Lunchtable TV talk: Breeders & Workin’ Moms

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Parenting: the not-so-gentle letdown of expectations. There’s a reason the word for “baby carriage” translates to “consequence wagon” in some languages.

My great takeaway from both Breeders and Workin’ Moms is that, as Martin Freeman‘s character in Breeders says (and here I paraphrase): at every moment you would sacrifice your life for your child’s… but at every moment you also want to kill that child. I suspect that this frustration, which suffuses parenthood (not to be mistaken for the groan-worthy tv show, Parenthood, with which we’ve been threatened by a reboot) in general, and the direction of Breeders in particular, is common. While that very specific angst and tension of feeling was not as palpable in Workin’ Moms (again, it’s Canadian and feels Canadian), the thematic underpinnings are… essentially the same.

Workin’ Moms: Boobs out, poo on the delivery table

I won’t dwell too much on Workin’ Moms, as a matter of fact, because, while entertaining, it didn’t stay with me in the same way as Breeders. Sure, Moms offered entertaining “filler” and presented some of the things viewers expect from such a sitcom in, let’s say, the ‘modern era’: irreverent and frank discussion on sex drives and breast pumps; exhaustion; the pull of career demands pitted against family-life; the condescension among moms in mom groups; societal, marital, personal expectations about how and when you tackle different milestones in your post-partum life.

I’m glad this exists, and it’s not disappointing as long as you know what it is. It just doesn’t grab me because I don’t feel it’s charting new territory. Honestly, it doesn’t have to. It is reliably funny and awkward in ways both relatable and not-so-relatable. Still, this so-called modern era is populated by a whole lot of people who believe we should return to a time when you couldn’t say the word “pregnant” on network television, and this conservative thread should be countered by relatively realistic stories like Workin’ Moms.

Frankly, women should be well and truly tired of and pissed off by men trying to dictate what they can and cannot say or do. In fact they should also be pissed off by other women doing the same – Mrs. America is a glimpse into a world of smart women who actively work against their own best interests, or rather espouse a philosophy that restricts and limits the freedoms of others. Either way, no one wants their entertainment tastes and preferences limited artificially.

Anyway, apparently season 5 is on its way.

Breeders: Beleaguered and praying to David Bowie

I’m not a parent so the struggles of the main characters here aren’t mine. I can’t explain why this spoke to and remained with me as I watched it. One could argue that the exploration of parenthood and how it transforms relationships, life and everything in it is shallow and overly focused on the selfish frustration that often manages to escape. In that sense it does not tread any newer ground than Workin’ Moms.

Perhaps the difference here is that Freeman’s character, Paul, is more central to this story, managing much of the parenting and childcare while his wife forges on with her career, albeit burdened by tremendous guilt. Freeman’s Paul is explosive in his impatience with the kids, semi-repentant afterwards, and it is this that is new in this exploration. We get a deeper (although not deep) view into fatherhood in Breeders, both from Paul’s experience and the experience of the central couple’s fathers. In particular, Ally’s (Daisy Haggard) absentee father (Michael McKean) appears and stirs things up. Both Paul and Ally’s fathers, whether present in their upbringing or not, reflect a different kind of fatherhood – absent, hands-off, disengaged. Paul may let his temper get the best of him, but he is fully engaged, and it is not a picture of fatherhood I am all that used to seeing depicted onscreen.

Photo by Kyaw Zay Ya on Unsplash

parenting

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I have been thinking a lot about how we are at least partly (quite a lot, really) shaped by the kind of parenting we received. Like it or not, it takes a lifetime to unravel some of the ingrained feelings that parents and caretakers may have woven into our being without knowing it or meaning to. I had a long conversation with my dear friend JEB a few weeks or months ago (who knows when – it’s so easy to lose track of time), and he said he once questioned the nature of parenting as such: “Do you want to show them who’s boss or how to live in the world?”

This struck a chord with me as well, having lived under the unpredictably tyrannical mania of someone who wanted to control everything but had remarkably little control over anything, most of all, himself. But when you are young, new in the world, how can you put this insight into perspective? That is, when you’re, say, five years old, how can see that the mania of one of the people closest to you, who is charged with your care and upbringing, and not think it is deeply frightening while at the same time knowing nothing else, so extrapolating that this is normal? How can that not make you build associations that take a lifetime to demolish, i.e. if this man is angry and unpredictable and cannot be trusted, can any man be otherwise? Or, if one’s parent seems unable to express affection or seems unable to acknowledge his/her children’s accomplishments, or seems jealous of (while simultaneously and confusingly proud of) his/her children’s abilities or achievements, how can these things not make up significant parts of the foundation of one’s personality (at least that which is influenced by environment)?