Audience Members Who Clapped for Mila Kunis,
I confess I’ve never been a member of a studio audience,
though it’s on my bucket list to attend a live taping of 'Wheel of Fortune,' 'Saturday Night Live' or 'Judge Judy.' I have no idea
if they give you directions about when to clap and cheer the guests on the
show. For all I know, the producers
flashed a neon “Clap Now” sign when Mila Kunis started talking about how she and
Ashton Kutcher have opted not to hire any outside help while they navigate
their new life as parents to daughter, Wyatt Isabelle Kutcher.
My question: Why are you clapping for that? Because you are “proud” of her for sidestepping
the usual celebrity set-up that involves a fleet of round-the-clock nannies and
cooks? Because “real” mothers do it all
Here’s why your unabashed cheering for Kunis’ decision to
not have help is problematic. Those
cheers reinforce the pernicious belief that mothers who are strong enough not to need help—even if they can afford
it—are better mothers than those of us who needed help during early motherhood.
No one cheered when Kunis mentioned that upon her return to
“17-hour work days” she would get some
help since she can’t possibly do it all. Where were the hoots and applause for the
admission that when she steps back to a demanding job with long hours she will
enlist the help of hired caregivers? (Presumably,
Kunis won’t need any help until her workdays cover 75 percent of the hours in a single
Getting “help” in the form of a doula to take a night shift or someone to watch the baby while I slept felt like diva behavior at best, and neglectful parenting at worst. Good mothers don’t need that, I insisted.
Before I became a mother, I probably would have clapped too.
I mean, look at Kunis: She’s beautiful, she’s married to a hunky Hollywood star
who adores her and fatherhood (he even changes diapers, that Prince!). She could afford a real-life Mary Poppins or
two to come in and give her a break, but she doesn’t want it.
And I couldn’t do it. By week three, I was so devastatingly tired that I couldn’t enjoy my
beautiful baby. I couldn’t see straight,
much less cherish my wee-hours-of-the-morning feedings. A dark cloud of postpartum depression
hovered over me. I needed help but
resisted. Getting “help” in the form of
a doula to take a night shift or someone to watch the baby while I slept felt
like diva behavior at best, and neglectful parenting at worst. Good mothers don’t need that, I insisted.
It felt like a failure not to be able to do it myself.
So, I get your clapping. I get that the cultural message ingrained into mothers is that the best
of us don’t get overwhelmed, don’t need a break and don’t hire help because
they simply adore every single second of motherhood.
For me that message was a myth that I had to debunk. I wasn’t less of a mother because once a week
for four weeks I hired a doula to handle the night shifts so my husband and I
get a five-hour stretch of sleep together. I was lucky I had other mothers cheering me on, not for “doing it all
myself” but for being strong enough to ask for help in spite of the cultural
messages that needing it made me less of a mother.
I’m all for cheering mothers and their decisions, both
those that involve outside help and those that don’t. Let’s clap for all of those, not just the
ones that reinforce what is a unrealistic ideal for many mothers.