Alicia Florrick has been a good wife. While her post-scandal marriage has been complicated, flawed, and largely unfulfilling on an emotional level, she’s stuck it out for the sake of her kids and her career. We most often watch Alicia in her roles as litigator, law firm boss, political candidate, the governor’s wife, or woman seeking some happiness. We less often see her as a mother, and least of all reflecting on her experience with motherhood.
As “The Good Wife” races toward its series finale this spring, we unexpectedly peeked into Alicia’s thinking about motherhood at two points in the most recent episode. In the opening scene, we watched Alicia in bed with her investigator-turned-lover Jason Crouse. Alicia inquired about Jason’s religious beliefs, including whether he believed they were fornicating. This brief discussion led Alicia to briefly consider why she’s less judgmental about Jason’s Christianity than she is about her daughter Grace’s.
Alicia doesn’t offer an answer, perhaps because she didn’t know it. One possible explanation is that Alicia has a lot of practice accepting a fully grown adult as he is. While Alicia may not have initially known that Jason was religious—she only learned about Jason’s weekly church attendance when it came up in a conversation with her mother—Jason hasn’t changed since Alicia met him. His religious observance has also never been part of their relationship.
The opposite is true with Grace. Alicia, an atheist, raised Grace without strong religious convictions. Grace becoming Christian marks a significant change in beliefs and lifestyle. Whether or not Grace sees her Christianity as a rejection of her parents’ secularism, it likely feels that way to Alicia. So it’s not entirely surprising Grace’s greater religiosity would bug Alicia, or bring out a more judgmental reaction. That said, Alicia deserves credit for having used her legal skills to help Grace fight a plagiarism charge, based on Grace having used the Sermon on the Mount in her college application essay.
Does She Feel Defensive about Being a Working Mom?
The second example of Alicia reflecting on her motherhood reached back four seasons. In the most recent episode, David Lee’s niece, the long lost Caitlin D’arcy, returned. Caitlin was formerly known as the pretty, first-year associate and potential rising star at Lockhart and Gardner. That is, Caitlin was these things until she left the firm for marriage and motherhood.
Alicia hadn’t been Caitlin’s biggest fan. Still, she urged Caitlin to reconsider. Alicia wanted Caitlin to know there were other options, like lawyering while mothering, but the pregnant Caitlin wasn’t particularly interested. She wanted to be a mother, and only a mother.
What was interesting was the difference in Diane and Alicia’s reactions to Caitlin’s choice at the time. Diane, the feminist who marries late in life (after this episode) and never has children, assures Alicia, “She’ll be back in 15 years, like you.” That may well be true. But it’s noteworthy that Alicia, who experienced both stay-at-home motherhood and endured the difficulty of first-year associate-dom in mid-life, is the one urging Caitlin to stay.
At that point, Alicia was presumably focused on how hard it was for her to re-enter the work force. That is not a made-up issue. Interviews with real-life “opt out” moms underscore that the transition back to the full-time workforce can be challenging, especially for women who have spent their years at home focused solely on motherhood.
However, there are other upsides to this lifestyle choice—if it is financially feasible—including maximizing time with young children and embracing a life that prioritizes relationships over career successes. Those factors, among others, help to explain why it is chosen by “(roughly 10% of all highly educated mothers) [who] make up just 1% of the nation’s 35 million mothers ages 18 to 69 who are living with their children younger than 18.” These women find fulfillment in serving, and sacrificing for, family; they form meaningful emotional bonds.
Don’t Berate Yourself for Being Flexible
In this most recent episode, Caitlin initially tells Alicia she’s returned to work because her daughter is old enough for preschool. However, we later learn there is a different explanation: Caitlin and her husband have separated.
Caitlin asks Alicia whether having left the law was a huge mistake, in retrospect. Strikingly, Alicia assures Caitlin that it was not. As cynical and world-weary as Alicia can be, in this particular moment, she radiates genuineness and even warmth. No one can see the future, and every parent faces trade-offs. As Alicia knows too well, marriages can tank, and careers can be roller coasters.
Still, this heartfelt moment exists in stark contrast to the show’s usual tone, which skews more typically feminist. In this scene, Alicia lets down her guard and acknowledges the more traditional joy that women can find in motherhood. Staying home with her child may not be a viable long-term option for Caitlin, because “real life” has overtaken her plans, but she needn’t berate herself.
Now that Alicia has had the benefit of four more years of marital drama and career success, her opinion seems to have shifted. Today, even the hard-bitten Alicia acknowledges that prioritizing one’s own children is a worthwhile act of love, not something she would categorize as a mistake. Alicia has not undergone a religious conversion like her daughter. However, she has clearly undergone her own evolution, one that finally allows Alicia truly value the special years she had at home with her children.