Tuesday, July 6, 2010

looking for elyse

Winter is the perfect time for snuggling on the couch watching DVDs. I’ve been watching the first series of Mad Men – it is brilliant! I borrowed it from my local library – I am sixth in line on the reservation list for the second series… I don’t think I can wait six months to see it.  I also borrowed the first two series of Family Ties – a trip down memory lane indeed, I know the episodes so well as I used to record them on our family VCR and watch them over and over and over… I had a bit of thing for Michael J. Fox.
Watching Family Ties now, twenty-eight years later (no! …could that much time really have passed?) my focus was changed. As I watched the episodes this time I pondered the character of Elyse Keaton, her role as a mother, wife and professional. Growing-up watching this show I looked to Elyse as an innovator, a modern woman. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up – basking in the after glow of the feminist revolution. I was going to have it all. But watching her character now so many years later I saw what I had failed to see at the time. Her marriage with Steven Keaton still mirrored many gendered norms – note when there are guests to the house it is she that cooks, offers drinks and plays hostess. At the time I had seen a promise of all that could be – I could grow-up and be a professional person and have a family – the very fictional Elyse made it all look so easy. The reality for me however is that working and raising a young family just isn’t for me. I have come to the decision to put part time work on hold and resume leave with out pay until next year.  The reasons are many (and worthy perhaps of a post in their own right) – small financial gains, child care issues and peak hour travel – but the stress of juggling is perhaps the factor that resolved my decision. Trying to fit everything into the week – has it always been this way? Neither Mad Men nor Family Ties reference this constant sense of being time poor that I feel gnawing away at me.
After watching both TV shows I am left very surprised to discover that I relate and empathise so much more closely to the character of Betty Draper in Mad Men (series one) than I do with my childhood role model Elyse Keaton.  I relate to  Betty’s sense of being lost, the eerie presence of being in and yet somehow watching your own life, the loneliness of being at home with small children and her sense of anxiety. Some things change and some stay the same – but now I am left wondering has Elyse ever really existed (metaphorically speaking – I know that she is a fictional character!) Does the woman, the mother, the professional really exist in such perfect synchronicity? …or does something have to give?


  1. I am at the same point but in a different combo of factors. I am having a mid-year resolution to give myself a break and hanle things differently and not get so frustrated at being time poor and make an effort to find some. I am so lucky to be able to work from home but there is still a lot of hours to get done and I find the constant worry and juggle is worse than the actual gettting it done! I think that once the kids grow, it will be easier too but now when they are so little, so much is unknown and more of a balancing act. I am getting little glimpses of being more in the moment, I am hoping it will become more natural as time goes on.
    I have never seen Mad Men - criminal I know!

  2. I also empathize with Betty Draper, and luckily meeting people like you through blogland has really helped me feel less isolated, and given me new eyes to look at my own life. I think we all just have to accept that we are different things at different times in our lives, we don't have to be defined for all time by what we're doing right now. Good luck! Love Em xo
    PS. We all suffer from the NQGE (not-quite-good-enough), but from what I have seen of you in your blog, you are wonderful!

  3. I know what you mean. I have spent an age thinking about this and talking to my husband and older women with older families (and to myself!).

    In the end, I gave up part time work about 12 months ago coming to the conclusion that I couldn't juggle small children and work. Perhaps some woman can do it, but I am not one of them. For me, I don't really miss working very much, but sometimes do feel inadequate...

    BUT I know this is just for a season, and I can reassess my professional work as my family grows.

    I hope you are feeling at peace with your decision!

  4. Oh I love Family Ties. I admit, I have the first 2 seasons on dvd. Love it! & yeah a bit of a MJF fan here too! He's an amazing man!

    I know where you come from about Elysse. Isn't she just perfect! Too much as we see now... but can't we still believe we ARE as good as she is. We just choose to juggle a different set of things in our own "perfect to us" situations!

  5. at first i read that as MAD MAX and i got all angry and starting wishing for a band of pigs to find the man. then as a read on, i see its mad men and ive never heard of it. anyway, i am a sahm of two little ones and i think i am quite lucky to be able to do so. we are broke totally and i am wearing the same pair of shoes i bought 6years ago, but surely it will be worth the sacrifices. good on ya sal, and good luck with it all.
    freezing in tas,

  6. hope the decision works out for you as you get settled back into the old routine of no rushing and days filled with children and creativity!

    i know i struggle to find time for all the things i need to do as well as want to do and i have no one else to look after so i am always in awe of how working mothers cope with their severe lack of time.

  7. I'm not sure that I know any Elyses, at least ones who aren't constantly talking about trying to find balance, or their feelings of guilt, or resenting the kids or the workplace or both. Actually my own mother came pretty close I think - she worked part time at home, teaching piano in the 'studio', from very early on in my life (I'm second of four). I guess mum was still able to be available and present and responsive in a way that she couldn't have been had she been out of the house. Funnily enough though, my predominant memory of my mum is of her disappearing behind her studio door (not all the wonderful stuff she must have actually done with me... just the abandonment... oh, the ingratitude of children!!!!)

    I certainly know that any type of juggling is beyond me, so hats off to you for even trying. But also hats off for being brave enough to stop, and sit with your feelings of 'inadequacy' for the sake of more sanity. For me, I'd have to be passionately committed to the importance of my work and its meaningful contribution to the world to warrant it taking the place of the primary care of my kids. Even though I find child-rearing tough and not second-nature, I still think it is one of the most important things I can contribute to my kids and also to society at large (less stress on underpaid childcare workers, for example). I also figure that the day will come when I feel free once again to explore career options beyond toddler-rearing... it's only a few short years of life.


  8. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mad Men and couldn't wait for series 2 to come to SBS and so watched it on DVD and then I couldn't wait for series 3 so I watched that for free on the internet so maybe you could do that instead of waiting for the dvd. I sympathise with Betty too. I often think how the internet has opened up a whole new world for woman at home with little ones, just to have that contact with like minded peeps. I sure wish it was around when my eldest daughter was a baby, things were a lot better for me by the time number 2 came along but with number one I was very isolated and lonely but she is almost 18 now!!!!!

  9. I think about this often Sal and I want to say that wen have and do it all but I fear I am finding that's not the case.
    In my mum's era a stay-at-home mum was just that - she cared for the kids and house and was not expected to do anything other than this.
    Today women work part-time, freelance, casual or fulltime and even if they are not workig there seems to be a lot more expected of them than to 'just' be the domestic engineer.
    It's interesting how you now see Elyse differently as an adult compared to what you did as a child.
    You see that while she works and is a 'modern' woman she is still also expected to do the lion's share of the household duties.
    It's a hard job sometimes this SAHM gig - but it's worth it and I keep thinking how short a period of time it is in my life to dedicate to my family.

    Hope it goes well for you being at home - there are lots of us SAHM bloggers out here to provide each other with some sanity!


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