Amid the skimpy outfits and ample bouncing bosoms displayed on ABC's mega-hit Desperate Housewives, I've discovered something surprising: A glimpse of reality.
It's not everyday that the real life desperation of women who stay at home to care for their kids is portrayed on television in a way that doesn't challenge a mother's love and devotion to her children, or her competency to care for them. Or that doesn't assert in a patronizing backhand that staying at home with one's children is a pampered luxury.
A recent episode of Desperate Housewives—meant to be cotton candy for my mind—actually brought tears to my eyes instead of sugar to my system.
A character who is a former executive turned stay-at-home mom for four little hellions was portrayed as having a full-blown meltdown as her offspring marauded through her home, willfully disregarding her pleas for calm. Left to parent alone on one too many nights because her husband is off working and traveling everywhere but through his front door, the mom fantasized about chucking several pieces of dishware to the floor and a tub of peanut butter through the kitchen window, then putting a handgun to her temple. Horrified by the wanderings of her mind, she gathered her kids together, dropped them off at a friend's house, and left saying she just couldn't do it any longer.
Her friends (all perfectly attired mind you, sexy to boot) later found the emotionally broken woman staring at an empty soccer field. They admitted to her that they'd lost their cool numerous times and that they often felt as though they had no idea what they're doing as parents. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" the mom sobbed.
No matter how many times or in how many ways parents are told that raising kids on a full-time basis is hard, the notion never really seems to sink in until they experience it first-hand, until they've been worn down by day after day of incessant demands, floor scrubbing to get rid of various repulsive spills and unspeakable substances (both organic and inorganic), fruitless cooking (since no one ever eats the food), refereeing between siblings (I could use a striped shirt and whistle), prying sobbing children off their legs at preschool drop-offs, providing educationally oriented entertainment (the "ABC" song is the soundtrack of my dreams), potty training (don't get me started), and sleep deprivation from a nightmare-plagued grade schooler, all the while enduring a household decibel level that rivals a space shuttle launch.
It's a rarity for today's parents to feel comfortable enough to openly share their frustrations, their fears, or parental miscues without worrying about being perceived as bad parents. Too many think that every other parent is a paragon of rational perfection and peacefulness while they themselves must be the ones with no clue who shout like bears behind closed doors.
In an era when parents fear legal and social retribution for any form of punishment they may use to discipline their kids, when parents are pressured to plan every moment of their children's days with enrichment activities to prepare them for an Ivy future, for a stay-at-home parent to admit that she sometimes feels like she's drowning seems in poor taste, after all, the reasoning goes, she should be grateful she has this "luxury" to be with her kids.
Honesty about parenting is hard to find, particularly amid magazine covers dotted with perpetually smiling children with the headlines promising the answers to how to stop your children from whining (bet ear plugs aren't among the suggestions) and how to potty train in one day (I'll pay the people who profess this lunacy $1,000 to teach my three-year-old training resister).
To be honest myself, there are times when I've felt that gut-level pang of despair, particularly when I've had no break from caring for my three young kiddos for days. Granted, I've never dropped them off at a neighbor's house or dreamt of putting a gun to my head, but I've been tempted to send some of my dishware crashing to the floor.
To see those feelings validated, dramatized on network television where we're typically treated to an onslaught of goofy family sitcoms which inevitably have some subtle-as-a-brick moral lesson to bestow upon its audience, was a revelation to me—a signal, perhaps, that it will someday become socially acceptable to talk about the frustrations of parenthood without having one's love and devotion for one's family called into question.
Being a stay-at-home parent to small people is exhausting work which takes an emotional toll on its practitioners. Yes, the job has tremendous value and offers emotional gratification, but make no mistake about it, there are days when even those of us who may seem like we've got it together fantasize about chucking a tub of peanut butter through the kitchen window and playing hooky for an afternoon.