What TV Gets Wrong About Motherhood


The long rains and short days have set in, and I’ve settled in for winter hibernation. Well, I guess it’s not exactly hibernation, but I’m definitely spending more time inside than I do doing the warmer, drier months here in Portland. With all the inside time comes more than a few episodes of my favorite TV shows, and this year I’ve started noticing all the disparities between my experience of motherhood and the view of TV moms on the small screen.

tv moms

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about TV moms vs me:

  1. Kids don’t play in the other room quietly for hours on end.
    Have you ever noticed how much alone time TV moms seem to have? If it’s inconvenient to the plot line, writers just have the kids hanging out in the other room or “sleeping” off screen. My kids never do that! Sure, they play independently, but they also ask me approximately fifty million questions each hour, so they’re rarely ever in another room from me.
  2. Labor doesn’t always start with water breaking.
    It seems like every birth on TV begins with the pregnant mom saying, “Oops, I think I peed myself,” and everyone around her runs around like the sky is falling to get her to the hospital. With my first daughter, born by C-section, my water never broke on its own, and with my second daughter, my water broke during my third push. I’m not alone; in fact, only 15 % of labors begin with water breaking.
  3. ‘Mom guilt’ isn’t exclusively for moms who work outside the home.
    Many story lines feature new TV moms struggling with guilt of going back to work, but rarely is ‘mom guilt‘ included in all its complexity. As a mom who has returned to work when my first daughter was three months-old, taking maternity leave during her last year before kindergarten, and then staying home with my 22-month-old since she was born, I can say that no choice feels like the right one. It is not the exclusive property of working moms to feel like they are shorting their kids by something they are doing. TV mom, Dr. Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy gets it right when she says, “That feeling? That’s because you’re a parent. Eventually it mostly goes away, but some of it sticks around forever.”
  4. Bedtime isn’t that easy.
    If sleep was as easy as it looks for TV parents, there wouldn’t be so many books on sleep and how to get more. Last night, I listened as my husband wrestled with the competing needs of our two girls. If I’d been in there I would have been crying, but instead I was laughing at the irony of my not-yet-two-year-old telling her daddy that her nine-year-old “Sissy” needed “pats” to help her go to sleep while the nine-year-old wailed that the new sleep routine wasn’t fair. I hear there are parents who tuck their kids in, walk out of the room, and greet their children cheerfully twelve hours later, but I’m not sure who those people are. Instead, my husband and I deal with musical beds and a logic puzzle of sleeping arrangements like, ‘if Parent A sleeps in Bed B,’ etc.
  5. Grandparents aren’t the enemy.
    If you took TV moms word for it, you would believe that grandparents were either evil (Ray’s mom on Everybody Loves Raymond) or clueless (Rachel’s mom on FRIENDS). My kids are fortunate to have loving, supportive relationships with their grandparents. My 22-month-old asks to “call Nana” at random times throughout the day, and my girls both soak up all the time they get with their grandparents. When we lived around the block from my parents, my older daughter would hang out with my parents while I ran to the grocery store or my husband and I went on a date. They developed a relationship that was all their own with special activities they enjoyed together.

And don’t get me started on how homework, meals, and the other minutiae of motherhood are depicted by TV moms. I guess seeing your life reflected but not mirrored is part of the entertainment value, right? It’s a chance to lose yourself in a story while also appreciating your own crazy, messy life.  I know it helps me do just that.

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Aside from being a writer, Kendra is a Birth Trauma Doula at KarysMa Birth, where she helps moms find their joy after birth trauma. A former middle school English and theatre teacher, she has an insatiable love for learning and a flair for the dramatic. Among the best moments of her life, she counts marrying her husband Steve during a dream rainbow wedding, planning a princess picnic on the beach with her eight year old daughter Karys, giving birth to her one year old daughter Saryn in the middle of a blizzard, and sitting on stage with Glennon Doyle. A Navy brat for the first 13 years of her life, Kendra settled in Virginia for eighteen years before she was finally ready to move again, relocating to Portland in 2014. You can find her work on Portland Moms Blog, The La Leche League Blog, and The Not Your Average Mom Project, as well as the hard drive of her computer.