Ooof. I knew Charlize Theron's Tully included a postpartum aspect, but spoiler alert…I didn't know it know it was a slit your wrist, Portland winter, dark as shi* kind of flick.
Let me tell you, if you were hoping for a 'ha ha ha she doesn't feel like putting on real clothes so she wore her pajamas to the grocery store'…this is not it. Now…if you are in the mood for contemplating just how unrealistic and antiquated the expectations that we place on "modern" motherhood are…(so antiquated and un-doable that you just might want to kill yourself)… well hey! Do I have a movie for you!
Sense my sarcasm? It's how I deal with the stark and dark realities of life, but I will tone it down because this movie asks us to look at some serious stuff. We have all read the millions of articles on the challenges of modern motherhood. Brave women have come forth in droves, expressing that even if they could "have it all," they don't want it. "All" being, a sparkly career full of recognized organizational achievements, a happy partnership complete with romance, compassion, balanced, but not too gendered, with perfect equal division of labor, well-fed, home-cooked, mealed-up, kids, and loads of "gal pal" time filled with late night wine & dines, that miraculously have zero repercussions on the following 5AM wake up by your children…and whatever else I am leaving off of this instagram-worthy curated lifestyle.
This lifestyle is not possible and women are so freaking sick of seeing pictures of it. Yet…we keep posting pics of incessant happiness, moments deemed worthy of capture, proving the struggle is worth it…a life raft during a midnight squall, the waves our tears, and sometimes they are so high that we choke.
Tully has been regarded as too dark by some, spot on by others, and a cautionary tale for many. Throwing on my mama hat (not that I can take it off…but I pretend sometimes), I care less if this film is "accurate" and more that this film strikes an undeniable chord for parents. This film reminds me of one of my biggest fears (aside from my kids dying or getting sick and thousand other worries). The fear that in order for me to make great kids, I must not be great. If I am "great," than my kids will suffer, my relationship will suffer. If my relationship is great, and my career is great…surely my kids can't be great.
Working moms everywhere…THIS IS NOT TRUE. I KNOW. STOP YELLING AT ME. I work too, though this year much less than some of you. I have a relationship that despite challenges is more meaningful and I am more grateful for than I ever imagined. That being said, having kids puts me in a constant state of choosing them over everything over and over and over again.
Women are still asked to put their kids first. Some of us want to, some of don't, some of us want to some of the time, and some of us want to very little. The world judges us if we want to care for our kids all of the time as we are deemed career–less, pathetic, smotherers and are pitied by some…or we make working moms feel guilty. Working moms are deemed self-obsessed and neglectful, and make the SAM's (stay-at-home moms) feel like they are wasting their potential. And those of us who work part-time and stay at home part time feel like we are often sucking at both.
We have heard these stories over and over and we have vowed to ease up on each other. But...there is a psychological toll this constant choosing takes on us. We are often not confidant in our choices even though we choose them. We are waiting to see if our careers inspire our young daughters, or if they will resent us for not being there enough. Or perhaps if our kids grow up and think that we are pathetic for having been there too much. And what happened to what we wanted…before motherhood and even after? What about our partnerships that are so much worse in some ways, and so much better in other ways?
Why are women able to write about this but when it comes down to it…we are all lucky if we can tell one other person WHAT OUR LIVES ARE REALLY LIKE. How many times a day we cry. How many times a day we wonder if our relationship has what it takes for the long hall…or if the long hall is something that is even a relevant goal post. After all, isn't the millennium all about living in the moment?
Tully shows us that the bar is not only too high… it's misplaced. Just when you take your final sweaty, breathless step across the finish line, the line gets pushed back just a little farther. So much of these markers of success are so external, commodity based, and leave us alone and lonely. How often does child-rearing mean one caregiver alone with a child? Do you know what it's like to be alone with a child…or two or three for hours and hours? For days and days? It's soul sucking. And this is coming from someone who absolutely loves being a mother. Not in a smothering, my house is perfect, and kids are well-dressed, and organized at-home activities kind of way…but in the overflowing bathtub, me screaming to get off the banister, put your freaking shoes on, stop drawing on the wall, I said put your shoes on! When is my husband/mom/friend getting here to be with me kind of way.
Be with me. Be with us. Watch us parent. Help us. Witness us. See the messes. See how we cope. Be proud of how we handled that. Look at that meltdown we avoided. Look at that meltdown we caused. Watch how we convinced/brushed/put on/took off/picked up/wiped/washed/band-aided/tucked/soothed/held. No one saw Tully and she slipped away.
If you see us…we will see ourselves.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three-year-old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.
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