Why I’m Conflicted About Drew Barrymore’s Working Mom Comments

Why I’m Conflicted About Drew Barrymore’s Working Mom Comments

My beef isn’t with Drew Barrymore working while mothering. It’s rather how she talks about that work that unsettles me.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein
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Is there any Hollywood star more likable than Drew Barrymore? I’ve long been a fan, so I was interested to read about her widely applauded mothering post. But when I read that Instagram post, “Olive has a working mother,” I found myself having rather mixed feelings — not the non-stop feel-good reaction I was expecting.

We all know life isn’t one long showing of “Never Been Kissed, or any of Barrymore’s other appealing movies. That said, a good life should include a sizable helping of happy moments. For children, ideally, there is also some magic mixed in, while they learn about the realities of our sometimes cold world.

Perhaps because this is Drew Barrymore, there are some likable things in this post. For example, we learn that over time, she and her daughter have collaboratively developed various systems to help her daughter track time while her mother is away. I can certainly relate to that (although we’ve typically done calendar countdowns to little sister arrivals).

While I don’t typically travel for work, my husband often has, and every trip requires adjustments on the home front. I also recognized Olive’s dislike of FaceTime, because I have a daughter who feels the same way, which can make staying in touch across time zones challenging. I applaud Barrymore’s trial and error with her daughter, working until they found snail mail the most satisfactory option for them. That’s a movie star working on the nuts and bolts of parenting right there.

No, the part that didn’t quite win me over was when Barrymore talked about her work and how she discusses it with young Olive:

I always explain to her that I love my Job. I don’t say ‘I have to go work’ with a grimace on my face, because I fear it will make her feel negative about something a lot of moms must do to provide. My friend once said ‘never make your child feel like work is the bad thing taking you away from them’ and I realized a lot of us tend to do that to try to make our kids feel better and that work is the yucky thing taking us away. It’s a good intention, but I am convinced I need to take a different approach. I want to empower my daughters to think work is good and necessary. And can even lead them to road of their dreams. I feel guilty as hell for being away (and what mother doesn’t?!) But i try a way to empower me and my kids into something more positive. I don’t blame work, i own the responsibility.

My beef isn’t with Barrymore working while mothering. Every woman must make the best choices for herself and her family. Even if it might not be a financial necessity for Barrymore — only she and her accountant know for sure — it is for most of us. It’s rather how she talks about that work that unsettles me.

It’s great that Barrymore loves her job. Not every working parent is quite so lucky, although we can all aspire to that. But what about this emphasis on the wonderfulness of work? I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, I admire the idea of instilling a work ethic in all young children, including those who grow up fortunate and might be tempted to drift and rely on trust funds. Purpose and direction are important for all children.

On the other hand, the thought of teaching one’s daughters that work is not only “good and necessary,” but that it “can even lead them to [the] road of their dreams” feels like advising children to take the wrong fork in the road. Hard work and its related accomplishments can be truly satisfying, but they are hardly the best part of life. If a tragedy befalls you, your job won’t hold you as you cry — though your friends and family might. Your community can rally to support you and help you move forward, while prayer can lift your spirits and help you find your way.

As a fellow mother of daughters, I read this and think that I want my daughters to dream BIGGER: bigger than any career goals they may have, I want them to start envisioning full adult lives, rich with friends and family, along with a strong connection to G-d and our faith community. I want them to want more.

Not all work is fulfilling or leads to the road of one’s dreams, but investing in personal relationships is the best way to find lifelong happiness. That’s something that’s accessible to all of us, regardless of how we earn a living. I sure hope Barrymore’s teaching that to her girls too.

Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is an independent writer in Washington DC and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, National Review Online, and RealClearPolitics, among others. She has appeared on EWTN and WMAL. Melissa shares all of her writing on her website and tweets as @slowhoneybee.

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