In the new film, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica Parker plays the part of a working mother and wife who is trying to further her career in the field of finance while also making her family a priority. Throughout the movie there are funny scenes that I think most mothers can relate to: Sarah’s character is often disheveled with spots on her clothing from her kids, she lies in bed at night unable to sleep because of the lists she is making in her head and she judges herself when she misses out on events in her children’s lives like her son’s first hair cut.
Though I found these parts of the movie enjoyable and on target with the issues many mothers face, I was taken aback by the stereotypical references that were being played out between the characters. And by the sneers and side comments I was hearing in the theater, I would say that others were having similar reactions to these stereotypes.
In the film, the mother-in law was very judgmental and often referred to how mothers did things in her day. The main character’s male co-workers judged working mothers for missing out on being a parent, but did not see their role as a father the same way. And all of the mothers, those who worked and those who didn’t, judged each other for how they were raising their children. As I listened to the audience, I realized that what was happening on the screen was coming to life in the theatre. Viewers were making comments that judged the characters for their “type” of parenting or criticized the choices or expectations characters were placing on each other. The people making these comments, just like the characters in the movie, seemed to think it was natural to share their opinions on parenting. Because isn’t that something we all do?
It is my opinion that parenting is very personal. We all have thoughts about how children “should” be raised. And as most values go, there are differing aspects that can be considered both right and wrong. My response to this is that we become aware of the values and beliefs we have about parenting, and that we use this awareness in two ways.
First, that we intentionally adhere to our beliefs and values when caring for the children in our own lives, and that we use these values in making choices about the messages and expectations we give to our children. Second, that we realize that just as we have values, other parents have values too. And that maybe we should not hold other parents accountable to our own values. After all, there is not just one right way to parent.
In the movie, Sarah’s character received support from her husband, a friend and a business partner. These three characters knew that she wasn’t perfect and yet they were the one’s speaking the phrase that gave the film its title, “I don’t know how she does it.” It seems to me that if we supported each other in our parenting efforts that we could all do it a lot easier.