but I don’t think it was done out of malice or an intention to blatantly flaunt her privileged life in the faces of less-fortunate working moms. Mothers of all walks of life tend to compare and contrast their lifestyles, material possessions, careers, and parenting styles. This continues to be a big problem.

As mothers, we should support each other, and many of us do, but we also tend to fall into cliques, surrounding ourselves with those who share our philosophies and lifestyles.

We often become intensely judgmental of other parents, and less able to empathize with parents facing different, even more difficult, circumstances.

At the same time, we become more critical of ourselves, and expect more from us, our partners, our children and from life generally. We spend more time and energy focusing on achieving more, faster, staying busier, cramming our children’s schedules tighter, and hovering more over them.

As a mom of three who works multiple jobs, it is pretty hard for me to relate to a stay at home mom or to even imagine the lifestyle. But I have all the respect in the world for mothers who dedicate themselves to raising their children full time.

They have a different set of challenges, but they are challenges all the same. There is nothing easier about staying at home with a child then leaving home to work in an office, it’s just different.

As one of my Facebook friends noted in her comment on the Gwyneth story, comparing the life of a Hollywood movie star to that of an office worker is truly akin to comparing apples and oranges.

And this is where Gwyneth often tends to veer onto the wrong track, alienating many of the moms who would probably tend to agree with many of her parenting ideals and would maybe even like her, if she would just loosen up a bit (or show that she knows how to).

But as Huffington Post blogger Liz O’Donnell astutely pointed out in a recent post, “We don’t need another media mommy war; no one wins. We need to work together to remove the barriers we face at home and at work.

“Gwyneth Paltrow should stop talking about things she clearly doesn’t understand, but she is not the enemy.”

The challenges facing moms everywhere, says O’Donnell, include an inordinate amount of responsibility at home, too few flexible policies in the workplace, unfair wages, unaffordable quality childcare and many other important issues.

On that, I think we can all agree: moms can and should work to support and encourage each other to continue our progression at work and at home, not against each other. And we should always seek to understand each other. There should be no competition.

Photo: © Jean_Nelson