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I like Dr. Phil, but he’s still in show business
I’ve been watching The Dr. Phil Show from the beginning. From before the beginning, really, because I watched him on the Oprah Show before he had his own show (remember “Tuesdays with Dr. Phil”?). And I like him. He’s full of common sense. But when watching him you always have to remember that first and foremost, he’s in show business. Yesterday’s show was a case in point. It was a show pitting SAHMs (Stay At Home Moms) against Working Moms, a sure ratings winner/conversation starter (his blog post on the subject had almost 600 comments, last time I checked). At least, I think that’s what it was conceived as, which would have been bad enough. I mean, do we really need to keep having this discussion? So when I was contacted to be on that particular show, I wanted to be the voice of “Can’t we all just get along and do what’s best for our own families?”
After three long phone discussions with two different producers, I was pretty sure I’d be making a whirlwind trip out to L.A. for the taping, and I started making arrangements for who was going to get my kids to and from summer camp (this episode taped in August). But in the end they decided they didn’t need me. After watching the show, I’m pretty sure I was “replaced” as the middle-of-the-road mom by Heather Armstrong, the queen of all Mommy Bloggers, and I can’t really blame them. She has a huge following. I wasn’t really disappointed, because while I’d love to be on the show, I’d prefer it be for something that I have a stronger opinion about (being the voice of reason is sensible, but it’s a hard position to argue with any passion).
Now that I’ve seen the show, I’m relieved that I wasn’t there. Instead of being SAHMs against working moms, it pretty much ended up being everyone in the room against Jessica Gottlieb, who took the position that if you can afford to stay home, but choose not to, then you shouldn’t have kids, period. You can imagine how that went over.
Jessica’s a friend of mine. We’ve met at a couple of blogging events and gotten to know each other, and despite the fact that I think most of the things she said on the show were ridiculous, I admire her for not pulling any punches. She knew that she was walking into the room with an unpopular opinion and she stuck to it (and there really wasn’t anyone in the audience capable of matching her debating skills, which is why they eventually brought a few of the show’s female staffers out to go against her). Being an outspoken voice of opposition works for her, if you’re measuring in blog traffic and media opportunities. She’s a big girl and she knows what she’s doing, and nobody should feel sorry for her getting ganged up on. It’s not her first time on the show and I’m positive it won’t be the last. If I ever end up on a show with her, I hope I can hold my own and that we can walk away still friends.
Let’s start asking different questions
I have no interest in jumping in to the discussion that’s going on about what’s best for kids, a mom who stays home or a mom who works or a combination. I know that I did what was right for me and my family. But what bothers me is that many – most? – businesses still operate as though most of their employees don’t have kids. I’m extraordinarily lucky in that I don’t have to work. Even though I’m blogging full time and taking advantage of other opportunities that stem from that, I can still control my own schedule and be there for the kids when I choose to be. The kind of work I’m doing is worlds away from a mom who is at the mercy of an employer.
What struck me about the Dr. Phil show was what his own staffers were saying about how their roles as moms are supported by their employer: not missing plays and special days, kids coming to work, it sounds wonderful! But unless I’m completely out of touch, it sounds rare. I know many women who had to keep their pregnancies secret until they were popping out of their clothes because they were afraid of what the repercussions at work might be. Many businesses still act like employees belong to the company from 8 to 6 because someone else is home waiting at the door with a cocktail and a foot rub for the one-and-only breadwinner. The world doesn’t work that way anymore.
So Dr. Phil, you have a lot of power and influence. Instead of using your platform to pit moms against each other in discussions that go round and round and don’t solve anything, I’m asking you to use your position to help empower moms in the workplace. The dilemmas that working moms face when they have a sick kid at home, or a school event they want to attend, or drop off and pick up issues, wreak havoc in moms’ lives (and don’t even get me started on the dads, they totally get the shaft because they’re often not even expected to be present and responsible for any of that).
The working world needs to wake up and face the fact that a huge portion of their workforce has another job waiting for them at home. This trend is only a few decades old, and they need to catch up. Moms who aren’t stressed about sick kids and schedules would be better employees. But how do moms approach their employers about better schedules and childcare without being looked at as just a mom who isn’t dedicated to her job? How about a show helping women navigate that? Or what about a show highlighting companies that help employees be good parents and have good careers at the same time? I’m sure they would have lots to share about how it’s helped the company as a whole.
Dr. Phil, you could really help women, and get good ratings at the same time. Maybe not quite as high as when you encourage fights between moms, but you’ve been saying all summer that you want to do shows this season that give people actionable steps to help improve their lives. I think we can all agree that the better cared for kids are, and the less stressed parents are, the better the world runs.