Oprah and the Secret Lives of Moms

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liz Dwyer; crossposted from Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

Yesterday afternoon I found myself watching an episode of Oprah called the Secret Lives of Moms, and, honestly, I think I would’ve been better off sitting through an episode on how to avoid serial killers.

You see, I learned from watching this episode that “motherhood” in our modern age is mainly the enterprise of seemingly upper middle class to wealthy white women who are dissatisfied with their lot in life.

How do I know this? Because on this show, the three moms sitting in the studio next to Oprah were all white with blond hair, and they snarkily complained about everything.

Let me be clear, being white and blond is not, in itself a bad thing. Heck, one of my grandmothers was white and she (sometimes) had blond hair. But, are there not any Latina, Asian or black moms that are interesting enough to sit on stage to tell their motherhood stories? Native American moms? Filipino moms? Half black and half Irish moms? I mean, not a one on the stage! Not even a Beyonce-inspired sista rocking a lace front weave!

Instead, the couple of moms that had some additional pigment in their skin got to call in on Skype to share their tidbits about how motherhood kinda sucks.

Oh yes, I also learned from this show that after you become a mother, your life will suck because:

1) You will have to buy a minivan.
2) You’ll be surrounded by pee, poop and vomit at all times.
3) Your husband will never have sex with you again.
4) You will have to orchestrate mega birthday parties with reptiles because your five year-old likes reptiles.
5) You will lose all sense of self and your whole life will become about your child.

Hmm… first of all, if you don’t want to buy a minivan, don’t. No one says you have to tote your kids and all their friends all over town. And if you decide to do it, be GRATEFUL that you have the $ to buy one, because guess what, some people don’t have it like that. Some mothers WALK their kids everywhere because they can’t even afford a car.

Yeah, the whole, whining and complaining, “This isn’t what I thought my life would be,” and, “Being a mom is SOOO hard!” vibe of the show really got to me. I know it sounds so judgemental, but I was yelling at the TV, “You’re not a teenager anymore! Grow up!”

What good does it do me to sit around and think, “If I didn’t have you, I could have the cutest clothes and really fly shoes?” Am I really supposed to merely think of my kids through an opportunity-cost lens? Like, if I didn’t have them I could do and have x, y and z?

I remember when my first son was born, I was teaching in Compton and I had to go back to work after six weeks because I couldn’t afford to stay home any longer. Internally, I was an emotional wreck over it because my little boy was SO small, and I was pissed that I wasn’t married to some Swedish dude and living in, um, Sweden, so I could have decent maternity leave.

I bitched and complained about it for a little while, and then I realized that many moms of my students couldn’t even afford to stay home for six weeks! When I talked to them, I heard about how they had to go back to work a week AFTER they’d had a baby.

Why? Because they didn’t have jobs that had benefits or paid even a living wage. SO even if they could legally take time off, they could not do so financially.

I guess I could’ve still kept complaining, but it instead made me think about why is it that our society still disrespects mothers so much that we don’t get better maternity leave. I started thinking about how my slave ancestors didn’t have maternity leave either… and hey, at least my son would not be sold away to another plantation, so it can’t ALL be bad!

Yes, like the moms on Oprah, I’ve done some crazy parenting stuff. Like, I used to dress my kids in their clothes the night before so they’d be ready to go in the morning without me being stressed out. I never felt bad about that though. I always figured if someone else wanted to step up, come over here, and get my kids dressed for me, it was ALL good.

But to me, that’s not what being a mother is really about. Sure, that’s a part of it. But not the whole.

For me, being a mother is about developing my children’s social, emotional and spiritual capacities. It’s about teaching them values and virtues, and I’m not talking about the virtues of consumerism and materialism.

So, if you want to share a secret, tell me about how you’re secretly afraid you don’t know how to teach that because you’re not sure what you believe anymore.

Tell me you’re a racist your relatives are racist and you’re scared you’re going to raise your kids with the same attitudes.

Tell me how you’re dealing with being a single mom. Tell me how you manage to model gender equality in your household (or how you don’t), and how you don’t want to raise boys that think girls have to be servants, or raise girls that think they’re nothing without a man.

Telling me that motherhood is a collection of pee/poop/vomit stories? I’ll pass.

I know some folks love to write and talk about all that stuff and that’s their version of keeping it real, but seriously, I’ve never been into that. Overall, it just hasn’t feel dignified or seemly for me. I can deal with a kid vomiting on me. That’s easy. Trust me, I have a harder time dealing with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But hey, what do I know? Dooce does the pee/poop/vomit thing and she’s making major moolah off of her blog! Maybe I should give such a thing a try and watch the dollars roll in.

I just think this show, on so many levels, could have been so much more than it was. (Hey, Oprah, you can call me if you want me to sit next to you and talk about this stuff!)


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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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